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Death Parade: on Decim’s choice

It took me quite some time before I could even write about Death Parade.

Call me lazy, I guess.

Goodnight, sweet princess.

Goodnight, sweet princess.

I think that Death Parade is the best series to come out this year. Its episodic nature gradually revealed the color and depth of its major characters, leading to its wonderful climax and denouement. I think many people were impressed with its ending.

Do I agree with Decim’s choice at the end?

I do, and I’m going to use a philosophical basis for my answer. Although I disagree with the excessive austerity of Kant, his deontological (duty-based) perspective towards ethics is, I think, applicable to Decim’s condition.

Decim is an arbiter. It was what he was created for, and it is his role. He selects the people who deserve a second chance from the people who deserve to end up in the void. He is able to do it because people come across limbo (the different bars) as tabula rasa. They are devoid of their memories or of what they had done in their lifetime that their personalities can be assessed with little to no obfuscation.

Chiyuki was an aberration because she came in knowing that she had killed herself. In order to properly assess her true personality, he had to create an elaborate ruse where she had gone back to Earth and had a choice to sacrifice a person in order to come back to life.

Kant speaks of actions having moral worth only if they are done in accordance with duty despite the fact that the doer is absolutely against doing what he needs to do. Decim does exactly that, and Chiyuki doesn’t disappoint. He has performed a moral action.

Although the romantic in me wish that they’d end up together (in a psychological suspense anime, yes, I know), what made Death Parade a great show was that it did not compromise with its viewers or its ideals. The series dealt with its aberrations wonderfully, and had a most pertinent ending: Decim learned to understand a bit more of humanity, and Chiyuki understood, finally, the gravity of her past actions – even if they were justifiable.

Sorcerer (1977): one of the best thrillers of all time

I have always believed in the saying that ‘if you watch what everyone else is watching, you’ll think what everyone else is thinking.’ I’ve always been disgusted with intellectual stagnation, so I tried to avoid immersing myself in only what was popular. That philosophy allowed me to watch a film as old as Cavalcade, which was the Academy Award-winner for Best Picture back in 1933. (I don’t recommend watching that film: it’s a slog, and not even Noel Coward’s screenplay could save it. It’s probably among the worst Best Picture winners I’ve seen.) Most of the dated films I’ve seen were most definitely not as bad.

This scene was immaculately and painstakingly filmed. I was blown away with how it was executed - in 1977.

This scene was immaculately and painstakingly filmed. I was blown away with how it was executed – in 1977.

Casablanca still remains to be one of the most well-written and well-acted films I have seen, even though it was initially shown in 1942. Sorcerer also lies in the opposite spectrum from Cavalcade. It’s one of the best films I have seen. It was directed by William Friedkin, who is better known for his Best Picture-winning French Connection, and his seminal horror, The Exorcist. As I wasn’t and still am not into shock-horror films, I abstained from watching Exorcist. (I do watch films such as The Night of the Hunter and The Shining, however.) Because I was fond of thriller films, I watched The French Connection. It was merely a bonus that I saw the talented Gene Hackman play as an anti-hero instead of his later villainous roles. It was a good film then, and is a good film now.

Sorcerer, however, is a better film in my opinion than French Connection. Although Roy Scheider was never a notable a leading man as Gene Hackman was, Sorcerer had a more engaging and well-wrought story. It was a truly gritty, well-directed and well-acted thriller: Wikipedia even revealed that due to its close-quarters filming back in the 1970s, stuntmen were not utilized much: most of the stunts were performed by the leading actors themselves. The director contracted malaria after filming the movie. It was as manly as any film could get.

Despite its merits, however, few people know of the film nowadays. Why is that?

The answer is simple: it came out during the same year that Star Wars came out. The 1970s marked the period where people transitioned from enjoying films featuring earthly suspicion and paranoia toward the more iridescent space operas. I think Sorcerer was among the latest attempts by a talented and well-awarded film-maker to ground a picture in realistic cynicism and bleakness. We all know what happened to Star Wars: there’s even a movie coming out later this year! Sorcerer, on the other hand, was left in the lurch. Only fans of good thrillers or great cinema search for it: I only stumbled it when I had already seen most of the notable 1960 spy films.

The plot of the film is simple. Four down-and-out men belonging to the lower depths in different societies somehow end up in Nicaragua. They live sordid lives there, and wish to get out. There are almost no options left until an oil well explodes, and the oil company searches for four desperate, daring men to carry nitroglycerin to stop the fire. (This is probably where the saying ‘fight fire with fire’ came about.) Things don’t get any easier when these men have to traverse through the forests of Nicaragua with such terrible terrain: exaggerated vibrations can cause nitroglycerin to explode.

Though the film’s first hour may be slow to people used to watching Michael Bay films, the explication and build-up is worth it. By painting the four major characters with the desperation they need to tackle such a suicidal job, the gravity of their job is magnified. The second hour makes up for it with a number of suspenseful, taut sequences depicting their struggle to successfully deliver the goods. The four major characters certainly do not disappoint, and Roy Scheider was at his absolute best here.

I recommend this film to movie-watchers looking for a cerebral thriller with a dash of social commentary, as well as to those who are simply fond of well-made films. I am not exaggerating when I say this ranks among my top 5 films. To me, it really is THAT good.

Secret: a flawed masterpiece

I’ve been a fan of Korean dramas since 2006. It’s almost been ten years, and I’m still besotted with their engrossing stories and beautiful ladies.

It's a great romance, but flawed story-wise.

It’s a great romance, but flawed story-wise.

I watched Secret Love on a whim. I hadn’t really been fond of Hwang Jung Eum because her face looks extremely plastic. I also wasn’t able to finish any of Ji Sung’s dramas, although I made it up to more than half of Royal Family. I came in expecting nothing. Since it was on a number of critics’ top drama lists, however, I jumped in.

It’s similar to the revenge-dramas I’ve watched before: Hwang Jung Eum’s character goes to prison for a crime her boyfriend committed, yet he leaves her in the lurch. Ji Sung’s character is the boyfriend of the hit-and-run victim ran over by Yoo Jeong(or Hwang Jung Eum)’s boyfriend, and so he seeks a way to torture her in prison and abrogate her parole. He eventually develops feelings after he realizes that she is a good person through-and-through while stalking her, and together they eventually unfold the secrets behind the accident and within their lives.

Secret Love’s strength is not in its plot. There are points where the plot seems to be all over the place, but I can’t really say more because I’d be spoiling a good drama. Its strength lies in its actors. There’s a reason why it won all four acting prizes during the year it was aired: the protagonists and deuteragonists are simply just that good. Hwang Jung Eum’s face even grew on me (I finally saw her beauty) when I saw her act so well. Ji Sung, as her partner, was no slouch either. Bae Soo Bin, as Hwang Jung Eum’s foil, also acted well. They carried the mediocre plot of the series and made it so deliciously addictive to watch.

The ending was very satisfying as well, because it did not rely on some deux-et-machina. The series is akin to Leo Tolstoy’s God Sees the Truth, but Waits placed in a more modern setting. I enjoyed it very much, but from an emotional standpoint. Ghost, on the other hand, was simply a masterful techno-thriller with an extremely sinister villain in Uhm Ki-joon. It was technically and story-wise a better drama, but it didn’t have the addictive factor of Secret Love.

Tokyo Story: an elegy to parenthood

My father was a year old when Tokyo Story was released back in 1953. To put things into context, I am only 27 years. Tokyo Story is more than twice as old as I am.

The best film of all time for directors

The best film of all time for directors.

Why did I attempt to watch such a dated film?

I watched it because Tokyo Story is considered by both directors and critics alike to be among the best films of all time. It’s not enough to read about a great film: a film is truly experienced only when one watches it. I had initially obtained a copy of it back when I was still an intern, but forgot about it because I had to attend to responsibilities inside the hospital and out. I then watched glimpses of it, but it was only two days ago that I had finally completed the film in its entirety. (It doesn’t help that the film has a slow, pensive, and elegiac quality in it. Patience is extremely important when one attempts to watch this movie.)

I don’t think it to be the greatest film of all time. First, I am neither movie critic nor director, so my understanding of film theory is marginal at best. I have a few films I think are more appealing to me. (These films are often thrillers, like The Killing and Army of Shadows.) Yet I cannot discount the greatness of this film and the eternal timeliness of its subject matter: Tokyo Story talks about family.

The story is simple. An elderly couple from rural Japan decide to visit their children in Tokyo. They are slowly being pushed aside, however, because of their children’s responsibilities to their family and to their work. Shige is the most obvious offender, bordering on subtly disrespecting her parents. Noriko, on the other hand, is a widow of the couple’s son. Despite that, however, she showers the most love and concern toward the couple, and it is this realization by the patriarch that moved me to tears. The blood siblings rush back to Tokyo a little after one of their parents died: only Noriko remained to help.

It’s so easy to summarize the film, because it tells a simple story. Its greatness, I believe, lies in its artistic expression as one watches the film. There are no true villains in this movie: there are only children who have drifted apart, and parents who have grown old.

I know and believe it’s natural to drift away from one’s parents. I guess I am lucky that I grew up in a close, traditional household that me and my siblings’ ties to our parents are still strong despite our adulthood. One day, I would have to be separated from them as well. I’m just glad that we were raised with filial respect that has still endured even despite our misgivings as regards our parents. I’m glad that I’ve watched the film, because I saw myself in the character of Koichi, who was a small, neighborhood doctor. While patients are indeed important, the film reminded me that my parents, who have given me life, are also important. Sometimes I take them for granted, but I appreciate them even more now that I’ve seen the film. While I would still get pissed off at them sometimes, as children normally do, I have the utmost respect and love for them. I hope having my own family in the future will not efface that.

This post is my own reminder.

Subete ga F ni Naru: episode 1 – 4 impressions

I didn’t watch a J-drama for the longest time. The last J-series I completed was Proposal Daisakusen back in 2006. I am, after all, more of an anime and K-drama fan than a J-drama fan. I was intrigued, however, by the poster of this series. It was such a teaser. It hadn’t been anything deep as I didn’t look what Subete ga F ni Naru was about: I just knew I was going to give it a chance, and was going to watch its first few episodes.

I admit, this teaser was what hooked me.

I admit, the teaser was what hooked me.

Since I started working and had gone back to playing DotA 2, I forgot about this series until about a week ago. When I looked up the upcoming series for Noitamina (one of the best anime blocks ever), I saw F as an upcoming series. I then recalled about the drama, and decided to watch its first episode.

True to my intuitive side, I was hooked. The initial interview of a cute Emi Takei (of Rurouni Kenshin) towards a seemingly intelligent and twisted doctor was a bit out-of-place, but was entertaining enough. When the two leads started investigating the first case, I knew I was going to love this series.

When I was younger, I read most of the stories in a short story collection. One of them featured Jacques Futrelle’s The Problem of Cell 13. The story had impressed me a lot that I would often appreciate media featuring locked-room mysteries. Even before Cell 13, I had already read most of Poe’s Dupin mysteries, including The Murders at the Rue Morgue. I was attracted to the cases and their resolution as well, so it was no surprise when I was impressed at how the first case constructed the locked-room murder.

Two colleagues who were about to get married were found murdered in the middle of an experiment, and a locked room mystery was revealed. Like most good cases, there were quite a few red herrings, and the culprits weren’t whom I had expected. It was a good case, with a good resolution.

The second case, however, was more impressive. It was an even simpler locked room, with only one room and no other way to exit or enter. The resolution, however, was a bit more elegant. I was able to narrow down the culprits to two suspects, and I was right with my hunch. How the locked room was created, however, and how the murder weapon was conceived was a lot more creative than the first case.

I also welcomed the interplay between the two major characters, because the lady, despite being intelligent, has an obvious crush on the even more intelligent professor. Both of them have a history, and while the professor cares for the lady, it remains to be seen whether he will realize his emotions by the end of the series. (When Moe solved the difficult math problem mentally, I knew I would have a hard time letting go. Intelligent heroines do me in.)

Some drawbacks of the series include the cheesy multiple-personality synthesis of facts by Professor Saikawa in his resolution of the case, and the occasionally saccharine desire of Moe to be, at least, tended to by her professor. Other than that, the construction of the cases were very well-thought of. The high incidence of suicide among the cases also offer more color to the series, leading to the difficulty of actually guessing the culprits. To be fair to the series, however, careful, analytical viewing leads to results: at the very least, it will help remove the red herrings of the series. Since I didn’t pursue a major in Physics, the science is sometimes beyond me, although I was quite impressed with how the weapon in the second case was constructed.

Fans of quirky detective cases with colorful main characters will probably like this show. I like this show doubly because there is an undercurrent of romance present. As with my favorite anime series, I love shows that have romance as a focus, yet the romance is not its sole focus. That was the case with The Tatami Galaxy, illustrating a bildungsroman with a romance; that was also the case with Steins;Gate, being a science-fiction story with a romance as well.

I hope you guys could give it a shot.

Steins;Gate: Fuka Ryouiki no Deja Vu : time-travel STILL done right

I was in third year of medical school when I first watched Steins;Gate. I recall being delayed with watching the TV series: I watched it during the December prior to my clerkship period.

I'm sorry, just being one of the great anime films of all time.

I’m sorry, just being one of the great anime films of all time.

To be honest, I had many doubts with the series. I have experience that the popular series are most often not critically good. I wasn’t impressed with the first few episodes, however. It all changed during the sixth episode, however, when the series became more and more intriguing. Like a freight train going at full speed, either, it never stopped. It became better and better.

It was late in the series when I realized that I had been watching one of the best series I had ever seen. It was extremely rare that I’d root for the primary couple in any show: whenever that occurred, it would most likely be a very good series as the two protagonists are well-fleshed out. That was the case with The Tatami Galaxy. It was also the case with Cross Game. Steins;Gate was no different.

Okabe took some time to grow on me, but I fell in love with Kurisu the moment she appeared in the series. I’m a sapiosexual, and she was special among anime heroines in that she was very intelligent. When she finally bared all her feelings toward Okabe during the 22nd episode, I knew I had been watching something brilliant. That kiss was scintillating, and despite being bittersweet, it simply congealed the unspoken feelings between the two. She was also heroic in that she was willing to part with him so long as he could save the two people most important to him: on the other hand, Okabe was willing to say goodbye to the world line that had Kurisu fall in love with him. He instead decided to live in a world where despite the fact that Kurisu doesn’t know him, she and Mayushii both live. This world is known as Steins;Gate.

I’d forgotten about Steins;Gate when I started my fourth year in medical school. I forgot about anime altogether. The final years of becoming a medical doctor is never easy anywhere, and I wasn’t an exception. Although I’d still sporadically watch anime series, I forgot about Steins;Gate until a month ago.

It was then that I discovered that the Steins;Gate franchise had released a movie. I let the movie percolate in my computer for about a month, only watching it a few days ago.

After watching the movie, I had re-awakened my love for the franchise. It was just as brilliant as the series, because the movie finally showed the perspective of the other half of the main duo: it showed Kurisu’s perspective. Despite the fact that the Kurisu in the Steins;Gate world line wasn’t familiar with all of Okabe’s sacrifices for her, feelings cross the disparate lines and manifest as deja vu. In short, the other Kurisu’s feelings reverberate through the Steins;Gate world line, and she still has strong feelings for Okabe.

The movie, similar to the series, gradually reveals the depth and gravity of her emotions toward him. She only comes to realize how she truly feels toward him, even in Steins;Gate’s world line, when no one else remembers him except her. She was the very first one to palpably feel his loss, and she was also the one who actively sought him. As if forming a complete circle, she also felt how he had felt after losing him to an accident during one of her time-skips.

To make him remember everyone, and where he belongs, she had also given him his first kiss. This ties into Okabe giving him her first kiss in the original series. Akin to the circular flow of Finnegans Wake, their feelings and love recirculated toward one another, saving the both of them.

It’s an absolutely brilliant movie from an absolutely coruscating series. I highly recommend this film if one’s a fan of the series already.

The absence explained: the journey to becoming a medical doctor

I looked at my previous posts and the last one I made was nearly a year ago. I’ve clearly put anime on the back-burner, but it’s for a very legitimate reason: the physician licensure examination began two weeks ago. There are a few things more important to me than anime, but being a licensed doctor is a lot more important than writing anime articles (for now).

I'm actually a doctor now.

I’m actually a doctor now.

In all honesty, I didn’t care much about medical school. That was primarily the reason that I was able to produce articles during the time period between 2009 and 2012. I stopped writing because I had to deal with menial work during my year in clerkship. The work was not only physically draining, however, but also mentally exhausting. At certain unlucky instances I would not have sleep for 40 hours; and particularly benign duties (24 hours long, plus 12 more hours of post-duty work) would allow me three hours of troubled sleep. I didn’t have time to watch anime, or be productive whenever I got home at the end of a 36-hour shift; and I would sleep early the next day in preparation for another 36-hour shift.

When I finally graduated in medical school I decided to properly prepare for the boards. I may not have had the passion for medicine as most of my peers, but I had enough responsibility to stick by my decision, which was to become a medical doctor, and I was going to be a medical doctor out of gratitude for a damn fine father. Gratitude is miles different from love, however: even now, I still honestly cannot say I love medicine.

I got my backlog of classic novels out of the way during the first two months of my post-graduate internship, and then started to prepare for the licensure examinations as rigorously as I knew how, which was to read as many reviewers as I possibly could with my spare time from duty. I had that much to catch-up to: all those barely passing marks came to bite me in the back, and I had ‘studied’ medicine for four years without really learning anything much. I’d say I cruised through it, rather than really studied it. I wrote a lot of articles about anime, and wrote pretty consistently because I spent time doing things other than studying. I could have passed as a part-time writer, DotA player, and overall bum, but not as zealous medical student. That description was for my classmates.

In the ten months I had left prior to graduating as a post-graduate intern (or PGI), I slowly culled the classics and literary reading from my backlog and kept on adding medical reviewers. This determination reached its apex during January through April this year, where I would read reviewers every spare time I had in between duties. My parents also acquiesced in enrolling me in a review center, just to bolster my chances of becoming a medical doctor.

The reader may think it quite queer for someone to be so determined at something one does not really love: I think this can be explained by my personality quirk which is the possession of an intense fear of failure. I think I am a serious person for the most part because I have this fear, as I don’t want to disappoint myself and others important to me.

When the formal review started, another four months passed with nothing more than reading through the different subjects. The breaks I allowed myself were: first, between five to six hours of sleep; and second, occasional excursions to the nearby mall for some novel food.

I could not allot any time for anime during all this time, and the reasons why are now quite obvious.

The results of the licensure examinations came out yesterday, and I am now a licensed physician. It’s time to start writing about anime once more. 🙂

Sakamichi no Apollon – 01: two words – WATCH IT.

There’s always something in a first episode that insinuates greatness in an anime. It’s difficult to describe, but it’s akin to a sliver of pain and happiness that touches the heart. I felt that from the very first minute I tuned in to Sakamichi no Apollon. Perhaps it’s because it’s been years since I heard YUKI in an anime series; perhaps because it’s been years since I’ve seen Shinichiro Watanabe direct an anime, or perhaps it is because of a multitude of factors combined.

I had been touting Sakamichi no Apollon as probably going to be the year’s best even before I saw one episode of it because of its staff, and after the first episode, it seems that I’m not wrong. Although quite unlike Watanabe’s previous two series in that it’s not rooted in action and violence, the characters and the dialogue remain to be sparkling yet minimalistic at the same time, approximating Hemingway’s works. It’s beautiful, in every sense of the word, from its fluid ‘action’ scenes to its character build-up.

It’s so good that to even attempt to summarize it would be to do it a disservice as words cannot, at least for me, express how beautiful it coalesced the characters and the plot together. But if one were to watch only one series this year, I suggest one watch this. I doubt that Watanabe would let up with his excellence, as he had never done so with his two previous masterpieces.

Final words on Ano Natsu: sorry for the delay

I actually finished Ano Natsu de Matteru weeks ago. Sadly, however, I haven’t been able to log on for quite some time due to issues with my connection. It ended very well, save for the Men in Black hijinks, but it was a nevertheless very well done series. The video of the friends spending their summer together despite their separation with Ichika was honestly tearjerking, and the uncertainty and sadness with Ichika being spirited away from Kai was quite overwhelming.

This was my feeling when I finished Ano Natsu. 🙂

I was happy with how it ended, though, and how it subtly showed Ichika’s return. I had no expectations whatsoever with the series, but it was honestly one of the best Winter 2012 had to offer. I honestly doubt it would end up as one of the best of the year, however, especially with the strength of the Spring season. It was a series one could say little about, but it was a great series simply because it did everything in its ability exceptionally well. It was great with its handling of its characters; it was great with evocation and although the plot was barebones the rest were enough to carry the series beautifully.

And yes, it was better than Ano Hana. Any dissenting opinions? 🙂

The beauty of simplicity: Ano Natsu de Matteru

I guess I was raised to value the complexity of intelligence and the intelligence of complexity that it reflects in my passions and wishes in life. I have been quite vocal regarding undeserved praise towards pedestrian novels such as the Twilight saga, and I admit that my favorite novels are those that are either ignored or willfully unread by the hoi polloi. I know that what I read are classics, although they are currently rather ignored. Among my most favorite novels is William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom, which jarringly shifts through time and person to tell a story that coalesces upon itself at its end. In the same vein is the symbolist masterpiece, Petersburg, by Andrei Bely.

I think the same could be said with regard to my choice in movies. I don’t seek to be idiosyncratic, but I prefer The Killing to any other movies by Stanley Kubrick, and sincerely wished that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy replaced an undeserving Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in the recent Academy Award nominations for Best Picture. I love watching films that so beautifully invoke the tip-of-the iceberg image by Freud: there is an elephantine mass gurgling and burbling beneath the surface that is up to the viewer to decipher, enjoy, and decode for himself, with so little to see on the surface itself. I was never fond of the easy way out in the things I loved.

Because this show is that awesome

I think that I have been consistent, even in relatively lesser media such as anime. The Tatami Galaxy was a masterpiece of prognostication, multiple viewpoints and intertwining realities, but it took rather astute observers to appreciate its nuances. Steins;Gate was also masterful because of its ability to connect and twist the story to become esemplastic, and it was reminiscent, at least for me, of The Sound and the Fury.

While I prefer the complex and intellectual examples in my favorite media, there are exceptions to all of them, and the most recent one is the series Ano Natsu de Matteru.

The series is not complex: it does not require multiple re-watches to understand the story, but like the simple and yet beautiful Mice and Men novella by Steinbeck, it simply and incandescently gets the job done. It is a bildungsroman of a certain Kaito, who, like most of us back when we were in high school, sought his own identity in the context of his society. While the story is essentially a rehash, the characters that interact with one another make it one of the better, if not the best examples of anime, because it has characters that are essentially human but also essentially good.

While most people would probably be unimpressed with the flow of the plot, I simply found the empathetic characters to be among the best-written among the series I’ve watched. We all have to admit that it was Lennie and George who made Of Mice and Men, after all. Anything can have a barebones plot, and as long as the characters that pepper that story are rife with life and color, it would be at the very least good. I think Ano Natsu approximates that.