The Argument for Watching Media that Reflects the Hellscape of Our Modern Society

People treat social justice causes like a hat or gaudy phone case– something to easily define themselves, but to be switched out when no longer relevant. Far too often do people care about legitimate causes on a very shallow level. We can share and retweet and post black squares in solidarity all we want, but change doesn’t come from rallying vaguely like-minded people together– it comes from getting those people to think critically about the problems we’re claiming are so unjust and morally wrong in the first place so that they may in turn be better equipped to argue and make positive change for their cause in the first place.

And what better means to spark critical thought among normie masses than movies and TV?

In a time where the number of people vocal about the most who-gives-a-shit hobbies out there is inversely proportional to the number of people that care about the well-being of actual, real-life human beings, it is the responsibility of creatives to use their abilities for good– to not only shine a light on the injustices of the world, but to dig further into the issues at hand: how did things get this bad, and how are the masses meant to make change in a world ruled by a powerful, single-minded few?

Admittedly, the works of media that are more upfront about discussing these issues within the confines of its elevator pitch don’t fare as well commercially. Culturally relevant movies like Selma or Flint (starring Queen Latifa!) are seen less as a means to educate and actively get the ignorant involved, and more as an addition to the already long list of things made to validate those already balls-deep into the cause. They’re helpful only to those who’ve already been helped, which I think encapsulates so much of modern wokeness well.

No, if you’re a creative that really means to radicalize the populace, you can’t just trust that they’re willing to actively seek these means in the first place. You gotta disguise your message somehow in a way that looks palatable to general audiences– and what better way to disguise that message than with the giant Groucho Marx glasses of giant monsters and superheroes?

 

2016’s Shin Godzilla was made in direct response to Japan’s earthquake and tsunami disasters that occurred a mere 5 years earlier, but considering how much else the movie has going for it, one could easily hype it up without even mentioning that. Directed by the living legend Hideaki Anno of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame, this modern take on Godzilla treats him like the unexpected humanity-destroying disaster he’s always been an allegory for. The second mysterious tremors start making their way through Tokyo, bigwigs are more concerned about the red tape involved in getting through the disaster rather than the lives they could be saving in the meantime– a message that’s only become more relevant during our modern pandemic.

 

Similarly, 2019’s Watchmen mini-series is able to take all the drama surrounding a direct sequel to a classic and seemingly untouchable 80s comic of the same name into its own standalone superhero piece secretly drenched in the real-life trauma that is systematic racism. With an already horrible unrelated sequel comic being released, this HBO series honestly had very little going for it in the days building up to its premiere. And yet upon the first episode, we’re introduced to a 2019 both familiar yet eerily uncanny to our own. Cell phones are replaced with walkie-talkies, people actually drive electric cars, and reparations are being made to real-life historical acts of violence towards black people. Before this show premiered, next to no Americans knew or cared about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, and yet following the first episode’s premiere, google searches for the historical event experienced a noticeable spike. To not only spotlight this event but use it as a key plot point to what could have just as easily been a by-the-numbers easy comicbook adaptation cash-in seems like such a small decision, but has done wonders not just for the story itself, but for those watching it in the first place.

So why watch these all-too-real pieces of modern media when you’d probably be more comfortable with some cheap escapism that fits nicely into a three act structure and happy ending with a very photogenic cast? Because it’s in watching these media fit into the hellscape that is our modern society that we’re able to begin thinking about social causes in more than a passive manner. The strength of fiction is to get people that would normally never empathize with certain states of mind to actually understand where these irl-impoverished voices are coming from. It’s through this empathy and critical thought that sincere change is able to sprout, which speaks leagues more than a simple black square on social media ever could.

How HBO’s Watchmen breaks the mold of an already broken construct

Wanna feel like the smartest person in the room when talking about comics? Just bring up Alan Moore’s Watchmen and feel your nerd IQ rise by the minute as you name drop that thing from 30+ years ago that Time put on their best novels list so it’s now become impenetrable to any and all critique. The original Watchmen comic is like the kid that plays volcano in a match of rock-paper-scissors– it’s completely unexpected, yet so genius in both concept and execution that you can’t help but feel more inspired than mad at it. So much so that it’s become one of those properties you just feel awkward making fanart of because the series is just that untouchable. It has reached this special place in pop culture nerdery, transcending any real fan critique and demands reverence more than anything else.
At least that was before DC realized they could make more money off it. Following the sub-par 2009 movie adaptation, the floodgates for additional non-Alan-Moore-approved Watchmen sequels came into light. With prequels and sidestories and a current comic going as far as linking series god stand-in Dr. Manhattan to the creation of DC’s comic universe (just as dumb as it sounds), it felt like Watchmen was catching up with its 80s peers in spawning an endless supply of ungodly spinoffs and unwarranted merch, which in the case of Watchmen feels like that much more of a sin considering how anti-conglomerate the series is. It’s like seeing an again rocker come to accept the establishment that led to their inception and string of greatest hits in the first place– sad, a little bit awkward, yet still small-time enough to barely even make your own personal radar to really care one way or another.
Then… a light. Before its airing, HBO’s Watchmen was set up for so much failure. Alongside what’s become Alan Moore’s standard non-blessing to adapt/continue his original comic, was a rather childish retort from the showrunner in response, claiming “I’m channeling the spirit of Alan Moore to tell Alan Moore, ‘F— you, I’m doing it anyway.'” It was like watching a family argue at the dinner table and you’re not exactly sure if you should tough it out or uber home. Even the trailers themselves were this weird amalgamation of cryptic bullshit that you weren’t sure was high art or pure schlock. Everyone was so prepared to shit on this series and yet the first episode hits and bam, good episode. Next week comes around and “whadufuq, it’s still good.” And again and again every week until it finished and you’re just sitting there like a dumbass in the afterglow of the spectacle you just witnessed.

HBO’s Watchmen is a particularly fascinating beast in that it’s good 100% on it’s own merit, with the fact that it’s a comicbook sequel being a footer note at best. While the series itself is absolutely drenched in throwbacks and Easter eggs and references and other clickbaity subject matters, I would argue that it could survive without all that because its core is just that powerful. You have the built-in pretentiousness of an HBO show working in tandem with the pretentiousness of a highly regarded 30 year old comic and together they work to create this uniquely weird, dramatic, sad masterpiece.
Remember when Amazon streaming started adapting Man in the High Castle and how it was kinda interesting until the premise ended up feeling too painfully real after the election? HBO Watchmen is like the opposite of that. It works on account of it has its pulse on the shittiness that is modern America and it’s able to show you this equally shitty alternate modern reality that’s juuuuust good enough for you to consider wanting to be part of that world instead. Taking absolutely everything the original comic established, the HBO show presents a 2019 world still reeling from the effects of the long line of deceit the original had plotted out back in the 80s. Now in a world averse to technology, we’re stuck in this radio communication era that’s become more focused on bettering the world based on correcting wrongdoings from the past rather than starting anew with technology for the future. What results are white supremacists under a very different world context, and an overarching story that pretty much tricks you into watching what develops into a full-on comicbooky comic book adaptation come its final two episodes.
Where the Watchmen comic has you witness a sole person follows through on a worldwide scale atrocity, the HBO show makes YOU consider the atrocity for yourself alongside the repercussions that world must endure.

Top Tracks from The Pillows That weren’t in FLCL that I’d love to hear in either FLCL Sequel

With the sneak premiere of FLCL: Alternative, and the more official premiere of FLCL: Progressive, it’s clear that Japanese band The Pillows will be dipping back into their extensive backlog of music to serve for both sequels’ background tracks. That said, here’s some of their jams I’d like to hear make an appearance in either show that didn’t make the cut in the original, either due to lack of appreciation, or because they weren’t made yet:

Climbing the Roof – 1995

Released in the album Living Field, Fool on the Planet came out six years after the band was formed, but five years before their international notoriety through the original FLCL—in interesting sweet spot in that now at their fourth album, the band has definitely experienced a fair amount of fame by this point, but nothing on the scale that they’re currently at. Fool on the Planet is an interesting track in that it starts off slowly—almost breezily—only to have that all tumbling into all-out rock by around the 2-minute mark. Something the band doesn’t shy away from in later tracks in their career, either.

Beautiful Picture – 2002

Beautiful Picture was released in the B-side collection Another Morning, Another Pillows, and exhudes a certain amount of confidence that you’d expect from something released shortly after the success of FLCL. Beginning with a quick-tempo tambourine and melodic guitar, Beautiful Picture maintains the vibe from something you’d expect from their FLCL-era tracks, while bringing something all its own. Its use of bass and occasional lulls are equal parts thoughtful and effective, creating a feeling of isolation without getting grimdark about it.

White Summer And Green Bicycle, Red Hair With Black Guitar – 2002

If you haven’t listened to any of The Pillows’ slower tracks, you absolutely need to do yourself a favor and correct that immediately. White Summer’s long title evokes a certain “take your time” vibe that appropriately oozes throughout the song itself. It’s melancholic without being overly depressing, rhythmic without being pop levels of bouncy, and creates this image of a time long past that while you can never recreate perfectly, is nice to remember every now and then.

Girlfriend (Love Letter version) – 1995
The Pillows’ original track Girlfriend was breezy enough and was definitely something you’d expect to play during a cute dating montage, perfectly balancing that knowing cheesiness factor that comes with infatuation. But for the version recorded for the romance movie Love Letter, The Pillows take things in a much more dramatic direction. Of course, the feelings of love remain throughout the track, but they’re met with hesitation—a more reluctant love that’s been hurt before and is simply trying to make a relationship worthwhile rather than simply in-the-moment.

Energiya – 2011

By this era in The Pillows history, I won’t shy away from saying the band’s gotten into something of a rut. More often than not, tracks are repetitive not only within a single song, but across an entire album. Even with those gripes in mind, though, Trial is one of my favorite recent tracks of theirs. With a generous guitar riff that’s repeated throughout the track, it also isn’t afraid to slow things down a bit. And while it sounds a bit uncomfortably interchangeable with Minority Whisper and Trial, which are tracks that appear on the same album, they’re all equally good tracks.

Sweet Baggy Days – 2007

It’s the end of the day, you’ve gotten a ton of stuff done for once, and you’re ready to head back home to chill the hell out. That’s the feel Sweet Baggy Days gives off, and while it falls into the same problems as other more modern The Pillows tracks in its redundancy, it does so in a manner that’s very satisfying to the ears. Even later into the track when it betrays its own vibe by upping its tempo, it’s still something I can listen to comfortably.

The Scar Whispers, Nobody Is In Paradise – 2003

Like White Summer And Green Bicycle, Red Hair With Black Guitar before it, The Scar Whispers is oddly thoughtful about just how chill it wants to be. With a guitar that’s almost lullaby-like in nature, the entire track is such a satisfying slow jam that just makes me wish The Pillows made more slow tracks like this over their more mainstream rock hits that have become more processed and soulless with each passing single and album.

Monochrome Lovers – 1994

Released back in The Pillows’ wannabe Beatles phase, Monochrome Lovers is still a notable track on its own. It’s incredibly quick-paced and breezy, with an almost samba-like break in-between that takes you off guard, but still maintains the track’s good vibes that you don’t care.

Honorable Mention: Thank You, My Twilight – 2002

Technically, this track has already been in the opening scene in FLCL: Progressive, but that doesn’t take away from how much this song kicks. Had I made this list just a day earlier, Thank You, My Twilight would be at the top of my list, no questions asked. It maintains the unique vibe from that era of The Pillows that’s equal parts stuck in FLCL nostalgia, but also its own thing entirely. It’s surprisingly slow tempo paired with its opening techno bleep-bloops that permeate throughout the track is just so iconic, especially when the music begins to swell into finale mode when you’re just so utterly engulfed by it and have no other choice but to bob your head in appreciation.

Stranger Things 2 lacks that 80s drab, and this bothers me

It’s not exactly the hottest take to say that Stranger Things season 1 is a spectacular show. The season so perfectly emulates an ‘80s movie to the point that you could believe that it’s something actually made during the 1980s. From its mix of child-centric adventure and sci-fi, to its casting of perfectly misfitty characters, the first season of Stranger Things, while very story-centered, also took the time to nail every nook and cranny of minor details, helping boost its ‘80s aesthetic from a simple gimmick to a strong, functional facet of the show itself.

That’s not true for the second season.

Even ignoring the wholly disliked episode 7, Stranger Things 2 while likeable enough is a general mess. Its cast is too widely dispersed from each other to make any forward progress in its more immediate plot points, new characters are introduced to little effect, and most importantly of all: the ‘80s aesthetic that made  the first season so enjoyable has all but faded (er… “been polished severely”?).

Yes, all the likeable misfits are back, with their long-range walkie-talkies and lack of parental supervision among rooms with wood-paneled walls and cube TVs, but there still remains something a bit off: the lighting. A major factor that added to Stranger Things’ first season was how it treated lighting as a major tool to mold their perfectly dated world. Even on sunny days, scenes were washed over in this intentionally grimy manner that served as the series’ own world-building. Not only did lighting play a crucial role to better play up the series’ horror aspect, but it made the more tame dialogue-heavy scenes that much more convincing—your eye being slowly drawn towards the uncomfortable excess of drab-colored rugs among other dated room décor.

With Stranger Things 2, the cast and setting are still appropriately 80s, but the noticeably bright lighting is enough to take you out of scenes entirely. It’s the same kind of distracting that comes from having a particularly bad actor on scene, or a musical score that just doesn’t jive with the scene it’s in. You think it’s minor until you see just how much the work suffers when it’s poorly done. Stranger Things season 1 transcended ‘80s homage to actually feel like something made from that time. Meanwhile, Stranger Things 2 felt more like a modern-day movie playing dressup with outfits and sets from a time long past. It’s the Sandlot 2 of Netflix shows. And I don’t think anyone wants to be that.

Netflix’s live-action Death Note movie is good and I will fight anyone who tells me otherwise


Netflix’s live-action Death Note movie is good. Not ironically good, or good-for-an-adaptation, or so-bad-it’s-good. Just… good.

And yet I’ve heard so much backlash from the anime community (read: not fan community, but the anime community as a whole), nitpicking over how it isn’t a 1:1 adaptation, how everyone in the cast has been whitewashed (and I guess “blackwashed” in the case of the character of L), among what’s probably a million other arguments for why this movie shouldn’t have been made. Even before official production on the movie began, it had so many cards stacked against it. So of course, if you can’t please the core audience most likely to be interested in the movie, then what’s the point?
But even with all that in mind, I still stand by my statement. Netflix’s Death Note movie is a good movie. Why? Because it’s able to distance itself from the rose-tinted expectations of fans and actually capture Death Note’s essence—an essence that a lot of fans tend to avoid entirely.

Similar to how shonen manga are so much more than their surface-level fights and are able to really delve into more complex themes of friendship, humanity, and even politics, so too does Death Note’s initial allure give way to “ulterior” themes for those willing to dig past its grimdark exterior. At its surface, the original Death Note manga comes off as this giant artsy-fartsy showdown of the minds—this really clever story of cat-and-mouse that touches on themes of morality and godlihood. Its main character is a hyper-intelligent, unflawed high-schooler who oh-so-cooly takes it upon himself to judge the wicked. It is probably one of the most unapologetically pompous shonen series in recent history starring a Barry Sue protagonist with everyone else bending to his will. But it’s for that very same reason that a lot of high-schoolers were drawn towards it. And probably why a lot of fans look back on the series with the same kind of disdain as something like Linkin Park (pre-Chester’s untimely death, anyway)—because the series at its surface is so caught up in its own srs bsns drama, that in hindsight, we can’t help but view the series as nothing more than “baby’s first serious non-punchy manga.”

But what if Death Note wasn’t as serious as people remember it being? What if beyond its blatant religious imagery and rambling monologues on morality, the series was nothing more than a B-movie complete with over-the-top deaths thinly justified through the existence of a magical killing notebook?


That’s what Netflix’s Death Note realizes, and it brings that into the spotlight in full force.

Rather than the perfectly perfect Light Yagami, we have a purposefully whiny shitstain that is Light Turner. Rather than seeking out godlihood, he uses it as an excuse to get in the pants of a one Mia Sutton (who sidenote: is a large step up from the original’s Misa Amane). Rather than the in-your-face mental face-offs between Light and L, the movie’s centerpieces are its Final Destination-esque criminal deaths. The movie strips away any of the original’s subtlety to the benefit of better getting across that Death Note was never about answering nth level questions on life, death, killing, etc, but to centerpiece an unlikeable person’s fall from grace via the most in-your-face, gratuitous visuals and laughably serious demon lore. It embraces its campiness, and is able to utilize it to its full extent, resulting in a beautifully shot, dutch-angle-filled, oddly 80s soundtracky, CW-tier-acting, romp of a movie where you’re absolutely certain Willem Dafoe enjoyed his role playing a slightly less gremlin-faced version of himself.

I’m glad it’s in talks for getting a sequel and I spit in the face of anyone that says the original has aged well enough to the point that they’d prefer that over this.

I thought Spider-Man Homecoming wasn’t all that great, but at least hear me out on this

Even disregarding superhero burnout, and fanboy wanking, I just couldn’t enjoy Spider-Man: Homecoming.

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My Two Cents on the Iron Fist Debacle

Lemme first say I have no interest in watching Iron Fist. Being panned across the board aside, I just don’t have time to invest 13+ hours into a series that’s ultimately homework for whenever Netflix/Marvel releases The Defenders.

Rather, I’d like to bring up how Netflix’s previous Marvel series have proven that a socially conscious series can work and yet for some reason wasn’t the logical path to take come time to adapt Iron Fist for a modern audience.

Whether it be a black man, woman, or blind man, each previous Netflix series was able to take a marginalized group of people and empower them without coming off as too obnoxious about it. Each show made a point to treat their star as a person first and hero second (if that). It never bothered with spoon-feeding the audience the character’s “blackness” or “femininity” or “handi-capable-ness” because doing so would be a disservice to the character as well as the viewers. If the Saturday Morning Cartoons of yore were any indication, tokenization was a very obvious pitfall to avoid for the creative teams involved.

iron_fist

So what makes Iron Fist such an exception? Besides the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” natural problem of having to adapt an outdated premise to appeal to mainstream and hardcore audiences, I personally believe going the route of recasting our titular character as an Asian-American is just too much for even today’s modern mindsets. While women, black people, and (to an admittedly lesser degree) the disabled have been successfully integrated into American society, the concept of an Asian main character, not to mention one that’s a superhero, is just too novel of a concept for American-made live-action dramas. And taking into account where Asians fall in modern America, it’s not too surprising. Rather than trying to integrate into societies, it’s become more commonplace for first-gen Asians in America to stick together as a community. Things like Chinatown, Japantown, and Koreatown where the common language spoken is anything but English serve as a safe haven to the according immigrants, but this strange, unapproachable-except-for-touristy-visits, foreign… thing for anyone else. To write a story trying to immerse the audience in that world when that world is so inherently unapproachable to any other American (read: white people) is apparently too big of a hurdle to even bother trying to jump over.

Sure, the counter-argument would be that you’re playing into stereotypes to have an Asian know martial arts, but if every prior Marvel Netflix series were able to successfully establish, break, and exceed stereotypes, I honestly don’t see why Iron Fist wouldn’t dare to follow suit.

But whatever, man, I’ve got plenty of other series to binge on already.

A Look at Fantôme and Utada Hikaru’s Musical Evolution

Utada Hikaru is probably best known among English-speaking fans for singing the iconic Simple and Clean theme from the Kingdom Hearts games, with her end theme song Beautiful World for the Evangelion Rebuild movies coming as a close second in terms of notoriety among nerds. And while she never truly reached mainstream media fame in the states, she’s made quite the reputation for herself in her native Japan, having started her musical career back in 1996, and her popularity only steadily increasing from there.

utada-hikaru-fantome
Now a full 20 years after her debut, Utada Hikaru’s Fantôme is the first album she released after her musical hiatus from 2011-2016. Of note, however, isn’t the quality of the tracks themselves, but where they stand when looking at Utada’s career as a whole.

Too often do musicians end up falling in a rut, creating music that ends up being derivative of their older work (or as I like to call it, the Avril Lavigne effect). And while this may not necessarily hurt their core fanbase who is eager to take on more of the same, it does take a clear hit to their notoriety in a “radio playing” sense. Why listen to a new thing when an old thing holds up just as well and sounds pretty much the same? Also taking into account music’s ever-changing landscape and how it evolves over time, it just feels less awkward to listen to a time-capsule sort of piece from ages past rather than a recent piece that insists on shoehorning a long-ended aesthetic into its style. Sure there are some exceptions, but more often than not, it’s less a case of the mainstream being unaccepting to an older “style” than it is the musician themselves being unwilling to adapt and evolve past their comfort zone. And you can’t exactly blame the musicians that insist on towing the line, since experimentation leads to so many more pitfalls.

In the case with Fantôme, though, the album as a whole just… is. There’s nothing too toe-tapping or ear-wormy in any of the tracks, but listening to it while keeping in mind Utada’s history does make for a more pleasant listen. Literally having gone through all her major hits from 1998’s Automatic and moving onwards from there, you can witness Utada’s musical growth and maturation, as she transitions from radio pop, to ballads. And it’s in witnessing this range and progress that I found true enjoyment from what should otherwise be a middleground album.

[Utada Hikaru’s Fantôme can be purchased on the US amazon site]

Legacy and the Aging Protagonist: In Defense of Dragon Ball Super

Dragon Ball Super is one of those series that’s incredibly easy to dismiss as an easy cash-in to a long-lived franchise (though honestly, that title belongs moreso to the Dragon Ball Heroes card game). New characters are introduced for the purpose of story-expansion, and new power-ups are invented almost to accompany every new addition to the cast. And yet a good 50+ episodes in, the series has been doing a surprisingly solid job of not only continuing the story from where it left off, but also progressing each character’s arcs, keeping in mind the series’ 30+ years of in-world history to pinpoint where characters currently are emotionally. Not bad for a show about dudes punching alien-dudes until they die or befriend each other.

DBSuper Vegeta v Freeza

r we besties yet? Y/N

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A good chunk of the ReLIFE EDs have been covered by Goose House

relife / goose house
ReLIFE
is a fascinating series for a number of reasons. For the uninitiated, it started off as a webcomic by author Yayoiso telling the story of an unemployed 27-year-old given a second chance at a more fulfilling life by entering the ReLIFE program where he’s turned back into a teen to re-live his final year at high school. And if that wasn’t enough of a pull for you, crunchyroll has mirrored its Japanese streaming counterparts and has released the entirety of the anime adaptation Netflix-style for any and all people prone to binge-watching over weekly-viewing.

I’m a bit behind on the anime version myself, but I did notice that episode 2’s Ending Theme had been previously covered by Japanese group Goose House, known for the second Ending Theme in the Silver Spoon anime, and the first Opening Theme in the Your Lie in April anime. Curious, I figured I’d check ReLIFE‘s full list of endings and found that 1) holycrap, there’s a different ED for all 13 episodes, and 2) a whopping 8 of those 13 songs have been covered by Goose House at one point or another, some of which date from back when the group went by “playyouhouse.”

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