Category: 2003


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(A quick aside before my review. I watched this movie on Saturday with my dad. I knew their was an English-language remake coming out directed by Spike Lee but for some reason, I thought it was coming out next year, not today. So, this review’s timing is strictly coincidental.)

In Thomas Pynchon’s crowning magnum opus, Gravity’s Rainbow, a high-ranking Allied officer during WWII consumes the fresh feces of a BDSM psychic (and possible German double agent), the rakish hero participates in a graphic orgy and is subsequently given fellatio by a minor, and a German rocket scientist may or may not be having violent sex with his long-lost daughter. 1998’s practically perfect minus one-subplot Todd Solondz feature, Happiness, turns a child molester into a sympathetic creature without shying away from the terrible things he does and one of its heroes jerks off while making angry phone calls to random women.

I bring up these works of transgressive fiction because, in a world where Gravity’s Rainbow or Happiness exist, it’s hard to shock me anymore or to truly get under my skin.  The only movie I’ve watched recently that truly unnerved me from a thematic standpoint was the Twin Peaks film, Fire Walk With Me because of the incestual rape content. So, perhaps it’s appropriate then that 2003’s cult classic Oldboy found its way into my viewing rotation as it is without question one of the most disturbing and unflinching films I’ve watched in recent memory.

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Oldboy has been heralded as one of the finest exports of Korea’s burgeoning film market and director Chan-wook Park is certainly one of its wunderkinds, but despite Oldboy‘s undeniable ability to get under my skin, it isn’t quite the masterpiece that many believe it to be. Similar to the more recent cult classic Drive, there’s a certain hollowness to the masterful style on display (and a muddled plot that operates on a fuzzy dream logic). And though the film has something to say about the emptiness of revenge, it goes to cartoonish lengths to make a point.

Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi) is nobody special. Though he’s a bit of a drunk and a ladies’ man, there’s little else to set this married man and father apart from the crowd. But, after a night of heavy drinking, Dae-su is kidnapped off the streets of Seoul to begin a hell that lasts 15 years. Dae-su’s unknown captors place him in a locked room with nothing but a TV and occasional meals to keep him company, and Dae-su is totally in the dark as to who’s doing this to him or why it’s happening. And, for 15 years, Dae-su stews in his own anger (and insanity) preparing himself to take revenge on those who’ve held him captive and have murdered his wife in the interim.

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But just as Dae-su is about to escape on his own, he’s released into the wilds of Seoul (through a giant briefcase on a high rise) with new clothes, a cellphone, cash, and no idea what he’s doing. And Dae-su vows to find the men who locked him up. However, not long after being released, Dae-su meets the beautiful and young Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang), and the two share an instant (but severely disturbed) sexual connection. But there seems to be a link between Mi-do and the men who kept Dae-su locked away for so many years and the already frayed and bordering on insane Dae-su becomes even more torn as he has no idea who he can trust.

I won’t say any more about the plot of Oldboy because I imagine that going into this film for the first time knowing what’s going to happen would ruin much of the shock of the film’s climactic twist (which I predicted fairly early in the film because apparently I’m as fucked up in the head as this film’s screenwriters). So, let me simply say that if you find the first two acts of the film to be unbearably uncomfortable and brutal, just wait til you find out what’s really going on. I imagine any future viewings of this movie will take on an entirely new and even more unpleasant light.

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I really can’t stress enough that Oldboy is not for the faint of heart. For some reason, the only thing that I had absorbed about Oldboy before watching it for the first time was that it was a hyper-violent film (it is), and for some reason, that made me assume it was an action film (it most certainly isn’t). Oldboy is a mystery thriller that happens to also deal in gore at unfathomable levels. Clearly, Chan-wook Park is of the Gaspar Noé and Nicolas Winding Refn school of film-making where stylistic beauty has to be matched by an equal amount of brutal carnage. Unfortunately, Park also lacks those premier stylists ability to make any thematic statements beyond the obvious surface.

Oldboy has much in common with another 2003 revenge epic, Kill Bill Vol. 1 insofar as it is a cartoonish revenge fantasy though Oldboy happens to become a cartoonish deconstruction of the cartoonish revenge fantasy by film’s end. There are sequences in Oldboy that turn the old ultra-violence into something that would fit in on a PCP-infused episode of Looney Tunes. And while the film succeeds in making its point that revenge is ultimately a hollow pleasure, the movie doesn’t hammer its point home; it drops a ten-ton nuclear device and then firebombs the surrounding country side to make sure you got the message.

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Ultimately, Oldboy is a film for movie-lovers by movie-lovers where one has to be willing to subserve your need for a coherent or complex story to Chan-wook Park’s masterful direction and sense of visual flair. As gut-wrenchingly violent as it is, Oldboy is as well shot as the best Western films, and you can sense the giddy energy that went into the production of the film. So, if you appreciate the high-class “B” movies like Drive or Kill Bill, there’s no reason to skip Oldboy. Just know that you’re getting yourself involved in a brutal Korean take on Titus Andronicus and a certain Greek tragedy that I don’t want to name for fear of spoiling the film.

Final Score: B+

 

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BadSanta1

Barring It’s a Wonderful Life and, oddly enough, A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas, most supposed Christmas films don’t seem to understand the holiday they’re meant to be portraying. They’re commercial and trite, and if they do touch on themes of family and love, it’s in a bland, generic manner that’s been done to death a thousand times over. I’m an agnostic and fairly set in my lack of religious beliefs, but if you remove the religious aspect from the equation, I can appreciate the themes of love and unity that represent the modern meaning of Christmas. And, perhaps, that’s why it’s so odd that the best Christmas film, and the one most truest to the themes of the holiday, since It’s a Wonderful Life is the raunchy modern cult classic, Bad Santa.

What makes Bad Santa such a genuine and sincere tale of Christmas when, on the surface, it seems like the height of the anti-Christmas film? With a deeply unsympathetic lead (at first) and a story about a modern-day Grinch (a parallel that only struck me for the first time as I wrote that sentence), Bad Santa seems as if it should be intent on skewering Christmas with all its might. Yet, though the film is cynical, it’s never mean-tempered, and with a tale of redemption, friendship, and (in its own way) family, Bad Santa has more to say about what Christmas means in the 2000s than any other film of the last decade, and it also serves as an indictment of the crass commercialism that has come to pollute the holiday.

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Willie (The Man Who Wasn’t There‘s Billy Bob Thornton) is a sad-sack loser with no morals, no friends, and practically no reason to live other than the next fuck or his next drink. Willie makes a living, if you can call it that, posing as a mall Santa at Christmas time and robbing the department store safes with the help of his dwarf friend Marcus (Tony Cox), who poses as one of his elves. Willie’s an alcoholic and a jackass, and he gets less reliable at the job every year, and even though he swears to Marcus at the film’s beginning that that score was his last, come next Christmas Willie is broke and ready to head on down to Phoenix, Arizona to get to work again.

But, Phoenix proves to be the beginning of the end of Willie’s career as a safe cracker and department store Santa. As his self-loathing and alcoholism reach new lows, Willie stumbles into his only chance for redemption when he hooks up with a lonely barmaid (Lauren Graham) with a strange Santa fetish and move in with an odd but sweet kid (Brett Kelly) whose the object of bullying by other children and Willie himself, though Willie begins to grow fond of the possibly mentally challenged child. Willie’s life is complicated even further when his drunken antics gain the ire of the department store manager (John Ritter) who sets the mall detective (Bernie Mac) to try and figure out what Willie and Marcus are up to.

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First and foremost, I haven’t seen Sling Blade so I can’t say for certain if this is the best performance of Billy Bob Thornton’s career, but it’s certainly the best out of all of his films that I’ve seen. Thornton’s Willie is an especially loathsome creature. He drinks; he curses; he steals; he uses; he abuses; he fornicates. Yet, underneath it all, there’s a heart for the audience to latch on to. You begin, despite his almost endless list of character flaws, to grow quite fond of Willie. You want to see him improve himself. And, even at the depths of his despair and misanthtropy, Billy Bob Thornton reminds us that there’s something human still left in Willie’s core, and it’s a tricky tightrope act to conquer that Billy Bob Thornton does just fine. It was one of the finest comedy performances of the ’00’s.

And, besides Thornton’s brilliant comic turn, Bad Santa is unabashedly hilarious from start to finish. Yes, there are moments where the humor misses. Bits about a repressed homosexual Arab trying to rape Willie or Willie asking the kid if he’s a faggot are unnecessarily homophobic and not funny, but mostly, the movie hits all of the right notes. By stripping away the varnish of the “noble criminal,” Bad Santa is free to make Willie as miserable and pathetic a piece of shit as they can (as, a real life criminal could very well be), and through his complete lack of social graces and meanness, Bad Santa scores endless laughs.

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Yet, despite the gross-out humor and the general rough edges of the film, Bad Santa impresses most of all because of how genuinely touching it can be. Because of the film’s devotion to character, Willie’s arc and growth throughout the film are rewarding. In realistic fashion, Willie doesn’t find total redemption Ebenezer Scrooge style. He’s still a crude, foul-mouthed asshole by film’s end, but he reconnects with his inner humanity just enough for the film to chart a winning emotional path. His relationship with the Kid (whose name of Therman isn’t revealed until the film’s climax) is rewarding even after multiple viewings.

Bad Santa is one of the only modern Christmas films that I consider part of the required Christmas cinematic canon. It’s dark and gritty enough for those who don’t generally enjoy Christmas films (such as myself) to find plenty of laughs, but it has enough heart to know more about Christmas than most of its peers. The occasionally homophobic humor is quite dated and sad, but if you can get past those moments in the film, you will find not just the best Christmas film of the last several decades, but also simply one of the best mainstream comedies of the last ten years.

Final Score: A-

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In terms of bands that are still together and actively making new music, no one, and I mean no one, is higher on my bucket list of artists to see live than Arcade Fire (especially since I’ve now seen Radiohead live at Bonnaroo). Kanye West may be close, but even he is behind my favorite baroque pop masters. Win Butler and crew are the reason that I got into indie music in the first place thanks to their second full-length album, Neon Bible. But, their best record ultimately proved to be the first one, the now seminal Funeral. If there’s one record that virtually all indie music fans can agree is brilliant, it’s Funeral or Kid A. I bought Funeral (and Kid A) for my growing vinyl collection, and it’s now Arcade Fire’s turn to be represented in my Song of the Day. It’s actually sort of crazy that I never used them before this point. Especially since they’re literally my favorite band whose name isn’t the Beatles. I think Radiohead are better than Arcade Fire, but I love Arcade Fire so much more. So, without further ado, “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels).”

First things first. Before some douche bag tries to correct me, this particular song was on Some Devil. That’s not a Dave Matthews Band album. It’s just a Dave Matthews album. Now that’s out of the way. I feel like I’m dying. It’s just a cold or a sinus infection (possibly a flu though and it becomes increasingly more likely that that’s the case) but I still feel miserable. I have a shit immune system. I’m probably not going to live to a ripe old age because the first time I get sick as a senior citizen, it will probably kill me. So, since I feel like death, what better way to use my Song of the Day than the tune “Gravedigger” by Dave Matthews. This is angry Dave. Which is honestly how I prefer the man. I’m actually shocked it’s taken me this long to use a Dave song. I know it’s not cool to be an indie music fan and say you like Dave Matthews or DMB but I do. DMB is one of the all-time great jam bands, and I just appreciate the way that Dave incorporates a great diversity of influences into his music from jazz to classic rock to world music to the blues. I would love to see him live some day.

 

this one goes out to my boss Josh Spurbeck. I’m sick today but I was scheduled to work. He sent me home and I definitely appreciate it. Plus, he’s the biggest Dave fan I know. He even has a Dave tattoo.

It’s weird that songs from the early 2000s are now either already ten years old or are slowly nearing their tenth anniversary. It makes me feel really fucking old. I’m only 23. By the time I’m in my 40s, I’m going to be a Woody Allen style neurotic mess (even more so than I already am). Although I didn’t actually listen to Guster back in 2003 (when the album containing “Amsterdam” was released), the band has certainly grown on me over the years. I’m pretty sure I first heard about them at Boys Nation when one of my fellow members of the Washington Section recommended them to me as we were having an in-depth conversation about our tastes in music (back in the days when the only thing I listened to was classic rock). Somehow, I stumbled upon a copy of the single of “Amsterdam,” and it’s been a great relationship ever since. Guster has a bit of reputation as being a college-rock band, and they definitely are. Still, there are much worse reputations you could have.

Is it possible to understand and appreciate what a writer/director was trying to accomplish, concede that he succeeded in his goals, and still find a movie to be a mostly unrewarding experience (which is not to say bad)? 2003’s Pieces of April was writer/director Peter Hedges’s successful attempt to add a modern and dysfunctional twist to the family holiday movie. With such a high-caliber cast (including Katie Holmes in one of the performances of her career and an Oscar-nominated Patricia Clarkson), I’ve always felt that I should enjoy Pieces of April more. But for a film that only runs an hour and twenty minutes, it’s not a good sign that it almost feels like we’re watching this nearly catastrophic Thanksgiving occur in real time, and if Peter Hedges could afford as excellent a cast as he did in this film, he could have probably afforded to shoot it in a format that almost looks worse than your average home movie. Pieces of April isn’t a bad film but its plodding nature, deeply unsympathetic characters, and general cheapness will always keep me from appreciating it as much as many other people I know.

After years as the black sheep of the family, April (Katie Holmes) has put her drug use, trouble making, and self-destruction behind to try and create a real life with her boyfriend Bobby (Antwone Fisher‘s Derek Luke). Despite the fact that she is her family’s pariah, April tries to make amends by throwing Thanksgiving dinner at her low-rent New York apartment. Her mother (The Station Agent’s Patricia Clarkson) has been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, and it’s highly implied throughout the film that she has less than a year to live. This is April’s last chance to make things right for all of the years that she caused her family misery. So, including her father (Oliver Platt), her little sister (Midnight in Paris‘ Alison Pill), her brother, and her senile grandmother, April has to cook dinner for her whole family knowing that if she screws up, it will only confirm what everyone already believes about her. When it turns out that her oven is on the fritz, April quickly realizes that this is going to be a long Thanksgiving.

Pieces of April is a testament to bitterness, family, the emotional and spiritual toll of holding grudges, and grasping at life when you still can. Many of April’s past actions are barely hinted at (I honestly thought it was mistake when they made it clear because the film’s ambiguity was one of its selling points) and even when they begin to spell things out, it’s clear that April’s life isn’t as much of a mess now. Yet, she caused such havoc as a teenager/young adult that her family can’t get past her previous misdeeds. If there was ever a film that was about the need to let go of what’s come before, forgive people for hurting you in the past (if they’re making an effort to improve themselves), and cherish those that should be closest to us, it’s Pieces of April. And Peter Hedges succeeds in getting that point across. As the family’s car ride to get to April’s apartment proceeds and the bubbling family tensions are finally able to explode, it’s clear just how much this anger is tearing her family apart and the steps they need to take to finally heal.

However, it’s a shame that in April’s family, the only really likeable characters were the otherwise blank slate characters of her father and her brother. I’m glad that Peter Hedges didn’t go down the cheap road of making April’s cancer-stricken mother an overly sympathetic saint, but it’s very clear over the course of the film that she’s sort of a huge bitch (which in turn explains why her youngest daughter is an even bigger bitch) with almost no redeeming characters that I can immediately think of. You can make characters that are deeply flawed but that are interesting enough to hold your attention. Mad Men is full of nothing but complete assholes, but their flaws are unique and interesting or the characters are so intelligent/charismatic/endearing that their flaws become just another facet of their personality. The only truly likeable and developed character in the film is Bobby (April’s boyfriend). The rest are just grating without anything that makes them otherwise engaging.

The low-quality digital camera approach would be fine if it had added anything to the film. You can shoot a movie on cheap cameras and still use interesting shots or somehow heighten the intimacy of the film because of the directness of such a no-frills approach. Oren Moverman’s The Messenger didn’t have a massive budget but the hand-held camera technique brought you painfully close to the heart ache of two soldiers whose job it is to inform parents that their loved ones have died in the service. With a story about a cancer-ridden mother and her rebellious daughter trying to reconcile their relationship, you’d think that Pieces of April would be rife with that sort of intimate and in-your-face cinematographic technique. And there were some good close-ups here and there, but mostly Pieces of April was a terribly conventionally shot film that deserved a richer stylistic treatment.

Despite my complaints about the tepid nature of the film, it manages to pull out a handful of such true and wrenching moments that you can forgive many of its iniquities. They mostly revolve around Patricia Clarkson (who gives the best performance of the film) despite my complaints about her innately unlikeable nature. After smoking some of her son’s weed in a bathroom (and hilariously telling him to roll it tighter next time), she goes on a stoned rant in the car about an R&B artist where she insults her husband’s manhood, yearns for the loss of her sexuality, and reveals layers of subtext about her own narcissism that could explain in the relationship gap between her and her daughter. Similarly, there’s a truly terrible moment where Patricia Clarkson tries to come up with a single good memory around April and realizes that they were all actually the youngest daughter instead.

It’s a testament to Patricia Clarkson’s performance that I’m able to launch as much praise towards Joy as I am vitriolic criticism. Clarkson commits to the role of the heavily critical, slightly hypocritical, bitter bottle of denial that is Joy with an almost frightening intensity. It’s one of those rare performances that can spin from quiet, simmering tension to violent rages to droll comedy. Yet, with every scene, Clarkson managed to continue upstaging her cast-mates and keeping the focus nearly as much on Joy as it was on April. Katie Holmes was excellent as well (though not to Clarkson’s level). Despite the fact that she’s not the ball of perpetual fuck-ups that she used to be, it’s obvious that April still has some issues to work out, and throughout this long day, Holmes takes April through a believable rollercoaster of emotions.

At least the film had the decency to hang a lampshade on the trivial nature of many of the film’s problems. A young, previously rich white girl is having trouble making the turkey for her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Another character actually calls her out on it (though subverts the trope by sympathizing with April and helping her when April tells her the whole story). I’ve seen the film before, and while I didn’t dislike it with as much vitriol as the first time I watched it, it’s growth in my esteem was minimal. The more I think about certain aspects of the film, the more I can appreciate what Peter Hedges was trying to do, but unlike other films that take a while to hit, the movie rarely made enough of an emotional impact during the actual viewing of the film. Pieces of April still manages to leave me nearly as cold as April’s oven.

Final Score: B-

This time next week I’m going to be back at my dad’s house in Philippi, WV, where I’ll be staying for the summer. To say that I’m not looking forward to leaving New York City would probably be the understatement of the century. Anyways, I want to dedicate this last week’s worth of statuses to how I’m feeling about this wonderful, life changing semester and perhaps even my move. So, in true Don Saas fashion. Let’s start it off with some show tunes. I really feel like I took a major risk this semester coming to NYC to pursue a writing career. I’m not exactly in the best shape academically and I would have probably been better served in a traditional sense by staying in Morgantown and trying to get a 4.0 for the semester without dropping any classes or making a fool of myself in some other way. But I’ve never been a traditional guy, and I was wallowing in self-pity in Morgantown because of how miserable and conventional everything felt. I needed to feel unshackled and see if I could succeed in a much bigger sea than Morgantown. I peaked too early in Morgantown and because I felt no challenge whatsoever (and saw no way out any time soon), I threw in the towel in disgusted defeatism (among plenty of other reasons). Trying to be a writer in one of the most competitive cities on the planet was a serious risk and I completely rose to the occasion. So, I’m choosing “Defying Gravity” from Wicked as my Song of the Day because it’s all about living and trying to achieve greatness. And that’s what I think I’ve done and will continue to do now that I know I can do better than Morgantown (which I’m only returning to because it’s affordable to finish my schooling there and I don’t have that much school left).

 

If you want to listen to May’s Song of the Day playlist, you can find it here on Spotify. If you want a broader selection of tunes, you can find the playlist for all of 2012 here.

Elfen Lied: Vol. 6

Well, that’s what I get for observing that the last volume of Elfen Lied was a bit tame to previous entries in the series. Much as I expected, Lynn Okamoto decided to up the disturbing factor of the series, and while it still isn’t as psychologically scarring as the volume where we discovered Lucy/Nyu’s backstory with Kohta, we’re getting an idea for just how sadistic and sociopathic the evil government agency in this series is (are they with the government though? I can’t really tell. I just know they are bat shit insane and genocidal). Also, while the series did an excellent job of making you fear the diclonii at the beginning of the story, we’re really starting to learn just what it is that is maybe pushing them to being such omnicidal maniacs in the first place and that their destructive/murderous tendencies are perhaps the fault of humanity. We’ve reached the halfway point of this story, and while it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that I’ll wind up giving up on Bleach at some point in the future (though I’m still enjoying it so it won’t happen soon), I can’t see myself turning stopping Elfen Lied until I draw this epic tale to a close.

If there’s one thing that this series is starting to do that I find irritating is make us think that Lucy’s powers are going to suddenly awaken (and have her go on a massive killing spree) only for it to be a false alarm. this volume doesn’t quite do that (like say last time) because Lucy manages to wake up, finds herself being taken care of by Kohta and Yuka, and forces her Nyu personality back. It’s almost like she’s combining Nyu and Lucy though because suddenly Nyu is miraculously capable of many more words than she was before. She’s becoming more intelligent (which means when she’s hurt, she’s liable to do all sorts of damage if she ever realizes the full extent of her powers). Nana feels guilty for attacking Nyu because while Nyu might share the same body as Lucy, they’re obviously different people. Nana is easily the most empathetic person in the Diclonius race (until she ends up getting pissed off later). She apologizes to Kohta and Nyu and is welcomed back into the Kaede residence. That house is quickly becoming full. This peaceful turn of events quickly takes a turn for a worse though when Director Kakuzawa reveals that he knew that Karuma would let Nana escape and he sics Karuma’s biological daughter Mariko (who’s an incredibly powerful Diclonius) on both Lucy and Nana. Mariko is so powerful that they’ve installed explosives throughout her body as an insurance policy should she get out of control. Since they blow up one of her arms the second she’s let loose and tries to kill everyone around her (even though this girl is like five), the explosives aren’t a blufff. She runs into Nana on the beach and while she starts to kick Nana’s ass at first, when she insults Karuma, Nana’s inner Lucy-style pure evil side awakes and she turns the tide against Mariko. She’s about to kill Mariko when Karuma arrives and we learn just how he came to be infected with the Vector Virus and the origins of the agency’s program to study the Diclonius.

Those scenes where they were performing the experiments on the diclonius children (who all began to be born at around the same time. Sounds like someone was intentionally trying to impregnate women or this was caused by Lucy suddenly infecting a large number of people at once without realizing the consequences) were very, very difficult to read. Watching the scientists shoot the children in the face with lead balls at increasing velocities to test the strength of their vectors was just cruel in the sort of way that you’d expect the Nazis to behave. Although it’s interesting to learn that even though Karuma felt terrible about what was happening (which is why he eventually befriended Nana because one of the diclonius that had to be put down bore a great resemblance to her), he didn’t actively do anything to stop it. While he’s meant to be a sympathetic villain, he’s still quite a bit of a bastard. And he only appears somewhat likeable in comparison to the real psychos that are Bando (who’s softened some as well) and Director Kakuzawa (who wants to destroy humanity). It also seems that Director Kakuzawa believes that over the course of one year, he could completely destroy humanity and prop himself up as a God to the new Diclonius. I’m really interested to see just how he thinks he can accomplish that.

I could probably write more (I think I use some variation of this phrase in 80% of my posts on here) but I still have to write my “Song of the Day” post and Glee is coming on at 8. This week’s episode is a Whitney Houston tribute which means it will either be brilliant or completely terrible. I really hope it’s the former because ever since it came back from it’s winter hiatus, the show’s been sort of struggling to find traction. Still, I may have a friend coming over to watch the episode with me and it’s always easier to enjoy Glee when you have company to laugh at all of the absurdity of the show. The cast members can’t seem to stop tweeting about which is also either a good or a bad sign. The sugary-sweetness of Glee will definitely make for a strange contrast with the bloody, over-the-top violence of Elfen Lied.

Final Score: B+

Elfen Lied: Vol. 5

Wow. That volume was surprisingly tame by Elfen Lied standards. Except for things occurring in flashbacks that we had already witnessed, I don’t think there was a single instance of dismemberment, torture, rape, or murder this whole volume. I guess we can call this a breather volume. There were still plenty of disturbing things and the introduction of one new character (as well as bringing another established character into the Kaede residence). I think it’s finally beginning to dawn on me that one of the reasons for this series’s existence is that it’s trying to deconstruct a lot of the tropes at the heart of the harem-manga/anime genre. And it’s doing it all pretty well. This particular volume was heavy on seeing how these characters interact with each other when there isn’t some murderous force out to get them all, and while I was initially shocked that there wasn’t something genuinely traumatic happening every other page (though there are still moments of considerable personal dysfunction), it was interesting to learn a little bit more about the burgeoning group dynamic in the Kaede home.

The last volume ended with Lucy (as compared to Nyu) running into Kohta and Yuka after she had murdered Professor Kakuzawa. While the series teased the possibility of Lucy revealing to Kohta all of the terrible things she had done to him as a child (i.e. killing his sister and father), she reverts to being Nyu at the last second (as I’m assuming the anesthetic finally wore off that had caused her to become Lucy in the first place). Despite Kohta and Yuka’s growing romance (which we saw last time at the temple), Nyu still has something resembling feelings for Kohta (it’s complicated since she’s so childlike) and she crawls into bed naked with Kohta and then Yuka walks in and then Nyu tries to seduce Yuka (maybe…). Only Mayu’s arrival stops it from happening when Nyu tries to grope Mayu and realizes how much Mayu disliked it (because of what happened with her pedophilic stepfather). Eventually, Yuka invites a friend over to the house, another girl her age with an amazing singing voice named Nozomi. However, Nozomi suffers from crippling anxiety that has resulted in her having little control over her bladder and she has to wear a diaper (which is accidentally revealed to Kohta along with other mishaps). Back in evil scientist-ville, Karuma is ordered by his boss to dispose of Nana but Karuma instead decides to help her escape. Though she is almost killed by Bando who discovers her when she arrives in Kamakura, they decide to team up to take out Lucy. Nana befriends Mayu (who helped her learn about money and didn’t judge her because of her horns), and Mayu brings Nana back to the home where she meets Nyu and proceeds to beat the shit out of her. When she realizes that Nyu won’t fight back (and after Kohta hits her and tells her to leave), Mayu is confused because she can’t feel Lucy’s presence as she should. However, the head trauma is causing Nyu to become ill and then as the manga ends, Nana suddenly feels Lucy awaken.

For once, I think the series might have crossed the line into gratuitous nudity in this volume. There’s always a ton of nudity in this series, but all of those shots of a completely naked Nana (who is supposed to be like a pre-teen I’m pretty sure) didn’t really serve any purposes that I can think of and were maybe just really awkward attempts at fan service for weirdos. Also, it’s getting to the point with Nyu’s indiscriminate sexual groping of everyone that it’s starting to be used more for humor than for drama (at least I can’t wrest any dramatic overtones from it except when she molested Mayu) which is to me a problem. I also don’t really know how I feel about Nozomi. She seems like the series attempt to add a yamato nadeshiko to the mix (except one with incontinence because no one is allowed to be semi-normal in this show). I did appreciate the job the series took to show perhaps the softer side of Karuma who has up til now been the series’ Big Bad. However, he no longer has that title since we’ve met who I assume to be the real big bad in the chief who apparently was also the father of Professor Kakuzawa (which means he must be infected with the Diclonius virus). Unless I’m confusing the chief and this new villain because they were both drawn very similarly.

I’ll keep this review to a minimum because I still have a lot of writing to catch up on from this weekend. I didn’t do any extra writing yesterday because I wound up playing Xenoblade Chronicles almost the entire day. Damn is that game addicting. It’s pretty much everything you could possibly want in a modern JRPG except for good graphics (cause it was several years old when it finally came stateside and it’s already on the Wii which has pretty awful graphics). So at the moment (and by the moment, I mean apparently the last month and a half or so), I’m going through one of my patented “into Japanese shit” phases which I’m sure will eventually wear off. Now that Lucy has woken up again, I really want to know what’s going to happen in this next volume because Kohta is slowly remembering what happened all those years ago and Lucy seems to be losing her patience with his amnesia (and Yuka’s continued presence in his life). There could be a bloodbath of violence awaiting us, and I have to assume that this especially calm volume means that things are going to get pretty terrible for everyone soon enough. However, I must take my break for Bleach which is also getting to an interesting point. I definitely think I chose the right two manga to read.

Final Score: B+

Elfen Lied: Vol. 4

What in the good lord’s name am I reading? I finished the fourth volume of Elfen Lied last night before I went to bed, and it is only by divine providence (even though I don’t believe in anything divine) that I wasn’t wracked with nightmares brought forth by the horrendous scenes that were occurring at least once (if not twice) an issue in this latest volume of Lynn Okamoto’s horror opus. I finally get what all of the big deal is about Elfen Lied. We can officially say that Volume 4 was the moment where the series “Grew the Beard” if you will (Star Trek reference that means essentially the opposite of “Jumping the Shark”), and I am now hooked. I really wish I wasn’t hooked though because I regularly feel like I’m treading down some dark, voyeuristic path of Hell that no normal person would keep on reading. Yet, I press forward because this world’s mythology and its cruel and inhumane cast of characters (whether because of their actual non-humanity or the blackness of their hearts) rigorously compel me to see what could possibly happen next. I’m guessing nothing pleasant.

I think I finished this volume on Friday and for god knows what reason, I’ve sort of delayed doing my actual write-up. So, if the details of the events of this volume are a little foggy in my mind, I apologize. I had actually gotten better these last couple of weeks of not letting myself fall behind on my blogging. Essentially, the gist of this volume is that we finally learn the tragic backstory of Lucy (though not how she came to be captured by the government) and her connection to Kohta as well as the origin of Kohta’s amnesia. As Lucy is wandering around after murdering Professor Kakuzawa (and slowly returning to her Nyu personality), she recollects on the last time she was in Kamakura. Lucy was an orphan who was abused and bullied at her school as a small child because of her horns (she isn’t yet aware of her powers). The only friend she has is a puppy in the woods that is eventually brutally murdered by her classmates at which point her powers awaken and she kills every single kid in her class room. As she’s wandering around the forest, she runs into a young Kohta and the two strike up a friendship. Kohta generally cares about Lucy but she’s slowly succumbing to her madness. Kohta is only in town for a little while and he spends his last day at a festival with Yuka. Lucy sees this, gets jealous, and kills a bunch of people at the fair. Kohta and his family see the massacre and decide to leave town. Lucy ends up on the bus they take to leave town and murders Kohta’s father and little sister at which point Kohta’s mind snaps. Back in the present, Lucy/Nyu arrives and addresses Kohta by name (who’s beginning to remember what happens) and asks him how he’s been. Ruh Roh Rooby.

I pretty much skimmed over the plot (because like I said, I read it like four days ago), but let’s just say that this was by far the most emotional and psychological volume of the series so far. This was Elfen Lied‘s Neon Genesis Evangelion moment and then some. Honestly, the shit that happens to Lucy and Kohta in here makes everything that Shinji Ikari went through (at least to where I had gotten in the anime [which is admittedly not very far]) seem like a day where you wake up on the wrong side of the bed. This volume explored social alienation, the cruelty of humanity, young love, unrequited love, sexual awakening, and plenty of other issues in a manner that was far more mature than I would have expected to be possible from a manga. This was heavy shit, and Elfen Lied more than did the material justice. Not only that though, but it was also the most legitimately disturbing material of the series yet as well. There were several massacres in this volume alone, and at no point has the series begun to desensitize me to the violence that I regularly witness in its pages because each act of gruesome violence and cruelty is given the proper weight and importance that it deserves. This isn’t meant for exploitative purposes. It’s meant to scare the hell out of you but also make you think, and on all fronts, Lynn Okamoto succeeds.

I’m going to keep this review short because I have to finish doing laundry today (it’s my day off). There have been clothes drying in my basement on the clothes line for a couple days now that I’m sure are ready for me to fold and put away. But seriously though, I’m addicted to Elfen Lied. I almost want to put my reading of Bleach on hold so that I can keep reading this series, but I know that if I stick too long in Elfen Lied world, it will probably kill my soul (not that I believe souls exist). I felt emotionally depleted after I finished this volume, and I had to actively fight off desire to sleep so that I wouldn’t have nightmares filled with visions of Lucy killing schoolchildren or schoolchildren bashing her puppy to death. So, breaks are probably good. Plus, I’m still enjoying Bleach and I want to stick with that series for as long as I can before its quality implodes on itself. On that note, you really should read Elfen Lied if you’ve managed to get this far in this spoileriffic review.

Final Score: A-