Demon Lord Dante

It’s been a while since I commented on an animé so here goes. I just watched Demon Lord Dante (魔王ダンテ). Overall, this one rates below middling for fairly poor production values and a somewhat predictable story. However, don’t make your decision to watch it or not based on that simple rating.

It starts off typically slow with fairly low quality animation including enough panning stills to be noticeable but not so many that it makes the show unwatchable. My experience was further complicated by pixelation arising from the video on demand service I was watching but this was relatively minor, only causing momentary distractions during action scenes.

The first two episodes noodle around setting the stage for the action. The third episode takes a semi-unexpected twist. Then, the plot sort of noodles along for a few episodes introducing characters, dumping the protagonist into random situations, and generally following the formula for a reluctant superhero story. To this point, it’s okay as far as the story goes. I was reminded somewhat of Death Note, half expecting the main character to turn out to be the villain. I was also reminded somewhat of Paranoia Agent, expecting an indecipherable plot twist at the midpoint.

It turns out the midpoint plot twist was a little from column A and a little from column B. The protagonist does not turn out to be the villain – God does. Yes, that’s right. God is the villain. (Which, truthfully, is not spoiling anything as that becomes at least intuitively obvious early on.) The indecipherable plot twist actually turns out to ultimately make sense though it does cheapen the impact of human deaths throughout the story.

Now it’s fairly obvious that this is not headed for a fairy tale “And they all lived happily ever after” ending by about the tenth episode. (Well, it is for anyone who has watched enough animé.) But still, there is hope for at least a reasonably happen ending for the survivors up until the middle of the final episode at which point the plot takes yet another twist, one which is somewhat reminiscent of Texhnolyze with the exception that it is actually possible to figure it out without watching it eight thousand times. In this case, it could be considered a “happy” ending since our protagonist and his sister turn out to be Adam and Eve, at least after the world in which the apocalypse just happened simply vanished when they refused to fight at the end. Or maybe time rewound. It’s hard to say for sure. As endings go, however, there are much worse.

It is interesting that the story progression is somewhat similar to Saikano, though with much less emotion wringing tragedy through the latter half of the series, with most of the death being confined to anonymous or semi-anonymous extras or people the audience has come to despise. Even the end is somewhat similar, though Demon Lord Dante provides the surviving pair a lush world to live on.

I mentioned the twist ending of Texhnolyze. In fact, I would suggest that the overall quality of both series is about the same. However, Demon Lord Dante is eminently more watchable, with better pacing, clearer exposition (to the point of being painfully obvious in some places), and a world and plot that at least makes some sense in retrospect.

Like Paranoia Agent, Demon Lord Dante starts out with an obvious situation analogous to L’il Slugger. Like in Paranoia Agent, the actual culprit turns out to be less obvious fairly quickly, but still makes some sense. Unlike Paranoia Agent, the entire story doesn’t take a dive off the continuity cliff at the midpoint (though, in fairness, Paranoia Agent is a psychological thriller featuring characters of dubious sanity while Demon Lord Dante is an epic apocalypse story).

Overall, if you are able to put aside your expectations and enjoy a story despite the technical flaws in its execution (and apparent low budget), Demon Lord Dante is worth watching. On the other hand, if you get hung up on minor nits with production or are unable to accept the story on its own merits without letting your preconceptions interfere, don’t watch it. Also, if you’re looking for a shining example of the perfect animé, don’t watch it. No doubt if you are such a person, you are disappointed by just about everything you watch. And by all the powers of the universe, if you are going to pan the series, at least have the grace to watch it to its conclusion before commenting (as one commentator has) that nobody should ever watch it.

Endgame

I just watched the first episode of a new series called Endgame. Based on the trailers, my first thought was that it would be some sort of knock off of Nero Wolfe. The similarities were obvious. Both Nero Wolfe and Arkady Balagan are shut-ins though the reasons behind it are different. Both have a young protégé who does the majority of the legwork. And both charge insane fees to allow them to maintain their lifestyles. Continue reading “Endgame”

Akismet to the Rescue

Any web site that’s been online for more than a few seconds seems to attract spammers, especially if it supports comment posting or other user generated content. The magnitude of the problem seems to be higher when the site is using a well known software package such as WordPress. My blog is no exception and the problem has become steadily worse as the amount of content on my site has increased.

Continue reading “Akismet to the Rescue”

He Knocked Four Times

I just finished watching David Tenant’s last episode of Doctor Who.  Any fan will know there was a prophecy in The Dead Planet which said that something was returning from the dark and that “he will knock four times”. This stirred up much speculation on the intertubes about who could be knocking four times and what could be returning. A number of people figured that Gallifrey would be returning and, in fact, it was the Time Lords and Gallifrey. However, I do not recall reading anywhere that anyone thought that Wilfred Mott would be the one who knocked four times. Yes, that’s right. It was not The Master and his drums like so many thought.

I admit that it was a wonderful farewell episode for David Tenant and a great intro for Matt Smith at the end. While I liked the “last visit” scenes, the episode could have done without them. They do serve as character development and also highlight the impact he has had on various people during his adventures, from Sarah Jane Smith to Captain Jack Harkness to Rose Tyler to Micky Smith to Martha Jones and others.

I do have an issue with the showdown scene with the Time Lords, though. When The Doctor sends Gallifrey back, he calls the Lord President a significant name: Rassilon. Rassilon is a legendary figure and should not be living. Of course, it is entirely possible that he is merely a namesake or that Rassilon was brought back during the time war. Still, it is a bit of a discrepancy.

Also, who was the time lady that came to Wilfred? She clearly knew the Doctor and he clearly knew her.

For a “wrap up the loose ends and leave a clean slate for the new guy”, this episode sure left a lot of things unresolved. Maybe some of that was at the request of the new guy? Who knows.

All in all, I liked the episode. It is fun to look for all the back references like the wasp Donna sees or the Adiposian at the bar. And the actual regeneration sequence was great. Looks like the Tardis control room is going to get remodelled by the new regeneration.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how the upcoming season unfolds.

The Wheel of Time continues…

I have just finished reading the twelfth volume of The Wheel of Time. I have to confess to a certain amount of worry about how well Brandon Sanderson would do with Robert Jordan’s legacy. The foreword did much to assuage my fears but there was so much potential for the writing to be so jarringly different that it would not feel like The Wheel of Time. I am relieved to report that Sanderson has treated Jordan’s legacy with a great deal of care and respect. Indeed, I believe that Sanderson’s touch has proven beneficial to the overall storytelling in the series since this most recent volume does not seem to suffer from the excessive internal dialogue of some of the earlier volumes.

I will refrain from commenting on the exact plot of the book. I will, however, comment that it has one of the most satisfying endings of the entire series so far. Sanderson’s assertion that it is a logical break point for the final “trilogy” is borne out. I can also honestly say that I believe most readers will find this installment satisfying. The promise of plot line resolution hinted at in the end of the previous volume is fulfilled admirably with even pacing. Most of the niggling annoyances with the internal dialogues of the primary characters have been resolved. Those familiar with the later volumes will know exactly what I refer to. Indeed, we can see, by the end of this volume, most of the prime movers for the final battle have grown nearly as far as they must to succeed (or fail) as required. Certain prophecies are fulfilled in unexpected yet supremely logical ways.

All told, I am looking forward to the final two volumes. There is great promise for the impending conclusion of a work that can stand as the very definition of “epic”.

Stargate: Universe

The first episode of the new Stargate series aired this past weekend. As a fan of SG1 and Atlantis, I was particularly interested to see how this new series would go. Of course, I knew from promotional material that it would ultimately be set on a very old Ancient ship which was tooling through space depositing stargates and that a band of refugee types would end up aboard it trying to survive. The premise itself is hardly original; the lost in space theme is very common.

The introductory episode is, unsurprisingly, somewhat heavy with exposition as it sets up just how the refugees ended up on the Ancient ship and as they deal with their initial crisis. Based on the first episode, I have to admit that the series has potential. However, it could very easily go wrong, turning into a clone of Star Trek: Voyager or something similar. It seems unlikely that this will be the case, though.

In this series, we see Ancient technology that looks ill used and old. The ship’s systems are failing. The ship has been damaged, possibly in a battle. There is no simple solution to survival like Atlantis surfacing; the refugees will need to repair damaged systems and maintain the ship just to survive. And, unlike in other series, it seems unlikely they will ever be able to return to Earth; after all, it took the power output of a planet’s core to open a wormhole to the ship. It is also unlikely they will hear anything from Earth since said planet was destroyed in the attack the refugees were escaping from.

To make the situation more interesting, the cast does not consist of a hand-picked, trained team of experts. Many of the refugees are people that were in the wrong place at the wrong time. This provides potential for situations that would have made little sense on the other Stargate series.

All in all, if the producers are able to follow up on the setup with compelling stories, the series will at least meet the standards set by previous series. It may even be able to draw an audience different to the original Stargate series simply due to the differing premise. Here’s hoping the rest of the episodes live up to the potential of the first.

Torchwood: Children of Earth

I just finished watching the latest installment of Torchwood. As MM put it in her comments for episode 4, intense!

One thing Torchwood has never done is shy away from difficult issues. One can say that it deliberately takes on the most difficult problems. "Children of Earth" takes this to a new high. As MM put it in her comments on her torrent for episode four, "Intense!".

In previous seasons, Torchwood has touched on the idea that there is no absolute good or absolute evil. Is it better for a mother to know nothing of the fate of her son if knowing the fate would destroy her emotionally? Is it better to know what goes bump in the night or continue in blissful ignorance? But this latest entry trumps everything to date.

Would you sacrifice a dozen children who would not be missed to save the world from a fatal pandemic? Is it right to cover up such an action? Would you kill to keep that dark a secret? Now what if it is not a dozen children who would be missed, but rather ten percent of the children of the Earth? What if failure to provide the children would signal the total destruction of humanity? Is it evil to agree to demands in such a circumstance, or is it unavoidable if survival is to be ensured?

Indeed, "Children of Earth" deals with the classic no-win scenario. Torchwood is persecuted (to the point of murder) by the powers that be to cover up a dark secret from the past, yet Torchwood is the only hope for the future. Even when the remnants of Torchwood play all their cards, they are still stymied, both by the invader and the powers that be. Indeed, right up to the last ten minutes of the final episode, it looks like the invaders will win.

Then, at the absolute last moment, a solution presents itself. But there is a catch. Jack Harkness will have to sacrifice one child to save the entire planet. Will he do it? That one child is his grandson! Can he do it? Can he do it with the child’s mother (his daughter) watching in terror? Does that make him an evil man or a good man caught with no options? In the end, he chooses to sacrifice his grandson to save the children of the Earth, though the emotional price is clear to see on his face.

Then, after the world is saved, we see the Prime Minister of the UK in conference. He agreed to the ten percent sacrifice. He agreed with the coverup. He agreed with the murder of Torchwood. But all through the events, he is constantly arranging events to cover his own ass. He is arranging, where possible, to take no responsibility for anything. To blame his underlings, or the Americans, or any other handy scapegoat. He shows no remorse at the end.

Throughout, there is the person of John Frobisher. Frobisher is a civil servant. A bureaucrat. But he is dedicated to his job. He is the one who suggests the cover-up. He serves as the representative to the invaders. But he makes a side deal to further the cover-up. He is horrified at the demands of the invaders but sees no alternative. In the end, to save his children from the fate he knows is coming, he murders them, their mother, and then commits suicide.

There are many other characters, major and minor, who come alive on screen during this emotional rollercoaster. Some act out of rational fear. Some act out of greed. Others act out of a desire for self-preservation. Some are baffled while others understand the full import of their actions. Some are clearly evil while others are clearly not. Most simply are.

Was John Frobisher an evil man for doing what he did? Or was he trapped by events that occured when he was a child? Unlike the Prime Minister, he does not mention that he could hardly be responsible for the events that were covered up. He merely does his job. He does not attempt to deflect responsibility. Indeed, his longtime assistant goes to great pains to convince a prisoner that John was a good man.

Was not the Prime Minister also trapped by events he could hardly be responsible for? Yet he is clearly intended as a villain, perhaps the true villain, of this story. His lack of remorse and consistent attempts to deflect responsibility show through. His character is the polar opposite of Frobisher’s. Frobisher’s assistant goes to great lengths to trap him, to make his true character show through. He is an evil man.

Both Frobisher and the Prime Minister agree that the demands of the invader must be met, the former with horror, the latter merely looking for someone else to be responsbile. The same action but at a different internal cost.

Harkness’s choice is both easier and harder. On the one hand, there is no choice if the sacrifice of one will save all. On the other hand, it is his own descendent he must sacrifice. For the Prime Minister, and Frobisher until near the end, the price is abstract, someone else’s children. Harkness makes the very hard choice and pays a crippling price for it. But he pays it where Frobisher bows out. Is it evil for Jack to make that sacrifice? Is he stronger than Frobisher for having done it? Braver? Colder?

"Children of Earth" examines these dilemmas and many more less weighty ones on many levels over the course of five hours. Like an onion, every layer examined reveals layers beneath. All the key players and many of the minor ones have layers which show upon close scrutiny, as do their choices.

All told, this latest entry in the Torchwood saga feels real, and its effect is all the more chilling for that.