Stephen reviews: Shiki (2010)

shiki_2Shiki [屍鬼] (2010)

Starring Toru Ohkawa, Kouki Uchiyama, Kazuyuki Okitsu, Haruka Nagashima, Keiko Kawakami, Wataru Takagi, Aoi Yūki, Ai Orikasa, Nozomi Sasaki, Nobuhiko Okamoto

Directed by Tetsuro Amino


All right, I’m breaking the unwritten and nonbinding rules by reviewing an entire TV series rather than a singular film. Shiki completely took me by surprise with its rich atmosphere, dense plot, and unflinching cruelty. Since it is also one of those rare anime titles that is genuine horror, it felt like the perfect time to step away from the norm. One of the big differences about an anime series from a Hollywood series is that anime is largely intended to tell an already mapped out story. Anime often isn’t meant to run season after season until the fans get tired of it. An anime series usually has the entire plot figured out before production begins. This means that at every step of the way a well-made series will advance the story toward a specific end, much like every scene in a movie should progress the plot to its conclusion, and Shiki does this very well.

shiki_1I had heard that Shiki was a slow-paced series, but I found that to be blatantly false. This isn’t an action series, so maybe people were confused by this thing called a plot. But whatever the case, I thought the story proceeded at a rapid pace, hurling new developments at every turn. I don’t think there was a single episode that didn’t radically alter the situation, constantly building up its dreadful sense of impending doom. Partly it manages this through an enormous cast that grows with nearly every episode. Even at the end of the series, new characters are still being introduced. This means that there is always someone to stumble onto new problems. This also means there are a lot of characters to keep track of, so I really do recommend watching the entire series over a short span of time, otherwise you’re liable to forget who important people are. This is perhaps one of its weakest points for viewers who don’t want a story quite so difficult to keep track of, but it is one of my favorite aspects of the series.

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Stephen reviews: Black Jack (1996)

blackjack_1Black Jack [ブラックジャック] (1996)
AKA Black Jack: A Surgeon With the Hands of God

Starring Akio Ohtsuka, Mayo Suzukaze, Yuko Mizutani, Ai Orikasa, Shin Aomori

Directed by Osamu Dezaki


Black Jack is one of my favorite Osamu Tezuka characters. Upon first reading the manga, I was struck by the parallels he had to American superheros. Just like a superhero, he has a code name while the general public has no idea what his real identity is. Just like a superhero, he operates outside the law, saving lives through a kind of vigilanteism. He has superhuman skills that allow him to perform amazing feats no one else can. He doesn’t quite have a cape, but he’s got a cool trenchcoat that looks like one. He’s even got a kid sidekick that he rescued from certain death. (One character in the film refers to Pinoko as his daughter, but that’s not actually true. However, her origin story is too complicated and irrelevant to the film to bother getting into here.) The only real difference is that Black Jack doesn’t fight crime; he fights disease.

He’s an unlicensed surgeon that can perform any surgery on pretty much any living creature, and his villains are the illnesses that threaten their lives. I wondered even after my first encounter with the character whether Tezuka was making a deliberate critique of the comic book superhero, or if it was all just a coincidence. There’s definitely something to be said about Black Jack’s inherently peaceful means of saving people. With the kinds of superpowers showcased in the comic book industry, why do they almost never seem to be used in constructive ways? A superhero claims to be saving the world, but even though that is true, saving the world usually turns out to be a massive fist fight that levels half of Manhattan. Was Tezuka subtly wagging a finger at the superhero genre for proclaiming violence as the sole means of solving the worlds problems by creating his own superhero that did the exact opposite? I don’t think I’ll ever know for sure, but watching this movie made me contemplate these questions more than ever.

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Stephen reviews: Black Lion (1992)

blacklion-1Black Lion [時元戦国史 黒の獅士 陣内編 Jigen Sengokushi Kuro no Shishi: Jinnai-hen] (1992)

Starring Yasunori Matsumoto, Yuusaku Yara, Ai Orikasa, Kan Fujimoto

Directed by Takashi Watanabe


I’ve been taking a break for a while, and I wanted to come back with a great movie that would capture the spirit of anime and the whole reason I love it. Something that really captures the essence of the medium. Which brings me to Black Lion, a short film about cyborgs and ninjas in ancient Japan. Jackpot.

Now you might be wondering why there would be cyborgs in ancient Japan, and the answer is simple. Cyborgs are awesome, and ninjas are awesome. So if you put the two together you get something even more awesome. Do you really need an explanation for something that awesome? If you do, then you have come to the wrong place, my friend. Cyborgs fighting ninjas is always awesome, no matter what the reason.

The plot starts with Oda Nobunaga out conquering the area. In this tale, however, he has an army of robot samurai armed with machine guns. His army rips apart the opposing soldiers armed with mere spears and bows. The arsenal quickly escalates to missiles, tanks, lasers, and orbiting spaceships. The conventional firearms of the sixteenth century can’t stand up to the onslaught.

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