Manga Review: Berserk Volumes 31 & 32

Manga Review: Berserk Volumes 31 & 32 by Kentaro Miura

Heads up, there will be major SPOILERS for earlier volumes as I briefly recap the series so far as this first review is so far into the story.

This seinen (men’s) manga series began publication in 1989 and is still running. Or perhaps I should say walking, given the slow publication schedule. The first few volumes depicted the scarred antihero Guts. the Black Swordsman, wandering a post apocalyptic fantasy realm where demons have been unleashed into the “real” world. Guts is an ass, solely interested in slaying demons and pushing people away due to the “brand of sacrifice” on his neck that attracts supernatural beings.

Eventually, the manga switches to a long flashback arc that explains how Guts got this way. An orphan from birth, Guts has known only war and abuse. By chance, he comes across the Band of the Hawk, an unusually nice by comparison mercenary band. Their charismatic leader Griffith becomes Guts’ best friend, and Guts is finally able to overcome some of his trauma and become lovers with Griffith’s chief lieutenant Casca.

Griffith’s ambition gets ahead of him, and he is imprisoned and mutilated, while the Band of the Hawk are outlawed. Guts and the others rescue Griffith, but their leader betrays them all as a sacrifice to the Godhand and their demons for power. Most of the Band are eaten or worse; only Guts and Casca survive, but her mind is shattered, and Guts abandons her with one of the Band who wasn’t present at the Sacrifice to draw away the demons from her.

The flashback sequence was the part told in the 1997 anime adaptation.

After the flashback, Guts undergoes character development, and slowly learns to tolerate and even care for other people again, starting with the annoying elf Puck. Puck suggests taking Casca to his home of Elfhelm where it’s possible her mind can be healed. It’s a long and perilous journey, and the party has gradually swelled in number.

Berserk Volume 31

Presently our protagonists are in the port city of Vritannis, attempting to get a ship to Elfhelm. Problem is that the city is being attacked by the forces of Ganishka, the Kushan Emperor. Guts and his companions must fight escalating menaces. First, a small army of humanoid monsters, then a pack of sea creatures, and then a powerful Kushan wizard. This forces Guts to resort to the power of the Berserker armor, which raises his already formidable physical power, but at the cost of becoming, well, a berserker who cannot distinguish friend from foe, and damaging his body.

Fortunately, the aid of the child witch Schierke and the subtle swordsman Serpico help mitigate the ill effects of the armor and defeat the foes. But then an astral projection of Ganishka himself appears, far more powerful than anything yet seen. And there’s a new person entering the battlefield!

Berserk Volume 32

The newcomer turns out to be Nosferatu Zodd, the first demon Guts ever knowingly fought. He’s now working for Griffith in the new Band of the Hawk as one of the Apostles (humans who have made deals with the Godhand to gain demonic powers.) It turns out Ganishka is also an Apostle, but one that wants to rule the world on his own rather than bow to Griffith (now also called “Femto”) as the chosen Absolute of the Godhand.

Guts and Zodd temporarily put aside their own feud to team up against Ganishka and manage to disperse the emperor’s astral form. Guts is in such bad shape afterwards, however, that Zodd is willing to take the excuse that Guts needs to be elsewhere and not fighting against Griffith right now to postpone their battle. Guts and crew take sail.

Most of the rest of the volume is the battle of Vritannis. While the Kushan monsters were driven back, the main body of their army is still far superior in numbers to the assembled troops of the Holy See countries. All seems lost until Griffith and the Band of the Hawk appear out of seemingly nowhere and force the Kushan troops to withdraw.

The reborn Griffith is hailed as the Hawk of Light, a messiah-like figure that is endorsed both by the sole remaining royalty of Midland and their equivalent of the pope. His beauty and purity amaze onlookers, but the readers know the true source of his powers….

This series has some awesome and detailed art; one of the reasons it appears so slowly is that the creator refuses to take shortcuts in this matter. The characters are fascinating (though honestly, skip the first few volumes and start with the flashback as initial Guts isn’t that good a character) and there are compelling themes.

As you might expect, there’s a lot of detailed violence in the series, and especially early on a lot of sexual violence. (The creator has stated he is kind of ashamed of how much there was of that and has been tapering the rape and sexual assault off as time passes.)

The biggest issue a reader is likely to face is that eventually you will catch up to the published manga, and then have to wait ages for the next volume. The series has been running thirty years, and we are still nowhere near an obvious ending.

There was another anime adaptation in 2016 which I have not seen.

Recommended to fans of highly violent heroic fantasy.

And here’s the best music from the 1997 anime:

Book Review: The Tirpitz

Book Review: The Tirpitz by David Woodward

Subtitled “And the Battle for the North Atlantic”, this 1953 volume is a look at how the German battleship Tirpitz, the heaviest battleship ever built by a European navy, managed to influence the entire shape of the European theater of World War Two, despite seeing almost no actual combat.

The Tirpitz

The history begins before World War One, with Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz building up the German navy. Germany had only recently reunified under a central government led by Kaiser Wilhelm, and wanted to establish itself as a world power. And that meant a strong navy to project its policy to colonies across the globe.

The strategy was to build a navy very quickly of sufficient strength that Britain, the top naval power, would be hesitant to engage it lest they lose control over their own colonies. Given an outsized budget, Tirpitz was able to create a modern navy with well-constructed ships manned by well-trained sailors.

What Germany didn’t have, according to this book, was a good plan of action to go with that navy. When World War One broke out much earlier than the Germans had expected a crisis to come, they were still several years from being at the strength they’d hoped to have. Plus, the assumption that the British Navy would come into the North Sea to blockade German ports and thus into the home waters of the German Navy proved incorrect when Winston Churchill (then in charge of the British Navy) decided that a much looser blockade further away would do the trick.

The one big naval engagement between Britain and Germany was the Battle of Jutland; both sides claimed victory, but damages were high enough that neither wanted to repeat the experience. After that in late 1916, it was decided the German Navy would instead concentrate on unrestricted submarine warfare, which had previously been limited because it broke the rules of engagement. It also was a big factor in the United States entering the war.

Tirpitz resigned in protest, and entered the Reichstag as a part of the right-wing nationalist Fatherland party, passing away in 1930.

Meanwhile, new heads of the German Navy failed to do any better than Tirpitz, and towards the end of the war, several ships’ worth of sailors mutinied rather than undertake a last daring but clearly futile sortie. This gave the navy a black eye to its honor as far as nationalists were concerned, and contributed to the “stab in the back” myth.

Part of the punitive terms of Germany’s surrender was the scuttling of the majority of its fleet and strict limits on the kind and size of new ships that could be built. Naturally, the German government started cheating on those limits the first chance they got, but it wasn’t until the Nazis took power that Germany was bold enough to stop pretending to abide by the treaties. Given Admiral Tirpitz’ nationalist politics and the fact that he’d left command well before the naval mutiny and was thus untainted by it, Hitler felt okay with naming a battleship after the man.

But ships take time to build, and the battleship Tirpitz wasn’t launched until 1941, well into the European part of World War Two. By this time, the German economy was feeling the pinch of sustained all-out combat, and funds were often drained from the construction of new ships.

The German Navy was further crippled by the need to prove itself loyal due to the previous mutiny, the fact that Hitler like the Kaiser before him was not good at using the navy to its best advantage, and the fact that they had no airplanes of their own and had to beg Goering’s Luftwaffe for help with air support. Even the U-boats had issues.

Nevertheless, the Tirpitz, like its sister ship the Bismarck, altered the course of the war. The mighty battleship was a potent threat to Allied shipping, so naval forces sufficient to stopping it had to be stationed in the area, stripping them from other parts of the European theater or even further afield, where they would have been useful. The drydock at St. Nazaire on the west coast of France, hundreds of nautical miles from the location of the Tirpitz, was sabotaged in a commando raid because it was the only repair facility big enough to fully overhaul the ship. And repeated attempts were made to sink the battleship.

The Tirpitz wound up spending most of the war holed up in fjords in Norway, enduring attacks by mini-submarines and “dambuster” bombers.

This book also covers much of the other action in the North Atlantic and North Sea in the time period, focusing greatly on the convoys from Britain to the Soviet Union bearing much needed military and food supplies. It ends with some speculation about the future of naval warfare.

Written as it was in the early 1950s, this book largely relied on public sources. Those with a strong interest in the subject might want to compare it to volumes written later with access to declassified documents.

The writing style is dry, with many blow-by-blow descriptions of naval actions. A rare light moment is the author’s comment on Admiral Tirpitz: “…as far as posterity is concerned he made the mistake of writing an autobiography designed to prove that he had always been right about everything.” There’s a few black and white photos and a good index.

The older paperback edition may be difficult to come by, but I believe there’s a Kindle version. Recommended to World War Two and naval history buffs.

And now, a video about the Bismarck.

Manga Review: Case Closed Volume 33

Manga Review: Case Closed Volume 33 by Gosho Aoyama

Quick recap: Teen genius detective Shinichi Kudo (Jimmy Kudo in the American version) witnesses a murder by mysterious men in black. They try to kill him with an experimental poison, but it instead shrinks Shinichi to look like a small child. To conceal the fact that he’s still alive, Shinichi takes the name Conan Edogawa.

Case Closed Volume 33

With the aid of inventor Dr. Agasa, Conan is placed in the home of his sweetheart Ran Mouri (Rachel Moore) and her father, bumbling private eye Kogoro Mouri (Richard Moore.) Although he’s acknowledged to be a very bright child, Conan must often resort to tricks to avoid being spotted as the one really solving all these murders while trying to find clues to the Black Organization.

In Volume 33, we begin with a two-parter about the slow-burning romance between Tokyo police detectives Miwako Sato and Wataru Takagi. Tired of waiting for Takagi to take the initiative, Sato agrees to an omiai (potential engagement meeting) with the wealthy police detective Ninzaburou Shiratori (Santos.) If Takagi doesn’t come to pick her up before the end of the meeting, Sato will agree to marry Shiratori! Too bad Takagi is trapped investigating a robbery where all the witness testimony is contradictory.

Then it’s time to prepare for Valentine’s Day, so the Mouri family is off to a remote mountain lodge to make chocolate! There’s allegedly a ghost that brings chocolate to people who freeze to death in the forest, and this time, the corpse is a videographer who was trying to find a wolf!

Next, the Detective Kids help a man find his late wife’s lost watch. Which doesn’t seem to be connected to the next door neighbor’s death while watching a videotape–at first.

And finally, American exchange teacher Ms. Jodie becomes involved in the death of a sleazy detective who was investigating a case of embezzlement. It leaves off on a cliffhanger–can you solve the mystery?

The subplot that runs throughout is a mysterious man in a black ski cap, who doesn’t seem to be directly connected to any of the cases, but shows up too often to be coincidence. There’s no actual movement on the myth arc.

The first mystery requires knowledge of how the Japanese language has changed since pre-World War Two, and the cliffhanger also involves some knowledge of Japanese, but the others are solvable with a little effort.

An enjoyable, but not essential volume.

Movie Review: Tales from Earthsea

Movie Review: Tales from Earthsea (2006) dir. Goro Miyazaki

There is something rotten in the Two Lands. Wizards are losing their powers, dragons are fighting each other, animals and children are dying of disease, storms are getting worse, slavery and drug addiction are on the rise. And also, Prince Arren has just committed an unspeakable crime.

Tales from Earthsea
Sparrowhawk arrives!

Thus Arren is now a fugitive, fleeing with racking guilt, fits of irrational violence and a sword he cannot unsheath. He is pursued by a shadowy figure of unknown intent. Arren meets the wandering wizard Sparrowhawk, who takes the troubled lad under his wing. 

On their way, Sparrowhawk and Arren stop for a bit at the home of Tenar, Sparrowhawk’s old friend and one of the few people who knows his True Name of Ged. She’s taken in a burned and abandoned girl named Therru, who isn’t good with strangers. 

Sparrowhawk’s quest to find the source of the imbalance in nature that is causing Earthsea’s problems is closer to completion than he thinks. The wizard Cob, who also runs the local slavery racket, plans to become immortal at any cost to everyone else, and he sees Arren as a way to help accomplish this and get revenge on his old enemy Sparrowhawk.

This movie is loosely based on the much loved Earthsea series of fantasy books by Ursula K. LeGuin. It mashes together the plots of two of the books, while leaving considerable amounts out from those same books. While it’s done in the lovely Ghibli art style (some character designs look awfully familiar), famed director Hayao Miyazaki had temporarily retired at that point, so the direction was by his son Goro.

The art is lovely, there are some nice magical effects, and some excellent moments in the final fight. For a country-spanning menace, it’s a tight cast of characters. (One person with enough resources and selfish goals can ruin the environment for everyone.)

But the movie just is not as good as it could have been. Important bits of explanation are left out, like just how the shadowy figure that pursues Arren ties in to anything, or what’s going on with the huge spoiler twist in the last ten minutes. 

Also, the cast’s appearance is influenced by mukokuseki “statelessness”, a generic look designed to make characters look vaguely Japanese to Japanese viewers and “white” to Western viewers, when the book characters are largely dark-skinned. (Sparrowhawk is just tan enough to allow his pale scars to be noticeable.) Therru’s character design was also altered to minimize her extensive burn damage, apparently so the audience would find her cute.

Overall, the movie is a pleasant diversion, but the books are better.

Book Review: Make My Day

Book Review: Make My Day by J. Hoberman

Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) was the first president of the United States to have been a movie star. Motion pictures that he’d worked in and that he saw certainly affected his politics, and his politics affected the movies that came out during his time in office. This volume examines the intersection of film and politics in America between 1976 (Reagan’s first run for president) and 1988 (his last full year in office.)

Make My Day

The author was a movie and cultural columnist in the Village Voice newspaper for many years, and has written two previous books on the intersection of movie culture and political culture in previous time periods. He quotes columns he wrote about Reagan at the time extensively.

It’s pretty obvious from the outset that the author was and is not a big President Reagan fan. The emphasis is on Ronnie’s skill at projecting an image of “normal guy you can trust, but tough on the inside”, and believing what he said even when it was at odds with observable reality.

The writer also makes it clear that many of the movies he’s discussing are not his favorites from that time period, but rather those that were most influential or that reflected the times best. Lots of summer blockbusters in here!

The first full chapter compares and contrasts Nashville and Jaws from 1975, and how each reflected the political climate at the time, whether overtly or as subtext. In the runup to the Bicentennial election, America thought it was thirsting for moral rectitude in its leaders, so Jimmy Carter was narrowly elected.

But it turned out that the ability to make the American people feel like they were in the right worked better than trying to steer a course based on moral principles, so Reagan came in four years later.

This was a time of Rocky and Rambo and Terminator and a bit of Dirty Harry, as well as Star Wars, feeding the president lines he could use to describe his policies and actions in Hollywood terms.

I found this book to be a nostalgic blast, even if my personal circumstances during that decade-plus weren’t the best. The author makes good points and brings up some interesting films. I suspect, however, that this book will resonate more strongly with those who were and are critical of the Reagan administration and its policies and aftereffects. (Including the very disappointing remake in the 2010s.) Unabashed President Reagan fans will find less here to enjoy.

I could have done with some more digging into the AIDS crisis and the Bork fiasco, but perhaps those didn’t have (at the time) the right movie counterpart to grapple with.

Overall, a good overview of the time period from a film culture perspective. Recommended to those who want to learn more about the intersection of Hollywood and politics.

And now, a movie trailer with Ronald Reagan and Shirley Temple.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway for the purpose of writing this review. No other compensation was requested or offered.

Comic Book Review: Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman Volumes 1&2

Comic Book Review:  Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman Volumes 1 & 2 edited by Kristy Quinn

Wonder Woman is a favorite character of many comics readers, but her regular series often disappoints.  The powers that be will assign writers that are a poor fit, or a promising storyline will be derailed by needing to tie in with a cross-company event, or a good writer will be removed just as they’re building up steam or finished fixing the damage from the last writer.  Plus a number of writers only have one good Wonder Woman story in them.   Thus this series, originally published online, which is all “done in one” stories by a grab bag of writers and artists, and named after the comic book where Wonder Woman first appeared.

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman Volume 1

Volume 1 opens with “Gothamazon”, written by Gail Simone with art by Ethan Van Sciver and Marcelo di Chiara. Gotham City’s villains are on the rampage and Batman’s unavailable, so Oracle calls in Wonder Woman to clean house. Ms. Simone is working with a couple of her favorite characters here and it shows. The “not in continuity” nature of these stories allows some slightly different takes on the Bat-villains, and a more hopeful ending than most recent Gotham-based stories.

It ends with “Dig for Fire” written by Corinna Bechko & Gabriel Hardman, with art by Gabriel Hardman. Diana must travel to the nightmare planet Apokolips to rescue two Amazon agents who’ve been captured. However, when she realizes what her sisters have been up to, the mission turns into an entirely different kind of rescue. This is a darker tale with a more bittersweet conclusion due to the monstrous society of Apokolips, but not without a ray of hope.

In between, a couple of stories I found especially interesting were “Morning Coffee” by Ollie Masters and Amy Mebberson, in which Diana has to deal with a tricky plan of Selina (Catwoman) Kyle to get away with a fabulous treasure; and “No Chains Can Hold Her” by Gilbert Hernandez, in which Wonder Woman is hypnotized by Kanjar Ro into battling Supergirl and surprise guest Mary Marvel. The latter is mostly slam-bang action, but does feature a WW design that’s more obviously muscular than most.

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman Volume 2

Volume 2 opens with “Generations” written by Michael Jelenic with art by Drew Johnson and Ray Snyder. Diana’s search for a birthday present for her mother is interrupted by Cheetah’s attempt to gain the same object. Some nice coloring effects.

The closing piece is “Casualties of War” by Aaron Lopresti. Wonder Woman is attacked by a dragon with a long grudge against the Amazons for killing its relatives, who’d chosen the wrong side in a war. Because it is unable to give up its grudge, Ares was able to manipulate it into a tragic mistake.

In between stories I really liked include “Venus Rising” by Alex di Campi and Neil Googe, in which Wonder Woman must solve the mystery of monsters attacking a space station (and has some nifty alternative costumes) and “Rescue Angel” by Amy Chu and Bernard Chang, about a female pilot in Afghanistan in a world where Wonder Woman isn’t real–or is she?

The format allows a lot of different artists and writers to try their hands at a Wonder Woman story, including some that would never be chosen for the main series, or whose styles aren’t suited to long-form comics. I like it when the stories emphasize the qualities that make Diana special among superheroes, her compassion and willingness to seek out peaceful solutions, rather than her combat prowess.

Also, there’s something in here for almost every kind of Wonder Woman fan: Golden Age, Silver Age, modern age, Diana as a child or young teen, compare and contrast with other heroes who are women, stories where she just inspires girls.

On the other hand, there’s no connection to the main comics, so elements introduced here won’t carry on to other stories, and no changes for the better for minor characters will stick.

Recommended to Wonder Woman fans, and to comics fans who want an introduction to the character.

Manga Review: Rin-ne Volumes 7,8 & 9

Manga Review: Rin-ne Volumes 7, 8 & 9 by Rumiko Takahashi

Quick recap: Rinne Rokudo is a shinigami, a psychopomp who helps ghosts and wandering spirits move on to the next life. Because he’s part human, Rinne’s powers are relatively weak and he must use gadgets, often expensive, to bolster his attempts. Moreover, due to his deadbeat father signing Rinne’s name to his debts, Rinne is in constant poverty.

Rinne is assisted by Rokumon, his black cat (by contract), and Sakura Mamiya, a classmate who had a near-death experience as a child and thus can see spirits. Less helpful are some of their acquaintances, both nominally good and definitely evil.

I’m combining several volumes this time to catch up a bit.

Rin-ne Volume 7

Volume Seven opens with Rinne going on a summer festival date with a girl–as a job. It seems there’s this shooting gallery with a stuffed toy prize that her regular boyfriend is compelled to try to win, and each year he doesn’t in bizarre ways. She suspects a spirit!

It ends with the horticultural club’s sweet potatoes being cursed due to thwarted love.

In between, there’s a spooky story about little boys being replaced by evil cat spirits, and a story involving Sakura’s house, normally ghost-free, suddenly being haunted.

No new characters or plot developments, so not an essential volume.

Rin-Ne Volume 8

Volume Eight opens with the introduction of Shoma, a fifth-grader who’s a trainee shinigami. He’s on a field assignment to practice putting spirits to rest, and was foisted on Rinne as a guest. Disgusted by Rinne’s poverty, and too impatient to earn his marks by sending off small animal spirits like his peers, Shoma wants to tackle an evil spirit to get enough points to leave early. Alas, he just doesn’t have the skills and experience to back up his confidence!

Shoma’s big chance comes when the neighborhood is terrorized by the Alligator Woman. But is it truly an evil spirit, or is there more to the story?

The volume ends with the Strangling Scarf, a knitted object that attacks those about to get scarves as presents from girls. Sakura helps with the mystery by learning to knit, though her first project turns out a little wonky.

In between are stories in which Shoma meets the narrow-minded devil Masato and is nearly dragged off to Hell, and rich but gullible shinigami Ageha is sold an allegedly magical kosatsu (table with a heater built in) and tries to advance her non-existent romance with Rinne.

Shoma shows up pretty frequently from now on, so an essential volume for the plot.

Rin-ne Volume 9

Volume Nine opens with a senior at the school studying for his exams and not being able to stay awake. It turns out there’s a spirit that wants students to get some rest, already. College students cramming for finals will empathize.

The concluding story introduces Oboro, Ageha’s black cat by contract. They don’t get along well as she’s casually cruel to him, and he’s actively cruel to her, especially pushing on her ophidiophobia (fear of snakes.) Neither one really wants to be with the other, but Ageha spitefully refuses to let Oboro out of his contract until she’s punished him “enough.” The volume ends on a cliffhanger in which Ageha is swallowed by a mongoose spirit.

In between, there’s stories about a childhood skating meeting going dreadfully wrong, inept exorcist Jumonji trying to lay a ghost who keeps trying to kill him, and Rinne’s father being possessed by a ramen cook ghost. Overall, this is a strong volume and worth picking up.

As always there’s a lot of slapstick violence, and some disturbing backstory.

Recommended to Takahashi fans.

Anime Review: Dororo (2019)

Anime Review: Dororo (2019)

Lord Daigo has a problem. The lands under his control suffer from floods when it rains and droughts when it doesn’t, the crops wither, the people are afflicted with disease, and bandits and enemy soldiers roam freely. As a result, Daigo’s province is poverty-stricken and low-status. In desperation, Daigo turns to the demons enshrined in the Hall of Hell where statues of them are propitiated. He offers them anything they wish in exchange for making his land safe and prosperous.

The demons signal their agreement with the contract immediately after the birth of Daigo’s first son, stealing parts of the newborn’s body, making it limbless, skinless and eyeless. Only what appears to be a miracle of Kwannon, goddess of mercy, intervenes. One of the demons destroys the head of a Kwannon figurine in the birthing room, rather than the child’s head. The obviously dying child is given to the midwife to dispose of.

“Dororo” in Japanese.

Some years later, child thief Dororo has been caught by some of his victims, and is being given a thrashing when a monster shows up. Then a mysterious young man with swords concealed in his artificial arms and a face like a doll’s appears and slays the monster, saving Dororo’s life as a byproduct. Knowing a good thing when he sees it, Dororo attaches himself to the stranger.

Eventually we learn that the stranger, Hyakkimaru, is the firstborn child of Daigo, who was set adrift rather than drowned, and taken in by a kindly craftsman who made him prosthetic parts for the bits he’s missing. By accident, Hyakkimaru learned that certain monsters return his missing parts when slain, and is wandering to reclaim his human self.

Back in Lord Daigo’s lands, he and Lady Nui have had a new son, Tahoumaru, and their country is an oasis of peace and prosperity in these war-torn times. But recently, the statues in the Hall of Hell have started breaking one by one, and with each statue’s destruction, a little of their protection fades from the land.

This animated series is the latest adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s 1967 manga of the same name, and in the U.S., streamed on Amazon. While the manga was innovative had good ideas, it was incoherent in places and was cancelled abruptly, leaving it with a messy ending.

Thus this adaptation feels free to make major changes, most of which work well. The first obvious change is that the number of demons involved is reduced from 48 to 12, allowing the story to be contained in a single long season. Most of the good story arcs from the manga are used, but not necessarily in the same order, and some filler has been put in for breather episodes.

By reintroducing Daigo and his country early on, and frequently cutting to them, the series gives Tahoumaru a character arc he sorely needed. Yes, the prosperity of his country is based on Hyakkimaru’s involuntary sacrifice and suffering, but each time Hyakkimaru wins, the people of Daigo’s land suffer as a result, and his total victory would mean disaster. Tahoumaru grows from a spoiled child who wants his parents’ full attention and love into a protector of his people, even at the cost of his brother’s life.

Meanwhile, Hyakkimaru’s journey offers up not just monsters, but humans as opponents as well, and with each step closer to full physical humanity, there is blood to pay, and the increasing fear that he may become mentally a demon, so fixated is the young man on reclaiming what’s his.

The reveal that Dororo is biologically female, a huge twist in the manga which drastically altered his relationship with Hyakkimaru, is done much more quietly in this series, almost as an aside, and does not alter how Hyakkimaru treats him at all. Of course, this could realistically demonstrate just how isolated from human society Hyakkimaru has been.

One change I was a bit disappointed with is that Dororo is a much nicer person from the beginning, as opposed to the bratty and greedy thief of the manga. This gives him less room to grow.

The art takes some character design elements from Tezuka, but goes for a more “realistic” depiction, making the series’ Sengoku Era setting even more bleak. As a horror anime with a samurai revenge plot, there’s a lot of gory violence and disturbing imagery in these episodes.

I found the ending satisfying. Highly recommended to fans of Japanese horror anime.

By the by, today is my birthday. If you would like to support the blog, how about buying the blogger a small present?

Movie Review: The Day the Earth Stood Still

Movie Review: The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) dir. Robert Wise

The humans of Earth are a fractious lot. Why, just six years ago, they had an entire World War, as a result of which they created and used atomic weapons. You’d think they would have learned their lesson, but instead they went right into a Cold War, turning hot in places like Korea. And they’re building rockets to explore beyond their atmosphere! If the Earthlings got off their own planet while still maintaining their warlike ways, other worlds might be threatened. Someone should really go and have a word with them. 

The Day the Earth Stood Still
Mr. Carpenter finally explains himself to Helen.

And so Klaatu has come to Earth with his mighty robot companion Gort. They land their saucer in a Washington, D.C. park near the Mall. Klaatu speaks words of peace, but when he pulls out a device that looks a teensy bit like a ray gun, a nervous soldier shoots him. Gort raises his visor and reduces multiple pieces of military hardware to ash before Klaatu gets his breath back enough to ask Gort to stop.

Klaatu recovers in a nearby hospital, but the governments of Earth refuse to meet together to hear his message, even at the United Nations. Realizing he needs to learn more about the Earthlings before taking his next step, Klaatu escapes from the hospital and assumes the identity of Mr. Carpenter, a traveler who takes a room at a boarding house.

There he meets widow Helen Benson and her son Bobby, who Mr. Carpenter makes a good impression on. So much so, that when Helen steps out with her new boyfriend Tom, an insurance salesman, she allows Mr. Carpenter to babysit Bobby by having the boy guide him around town. Bobby enables Klaatu to see that Earth people do have some capacity for goodness and growth, and enables Mr. Carpenter to get in contact with Earth’s greatest scientist, Professor Barnhardt. 

Professor Barnhardt is willing to assemble an international conference of scientists to hear Klaatu’s message, and asks for a non-lethal demonstration of the alien’s power to back up his words. Klaatu does so, halting most electrical activity on Earth (except where that would kill people) and making the Earth Stand Still. The military does not respond well, and this sets up the spine-tingling conclusion.

This 1951 film is deservedly considered one of the all-time classic science fiction films, far above the schlock treatment the genre usually received at the time. The acting is decent, the effects very well done given technological limitations (there were two Gort costumes with zippers in different places, depending on whether Gort is facing towards or away from the camera.) The theremin music is spooky, and the writing is also good. Even though all of the action is confined to the Washington area, the international nature of the crisis is frequently shown, and even in American crowds we see some diversity.

A hilarious moment for later audiences is when two doctors are baffled by the fact that Klaatu’s people live twice the lifespan of Earth humans, and wonder how this is accomplished–then light up cigarettes.

There is one clunker of a line late in the film, put in at the insistence of the censors, about how raising the dead permanently is reserved for “The Almighty.” And there’s that moment at the beginning where Klaatu stupidly makes a sudden move in front of a nervous and highly armed crowd.

Highly recommended for any science fiction fan who has somehow not seen it before, or only seen the much less well done remake.

Book Review: Jurassic Park

Book Review: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

A monster stalks Isla Nublar, red in tooth and claw, seeking whom it may devour. It is a deadly threat to all who live, merciless, implacable–some might call it evil. The name of this monster is not stegosaurus or velociraptor, or even Tyrannosaurus Rex. The name of this monster is Capitalism.

Jurassic Park

This 1990 novel was phenomenally successful, spawning a movie franchise and even getting Michael Crichton to write a rare sequel. It’s about time I got around to reading it.

Going in knowing the premise makes this book a little frustrating, as the author tries to create a sense of mystery in the first few chapters. A doctor gets an emergency patient with inexplicable wounds, and it’s suggested a creature from Costa Rican folklore is responsible. Then a little girl is bitten by a previously unknown species of lizard, and an effort is made to identify the creature. Neither of these really matter in the main plotline.

Finally on page 80, we get to the premise. Entrepreneur John Hammond is cloning dinosaurs* to create a theme park. There have been a few minor glitches, and the investors are getting antsy, so Hammond invites a number of people to Isla Nublar to see that Jurassic Park is doing just fine and will be able to open on schedule. Nothing can possibly go worng!

*It’s explained later in the novel that the scientists are not, in fact, cloning dinosaurs, but genetically engineering creatures using partial dinosaur genetic material that look how we imagine dinosaurs appeared. The difference between the two techniques is a plot point.

As mentioned in my opening, one of the themes of the book is how capitalism, and in particular the tying of scientific research to the desire to make a profit, ruins things. Greed for money drives many of the poor decisions in the book. Most notably, Hammond’s priorities cause the scientists he’s hired to take shortcuts without considering the long-term ramifications (“They were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn’t think about whether they should.”) He invests a lot of attention to the spectacle that will be visible to the public, while shortchanging important safety measures. And of course, underpaying the guy who designed your computer security system is a non-starter.

There’s a moment, darkly humorous in hindsight, when Hammond explains that he decided to use bioengineering to make amusement park attractions rather than life saving medical treatments…because the U.S. government would never let him get away with cranking up the price of vital medications to ludicrous levels for the sake of profit.

It’s honestly a bad enough set of decisions that the book hardly needs trendy chaos theory mathematician Ian Malcolm to explain what went wrong. On this reading he comes across as the author’s mouthpiece about how modern society went horribly askew; Crichton’s cranky old man viewpoint peeking through.

Crichton clearly did his research; there’s enough actual scientific detail so that when he just makes something up to fill in the gaps, it’s plausible in the moment. When he describes a particular moment of corporate malfeasance early on, it took me a couple of pages to realize this was a fictional company and incident.

This is a good potboiler novel that made an even better movie. Recommended to dinosaur carnage fans.

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