Tag: anime

A Slice of ’80s Cinema: My Personal Picks

Back in 2011, author Ernest Cline hit the literary world hard with the debut of his premiere novel Ready Player One. Telling the story of teenager Wade Watts and his hunt for a legendary treasure in a virtual reality world known as the Oasis, the book grabbed attention not only with its fascinating vision of a VR world that impacts everyday life, but also with the deluge of pop culture references that permeate its pages. In particular, pop culture from the 1980s is a major subject within this sci-fi adventure. In honor of the upcoming release of the film adaptation, which is being done by famed director Steven Spielberg, I have decided to assemble my personal selection of movies from the 1980s. These are an assortment of films I feel could serve as a solid introduction to ’80s pop culture for someone new to the time period. Some are movies I feel capture some aspect of the time, others are a spotlight on filmmakers who impacted the era or began their careers here, and some are simply movies that are generally regarded as classics and worth checking out. Now, these thirteen films are not ranked in any particular order, and they are my personal opinion. With that said, let’s delve into the era, shall we?

1. Back to the Future

Though I have tried not to do any particular ranking to this list, I confess that I chose to start it with a movie from the ’80s that is also my personal favorite film: Back to the Future. Centered around teenager Marty McFly as he goes back in time to the ’50s, the film follows Marty as he inadvertently interferes with his parents’ first meeting and must bring them together before he fades from existence. It is no wonder how the film has become a classic since its release, thanks to memorable characters, a sharp story, and one of fiction’s most remembered time machines in the form of the DeLorean.

2. The Breakfast Club

Teen films were ever present throughout the ’80s, from standard fare like Fast Times at Ridgemont High to more subversive and different works like Heathers. Chief among the filmmakers for such films was John Hughes, regarded as having an ear for writing natural dialogue for his teenage characters. No work better captures that like The Breakfast Club, which brings five high school stereotypes together for detention and break down the social barriers between them.

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark

After cementing the modern blockbuster with the one-two punch of Jaws and Star Wars back in the ’70s, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas would come to be two defining figures in ’80s cinema. The pair would separately direct and produce plenty of ’80s films, but one project where the two worked together was Raiders of the Lost Ark. Serving as a fun and thrilling throwback to the two-fisted tales of the 1930s, the film followed archaeologist Indiana Jones as he battled Nazis and sought to find the legendary Ark of the Covenant.

4. Ghostbusters

Among the many hit movies of the ’80s, few quite struck a nerve as did the comedy Ghostbusters. Following a group of scientists who start a business hunting ghosts, the movie’s sharp wit, memorable characters, and even creepy supernatural threats helped to ensure that the film became one of 1984’s highest-grossing releases. It also doesn’t hurt having one of the most memorable theme songs in movie history, one that was even nominated for an Academy Award.

5. A Nightmare on Elm Street

The horror trend in the ’80s was all about the Slasher movie, a subgenre that concerns teens and young adults being hunted down by some powerful killer. Though plenty of slasher movies like Friday the 13th and My Bloody Valentine were made in those years, I feel a strong example of the subgenre comes with A Nightmare on Elm Street. Following a group of teens haunted by a supernatural killer that can slaughter them in their sleep, the movie offers a good story paired with memorable scares and a brilliant bogeyman in the form of Freddy Krueger.

6. Flashdance

The ’80s gave the world MTV, and with that came the true birth of the music video. In this new avenue of music and visuals working together, one film to capitalize on this moment was Flashdance. Centered around a steel mill worker who dreams of becoming a professional dancer, the movie’s intimate story of pursuing one’s dreams is paired up with several dance sequences that would fit well among the music videos the newfound channel would broadcast.

7. Big Trouble in Little China

John Carpenter is a director who certainly made his mark in the ’80s, with such films as the sci-fi horror classic The Thing and the subversive action movie They Live. However, a work from that time I feel is worth checking out is Big Trouble in Little China. Centered around trucker Jack Burton and his pal Wang Chi, the two face off against monsters and martial artists to rescue a girl captured by an ancient Chinese ghost sorcerer. Filled with plenty of action and some good fun, it’s capped by the film’s cleverest touch: that Jack Burton thinks he’s the movie’s hero, when he’s really the comic relief in over his head in a world of Chinese combat and mythology.

8. The Terminator

James Cameron is a filmmaker who has made two of the highest grossing films of all time, but it’s almost hard to believe how quickly he hit the ground running with his first feature, known as The Terminator. This sci-fi thriller follows soldier Kyle Reese as he goes back in time to save Sarah Connor from a Terminator, an unstoppable android sent to kill her. Its vision of a future ravaged by a robotic uprising and cybernetic killing machines left an indelible mark in the realm of science fiction, along with launching the acting career of Arnold Schwarzenegger and turning him into one of the decade’s biggest action stars.

9. Die Hard

For ’80s action movies, most of them tended to be centered around muscular men who proved to be unstoppable killing machines, such as in films like Commando or The Delta Force. The genre received a solid shakeup from this archetype with the release of Die Hard, centered around officer John McClane as he gets caught in a hostage situation orchestrated by Hans Gruber. John McClane stood out among the action heroes of the time thanks to relying more on cunning and sheer determination to battle these criminals instead of brute strength, along with a charming performance delivered by then newcomer Bruce Willis.

10. Akira

Japan was on the pop culture mind back in the 1980s, and anime was beginning to creep into the West with series like Voltron and Robotech. However, the gates would really open with the release of the cyberpunk anime film Akira. Telling the tale of two friends torn apart when one gains incredible psychic power, its brutal action and surreal visuals caught the imagination of many and carved anime’s first solid foothold into the West, paving the way for its boom in the ’90s.

11. First Blood

Though John Rambo is a movie character whose films would become associated with the excessive action fare most associated in the ’80s, his first film is actually a more serious affair. First Blood is a psychological thriller, one that unfolds when police brutality dealt to Vietnam veteran John Rambo triggers wartime flashbacks and leads to a small-scale war as he fights back. This gripping film explores the issue of mistreatment of Vietnam veterans with a powerful hand, aided by Sylvester Stallone’s haunting performance as Rambo.

12. Beetlejuice

Long before Tim Burton would become one of the crowning pop culture figures in the Goth community, he was a budding filmmaker whose career began after a short film he made called Vincent gained notice. His first feature would be Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, but the film that really would establish him was his follow-up, a comedy known as Beetlejuice. Centered around a ghost couple who mistakenly hire the “bio-exorcist” Betelgeuse to scare a new family out of their home, the film showcases the kind of wondrous visuals and playfully morbid nature that would define Burton’s style.

13. The Princess Bride

The fantasy genre had a major boom in the 1980s, with plenty of variety from sweeping epics like Conan the Barbarian and Legend to more playful fare like Labyrinth and Willow. One work that has grown into becoming a fond classic among this boom is The Princess Bride. Framed within the set-up of a grandfather reading his grandson a story, the film’s tale of adventure and romance as farmhand Wesley seeks to reunite with the lovely Princess Buttercup pulls off a wonderful balance of poking fun at fairy tale conventions while sincerely capturing the joy of them.

So, those are my recommendations when it comes to introducing oneself to movies from the ’80s. I hope that this sample platter of films helps to offer a gateway to ’80s pop culture for someone new. There are plenty of other films I could have added to this list, but I didn’t want to go on too long. Perhaps you might discover these other works yourself, after dipping your toes into the pop culture pool.

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Neo Yokio: Class Conflict and Shattered Satire

Comedy is something that does not just have to make us laugh. When properly used, comedy can be a tool that sheds light on problems, whether in another work or in the world. Two forms of comedy that fit into this school of thought are parody and satire. Parody is about sending up another work through an ironic fashion, while satire is about holding flaws up for ridicule in the hope of inspiring others to be better. In both cases, they are about taking the components of something (tired tropes in the case of the former, social vices in the case of the latter) and using them as tools of mockery. Ezra Koenig, lead singer of the indie rock band Vampire Weekend, has attempted to employ these methods for a joint Japanese-American anime on Netflix known as Neo Yokio. Within the series, he attempts to parody anime by playing around with familiar tropes as a vehicle for satirizing the upper class and issues of class conflict. Unfortunately, the result is a six-episode series that wavers in how it wants to tell its story, falling apart in the process.

The City of Neo Yokio stands as a shining example of success and culture. Of course, when a city becomes so powerful and influential, it is only natural that enemies would arise to bring it down. In this case, demons seek to tear the city apart, seeing it as a symbol of greed and decadence. Standing guard against such evils are a collection of people known as Magistocrats, rich descendants of the original wizards and witches brought over to defend the city. Among this class of citizen is Kaz Kaan, a skilled demon slayer and one of Neo Yokio’s most eligible bachelors. Unfortunately, he has no real interest in working as a demon slayer. Despite his stern Aunt Agatha’s insistence, Kaz would rather deal in fashion and lay about in luxury rather than work. In fact, his main aim is to win out over Arcangelo Corelli, a member of the old money that mocks Kaz for being “neo riche” and for having to actually work for his cash. Still, the job of a demon slayer must be done to maintain the city’s splendor. In fact, the work seems more important than ever when a demonic possession causes fashion blogger Helena St. Tesero to drop from the fashion world and set out to cast a light on the city’s darkness.

While the show generally falters in its execution, there are still a few strong points. For instance, the show’s side characters have some fun personality to them that is delivered by good talent, such as Jude Law as Kaz’s mecha-butler Charles or Jason Schwartzman as the snobbish Arcangelo Corelli. There is also a strong sense of an interesting and developed setting, with hints that suggest an interesting alternate universe in which Neo Yokio resides (such as Japan and Italy apparently united as one nation named “Giaponne”). However, the satirical goal behind the show falls flat in its execution. In terms of being a parody of anime, its approach is weak-willed. It attempts to play with tropes like nosebleeds and sudden chibification (rendering a character with a more cutesy, cartoonish appearance), but these uses are rare and the tropes themselves have already largely fallen by the wayside in most modern anime. More than just those misfired attempts at anime tropes is a far bigger issue at play. Namely, the show’s attempts to satirize the flaws of upper-class perceptions flounder in their execution.

Over the course of its six half-hour episodes, it is clear that greed and vanity are two major follies that Neo Yokio wishes to satirize. However, the attempts to mock these points become muddled in how the show operates. For one, Kaz Kaan is presented as a symbol of that decadence and celebrity obsession, wallowing in his own melancholy despite living the good life as ordinary citizens sing his praises. While those close to him do call out his shallow and selfish behaviors, others who indulge similar attitudes (like his best friends Lexy and Gottlieb) are treated as normal and let off the hook. Later, the show attempts to delve into more serious issues of class warfare, but that is stymied by how little the poorer denizens of Neo Yokio are actually shown. It feels as if they are only seen for a part of the last episode. Honestly, there is more focus on class warfare among the upper class between old money and “neo riche” than there is between the rich and the poor. When it attempts to do this more meaningful class struggle, it is too little, too late. It is a shame, really. There is a solid idea for a series at this show’s core. Unfortunately, the writing fails to commit fully to its message and the six half-hour episode format is too short to fully realize the story they wanted to tell.

Thoughout the year, satire has been a school of comedy that has produced plenty of great works that aim to inspire improvement in humanity. Neo Yokio is not an example of those good works, as its attempt to offer a message satirizing greed and class warfare is muddled in how it presents that message.

Death Note: Lost in Translation

As anime and manga grow in popularity around the world, it is only natural that Hollywood would come calling to adapt them. After all, it is a new media vein for them to tap into and adapt to the big screen for a new audience. However, adapting these media genres to films for a Western audience presents its own fresh round of challenges. Plenty of hurdles present themselves, such as trying to translate more extreme illustrated moments to live action or figuring out how to navigate the cultural differences that might be present. Indeed, most of the live-action American adaptations of anime that have stepped up to the plate tend to swing and miss. Netflix has taken their own stab at this challenge, releasing a live-action American film of the popular anime series Death Note. This would seem to have a better shot of making it as an American film, with its clash between the law and vigilante justice being an idea that can work in an American lens. Unfortunately, the resulting movie waters down the source and offers a blander product, missing the core battle of wits that helped to make the series so popular in the first place.

Light Turner is a high school student burning with anger. Haunted by the fact that his mother’s murderer had gotten off scot free thanks to his wealth and connections, he sees the world as one where the innocent suffer and the wicked escape any punishment for their deeds. One day, that fire gets an outlet as a mysterious book known as a Death Note seems to fall from the sky and land near him. Examining the book, Light is greeted with the sudden appearance of Ryuk, a god of Death. With a nudge, he reveals to Light the book’s ability to kill anyone whose name is written in it. After testing the book’s power, Light begins using it to dole out brutal justice, gaining an ally in the form of cheerleader Mia Sutton. The two operate as Kira, making the world fear them as a vengeful god. There is one person, however, who refuses to bow to their power: L, an eccentric and brilliant detective. Gleaming that the Kira killings began in Light’s home town of Seattle, L comes in and sets his sights on bringing the killer to justice. Now, Light must contend not only with L and his pursuit, but also with the growing darkness of Mia and her twisted goals.

While there is plenty of flaws present in this adaptation of Death Note, it is worth bringing up some of the strengths that are in this film. For instance, Willem Dafoe is a great choice of casting as Ryuk. Even though Ryuk himself does not do a lot, mostly serving as an observer to Light’s killing spree, Dafoe delivers a performance that crackles with a mocking delight as he watches the proceedings. Another good choice on the film’s part is that Mia Sutton (the movie’s version of Misa Amane) is a more active participant of the plot. Instead of being merely a pawn in Light’s plans, Mia works alongside Light and helps him in their schemes, while having plans of her own. Even Lakeith Stanfield offers some solid work as L, capturing his drive along with his eccentricities…at least, to a point. Unfortunately, there comes a moment in the plot when L drops the ball and becomes a reckless, emotional idiot, losing the intelligence and calm that are part of his character. That problem is among some of the film’s bigger issues, most of all in how it handles its depiction of Light.

In the original series, Light Yagami was an ace individual. He was handsome, a top student, and a friend to many. That makes his inner darkness all the more shocking (whether a God complex like the original manga and anime, or a frustration with the legal system as presented in the Japanese live-action films and J-drama) when he gets the Death Note and begins blossoming into a killer that sees himself as a god of justice. Meanwhile, this film’s counterpart in Light Turner is presented as a young man bullied by others, disheveled in his appearance, and still nursing an anger from his mother’s murderer avoiding punishment. While that motivation can make it understandable how Light could start down the path of Kira, it feels like they made him too sympathetic by making him look like the sort of outcast that would be picked upon and by making him be pushed further into darkness by Ryuk and Mia instead of pursuing it himself. Along with taking away the great intellect that was part of his character, the result is a bland protagonist who feels made to be too sympathetic and lacks the more unique nature of this blossoming genius teenage madman. In addition, by taking away his genius the film does away with the great battles of wits that are a staple of the series. L would find ways of proving that Light Yagami was Kira, while Light would use a combination of his own cunning and some clever application of the Death Note to spring himself from L’s latest trap. In fact, that battle of wits was the core balance to the anime: a seemingly normal teenager like Light lashing out with a dark vengeance, in opposition to a weird eccentric like L who fought for justice. It is that dynamic which helped to make Death Note such a popular anime, and what the adaptation sorely lacks.

Hollywood has turned its eye to the world of anime and manga as a new source for film adaptations, but unfortunately the track record has not been a stellar one. Death Note is the latest of these missteps, maintaining its basic idea but watering down its protagonist and peeling away its gripping battles of brilliance.

A Beginner’s Guide to Anime: My Personal Picks

In the early 1960s, Japanese animation (more commonly known as anime) would finally hit the television screen. It began with shows like Astro BoyGigantor, and Speed Racer. However, these shows were not just limited to Japanese televisions. American broadcasters began to pick up a few of these shows. It was not much, though the few shows picked up would be the first taste of anime for American audiences. They were small drops, though, compared to the floodgates that would open. In 1988, an animated feature-length adaptation of the manga Akira hit the big screen. Though it had failed in Japan, it caught like wildfire worldwide. It helped to open the gateway to anime for American audiences, with more anime programs hitting TV screens in the states. In fact, Cartoon Network had a block of programming devoted to anime which they called Toonami. Now, what had once been a niche market has grown to a more mainstream appeal. Of course, with so many shows and options out there to see, where should one start? Which shows could serve as a potential gateway for someone that has not seen anime before? Well, that is the purpose of today’s post. I have selected a variety of shows or franchises which I feel would make for a good starting point for someone dipping their toes into anime. Now, before I list my choices, let me be clear that this listing is in no particular order or ranking. Now, with that out of the way, time to list my recommendations of anime shows for first-timers.

1. Dragon Ball Z

Ever since the Dragon Ball franchise first started with a manga series back in 1984, the adventures of good-hearted and devoted martial artist Son Goku have been a landmark series and major influencer in the realm of shonen (young male demographic) entertainment. In terms of checking out this franchise, though, I recommend Dragon Ball Z. This portion of the series shifted gears away from the goofier antics of the series’ beginnings and more towards the high-energy battles that have become a main stay in the franchise, along with introducing classic characters like the hot-headed Saiyan prince Vegeta. Also, there are two options for it: you can check out Dragon Ball Z as it had first aired, or check out Dragon Ball Z Kai, an edited and redubbed version which trims some of the filler from the original.

2. Cowboy Bebop

In the year 2071, former hitman Spike Spiegel spends his days hunting down wanted criminals alongside a crew that includes former cop Jet Black, con artist Faye Valentine, eccentric hacker Ed Wong, and a corgi named Ein. Even as they hunt down that next bounty, Spike’s past begins to catch up with him and threatens to drag him under.  This series is a great entry point, and not just because the overall quality is fantastic. It draws together a fine mixture of styles, such as cowboy Westerns, film noir, and Chinese action thrillers. The result is a mix that offers plenty of accessibility for a Western audience.

3. My Hero Academia

In a world where 80% of the world’s population has superpowers (here known as “Quirks”) and superheroes are a real profession, Izuku Midoriya is a Quirkless boy who idolizes superheroes. When an act of bravery on his part catches the attention of legendary superhero All Might, he finds himself granted with this hero’s Quirk: One for All, which gives incredible super strength. With this new gift, Izuki earns a spot at U.A. High School to train and become part of the next generation of superheroes. This series works as a good entry series thanks to its heavy influence from American superhero comics, while mixing it together with familiar tropes from Japanese shonen action stories.

4. Sailor Moon

Just as Dragon Ball was a major influencer in the realm of shonen entertainment, Sailor Moon made a big impact in the field of shoujo (young female demographic) entertainment. Its tale of Usagi Tsukino, a teenage girl who gains a mystical brooch and discovers that she is the reincarnation of a princess from the Moon, brought together the mystic fun and teenage tribulations of “magical girl” anime while mixing in the action of superhero-like Sentai television shows. As for checking out this series, there are two options. One could revisit the original ’90s anime, or check out the current series Sailor Moon Crystal, which provides a closer plot and visual style to the original manga source.

5. Death Note

When high school student Light Yagami ends up in possession of a mystic notebook known as the Death Note, he decides to become a God of Justice under the alias of Kira by using the book’s ability to kill others to murder criminals. This brings him to the attention of L, a young and eccentric but brilliant detective who will do anything to stop Light. Those looking for darker stories will find this as a good starter, with its gripping chess match of deceit and death between the fiery passion of Light and the cold calculations of L.

6. My Love Story!!

Takeo Goda is a high school students with a massive size and somewhat goofy face who has always been ignored by girls in favor of his best friend, the more conventionally attractive Makoto Sunakawa. When he saves a girl named Rinko Yamato from being harassed on a train, the two fall in love and begin to navigate the hurdles of romantic relationships. For those looking for something a bit more sweet with some romance, this series is a sure treat. Watching the inexperienced Takeo and easily flustered Rinko handled their feelings is adorable entertainment, while the plot nimbly avoids a lot of the usual stumbling blocks in romantic comedies.

7. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Ever since it first began in 1989 as a manga by Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell has grown to become one of the classic sci-fi franchises in anime. Its themes of identity and the line between man and machine are rich substance to take in, explored through the police work of Motoko Kusanagi and Section 9. Though the 1995 anime film may be regarded as a classic, it might move a bit too slowly for some. That is why I would recommend Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex as a good entryway to this classic franchise. It still has its exploration on the nature of identity, but delivers it with a quicker pace and thrilling action as Kusanagi takes on threats like the Laughing Man and the Individual Eleven.

8. One Punch Man

Saitama is a hero for fun with a rather unique problem: he is just too powerful. He is able to utterly destroy any foe with one punch, meaning that he has no challenge in his life. The result is a boring day-to-day that is occasionally punctuated with punching out a monster. Of course, the arrival of a cyborg named Genos wanting to become his disciple might offer just the change he needs. Much like My Hero Academia, this series mixes together elements and tropes from American superhero comics and Japanese shonen action manga. However, this series serves more as an affectionate parody of its sources, playfully poking fun at the ridiculous elements of both.

So, there are my recommendations on anime shows that might serve as a good gateway for first-timers. Hopefully, you might try one of these shows and find yourself with a new media outlet to enjoy.

Your Name.: Love in the Time of Body Swaps

Over the ages, as many different stories have been written, certain tropes for whole plots have begun to emerge. For instance, there is the “Deal with the Devil” plot, which always centers around an individual making a corrupt bargain with a malevolent force, often with a terrible price paid. Another is the “Going Native” plot, which follows an individual finding themselves among a different culture, then siding with that culture and fighting against that which they once were. The focus for this review, though, is a trope I will call the “Body Swappers” plot. This trope is centered around two or more people finding themselves in each other’s bodies, usually through some mystical force or advanced science. Generally, these sorts of stories involve the participants gaining a greater understanding and respect for each other. Now, while these sorts of plots may be familiar, what gives them their spark is in how they are used and executed. For instance, the “Body Swappers” plot is the basic idea at play in the novel Your Name., which has now been adapted into an anime film by director Makoto Shinkai. Under his direction, the film is a lovely romance that uses the “Body Swappers” plot to develop its characters and cast a light on the changes on Japan.

Taki is a teenage boy living in Tokyo who deals with the constant hustle and bustle as he juggles school and work. Mitsuha is a teenage girl living in a small rural town, bored with her country life and frustrated with her politician father. One morning, a surprise greets them both: they awaken in the other’s body. It seems be to random as to whenever they wake up in the other’s body, and once they return to their own, the memories of their experiences begin to fade away like a dream. Stuck in this rather odd situation, the two try to maneuver through it the best that they can. They leave notes for the other to communicate and advise them on how to act. They try to help the other out as they navigate the hurdles and challenges. The more that they learn of each other, though, the more that they begin to fall in love with each other. Eventually, they seek a way to get past these barriers and finally meet each other face to face…before they potentially forget each other and lose this tender connection.

This new project by Makoto Shinkai is a delightful little movie. The animation is gorgeous, capturing a realistic aesthetic that is balanced by the magical components of the story. Whether it is the modern buildings of Tokyo or the lush forest near Mitsuha’s small town, the quality of detail in the animation is great. The quality of that animation also extends to the actions of the characters. It is not just the strong voice acting that goes to show whenever one person is in the other’s body. The swap is also demonstrated through the little gestures and movements of Taki and Mitsuha. For instance, Mitsuha tends to carry herself with a more careful and submissive air, while Taki can be more proactive and prone to reacting to any slights against him. The body language they sport, even as they try to maintain the other’s normal life, help to reveal just who is in possession of a body at any time. Of course, it is not just the quality of the animation that makes this such a good film. It is also in the story and writing, which offers a fresh feel to a familiar plot trope.

Most of the time, whenever a “Body Swappers” plot is used, it is generally to show two characters coming to learn more about the other and having a greater respect for them. In this case, the film takes this familiar plot and uses it as an inspired approach for a romance. As both Taki and Mitsuha live through days in each other’s lives, they see the worlds they live in and fall for each other in the process. Along with that, they also grow more as individuals thanks to the experiences that they share. Taki begins to see more value in having a cooler head and not just instinctively reacting, while Mitsuha begins to develop more of a spine and stand up for herself. This body swap does not just take advantage of examining the differences between these two characters, though. It also casts a light on the changes in Japan. While Taki spends his days in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, Mitsuha’s small town lacks a lot of those modern features while holding on to older traditions. In fact, Mitsuha and her sister perform rituals at a local shrine, led by her grandmother who seeks to preserve these parts of the past. These two perspectives serve as a nice way to showcase these two sides of Japan: the ancient cultures and traditions that have been a part of the nation throughout the ages, and the technological landscape that has grown in recent years.

Through the years, many familiar forms of plots have grown and developed. By using the familiar “Body Swappers” plot and applying it to a love story, Your Name. breathes new life by using it to explore self-growth through a shared experience.

Understanding the Arch-Enemy: Corrupt Reflections, Flipped Coins, and Personal Attacks

The Arch-Enemy. The central nemesis. The big foe. They are the ultimate counterpoint to the Hero. Whereas the Hero stands most frequently for the side of justice and good, the Arch-Enemy towers upon the side of villainy and wickedness. However, the simple choice of pursuing evil is not what makes an arch-enemy a fascinating villain. It extends beyond just that basic notion. Rather, what makes the arch-enemy so fascinating is the hero that they stand against. Both are frequently intertwined, their fates tied together in such a way that they are bound to each other in their opposition. Along with that is the sort of reflective nature of their conflict. Thus, our study begins with two familiar approaches frequently used for the arch-enemy, two methods I’ll refer to as the Corrupt Reflection and the Flipped Coin.

The Corrupt Reflection is a take on a villain that serves a particular purpose. Specifically, the Corrupt Reflection shows what the hero may have been like had they gone down a more selfish path and sought merely their own desires instead of going for the greater good. This is frequently presented through an arch-enemy who bares a resemblance to the hero, whether in personality or powers, but twists that resemblance . For instance, Sherlock Holmes is forever remembered as being locked in battle with Professor James Moriarty. Both characters possess an astounding intellect that allows them to pursue their goals, but while Holmes uses his intellect to solve even the most baffling of crimes, Moriarty instead uses his to puppeteer a massive criminal network and become a “Napoleon of Crime”. Another example of this can be seen in Marvel Comics, with the classic rivalry of Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus. Both men are scientists, they received their new gifts in scientific developments gone wrong, they even both take their monikers from eight-limbed creatures. Where they differ is in how Spider-Man fights crime having learned how great responsibility is a part of great power, whereas Dr. Octopus seeks to selfishly  use his new gifts to pursue scientific research and cultivate power at the expense of others. Through the similarities, the Corrupt Reflection helps to show just what makes the hero shine by presenting a counterpoint in a villainous light. Of course, the Corrupt Reflection is not the only way to present an arch-enemy. Another, more obvious approach is that of the Flipped Coin.

If the Corrupt Reflection shows a hero’s greatness in comparison to a villain through similarity, the Flipped Coin makes its presentation through differences. The Flipped Coin, like the term suggests, is the other side of the coin from the hero. If the hero represents one thing, then the Flipped Coin is its opposite. For example, consider Jonathan Joestar and Dio Brando, from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Jonathan is a benevolent man raised by a loving father and eventually learns martial arts that allow him to channel the power of the sun, while Dio is a cruel psychopath brought up by an abusive father and gains the powers of a vampire. DC Comics has its fair share of Flipped Coins, as well. Superman is a hero who possesses incredible power and strength while devoted to helping others as much as he can, while Lex Luthor is a figure of great brilliance who seeks to advance his own standing over others. Batman is a dark and brooding hero who is fixated on the notion of bringing order and not killing others, while the Joker is a colorful clown that seeks chaos and will gleefully slaughter others with abandon. Thus, two opposing forces come to be and serve to high-light each other through their differences. It is a simple, but effective, approach in portraying a hero against their arch-enemy. Now, while the Corrupt Reflection and Flipped Coin may be two different methods of presenting the arch-enemy, there is one critical component that must not be forgotten: for the hero and arch-enemy, it must be personal.

Sure, villains can be depicted as engaging in all sorts of criminal or nefarious activity. However, the personal touch is what helps to elevate the arch-enemy above the rest of a rogues gallery. Perhaps it is a shared background the hero and arch-enemy possess before a rift splits them apart, or perhaps one side strikes at the other in such a way that it becomes more than simple hatred that locks them in combat. In most adaptations of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hamato Yoshi and Oroku Saki begin as equal members of the Foot Clan before forces (whether the love of Tang Shen or the use of the Foot Clan) drive them apart and down the paths that forge them into Splinter and Shredder respectively. In the Metroid franchise, it is the space pirate Ridley’s attack of planet K-2L and the murder of Samus Aran’s parents that starts Samus down the path towards becoming a skilled bounty hunter. It is not just a villain’s actions that can make things personal, though. It can just as easily be the hero who ends up sparking the rivalry. For example, many depictions of Lex Luthor present him as being so hateful of Superman because he sees his very being as the end of human achievement, for who would possibly do what Superman can do? It is an element like that, the personal component, which elevates the arch-enemy and make them such a fascinating figure when challenging the hero, likewise elevating the hero by giving them real stakes both general and personal.

Though the hero is always the one in the spotlight, one must never forget about the importance of the arch-enemy. Whether they compare as a Corrupt Reflection or contrast as a Flipped Coin, it is the personal relationship to the hero that makes both so fascinating.

Lupin III – Part 4: Crime, Italian Style

Among the many classic manga and anime franchises out there, one of the most enduring of the seinen (adult male) demographic is Lupin III, sometimes known as Lupin the 3rd. The franchise is centered around Arsene Lupin III, grandson of a legendary gentleman thief and a master thief in his own right. A master of disguise armed with gadgets and skillful trickery, he is a showman who pulls off master heists and will almost certainly flirt with any beautiful woman in his path. Aided by skilled marksman Daisuke Jigen, modern day samurai Goemon Ishikawa XIII, and the seductive but duplicitous Fujiko Mine, they pull off their expert crimes while pursued by the dogged Interpol detective Inspector Zenigata. Though they may be thieves, Lupin and his team prove to be more heroic as their capers inevitably bring them into conflict with criminals who are far more vile than they are. First created as a manga by an artist under the pen name of Monkey Punch back in 1967, Lupin III has grown to appear in such media as anime, films (both on television and in theaters), OVA (original video animation), and even video games. In fact, there have been multiple main anime series for the franchise, each one marked as a part though ultimately not related to each other. A fourth show can now be added to the line-up, with Lupin III Part 4.

The most surprising news has hit the globe: Arsene Lupin III is getting married. Not only that, he is getting married to wealthy heiress and businesswoman Rebecca Rossellini. Some refuse to believe that such a notorious thief and ladies man would ever let himself get tied down. One such skeptic is Inspector Zenigata, who journeys out to the town of San Marino to prove it. Of course, it turns out to be true. Lupin is indeed getting married. However, he has gone through with the wedding for ulterior motives related to a new crime. He is not the only one with secrets, though, as Rebecca proves to have a wild streak and is seeking to cut loose with heists of her own. Even with these new difficulties, Lupin is taking advantage of his time in Italy, setting out on new scores as his allies have adventures of their own. However, a mystery begins to form that takes hold of Lupin and his allies. Namely, what is the “Dream of Italy” and why does MI6 seem so interested in it?

This latest addition to the Lupin III franchise makes for a fun series.It delivers on the fun that the series has frequently offered, coming up with clever capers that Lupin performs or fascinating character studies for more low-key tales. It takes good advantage of its Italian setting for its stories, drawing inspiration from culture and history for plenty of stories. Whether it is in schemes involving footballers or wine or showcasing the law as handled in Italy, the show is infused with its source locale throughout. Even the music is a delight, crafted by Japanese jazz musician Yuji Ohno. Yuji Ohno has worked upon the Lupin III franchise for a long time, composing plenty of memorable tunes including the franchise’s iconic main theme. His masterful use of rhythm returns once more, making use of the leitmotifs he has made for this franchise in the past along with new tunes that fit the feel and pace of this new series. Of course, the series also features a particular element that stands out among most of the franchise’s various elements: the fact that it has an overarching story told over the course of its run.

One of the things that is a bit of a benefit to Lupin III and its long-running popularity is that it has no real overarching storyline. Most manga or anime series tend to have a singular story that they tell over the course of their entire run. Lupin III is not such a case. It has its main characters, but every series or movie is its own standalone story. Even the previous three main series (not counting the spin-off The Woman Called Fujiko Mine) had each episode as its own standalone plot. The result is that, for such a long-running franchise, a new person could easily jump in anywhere and get into the fun. Of course, sometimes such an approach may seem a little static. A benefit of a longer story, of telling a tale over the course of a show’s run, is the chance for growth and evolution within its characters. That is a benefit this series takes advantage of, being the first main series of Lupin III to craft a narrative over the course of the show’s one season run. It has the fun and the character studies, but also showcases some change and growth. In particular, Rebecca Rossellini grows over the course of the series from being just an adrenaline junkie to seeking a more worthy life as she becomes embroiled in the mystery of the “Dream of Italy”.

Though Lupin III is a franchise that has been around for a long time, it has plenty of places for any new viewer to jump in and become engaged. Lupin III Part 4 is one such starting point, offering the fun and excitement of the franchise with an overarching plot over the course of its one season run.