Throwback: “The Hunger Games Review Part 2”

So, considering how unimpressed I was with Part 1, you’d think that Part 2 would be the bane of my existence. Well, actually, you’re wrong. I like 2 WAY more than 1. Does that make it good? Well, let’s find out. This is… The Hunger Games Part 2: Catching Fire.

As always, we start with the characters. All the old characters are exactly the same, and the new ones are meh. The new supporting protagonists are mostly dull throwaways, and are totally predictable. With an all-star cast like this, there’s the opportunity for really interesting characters. But instead, we get Pretty Boy Who’s Surprisingly Helpful, Smart Guy With Escape Plan, and Bitch #42. All the antagonists are bland, with nobody except the dictator getting more than 1 line of dialogue, and most getting none at all. And with all the competitors being previous victors, you’d think that we’d get at least one Kiriyama. Unfortunately, no. Overall, the characters still suck.

The story goes something like this: After the end of Part 1, people thought the finale was defiance. The dictator doesn’t want it to be defiance, so he threatens the heroine into working for him. When it fails, he throws her into a new arena with a lot of previous winners. She’s thinking of betraying her friends to keep Bread Boy alive, while one of them is planning an escape attempt. But it’s actually handled better here than in Part 1, and has some legitimately interesting moments. However, it makes the critical mistake of assuming you automatically care about the side characters, so there’s no need to develop them. This leads to hilariously bad moments that think themselves to be tragic, but the audience doesn’t care at all. An infamous example is in the film, where some random person sacrifices themselves for Bread Boy, without one line of dialogue in the whole film. And then they try for a serious death scene, and it’s the most laughable scene in the whole film. So overall, I’m lukewarm on the story.

In the film, the cinematography is FAR better than Part 1. The series got a new director, and it shows. The horrendous shaky cam is gone, the CGI is way better, and the sickening effects have been removed. The weapons still look fake, and there’s no ability to critique the death effects, since they’re all off-screen. Yes, the deaths are all off-screen. The descriptions in the book are passable, but nothing special.

The sound is just as bad as before. The music effects are so forgettable, I can’t remember a single one. The acting is really stilted, and the line delivery is pretty bad. Best performance goes to Philip Seymour Hoffman, as he’s one of the only two who seem to care at all, the other being the always-entertaining Donald Sutherland. So, sound is overall still bad.
This is the point where the philosophy starts to creep in. There are entire chapters of the book devoted to philosophical nonsense, and it’s not even good philosophy. That needed to be done better, and it wasn’t.

Overall, Part 2 was better than Part 1, but still only slightly above average. Again, I must grade the book and film separately. The book is almost good, but doesn’t quite make it, and earns a B- grade, with a WHATEVER FLOATS YOUR BOAT rating. The film earns a C+, and also gets a WHATEVER FLOATS YOUR BOAT rating. I’ll be back again soon, to review the final part of this trilogy, and I’m really dreading it.

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Throwback: “The Hunger Games Review Part 1”

Recently, I looked at my backed up files from a long time ago, and I thought I would upload a few of them as a look back at my old writing. Take a look at my initial review of the original Hunger Games from a year ago.

 

It’s really amazing just how divisive this book is. On one side, you have people praising it as the best book ever that should be worshipped by all. On the other side, you have people like my friend Wolf, who directly compares it to Sword Art Online (which is one of the worst shows ever aired) and “would burn a copy, but that would mean giving them (referring to the author and the publisher) money.” You may ask me, where do I stand? I’ve read the arguments of both sides, and both have some valid points. So let’s stop beating around the bush, and actually review the beginning of this pop-culture monstrosity. This is… The Hunger Games
As always, we start with the characters. Our main character is the best one in the book, though that’s not saying much. She’s this poor person in a dystopia, who can hunt wild animals, because her winning needs to be justified. But her personality is BLAND. She has few to no defining characteristics beyond being the most antisocial loser in the history of the world. Our secondary protagonist is just as bland, being the hopeless romantic who is there to add tension to sequences. As a Romanticist myself, I don’t find him very representative of what it’s like. All the other characters feel like they’re included because “the genre requires these characters”. You have the experienced mentor figure, the token love interest, the pointless sibling that only serves as motivation, and the dictator that leads with no real defining characteristics. Even the other competitors are cliché. You have the guy who dives right in (though he only kills like 2 people), his band of strong competitors, the token helpless character who only exists to create “emotions” when they die, and basically every other cliché in the genre. So, the characters are blander than unsalted crackers.
The story easily outstrips the characters in that it’s at least semi-competent. In a future America, the country is run by a Capitol (which will always be referred to as The Capitol, so get used to it) out of presumably Denver. In future West Virginia, our main heroine is a working-class model person, who learns to hunt stuff for additional money. Every year, the Capitol demands each of the 12 districts to offer up 1 teenage boy and 1 teenage girl for the worst summer camp ever, where they kill each other because reasons. Instead of her being picked, her younger sister is. Excited yet? Well, she volunteers to join the game in place of her sister. The guy who goes up with her (of course) has had a secret infatuation with her for years. Isn’t THAT lovely? And cliché as hell. They go to the Capitol, show themselves off for sponsors, try (and fail) for some character development, and are tossed into the arena. After that, it’s predictable thriller from beginning to end. The story itself is merely decent, and doesn’t stand out at all.
One thing I suppose I should give credit for is that this book doesn’t waste your time with symbolism or philosophy. The entire focus is on the plot itself. I don’t know if I like this or not, but it’s worth a mention.
In the film adaptation, I need to say this right now: The music is TERRIBLE. It’s really bland, really repetitive, and really forgettable. It’s like they bought their soundtrack off one of those composers who doesn’t charge license fees, like Kevin MacLeod. Their composer was James Newton Howard, who did the music for The Dark Knight, The Sixth Sense, and Glengarry Glen Ross. There’s losing your touch, and then there’s going fucking insane. In short, the music sucks.
The cinematography in the film is even WORSE than the music. There’s an ungodly amount of shaky cam, terrible CGI, no real clever techniques, and headache-inducing foliage. Yeah, you read that right. The foliage effects gave me a headache. Some genius has the WONDERFUL idea of putting small blue lines on the foliage, which makes it unbearable if you have sensitive eyes. How is it that a B-Movie from 2000 has better effects than this AAA film from 2012? I really don’t know. The weapons look fake, the blood looks like water, and the monsters at the end look like the Star Wars prequels.
In conclusion, I need to grade both separately. The book gets a C+, with a Whatever Floats Your Boat rating. The average story and decent descriptions make up for the bad characters, but can’t make it good. The film, which takes everything bad and makes it worse, as well as adding absolutely HORRIBLE cinematic elements, gets a D+, with a Glass of Cold Spunk rating. If you really want to read the book, you can go ahead, but avoid the film as much as you can.

My Thoughts on Rogue One

Ok, so Rogue One: a Star Wars Story just released a little while back, and I just went to see it. And being perfectly honest… I fucking love it. The first hour or so is really slow with a few moments of intensity, and it’s a bit annoying. However, those moments of intensity are absolutely phenomenal. There are a ton of well-made fights, though only one character ever uses a lightsaber. Once the movie really gets going, it is absolutely incredible. The story is basically a remake of the opening mission of Dark Forces (though sadly with no Kyle Katarn), but vastly expanded to maddening levels. And I mean VAST expansion. The amount of new story it adds is completely shocking, and it pushes the ball really far. While Act 1 was pretty slow, it gains traction in Act 2 as it picks up a ton of speed, and by Act 3 it’s going completely insane with some of the best action sequences in the entire franchise. For the second time in the history of the franchise, we get to see full combined-arms battles, with infantry, spacecraft, and imperial walkers battling all at once. Sadly my favorite ships, the Star Destroyers, don’t get very much in the way of spotlight, but everything else was absolutely phenomenal. It felt a lot like a World War 2 movie set in space, which is of course fitting given the overall tone of the original series. The last movie I saw in the franchise was The Force Awakens, which I distinctly remember as being slightly above average. This movie makes up for that by being absolutely amazing. That’s not to say it got everything right. The characterization isn’t all that great, for instance. Three main characters are given a good amount of character building, but the rest of them suffer the dreaded “Characterization via Gimmickry” approach. It’s no less annoying here, but I think it’s used sparingly enough that it doesn’t wreck the movie for me. The villains are done pretty well. Surprisingly, we get a colossal part from Grand Moff Tarkan. Though Peter Cushing has been dead for 20 years, we still get the character doing what he did last time. We get introduced to him looking away from the camera, so I figured he wouldn’t do anything and would just stand around for one scene. So I was completely floored when he turned around and looked directly at the camera. They used CGI to make the actor looks exactly like Peter, and I just had to say “whoa” out loud in response. They do the same later to t the Gold Leader from Episode 4 and Princess Leia when they appear for cameos later. While the latter doesn’t work anywhere near as well, they both are still among the better effects I’ve seen in a long time. Darth Vader shows up for a short time in the movie, with James Earl Jones sounding just like always. The sound assets are wonderful, and all the actors give good performances. I can’t say anything else without going full into spoilers, which I’m not willing to do, so I’ll leave it with this. I saw this movie with my parents (who stood in line to watch the original movie back in 1977) and my younger sister, and yet I was the one who liked the most. That’s something I can’t remember happening in recent months, so obviously I’m going to rate it highly. With the phenomenal ending scenes in mind, I give Rogue One: A Star Wars Story a full A rating, with a Pretty Good recommendation. It’s definitely worth a watch, and the last third is among the most memorable parts of the whole series. It’s a phenomenal movie and I think anyone reading should see it. I’m not even concerned with how Episodes 8 and 9 turn out, because even if they’re dreadful, I can always come back to this movie with just as much love as I do the originals. And if that doesn’t sway you, nothing will.

Review- SHIMONETA

Shimoneta was created by Studio JC Staff

Originally Aired:2015

Primary Genres: Ecchi, Comedy

SPOILERS!

WARNING: This anime is extremely explicit. There is so much sexual content and mature theming that I cannot begin to catalog it. Viewer discretion is fucking MANDATORY.

For a long time, I figured I would be done writing reviews. But it seems a Sorcerer’s work is never done, so here I am. Shimoneta, aka “A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist”, is among the most amazing examples of doing the Ecchi genre correctly I’ve ever seen. While it’s often compared unfavorably to Prison School, another Ecchi by JC Staff, I won’t be doing so here. As far as I’m concerned, they’re apples and oranges. With that out of the way, I need to ask myself: what the hell did I get myself into? This is… SHIMONETA.

As always, we begin with the characters. The main character is Tanukichi Okuma, played by Yuusuke Kobayashi, a kid reigning from one of the most immoral schools in all of Japan. In the world of Shimoneta, the government is basically full of puritans, and they’ve banned everything even remotely lewd. Tanukichi is from one of the most lewd schools, but he’s managed to get himself into the single most moral school in the entire country to pursue a girl he likes. He’s overall a decent character. On the scale of “high school guys”, he’s slightly above average. He’s not as good as the likes of Keiichi Maebara or Tomoya Okazaki, but he’s not as bad as the likes of Yuuki Amano or Makoto Itou. His intimate knowledge of lewdness serves him well in being exposed to everything that happens to him over the course of the series. And by the end, he does fully accept the weird lewdness that ends up surrounding him. He has some phenomenal back-and-forth with virtually everyone in the entire series as he manages to play off of everyone’s personalities perfectly. The next character is Ayame Kajo, played by Shizuka Ishigami, also known as “Blue Snow”. She’s basically V, but with porn instead of knives. She’s also the source of about 60% of the show’s dirty jokes due to her cell phone that allows her to bypass the government’s tracking device. I don’t think I need to say much more about her than the fact that she’s fucking hilarious. The next member of the organization that forms is Otome Saotome, played by Satomi Arai, the greatest artist in the region. Since the tracking devices record what movements people’s hands make, she ends up drawing mostly with her mouth. She gains inspiration for her artwork from the likes of porn magazines and watching Tanukichi get sexually assaulted (yes, that happens once). The final member of the main group is Kosuri Onigashira, played by the always phenomenal Yui Horie, a crime boss’ daughter that carries a ton of weapons around for whatever reason and who has a hyper-suggestive hairstyle when viewed from the back. The best way to describe her is the result of Satoko from Higurashi being given a supply locker of riot gear and becoming as much of a colossal pervert as everyone else in this show. There’s also a side protagonist in the form of Hyouka Fuwa, played by Saori Gotou, a science-obsessed deadpan student trying everything she can to figure out exactly what reproduction is, since the government neglected the concept of Sex Ed. There are some absolutely gut-busting laughs that she ends up pulling in whenever she ends up getting involved in the main characters’ schemes. That about covers the heroes, so let’s discuss the villains. Our first “villain” (for lack of a better word) is Anna Nishikinomiya, played by the late Miyu Matsuki. She starts off as the most morally sound student in the most morally sound school in the country. She’s so moral, in fact, that she has even less of an idea what lewdness is than everyone else in the show. That all changes at the end of Episode 3, and she begins causing the most uncomfortable moments in the entire show as she loses her mind and turns into a sex offender. I’m absolutely serious about that. Just about every single one of the best jokes in the series involves Anna in some way, with maybe 3 exceptions. She actually rivals Minatsuki from Deadman Wonderland for the title of most hilariously psychotic character, which is a phenomenal feat. Helping her out here is her voice actress, who turns in an absolutely stellar performance. Anna has a lackey in the form of Raiki Gōriki, played by Kenta Miyake, an ape-like third year who is basically a tsundere towards Tanukishi, just apparently closeted or something. The main villain of the season is White Peak, played by Ken Narita. He is the head of Gathered Fabric, a rival organization focused on stealing as many panties as physically possible. Yes, that happens. I find his character design particularly interesting, as he wears a mask stitched together from a half-dozen panties, which gives him a distinctly psychotic appearance. He also straps a stun gun to his dick for use as a weapon. I’m dead serious about that. The last major villain is Oboro Tsukimigusa, played by Sumire Uesaka. The best way to describe her character is if you mixed the Eiserne Jungfrau with Chiester 00 from Umineko, added in a touch of Kanon, and then dumped in several gallons of liquid stupidity. And it’s fucking hilarious. Overall, the characterization is easily passable, and more than enough to keep the show interesting.

The story in Shimoneta is something truly special. It’s basically 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 mixed with V for Vendetta and a backlog of porn magazines. The basic premise is that the Japanese government has been taken over by puritans who outlaw anything remotely associated with sex (and I do mean everything. They outlaw volleyball because the net resembles a fishnet stocking). They use 1984-style tracking devices to monitor everything everyone says and the things everyone’s hands are doing. As a result, saying lewd words or making lewd imagery will automatically call the Decency Squad (basically the porn Gestapo) in to arrest the perpetrator. The story revolves around Tanukichi Okuma, a normal student who’s trying to get into the most prestigious school in the country in order to impress the girl he likes. On the train there his first day, he sticks up for another student who’s getting scammed, and ends up getting the Decency Squad called after him. As he’s running, the chase is interrupted by Blue Snow (more literally “blue tundra”), a terrorist who screams “giant dick” at the top of her lungs and then tosses a ton of cards around, each with a lewd image on them. She gets away by telling the Decency Squad that if they force her to struggle, the sheet she’s wearing will fall off and expose her as naked in front of everyone. She then books it, and Tanukichi escapes by sliding down a rope. At school, Tanukichi is inducted into the Student Council, led by the girl he likes: Anna Nishikinomiya. He’s shown around by the Vice President, Ayame Kajo, who ultimately reveals herself to be Blue Snow. She forces him to found lewd terrorist organization SOX (Sex happens most Often on X-mas) with her, and they then try and spread lewdness through the use of fly porn (long story) and a fake eye exam. The latter stunt gets Tanukichi discovered by Otome Saotome, reportedly the best artist in the prefecture. She then forces him to help her out of her “slump” by helping her win the affections of Anna. During a plot to lure out a stalker, Tanukichi ends up falling on Anna and accidentally kissing her (props to them or not making it a grope). As a result, Anna ends up falling in love with him and starts to go insane. Yeah, it’s gonna be one of those. Tanukichi is visited in the hospital by Hyouka Fuwa, the smartest kid in the school and the one who owned the flies they used in the first plot, who gives him an eel. He’s also visited by Otome, who Ayame has recruited into SOX. Upon getting out, he’s forced to teach her about sexual arousal, though that ends up happening from Anna breaking into his apartment and trying to rape him. Yes indeed, you read that right. Witnessing… that allows Otome to begin making full drawings… with her mouth. As a result, they begin distributing lewd pamphlets around the school. Anna, meanwhile, has gone off the deep end and is now stalking Tanukichi so she can feed him “Love Nectar”, which is exactly what you’re probably thinking it is. As a result of her stalking him, Tanukichi is unable to put up some of the posters, resulting in Hyouka finding them instead. SOX then plans a raid on a forest supposedly containing a stash of lewd material, but they need to bring the other students as decoys in order to slip past the Decency Squad. While the think they failed to do so because of a rally for signing a petition, it’s revealed that Hyouka instead brought everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) to the forest in order to look for the cache of magazines. The only problem is Anna, who subsequently chases both Tanukichi and Ayame in an attempt to capture them. Ayame throws Tanukichi off a cliff in an attempt to save him from Anna, and he finds the magazine stash in a suggestively-shaped cave. He also finds lower body lingerie in the form of black panties, thigh high socks, and the necessary harness. Naturally, he puts them on and goes to rescue Ayame. Anna is warded off because of the way he smells (don’t ask me), and SOX leaves with the magazines. Their next plot revolves around making masturbation implements (with the help of Hyouka), which ends about as well as you can expect. It’s around this point that rival organization Gathered Fabric starts to show up, And for some reason, their only goal is stealing as many panties as they can (particularly white ones), but they only steal used ones (if that thought disgusts you, that’s normal). Through methods as hijacking buses and stealing pairs en masse, they manage to amass hundreds of pairs. Their leader, White Peak, claims to be associated with SOX, much to the dismay of SOX itself. In addition, the Decency Squad sends Officer Tsukimigusa to oversee the school and remove lewd material. This androgynous Officer is dumb as a sack of bricks, allowing lewd material to be used out in the open so long as people told them the books weren’t lewd. This arc also introduces Kosuri, who happens to carry an infinite bag of nonlethal weapons. She does her best to stall and hobble the Decency Squad, much to the annoyance of Ayame and Otome. As a result, during the bus hijacking, she switches sides and helps White Peak move hostages into an academy. Thanks to a genius (if disturbing) idea from Tanukichi, SOX partners with Anna and Tsukimigusa to take down White Peak, and Kosuri changes sides again in order to help take him down. Oh yeah, and Ayame and Tanukichi basically confess their feelings to each other while escaping on a hot air balloon. This happens in Episode 11, and there’s one more after it. In the last episode, everyone is lured to a resort where the largest cache of erotic material in the city is stored. Anna tries raping Tanukichi again, and whether or not she succeeds is somewhat unclear. Hyouka, Ayame, and Tanukichi drop Anna off a cable car (she survives), and the latter two go and discover the cache, which is actually mannequins in lingerie. They leave it there, and set off again to continue their mission. The story is set up really well, and maximizes the potential for making jokes. Definitely help make the series worth a watch.

The actual animation is on the higher end of quality. Sure, it’s not up to Manglobe standards of quality, but it’s definitely really good. The character designs in general are pretty good, with those of Anna and Hyouka standing out the most. One thing I find particularly amusing is that this show manages to make censors funny. As in, the actual stuff they use to censor images is absolutely hilarious. Every character has their own unique censorship seal, and just about all of them are phenomenal, with those of Anna, Hyouka, and Tanukichi being the best. I can’t really comment more on the animation, except that the Opening and Ending actually change over the course of the story, which is always worthy of note. Overall, the animation is pretty good.

Describing the sound design is rather intriguing. The actual voice acting (in Japanese) is pretty good. Miyu Matsuki, god rest her soul, does a wonderful job in the booth, with everything from weird seductive purrs to outright lewd moans and screams. The others are serviceable, though I have no idea how this compares to their other work, with one exception. Yui Horie is among my personal favorite seiyuu for her sublime role in When They Cry, and I honestly think this is one of her weaker performances. That being said, she’s still a highly skilled seiyuu, so I can’t really complain. The dub, however, is absolutely terrible, which is a surprise, since this is FUNimation we’re talking about, the guys behind dubs like FMA and Deadman Wonderland. The warning signs were available early, however, when Josh Grell was announced as the vocal star. He’s just as bad as always, and most of the others follow suit. However, they were smart enough to cast Monica Rial as Anna, and she does a pretty good job. Nowhere near her best work, but decent overall. The music is hard to comment on, as I don’t recall any of them in detail. This is a common trait in the modern entertainment industry, but it’s no less annoying for it. The OP and ED are great, and I really enjoy listening to them. They’re fun, memorable, and catchy. Overall, the sound (in Japanese anyway) is really good.

The delivery of theme in Shimoneta is somewhat hyperbolic (this is a comedy after all), but when the show turns dead serious, the actual themes are well worth taking to heart. The idea of sexuality being pure in its own right and that the censorship of it is wrong is a very interesting thought, and it’s one I would like to see more often. So, the show is good on themes as well.

Overall, Shimoneta has likable characters, a good story, great animation, pretty good Japanese voice acting, good OP and ED tracks, and truly interesting themes. It’s certainly not without its flaws, and I don’t think it’s the kind of genre king I’ll be going back to time and time again, so as such I award Shimoneta with an A+ rating, with a Pretty Good seal of approval. It’s a must-see, and it’s available for free on Youtube (subtitled only) through the official FUNimation channel. The series can also be bought on Blu-Ray or DVD through the official FUNimation website, and unofficial translations can be found on all the usual sites. So you really don’t have an excuse to not see it. It seems unlikely that I’ll be writing in any more reviews in the foreseeable future, but I may upload part of the backlog. I guess we’ll see.