Anime Review: Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai: Tensai-tachi no Renai Zunousen (2019)

TL;DR – battle of the sexes comedy set in a prestigious school where love is war.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai: Tensai-tachi no Renai Zunousen (aka Kaguya-sama wa Kokuraetai: Love is War) is a hilarious anime that posits the theory that love is a power struggle and the first to confess and fall in love loses. On a deeper level, it demonstrates how not to love because this show examines all the manipulations and mind games that are played between the two main protagonists – Miyuki and Kaguya.

Miyuki is the president and Kaguya is vice-president of the student council at Shuchiin Academy (an elite school for the brightest and wealthiest students). Miyuki and Kaguya are multi-talented, highly intelligent, and are the gossip of the Academy as to whether they are dating or not. In reality, they’ve never been in a serious relationship, don’t have the first clue of what it means to commit to a relationship and view dating as simply a game where they attempt to get the other to confess. There is a genuine attraction and interest displayed by the pair, but they go about manipulating each other in a battle of wills and sexes that overrides any ability to properly connect.

The fact that Miyuki and Kaguya take it so seriously is what makes it funny. Whether it’s taking a psychological relationship quiz from a magazine that reveals sub-consciously what you’re really like and who you like, to other students coming to Miyuki for relationship advice (even though he has no clue what to do), the arena that is the student council room leads to comic misunderstandings and a total failure to communicate feelings properly.

In one episode, a male student comes to Miyuki seeking advice on how he can hold hands with the girl he likes on a date. Miyuki goes to great lengths to map out all the steps which involves getting a job and earning enough money to pay for surgery so the boy’s hands won’t be sweaty when he attempts to hold the girl’s hand. It’s this type of absurdity that makes you laugh because it’s so ridiculous.

Joining our two main characters are Chika (the student council secretary) and Yuu (the student council treasurer). Chika is largely clueless about what is happening around her, yet somehow she comes off as more emotionally mature than Miyuki and Kaguya. Yuu is an introverted student who believes he can read 5% to 6% of what a person is thinking by the expression in their eyes (he places too much weight in this 5-6%). Yuu thinks that Kaguya is capable of killing people if she doesn’t get her way, which leads to some funny situations. He’s a fatalistic character who struggles to connect with the fairer sex and harbours a strong hatred toward guys who have girlfriends but don’t treat their girlfriends first.

The attempts at depth are often short lived in this show, and it aims squarely at the laughs to carry through the series. In this sense, it succeeds as a light and airy affair that serves its purpose as a comedy but is largely forgetful once you’ve watched it.

However, one episode did stick in my mind. Episode nine has three parts that all connect (previous episodes also have three parts but they are all distinct snippets). Part one sees a typhoon hitting the area. Kaguya tries to get Miyuki to ask her for a lift to his work because the trains have stopped due to the bad weather. Kaguya refuses to offer the lift because she thinks if she does this (instead of him asking her) then it’ll be a “car date” and she will have essentially confessed her attraction to him. And though she want to help and would love to spend time in the chauffeured car with him, she can’t bring herself to do the asking. Her manipulations fail as Miyuki ends up daring the storm on his bicycle leaving Kaguya standing outside in the rain waiting for her limo.

Part two is the next day, Kaguya wakes up sick. Miyuki, Chika and Yuu play a memory card game to see who will get to visit Kaguya and give her the student council printouts. Chika reveals that Kaguya becomes childlike when she’s sick and wants to be taken care of. Miyuki and Chika both want to see her in this state for the opportunity to comfort her. It’s a hilarious process as Chika attempts to cheat but Miyuki figures it out and wins.

Part three shows Miyuki visiting the mansion that Kaguya lives in. And the ensuing set up created by Kaguya’s maid to bring the pair together is also laugh out loud (the maid knows Kaguya has a huge crush on Miyuki).

This episode was memorable because all three parts connect and delve deeper into the underlying emotions the pair have for each other.

A crazy, fun ride.

8 out of 10

Movie Review: Ghostbusters Afterlife (2022)

TL;DR – fitting tribute to all things great about the Ghostbusters with a dash of Goonies thrown in.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Over three decades have passed since the supernatural events in New York in which the world was introduced to a quartet of loveable dudes with proton packs that busted ghosts. Many of the events in the first Ghostbusters film should be watched in order to fully appreciate Ghostbusters Afterlife.

The story is set in Summerville, Oklahoma, and although it’s the year 2021, the town is stuck in a bygone time where there is zero mobile phone reception, and there still exists drive-in restaurants where carhops bring fast food to your vehicle on roller skates. By all intents, there’s not much to do for the kids in this town other than to drive up to an abandoned mine and watch the sun set. And though the town is not on a fault line, they seem to be experiencing earthquakes on an almost daily basis.

Little does anyone know (except one particular individual) that the mine was the site of an occultist named Ivo Shandor, who built a temple in order to summon Gozer, an evil god of destruction.

The one individual who knows about what is actually happening is an aged Egon Spengler (Bob Gunton) who has gone to great lengths to set up his dirt farm with a giant ghost trap to trap Gozer once and for all. The film opens with Egon driving madly away from the mine and being chased by an unseen poltergeist after having captured Zuul, or it could be Vinz (it’s not clear which one), who are demigods that serve Gozer. Zuul is the “gatekeeper” and Vinz is the “keymaster” and together they can open a portal between worlds to allow Gozer to come through and wreck destruction. These supernatural beings will be familiar to those who have watched the first Ghostbusters.

Unfortunately for Egon, while he manages to get back to his dirt farm and lures the creature chasing him, the ghost trap fails to activate. Egon hides the trapped ghost under the floorboards and suffers a fatal heart attack after being attacked by the creature.

This event leads to Callie (Carrie Coon) and her two kids, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (McKenna Grace) to take over residence at the dirt farm. Callie is Egon’s estranged daughter, who has long held the belief that her father abandoned her. Her goal is to move in, clear out all her father’s stuff and sell the place so they can move back to the city.

Again, for the those who have watched the first Ghostbusters, you’ll pick up straight away that Phoebe is a young girl version of her grandfather, Egon. She’s hyper intelligent, wears the same glasses as Egon wore, has the same curly hairstyle and loves science. She is also extremely unusual in that she gets calmer when things get crazier.

And believe me, the crazy hits the fan and sprays it all over the place.

She befriends a boy named Podcast (Logan Kim), who has his own podcast and a fascination for supernatural stories, at summer school along with her teacher, Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), who is a seismologist and has a fascination for all things Ghostbusters-related (he later has a fascination for Phoebe’s mother, Callie… read on below). The chemistry between Phoebe and Podcast reminded me a lot of the characters in Goonies.

Through the exploration of the dirt farm and the mine, Phoebe and company discover what Egon was doing including his lab where she is guided by Egon’s ghost to fix a proton pack. She also finds the trap hidden under the floorboards, and when they open it, it releases Zuul (or Vinz) who travels back to the temple. In the mine, they find Ivon Shandor has somehow kept himself alive in a cryogenic coffin. Near him is a pit where Gozer attempts to rise out of but is constantly blasted down by three huge proton canons built by Egon. It is these canons that are causing the daily earthquakes.

Phoebe’s brother, Trevor, also discovers and successfully fixes the ol’ Ghostbusters Cadillac (the scene where he goes hooning around the fields is a lot of fun).

All things culminate in a paranormal cataclysm that is triggered when Callie gets possessed by Zuul and Vinz possesses Gary. Together they copulate in hilarious fashion (again, a tribute to the first Ghostbusters where Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver’s characters get possessed by the demigods and copulate) in order to open the portal to allow Gozer to come through. Gary/Vinz also destroys the proton canons ensuring Gozer’s arrival.

The final stand off sees the arrival of the original Ghostbusters (Phoebe contacted Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) seeking his help) and combining their efforts with Phoebe, Egon’s ghost, Callie, Trevor and Podcast to take on Gozer.

There’s plenty to love about Ghostbusters Afterlife and director Jason Reitman, who also co-wrote the script with Gil Kenan, have stayed faithful to the first two Ghostbuster films. There has been criticism about the fanservice, but I didn’t think it was overdone.

Even the miniature Stay-Puft Marshmallow men in the Walmart scene attacking Paul Rudd was pretty funny.

But my favourite scene would have to be when Trevor is behind the wheel of the Ghostbusters Cadillac, Podcast is remote controlling a ghost trap on wheels, and Phoebe is in a side gunner seat with proton pack ready and blasting her gun at “Muncher” (a ghost that must be a relative of “Slimer” in the original Ghostbusters, who eats nothing but metal) while they speed along a country road trying to prevent Muncher from reaching the mine and the sun is setting in the background. It’s an iconic scene that left me giddy.

8.5 out of 10

Book Review: Y: The Last Man (Book Five) by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra & Jose Marzan Jr.

TL;DR – the origins of the plague are revealed, and Yorick reunites with Beth. But will they live happily ever after?

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Click here for reviews of previous books of this Eisner award winning series.

The concluding volume is packed. The highlights are as follows:

  • Dr Allison Mann undergoes surgery at a bioethics institute in order to save her life from internal bleeding caused by a previous miscarriage. There she discovers her father, Dr Matsumori, is actually still alive (making Yorick not the last man on earth).
  • Dr Matsumori reveals he was not attempting to clone himself. Instead, he managed to create clones of his daughter (Ayuko Matsumori aka Dr Mann). It is his belief that the moment he was able to successfully create a female clone, the plague struck (see further detail below in the ‘review’ section). Dr Matsumori is killed by Dr Mann in order to protect Yorick.
  • Dr Mann and Rose stay in China while Yorick and Agent 355 move on to Paris to find Beth. Yorick keeps having dreams about a decaying Beth telling him not to come find her. These dreams are a subconscious red flag, but Yorick ignores them. It is also clear that after four years of being together, and the countless times Agent 355 and Yorick have had each other’s backs, that the pair have feelings for each other. But Yorick has made a commitment to Beth (proposing to her prior to the plague) and is determined to find her.
  • Hero (Yorick’s sister), Beth II (the second Beth who seduced Yorick in Cooksfield, California), Beth II’s child (who is also called ‘Beth’… I kid you not… and is Yorick’s daughter), the female astronaut Ciba and her son, and the Russian agent Natalya journey to Paris also to find Yorick.
  • Alter is also converging on Paris to find Yorick. The reason she gives to her soldiers is that they need to secure the last man for Israel (to ensure its future). In reality, she wants to die a soldier’s death and be killed by a man (as opposed to a female soldier). Her reasons for this are explained below.
  • Agent 355 locates Beth and organises for her and Yorick to reunite. Her ‘mission’ complete, Agent 355 slips away unnoticed (burying her feelings for Yorick) and deciding to live a life as a civilian.
  • Yorick and Beth are initially happy and spend a night in a hotel. However, when they start talking, the past and Yorick’s dreams come to the fore. Beth wants to discard everything that has happened in the past, but Yorick argues that the past is important. He asks her what she was going to tell him over the phone the day he proposed to her (the phone line cut out when the plague hit, so Yorick never heard her response). Beth confesses she was going to break up with him and tries unsuccessfully to convince Yorick that she has changed and does want to marry. When Yorick leaves to think things over, Beth is left waiting. Hero and company arrive, and when Beth II and baby Beth meets Beth, a lot of confusion occurs.
  • Yorick spends the whole night thinking and eventually hunts down Agent 355. There he confesses his feelings to her, and she acknowledges she feels the same way but says it’s a mistake and that he should try to work things out with Beth. It is then he reveals the vision he saw during his suicide intervention in Colorado with Agent 711 (refer book two review). The vision was of Agent 355 wrapped in the green scarf she has been knitting for years (and that she actually gave to Yorick as a parting gift). After more conversation, Yorick convinces Agent 355 that they should be together.
  • Agent 355 finally whispers her real name in Yorick’s ear, and they appear that they will move forward hand-in-hand. However, the moment is short lived as Alter shoots Agent 355 in the head with a sniper rifle.
  • Alter confronts Yorick. In the ensuing melee, Yorick manages to get Alter’s gun. Alter tries to convince Yorick that the cause of the plague was actually the Culper Ring (which Agent 355 worked for) and that the American government had developed a chemical weapon that was used against China that was meant to make all the women unable to conceive boys but instead it wiped out 99.99% of all men instead. Yorick doesn’t believe her. Alter then reveals she is responsible for assassinating Yorick’s mother. She yells at Yorick for him to pull the trigger, and he realises that what Alter wants is to commit suicide (just as he did before his intervention in Colorado by Agent 711), but she wants to do it as a soldier killed by a man. Yorick cuffs her instead, brings her outside where Alter’s soldiers are waiting, throws her on the ground in front of them, drops the gun and walks away.
  • The epilogue reveals a number of things detailed in the ‘review’ section.

I told you the final volume was packed.

Review

The conclusion to Y: The Last Man does not disappoint. The sense of devastation when Agent 355 was shot hit me like a sledge hammer. Both the art and script were brilliant throughout, but the scenes leading up to Yorick finally finding Beth, their subsequent fall-out, and Yorick and Agent 355 coming together were by far the most impactful.

There would be no happy ending for Yorick.

While it is an amazing accomplishment the body of work Vaughan, Guerra and Marzan have generated, there are some bits that didn’t quite work for me.

The first is the revelation that Dr Matsumori is alive. Everything works up to a point. The doctor reveals that he successfully cloned his daughter a number of times. And when he heard that his ‘original’ daughter, Dr Allison Mann, was close to creating a clone, he wanted to sabotage her by sending Ampersand with a serum in his body that would infect and kill Allison’s unborn child. Through chances of fate, Ampersand got mixed up with another monkey and ended up in Yorick’s hands. Further, the serum that Dr Matsumori injected into Ampersand turned out to shield both monkey and Yorick from the plague. This same serum protected Matsumori. However, he then goes into this theory about morphic resonance and that’s where things go a tad sideways.

Morphic resonance is a pseudoscience described in this volume as the “socio-biological interconnectedness of species”. An example is monkeys on one island learning to wash their food, and the practice spread to another tribe of monkeys on another island that have never interacted with the first group of monkeys. Morphic resonance is the idea of almost spontaneous transmission of data at a genetic level. Matsumori posits that as soon as the first female clone was born, men no longer served any use, so Mother Nature (through morphic resonance) wiped out everyone with a Y-chromosome. By all intents, Dr Matsumori was mentally ill at this point and intended to complete the evolution by killing Yorick and then himself. It kind of works up to the morphic resonance bit. Then it’s up to the reader as to whether you believe it’s true (or even possible).

This truth is further debated based on Alter revealing later that she found government documents that showed the plague was caused by a chemical agent released in China (i.e., it had nothing to do with morphic resonance). This ambiguity is intentional by Vaughan et al. And you, the reader, are left to form your own conclusions.

The second thing that didn’t quite work for me is Alter’s true intentions. The wanting to commit suicide but doing it by having a man kill her like a soldier was quite the twist. All along you believe her mission to secure Yorick as the last man for Israel and protect him from other countries is her only objective. But really her motives are entirely selfish, which feels like quite a swing in her character. The amount of collateral damage she inflicts through all five volumes to reach the point where Yorick is holding a gun at her is extensive. Alter did not hesitate to kill those women closest to her (that have served her faithfully) and manipulating events to convince her soldiers to continue to follow her. All so that she could have a man shoot her? I don’t know, I’ve gone over the pages a number of times now and I’m not sure it works.

The third nugget is Yorick’s reaction to the revelation that Beth had intended to break up with him when he proposed. It is not the revelation itself that is unbelievable. It is more Yorick’s reaction. Beth explains that at the time, they were moving in opposite directions. This was true. She was working to be an Anthropolgist and had a clear purpose, while Yorick seemed to be sailing along listlessly working to be an escape artist/magician. She then goes on to say, however, that he has now completely changed since the plague struck. He has grown, and she believed he was still alive even though all evidence showed that the plague wiped out every male.

Yorick focuses on the fact that she was going to dump him, rather than everything she says afterwards. He’s hurt and devastated, which is understandable. But for him, to just let it all go to find Agent 355 was a struggle for me to believe. I have nothing against him and Agent 355 coming together. It was simply the transition felt hurried. And let us not forget that Yorick is far from flawless (recall he got Beth II pregnant). Yet, he holds on to this fact that Beth intended to break up like that means they’re irreconcilable and that the only reason she now wants to marry him is because he’s the last man on earth.

Lastly, it is never revealed why Beth travelled from Australia to France to find Yorick. The previous volume said that there was meant to be some special meaning between Beth and Yorick about Paris even though Yorick, himself, didn’t know what that significance was. This little plot hole was left unexplained.

Others may view the above as nit-picking. And truth be told, none of the above sways me from saying this was one of the best graphic novels series I have ever read. Y: The Last Man is a must read for fans of dystopian fiction. Intelligent, thought-provoking and killer art.

5 out of 5.

Anime Review: Spy x Family (2022)

TL;DR – To accomplish his mission, a spy must create a family in order to get close to his target. In doing so, he will discover that being a good husband and father is the toughest assignment he’s ever undertaken.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Spy agent Twilight is on a mission to get close to reclusive Donovan Desmond, a political leader of the rival nation, Ostania. In order to do this, he must pose as a parent and enrol a child into the same private school as Desmond’s son.

The school is stupidly elite and snobbish, and to obtain the best chance of getting a child into the school, he has to “create” a happy family unit.

Twilight, under the alias Loid Forger, adopts an orphan girl named Anya and marries a woman named Yor Briar. Twilight is the type of meticulous spy that he plans for all possible outcomes, but even he is unaware that little Anya is a telepath and Yor has a secret life as an assassin.

Comic situations abound because Loid and Yor do not know each other’s true professions, and neither knows that Anya can read their minds and knows the truth.

Totally ridiculous, but there is a delightful charm about all three characters and the situations that unfold. More importantly, Twilight starts to care more about his “family” than he realises.

The animation is clean and gorgeous to look at. The action is over the top, and the reactions of characters are ludicrous and funny, but interspersed between all this are genuine moments of emotional connection and the conundrum all three of our main cast face.

That is, Loid learns to think and care for someone other than himself, Anya is seeking to be part of a loving family, and Yor is trying to find how she can be “normal” and in a relationship when she has spent most of her life killing people.

The absurdity of someone as intelligent as Loid and as deadly as Yor and neither realising that the other is not who they say they are is something you might ponder for a minute and then let go cause it’s all part of the fun. The fact that Anya is able to read their minds leads to some very hilarious incidents.

Adding to this tangled trio is Yor’s brother, Yuri Briar, who (unknown to Yor) works for the State Security Service (SSS) police. The SSS hunt spies and use torture to identify anyone working against their country.

This puts Twilight and Yuri at odds with each other as they work for different countries and have been told contradictory information. Twilight has been told to get close to Donovan Desmond because the man threatens the peace between his nation, Westalis, and Desmond’s nation, Ostania. Yuri has been told that Twilight is actually the one seeking to destroy the peace within Ostania and seeks to stop him. It seems like one or both of them are being lied to by their own governments.

Yuri also has an unhealthy obsession about his sister and is overly protective, so this leads to further tension and hijinks that are over-the-top funny. His first visit to their home where he gets drunk had me in stitches.

The silliness is balanced with the emotional growth among our main trio. A thoroughly enjoyable ride from start to finish.

The highlight would have to be the dodgeball game. Just watch it.

8 out of 10

Movie Review: Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness (2022)

TL;DR – a film about differences and how those differences are what make us interesting.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Chickenhare, as the name suggests, is half-chicken, half-hare and he has no idea why he was born this way. He is found as a baby in a boat by two hare brothers, Peter and Lapin, who are adventurers trying to find the Hamster of Darkness (a mythical sceptre that can summon an army of ghost hamsters). Raised by Peter, Chickenhare idolises his adopted father and wants to become an adventurer as well. However, he is teased incessantly for his appearance and tries to cover up the chicken parts of him so he looks like a hare only.

He wears fluffy rabbit shoes over his chicken feet and a fedora hat to cover the chicken feathers that grow between his large rabbit ears that would make Dumbo the elephant envious. While Peter expresses a love that accepts all of Chickenhare, Chickenhare hates that he is different.

Bubbling beneath the surface is a rivalry and feud between the two hare brothers that reminded me a lot of the relationship between Mufasa and Scar in “The Lion King”. Peter is anointed the King of Featherbeard, and Lapin attempts to overthrow his brother for the crown but fails. Stuck in a cell, Lapin is allowed to access books and continues to research the Hamster of Darkness, which in his mind if he can obtain he will become ruler of Featherbeard.

When Chickenhare comes of age, he undertakes the trials set by the Royal Adventure Society to become a full fledged adventurer. Unfortunately, he fails the obstacle course due to the gear he is wearing that covers up his chicken features. Down but not out, Chickenhare endeavours to secretly find the Hamster of Darkness to prove his ability as an adventurer. He goes to meet his Uncle Lapin in jail to obtain a book on the Hamster of Darkness and in doing so, Lapin obtains one of Chickenhare’s feathers to pick the lock to escape. Thus begins the race to find the Hamster of Darkness first.

Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness takes a lot of inspiration from other films. As mentioned above, there is “The Lion King” rivalry between brothers Peter and Lapin. And Chickenhare is a character like Dumbo the elephant, who is shunned for his appearance. There is even a scene later in the film where Chickenhare finally accepts who he is and his enormously large rabbit ears sprout chicken feathers allowing him to fly just like Dumbo. But the inspirations don’t stop there. Others that I picked up include:

  • The adventure scenes are all influenced from “Indiana Jones” movies with booby traps and even a giant rock wheel that slowly rolls down a hallway threatening to crush Chickenhare and his friends (just like Indiana did running away from the giant boulder in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”).
  • Lapin’s imprisonment down the bottom levels of the dungeon reminded me of Tai Lung the snow leopard in “Kung Fu Panda”. Lapin even escapes using one of Chickenhare’s feathers to pick the lock, just as Tai Lung escaped from his shackles using a duck feather.
  • The obstacle course set out by the Royal Adventure Society uses dangerous contraptions to test the dexterity and skill of the wannabe adventurer. It reminded me a bit of the training arena in “How to Train Your Dragon” minus the dragons.

With all the above elements, does the movie work? Surprisingly yes. Though there are clear tributes to other films including a moment where Lapin reveals that he is Chickenhare’s father (actually he’s not, but they had to do an ode to “Star Wars”), the movie works because the characters are engaging and the story of accepting one’s differences, and it is these differences that make us interesting and unique, is a message that all audiences young and old should hear and embrace.

Chickenhare is supported through the film by Meg (a skunk who faces her own issues of discrimination) and Abe (a pessimistic tortoise that is so droll in his delivery that you can’t help but chuckle).

And then there is the scene with the “pigmies”. A tribe of pig-like critters that see Chickenhare as a god that they provide a banquet for and then subsequently will sacrifice in a volcano. These pink little dudes stole the show. They can turn themselves into cube building blocks and essentially build one on top of each other into transformer-like structures. They’re hilarious and quite alarming when a tidal wave of them come at you.

And did I mention that the when the Hamster of Darkness is used to summon the ghost hamsters they reminded me of the green ghost swarm in “Lord of the Rings”?

I mean do I need to go on? It’s an enjoyable ride.

8.5 out of 10

Book Review: Y: The Last Man (Book Four) by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra & Jose Marzan Jr.

TL;DR – Yorick reaches Australia after three years since the plague hit. Will he finally find Beth?

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Click here for reviews of previous books of this Eisner award winning series.

Having arrived in Sydney aboard an Australian submarine, Yorick is determined to find Beth. Though Agent 355 accompanies him and tries to watch his back, he’s found by a reporter who takes a photo of him with all his man bits on display so she can publish the news to the world and win a Pulitzer.

Agent 355 finds the reporter but fails to retrieve the film. Yorick is able to convince her to let the reporter go and allow the photo to be published because it’s a tabloid paper as opposed to a ‘real’ newspaper, and no woman will believe the tabloid photo.

Returning to his search, Yorick discovers that Beth has left for Paris to search for him. Paris is meant to hold some special meaning between the pair, but Yorick has no idea what that might be and why she would journey to France in search of him.

Meanwhile, Ampersand the monkey has arrived in Yokogata and managed to escape from the clutches of Toyota, a Japanese ninja (never thought I’d write a sentence like that…)

Review

Conflicting agendas are the name of the game at the start of book 4 of Y: The Last Man. Agent 355 and Dr Mann want to head to Yokogata to rescue Ampersand. On the other hand, Yorick has finally reached Australia and wants to find Beth. Agent 355 agrees to giving him 24 hours to see what he can find about Beth and her location and then it’s destination Japan.

Though he ends up getting photographed nude and published in a tabloid newspaper, he discovers that Beth has left the Land Down Under for the lights of Paris, which makes absolutely no sense to Yorick.

A lot of threads continue to get tugged as we follow Yorick’s journey. As the reader, we get to jump all around the world and see what is happening to the various people Yorick has interacted with previously. A number of surprises include:

  • The Beth who lives in Cooksfield, California that seduced Yorick is now pregnant with a baby girl. She is visited by Hero and joins her. Together, they head to Kansas to meet up with the Hartle twins.
  • In Washington, Yorick’s mother, Jennifer (aka Secretary Brown) discovers the tabloid and photo of him and realises he is still alive. Unfortunately, she is visited by Alter, the Israeli rebel, and is murdered.
  • More backstory on Agent 355 and how she came to work for the Culper Ring. The surprise being that she ended up killing her teacher, who attempted to assassinate the president after joining the splinter group, Setauket Ring.
  • The origins of Ampersand and his immunity are shown. He was a test monkey and injected with mysterious serum and was meant to be shipped off to Dr Mann’s laboratory. In transit, however, he ended up escaping and getting mixed up with another monkey that was destined for “Helping Hands” (an organisation that trains monkeys to help disable people). When Yorick applied at Helping Hands, he was assigned Ampersand.
  • Alter interrogates the Hartle twins and finds out that Yorick is making his way to Paris. We learn more of Alter’s origins, and there’s small surprise that she joined the army not to seek revenge for her sister’s death (who we thought was killed by Palestinians) but because she believes the world will always have war and operates on bloodshed. We discover that Alter’s sister was actually killed protesting against the destruction of Palestinian homes by an Israeli Defence Forces bulldozer.

However, the juiciest pieces of the puzzle come forth from Dr Allison Mann as we get several flashbacks to her upbringing. As a child, she learned her father, Dr Matsumori (a radical bioengineer) was having an affair with his research assistant, Dr Ming. We also learn he and Dr Ming were also studying cloning.

It then jumps to when Allison was a young adult, living in America with her father and falling in love with another woman named Mercedes. When her father announces that they will be moving to China, Allison refuses and accuses her father of wanting to get back together with Dr Ming. The dissolution of her relationship with her father leads her to move in with Mercedes. However, their relationship does not last, which leaves an indelible mark on Allison.

Jumping forward to where she is now a lecturer in genetics at Harvard, she receives the news that her father is a few years away from cloning himself. Refusing to allow her father to achieve such a scientific breakthrough, Allison seeks to clone herself and dangerously self-impregnates with the help of her assistant Sunil. This then leads into the events we see in book one where she is rushed to hospital because something is wrong with the baby and then the “instant” plague hits killing every man on earth except Yorick.

These flashbacks bring us full circle to the present where Allison is back on the submarine in her cabin and starts haemorrhaging. The complications of her failed birth to her clone has clearly left damage that is now coming back to haunt her.

If there are any shortfalls with book four, it lies in a feeling of repetitiveness. There is even dialogue between Yorick and Agent 355 that reflects that they just seem to jump from one dangerous situation to the next. Agent 355 is at wits’ end and lets out a number of expletives at how hard it all is, while Yorick tries to console her. However, when you you’re the last man on earth, there were always going to be several countries of women looking to find him. You can always trust politics or misplaced religious beliefs to ensure little agreement as to who should “secure” Yorick.

With only one volume remaining, it will be interesting to see what will be the fate of Yorick, Ampersand, Agent 355 and Dr Mann.

4 out of 5.

Anime Review: Sol Levante (2020)

TL;DR – 4-minute experimental anime that should be viewed only through that lens.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Production I.G has created a number of excellent anime over the past decade include Psycho-Pass, Guilty Crown and hands down the best volleyball anime ever in Haikyuu!!.

A joint project with Netflix, Sol Levante uses hand drawn constructs with 4K HDR (high dynamic range) technology. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a 4K HDR television (like myself) then you can’t fully appreciate Sol Levante‘s four minutes of animated brilliance.

The making of video by Netflix is longer than the anime itself, but it will give you an idea of what anime production companies like Production I.G are seeking to do.

For four minutes, you can’t tell much of a story but Sol Levante is meant to be about a warrior searching for a sacred place that fulfils wishes, but the warrior upsets the guardians that watch over the place.

In truth, it’s more an animated experiment than a proper story. And from an enjoyment factor, you’ll forget it immediately after it’s viewed.

I debated whether to do a review on something like this, but seeing the making of video helped me appreciate what animators are trying to do.

Anime traditionalists will likely hate everything about Sol Levante. But I’m a little more open to seeing different styles. I appreciate variety but not at the expense of story. At the end of the day, no matter how pretty it looks, if the story is not told well (or in this case there isn’t really a story) then it’s a wasted effort from an entertainment perspective.

I’m not sure why they released Sol Levante other than to act as a showcase or stepping stone of what is to come. But as a piece of entertainment, it did not do much for me.

2 out of 10

Movie Review: Persuasion (2022)

TL;DR – against her own judgement, Anne breaks off her engagement with Frederick Wentworth. Eight years later they meet again. Let the mind reading begin as they both mis-read each other’s feelings entirely.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Is chivalry dead? Not in a Jane Austen adaption. Persuasion, based on Austen’s last novel of the same name, examines and often repudiates the social codes of its time for which Austen was renown for.

While chivalry and social class of landed gentry is not dead in Austen’s novels, she goes to considerable lengths to demonstrate that you can only go so far in sensing another person’s emotions and trying to read into what they are thinking and feeling without crumbling into a tragic mess. Especially when that emotion is love and it is a battle between the heart and head.

To point, the film begins with Anne Elliott (Dakota Johnson) very much in love with Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis) but has been persuaded by friends and family to break the engagement she has with him because he is of no notable name or rank (a mere sailor) and thus no suitable social status.

Eight years later and she hasn’t got over Frederick, and they meet up again through extenuating circumstances. Those circumstances being that Anne’s family is in financial trouble and they need to rent out their lavish estate, Kellynch Hall, and move to the less “lavish” town of Bath. Turns out Admiral Croft and his wife Sophia (Frederick’s sister) will be the ones moving into Kellynch Hall. And Anne meets Frederick once more who is now a decorated captain and is with considerable coin and social standing.

It’s as plain as day that the love between the pair has not waned. If anything, it has only grown stronger. And now that Captain Wentworth is higher up the rung on the social ladder, there should be no reason why he and Anne confess their love for one another once more and wed.

However, that would be a very short movie.

Instead, we have a lot of forlorn looks, uneasy chatter, and a surrounding cast that either treat Anne with tolerated disdain (i.e., her own family) or are making their own moves on Captain Wentworth or Anne respectively.

The humour is generated primarily from Anne’s narcissistic family who are all caricatures of the privileged social class (their fortunes obtained through inheritance or marriage as opposed to an honest day’s work). They’re a double edged sword that will either turn you off the film because they’re so annoying, or you’ll laugh out loud at how ridiculous they are as attention seekers.

Dakota Johnson carries the film well as the central character Anne, and her breaking down the fourth wall scenes about her thoughts and observations engage the audience.

However, for all her efforts, it’s not enough to carry a film that lacks any real drama. Though both she and Frederick capture the eye of interested others, which is meant to bring tension between the pair, there is never a sense that they won’t ever end up together.

All attempts at depth and being astutely scathing toward the upper class social structures of its time are filled with the hot air of its narcissistic supporting characters. And any insights about unrequited love and hope for a love that is found then lost then found again ends up being banal rather than thought provoking.

But perhaps that’s the aim of the film. In which case, enjoy the gorgeous cinematography and Dakota’s performance.

7 out of 10

Book Review: Y: The Last Man (Book Three) by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra & Jose Marzan Jr.

TL;DR – The answers to saving humanity rest on the shoulders of one man, Yorick Brown, or so we thought…

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Click here for reviews of previous books of this Eisner award winning series.

Yorick, Agent 355 and Dr Mann reach San Francisco to Mann’s backup lab where they hope to finally get some answers as to why Yorick was the only man that survived a mysterious plague that wiped out every other man (and mammal with a Y chromosome) on earth simultaneously.

He and his pet monkey, Ampersand, are the only males known to be alive after this apocalyptic event.

While they undergo tests, Yorick and Agent 355 explore what has become of the city. They eventually are found by three different parties, all with different motives.

There is Hero, Yorick’s sister, who has been deprogrammed and is battling her brainwashing as an Amazon (a group of women who believe men were the oppressors and the world is better without them) and desires to find her brother to seek his forgiveness for killing a woman Yorick cared for in Marrisville (refer book two).

Then there is a splinter group known as the Setauket Ring that is looking to obtain the Amulet of Helene taken by Agent 355. There is a myth around the amulet that should it ever be removed from Jordan, a catastrophe would befall the world (refer book one). The Setauket Ring believe it is this amulet that caused the plague to occur.

Last, is a Japanese ninja named Toyota. She has been following the trio for some time but her target is not Yorick, Agent 355 or Dr Mann. She’s after Ampersand and has been hired by a mystery person named “Doctor M” to retrieve the monkey.

When Dr Mann finally obtains what she believes is the reason why Yorick survived the plague, it coincides with the above three groups colliding into them and not everyone coming out alive or unharmed. Dr Mann believes that Ampersand has some sort of mutation in him, and the monkey has a penchant for throwing its faeces at Yorick, who in turn obtained protection from the plague.

Toyota successfully captures Ampersand and heads to Japan, which results in Yorick, Agent 355 and Dr Mann boarding a cruise ship that supposedly is transporting medical supplies but turns out is tons of heroin, and they end up in a sea battle with an Australian submarine. In book one, it was revealed when 2.9 billion men were wiped out, Australia, Norway and Sweden were the only countries that had women serving on board submarines at the time.

Through all of this, we see flashbacks of Yorick and how he came to fall in love with Beth.

Speaking of Beth, we finally get to see what she has been up to in the Australian Outback since the outbreak. Suffice to say, she is going through her own trials.

Review

The third volume in Vaughan’s series is chock full of plots and sub-plots that examines the multitude of perspectives from characters living in a world where all men except one have been wiped out.

It should be noted that while Yorick is the last man, the future of humankind does not rest solely on his shoulders as it is revealed that the female astronaut (from book two) has successfully given birth to a baby boy in a hot suite (basically, a medical bubble that provides protection from all external germs). However, the boy will most certainly die if it steps outside the hot suite, thus the need to find a vaccine.

A lot of themes continue to be examined including religion, sexuality, identity and purpose, and gender roles. One of the more interesting examinations is at the beginning of volume three, where Yorick enters a Catholic church in Cooksfield, California, and encounters a woman named Beth (no, not his girlfriend Beth who is stuck in Australia but a ‘new’ Beth). It seems Yorick wants to confess his sins but Beth reveals technically it’s no use because only auricular confessions (i.e., confessions made to a priest) can be heard and thus forgiven. This dilemma is short-lived, however, as Yorick’s conscience mustn’t be too heavy cause he ends up being seduced by Beth.

While a lot goes on, thankfully, it appears a number of sub-plots also get tied up. The Amulet of Helene turns out to be just a sandstone figurine with no magical powers. It gets smashed by the Setauket Ring who blackmail Agent 355 into giving it to them.

Hero achieves forgiveness and reconciliation with her brother, and she even manages to get over the mind games of her deceased Amazonian leader, Victoria. She ends up heading back east to tell their mother that Yorick is safe.

Ampersand is revealed as being the ‘miracle’ (not Yorick) containing a mutation that protects mammals with the Y chromosome from the plague. But the celebrations are short lived as Ampersand is monkey-napped by Toyota the Japanese Ninja.

It becomes clearer that Agent 355 is harbouring feelings for Yorick. Things get complicated when she ends up sleeping with Dr Mann because she thinks Yorick is sleeping with the captain of the cruise ship heading to Japan.

All in all though, the most interesting revelations in book three revolve around Yorick’s supposed true love, Beth (yes, the ‘Beth’ that is stuck in Australia). For the first time, we get to see her side more and the memories she has of her relationship with Yorick. These flashbacks lend much needed depth to her character, which up until now was only portrayed as an attractive blonde who looks good in a bikini and hiking boots (yes, in book one she is shown to be an anthropologist studying Aboriginals in the Australian outback, but really all you get is a character that is good-looking with a pretence at depth).

Will Yorick and Beth reunite? Only two volumes remain to find out.

4.5 out of 5.

Anime Review: The Cat Returns (2002)

TL;DR – Haru saves a cat from getting hit by a truck and triggers a journey into the Cat Kingdom where she unwittingly discovers cats that act like humans in more ways than one.

Review (warning: spoilers)

The Cat Returns (aka Neko no Ongaeshi) sees the return of Baron Humbert von Gikkingen, a handsome cat that dresses up in a suit and uses a cane. The Baron is a cat figurine that is used to inspire the main character in Whisper of the Heart to write a novel. In The Cat Returns, the Baron comes to life to help a young girl named Haru trapped in the Cat Kingdom.

Haru is a quiet, unassuming girl who often sleeps in, is late for school, and has an affection for cats. She has a good heart though is a bit unlucky in life and secretly pines after a boy named Machida in her class even though he already has a girlfriend.

One afternoon, while walking home from school, she spies a cat carrying a little gift box in its mouth. The cat attempts to cross the road, but Haru sees that an oncoming truck will run the poor feline over. Spurred into action, she rushes over with a lacrosse stick, scoops up the cat, and scrambles over to the opposite side crashing into the bushes. There she watches amazed as the cat stands on its hind legs and brushes himself down with his paws and then thanks Haru using human words for saving his life.

The cat she has saved is Prince Lune of the Cat Kingdom, and later that evening, Haru receives a visit from a progression of cats (all walking on their hind legs) down her street carrying the Cat King who gifts Haru with a program as thanks for saving his son. The program will bestow upon her unlimited happiness, but Haru discovers the next day that happiness is all relative.

She wakes up with her front yard overgrown with cattails, and receives gifts of catnip and mice in her school locker. All this would be heaven if you’re cat, but for Haru it’s nothing but trouble. She is visited again by one of the servants of the Cat King and is invited to his kingdom along with a proposal to marry Prince Lune.

She, of course, expresses that she can’t marry a cat but briefly ponders the idea of living a life as a cat and thinking it would be much easier than being a human. This is interpreted as acceptance of the marriage proposal and leads her down an Alice-in-Wonderland type adventure into the Cat Kingdom.

Thankfully, there are those who are willing to help her return to the human world including the Baron and Muta (a giant fat cat with a penchant for eating everything in sight). Though Haru slowly begins to transform into a cat, she escapes with the aid of the Baron, Muta, Prince Lune (who didn’t realise that his father had tried to arrange this marriage) and Yuki (a white cat that Haru saved from starvation when she was a little girl).

The Cat King reminded me of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. A rambunctious and volatile character that doesn’t hesitate in having any cat in his court kicked off the highest balcony in his castle. His attempts to prevent Haru from returning to the human world include a maze that gets Haru lost and a tower that has a portal to the human world loaded up with explosives.

In the end, Haru succeeds in persevering through her transformations and returning home. She learns to stand on her own two feet, which is the key transformation that sticks with Haru. By story’s end, she has grown and understands who she is better.

When she is told that Machida has broken up with her girlfriend, she reacts nonplussed and you realise her transformation is complete.

Not necessarily as impactful as other coming-of-age Studio Ghibli films (e.g., Kiki’s Delivery Service and Spirited Away are two masterpiece coming-of-age Studio Ghibli creations that come to mind), it still ticks all the boxes and is a delightful journey into the discovery of one’s self.

7 out of 10