Serial Experiments: Lain

You know how so much of anime has a naïve teenage protagonist with a lot of school drama, who gets powers, and saves the world? Well, Lain starts there and then veers wildly off, into Internet Protocols, simulationism, UFO/Gaea/psionics conjectures, secret societies, radical home computer upgrades, and not only doesn't save the world but there may never have been a world to save. There's also a lot of really great music; the OST and Cyberia mixes are big parts of my Coding Soundtracks playlist.

What I'm Watching: Kingdom S2

After a brief flashback to the first use of the resurrection flower against the invading Japanese, S2 picks right back up with the zombies out in daylight, and a fantastic retreating battle, and heroic sacrifices winnowing the cast a bit.

There's more straightforward conflict this season, since we know who the villains are (anyone named Cho). A little of what they'd previously done fills in backstory, and desperate measures against the Japanese make sense, but not so much why they're still doing it; ambition, sure, but hitching yourself to the Queen's clan or using the plague as a weapon are not things sane people do.

A cop with an impressive feather hat tries to investigate the Queen, and gets further than I'd expect from feudal investigators, but politics makes that entire subplot pointless. She isn't especially cunning, her plots and tricks are very blunt and obvious, but nobody can call her on it, and her impossibly loyal guards and court ladies go along with it.

The Crown Prince does more swordfighting this season, though mostly it's hacking up zombies instead of duels. The "Tiger Hunter" peasant with a gun amuses me, and he finally gets one backstory flashback, but he's low on dialogue.

Nurse Seo-Bi in any other era would be a boss, with the most valuable medical/murder tool ever and the cure for the zombie plague, but in feudal Korea she's just pushed around as a pawn, and treats entirely the wrong person. Half the plot could be avoided if she just told the Crown Prince what she knows earlier, and doesn't help the villains.

By E3 & E4, I'm really missing the zombies; there's too much Human backstabbing and just chasing around the countryside which is zombie-free except at the surrounded fortress. And some of the death scenes last a very long time, many minutes of weeping and flashbacks.

Finally by E5, we get some zombie action again, but it's taken forever. Zombies vs guy in toilet is always a great set piece. The "camera following unseen action behind a wall" scenes get annoying quick; I prefer to see the combats.

"People aren't screaming. The screams have stopped."
"What's going on?"

The plan in E6 relies on zombies not being able to climb, which eventually they do, an ice lake breaking in a way that it doesn't (ice is bouyant, so breaking it in one place doesn't shatter the entire lake).

The "7 years later" setup for the next season is a little heavy on tell-not-showing, but we have a new villain teaser at least.

I did get bored mid-season. Zombies, ever since Night of the Living Dead, have existed to put pressure on people, and keep a plot advancing fast. Without the zombies, you just have people whining at each other, making too-elaborate plots, and they don't even have to stay in the house/castle. With zombies, you get desperation and quick, bad decisions in enclosed spaces.


What I'm Watching: BoJack Horseman

Finally finished BoJack Horseman's final sixth season, which could've been just 3 eps without any loss. Just endless character vamping; not even development, because they can't develop further and there's no arc, just everyone gets a pony and a birthday cake courtesy of the writers, except BoJack who continues to fuck up.

Season 3 was really the peak of the show, and would've been better if they'd wrapped up seasons 4-6 in season 4.

Disliked the supposedly emotional songs, which in previous seasons had been a little trite but fine, this one it's heavy-handed and mediocre lounge-pop.

The death dinner show, "The View From Halfway Down", was great, perfect, the kind of closure and horror of death we all need from this, except that it dragged on forever and I loathe BJ's family.

None of the people who get their lives together in S6 are capable of doing that, every one of them would be a terror to live with. OK, Mr Peanutbutter, sure, he's an oblivious narcissistic asshole so he's capable of happiness because of it. But Diane's not capable of not wrecking her life; control-freak Princess Carolyn's not capable of not overmanaging control-freak Judah, that'd last 10 days if they're lucky; Todd's attention span is slightly shorter than the lifespan of the little people he's supposed to be taking care of.

I honestly expected more of a "BJ is driven into the desert and digs his own grave" or just end the death dinner show in death. Maybe a funeral closer? But you can't put a dozen people pissing on his grave in an animated show, even one for adults. And killing him would prevent the inevitable revival series in 3 years.

★★★½☆ for the show as a whole, ★★★★½ for bits of it, please don't bring it back.

What I'm Watching: BLAME!

BLAME! was a manga by Tsutomu Nihei from the late '90s/early '00s, like the result of listening to the Terminator soundtrack and Front Line Assembly and drawing that. A weird loner named Killy with an overpowered gravity gun, wanders an infinitely large ruined city, infested with Exterminators that want to kill all the unauthorized Humans, as he searches for someone with the Net Terminal Gene which would allow Humans to connect to the city again. It's bitter and mostly silent, harsh industrial lines and weird kabuki-masked spidery bots and fake people.

It's not quite "cyberpunk", because it's not the street finding new uses for (military-corporate) technology, but techno-savages trying to survive the street killing them. Cyber-apocalyptic, like Terminator's future, Screamers, or Hardware.

What I didn't know is there was a movie made, available on Netflix!

And, uh, it's the manga. The point of view characters are Human survivors in a village, and why they were mostly safe (but dying out) until Killy shows up is the main plot. The city is as brutal and unliveable as the manga, and the technical scenes are fantastic. Killy is quiet and blank, because he knows they're screwed and they don't have what he wants, but he'll help as long as it's practical and he might get some advantage over Safeguard. Very slight nitpicks: There's only a couple of bot designs instead of the rampant cyberization of Human and near-Human and the whole environment of the manga. There's a plot twist I didn't see any clues for, but I might've spaced out at some run-and-scream bit. There's a lack of discussion of the nature and motives of Cibo, that I think was also needed. Maybe the Man in Black Rides Off Into the Sunset ending and denouement is a little trite for the manga which is so harsh and unforgiving. But for anime adaptation of an impossibly harsh and inhuman source material, I've never seen better.


What I'm Maybe Watching: Omniscient

Brazilian show about pervasive personal drone (annoying little robot bees that don't need to recharge?) surveillance and a murder that somehow isn't recorded, but the premises are so stupid it Black Mirrors itself:

  1. Surveillance footage is impossible for humans to watch and held by a trustworthy AI. What government would let that happen?
  2. AI is still somehow Human-programmed by 2 whole programmers & a couple interns. As opposed to the hundreds or thousands on less complex project teams IRL. That's convenient for the plot which has to obviously point at one of these programmers.

Girl protagonist (Carla Salle) is super cute, tho. Gidget/Amelie/Audrey Hepburn type.

So I may watch another to see if it sinks further into Black Mirror/The Scary Door territory.

What I'm Watching: What Did Jack Do?, Isekai Quartet, Overlord

What Did Jack Do?: David Lynch sits in a barren room and interviews a monkey (with terrible Conan O'Brien quality fake mouth dubbing). What eventually comes out is a broken heart sob story, a mediocre lounge song, and an arrest on motive but no evidence. Jack won't be serving hard time on this. Dialogue's pretty erratic, long pauses and non-sequiturs, so I suspect Lynch was either on something or doing a cut-up or some other non-rational writing process. The setting is supposed to be a train station, but it looks like a disused back room with a white light panel, which is what it is; there isn't even any foley to suggest location. The waitress with their coffee is the only other actor, and has barely two lines, and neither touch their coffee. If it wasn't Lynch, nobody would watch this.

I've been pretty bummed out by recent anime and Crunchyroll in particular for the last couple years, there just isn't much new except slice-of-life-kiddies-with-powers shows. Anime can draw and be anything, but in practice much of it is garbage for teenagers so dull-witted they can't picture anything except themselves.

Isekai Quartet is a mockery of that. Chibi versions of characters of four isekai (Narnia type secondary worlds) shows, KonoSuba and RE:Zero (which are all but indistinguishable), Saga of Tanya the Evil (a good but very grim show), and Overlord (which I had not previously been aware of), all find a shiny red button with no label. Idiots push buttons. And they find themselves in… something like our world, but not. With a creepy harlequin teacher who says they must "experience school life" and "it'll be fuuuuuun".

However inappropriate for the characters, the classroom is a good structure for making these weird dumb characters interact. Tanya is paranoid but smart, Ainz Ooal Gown is a creepy lich but actually quite reasonable, and the idiots of the two dumb isekai wreak havoc and fail to play nicely with their classmates. I loathed Aqua in KonuSuba, and she's the whipping boy (however much the paladin would prefer to be).

As a dozen 12-minute episodes a season, there's no room for sitting around whining or complex arcs, only A-plot and parody of each show's tropes. Light and stupid entertainment, but less stupid than some of the source material. I'm less impressed with the first 2 eps of S2, with almost straight, "sincere" takes on some kiddie videogame anime.

Overlord: Based on the previous, I gave this a shot, and it's going well. The guildmaster of a VR MMO guild for monster players, formerly dozens but now there's just this one lich, plays with the artifacts and NPCs of their fortress on the final night before shutdown. I know the feeling, I always ride servers down if I'm playing on maintenance nights, and join the final night parties when servers are shut off.

And then… it doesn't log him out. The game world is real. And the NPCs are real, and so very needy.

There's some fantasy adventuring business, but pleasantly different being the antiheroes, which I prefer. And the psychological profile of a man slowly going nuts in a new body with different needs than Human. When he abandons his Human name, Momonga, and takes the name of his magic artifact Ainz Ooal Gown, he steps over a line.

★★★½☆ Early to say, but enjoyable.

What I'm Watching: Unbelievable

A police procedural about a Washington/Colorado area rapist, adapted from an NPR piece. I'll say up front I watched this in a couple sittings, it kept my attention mostly, but also I didn't like it and it's not entirely worth watching.

What's mostly unbelievable are the caricatures. This show may be proof that artificial intelligence or aliens are here: Nothing Human would be able to write something this in-Human and artificial. As a case it's interesting; as writing it's bizarre.

First ep, the unbelieved victim is cute but fragile-looking, and so turns out to be a complete flake. First with poor recall of a traumatic event, then folding under hostile interrogation. The fucking pigs who take her statement and harass her into recanting are the worst kind of obnoxious honkie state-sanctioned gun-thugs, rather than any kind of police; they have no personalities or lives beyond this. Her ex foster parents are treacherous, the affectless, sociopathic stepmom slanders her to the pigs, the foster dad is played by Brent Sexton, the traitor sheriff from Justified, scumbag ex-LAPD (making him a double scumbag) in Bosch, one of my favorite heavy thugs in anything he plays, here he's almost normal just being a rotten unsupportive asshole. "It's nothing personal" he says calmly shooing off a foster daughter clearly in a distressed panic.

Second ep, the perfect victim is inhumanly steady (massively, morbidly overweight, but nobody ever brings it up), talked to the rapist and got a full description and some personal info. The nice cop on this case is a woman, and cares, and uses good psychology and is diligent in her investigation, never interrogates… Much of the ep is the nice cop's personal life. Just impossibly smart for a cop, and sweet within limits, total Mary Sue.

Third ep, tough bitch cop in Colorado can't accept help or "no", can't apologize, and acts like Dirty Harry on a bad hair day. Another victim with the same MO, this time a fairly unhelpful middle-aged black woman, but maybe the first non-caricature person? The mathematician friend of the steady victim is an unbelievable asshole machine-person, because of course that's a mathematician caricature. Flake victim from first ep is being harassed online now, apparently unaware you can turn off a phone and don't need to let people post on your badly-TV-whitewashed Facebook page; or even have one. But the caricature is that online harassment can't be escaped, so this show leans 200% into it destroying her already shitty life. Her nice not-quite-boyfriend is friendly and nonthreatening but of course that's because he's religious, not because he's got a personality.

Fourth ep, they've finally gone to the Feebies for help. I had a weird reaction to Agent Billy Taggart's name; turns out it's the same as Marky Wahlberg's dirty cop in Broken City (a bad but not unwatchable drama), probably no relation but weird coincidence. Additional coincidence, slight "what?" reaction every time I hear it, flake girl's PD lawyer is Mr Hughes. Finally another non-caricature appears, a college student I thought at first might be a rape victim as well, with as nervous as he was, but instead ratted out a college campus rapist, who is the very picture of a douchebro campus rapist, zero effort.

Eps 5-7 are straight police procedural, interrupted by flake girl repelling everyone she knows, and telling a therapist about surviving in zombie shows. Nice cop and Dirty Grace finally catch the rapist, have some character development at long last; not a lot, but they're less walking outlines now. There's a lot of "all cops are wifebeaters" and "men have no idea that rape is traumatic and urgent" which came directly from a very special episode of Law & Order: SVU. Otherwise the show finally found its stride, something it's good at.

Ep 8 finally they discover flake girl was telling the truth, the fucking pig has to face his fuckup and torture of the girl. Which I don't believe, from the zero character development he ever got, that he's capable of; a real fucking pig would fight evidence kicking and screaming. Court goes perfectly and takes no time, which is impossible. Perp says he "knows he can't be out there and was never going to stop", which is not what convicted rapists usually say. Then flake girl gets everything she wants and buys a very unsafe car and has a series of fantasy closure moments.

I almost hate this. When there's procedural, it's good; when it's robotically repeating trite lines from paper-thin characters, it's the worst shitshow on streaming. Nobody involved in writing or directing this is a Human, or has ever met a Human, or even heard recordings of Humans speaking.


What I'm Watching: Dracula (2020)

Three 90-minute episode/movies on Netflix, each in a very different style.

The undead makeup is pretty good, there's not a lot of crazy special effects or fights, but lots of latex gags. There's a wolf transformation scene using some latex and raspberry jam, and some mannequin head gags. Fun practical effects, not too much CGI bullshit. The sets are great, the castle's a maze of twisty passages, like the Winchester house built in stone.

E1 is much like the first part of the novel, with interrogation instead of letters. Johnny Harker (John Heffernan) awakes in a convent, looking like the walking dead. Sister Agatha Van Helsing (Dolly Wells) interrogates him about his improbable escape from Dracula's (Claes Bang) castle. Dracula's a charming middle-aged monster, Van Helsing's a bad nun, but an excellent monster hunter, Johnny's the same wanker he is in the book. This gets progressively more horrifying, with one of the best vampire confrontations I've ever seen.

E2, Dracula goes on a boat ride, with a murder mystery aboard the Demeter. Fun, drawn out in a way I've never seen in a vampire film, but the other actors and characters aren't great; the one-handed quartermaster(?) and the captain are just stereotypes but competent. They were clearly trying to make Dr Sharma into a new protagonist, but we don't get enough of his backstory except unpleasant flashbacks, and he doesn't accomplish as much as Van Helsing. Agatha is conspicuously missing for most of it, which is a shame. The end of E2 genuinely surprised me a couple of times, which happens rarely enough in anything I need to call it out. I get all the "twists" in everything, I know every genre convention, and this one was smarter than I am.

Alas, E3 was an incredible disappointment, don't watch it. SPOILERS ahead:

It's not a vampire Agatha who greets Dracula on a modern beach, but a descendent working for a Johnathan Harker Foundation. Then a lawyer Renfield gets the mass murderer released, and immediately helps plan more murders; the Foundation could at least have fried Dracula then and there. Then there's a lot of Kids Today™️ including this Lucy Westenra (100 years apart from her girlfriend Mina), night-clubbing and fucking around. Dracula immediately adapts to Tinder/Grindr/Postmates delivering victims to him, but the writers are unaware that police could track missing persons thru contacts in the apps. Lucy's fate should be a warning, if you're engaged, don't let someone who's not your fiancé suck you.

In the first ep, and somewhat in the second, there's a deeper question about the undead, vampires, and what Dracula is. Why do so many of the myths seem to work on him?

Are they going metaphysical? Reveal a shocking truth behind Christianity, such as Jesus was a vampire (I've used that along with the Merovingian conspiracy in RPGs before)? Or do science & reason win and it's a virus, like Ultraviolet? No such luck. E3 has the most vapid excuse for an answer I've ever heard, everyone involved in writing that irrational twaddle should die of shame.

The first 2 eps are two of the best vampire movies in years. Absolutely nothing of value happens in E3.

★★★★½ for E1-2, ☆☆☆☆☆ for E3.

What I'm Watching: The Witcher

It is the most magical time of the year, so time to watch the new shitty fantasy series.

The show alternates between two almost totally separate shows; this season is based on prequel short stories, so apparently nobody will meet anyone until the end and the videogame starts.

Moody almost monochrome Witcher scenes where Geralt[sic, Polish can't spell "Gerald"?] broods and delivers Batman lines, refuses to do anything for anyone, but is clearly so desperate for coin he'll fight monsters on spec ("Kikimora" here being a weird swampy spider-ogre thing, rather than the Slavic mythological one which is a pair of good and evil house fairies). He meets a sexy witch in a bar who keeps the locals from murdering him and buys him beer, but he runs off with a little girl who kills rats to get a job with a magician. Who has a fairy fountain full of naked dryads, and wants him to kill the sexy witch from the bar.

Much brighter but still washed-out medieval political shit, battlefields run nothing like a real medieval battlefield (no honor guard for the queen, who leads from the front, lot of Lord of the Rings kind of cgi crowd shit). Tiny tomboy princess is about to be heir to a dead kingdom. The "Nilfgardians" are apparently black-armored psychopaths who don't take prisoners, torture victims.

I played a bit of the first Witcher game, but it doesn't explain much of the background. It's some generic pseudo-Europe called "The Continent" (or whatever that is in Polish). The Nilfgardians there are a more normal Holy Roman Empire pastiche, even leaving subject kings in place.

Why is Geralt[sic] a "mutant"? Allegedly 80 girls born in an eclipse are all mutants and evil, which is either medieval nonsense or factual description of magic world, and I can't tell which. But what's his excuse? Magic seems to be rare and super powerful, but nobody really minds its use, which seems at odds with the "he's different KILL HIM" attitude to Geralt[sic], the girls, monsters, and Elves.

We finally get a real fight scene with the Witcher, and it's pretty good; fight choreography and editing portrays a thing far faster and tougher than Human like a high-level videogame character just murderizing all the normal thugs, and fighting evenly against another mutant.

"They created me just as they created you! We're not so different!"


Now there's another storyline: Hunchback Pig-Girl can teleport to magic fairy-land, and gets bought by a witch for half the price of a pig. No worries, tho, someday she'll become Yennefer[sic] the Witch and make herself pretty, because only poor & non-magic people are ugly in the Witcher. But first she has to go to Shitty Hogwarts, which is a series of caves and stone classrooms with a loading screen showing two towers and a bridge for context; there's no scenes set where you would see the matte painting/loading screen behind anyone. Total set budget: $50 for plaster, scrap wood, and a veritable mountain of plastic skulls & bones.

We finally get back to Geralt[sic], remember the main plot? Hunting "devils" who steal grain for a leather sack of coins, which is suspiciously exactly how much he negotiated for. Zero effort was made to make anything plausible, it's just like the videogame. Ah, I love a good kill/fetch quest. We get a lot of sitting around hearing about Elves and how Humans have massacred them. Which never makes sense to me: If Elves are a superior, magical, immortal race, how are mere trash monkeys able to kill them?

The princess runs away from the Evil Dark Army, and is taken in by stupid refugees who don't realize she's clean and pretty and therefore royalty; they are of course dirty and ugly because they're Working-Class with Ambitions, and therefore doomed. Their Dwarf slave doesn't like the situation, but nobody likes him either. Well, I like him more after [SPOILER]. The princess has zero personality (or the actress simply couldn't even read lines), she's a plot coupon that moves thru scenes on rails.

I'm perplexed by the period this is supposed to be in. The Witcher game is sort of medieval 12th C Poland? But there's post-Renaissance bards with 18th C or so lutes, singing about potions for abortions. I'm shocked I haven't seen more anachronistic technology with the casual disinterest the show takes in period drama.

The currency situation is bugging me, too. In two episodes we've had marks, ducats, orins, and florins? Marks are German and only in Shitty Hogwarts land, but the other three are within a day's ride of the starting forest and are Italian. Why aren't there any zloty, if this is so Polish? Why is any of this historical Europe if it's a completely different fantasy world?!

Well, so far this is about on par with Uwe Boll's Bloodrayne, but lacks the star power (Michael Madsen, Ben Kingsley, Meat Loaf, and a dozen Romanian whores!). All this has is Henry Cavill (the doughy, vapid, murderous Zack Snyder Superman) who does fine standing around growling, and he can fight well, but he's barely even present for "acting", he just hits his marks and says his lines. Lars Mikkelsen (Mads' wuss brother, who we last saw in the original Danish The Killing 13 years ago) is sort of amusing and cuddly as the magician Slartibartfast or whatever; but I think they wanted menacing and mystical, which he is not.

★★☆☆☆ script, production, and acting quality, ★★★½☆ for fight scenes and entertaining stupidity. Totally going to keep watching, this is a nice fun trainwreck show.