The Bellova Devil

bellovaI’ve been talking with some friends about “buddy shows” and I can think of no better than Jago and Litefoot.  The two of them are buddies, but they are so mismatched, you have to laugh.  While I find Litefoot the more respectable character, who, if one had to choose, one would prefer to be in life, it’s Jago that you have fun trying to emulate!  As a matter of fun fact, I wrote a sentence today for work about a “bad batch of badges bandied about by a bunch of boys” and short of referring to myself and a colleague as “boys” the rest was actually a real thing, but more importantly, it was utterly the influence exerted on me by the great Henry Gordon Jago!  When he mentions that he owes money to creditors, Litefoot asks why.  Among other reasons, part was: “…owing to the severance to the seven sword swallowers on account of the sad slip in safety that rendered them six.”  And it’s not just the alliteration that makes it so much fun either.  Comment after comment has me literally laughing out loud.

Another thing is that I happen to be a big fan of Sherlock Holmes.   This story makes sure to let us know that the Great Detective’s influence is strong.  Beyond Jago mentioning that he’s no Sherlock Holmes, he also wears a huge beard which “might have even fooled the Red Headed League”.  Need more?  Conan Doyle, before settling on the names of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, was considering Sherringford Holmes and Ormand Sacker.  In this story, Ormand Sacker is a Scotsman of unusual tastes!  Wait, one more, just to prove my point.  Litefoot comes up with a brilliant theory: “Once one has expunged those things that are clearly impossible from ones thought processes, such as revenants returned from the grave,… then that which remains, disregarding its relative unlikelihood… may well be the truth of the matter.”  (As Sergeant Quick accurately points out: “this theory of yours could do with condensing into a pithier form of words…”)

But what’s the plot?  Well, in a nutshell, there’s the group call The Far-Off Travelers that help people “die” to then restart their lives elsewhere.  A person pays quite a fee to do this.  They take a potion, and “die” only to be revived later with a whole new life.  Except… it’s a scam.  So, as Jago says of the recently departed, “there’s a lot of it about!”  Of course, it’s a bit more sinister than that and that strange Dutch doctor, Talp, is involved again, though he remains unseen by our protagonists.  And there may be vampires involved too.  But you’ll have to listen to find out because, as someone once said: “spoilers!”

“Look here, you secretary person!” If there’s one complaint I have it’s that the writer, Alan Barnes, didn’t act a bit more like Sherlock Holmes when doing the research for this story.  Jago is encased in concrete shoes to be thrown into the river; a particularly unpleasant means of disposal that the secretary says came from an American named Al Capone.  That may be true, but these stories take place in the 1890’s.  Capone was born in 1889.  So unless he came up with that idea in his first 11 years of life, it’s almost impossible to fit into the story successfully.

“I can’t hear you due to your enormous beard!”  Fine, fine, it’s too minor a quibble to make any bones about.  I loved the story and more than that, I love spending an hour with these two fine people.  It would be impossible for me not to recommend these stories.  If you haven’t done so already, get a few of these and give them a listen.  You will find yourself laughing out loud with two of the best spin-off characters Doctor Who had ever created.  ML

 

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The Prisoner: Living in Harmony

The Prisoner Living in HarmonyCome back Nigel Stock, all is forgiven. I’ll take anything over a Western. It has actually been quite sad to see the decline of this series, which started so brilliantly, reached it’s peak with Hammer into Anvil, and has since then got progressively worse with each episode until we reach this point, which verges on unwatchable. I seriously considered giving up on this one halfway through, and only curiosity about how the Western setting would tie into the Village premise kept me going through the torture. The answer was predictably just the usual brainwashing.

My heart sank with each subsequent Western cliché. The busty girl at the bar called Kathy. The interminable fist fights. The glass getting shot. The reluctant sheriff. Horror of horrors, the terribly-acted blackface Mexican.

I’ll be honest about this. I hate Westerns with a passion. I hate all the glorified Western macho tripe. It takes the male of the species right down to it’s most disappointing level: unenlightened, unevolved, violent and thoroughly tedious. At least Doctor Who tried to do comedy with it a couple of years earlier, but this just plays it straight and it’s hideous. For most of the running time I didn’t have a clue what was going on beyond the usual stock Western set pieces and frankly didn’t care. When we reached the point of a man assaulting a woman and being bitten on the lip, it took all my willpower not to switch off.

I have to be fair though. There were a few aspects about this episode that impressed me. The title “Living in Harmony” overlaid on a fight scene was nicely ironic, and the lack of opening titles was very modern. It’s something that happens a lot nowadays but was incredibly rare in the 1960s. Like It’s Your Funeral, one great actor pulled the episode out of the fire. Alexis Kanner played the Kid brilliantly, with his psychopathic stare. He was also great as Number Eight, and in fact as soon as we were back in the Village at the end the episode really did kick into gear at last. Kanner’s screaming as he strangled Number 22 was very frightening, although the ending came out of the blue to provide some last minute drama. Number Eight seemed to be completely in control of himself when he was in Number Two’s office, so more time taken setting up his mental breakdown post-Western would have helped. His death scene was also very badly overdubbed. But yes, a great actor, and McGoohan was right to get excited about his talent and put a box around his name in the credits.

“I agreed to wear the badge but not the gun.”

I also appreciated the attempt at an anti-gun message, with Number Six refusing to carry one. We were also shown the very real horror of anyone being able to carry a gun. The Kid is somebody who can’t drink without dribbling, and plays around with his gun like a child. That’s the problem with allowing anyone to have a gun. I mean, if there were no childish dribblers in the world, the idea might just work, but if you are happy as a society to arm the childish dribblers then nobody’s safe.

“Get some guns on.”

There was irony and truth in that. The response to a gun crime having just been committed is to reach for more guns, which says it all really. The message isn’t quite driven home as much as it could have been, with only Number Six making a stand, and using his fists in substitution, but it was sufficient to get the episode banned in the US at the time due to fears about the episode being interpreted as an anti-war statement (admitted afterwards, but not at the time), proving that the US was capable of standing with the best (worst) of them when it comes to censorship of creative media that challenges the political status quo.

I also have to praise the graveyard silhouette shot, which is sublime, although two fabulous seconds out of 49 minutes isn’t a great hit rate. And much more goes wrong than goes right. I praised Kanner but he’s really the only good actor in this. Some very British countryside doubles up as the Wild West, and then there were lines like this:

“There’s only one way out. That’s due North.”

What, is it a walled Roman city or something? A couple of people camping here and there doesn’t make for an inescapable barrier, as Number Six eventually proves. A couple of moments fell into the so-bad-it’s-funny category. There was the audible slap before a hand connected with a face. And then there was this delight:

“You’ve got five seconds to make up your mind.”

Which lasted 21 seconds. He might as well have done child counting: one, two, three, four, four and a half, four and three quarters… Somehow, for a miserable episode that dragged interminably, that would have seemed about right.   RP

The view from across the pond:

Oh look, another abnormal opening, following closely on the heals of Do Not Forsake A Title In Favor Of Being Poetic Because It Will Haunt Your Series Forever.  Or a title very similar to that.  I remember the first time I watched this, I thought I had the wrong video tape in the clamshell case.  Yes, it was that long ago.  I thought: crap, a Clint Eastwood western?  But I saw McGoohan so I let it play and eventually noticed very similar themes.  I started to work it out, but it wouldn’t be until I was in my 40s that it would hit me (which is to say, now); this is #2’s attempt at VR!  1967/68, and the Village had VR already!  How brilliant!!

Ok, let’s get into it.  It takes the entire episode to realize #2 is using the old … um, new?… VR ploy.  Put your enemy in VR, hit him with some hallucinogens, and rover’s your uncle.  He’ll become convinced he’s Clint Eastwood, and try to save the literal Damsel in Distress.  (I think they made a song out of it… Damsel in Distress, bring her back now we won’t take less!)  I digress.  Horribly.  What bothers me about this episode is that the people behind it are driveling oafs.   #6 is the one that had no idea where he was and he comes out fine, even after thinking he was shot.  #8 might as well have been the VR developer, but he gets so caught up in his role, he thinks he’s The Kid and goes creepily stalking Cathy when she goes back to the VR set, because she thinks she is actually that lovely damsel.  Cathy was all willing to go along with the whole thing until it played out and she realized there was a man who could love her in #6, but instead has to deal with under-the-stairs stalker first.  (Look what happens when I shine this flashlight up my face, while hiding in the dark…. Hehehe!)  They go so far off the deep end that #8 actually dies by leaning over the balcony and screaming “no more”.  (John Hurt would say this same line some 50 years later and have much better luck with it.)  Alexis Kanner puts his arms out, falls down dead, and leaves #2 to wonder how bad his punishment will be.  (I’m guessing Richie’s Plank Experience with real skyscrapers!  That’ll teach him.)

In fairness, Alexis Kanner plays the Kid to psychotic perfection.  He’s actually genuinely creepy, so when he reappears as #8, the psychosis is complete and utterly unnerving.  Cathy is right to freak out.  He’s possibly the most frightening character in the entire 17 episode run!

Another brilliant thing about this episode is that when the name appears on screen, Living in Harmony, it’s over a scene of a brawl between #6 and the villagers.

What’s less brilliant is that my home country refused to air this episode when it came out.  But in fairness, think about it:  It’s December of 1967.  Vietnam is going on.  And the hero of this piece does not want to carry a weapon to defend his town.  Now, I call that interesting and a sign of the times.  Luckily the times, they are a’changin.

But the episode failed for me in one major way.  When #6 wakes from his VR experience, people are cardboard cutouts…. In the exact position they were in when he last saw them.  Now, that’s fine if the episode played out the way #2 and #8 thought it would, but #2 shoots #6, effectively destroying the VR.   The plan is destroyed.  What, was this VR capable of printing out the last scene so you could review?  And how did they handle it when he was “riding a horse” if the horse was just a cardboard one?  They are awfully hard to ride!!!!   So when #6 wakes and see #2 holding the gun, he runs over to strangle #2, only to realize he just attacked a cardboard cutout!  (Embarrassing.  Glad his fiancé didn’t witness that!)  And is that really the best option when someone is pointing a gun at you?  Run at them???  Isn’t #6 clever?

So while we have a chance to see what McGoohan would have been like in a western, it’s a weak episode and lacks all the charm of British TV.  Which, I suppose, makes sense since it takes place in an American town.  But that does lead to one more question which I raised with Do Not Mislead Me, Oh my Script editor; where exactly is the Village?  Last episode showed US Dollars and this has #6 in an America town.  Well, we’re closing in on the end of the series, so I guess we will know soon enough.    ML

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Small Worlds

touchwoodTorchwood continues its game of tennis or ping pong with episodes going back and forth over the net from good to bad.  After last week’s Cyberwoman, I was not sure what to expect with Small Worlds. I was seriously let down by the blunders of last week. So here we are in week 5 and Peter Hammond gives us a story about Fairies, to which I thought: really?!   Yeah, it has a solid opener, but… fairies?!  For real?  We are going to take a distinctly “fantasy” creature and make it “science fiction”?  46 minutes later if I had to admit one episode had locked me into the series… well, it’s a Small World after all!

We are given a story about a little girl who is protected by Fairies because they want something from her.  “Come away human child!”  The episode also offers us some small hints into Jack’s past.  I’ll talk about the latter first.  I’m not sure why Jack tries to keep certain secrets from Gwen because she saw him get shot in the head and then get up moments later, completely healed.  (Maybe it’s because she also saw him get punched in the face and have a split lip for hours…?)  But the idea that Jack doesn’t tell Gwen that he and Estelle were an item is just silly.  Yeah, he’s entitled to his privacy, so it’s not completely unbelievable, but he waits for her to figure it out on her own.  Once she does, he can share his story from 1909 which is relevant to the case.  Now, this does beg the question of the audience: how old is Jack?  And how long has he been on Earth?  We’ve been taking it at face value that he’s here and his inability to die is the result of the gift Rose gave him at the end of The Parting of the Ways in Doctor Who.  But when that ended, he was on a space station in the far future.  How did he get back to the past, and just how far did he go?  Well, that’s a question for another day but what we do learn is that Jack is a lot older than he looks.  

Onto the subject of the kid, I was delighted by these creatures the moment they target and kill a pedophile.  They went from scary looking monsters, to highly respected beings in the blink of an eye.  Then they kill Estelle and I was back to thinking of these creatures as monsters again.  Then as they torment some bullies, I was back to seeing them as the good guys.  (Plus they helped themselves out by having Lord of the Dance being sung in the background, which is a favorite of mine.  Yeah, it’s a roller coaster with me, I know!)   Jack calls these creatures something from the dawn of time but it’s got to be more than that because they take human children to increase their ranks.  Far as I can tell, human children have not been around from the dawn of time.  I’ll still give it to Jack because, ultimately, he’s just trying to instill in Gwen that these are beings beyond comprehension.  Everything else is speculation.   And Jack realizes just how dangerous these beings are because they can control the weather and the elements easier than we control our TV remotes.  They also exists back and forth in time.  This latter realization may have saved humanity when Jack tries to explain to Jasmine that the forest she believes in does not exist.  She happily tells him it does, and he realizes: time is not a boundary for them.  Just because the forest doesn’t exist now doesn’t mean anything to beings that can be in any time they want.  So Jack lets Jasmine become one of them and his team is disgusted with him for it, but it forces us to acknowledge that sometimes the only choice is a bad one.  That moral ambiguity is an intensely interesting part of the episode; in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the most fascinating part of the episode because it makes us think.  At what point is the creature too big for the hero to fight?  The Doctor might have found a third option, but Jack is not magical like the Doctor.  When I think of the Doctor saying “Life isn’t a fairy tale”, I have a radically different idea in my mind than what Jack has to live with.

In the end, Jasmine’s mom is left with nothing which may be the most tragic part of all.  Her boyfriend of the last 5 years lies dead on the ground in her backyard, a mouth full of rose petals.  He may have been a little over enthusiastic about putting a fence up to block Jasmine from having fun, and his loss may not be that great in the grand scheme, but to Jasmine’s mom, he mattered.  Now he’s gone and her daughter has run off and vanished into her fairy tale, not in the good way with a handsome prince either.  And the final scene is of Gwen looking at a 100-year-old photo that she had looked at dozens of times only to realize the little girl that was taken in this episode was always in that photo.  Time truly did not matter for these creatures and there was never any way to stop them.  And that’s both terrifying and amazing.  And kudos to the writer for a really solid episode.

If the next episode can keep the ball on this side of the fence, Torchwood is going to become legendary!  ML

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Tsukuyomi: Moon Phase

Moon Phase HazukiThe opening titles set the tone for this anime series: more than a little odd, and also a bit cheap. It’s trying to be a vampire story with a difference. Two differences, actually: it tries very hard to be funny, and also the vampire is cute rather than threatening. In fact, the vampire is the victim, because she has been imprisoned in a castle and brainwashed. Luckily for her, professional photographer Kouhei visits her castle and it just so happens that he is immune to paranormal forces, can walk right through the barrier and give Hazuki her means to escape.

Moon Phase is a series that never quite knows what it wants to be, veering back and forth between comedy and jeopardy. When it is trying to do the dramatic storylines it is actually pretty good at that, although the series reaches a big climax halfway through and then fizzles out a bit. That’s because it gets the order of its villains back to front. The biggest of big bads is the Count who was keeping her captive, and towards the end of the series we get another big bad: Kouhei’s half sister Arte, but the Count is a much scarier foe, so I think should have been saved for the big climax to the series. As for the comedy, it is often slapstick in the broadest sense. There is a running joke of a pan dropping on Kouhei’s head in his house, which gradually becomes sillier and sillier until giant pans are dropping on everyone and everything from nowhere towards the end of the series. Maybe I’m missing something, but I just didn’t get the joke. But when the humour works it is a very funny series.

The characters are a mixed bag. Hazuki is brilliant, quite a tsundere character who gives Kouhei a hard time as her “slave”. The romance between her and Kouhei is a bit uncomfortable to watch because she is only 14 and looks a lot younger than that, and the animation is clearly trying to make the most of her “kissing” (biting) Kouhei’s neck. Luckily it is a one-way thing for almost the whole series and never amounts to much. As for Kouhei, he is largely a boring and generic main character, although there are times when he shines, such as the moment he takes Arte under his wing and makes her feel like part of a family for the first time in her life, which almost brought tears to my eyes it was so heartwarming. Then there is Kouhei’s grandfather, who is quite entertaining, Elfriede who should have been an interesting character but made me yawn, a cat spirit who is really funny, and Kouhei’s twin cousins who are supposed to be cute but are actually really irritating, especially when one of them starts dressing up as a cat to compete with Hazuki’s cute cat ear obsession.

The animation looks pretty cheap and there is sometimes a lack of consistency in the character art. The animators struggle to reconcile moments of close-up detail with the wider shots, and towards the end of the series it looks like time or money was running out because the character designs sometimes look a bit off. However, I really liked how they show Kouhei’s house as a cross-section, so you can see all the rooms at the same time and see what is going on in different rooms while the main action plays out in one of them. I’ve never seen that done before and it works very well. The animators also cope well with the action sequences, and all the scenes set in the castle. I was also impressed with their restraint in terms of the fanservice. The premise was crying out for this to be a fanservice series, but the vast majority of episodes have nothing more than the occasional creepy subtext. It is only towards the end of the series that there is anything a Western viewer might find especially uncomfortable, with the animators unnecessarily choosing to introduce the character of Arte with her swimming naked, although it is kept reasonably innocent and not really gratuitous.

This is a 26 episode series, which reaches its climax in the 24th episode. The 25th is a fun little bonus episode, while the 26th is a very bizarre OVA episode that is just about the weirdest thing I have ever seen, unconnected to the rest of the series, with the same characters in a very different set of circumstances. I think it’s supposed to be funny.

I know I’ve found a lot to criticise with this one, and it’s far from being the best anime you will ever watch, but it’s not trash either. If you want a light-hearted comedy with moments of excitement and a bit of cuteness and fun then this might just be one for you. I’ll leave you with the trailer for the dub version.   RP

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The Quintessential Quintuplets (Daz)

Quintessential QuintupletsThe Junkyard presents a review by Daz of the anime series The Quintessential Quintuplets:

So… I finally got round to watching this show. Decided to binge it in one day seeing as we can’t really do much.

Where do I begin with these Quintessential Quintuplets… I dunno really. Another show without an ending. Getting bored of these shows that beg you to wait until Season 2. Luckily for us this has got a Season 2 incoming unlike some…

Harem anime isn’t something I ever really watch. I can count on my hand how many I’ve actually seen. Most of which were seen by fluke like this.  Brynhildyr in the Darkness is one of my favourites but strangely enough, only in dub. The main character’s attitude in the sub is horrible. He’s often verbally abusive to the girls and acts like they are a hindrance to him. I decided to watch this in dub too as I thought it might have a similar feel. The setups are usually the same: guy in a bad situation gets put in charge of some girls.  That is very much the case in Quintuplets too but it just didn’t gel with me… or did it?

Our MC lives with his dad and little sister and they are hard up for money. He ends up getting a job tutoring five sisters. They come from a wealthy family and he won’t get paid unless they all pass their exams. Yet this is all played out in the past, as when the show starts, the MC is getting married to someone and we have to watch the show to find out who.

This isn’t so much about him being poor or the stress of teaching these girls so he gets paid, but more about helping each one with their own problems. Not that these things aren’t dealt with, it’s just that they aren’t the main focus. It’s clear from this point that this show isn’t going down the more serious route. Not that teenage problems aren’t serious, just that it could have dealt with the realities of the threat of being homeless and the pressures of that.

As with harem shows, eventually all the girls develop some kind of feelings for the main character and they have kept the “which one will he choose” angle different by making them all look exactly the same just with different hairstyles and colours. It works for the readers/viewers as they can show them together in any kind of circumstance yet with a different style and you still don’t know.

The MC isn’t the worst guy either. I was happy about that point. Sometimes these guys get on my nerves with their attitudes. Luckily this guy didn’t have one. What he did have though was an interesting backstory about a former life he had and reasons why he changed up. This is somehow linked to the girls but we don’t know how. Season 2 will probably show us.

The crazy thing is that as I’ve sat and wrote this I’ve realised that I actually liked this show. It made me laugh and people cared. Genuinely cared. It’s not the deepest thing in the world or the smartest. It doesn’t have great visuals but it’s got a certain charm that is essential in stuff like this.

For that reason, I’m going to give this show a 7/10.

One thing for certain is that there is a massive abundance of shows like this. Stuff that builds too quickly and in most cases needs more time to develop. Friendships aren’t made so fast in reality and things appear purely for plot reasons. It’s what ultimately kills stuff like this for me instantly. I mean sometimes these shows are just poorly written and you can’t see how it even got greenlit yet there it is… on your screen… wasting your time and the people that made it too.

I guess we have the seasonal format to blame for a lot of it. Companies clamoring for the next hit and a share of the spoils. Quality really takes a hit and unfortunately I can’t see this changing any time soon which for some is great but not for me.  DT

For another review of this series please see: The Quintessential Quintuplets.  We also have a The Fanservice Debate article.

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Another Episode 2

Another Blueprint Misaki doll in coffin“Blueprint”

The view from Igirisu:

“You should be careful. It may have already begun. If it has it can’t be stopped.”

But what exactly has begun? All the clues point towards something supernatural, but a good mystery story includes well-integrated red herrings so we can’t make any assumptions at this stage. We are being led to believe that Misaki, who nobody else seems to be able to see, is a ghost, and this week’s key piece of evidence is Koichi’s phone conversation with his nurse friend he made when he was in hospital, Sanae Mizuno. She breaks patient confidentiality to reveal the name of the girl who died in hospital on the day Koichi saw Misaki, and her name is… Misaki. However, when a writer works so hard to make us believe something we need to be especially sceptical, and the bad phone signal obscuring the rest of the name is a masterpiece of writing that throws in just enough confusion to keep us guessing.

Other mysteries are introduced this week. Izumi Akazawa has a nagging feeling she has met Koichi before, and yet he has just moved to the area. Then there is the librarian, who certainly looks like he could have been around 26 years ago, and Reiko’s confirmation that he was there during her time gets us significantly closer to the time of the original tragedy. Once again though, the writer is working hard to cast suspicion on him, so we also need to take this with a pinch of salt.

“He gave almost all of us girls the creeps.”

Our other major new focus character this week is the softly-spoken Mochizuki who, like several of the characters in this series, seems to have a taste for the gothic, but tinged with a sense of humour:

“It’s the Lemon Scream.”

He is a good example of how this series is offering us strongly individual characters who are not afraid to be different. The most different of all, and also the biggest mystery at this stage, is of course Mei Misaki. She has a taste for the melancholy:

“My favourite is the cold rain that falls in midwinter, just before it turns to snow.”

To even have a favourite kind of rain is unusual, and Misaki chooses the coldest. There are two possible interpretations of Misaki at this point in the series: she is a part of the world of the dead, or she sees beyond conventional fears and hang-ups. She does not fear the dark or the cold, and she is immune to the uncanny valley fear of eerily lifelike dolls, even ones that provide a twisted or damaged distortion of the human form.

“Some people say dolls like these are creepy but I say they’re wrong.”

She finds something of a kindred spirit in Koichi, although he is puzzled by her favourite dolls, anatomically detailed (well, more than usual) conjoined twins.

If you have never seen the South Korean film The Doll Master, then you really should. It’s a horror masterpiece. I thought we were into similar territory with the doll that looks like Misaki in a coffin, while we hear her voice speaking to Koichi. But if we needed any proof that red herrings are going to abound, this is it, because we are deliberately tricked into entertaining the possibility of the supernatural, while the reality is a doll that resembles Misaki, who is speaking from the shadows. We cannot take anything at face value. It’s a great moment of misdirection.

And then finally we get a cracker of a cliffhanger ending, with Misaki about to reveal what’s under that eye patch. What will Koichi see when she takes it off? The questions are mounting. Maybe it’s time for some answers… RP

The view from Amerika:

Episode 2 of Another opens up with a confrontation of sorts between Misaki and Sakakibara as wind stirs around them.  Then we jump to school where a classmate is painting a lemon version of The Scream.  Or is it a Scream-inspired lemon?  I don’t know. The point is, this series seriously knows how to build tension.  And I am loving it.

From the “lemon scream” to the “cursed class 3”, we know there are some things that are just wrong with this class.  I picked up on it in episode one, of course, that many of the members that we meet have some kind of ailment.  Sakakibara has a collapsed lung, there’s a kid with a weak heart, a girl with a sprained ankle, and of course, Misaki who wears an eye patch.  Her mystery is, of course, the most chilling, as crows caw when she’s near and none of the kids in class seem to want to know anything about her.  I’ve been thinking about The Sixth Sense right from the start, but the scene when Sakakibara goes to the library to talk to Misaki really drove that home.  The library teacher shoos Sakakibara away, but he never actually acknowledges Misaki who remains there, impassively.

Meanwhile, when Sakakibara goes to the hospital for a late night chat to learn about Misaki, his friend, Sanae, brings up the writing of John Saul.  Saul is a horror writer with a fairly prolific number of books to his name.  In episode 1, she mentioned Stephen King, seeing Pet Sematary on the nightstand.  She calls Sakakibara “horror lover” in both episodes.  So when Sakakibara follows Misaki, we know something horrifying is coming.  He finds a very weird little shop with the best dolls I’ve ever seen.  These dolls give some idea of why we’ve been having flashes of creepy dolls since episode 1, but without any real context.   He walks in and speaks to the woman at the register; her mouth barely moves.  She also says she has no other customers right then.  Then he starts looking around the shop.  Finding a doll of a girl in a coffin, he is reminded of Misaki and actually says her name.  Eerily, she replies… from somewhere to the side of the coffin doll!!!   It’s a freaky scene.  But am I being mislead?  The woman said she didn’t have customers, not that she was alone in the shop.  Misaki could be her daughter, or at the very least, a frequent visitor and not viewed as a customer.  Meanwhile the music is holding my attention like a master hypnotist.  I don’t know if I’m breathing while watching this.  Then the tension is ramped up.  She’s going to show Sakakibara what is under the eyepatch.  The music mounts to a near-squeal (the same that happened in episode one when Misaki walked down the dark corridor of B2) and the episode cuts to the end.

If I thought Erased kept me interested, it has nothing on this.  (Well, I might say that until I re-watch Erased or finish this, but right now, I’m completely engrossed here!)  I can’t wait to see the next one…  ML

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Babylon 5: A Late Delivery from Avalon

b5There are a lot of amazing episodes of Babylon 5 and the overall arc is a fantastic one but A Late Delivery from Avalon is filler.  Barring using the title anytime I’m getting something done a little later than I had intended (not that anyone around me ever gets it), I find this a pretty throw-away episode.  That’s not to say there are not some redeeming features, but it just doesn’t wow me.  Michael York (forever Basil Exposition in my mind), is an incredibly likeable Arthur (as in the one with the round table), come to the station on a mission no one quite understands.  The conceit of the episode hinges on whether this man could in fact be the legendary knight but his dreams give us reason to doubt it.  What we are actually faced with is a man suffering severe PTSD; a result of the Earth-Minbari war.  But there’s a part of the viewer that still wonders.  We’ve seen that the Vorlon have preserved people, like Jack the Ripper in Comes the Inquisitor. Marcus even makes a point about this (though how he knew about Sheridan’s encounter with “Mr. Sebastian” remains to be seen, since he arrived on the station after the event.  Yes, I know, he could easily have learned about it!)  We also know during season 1’s Grail that there was a religious order searching for the Holy Grail.  Is there a chance this man could be who he says he is?

By virtue of his heritage and that only the English can pull off medieval and cool with such panache, this becomes a Marcus episode.  And he does pull off cool very well.  It showcases what makes him awesome while watching him help a man who has been broken by a war.   He seems to be the only one who can get through to him.  (Whether this is the recognition that exists between members of a civilized culture or just the result of both characters being awesome remains to the viewer to decide.)   This carries through until the end when Marcus has to see his new friend leave.

Meanwhile, Franklin actually brings up a good point that doesn’t get much airtime, but as the audience, we shouldn’t lose sight of the words behind that idea.  “Legends are legends because they have a certain power over us.”  Recall: Sheridan has asked Kosh for help learning how to fight legends.  Michael causes Franklin to dismiss the idea, but the viewer should not be so quick.  Is this one of the legends Sheridan has to fight?  (Kosh makes a cameo at the end of the episode, making me wonder if it was part of the lesson after all!)

G’Kar, always amazing, improves this episode immensely.  G’Kar has been the symbol of the underdog since the Centauri started crushing his people.  We automatically want to see him prevail.  (Like him, the audience has come a long way with the character since the start of the series.  Beep beep!)  When he sees another underdog, he jumps into the fray, ready to help.  And while we may not see the fight, we see the outcome and the revelry.  G’Kar, quite drunk, enjoys the story of how “we were the good guys; they were the bad guys!  And they made a very satisfying thump when they hit the floor.”  Possibly the best scenes of the episode is watching a drunk G’Kar as he becomes the next one to make a satisfying thump upon hitting the floor.  There is also a fantastic description of G’Kar as warrior born but of a priestly nature.  Yet one more step in G’Kar’s journey.

The dialogue between Arthur and G’Kar in a nutshell explains the whole of the situation with the Minbari war.  Later Franklin (in his typical arrogance) forces Arthur to confront the issue.  We are again shown how humanity misunderstood the Minbari action of approaching with gun ports open and started the war.  That horror lead to the PTSD that “Arthur” suffers and the episode takes a depressing twist.  York plays it perfectly.  Then when Franklin and Marcus realize what is needed, an incredible scene takes place between York and Delenn without a word spoken.  York finds peace in Delenn’s unspoken forgiveness and all is right in the world once more.

Now, I do admit that the whole thing with Garibaldi picking up the mail is absolute comic gold.  I love seeing the inner workings of how the people on the station get mail, and you’ve got to consider that it makes some  sense.  But the whole subplot of Garibaldi getting his package, while mostly there as filler, is fun.   “Yeah but this is the post office; this could get us in real trouble!”  I am still happy that he wins in the end; there is a certain sense of Warner Brothers humor that goes on between the post master and Garibaldi, isn’t there?  Rather apt, really.

I’d call it little more than a character piece; the episode doesn’t do a lot but it seems to leave off on a comical note with Marcus figuring out the who’s who in the Arthurian legends based on those on the station.  He wraps up stating that “Sheridan is ‘Arthur’… I think we know who Mordred is.  So the question is: who is Morgana Le Fey?”  Is this a throw-away line, or is there more to the legend than we realize.  And is Sheridan indeed ready to fight it?  ML

The view from across the pond:

What kind of a postal service makes the recipient pay? The Babylon 5 postal service, that’s what. And that sets the tone for the BURP silliness to come. Before we’ve even got to the title sequence we’ve had King Arthur on a spaceship finding his sword amongst a load of dry ice and a wind machine. It all looks like a very bad video game.

“I am Arthur.”

Yeah, right. This one strains credulity to the limit. There was an attempt to ameliorate that by referring back to the Vorlon alien abduction of Jack the Ripper (although it would have been extremely lazy writing to play that same trick twice anyway), but as Franklin quickly points out Not-Arthur’s speech patterns are far too modern.

I did enjoy the heroism though, especially when G’Kar joined the party. Recovering the picture in a frame for the old lady was a lovely gesture, even if leaving it in her hand without waking her up was surely likely to get it stolen again before she wakes. Never mind though, G’Kar was BURP having a ball, and that was the main thing. In fact, it was the one thing that saved the episode. I especially enjoyed seeing him and Not-Arthur ironically sitting around a very small round table in a bar and getting drunk, while Not-Arthur gave G’Kar a knighthood. We’ve seen many sides to G’Kar’s character, but I think this is the first time we have seen him drunk, and he was magnificent.

“Do you mind if I ask you a BURRRRRRRP question?”

Have I ever mentioned how much I love G’Kar? I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned how much I don’t like BURP Franklin, but that was a while ago. He was very hard to like during the first season in particular, but recently he has functioned much better as one of the heroes. Not that there’s anything wrong with a flawed hero, but when the flaws are too severe you don’t really have a hero at all. That was the case during Season One, where Franklin was arrogant to the point of an unwavering belief about being right about everything, with no respect for medical ethics, the beliefs of others or the chain of command. It has been a while, but this week the idiot doctor is back in full force.

“Better the illusions that exalt us than ten thousand truths.”

Marcus begs Franklin not to reveal the truth to Not-Arthur, but there’s no reasoning with the man who is always right.

“Your hippocratic oath says do no harm.”

What’s does that matter to Franklin? Medical ethics always play second fiddle to Mr Know-it-all. So he goes ahead and tells Not-Arthur the horrible truth, sending him into a catatonic state. His recovery from that state simply meant that Franklin got lucky. He rolled the dice, and could just have easily been responsible for destroying what was left of the man’s life.

The episode briefly came to life when it was revealed that Not-Arthur was in fact the man who fired the shots that started the Minbari War. He was cleared of wrongdoing as he was acting under orders, but we’ve been looking at a lot of WW2 allegories throughout this season of Babylon 5, and the just-following-orders argument clearly wasn’t sufficient to stop Not-Arthur feeling terrible guilt for what he did. Nor should it have been. If anything, the episode goes far too far down the line of absolving a man who was key to starting a war. Firing the first shot in a first contact situation based on an assumption is surely Franklin-level stupidity.  Not-Arthur didn’t make that decision, but he pressed the buttons rather than being a decent human being and taking a step back.  The lives of innocents surely come before a man’s career.  In the end there was not a sufficient focus on those kinds of issues, which could have gone a long way towards making up for how disposable this episode felt.

The previous episode surprised me. I thought it was going to be a disappointing, silly comedy episode, and then it pulled the rug from under our feet and turned the comedy into horror. I was hoping for the same this week, but it never quite happened, despite some attempts at the same thing. It was the most disappointing episode of B5 for quite a while. We seem to be on a downward spiral from the dizzy heights of a Hugo-winning episode, and it feels like we’re marking out time until bigger things happen. The opening credits have been promising a “Shadow War” for 13 weeks. It’s time JMS set aside the BURP silliness, and started delivering on that promise.   RP

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