My Love Story–Anime Early Impressions

King Kong
I’ve seen quite a few shoujo romantic comedies but never one like My Love Story!! (Ore Monogatari!!) (Crunchyroll.)
Takeo Gouda, the protagonist, is a big, dumb, homely lunk with a heart of gold. He’s huge and scary-looking, not to mention socially clueless, so people tend to shy away from him. However those who know him know that he is decent, loyal and goodhearted.
(OK, this is Japan so he’s probably 5’11”. But let’s play along with it.)
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Kamisama Kiss 2 Ends

4 Stars
Mamoru looks out the window
I was surprised that Kamisama Kiss 2 (Hulu) ended without resolving the story of Akura-Ou. In fact it left him pretty much where he started at the beginning of the season, though perhaps influenced just a little bit by Nanami. It’s almost as if they were counting on having another season to wrap it up. (For a mainstream shoujo anime without a daytime TV distribution deal that seems like a long shot.)
Nanami with mother
But the ending feels quite satisfactory in its own way. It takes us on a trip back through time to show us Nanami as a little girl, growing up with an irresponsible father and a dying mother who extracted a final promise from her to “never depend on a man.”
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Maria the Virgin Witch Ends

3 Stars
Michael attacks
Maria the Virgin Witch (Hulu) was a series that regularly exceeded my expectations but I was somewhat disappointed by the ending. When an anime is based on an ongoing manga the ending is often a problem. Usually they just try to find an appropriate stopping point. Sometimes this works well and sometimes it doesn’t.
Summoned monsters
An alternative is for the anime production staff to come up with their own ending, different from the manga. That seems to be what was done here. This is problematic, especially with high-quality source material. The better written the original source is, the less likely it is that the studio screenwriters will be able to come up with something that lives up to its standards.
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Death Parade Ends

4 Stars
Oculus and Nona
Death Parade (Hulu) deserves a lot of praise. The writing is sharp and insightful. The production values are excellent. At the beginning I was afraid that it might turn into a formulaic “villain of the week goes to hell” series. It turned out to be much more sophisticated than that.
Dolls in box
Still this won’t appeal to everyone. Much of it is rather dark. To me it feels brilliant but a bit cold. The ending is bittersweet, not truly upbeat. Given the subject matter this is probably the best that can be expected.
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Cute High Earth Defense Club Ends

3 Stars
Giant Gora
The final episode of Cute High Earth Defense Club Love! (Crunchyroll) was the strongest of the series, wrapping up the story with a logical and satisfying explanation of everything that has happened.
Upset Wombat
Oh, who am I kidding? The whole series was nuts and the ending was nuts on crack. Still, there’s a place in the world for nuttiness, especially if it is high-quality expertly-produced nuttiness.
Student Council to the rescue
This is a very funny series. It’s not to everybody’s taste. In particular if you are a heterosexual male you will probably wince a bit while laughing. But it’s still funny and that excuses a great deal
Sold out
And of course there’s a heart-warming feel-good happy ending. What more can you ask for?
I swear to only produce high quality programming
Earlier post: Cute High Earth Defense Club–Anime Early Impressions.

Yona of the Dawn Ends

4.5 Stars
Ready for battle
Yona of the Dawn (Crunchyroll) had as good an ending as we could have reasonably hoped for. Since this is based on an ongoing manga, and has apparently been following it pretty faithfully, there was no chance that it would end with the heroine fulfilling her quest. Instead this turns out to have been the story of how a naive young girl becomes a hero, and how she decides what her quest is. Viewed in those terms it seems quite satisfactory.
Remembering King Il
This has been a high-quality show with great production values and smart writing that constantly surprised me. It has an unusual mix of romantic fantasy and hard-headed realism that I somehow find very appealing.
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Cinderella (2015)–Movie Review

3 Stars
Cinderella poster
I was interested to see what Kenneth Branagh, a director best known for his acclaimed Shakespeare adaptations, would do with Cinderella (IMDB). There have been innumerable adaptations of this story…and I wouldn’t say that this one is the best. (I particularly like 1998’s Ever After (IMDB)).

But Branagh was hired to do a live-action, non-musical remake of Disney’s 1950 animated Cinderella (IMDB) and he probably did as good a job as anyone could have done within those constraints. The movie looks great and adds some nice touches to the original Disney story.

I particularly like the way that the new version fleshes out the character of the Prince (Richard Madden) including his relationship with his father (Derek Jacobi.) The other roles are, as might be expected, pretty one-dimensional, but Cate Blanchett at least manages to make the Evil Stepmother seem believable.

The scenery and special effects look great, as one would expect. Whatever Disney’s faults, they can at least be counted on to deliver first-rate CGI. (As opposed to the cut-rate washed-out crap that we sometimes get from other studios.) It’s easy to shrug this off, but it really takes a lot of talent, money and effort to make these effects look seamless. I have to give credit where it is due.

I wouldn’t say that this is a great classic but it is a entertaining diversion.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel–Movie Review

3 Stars
Second Best posterThe Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (IMDB) is, of course, a sequel to the 2012 hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. And the title seems appropriate: compared to the original this is definitely “second best.”

Still it’s not too bad. It has an extremely talented cast and if you enjoyed the original there’s a pretty good chance that you will enjoy the sequel, though maybe not quite as much. It just doesn’t have the same level of energy and originality as the first movie.

The story picks up a few months after the first movie. Sonny (Dev Patel) and Sunaina (Tina Desai) are planning their wedding, but Sonny seems to only have time for his business plans. The hotel has become such a success as a makeshift retirement community that it is full up, and Sonny has decided to expand by buying a vacant hotel and fixing it up. But he needs a financial backer, so he and Muriel (Maggie Smith) fly off to America, hoping to affiliate with an American chain.
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Kingsman: The Secret Service–Movie Review

4 Stars
Kingsman poster
Kingsman: The Secret Service (IMDB) is a light-hearted action thriller based loosely on a British comic book. So it’s understandable that it is loaded with cartoon violence. (In an early scene a character is cut in half, lengthwise, with no blood visible.) But the movie is what it is, makes no apologies, and does what it does extremely well. I get the impression that the people involved had a lot of fun making it, and I had fun watching it.

Kingsman is packed with references to the classic James Bond movies. Once again we have a world in which debonaire gentleman spies armed only with wit, agility and some clever gadgets seek to defeat colorful supervillains bent on world domination (or worse.)

In a movie like this it’s important to have a good villain, and Samuel L. Jackson makes a great one. He plays Richmond Valentine, a tech billionaire who plans to end the threat of global warming by killing off 99.999% of humanity, preserving only a small group of elite survivors. His trusted assistant “Gazelle” (Sophie Cookson) is probably the most memorable evil henchman since Oddjob.
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The Imitation Game–Movie Review

4 Stars
The Imitation Game poster
Reviewing a biopic like The Imitation Game (IMDB) raises issues that don’t apply to average movie. Normally I prefer to review a movie in isolation for its entertainment value, without worrying too much about how accurately it represents its source material. But when the movie is about real historical figures and events can’t avoid asking whether it is telling the truth or misleading its viewers.

The issue can be particularly acute with a biopic of a scientist. Generally the most important thing about a scientist is his work, but too often the filmmakers have little real interest in this, or assume that the audience doesn’t. As an example of what can go wrong, consider A Beautiful Mind (2002) (IMDB). This is an entertaining movie if you approach it as a work of fiction, but considered as a biography of mathematician John Nash it is a tissue of lies. It misrepresents the nature of his work, the nature of his illness and practically every detail of his life.

So how does The Imitation Game stack up? To begin with, this biopic of Alan Turing, a pioneering mathematician, codebreaker and computer scientist, is quite entertaining and thought-provoking. On the other hand the filmmakers don’t deny that they have hyped-up elements of the story to make it more exciting and cinematic. Have they gone beyond the bounds of what is acceptable?
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