Anime You Should Be Watching Horror Edition: Another


Being the time of year that it is, I felt I should stay on the horror theme for my rare contribution.  Last year I presented to you all my thoughts on the Higurashi series.  This year I’m focusing on an anime that came out at the beginning of this year by relative newcomer studio P.A. Works called Another.

Horror anime are rather difficult to do well.  That’s because unlike with live action, you are acutely aware that what is happening is not real.  Sure, with live action if you sit back and look at most of the horror shows, you can’t necessarily take them seriously, but at least for me there’s a difference in my mind between watching something with real live people in it, and watching 2D drawings moving.  So, horror anime either try to pretend they’re still live action and hope you can immerse yourself in them despite it obviously not being real, or they just go for the crazy, over the top exaggerated sequences with lots of blood and gore and just hope the mood feels right.  Another takes the second approach.  It’s not a constant bloodbath, but it seems to take much delight in coming up with the craziest, most unrealistic deaths it can think of.  I think of it almost like an animated version of the Final Destination films.  I’ll try and avoid too many spoilers here, but the first death we see should give you an idea of just how crazy and over the top they can get.

So, the basic premise of the show is that many years ago a student in class 3-3 died during the school year.  Some classmates, unable to really deal with his death decided to pretend that he was still alive.  Soon the rest of the class, including the teachers joined in.  This was all well and good, except that when they took their class photos, the student who was supposed to be dead appeared in the photo.  Since that time, class 3-3 has been like a portal to the afterlife, allowing the dead to come back and join the class.  This has resulted in class 3-3 always having one extra person in it, although during the time which it occurs nobody is aware who the extra person is.  They know there is one, but their memories have been altered so that the extra person seems like they’ve always been there.  Also, the person who is dead, or the Another, also is unaware that they are dead.  Fast forward 20 some years and we come to where the story starts, with transfer student Koichi Sakakibara joining class 3-3.  There he meets the girl with the eyepatch, Mei Misaki.  However, the rest of the class seems to not acknowledge her existence.  The reason for this is revealed later on, but since it’s a mildly important plot point, I’ll leave that up to the readers to watch and see for themselves.

The character designs and the attention to detail in this show are fantastic, as is pretty much par for the course with P.A. Works.  The character designs were based on concepts by Noizi Ito, who’s probably best known for her work as the illustrator for the Haruhi Suzumiya novels.  What’s also par for the course for a P.A. Works show is that it meanders a bit and almost gets lost in the middle.  We’ll set aside the ridiculousness of the deaths because this show isn’t trying to be ultra serious.  It’s not going for the camp appeal, but it is using the gore as a sort of fanservice for people who are into that sort of thing.  Don’t get too attached to any secondary characters, because there are a ton of deaths in this show.  I’ll admit, one or two of the deaths did sadden me a bit, mainly because I liked that particular character and had hoped that they’d survive the curse.  This particular class year seems to be extra unlucky, since they showed previous class records and there didn’t seem to be quite as many deaths from the curse as there was in this year.

A complaint that was tossed around when the show finished was that the identity of the Another, which is revealed at the end, was too difficult to figure out.  Much like with The Sixth Sense, all the clues are shown once their identity is revealed, and there are quite a few red herrings thrown in there to keep you off the track, but it’s certainly possible to figure out who it is.  I’ll say that I was wrong in who I thought it was, but at least my guess wasn’t eliminated until the very end.  In fact, I largely suspect that the person whom I thought it was was who the creators wanted us to think was the Another from the get go.  In that aspect, I can only tip my hat to them and say they did a good job in getting me to dance to their tune.

All in all, love it or hate it, P.A. Works deserves a lot of credit for not just sticking with a single genre of anime and trying something different to diversify.  How true they were to the source material, I’m not entirely certain as I have not read the novel, written by Yukito Ayatsuji however I can say that if I see that P.A. Works is doing another horror anime, I’ll certainly be tuning in.  The ride may be a little rocky in the middle, but it’s still a fun ride.

Horror Review: The Walking Dead S3E01 “Seed”


“Holy shit!” — Axel

[some spoilers within]

It’s been a year since the cliffhanger which ended Season 2 of AMC’s widely popular The Walking Dead. We found Rick and his group escaping from the herd of zombies which swarmed into and over Hershel’s farm. The group lost two more to the walkers in the form of hapless Jimmy and Patricia. Andrea has gotten separated from the main group with most of the guns. It’s only through the timely intervention of a hooded stranger dragging along two incapacitated walkers that Andrea even gets to make it to this new season. It’s this hooded stranger and the last image we see of a darkened prison complex in the distance that has brought a new sense of optimism for the show which had been up and down through most of it’s sophomore season.

The second season had been rife with struggles not just for the characters in the show but also behind-the-scenes as original showrunner and executive producer Frank Darabont was unceremoniously fired from the very show he helped bring off the ground. Fans of the show and of Darabont saw this as a bad decision, but as the season unfolded there seemed to be a major consensus that Darabont might have been the problem to why the first half of the second season moved along even slower than the walkers. The second half saw new showrunner Glen Mazzara taking over and even though some of the same problems in terms of characterization and dialogue still remained the show in the second half seemed to move with a better sense of urgency which culminated in two of the series’ best episodes to date to close off the season.

Season 3 now begins with the episode titled “Seed” (directed by veteran series director Ernest Dickerson) and we get a major timeskip from the end of last season to tonight’s premiere. Rick and his group look to still be on the move with no safe haven in sight. In what looks like a hint of good things to come in terms of pacing and dialogue the show starts off gangbusters as Rick and his group raid a country home, dispatching the walkers within with ruthless efficiency and searching the place for supplies and other useful things real fast. There wasn’t any time for standing around or even going off into long expositional scenes to try and convey what had happened between the end of last season to tonight’s start.

Glen Mazzara, the show’s new showrunner had promised that the show would be taking on a new direction when he took over halfway through season 2, but we’re finally able to see his experience as a TV show producer and writer bear strong fruit with tonight’s premiere. We get to see Rick and his crew acting with more of a sense of urgency in just the first twnety minutes of the show than they had in the first two seasons. We’re finally seeing everyone realizing that they’re now stuck in a world with new rules that doesn’t make room for personal quirks and emotional issues (though we still get hints that they’re still but set aside for the greater good of the group) that just saps the energy from everyone. This group looks more like the sort of team that Shane would’ve thrived in and it looks like Rick has taken on the role of leader much more forcefully. It hasn’t mended the rift between him and Lori for what had transpired over two seasons of interpersonal conflicts that got more than just his best friend killed but others as well.

Tonight’s episode does a great job of explaining through their actions and behavior just how much time has passed between the seasons and how that intervening time has tested the groups mettle and made them harder and more capable in holding their own against the walkers. Even useless characters like Beth, Carol and Carl have become more adept in protecting themselves. It’s surprising to see Carl actually becoming the character he was in the comic book. I’m sure some parent groups will not be approving of Carl actually handling his gun with expertise but this is that kind of show and just because one is a kind doesn’t mean they have to be helpless.

If there were complaints about Darabont’s handling of the show during his short tenure it was that he was too much into creating a very slow burn that culminated into a huge climactic finish. It was fine for a truncated first season, but it showed just how ill-conceiveda narrative style it was for a tv series over a full season. I don’t sense that same feeling with tonight’s episode. One could tell that Mazzara was now fully in charge and not working on whatever Darabont had come up with for season 2. It’s a great start to the new season which has a good chance in reversing some of the ill-will last season’s very slow burns and wheel-spinning had created with a segment of the fan-base.

It also helps that we didn’t have to wait too long to see the official appearance of Danai Gurari in the role of fan-favorite Michonne with her zombie pets and katana. It wasn’t an episode spent directly introducing us to her but enough time was spent away from the group in the prison. Michonne as a character could become too much a caricature of the badass comic book female character, but for tonight it was just refreshing to see a female character on this show as capable and clear-headed as her. There’s even a hint of the sort of friendship that seemed to have grown between Michonne and Andrea since the end of season 2. Shane may have been a bad influence (though helpful in getting Andrea out of her suicidal rut) in season 2, but here’s to hoping that Michonne will be the sort of influence that Andrea will be needing to get her to become the badass characteron the show that her character is in the comic book.

One thing that tonight’s episode also did great that we only saw hints of with the first two seasons was the action such a series could have when given a chance. This is a series about the zombie apocalypse and those trying to survive in it. While I don’t expect each episode to be as action-packed as tonight’s premiere it was an encouraging start to what looks to be the real beginning of the Glen Mazzara era of The Walking Dead.

Now onto episode 2. With tonight’s cliffhanger ending (one that really got me by surprise) it’s going to be interesting to see how Rick and the new group in the end will get along or will they. Just as long as it doesn’t take the show all of the first half of the season to do it then I am all for intergroup conflict until the walkers become a more pressing problem.

NOTES

  • I’m quite surprised how quickly the show got the group to the prison. So, unlike season 2 which would’ve have the group wandering around in circles for 2-3 more episodes before finding their way to the complex.
  • It looks like Rick has gotten tired of what must’ve been Lori’s incessant harping during the months the show timeskipped between season 2 and the premiere of season 3 tonight.
  • Carl still hasn’t found a way to get himself lost thus get someone else killed which could be a nice change of pace for the character.
  • On a good note, Carl looks to be growing up and taking a handle on becoming a useful member of the group. He even does his share of some coldblooded killing of walkers in the episode’s intro.
  • In fact Carol becomes quite useful as well with Rick even commenting out of hand how much she grown to become a good shot with the AK-47 she was wielding.
  • All the talk of ‘shipping Daryl and Carol will get even louder as the two spent a brief moment flirting with each other after the group had taken over the prison courtyard.
  • Lori…Lori…Lori still looks to be the emotional weak point of the group and show, but this time around everyone in the group is either tuning her out or just trying to keep her focus and attention on keeping her unborn child safe. Even Hershel makes a point to remind her that this wasn’t about her anymore and that she should stop her complaining. It’s all about the baby and that’s all he and she should care about.
  • Beth and Carl…too cute.
  • Way to cockblock our boy Carl, Hershel…
  • Armored zombies, ’nuff said.
  • Some great work by Greg Nicotero and his team over at KNB EFX. A special note would be on the gas mask walker who got it’s face unceremoniously ripped off when Rick pulled off the gas mask. As a hardcore gorehound even I had to wince at that scene. It was great!
  • In what could be a way to reconcile the character of Dale in the comics who lasted longer than in the show the writers may be substituting Hershel in that role. The next couple episodes will tell if that’s the case.
  • I think whoever is the prop guy for this show has read Max Brook’s zombie novel World War Z if the makeshift “Lobo” Glenn was wielding is any indication.
  • Zombie Kill Count for tonight’s episode: I stopped counting after 30.

First Impression: Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead: Episode 3 “Long Road Ahead”


What is there to say about Telltale Games’ work on the adventure game The Walking Dead other than they seem to have gotten exactly what has made the comic book series so popular with both readers and critics. The show has slowly gotten to the same level, but not until Telltale Games has a spin-off of Robert Kirkman’s title gotten it all right. The first two episodes has been a great exercise in showing the panic, strain and utter despair that falls on the remaining living survivors of a zombie apocalypse that has descended on the world.

Episode 3, “Long Road Ahead”, continues where the previous episode left off with Lee, Clementine and the rest of the group back at their walled off motel compound outside of Macon, Georgia. It’s only been a couple weeks or so since the events at the dairy farm and we see the added strain of dwindling supplies has brought on. We also see the decisions made by certain characters at the farm affecting the group and creating even bigger divisions between Lily and Kenny. Stuck in between these two strong personalities is Lee (the player) and this episode does an even greater job of making his decisions that much harder to pick when situations (usually stressful ones) come up.

This episode has been seen by fans of the games as the turning point which has cemented this title as one of the best games of 2012. The writing continued to improve under the pen of Gary Whitta who seem to be channeling his inner Kirkman as some heartwrenching moments and deaths occur throughout Episode 3. One such death has become one of the biggest WTF moments in gaming for 2012 that  I would be surprised if it doesn’t make many top 10 lists for the year when it comes to gaming’s biggest moments. I know that the sequence surprised me which led to lots of stunned silence, followed up by screaming at my TV then admiration for actually pulling off something that could turn off many players, but instead hooked those still on the fence about whether they should continue playing this episodic title.

The other deaths in this episode were more of a slow burn where we already know the fate of one of the characters and the reaction of another to this situation was unbearably sad, but understandable considering the situation which led up to it. All througout these situations the player as Lee was forefront in how things developed and the choices one gets to choose from doesn’t telegraph how things would unfold. It didn’t help that the timer on making each decision still added a level of stress that most games never fully grasp despite higher budgets and better graphics.

If there was one thing that kept this episode from becoming truly great it’s the controls when something interactive actually occurs where players have to do more than choose what to say. It’s still clunky and awkward on both the Xbox 360 and the PS3, but not as much on the PC which tells me that Telltale Games have been porting the title from a PC base rather than the other way around. For some gamers this keeps the game from becoming immersive despite the great writing, but for me it was a minor inconvenience that never took away from the narrative and the visuals.

The episode ends with a bit of hope as Lee and his group picks up three new faces, but also ends in an ominous cliffhanger as we find out that Clementine may have been keeping things from Lee that could endanger (this being the world of The Walking Dead its a good bet it’ll be dangerous) not just her, but the rest of the group. The fourth episode has now been released for all systems and with the new season of the tv show set to premiere it looks like now is a good time to get back to the Walking Dead state-of-mind.

Episode 1: A New Day

Episode 2: Starved For Help

October Music Series: John Lee Hooker – Hobo Blues


I’m going to turn west for my next few posts, and when we look at American folk we can’t ignore the blues. It’s an unfortunate fact that I know absolutely nothing about this genre. It’s a genre I’ve wanted to explore for a long, long time, but free time and interest simply haven’t yet coincided. I stumbled upon Hobo Blues entirely by accident about a year ago and have had a note glaring me in the face ever since: I had to work this song into a post one way or another.

You might ask how it legitimately fits into my theme. It’s certainly not about mythology or horror or anything that might immediately come to mind for the season. Quite the contrary, it calls to mind gritty dust and sweltering heat, tattered clothes and haggard spirits. But this is American folk and American tradition in a very real sense, and no old gods need be invoked to imbue it with otherwordly power. John Lee Hooker is in this video a man possessed, standing firm as steel while delivering an emotionally overwhelming performance. He taps into that same seemingly spiritual power that so many of the eastern bands I’ve featured aim to conjure, he just unabashedly draws it from within himself.