Pura Pura Colorful

Colorful

I’ve recently watched Colorful, a 2010 movie suggested to me by Shaurya. The movie follows a person who had died but was given a chance to redeem himself. He was reincarnated in a body of Makoto Kobayashi, a boy who killed himself with sleeping pills overdose. After the reincarnation the new Makoto needs to deal with the echoes of the Makoto’s life before the incident, the problems that lead up to his suicide.

I would say Colorful is a serious movie, at least compared to other things I’ve been watching recently. It might be a little hard to watch at times, but it definitely isn’t boring. Makoto’s mother acting is one of the best I’ve seen in a long while, I almost want to watch the movie again just to see it again (even though her role is such a sad one). If you like movies directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, Makoto Shinkai, you should check this one out. It would be different, but chances are you’ll like it.

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Puru Puru, sort of an angel that guides Kobayashi

Now time for spoilers. Though before the spoilers begin let me make a little detour and talk about stories in anime. Most anime do have a story, and it can be quite complex. The story can be told directly by the characters or a narrator, or it can be acted out; some of the events can be only alluded to without being shown. You can hide your story behind hints and metaphors, tell it through references, and since it is anime you can use words, pictures, sound and motion to construct those hints and references. Though if you aren’t careful no one will be able to decipher what the story was.

With this in mind most shows limit this complexity so the viewer can instantly see what is going on, at least in the more important parts of the film/series. But the possibility to do more than the ‘simple things’ is exciting, and people do go for it. This creates an interesting situation where most of the story is being told directly in a simple manner, but some of it is hidden and requires some effort to discover. And this is one of the things I like to write about, my feeble attempts to search for those additional parts of the story.

Now Colorful is pretty interesting in this aspect. I hope I’ll be able to explain why as we go. Let us start by recounting events of Makoto’s life, in chronological order. The earliest part of Makoto’s life that we get to see is his days at school where he was bullied and apparently didn’t have any friends. Now we jump to the time before his suicide. He lives in a family where people grew distant from each other, and it might have been in this state for a long time. At this time Makoto has feelings for his classmate Hiroka. Too bad for him, he sees the girl walking out of a love hotel with a middle-aged guy, which I guess would be hard on a boy. What’s more he also sees his mother walking out of that hotel with another man. Somehow all this drove him to take his own life.

What do you think, does it sound like a reasonable story? I can’t say that it is unrealistic, but I don’t feel like it makes sense. All of this was told very briefly and we don’t get to see how Makoto was reacting to those events. Maybe that is the reason why I can’t put this together with the Makoto that we do get to see in the movie. I can see how realizing that your crush is selling herself or is in love with another guy would be traumatizing and I can see how seeing that your mother is unfaithful to your father would be painful, but I don’t think this would drive the present Makoto to commit suicide. I feel like Makoto would need to show a completely different side of his character in order to make this story work.

Kobayashi family

Kobayashi family

Alright, now we get to the present Makoto. The guy is a piece of work for sure. He is bad at studying (or at least he doesn’t try to be good at it), he doesn’t have friends except Hiroka, he rejects the only other person who tries to communicate with him – his other classmate Shouko. After learning about his mother’s affair he starts acting cold towards her, refusing to eat her cooking, take things she buys for him. The more she tries to be nice to him, the more rude his actions towards her get. At some point Makoto tells his mother that her presence makes him want to puke. He doesn’t have hard feelings towards the rest of his family though. We see Makoto spending time with his father, and their conversation was at least free from aggression.

Makoto’s attitude towards his mother gradually deteriorates. The climax is reached when he accuses her of adultery and runs away from home. Consequently he is beat up by a gang of older boys and has to stay home to recover. And by this time Makoto and Hiroka had a conversation and Makoto kind of had to accept that she willingly sells herself, that this is who she is. You can notice how this resembles the situation right before his suicide. Both times Makoto was isolated from everyone, gave up on his family and heavy consequences followed.

Kobayashi Makoto

Now why does this happen to Makoto? Well this time it literally is him turning his back on his family. Was it the same the last time then? Or was it his family neglecting him?.. What I don’t like about all of those statements is their simplicity. It feels like I am describing a Naruto episode, not a serious movie. No offence to Naruto, but “family is sacred, period” is the general attitude the show has :P

I will stop there with the chronological order. I’ll stop because there is no way I can fit in the last part, the part where Makoto recovers his relations with his family. Let me explain myself. So far the events made some sort of sense. Makoto killed himself because he wasn’t able to find support from his family before. Now he rejects this support and his life falls apart again. It is a story about the importance of realizing the value of people around you. Makoto’s father even spells it all out for the audience. By the end of the movie Makoto will recognize Shouko as a friend; he also makes a new friend Saotome, who becomes the key stone to Makoto’s change. So, chronologically the story begins in a coherent way, and it ends in a coherent way. But I can’t connect the beginning and the end. Why did Makoto stop hating his mother? Why did he recognize the importance of his family?

To answer this question I would need to throw away the answers we already got. “It is a story about the importance of realizing the value of people around you” – lets forget about it. Instead lets look at Makoto bullying his mother. The more she tries to be nice to him the nastier he gets. One of the strongest moments in their interaction was when they are about to have dinner together and Makoto imagines his mother’s hands preparing the meal, which produces a violent reaction from him. His behavior towards her is disturbing exactly because it is so illogical. He is not just ungrateful, it is as if he finds his mother’s care offensive.

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To quote the subs “the more she fulfills her responsibilities as a mother the angrier I become for some reason”

And that is exactly it. He does find it offensive. Look at Makoto. As a person he is fairly grown up, with self assurance and independent thinking. All his actions show that he would be fine left alone, thrown into life to enjoy it or be beaten by it. Look at what the boy does. He follows his love interest around, when he sees an opportunity he forcibly takes her away from a date with another guy; and when he realizes that the love interest doesn’t care much about him he lets her leave. Compare this to his behavior towards Shouko. Being in his room, being expected to behave in a nice manner, being a good classmate and a good boy in general – Makoto protests against all of that. He protests against being treated like child, being taken care of by his mother. And on the surface level the feeling is so illogical that he himself likely doesn’t understand it’s origin. That is why he clings to this made up reason to hate his mother. It shouldn’t matter to him if his mother had an affair, he is broad-minded enough to accept things like that.

Looking at it this way it becomes clear why the movie spends so much time with Makoto and his mother. It is not easy to show this complicated problem, the problem of being sheltered and taken care of too much. Makoto’s mother honestly does all she can to help him. She even recognizes his antagonism and goes along with it. You can’t blame her for anything in this situation. Makoto, on the other hand, acts in an awful way and isn’t willing to do anything to remedy the situation. It seems the only way out was for his mom to leave Makoto alone, to stop worrying about him. Now do you see a contradiction? A few paragraphs above we were talking about how being neglected had lead to Makoto suicide. So which is it?

At this point, it almost seems like the movie can’t decide what it wants to say. Alright, let’s just look at it some more. I will pick up where I left, the moment Makoto recovers from being beat up. Soon after his recovery he starts spending time with Saotome, another guy from his class. They go around the city together, wasting time looking at old train routs. They go shopping together, talk about things, even think about what school they should apply to. Both seem to enjoy each other company, and their friendship even motivates Makoto to study. That is interesting because at this point Makoto believes he won’t be around by the time they go to that other school.

Makoto would later say about Saotome “he is the first friend I’ve ever made”, and the emphasis should be placed on the word “I”. There were other people who kind of came to be close to Makoto, but they weren’t exactly friends, and he didn’t do much to become their friend. In a way becoming friends with Saotome was an independent act, something that Makoto did for himself, without being guided. I think that was important for him. The plan to go to the same school that Makoto and Saotome made together, their decision to study together, them spending time together, it was the little part of independent life that I believe Makoto needed. Well, but how important is this friendship for the story? Why did it suddenly appear out of nowhere in such an intense part of the movie? I’ve said that Saotome is “a key stone to Makoto’s change”. I meant the way this event is placed, it seems like it was what lead to Makoto reconsidering his relations with his family. And I don’t know how it works. Maybe being around Saotome Makoto remembered what it is like to be a normal nice human, not a spoiled brat?.. I don’t know, but I would like to know.

Also there was Makoto going fishing with his father. While his father tried to catch fish he had time to paint, the first time he did it after the suicide. This is an important detail, cause it is an early hint that Makoto is Makoto, that the soul/mind occupying his body are his soul/mind. Makoto’s conversation with his father is one sided, but it does what it needed to do. It tells Makoto that his family care about him together, it isn’t just his mother who does. Later Makoto and his father go to a street noodle shop where Makoto’s father shares his food with him. It kind of mirrors the scene where Makoto and Saotome share their food, probably a metaphor for Makoto becoming friends with his dad.

The highest point of the story comes where the Kobayashi family have dinner together and they discuss a possible school for Makoto. Through the discussion Makoto instead of becoming more and more offensive, as he usually did, went to tears and actually pleaded for his own decision to be considered. His brother also speaks up for the first time. Unlike Makoto’s parents who have unlimited patience, Makoto’s brother seems to be fed up with Makoto and he tells him that up front. It is an important moment too; a fair bit of honesty is an important part of family relations. Long story short, the family seems to reconcile and Makoto seems to stop his aggression towards his mother.

Makoto Kobayashi

We also learn that that time when Makoto was beat up he was in a temple where he used to play as a child. It is the second hint that the soul/mind he has are his own. I bring up this and the other small details in order to sort of demonstrate that this movie does care about this stuff, giving the viewer hints as to what is about to come next. And this brings another question. We only learn details about Makoto’s past at the very end of the film. So are those details important? If they are, then the viewer is forced in the situation where he can only appreciate the story after he finishes the film and either goes over it in his head or watches it the second time. And I don’t think Colorful is this kind of movie, I don’t think it would do that to its viewer. But if Makoto’s past isn’t important to understand what is going on in the film, then what? What is the movie about? The idea that “it is a story about the importance of realizing the value of people around you” sort of relies on Makoto’s past. But the idea that this movie is about an overly sheltered youth doesn’t explain why he suddenly gave in and embraced his family. And it raises a question why they even needed to put that rushed story about Makoto’s past in the film in the first place.

I feel the only answer I can come up with would be repeating what Makoto told Hiroka about people being colorful. It is not a real answer though, it is just saying that Makoto’s ways may be weird and it might be hard to see any reason in his actions, and that this is fine, that is how people are. Maybe we should accept Makoto the same way Makoto accepts Hiroka and doesn’t question her ways of living. I don’t know if I am happy with this answer, but is ties up the film for me. Also earlier I was thinking about those questions I’ve written above I couldn’t find an answer. Then I went to watch certain parts of the movie again, and this dialogue between Makoto and Hiroka came up; and with that awesome vocal soundtrack in the background Makoto spelled out what I was looking for for me. So I just can’t turn down this explanation now ^^/

Colorful

Colorful

Sorry if this was a bit too boring to read. Now you see what I meant by “Colorful is pretty interesting in this aspect” – it almost tells you two different stories at the same time =) So what do you think?

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Psycho-Pass New Edit Version Episode 3

I know it has been a while since my last Psycho-Pass post. I will try to take less time writing new posts from now on.

This is another action packed episode with two different cases. It was interesting and we also got to learn some new things about the characters. I will start with introducing the rest of Kogami’s team. They’ve been around since the first episode and it is high time I talked about them.

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Ginoza

Ginoza is an inspector and is Akane’s senior who looks over her work and sees that she does her job well. He doesn’t think that enforcers are any different from the criminals he arrests. We see this at the very beginning of the first episode where he told Akane that she is better off thinking that enforcers are not humans like her. He started off being a character who mistreated enforcers.

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Kagari

Kagari is an enforcer who has been locked up ever since he was five because his Psycho-Pass is high and Sibyl considered him dangerous. Now how can Sibyl judge whether or not a five year old kid can grow up to be a criminal?  I admit that there are some psychos who start killing at a very young age but that is not enough reason to isolate a kid whithout actually knowing what kind of a person he will become. As far as we can see Kagari is a normal person with a good instinct. He knows how a criminal’s brain works but that doesn’t make him a criminal.

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Masaoka

Masaoka is another enforcer who doesn’t deserve to be treated like a criminal. He is a good old detective whose Psycho-Pass is clouded because he is good at his job. If I have to compare him to someone, it will be Soichiro Yagami from Death Note. They are both good detectives. The only difference is people respect Soichiro while they look down on Masaoka.

There is another member Yayoi . She is the silent type and doesn’t interact with others much. So I don’t know a lot about what kind of a person she is.

In this episode the MWPSB managed to kill the guy who was killing people and impersonating them using their avatars. I also want to say that we got to see the white haired guy talk about why he is giving ammunition to people who want it but don’t know how to get it. According to him, when you give people power and they can act outside their ethics, you get to see their soul sometimes. I have to admit that I am a little excited because he did turn out to be the kind of guy I hoped he will be. He is not evil. He is rather like the child who breaks the wings of a dragonfly for amusement.

They moved right on to the next case after solving the first one. Now the white haired guy is helping a girl make pieces of ‘art’. Her idea of art is a bit grotesque though. She killed one of her classmates, chopped her into pieces and turned her into this and put the corpse up for display.

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She says that she has more art pieces she wants to make -_-

The girl referred to the white haired guy as ‘Makishima-Sensei’. He is probably pretending to be a teacher or some kind of higher-up at her school. I doubt Makishima is his real name. He doesn’t have a reason to tell the girl his real name and they maintain records of all teachers and students at schools. Using his real name will make it easier for the police to trace him. But then again, he is the kind of guy who might enjoy thrills like that. So I am not sure. For the time being I will continue calling him the white haired guy.

We also managed to know a little about Kogami’s past. He was once an inspector who worked together with Ginoza. He got along well with an enforcer named Sasayama. They were investigating a case and Sasayama got killed and Kogami’s Psycho-Pass kept shooting up until he ended up being an enforcer himself.  The case was never solved and he is still trying to catch the guy who killed Sasayama. He believes that the white haired guy is the one responsible for Sasayama’s death.

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Sasayama and Kogami during their old days

This also tells us a lot about Kogami’s personality from when he was an inspector. He respected enforcers and was good friends with them, enough to ignore his own life and go hunt the guy who killed his friend. It also justifies Ginoza’s actions a little. He saw his partner lose it and become an enforcer. It is no wonder that he doesn’t want to be close to the enforcers and doesn’t want to sympathize with them. He is only protecting  Akane and himself.

Now that I am done talking about the episode, I want to talk about Sibyl system. I don’t dislike the entire idea of the system. It is a rather good idea. Sure, we have only seen violence, crime and Sibyl making enforcers kill criminals, but it is probably because we are looking at Sibyl through the eyes of MWPSB. Normal people probably go around all their lives without ever being kidnapped, attacked, threatened or robbed. There are few exceptions, like the girl in the first episode Kogami almost killed. Let us take a look at Sibyl as a system that makes humans lives easier and safer. Sibyl will tell you what you are good at and ask you to choose a job you are best suited for. Sibyl will make sure that you are safe by locking up all the bad guys. It is a good system but it is the way it is executed makes it less appealing. Sibyl system is not good or evil. It is just a program and it does what it is programmed to do. There is no such thing as a perfect product. It is the humans who somehow stopped working on ways to improve Sibyl system.

Here is a scenario. Let us say that there is a guy who had some troubles in his workplace. He will be more worried about his Psycho-Pass getting clouded than his actual problems and it will only put extra pressure on him. Instead they should say that it is okay if his Psycho-Pass is clouded and give him enough time to recover. Also people like Kagari, Masaoka and Kogami shouldn’t be locked up. Instead they should make a list of people whose Psycho-Pass values are high and put them in a priority list so that whenever they are around a Psycho-Pass scanner on the road or a building, the system will scan their Psycho-Pass first and see if there is any change. As long as their Psyho-Pass remains constant or shows only a slight increase they should be allowed to roam free. Also they can make sure that every person who comes out of his house should get his Psycho-Pass scanned. They can also appoint some cops to keep an eye on people like that occasionally. They can keep cameras in all work areas to ensure that bullying doesn’t take place. They should also make it so that people don’t have to take up a career just because they have an aptitude for it. They should be free to choose and if they fail, then Sibyl can suggest something they will be good at doing. They should also keep taking feedback from people and keep improving Sibyl as a system, find out where it is not doing well and change things so that Sibyl gives more importance to watching over people instead of judging them. If something like that can be done I don’t mind having a system like Sibyl around. After all it will decrease our crime ratio quite a bit and make the world safer.

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Kogami working on a case

If you have something to say about Sibyl system or have any more suggestions about making it a better system feel free to drop a comment.

See you next time ^^/

 

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Porco Rosso

Porco Rosso is a movie about a former fighter pilot Marco who does bounty hunting work in a pre- World War II Adriatics. The sea is lawless and chaotic with bandits and bounty hunters being about indistinguishable; people still remember the WWI and the next war is approaching. It would make a great setting for a dark and heavy story, but the movie doesn’t go there, it tells its story with good humor and positive attitude. And it is not serious about trying to be a period piece. I mean, the pilot Marco is a pig, that kind of throws the realism out of the window from the start.

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That’s Marco

But regardless, just the settings alone would sell the movie for me. Such a specific time and place, and not even something obvious or well known, it was bound to pick my interest. Also it is a Ghibli movie and so far I liked all they have put out. Porco Rosso was made in 1992, directed by Hayao Myazaki. The art and animation look very good, lots of moments worth pausing to have a better look at. I recommend this film to everyone who like anime movies.

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Now come the spoilers, so feel free to stop reading and watch the film instead.

If you kept reading I assume you’ve already seen the movie :P So what that film was about? The only plot line that persists through the whole film is rivalry between Curtis and Marco and maybe slight romantic tension between Marco and Gina. But the story doesn’t really spend most of its time on either of those. Instead it would give you a good look  into the life of an Italian family that builds Marco a new plane. We even get a new main character Fio out of the blue, and she quickly gets the story to rotate around her. It feels strange when she jumps into the movie, you can almost say that Miyazaki just wanted to have an obligatory teenage girl in his film.

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Fio, a 17 years old engineer

But I don’t think it is as simple as that. I think it is one of those stories that want to play a game with you, that give you a chance to guess what is going on without being told. And it is intentionally complicated, as the bits and pieces come in randomly, in no order. So I’ll try to give you my view on it, and you can decide if that makes sense or not.

First is Marco’s “curse”. I don’t think I need to argue that it is weird and out of place for such an otherwise realistic movie. What’s more, no one reacts to the fact that Marco is an anthropomorphic pic, a completely unnatural creature. The way people treat Marco is as if he just has some weird attribute, but nothing more. It is definitely intentional too. So it tells me that this is how I suppose to see that curse, as an attribute, or maybe as some sort of mental state.

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Then let’s look at Marco himself. The key ingredient of his personality is him being self-centered, at least on the surface level. As Marco said to one of his friends: “I only fly for myself”. He lives alone in an isolated place, he works alone, he defies governments and laws. Even for people he cares about, like Gina, he remains distant. And it makes sense, with him being a pig. You can say that it is a what the curse has done to him, since we know he wasn’t a loner his whole life. Later in the movie Marco would say “It seems to me God was telling me I was a pig and maybe I deserve to be all alone”. I quote the dub, the lines are different the subs, but the  meaning is about the same.

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A pirate plane, makes me wish Miyazaki had done more sci-fi movies *_*

We learn that Marco once was a fighter pilot, he fought in the Great War (WWI), and the finale of his career was a horrible fight where his best friend died while Marco was doing his best to save himself. Judging by Marco’s words I can guess the killing during the war and his actions during that last fight that he viewed as cowardly, that created a burden that Marco has carried with him since then. He left the air force and gave up on his former life. When talking to Gina he said “Good guys always die”, implying that he does not see himself as a good person. And it wasn’t a pose, it sounded like something he believed in. What’s more, he was not implying that his morals were twisted, rather that he failed to live up to what a good person is. Seeing himself as that sort of failure, wouldn’t that be a curse.

You can see where I am going with this. The curse was not a magic spell, Witch of the Waste didn’t have to be involved. It was Marco giving up on his own humanity. Unable to live up to his own ideals he turned to follow another road, more suitable for a pig, as he refers to himself every so often. And I can quote Marco yet again, as he says to Fio “Seeing you makes me wish I’ve never given up being human”. That line is pretty different in the subs though, much more neutral. And since I’ve compared the two, let me pull up another quote that I like and I feel it is missing from the subs. After that “I deserve to be all alone” line Fio tells Marco that he is a good person, to which he replies: “No, the good guys were the ones who died. Or maybe I’m dead and life as a pig is the same thing as Hell”.

Now why did we need the Piccolo family and Fio in that movie? Remember that scene when Marco was going to close the deal with his mechanic because he didn’t want his plane to be designed by a woman? And how he had given in the next day, seeing that Fio had what it took to build one? He given in because he wasn’t so stupid to actually be bothered by prejudice and he wasn’t rotten to actually believe that a woman can’t do as good job as a man. All he needed to do was to stop acting as a pig and give the girl a fair chance, and it worked out great for him. And I think that is a big part of Fio’s role in that movie, she makes Marco act decently, thinking of others instead of only about himself. Like that time when Fio was going to fly with him sitting in a tiny compartment on top of a machine gun. Marco couldn’t do that to her, so he got rid of one of his guns instead. Fio’s honesty and enthusiasm did way more for Marco than a company of his old wise friends could.

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I really like that scene. A myriad of planes against the blue sky, it looks amazing.

My friend Shaurya said that the story feels like a fairy tale. I think so too. I am very happy that I got to watch that fairy tale about a middle aged man who once lost his own self. Tell me what you think about it! See you next time.

Roujin Z

Roujin Z is a 1991 movie that I came across while searching for a new movie to watch and I decided to pick it up because I liked the cover image.

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Doesn’t it look promising?

The movie is about the Japan’s Ministry of Public Welfare testing a new bed that can take care of the elderly and the consequences of using such a machine. For their first test they selected an old man named Takazawa who is bedridden and needs someone to take care of him 24/7.

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Takazawa

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And here is the amazing bed that can take care of old people

The bed can take care of all the needs of its occupant like bathing and feeding. It regularly monitors his health and sends an alert to the doctors and the family members if something happens to him. It also has built-in stereo, radio, phone and TV modules. The occupant can call the occupants of other beds and talk to them, or he can create a virtual friend. The movie talks about the moral implications of treating the elderly this way.

After Takazawa is made to become a guinea pig for the testing of the bed he becomes lonely and scared. He sends a message to Haruko, his voluntary caretaker, to help him. At this point it looked like Haruko is the only one who cared about him and is willing to help him. Takazawa’s family members happily gave the rights to conduct any experiments on him to the Ministry of Public Welfare.

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Haruko

We have seen enough anime to guess what happens next. The bed has an advanced computer that has a mind of its own and things start going out of control. The plot is something we have already seen plenty of times and it never manages to surprise the viewers but the movie is entertaining nonetheless. The animation is beautiful and the voice acting is also well done.

There are a couple of things I want to complain about though. When a guy called Terada from the Ministry of Public Welfare was introducing the bed to the media, he said that the bed can even upgrade its own hardware and I was thinking ‘Yeah sure. It will order the new parts online, sign the delivery man’s papers, unscrew itself and replace the old parts with the new parts. You should have found something else to say in order to make the bed look smart.’ To my surprise the bed did actually upgrade its hardware.

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Though I have no idea what it intended to do with that speed limit sign

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It kept getting worse

I doubt they wanted the bed to be that creative about upgrading itself because even the bed’s creator was surprised.

Here is another part that is even worse. At one point Haruko asks a group of old hackers to hack into the bed’s operating system and control it. She hands a photo of Takazawa’s wife to them and asks them to simulate her voice to try and talk to Takazawa.

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Seriously? All you need to simulate a person’s voice is her photograph?

I also want to mention that the idea of the bed is not as bad as the movie made it sound. They purposely exaggerated certain functions of the bed to make it look like an inhumane machine. If you have ever taken care of a bedridden old person or saw someone else take care of such a person, you know how difficult it is to take care of people who can’t move a muscle. Imagine doing that 24/7 for a decade. Even the most loving family members will wish for a break and the relationships will start deteriorating. Not every family can hire a good caretaker like Haruko. It is not such a bad idea to have a machine that helps us take care of the old as long as we spend enough time with them and give them plenty of love.

Give Roujin Z a try if you have some time on your hands. It is a good movie and it deserves more love from anime viewers.

See you next time ^^/

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3 Level Combination

3 Level Combination is a Korean comic by Il-Kwon Ha, the guy you may know as the author of Annarasumanara. Shaurya recommended me both of those manhwa, and I am really glad she did. Here I want to talk about what I think about that comic. I’ll make a tiny introduction for those who haven’t read it and put a spoiler warning before the part where I start to go deeper into the story.

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3 Level Combination starts as a story about a boy Hogu, a boy from a poor family who is being bullied at school. We follow him around, observing how he is being humiliated, beaten and otherwise abused by a group of his classmates. It gets pretty heavy and the story doesn’t hold back at all. After a while a new character is introduced, a humanoid robot prototype named Chevrolet. That robot was supposed to attend school together with normal students as a part of its testing. For better or worse the robots ends up becoming Hogu’s friend, while Hogu is put in charge of keeping it safe. With this event the both the story and Hogu’s life become more complex, going through tragic and happy moments, always unpredictable and thought provoking. Please read it, it is very good.

I want to mention that for me 3 Level Combination was a really hard read, I even had to make a break for a few weeks, because I felt a bit overwhelmed. It is just my personal thing though, stories about abused people living in misery kinda get me. I don’t know if that affected my opinion about the comic, though.

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Spoilers start from here.

I want to talk about a few of the characters, and since I myself can barely remember any names from this comic I decided to list them all beforehand. Besides Hogu I am going to be talking his former friend Minwoo, his class president Anna and her father Dr. Lee. Hope it won’t get too long.

I think a good way to start thinking about this story is with Dr. Lee. Who was that person? We know he was largely responsible of making a complete mess of his family life. His wife committed suicide after seeing him clearly displaying preference for a female humanoid robot over her. He said that the robot is better because “it is obedient”, because it is “his type”. He was a sad man who wasn’t able to appreciate the people around him and would rather play with toys. And his story doesn’t even seem all that interesting. The main reason I’ve brought it up is his daughter Anna.

I think Anna might be the central figure to this whole story, and I will try to explain what I mean. What defines Anna as a person? She grew up in a broken family and saw a lot more ugliness of human relations than a child should. Do you remember what was her reaction to that? She would say that it was “boring”. Such an inadequate description, such an obviously wrong choice of words. But let’s go on. Anna’s mother committed suicide because her father brought home a robot and stated that he liked it more than his wife. Naturally that influenced the way Anna felt about robots. She learnt to hate them. She even decided to study robots to prove that they can never be humans. Now let’s pause and think about it. Why would she do that? It is not a disgust towards machines that can be understood in her situation. What’s more, she was still working with her dad. I think what we see here is Anna misplacing the responsibility for what happened in her family; instead of blaming her father entirely she puts a part of the responsibility on the robots. It should be easy to realize that Dr. Lee’s self-centered destructive behavior was the reason Anna’s family ended up in the state it is. He could have had any other occupation, it wouldn’t have mattered, it wouldn’t have changed the fact that he didn’t appreciate his wife and was abusive.

So here is what I am getting at. I think a large part of Anna’s character is self-deception and neglect. Just as she was pretending to be bored to ignore her pain as a child she now pretended that the robots are to blame for what happened in her family. Why would she do it this time – who knows, but an obvious reason is so that she would be able to live on with her father without losing her mind because of the cognitive dissonance.

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You’ve probably noticed that I didn’t justify the word “neglect” yet. To talk about that I will need to jump to another character I’ve said I would talk about, Minwoo. He, Hogu, and Anna were friends back when they were younger and Hogu was what kept them together. In the quick episode where Hogu takes a picture of Anna and Minwoo it is pretty obviously hinted that in this friendship Anna was mostly interested in Hogu, while Minwoo was more interested in Anna. And apparently she was oblivious to that. What’s more, this never stopped, with the only exception that after a while Minwoo started to target Hogu, making his school life worse and worse. It might have been jealousy, might have been a desire to get Anna’s attention, likely it was both. And it seems that Anna could have stopped the whole thing, as she did in chapter 17, just by asking Minwoo to do so. But she never even tried to talk to him, never started a conversation in the whole year, as Minwoo mentioned once. Imagine if she did, if she thought through this situation and realized Minwoo motives. Anna is smart, she definitely could do it. And if she asked Minwoo to stop hurting Hogu, then maybe there wouldn’t have been any fights in that class. And going from what we saw of Minwoo I think that is the only thing she needed to do was to ask, there wouldn’t have been conditions or price. But Anna never even thought about it. That is what I mean by “neglect”.

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Minwoo

I am sorry if you think I’ve spend more than enough time on Anna, but I have to go a little further. In the late chapters we see Anna repeatedly putting effort into making Hogu see that Chevrolet is a robot and hence his friendship with it is absurd. She doesn’t see (or prefer to not notice) the simple fact that Chevrolet was the only one who showed Hogu kindness and care, who spent time with him when he needed it. It is so simple to see, and it is so easy to then understand why the boy would be so attached to the thing, regardless of its nature. What’s more, it is not hard to imagine that Anna might have wanted to be the one who did all of that for Hogu; only she didn’t do it. She would say that Chevrolet was a piece of metal, only the reality was that this robot was more of a human then most of the people around it. And instead of embracing that reality Anna would rather destroy it. She did, with a lie, betrayal and murder, a one act that took away all she had, including her own conscience.

I find it interesting that throughout most of the story Anna doesn’t do anything wrong, and there is no way to blame her. She isn’t hurting anyone, even does good things here and there. Nevertheless, it is as if her way of life slowly places a rope around her heck. It is one of the most interesting character arcs I’ve seen in a long time.

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It doesn’t feel right to talk about supporting characters all this time and leave out Hogu and Chevrolet. But I don’t think I have as much to say about them. I like their story. It is the kind of story you would want to end on a happy note. While reading I thought that maybe they will use this bomb episode to say that from now on Chevrolet can’t be opened and since her remote control functions were disabled she could effectively become a human. That would open a possibility for a nice ending for both her and Hogu. I was also prepared for Chevrolet’s demise; I think Hogu would have survived that, and I wonder what kind of person would he ended up being. Neither of that happened though.

The actual end made me think of the Romeo and Juliet play. It used be regarded as the greatest love story of all. I’ve heard that since some time ago people started to look at it in a new light, considering Romeo and Juliet to be a cautionary tale about irresponsible passion of young people. I can see that point of view and I don’t think it takes away anything from the romantic side of the play. What’s more, I think the same argument can be made for the story of Hogu and Chevrolet. Do you want to see their story and it’s end as a beautiful romantic tragedy? Or do you want to see it as a tale that says “Don’t be as foolish as this boy was.”? Both ways are good I think. I like the ending, even though it does make the story even more sad.

One more thing. I imagine 3 Level Combination would naturally make you wonder about human-robot relations, asking yourself “What was this friendship between Hogu and Chevrolet? Was it different from the relations Dr. Lee had with his old robot? Can you take any of this seriously?”. I think the comic doesn’t have a lot to say about robots and their potential place as a new kind of sentient beings in our society. Was Hogu any different from Dr. Lee – I have no idea. It is a very hard question, and I don’t see any answers in the manhwa.

Sorry if this post was a bit too long. See you next time!

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Gyakkyou Burai Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor

Before I begin, let me admit that this anime has awful art. If you are one of those people who dislikes Gyakkyou Burai Kaiji’s art, at least hear me out before deciding not to watch this anime.

Gyakkyou Burai Kaiji is an anime about gambling and in the first episode we see a guy telling Kaiji that he had co-signed some loan and the guy ran away without paying anything. So he wanted Kaiji to pay the money.This is a scenario we’ve seen countless number of times where an innocent guy signs something to help someone out and gets into trouble. The anime didn’t give us much time to feel sorry for Kaiji and quickly moved to the interesting part. The guy let Kaiji know that he can gamble and pay them back instead. If he wins, he can get out of the debt but if he fails, he has to work for them for the rest of his life.

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Kaiji

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Of course Kaiji chose to gamble

And thus, Kaiji gets pulled into the world of gambling where he has to put his life on the line to get out of the debt. It is a rather cliched story and yet Kaiji manages to make this interesting. So what makes this anime unique? It is the antagonist and the protagonist.

The antagonist Kazutaka is sort of like a guy taken straight out of a fairy tale. He is cruel and evil to the core. He is different from our typical antagonists. He doesn’t have a tragic past and he is not trying to take over the world. He is just pure evil and likes toying with the lives of others. He is used to getting his way and is drunk with power. He is the kind of guy you might find downright despicable. Yet the anime makes it clear to the viewers why he became a successful person with lots of money and power. He is clever and ambitious. He can calmly analyze a situation and form logical conclusions.

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Kazutaka

Next we have Kaiji. He is different from all other protagonists I’ve seen so far. He is not noble and is not willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of others. He is not trying to save innocent lives from Kazutaka’s clutches. He doesn’t want to defeat Kazutaka. No sir, he is more interested in saving himself and getting out of the debt. He is the kind of guy who can get on his knees and beg for his life.  There was a time Kaiji decided to save a guy and he had to pay lots of money for that. Kaiji didn’t save him because he wanted to be a hero. He was just mad because some guys betrayed him and wanted to throw the money that made them betray him right in front of their eyes. He just chose to save him on a whim. He later regretted it thinking that if he didn’t decide to save the guy, he would have been able to get out of the debt.  It seemed realistic. Not everyone will be happy with suffering for the rest of their lives for the sake of saving some stranger. Kaiji is not a noble hero, yet he is human. Once he participated in a gamble that required him to hurt someone physically  in order to win. He was tempted to do it but he decided not to anyway. He will save someone if he can but he won’t go out of his way to do it and he definitely won’t put his life on the line for the sake of someone else.

The best thing about this anime is that the creator Nobuyuki Fukumoto is not afraid of pushing Kaiji into a corner and making him break. Kaiji has to face an antagonist who is bigger, stronger and maybe even smarter then he is. From the beginning, we feel that Kaiji can’t really defeat Kazutaka. He might win the gamble and manage to save himself but he can’t do any real damage to Kazutaka. We feel that the guy will always be sitting in a high place  and enjoying everything while Kaiji has to paddle through a muddy stream trying to reach a dry place. Very few creators will dare to humiliate their protagonists the way Fukumoto does. Kaiji doesn’t get any convenient power ups and no one saves him if he messes up.  There is no guarantee that Kaiji will win. For all we know, he might lose and end up in some dark hole with his limbs cut off. The only thing we can be sure of is that Kaiji won’t die and it was interesting to watch. The plans that Kaiji comes up with look realistic too. He pays attention to details and tries to use them for his advantage.

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Just a random image from the anime

I highly recommend Gyakkyou Burai Kaiji. Watch a couple of episodes of this anime and then drop it if it doesn’t look interesting.

See you next time ^^/

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Madoka Magica’s postmodernism

I’ve recently finished watching Madoka Magica, a magical girl anime, famous for its unusually dark plot (at least by the standards of the time it was airing). Unfortunately for me I knew a fair bit about the anime before going into it, so the shock of seeing how different Madoka Magica is from other anime in the genre wasn’t that great for me. Maybe that is why today I chose such a weird topic, deciding to talk about whether or not there is a way to claim that Madoka Magica is a postmodern art, instead of just giving it the praises it deserves.

Here is a quick intro for those who have not seen the anime, but wish to keep reading (which is probably a bad idea, as I’ll spoil all there is to spoil in that show). Madoka Magica is an anime about a group of girls who were confronted by an alien creature (name is Kyubey) that offered to grant them one wish. In exchange they would have to become magical girls, fight witches, and eventually be killed in a fight. The anime makes sure to let you see that the stakes are high, showing you one death after another, revealing horrifying details of the contract Kyubey makes with the girls in exchange for the wish. The anime spends a lot of time with the characters, showing their normal lives, their parents, friends and loved ones, giving you reason to care about them. At times it almost is a nice and light-hearted slice of life story. But when they get to an action, especially when they show a witch fight, then the anime changes into something very unusual. I’ll talk about it below.

For me it started with admiring the artworks that are displayed during the fights (they are made by Gekidan Inu Curry, check them out). Let’s look at them together.

I started to wonder if there is a specific art genre they belong to. Eventually I started looking at what can be called postmodern art. I’ll post a few thumbnails here.

Here is Raoul Hausmann’s pictures:

Here is Robert Rauschenberg’s artworks:

And here is Wallace Berman’s works:

I don’t want to say that those artists are clearly defined as representatives of postmodernism, but I think it is possible to say that. Anyway, for me it seems like those works or similar ones were the inspiration for some of the art from Madoka Magica. That doesn’t say much, just an interesting observation. And it made me look in it a little bit more.

I think there are a few more ways in which Madoka Magica is connected to postmodernism. The show is a genre deconstruction piece, and while I don’t know if people acknowledge that as a trait of a postmodern work, I think it does go in line with the ideas of the movement. Madoka Magica is working within an existing genre, with existing tropes and concepts, and it uses the viewer’s awareness of those concepts to tell the story. In that aspect it is similar to Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Would you say that proves my point? I don’t know.

All in all, I am just amused by the idea that those serious classifications of art movements could be extended to fit in a popular anime series. Though I may very well be a victim of confirmation bias. If you think I am (or if for some reason you think I am not), please tell me in the comments, would love to hear different opinions.

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And to save this post from being completely dry I’ll say a few words about my experience watching the show. As I said I knew it was going to be a somewhat serious anime, with tragedy and death, thanks to the spoilers. I was pleasantly surprised by a few things I saw in the anime though. First are the architectural references. When I first saw Burj Khalifa I was like “Is this anime set in the Emirates? :O” I liked the idea a lot, though it didn’t turn out to be true.

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Here is the Burj Khalifa, the white needle-like structure in the background

Also I liked the idea of ordinary people who lived good satisfactory lives being given a chance to have any wish granted. They just didn’t have a wish they would feel strong enough about. It was especially interesting with Madoka, who at the beginning clearly didn’t need anything and just wanted to become a magical girl cause she liked the idea. The show didn’t do much to develop this theme, instead it just gave the characters the motivations they were missing. That was kinda disappointing at first. Though eventually I started to appreciate the side stories they brought up to give the characters their motivations. Sayaka’s story turned out to be the one of the most emotionally engaging parts of the series for me. I liked the Madoka’s reason to become a magical girl, it made such a big contrast with the rest of the show. She suddenly changed that story about doomed people fighting for a lost cause into a fairy tale, and she did it in such a bizarre way that the transaction did not seem to undermine the feel of the show. At least it worked for me.

The few plot twists I didn’t have spoiled for me were that magical girls turn into witches, and that incubators were only there to gather energy, viewing people as live stock. Both are good enough twists, especially the first one, since it made such a big change for the relations between the characters and Kyubey.

Here is a reminder that this anime is made by studio Shaft

Here is a reminder that this anime is made by studio Shaft

That’s it from me. See you next time ^^/