r6ZueZjnmZ7B2W9HGZxNVvrBtMg BDVR: February 2016

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Monday, February 29, 2016

L: Change The WorLd

This is it. The last (So far) of the live-action Death Note movies, and man, oh man is this one hell of a damn good movie!
Ever since I finished the Death Note comics years and years ago, I thought it would be great to see a spin-off series revolving around L solving crimes before the Kira case began. That's part of the reason why I like the novel Death Note: Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases, because it's a sample of L's work before the Kira case began.
Spoilers for the movie inbound, if you're okay with that (I don't see why you would be, but if you are) keep reading. If not, get all three live-action Death Note films and watch them one right after another. It's well worth your time.
If you want to know at what point in the series timeline this movie is set, that's a complicated answer. You see, the movie starts off before L joins the Kira investigation, and then transitions to the climax of said investigation, before finally settling into a groove after the investigation wrapped up, but before the end of The Last Name.
As the title would suggest, this movie is very L-centric, following him through the last twenty days of his life before his death at the end of The Last Name. L even echoes the title of that movie, saying that his name shall be the last one written when writing it down.
Meanwhile, in Thailand a deadly viral-weapon has been unleashed on the village from Kickboxer (Seriously, it looks like it's right next to the ruins Kurt Sloane trained in.) and people are dying left and right. What appears to be the US Military show up (They're in Humvees, they're answering to what appears to be an American general and they're speaking English with American accents) take a bunch of blood samples, determine that the virus has gone beyond curability and decide to firebomb the village, but not before one of L's undercover operatives, F flees the scene with a boy who hasn't been affected by the virus. He manages to get far enough away to give the boy his pendant and a code to contact Watari with before being blown up by the helicopter. Apparently the virus is so potent they can't let anyone get away.
In Japan, a girl named Maki is seeing her father at the Japanese equivalent of the CDC for homework and an injection. The father, Dr. Kimihiko Nikaido is working with Dr. Kimiko Kujo on a sample of the virus taken from the village. He'd tested it a day ago, but it changed radically in the time since then. Apparently it had become immune to whatever he'd had in mind for a cure, or whatever inoculation there might have been since then.
We see Watari's death once again, and it's not any less sad than it was before. L wraps up the Kira case, informs the other operatives from Whammy's house of the situation, burns the Death Notes, and buries Watari. With twenty days left to live, L spends his time solving case after case after case, burning through hundreds of cases from dozens of countries in under a week. Eventually, he comes back to the release of the viral weapon. He knows F is dead, but he doesn't have much other information, at least until the boy from Thailand calls up the investigation headquarters with F's access code. L has him airlifted out of the country, and tested for the virus. When he comes back negative, L takes him under his wing to figure out what's happened. After bonding over their mutual love of food, the boy lets L look at the pendant F gave him. Inside, L finds a Micro-SD card inside, with video taken by F on it. This gives L a better look at what happened in Thailand, and about how the virus works. This also reveals who performed the attack, a terrorist organization called Blue Ship.
Meanwhile, Dr. Nikaido gives his daughter, Maki another injection, some new homework, a box with a syringe in it, and a pendant similar to the one F had. She leaves for home, but goes to see her father at work later that day. Unfortunately for her, Blue Ship is raiding the lab looking for a cure her dad made. During the raid, it's revealed that Dr. Kujo, Nikaido's lab-partner is the one in charge of Blue Ship, and the one who created the virus. Nikaido destroys the cure he'd been working on, as well as the enhanced virus, but he dies in the process, to keep them from using his daughter against him. Unfortunately for his daughter, she sees him dying of the virus while simultaneously burning to death in the lab. Fun childhood memories!
She dashes out of the lab and gets into a taxi, giving the driver a list of addresses off the memory card in the pendent her dad gave her. Eventually, she gets to L's headquarters from the Kira investigation, and gives him the SD-card inside the pendent.
Dr. Kujo and Blue Ship tear apart the lab looking for where Nikaido stashed the data on the vaccine, since a bio-weapon can't be used or sold without having an inoculation or cure handy, otherwise the administrator of the weapon would get infected and die.
Kujo, a former member of Whammy's House contacts L under the pretense of asking for help to cure the virus, but L notices her flunkies in the reflection of a mirror on her desk. Kujo remembers something she saw from Maki's homework, and realizes that the secret message inside it was "Watari." From that she deduces Maki must have taken up refuge with L, so she has her team raid the former headquarters of the Kira task-force.
Maki goes out to confront the people responsible for her fathers death, intending to infect them with the viral weapon, but apparently the shotgun-wielding idiot of the group seems to have forgotten that the virus is transmissable through blood and attempts to shoot her before L kicks his ass and flees the base with her and the boy. On the way out, they meet with an American FBI Agent named Hideaki Suruga sent to retrieve the Death Notes, who helps them flee in a crepe truck that doubles as L's mobile base.
As they're leaving, L wipes the local server in the old task-force headquarters so Blue Ship can't get into his files. On the way out, L ditches the crepe van so Blue Ship can chase after Suruga while he takes the kids in a different direction. He goes to meet with Dr. Koichi Matsudo, one of Nikaido's lab assistants, but Kujo gets to the media to tell them Maki has the virus, so they are forced to proceed via bicycle the rest of the way. At one point they stop by an open-air market to buy some supplies and then lay low in a maid cafe while L loads up on sugar and tinkers with the stuff he bought at the market. They then make their way to Matsudo's lab, and he begins to analyze the virus in an attempt to figure it out. L deduces that Maki must have some sort of immunity to the virus, either naturally or through her father's machinations. Since the virus needs glucose to replicate, it's feeding on Maki's blood-sugar. As far as they can tell, the virus isn't contagious as long as her immune-system can combat it, but the way the virus mutates could become active at any time, and Matsudo can't figure out how to deconstruct the virus. As they're doing this, the boy solves an equation from Maki's homework, coming to the numbers of thirteen and eleven. L extrapolates this to the letters MK, and he and Dr. Matsudo come to the conclusion that this refers to the MK protein, Midkine. Midkine promotes cell-growth and regeneration, as well as the development of new and reinforcement of existing blood vessels. The virus in question is a cross between Influenza and the Ebolavirus. For those unfamiliar with the Ebola virus disease, it's an infectious virus which causes the breakdown of blood-vessels and immune-cells. It also causes issues with clotting, the lymphatic system, and the immune system. Since Midkine helps propagate the growth of new cells, it can help with the symptoms of the virus, and stave off death. No, that's not just the movie science talking, I actually looked this stuff up. As far as I can tell, they're not just spinning science-fiction here. It actually seems like the Midkine protein might work as part of a vaccine in this situation. I've left some links for you guys at the bottom of the review so you can check things out for yourself.
The problem is that while Midkine might help, they don't have a way of synthesizing the protein at the moment. However, L figures out that boy has an elevated production of Midkine (Just gotta hope this doesn't lead to cancer. Elevated Midkine levels tend to be associated with cancerous cell-growth.) and that's why he survived the infection of his village. They confirm this with a blood-test, and this allows them to fast-track production of a vaccine.
Maki takes L and the boy onto the roof for a picnic, and there we have some very touching moments between the three characters.
After this symbolic goodbye, Maki calls Dr. Kujo in an attempt to infect her with the virus and kill her, but Kujo's knife-wielding psychopathic sidekick grabs her and they take her onto a plane so they can infect as many people as possible so they can reduce the population of the world and save the planet from mankinds overpopulation. Yes, Blue Ship is one of those groups. They'd get along fairly well with Victor Von Doom from Fant4stic.
L finds Maki's backpack after noticing she's missing, and considering that he knows Kujo doesn't have a vaccine, and considering Blue Ship's manifesto, he figures the plan must be to infect an international flight. From here, he finds out which plane has had to host an emergency patient, and determines what plane they're on from there. With a sack of vaccine syringes, L meets back up with Agent Suruga, and they manage to ground the plane. Unfortunately, Kujo has her team hijack the plane and attempt to fly off anyways, but L jumps aboard the plane with the vaccine. He manages to stall Kujo long enough for all of the hijackers to become incapacitated, and he decides to give her a second chance by giving her a dose of the vaccine. As passengers and hijackers alike are dying, L tells the crew to vaccinate everyone while he hits the air-breaks on the plane to keep it from crashing into the airport. Maki wants to kill Kujo, but L talks her out of it, and they part ways. Maki going to the hospital and L to Whammy's House with the boy, whom he calls Near.
I rushed the summary towards the end, but I did that because I didn't want to spend any more time crying than I had to, because the end of this movie was incredibly sad.
So, all in all this was a great movie. If you wanted to see more of Matsuyama Ken'ichi's amazing performance as L, this is the movie for you. If you wanted to see L working on other cases, interacting with other characters, and being generally bad-ass, then you definitely want to see this film. I would like to stress, however, that you absolutely need to watch the first two live-action Death Note films first.
I have to say, it's a rare case that I see a trilogy where each subsequent installment is legitimately better than the previous one. In this case, this film actually fixed most of the major issues I had with the first two films, primarily the incredibly sparse soundtrack. According to the credits, Kawai Kenji, the composer for the previous two movies returned to compose this soundtrack, and I have to say that he nailed this soundtrack. This movie has the kind of soundtrack the previous two films should have had. They knew when they needed music to enhance the scene and they knew when the soundtrack needed to be quiet. In that regard, they took a lesson from the animated series
Unfortunately, the ending theme-song is a licensed track from Lenny Kravitz, titled I'll Be Waiting. If only they'd used an original track, possibly a slow piano rendition of L's theme from the animated series, it would have been even better.
As a detective film, the intrigue is top notch. As a thriller, the suspense is brilliant. As a character piece about L, it's beautiful. Surprisingly, it works well as a horror film too, owing to the fact that the director is Nakata Hideo, best known as the director of The Ring series. I especially love the effects in this film. Barring an appearance by a badly CGI'd Ryuk, the effects are brilliant. As far as I can tell, Nakata primarily relied upon practical effects for those infected by the disease, and they look pretty convincing. When I found out that the third movie in the trilogy had been handed off to another director, I was fairly dubious, since that doesn't usually turn out all that well. After having seen this film, however, I can safely say that Nakata Hideo was a good choice. He wrings every bit of emotion out of every scene and then some, delivering a poignant, sad film that doubles as a pulse-pounding action-thriller. Kobayashi Hirotoshi wrote the screenplay, and he didn't miss a single beat in his writing. In conjunction with the awesome direction and amazing performances from the cast, it all comes together into one awesome, sad film.
Light Yagami is always going to be a hard act to follow, but Blue Ship delivers as an ensemble act. Hatsune Misawa (Played by Satō Megumi) could have carried an entire movie on her own, especially if she'd gotten her hands on a Death Note. She's so insane it's both entertaining to watch and fairly unsettling as well. Daisuke Matoba (Played by Takashima Masanobu) and Kimiko Kujo (Played by Kudoh
Youki) both handle the roles of charismatic leader, with Kujo actually seeming slightly more threatening than Matoba most of the time. Not that Matoba is a slacker, he actually stabbed his boss to death early on in the film. It's actually kind of hard to believe that there could be anyone, even a group of people who could seem like a threat when compared to Light Yagami, but Blue Ship somehow managed to pull it off. Had things gone a different way, they might have come up against Light at some point. They might have even proven to be formidable foes for a while.
Now we get to the minor criticisms I have and points i'd like to make. Take a look at the screenshot to the left, and look at Maki's hair. It's cut exactly like Mello's is in the animated series and comics. However, Mello isn't in this film. That's something I'd just like to throw out there.
Now we get to the one other issue (Aside from the licensed music) this film shares with the previous two. What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Near? For me, it's his shaggy white hair. Take a look at the poster above, at the little boy in the lower left of the image, right below Watari. That's Fukuda Narushi, and you'll notice that his hair isn't white, and it's cut straight around his head, like Gohan's haircut during the Frieza-saga of Dragon Ball Z. It's a small thing, but if they'd dyed his hair white at the very least it would have been a little better. They might have been trying to preserve a twist at the end, since they never said his name until the end, but come on. He's dressed like Near, he acts like Near, he's a genius like Near, and his favorite toy is the exact same kind of robot that Near always had with him in the comics. There's no way this kid was ever going to be anyone but Near, so they might as well have just gone straight for the white hair. It's not like Death Note had all that many odd hair-colors the way most anime does, so it was incredibly unusual for Near to have such white hair. It made him stand out the way Misa's bright yellow hair made her stand out, or how the color-shifting in the animated series helped differentiate the characters.
In the end though, this was a brilliant film. It was well-written, well-directed, well-acted, and incredibly well-made all around. It's also incredibly sad, so if you watch it you should get a handkerchief ready.
I'll give it a 9.9* rating. Now that I'm done with the live-action movies (At least until the sequel to this film comes out), I'm going to attempt to find the Death Note musical, and the novelization of this film before moving on to the live-action television series. Meanwhile, expect some gaming reviews in the interim. I'll see you then!

Cover image from Amazon.com. Screenshots taken by me.
Citations for the science:
http://jb.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/132/3/359
http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12630-014-0257-z
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4197285/
Smith, Tara (2005). Ebola (Deadly Diseases and Epidemics). Chelsea House Publications. ISBN 0-7910-8505-8.
http://www.nature.com/modpathol/journal/v13/n10/full/3880195a.html
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11048798

Monday, February 22, 2016

Death Note II: The Last Name

In November of 2006, six months after the release of the first film, Warner Bros released the second film in the live-action Death Note trilogy. Considering these movies were released in the same year, the fact that this film picks up immediately after the first one ended, and the last movie had a promo for this film at the end, I feel like it's a safe bet to say these movies were shot back-to-back.
Spoiler warning for the movie, the comics, the last movie, the animated movies, and the animated series. Gonna be covering a lot here.
Light leverages the death of his girlfriend, Shiori, in order to join the Kira task-force.
Rather than having some kind of gap between Misa being saved by Gelus and her getting the Death Note, they just show Gelus saving her life and then Rem dropping the Death Note in front of her.
Logically speaking, there should have been some kind of delay, since the Death Note was in Gelus's hands when he died. If it'd fallen through the portal to the human-realm it would have made a bit more sense, but then why would Rem be hanging around?
Like Visions of a God, all of the emotion has been taken out of Gelus's death. For some strange reason, Rem doesn't even converse with Gelus in this film, and she's doesn't even show up in his death-scene, even though she was there in the comics.
At least I presume Rem is a she, I know she's female in the comics and animated series, but here she's voiced by Ikehata Shinnosuke, AKA "Peter", who's rather obviously male. His Wikipedia page says he has an androgynous appearance, but his voice is plenty masculine. He could have played Ryuk, easily.
From here on out, there's not much that's different from the comics or the animated series. The Second Kira arc begins with Sakura TV getting two, not four tapes. Rather than being a trash TV tabloid, Sakura TV is a serious network with serious news for some reason.
Take a look at the guy in the screenshot on the left. That's Demegawa. Yes, he's incredibly skinny in this movie.
Staff researcher, Kiyomi Takada wants to take the lead on the Kira story, but Demegawa gives it to his mistress, the current anchor.
They begin the broadcast, and Misa kills an anti-Kira news-anchor from another channel to prove she's got the power to kill. In order to cut down the runtime and some of the more long-winded gambits, all of the succeeding Kira tapes have been compressed into one. Unfortunately, that takes away from the mystery of the situation, since Misa basically just dumps a bunch of relevant information into the lap of the public without much in the way of build-up. She straight-up says she's the second Kira rather than sorta pretending to be the original Kira before the task-force sends her a message from the real Kira.
For some reason, Mogi goes out (And I only know he was Mogi because they said his name.) and attempts to stop the broadcast. Rather than driving his car up to the doors of the building and trying to get in that way, he shows up at the festival several yards away from the door, and in front of the cameras filming the impromptu pro-Kira demonstration outside. Naturally, this gets him killed, along with a bunch of other police-officers. This leads the task-force to the conclusion that it probably is a second Kira and not just the first Kira throwing up a smokescreen, since the killings don't match the original Kira's method of operation. Plus, the original Kira wouldn't have been nearly so sloppy.
Since nobody can approach the scene without getting killed (And because Sayu was at the Sakura TV festival for some reason and decides to dis Kira on live TV) Kamen Rider Dad shows up, busts the TV wall outside of Sakura TV for no reason, destroys their cameras and shoots the feed cables. Then, Soichiro takes off his helmet for some reason, apparently not realizing that Misa could be watching from binoculars (You know, like she was in the comics and animated series) and could then kill him without his helmet on. Fortunately for him, Misa was watching from the television in her dressing-room, and is unable to continue active killings when the feed goes down.
Unlike the comics and the animated series, the police aren't using opaque riot-shields or darkened riot-helmets. Considering nothing happened to Soichiro, that's not as stupid as it seems on the surface, but it's still pretty stupid.
While this whole sequence is pretty bad-ass, it's not nearly as bad-ass as it was in the comics and the animated series, since Soichiro's heart-attack has been written out of this version of the story as well. Overall, I'd say this could have been improved by not having Mogi run into the crowd for no reason, not having Soichiro remove his helmet, and by having the police wearing darkened gear. And if this was all taking place at night, but that's a bit of a minor quibble.
Light goes to the television station to get Sayu home, and Misa notices that she can see his name, but not his life-span. This tips her off to him being Kira, so she decides to look him up.
Here's where the film gets much stupider than it should be. Rather than having Light impersonate Kira to tell Misa to stop what she's doing, they have Light addressing Misa directly, as himself, with his name and face fully on display for some stupid reason. Telling her what she's doing is wrong. After the real Kira killed Lind L. Taylor for doing the exact same thing! At this point, Light doesn't even know about the thing where Death Note users with the Shinigami eyes can recognize other Death Note users by the fact that they can't see their lifespan, so why would he agree to put his life in danger like this? Just sending out a message as Kira would be so much smarter!
Later on, Misa shows up at Light's house to profess her love for him, since he killed the guy who murdered her family in one of his many epic-writing rampages. Using the knowledge that she has the shinigami eyes, Light sets up a meeting between her and L. Considering Light is already enrolled in To-Oh at this point, L can't enroll with him to keep tabs, so L just shows up in the middle of one of the lectures Light's attending wearing a stupid mask for some reason. Then, for some stupider reason, L lets Misa take off his mask when they meet. I know he's supposedly a huge fan of hers, but I don't know if that was a lie or the truth, considering L's character.
Immediately afterwards, L has Misa abducted under suspicion of being the second Kira and held in custody.
For some stupid reason, Misa doesn't have a blindfold on during most of her confinement, despite the fact that they don't know how Kira kills except that he needs a name and a face, but since they suspect the second Kira of only needing a face to kill, they should logically have a blindfold on her at all times, so she can't see anything.
Because Misa isn't exactly as mentally sturdy as Light is, Rem is afraid Misa will crack, so she tasks Light with freeing her. Thus Light puts into place one of his most famous gambits, getting himself locked up and creating a new Kira to cover his tracks. Except in this case, the third Kira is Kiyomi Takada, and not Higuchi. Yes, you heard me right.
Something I want to go back to before moving ahead is that Rem explains to Light directly how Misa got her Death Note as opposed to telling it to Misa and Misa telling Light how to kill a Shinigami in an attempt to give him enough information to make her valuable to him.
Light instructs Rem to drop off Misa's Death Note with someone who will use it, and buries his in the forest. As Takada is burning her rival's ID badge (Seriously, who lights one candle instead of just using a metal or ceramic container if they wanna burn something?) Rem drops off Misa's Death Note. This seems a little strange, since Light's whole gambit towards the end of this arc was to be able to keep his Death Note close to him after the plot came to fruition so he could have Rem bonded to him for his final plot against L. Plus, his Death Note was the one with all the rules written in it, so it was easy to add in the two fake rules he needed to clear himself and Misa of suspicion, as well as keep the Kira task-force from destroying the Death Note.
After a while, Light submits himself to being locked up under the guise of thinking he might have some sort of black-suited Spider-Man relationship with Kira, with Kira killing people while Light was asleep. Thus, Light is locked up with Misa for less time than they were in the comics, under a month for both of them. One week into Light's confinement, Takada kills Demegawa's mistress and begins killing criminals. Eventually, Light gives up his memories of being Kira so he can more convincingly work with L to capture whoever the third Kira is.
Eventually, Light are Misa get released (Minus the fight between L and Light, minus them being handcuffed together, and minus Soichiro putting on that show of trying to kill them to prove neither of them are Kira, which actually made L trusting Light make more sense) and Light rejoins the task-force. (With a scene of them getting IV's for mostly unknown reasons. At least this time around it makes more sense than it did in the first movie)
Thankfully, since Higuchi and Yotsuba have been written out of the movie, they no longer need a world-class burglar or con-artist, so Aiber and Wedy just never show up for one scene and then are never mentioned again, unlike in Visions of a God. If you've absolutely got to cut things to make the movie work, that's how you do it. You don't just slap the first half of the plot together into a two and a half hour film.
The Kira task-force starts cross-referencing victims from the current wave of heart-attacks, and find that while they're similar to the original Kira's victims, they focus more so on crimes against women, especially those reported on Sakura TV. Looking for women who have recently had their careers advance due to the death of a co-worker, they narrow their suspects down to Kiyomi Takada.
The Kira task-force plants a bunch of surveillance equipment in Takada's house in an attempt to figure out how she kills, and they're naturally perplexed when they see her writing names down in a black notebook. So they plant some equipment that's easier to find, and set a trap for her, with Matsuda approaching her as Taro Mastui, and demanding payment to keep quiet about her being Kira.
They set the trap for Takada, with Matsuda being interviewed at Sakura TV. They have Demegawa phone Takada to tell her about it, and she tries to write down "Taro Matsui" in her Death Note, but when it doesn't stick, she makes a deal with Rem for the Shinigami eyes and makes her way to the studio, speeding and getting pulled-over by a cop on the way there. She writes his name down in the Death Note and speeds off, leaving him to die of a heart-attack in the middle of the road. They almost did the thing of him crashing into the back of the semi-truck, but they just have him fall off his motorcycle.
She gets to the studio, and finds they've evacuated the entire studio and replaced Matsuda and the host with dummies.
The Kira task-force ambush her, handcuff her, and blindfold her. Soichiro picks up the Death Note she dropped and sees Rem hovering above. Naturally, this freaks him out. Some other members of the task-force pick it up and freak out about the Shinigami. L grabs it, and then Light takes it, his memories flooding back to him.
L and the rest of the task-force begin questioning Kiyomi Takada, and Rem about the Death Note, and how it works.
I'd like you to take a hard look at this screenshot. This is before the camera pans over to the remaining members of the Kira task-force touching the Death Note Light is holding so they can see the Shinigami Rem. Notice how the light is affected by her body being in front of it. Notice how it would obviously be casting a shadow if you were to pan around to look at the members of the task-force. Remember that, because that's important. There's a general issue with the Shinigami in these films, that they seem to affect light sometimes and not others.
Okay, now that I've driven my point home, look at this screenshot. There's no shadow being cast on Sanami, Light and the other two members of the Kira task-force from Rem. The only shadow  being cast on them in this scene is coming from Light. Logically speaking, the light in this scene should be casting a silhouette of Rem on them. The closest thing they got to that might be Rem's shadow is that thing at the very back of the shot which might be her arms and legs. The problem with that is that the shadows cut off prematurely, almost digitally towards the bottom of the wall. Based on the fact that Rem appears to be blocking light in the first screenshot, she should be casting a shadow in the second one. But she's not. See, this is why you don't use CGI for an entire character if you don't have the ability to matte in every single thing you'd need to make it look good. While they messed up big-time on the shadows in this scene, the CGI on Rem is at its best in this scene. It actually looks otherworldly, and not like it was just ripped from a PS2 FMV. They apparently had motion-capture for all three of the Shinigami in this film (Except for one bit with Gelus at the beginning of the film that's clearly a badly animated puppet.) and I'm glad they did, because manually animating this CGI would have likely turned out terribly. The shading and collision are bad enough on these models, all they've got going for them is the somewhat smooth animation. I think I actually saw part of Ryuk's body clip through itself in the first film.
Back to the plot. When the task-force finds out that the notebook is the tool of murder, the team is naturally suspicious. Rem tells them to test the Death Note out on Takada, but Light has already popped-open his watch (That's a kick-ass watch by the way) and surreptitiously written her name down on the piece of the Death Note he'd hidden there months ago. She dies, and the task-force regroups to headquarters to analyze the Death Note. There, they find the rules Light has added. For some reason they only included the first of the two rules, the thirteen-day rule, with the destruction rule being left out for some reason, just like it was in the animated movies. Even though that rule was critical to them not outright destroying the Death Note after the NPA got their hands on it. Yeah, Light might have been counting on L's scientific curiosity to keep them from outright burning it, but Light Yagami doesn't take those kinds of chances. He doesn't take any chances. If he hadn't been forced to rely on Misa Amane, Kyosuke Higuchi, Kiyomi Takeda, and Teru Mikami, he never would have been caught. That's the problem with these compressed adaptations, they don't include all of the nuance of Light's actions, and sometimes outright eliminate some of the things that made his actions so genius.
Light has Misa go to where he buried his Death Note in the woods so she can get her memories back and continue the Kira work while he works with the task-force full-time. In reality, this is a gambit to put Misa in L's crosshairs so he can get Rem to kill L, lengthening Misa's lifespan with her own and getting out of his hair.
L decides it's time to test out the Death Note on a pair of death-row criminals set to be executed to see if the thirteen-day rule is true. Have one write down the others name, and then in thirteen days, if the writer is still alive, he gets a stay of execution. In direct opposition to the other versions of the story (Not counting the musical or the live-actions series since I haven't seen them), they actually put this plan into motion, with Soichiro and the rest of the task-force take the Death Note to the airport in an armored convoy. L also wants to do a different test on the same day, to see if Misa Amane is actually the second Kira. He's got a heart-monitor hooked up which will send a signal to the task-force if he dies. The plan is to catch Misa in the act and prevent her from killing him. He appears to trust Light enough to have him help with this test as well. Light, under orders from L invites Misa to headquarters.
As Watari is bringing Misa in to see Light, Rem kills him and L. Light taunts L as he dies, since the rest of the task-force is gone. L survives long enough to grab Light's ankle and say a few things, and then nothing.
Light goes to meet Misa at the elevator, and borrow her Death Note to kill the rest of the task-force, including his father, much to Misa's horror. He writes specifically that Soichiro will turn the Death Note over before dying, and goes to meet him in the lobby.
Light, assured of his victory, tells his father to hand over the notebook, as his time is coming to an end.
I almost thought this was going to end with Light winning. Think about it, what's a great twist you could add to an adaptation like this? Light lost in the comics, so naturally him winning would be utterly unexpected.
His father opens the case and...
It's empty. Nothing but foam padding inside. Soichiro, distraught, tells Light about what he's heard, about how he never really left, and the rest of the task-force surrounds them. Light figures he's still got it all in the bag, however, since he wrote their names in the Death Note.
Light is taken aback, however, when he sees L, alive on the balcony above.
See, the only twist better than Light winning would be L himself defeating Light, and that's what happened. L suspected that he was going to be killed soon, so he wrote his name in the Death Note, utilizing the twenty-three-day rule (that you can schedule a death up to twenty-three days in advance) to keep himself alive long enough to catch Light in the act. Soichiro was reluctant to cooperate, but when shown that L had already written his own name in the Death Note, he complied. Thus the plan was set in motion to fake his death and catch Light in a confession. Secretly, after her release, the task-force monitored Misa Amane, finding out that she was in fact the second Kira, so they switched her Death Note with a copy they made, and had the media report deaths when there were none.
Cornered, Light begins talking about how he wanted to bring justice to the world while popping open his watch to write down the names of the task-force on the scrap of paper inside. Matsuda blasts the watch off his wrist with a shot from his gun. As Light attempts to reach for it, Matsuda shoots him once again in the leg. We all know how the rest of this goes down. Light begs Ryuk to use his Death Note to kill the task-force, but Ryuk instead writes just one name down. Light Yagami.
Light tries to tackle Ryuk, but since Ryuk can make himself incorporeal, Light doesn't have any luck. Bleeding out, heart failing, Light dies in his fathers arms, pleading with him to understand that he acted as Kira to defend the concept of justice.
Twenty days later, L has gotten his affairs in order, destroyed the Death Notes, and meets with Soichiro one last time, saying that although he never knew his parents, he still knew Soichiro was a good father. After that, the worlds greatest detective dies peacefully, eating a bar of chocolate and playing chess.
The Death Note has been omitted from all official records, and the identity of Kira withheld, with the official story being that Kira killed Light, and was then killed himself. I believe that rings true to a certain extent. You see, the moment Light gave up his memories of being Kira, he basically became a completely different person. Then, the moment Light picked up the Death Note again, Kira took over, and whatever was left of Light Yagami was erased. It's not so much "true from a certain point of view" as it might be literally true, considering the nature of the memory-gambit.
A year later, what's left of the Yagami family is mourning Light's death on his birthday. Sayu, who hated Kira for killing innocent police-officers has seen her hatred of Kira intensify with the death of her beloved brother.
Misa has once again lost her memories with the loss of her Death Note. She laments the loss of Light, with an obvious gap as to how he died in her memories.
I'll admit, this movie actually made me cry. All of the deaths in the comics and the animated series, L's death, Soichiro's death, Sayu's abduction and subsequent catatonic state, they were all incredibly sad, but somehow this was even worse. Soichiro having to watch his son die in his arms, having to live with the fact that his son was the worlds most prolific serial-killer, L deliberately sacrificing his life to catch Kira, Sayu and Sachiko mourning Light while loathing Kira, that just broke my heart. In the end, crime might have been reduced, but that's not worth the lives of two of the worlds greatest detectives. The way this movie ends is very reminiscent of how the comics ended, with the futility of the entire struggle laid bare for all to see. In the end, nothing was gained, and much was lost.
All in all, while The Last Name had its issues, it had enough of the Death Note spirit to it to make it worthwhile, and enough moments of deep emotion and bad-ass to live up to what came before.
The few issues I have are mostly minor ones, and the one major issue I have was already brought up in the previous review, namely a criminally sparse soundtrack despite having a talented composer on-board. They re-used Dani California, the ED from the last movie as the OP of this one, with Snow, Hey Oh (Another Chili Peppers song) used as part of the end-credits music.
One thing that really irked me, however, that I forgot to bring up in my last review is this. They have this really weird 3D interface for their mugshots and criminal records. As a computer person, I can tell you that this would be a waste of GPU and processing power when an image-gallery or a PDF would have sufficed. I'm almost certain that nothing like this exists, and I'm sick and tired of seeing these stupidly impractical science-fiction interfaces used instead of, you know, standard windows applications. Even mockups would be more logical than this!
In the end, I think this was a really good movie despite the flaws, and for that reason I give it an 8.9* rating. In two movies, Kaneko Shusuke covered the same ground Visions of a God did in one, but he did it in such a way that it basically worked. Plus, he ended it on a twist instead of just remaking the ending from the comics verbatim. Even though these two movies don't cover the entire series by any means, they still capture more of the Death Note spirit than the animated movies did.
And finally, just for laughs, I leave you with this screenshot I couldn't find a place for in the review.
There's only one more live-action Death Note film left, and I'll be getting to that one next week!
(By the way, if anyone can tell me where to find the Death Note musical with English subtitles, that'd be great)

Cover image from Amazon.com, screenshots taken by me.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Death Note (2006 Live-action Movie)

Before the animated series, before the animated movies, before Warner Bros picked up the rights to make an American movie, there were the live-action movies. I suppose I should have covered these before I dealt with the animated series, or the animated movies, but c'est la vie. I didn't actually find out that this movie was released before the animated series started until today, so that's kinda my fault for not looking this up. Oh well, we've come this far, we might as well keep going.
On June 17th of 2006, Warner Bros. Pictures Japan released Kaneko Shūsuke's live-action adaptation of  Ōba Tsugumi and Obata Takeshi's comic masterpiece, Death Note. For the uninitiated, Death Note is one of the greatest pieces of fiction in history, and easily one of the best comic-books ever created. See if you can find the trade-paperbacks at a bookstore or library near you, read all thirteen volumes, and then get back to me. Seriously, you will not regret it. You might want to space it out a bit though so it's not done all in a week. This is the kind of thing you don't want to rush through.
Now that everyone's finished reading the comics, let's talk about this film here. Strangely enough, for a movie based on a comic that was as critically acclaimed as Death Note, with over thirty million copies in circulation, scores of nominations and awards, millions of fans, and near-constant re-releases of literally everything related to the series, I can't actually find much about the films production. There's a little note about how this was the first movie to charter an underground rapid-transit line in all of Japanese cinematic history. Apparently, they also used over five-hundred extras in production too, which was definitely a good idea. It helped to populate background shots, and kept the movie from looking empty. Unfortunately, we're going to dig into some rather massive criticisms before the review is over, so sit tight. Spoilers for the comics, animated series, animated films, and of course this movie inbound. As this is a Japanese film, I watched it in Japanese with English subtitles. There's an English language track available, with most of the cast of the animated series English dub reprising their roles, but we'll get to that later on.
Chonologically speaking, this movie starts after Light Yagami (Played by Tatsuya Fujiwara) gets the Death Note, and after the Kira killings begin. In that regard, like many others, it's similar to Visions of a God. One could infer from that fact that the director of Visions of a God took some influence from Death Note, but I can't find any confirmation of that fact. You can tell however, that the Visions of a God director/editors stopped taking ideas from it almost immediately, since this movie starts out with a montage of Light killing criminals. From street-crime to murderers with connections, to corrupt politicians, we're shown their names being written down in the Death Note.
The Kira legend grows around the world, with some finding him a hero, and others considering him an outright criminal, no better than those he's killing. At this point, Kira is nothing more than an urban legend.
Meanwhile, at To-Oh University in Japan, Light is strolling through an incredibly chatty cafeteria with his girlfriend, Shiori Akino (Played by Kashii Yuu). Shiori serves all the same purposes as Yuri (I forgot her name and thought she was Takada originally) did in the comics and more. See, Shiori has a much larger role in this film than Yuri did. In fact, she has almost the same impact on the plot as Misa or Takada does.
Kaneko described Shiori as a character he created to contrast with Light. Her morals were intended to differ directly from both his, and L's. L has an almost amoral, ends justify the means attitude towards justice, while Light sees anyone who stands in his way as a target. Shiori is more of a means justify the ends kind of person (if that makes any sense), with a strict adherence to due process in mind at all times when it comes to justice.
She and Light discuss the urban legend of Kira, with him describing to her an encounter he had with a criminal, who bragged about murdering a kid to explain to her why he agrees with what Kira is doing. He leaves out the fact that he found the Death Note immediately afterwards.
He takes it home, and decides to test it out on a criminal involved in a hostage situation. Since the guy's already killed some hostages, I suppose he figures it won't hurt if he kills the guy.
Rather than following up on the instructions in the notebook, which say that the person whose name is written in the Death Note will die in forty seconds unless a time of death is written in, goes right to bed and finds out the guy died the next morning.
We then get to the train-crossing scene, which in the original was just Light crossing the railroad tracks, but here he sees the guy who was bragging about killing some kid earlier in the movie and he decides to pull out the Death Note, right then and there and write the guys name down.
He literally does that. In fact, he does it twice! Earlier in the film he pulled the notebook out of his bag and wrote down the name of someone else!
Let's think back to the comics, shall we? Yes, Light wrote down names in public, but he was never that brazen about it. He either used pages from the notebook, cuttings, or disguised the notebook with another book. He never took it out in public!
Then again, it's not like Light could easily hide something that freaking huge! Seriously, the Death Note in this movie is enormous! I'd reckon that it's more than twice the size it was in the comics and the animated series. I'd just like to remind everyone that Light hid the Death Note in a book that was about the size of the movie version in the comics with plenty of space to spare. You might notice other things in this screenshot worth noting, but we'll get to them later in the review.
Later on, Light meets Ryuk (Played by Nakamura Shidou), the Shinigami (Japanese for god of death) who dropped the Death Note in the human realm. Rather than asking him if he's here to take his soul, like he did in literally every other iteration of the franchise we've covered so far, Light asks him if he's here to take his life. I don't know if this was just some weirdo mistranslation for the movie or what. Could be the subtitles. Anyways, as any experienced fan would know, Ryuk says that he's just gonna follow him around for kicks. Sort of. Ryuk's motives aren't actually that well-explained in this film.
Interpol in general and the Japanese National Police Agency in particular are no closer to figuring out what's going on with the Kira killings, so they're about to toss it off to the public health agencies before the detective L (Played by Matsuyama Ken'ichi) steps in to point out that the killings absolutely cannot be natural causes, comparing it directly to death counts and patterns from actual diseases. This is rather anti-climactic, since they just tell us everything that happened at the ICPO rather than showing it to us. Here we're introduced to Watari (Played by Fujimura Shunji), L, and Soichiro Yagami. (Played by Kaga Takeshi)
L decides to confront Kira on television, using the Lind L. Tailor (Played by Matt Lagan) ruse. Light kills Tailor, and L brags about how easy it was for him to trace it down to Tokyo, and how that was literally the first place they tried. This would normally lead into what is possibly one of the most famous moments in the series, L and Light saying in unison that they are justice. Strangely enough, however, Light says he is justice after L does. That sort of takes the air out of the whole thing.
Light then figures out that he's being followed, and devises a way to figure out who's following him. This leads to him taking Shiori on a bus to... Somewhere. In the comics and animated series it was a place called Space-Land. In this it seems like Light is just taking Shiori on the bus to wherever they're going on a bus instead of walking.
For some reason, Light decides to confront the agent who's following him, even though that basically gives away the game ahead of time, and serves to undermine a point that Light makes later on in the same scene.
A criminal who escaped the police, Kiichiro Osoreda (Played by Miyagawa Sarutoki) earlier in the movie hijacks the bus, Light passes a note to Shiori saying he's about to jump the guy and take his gun, but Raye Iwamatsu (Not Penber for some reason) (Played by Hosokawa Shigeki) tells him to stay back and let him handle it. Light then objects to that, saying that he could be Osoreda's accomplice. Knowing what Light said earlier, how does that logic work? Knowing Iwamatsu was following him means that he'd have to believe that the bus-jackers were targeting him in order for those two statements to co-exist in one mind. Which would make Light one of the most paranoid people in the world. The qualifier here is that he's not paranoid since there actually are people out to get him. Plus, he's not exactly afraid of anything, he's always calm and collected, planning for every contingency, for every single possibility. I really don't know what the purpose of this was, since it's inconsistent with the character of Light Yagami, and doesn't make a lick of sense in the narrative. Light would never do this, because he would have calculated the effect it might have on the rest of his plan, and figured out that it doesn't work. I'll bet you that I'm probably not even as smart as Light is and I can figure out that saying that to Raye wouldn't have been a good idea.
Raye reveals to Light that he's an FBI agent to keep Light from doing anything stupid, and Light doesn't treat this as strange for some reason. I wasn't able to find out what an actual FBI ID looked like, since the nearest field office is in Jackson, Mississippi. If you want to know what kind of distance that is, look up a map of Mississippi, find Jackson, and then trace a straight line to the bottom-most section of the state. I also looked online, but I couldn't figure out which of the hundreds of ID formats I found were legit, and I'm already running behind on this article.
Light drops his note, and Osoreda finds it. Unlike in the comics, however, Light drops the note he wrote to Shiori instead of a substitute note with plans on it. This is incredibly stupid for a number of reasons. One of which is that while humans have a natural lifespan, free-will can still cut that lifespan short. For instance, if Osoreda had decided to pop a cap in Light's head because of that note, all of his plans would have ended right there. Fortunately, Ryuk was there to scare the hell out of Osoreda and save Light's bacon. Osoreda empties his gun at Ryuk, runs out of the bus, and gets hit by a car. Just like Light planned.
Light takes Shiori to the hospital for an IV of something for some reason. I'm... Not an expert by any means, but I do have a bit of informal paramedic training under my belt, along with a crapload of medical and anatomical research over the years, so I'd like to think I know enough to judge this scene from a scientific standpoint. Shiori wasn't hit by a bullet in that scene, and while she appeared to have suffered some sort of bruising and/or when the bus suddenly stopped, there's no real reason for her to have an IV. Speaking from experience, you don't need an IV to treat a mild bruise or whiplash. If this is some sort of cultural thing, then the Japanese triage system is seriously screwed up. Could it be for stress? Maybe, but I've always heard that stress is best handled with a good nights sleep and a bit of distraction, not drugs. I know this seems petty, but this scene literally makes no sense from a medical perspective. You know how this could be fixed? If Shiori had actually suffered some kind of visible injury. Maybe a concussion, or maybe she could have been shot. If they really needed to go to the hospital for some reason, that would be the best way to deal with it. Not like they really did though, since this whole scene could have been cut entirely without losing anything. Maybe we could have a bit more time dedicated to the rules of the Death Note instead.
Raye goes home to his girlfriend, Naomi Misora (Played by Seto Asaka [and yes, I thought Seto was a male given-name too]), and rather than discussing what went down, they just have coffee and cuddle while quoting random, inapplicable bible-verses. I don't mean from a them perspective, I mean a wider, movie kind of perspective.
One thing I feel the need to bring up right now is that while Naomi and Raye are both American FBI agents, they speak in Japanese even together. I know Naomi's parents are Japanese, and I know Raye is Japanese in this version, but they're still American FBI agents. A little, tiny bit of English between them would have made sense in-character. This is a bit of a logical issue throughout the whole film, which I'll bring up later.
Light then puts his plan to kill off the FBI into action. Since he can't just kill Raye without drawing immediate suspicion upon himself, he decides to kill all of them at once.
Raye cancels his plans for a day, Naomi follows him from the church to find out what he's up to. Raye goes to the train, where he finds an envelope left by Light. He opens it and finds a radio inside, along with a note from Light.
When Raye gets the radio hooked up, Light begins talking with him. Fortunately, he's using a voice-changer in this version, rather than just using his regular voice like he did in the animated series. Aside from a few changes here and there, this whole sequence is basically identical to the version in the comics and the animated series. I'd almost say the animated series copied it from this movie, but considering they both came out in the same year, and considering how long it takes to make an animated show, I highly doubt that.
Light kills a rapist to demonstrate his powers to Raye, but unlike in the comics or animated series, he does this in the train instead of on the street. In fact, their entire exchange takes place exclusively on the train. Light asks Raye if he can identify all of his co-workers in Japan. When Raye says he can't, Light tells him to write his bosses name down on one of the pages. Naturally, Light has written down the circumstances of death so Raye gets the names and faces of all of his co-workers. Raye then writes down their names on pages of the notebook, killing all of them.
Raye disembarks and dies, with Naomi exiting the train to check on him. Light retrieves the envelope, and leaves on the train.
This creates a cascade of events, with Naomi investigating Raye's death, and L placing video and audio surveillance on the Yagami family. Light finds out someone has been in his room through the pencil-lead technique, and from there assumes his room is now chock-full of surveillance, without asking Ryuk to map out all the cameras, although that's sort of implied. In her searching, Naomi stumbles across Shiori and Light. She then confronts Light about her suspecting him to be Kira. This is where the movie starts getting a bit stupid. In the comics, Light meeting Naomi was a coincidence, which made it even more tense. If Light hadn't gone to take his father fresh clothing, he never would have met her, and he might have been exposed. It was a work of pure art how Light figured his way around Naomi Misora in the comics, but the way this whole thing starts out is slightly, slightly freaking stupid.
Naturally, Light tells her he's going to sue her for defamation, while writing her (Fake) name down on a scrap of the Death Note. Shiori is taken aback by Naomi's confrontation, so she and Light leave. For absolutely no reason, Naomi tells Light she didn't give him her real name for absolutely no reason, telling him she was his fiance. If she suspects him to be Kira, why is she giving him all these details instead of letting him figure things out by himself like he did in the comics?
Light then decides to put on a show for L, and thus comes the famous "I'll take a potato-chip! And eat it!" scene. One thing I'd like to praise is the fact that they made the chip-bag large enough for Light to store a TV as well as a decent amount of chips. Something I didn't care for is the fact that the gravity of this scene, and of Light's actions have been significantly reduced, first by the lack of his inner-monologue, and secondly by the lack of music. This is another thing we'll have to come back to.
The next day, Light wakes up and the surveillance has been removed. The way this is set up, it implies the NPA did this while Light was asleep, which literally makes no sense. Ryuk asks Light what he would have done if someone else took the bag of chips, to which Light responds that he's the only one who likes Consomme chips.
Naomi calls up L and tells him that she's going to expose Light as Kira. She then kidnaps Shiori and takes her to the museum where Shiori and Light went earlier in the movie, telling Light to come and confess that he's Kira or she'll kill Shiori. Light goes to the museum and protests to Naomi that he's not Kira. She then tells him her whole name, telling him to kill her or she'll kill Shiori. As the cops arrive, Shiori runs away from Naomi, but Naomi shoots her. Shiori dies in Light's arms, and Naomi puts the gun to her head and kills herself. For some reason we don't see any blood from this, even though she was clearly holding a high-caliber pistol. It's not even like they were afraid to show visceral death-scenes in this movie, since they actually showed Osoreda bleeding from his head-wound onto the street. Seriously, how do you not splatter blood and brains all over the floor and walls from holding what appears to be a nine-millimeter pistol's barrel against your temple?
The police step in to clean up the mess, and attempt to give medical attention to Shiori, but to no avail. Light appears distraught over Shiori's death, but when Ryuk starts poking at him over that, he reveals his plans. Put Naomi into a situation where she would kill Shiori and then kill herself so he would then have ample motivation to join the Kira task-force, because if not for Kira, his girlfriend would still be alive. Funnily enough, that's actually 100% true. If not for his actions as Kira, Shiori would still be alive.
As the day begins to wrap up, Soichiro approaches Light to take him home, and Light tells him that he'd like to join the Kira tack-force. L steps out from the shadows to tell Light that he'd love to have him around, pulling out the same brand of Consomme chips Light was eating from earlier in the movie.
This was basically where the whole movie fell into place for me. Up until then, it seemed like they'd smashed all the life out of the comics, and while that's still somewhat true, seeing L step out of those shadows just taunting Light like he did with those heavy-metal chords playing in the background is still one of the most badass things I've ever seen.
The movie ends with Misa Amane (Played by Toda Erika) being attacked by her stalker, but he dies and a Death Note drops down in front of her. I don't really know when this is supposed to be set, since Ryuk takes an interest in her after seeing her cooking-show. Her incredibly stupid cooking show.
So, let's get back to what I said I was going to come back to earlier on. The first thing we'll cover is Ryuk. I won't say the CGI on him is award-winningly bad, but it's damn close. It would have been less off-putting if they'd used traditional animation. As it is, Ryuk looks like he stepped out of a Kingdom Hearts FMV. That's a consequence of having to insert a character with that bizarre kind of build into a live-action movie. You either go for CGI, CGI and a makeup job, or CGI, animatronics and a makeup job, and one of those is much more expensive and time-consuming than the other. At least if you want it to look good.
Second, Fujiwara Tatsuya has a chronic case of baby-face. At times, this actually takes away from him being able to play Light Yagami convincingly, but when he needs to he nails some of the finer aspects of the character. Another thing to mention is that they hardly ever have him wearing a shirt that isn't made of corduroy. I don't know why this bugs me, but it does. It might just be that in the comics and the animated series Light was always wearing either flat shirts or a suit of some kind. Also (and this is something to blame the stylists for) his hair in general looks nothing like Light's did in the comics.. It's too dark, for one thing. Light rather famously had light-brown hair. Plus, it's styled all wrong. Had he been given a better wardrobe, a hair-color and style which actually matches Light's and some more opportunities to flex as Light, however, I believe he would have been a great choice for the role. The problem is that this version of the character seems a bit too unprofessional, too laid-back for situation in both mannerisms and speech patterns, which I blame on the director more than anything. He's the one who decided to cut the characters inner-monologues out of the movie to add to the ambiguity. This also means we don't get any kind of visible shifts when the characters are doing things. I'm not asking for the full-tilt red tinges to Light's hair, but something would be nice.
One last thing about Light. He's shown playing basketball in the school-gym at one point, when it's been clearly established that tennis is his game. I can roll with it, but I wasn't really expecting him to be playing team-sports.
Next up is Matsuyama Ken'ichi as L, and I have to say he kills it in this role. He's got the look, the mannerisms, the speech-pattern, everything down. Matsuyama, like Alessandro Juliani, is perfect for this role. I don't think there's anyone else they could have gotten that played it as well as he did. There's an occasional issue with his make-up now and again, but other than that the production crew had L down pat for this film.
Before we move on to the rest of the cast, take a look at the right-hand side of this screenshot. You'll see a girl there, hooking up the televisions. One would naturally wonder who she is, given the fact that there weren't any female members of the Kira investigation until Wedy joined the team during the Yotsuba arc. She's an original character, named Sanami. (Played by Komatsu Miyuki) She literally serves no purpose. She doesn't do anything important, she doesn't say anything important, she's just sort of there every now and again. I don't even think they mention her name in the movie at all, and as far as I can tell, she doesn't have more than one name. Your guess is as good as mine if that's her family name or her given name, since I haven't gotten to names in my Japanese lessons yet.
Looking at the above screenshot, how many members of the Kira task-force can you name based on appearances alone? I'd wager two. L, and Touta Matsuda (Played by Aoyama Sota). I know there are only five people there, but I had a hard time identifying which actor was supposed to be playing which character. I still don't know which actors are which characters when it comes to the task-force beyond Soichiro, Matsuda, and L, mostly because none of the others have had any speaking-lines so far.
Since we can't cover anyone else yet, let's deal with the Chief. Kaga Takeshi would be perfect as Soichiro Yagami if he had the mustache and grey hair, but since he doesn't, he hardly looks like the character. Seriously, one of Soichiro's most famous defining characteristics is the mustache, and he doesn't have it! It's starting to look like Matsuda, Naomi and L are the only ones the production team put any effort into looking like they looked in the comics. If you look at Sayu (Played by Mitsushima Hikari) you'll notice her hair is the wrong color too. It's supposed to be a shade of chocolate brown. Their mother and Soichiro's wife, Sachiko isn't pictured here, but her hair is also black, while it's supposed to be dark brown. It sounds like I'm nit-picking, but all I'm asking for is a little consistency between mediums.
Speaking of inconsistency, Erika Toda, who plays Misa Amane doesn't have blonde-hair. Again, what is the single most obvious feature about her character? It's her yellow hair. While they got the styling and clothing down to a thread, the hair color is something that sticks out to me, especially since Death Note is an example of not only great artwork, but great designs as well. You're not likely to forget any of Obata's designs, but at first glance, if you didn't know this was a Death Note movie, most scenes would seem like they were from some random Japanese drama. Hell, the shots of Ryuk with Light look like they've been photoshopped, badly.
So, while the designs and styling leave quite a bit to be desired, the acting is exceptional. The dialogue isn't always great, but the acting works very well. Makes me wish that the Japanese casting directors for the animated series hired the cast of this movie instead of the people they did. Funnily enough, Matsuyama actually played Gelus in the Japanese version of the animated series.
Overall, the plot is solid. Moreso than that of Visions of a God, I think. While they compressed and skipped quite a few things, at least they weren't trying to cram half a series worth of content into a three-hour time-slot. In that regard, it's significantly better than Visions of a God. However, it's still got plenty of issues with presentation. The film relies a little too much on telling rather than showing, especially when it comes to public opinions of Kira, and there are a handful of small gripes I've brought up previously that bugged me. Overall, however, I think this was a story worth telling, it just needed to have a slightly tighter grip on the reigns when it came to pacing and planning out certain events. There are liberties taken with the plot that I like and ones that I don't, but overall it's not a bad way to tell the story.
Unfortunately that brings me to my biggest issue with the film. Most scenes are sorely lacking in appropriate musical accompaniment, with the few that do have music backing them up having very little. What's worse is that there are a pair of licensed songs inserted into the soundtrack. The xxxHolic theme-song, Manatsu no yoru no yume shows up in a romantic scene between Light and Shiori, and the film closes with a song from The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dani California. In that regard the animated series gets a ton of points, since they really seem to have skimped on the soundtrack for this film. What original music they have, however, is pretty sweet. Like I said before, some sweet heavy-metal chords playing at the end before they start tuning up the Chili Peppers. Just to get this out of the way, unless you're doing a period-piece or are going for a very specific feel to a movie or TV show, I despise the use of licensed music. Shows like Death Note, Kamen Rider Drive, Dragon Ball Z and Ressha Sentai ToQger have pretty much ruined licensed soundtracks for me, not that I cared for them to begin with. It's always better to make your own music for something like this, and if they'd leaned a little heavier onto their heavy-metal composers and composed character-themes, action-themes, etc, I think they could have had an incredible soundtrack. I will admit that in some scenes, the lack of a soundtrack made everything a bit more visceral. As it is, however, I was yearning for the soundtrack of the animated series throughout.
One last thing. I didn't watch the entire movie dubbed in English, since I wanted to judge it based on how it was made originally, but I did go back and watch snippets when I was done, and I have to say, the English dub is pretty bad. Ocean came back with almost all of the English cast to dub this movie, and while the performances of Brian Drummond, Brad Swaile, Alessandro Juliani, Christopher Britton and the other leads were perfectly fine, most of the criminals, extras and bit-parts are acted terribly. The DA at the very beginning of the movie is a major offender too. The whole movie might not be that bad in English, but this movie is better watched subbed, since it lets you appreciate the cast the filmmakers have chosen. Honestly, as far as the cast goes in this movie, there's not a whole lot of room for improvement. Except in one regard.
Something I notice in a lot of Japanese media is that no matter where a character is supposed to be from, they're usually played by someone from Japan. The Attack on Titan movies did this, and this movie does it as well. The one main complaint I have would be Fujimura Shunji as Watari. Watari is a British inventor, yet he's played by a Japanese man who doesn't even speak with a British accent. I actually wonder how that would sound, come to think of it. Anyways, it's not really a huge complaint, since he gets the look down pretty well, but it's still something I felt I should bring up, since this is something that bugs me all the time. It bugged me when the Russian soldiers in Snake Eater were all speaking with American accents, it bugged me when Christian Bale was putting on a phony Cockney accent in The Prestige, and it will continue to bug me when things like this happen. While he didn't have much of a British accent per-se in the animated series, he at least had some of the upper-class English inflections to his voice.
This actually brings up a much bigger issue with the language of the film, and the non-english versions of Death Note. Namely, why a British-based detective and his mentor/handler would be speaking in perfect Japanese. I think it actually makes more sense for all the characters to be speaking English, since from what I understand it's taught as a second-language in Japan, but that then brings up more issues that continue to make less sense the more you think of them. In the end, it's best to just shut up and roll with it at some point.
All in all though, I think this movie is well worth watching. It's a unique interpretation of the Death Note story, and it's by far a more enjoyable movie than either Visions of a God or L's Successors were.
In the end, I give it a 7.1* rating. Next week we'll be tackling Death Note II: The Last Name. I'm going to try and get the review done by Wednesday, but it might be a regularly scheduled Sunday release, who knows? I just need to remember to watch the movie before the day I'm supposed to review it so my review doesn't wind up going out at five in the morning next time.

Cover image from Amazon.com, screenshots taken by myself.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Death Note Relight 2: L's Successors

This is it. The last of the animated Death Note movies, and the last piece of animated material out of the franchise. (For now at least)
Last week, I covered Visions of a God. While it wasn't totally awful, there was too much bringing it down for it to be actually good. However, there were a few good pieces of original animation holding the whole thing together. The pacing sucked, and they cut the plot down beyond what could possibly be called "the bare minimum", but it was still somewhat entertaining to see how they'd arranged the whole thing. Plus, they didn't waste much in the way of screentime. At the very least, they included almost everything you needed to know to understand the plot.
Spoiler warnings for the last half of Death Note, as well as the entire film.
After the apparent popularity of Visions of a God, Mad House decided to make another TV movie to finish out the series. Unfortunately, they dropped the ball on this one spectacularly. Some of the issues come from the way the last movie ended, since Visions of a God prematurely discarded the really cool framing-device at the end. I suppose they weren't expecting to make a second movie. So, what have they replaced it with? L, (who at this point in the series is supposed to be dead) starts out the movie talking to the audience. Directly to the audience, stating what the purpose of the movie is. L states that this movie was created for people who had never seen Death Note before, even though that literally doesn't make a lick of sense. If you haven't seen Death Note, why would you be watching a Death Note movie? For that matter, why would you be watching the second Death Note animated movie? If you're not familiar with the series, why would you bother watching one of the sequels?
L then proceeds to spend the next nine and a half recapping the events of the series up until then. I know they did this in the series after L died, but there was a reason for it! Their entire database had been deleted, and they had to go back over everything they knew had happened so they could have some kind of record of what happened. Plus, since it was narrated from L's perspective, it helped compound his recent death. Another thing to mention was that the recap that took up half of Episode 26: Renewal was both much more complete than the recap they made for this movie. Possibly because they weren't trying to recap an already butchered plot. Plus, they didn't just replay the last scene from Episode 25: Silence verbatim.
Then we come to the runtime. The last movie was almost three hours long, and that was barely enough time for everything they were trying to sum up. This movie isn't even two hours long, and it spends almost ten minutes of the runtime recapping the last movie. Seriously, I couldn't believe my eyes when I looked at the clock and saw that I was almost ten minutes into the film without a single piece of footage that didn't come from the last movie. At all. Off to a flying start, and it only gets worse from here.
Let's have a quick rundown of what's been changed, shall we?
The biggest change that's been made is that the Mafia subplot has been completely removed. Yeah, they cut out one of the most important arcs of the series. Not all of what happens overtly afffects the plot immediately, but there are so many important things that happen in the Mafia arc that directly affect how the series ends that I'd think that's the last thing you'd cut. But on that subject, Soichiro Yagami has been completely written out of the story. The Japanese version makes an offhand reference to him retiring after Light joined the task-force, but the English version doesn't even mention it. This brings up some fairly significant questions. Since Soichiro's heart-attack was written out of the first movie, so for all we know, he was in perfect health. What would your first thought be there? Maybe he retired to take care of his daughter, who's obviously suffering from PTSD. But that can't be the case, since the mafia have been written out of the story.
Later on in the movie Mello shows up at the SPK headquarters with a massive scar on his face and absolutely no explanation as to why. He then proceeds to do nothing until the very end of the movie. Removing the mafia means that everything Mello did has been erased, which basically makes him a pointless character in this movie. Maybe if they hadn't had a ten minute recap at the beginning, they'd have had the time to adapt some of the mafia arc.Or maybe if they'd had thirty minutes or more of extra screentime, they could have adapted it, and had time for some of the other things they cut. Or maybe if they had another hour and cut that ten minute recap, then they could have done something resembling a decent job.
You see, without the mafia arc, no SPK members are killed, Light never learns Mello's name, Mello never gets his scar, Soichiro never dies, Light never has to give up one of his Death Notes to get rid of the Shinigami Sidoh, and most importantly, since Light doesn't know Mello's real name, he has no way of telling Takeda who Mello is in the event she has to kill him, ergo Mello never dies.
Certain things have been changed to accommodate the mafia's erasure, but the recovery is utterly incomplete to say the very least.
For instance, one of the compensating factors is that rather than Mello and the mafia killing off most of Near's team, Kiyomi Takeda and Teru Mikami are the ones responsible. Even though they cut out the scenes of the United States turning the relevant information over to... Literally anyone. At that point in time, the SPK had never even shown their faces to anyone at that point. Since the SPK wasn't involved with the mafia investigation, that means Light had no reason to know of their existence to kill any of them.
Mikami's origin has been completely removed. Oh, and since most of the FBI arc was cut out of the first movie, we have no explanation as to who Takeda is. She was Light's girlfriend in High-school. She was on the Spaceland bus when he set up his plan to kill all the FBI agents. In the actual series we actually knew who she was. In this, she's not mentioned at all until she just shows up in this film.
Takeda feeds information to Mikami over the phone. This scene is comprised of recut stock-footage of Mikami writing names in the Death Note with original footage of Takeda feeding him the information.
Another thing I should mention before I forget is that rather than having Mikami kill off a bunch of guys from the Sakura TV Kira Worship Service, he instead kills off a group of people who dislike Kira on a Pro-Kira vs Anti-Kira debate. Something Light wouldn't have supported or allowed at this point in the series. What the hell was this about? Why didn't they just re-use the footage from the show?
Anyways, in addition to all of the stock footage from the series that they use in the SPK massacre, they also use pieces of original footage for some reason. One shot shows one of the SPK members head twisting around a hundred and eighty degrees. EVEN THOUGH THAT'S NOT POSSIBLE!
Let's go back to the first season of Death Note, where Light experimented with the limitations of the power. Something which is not physically possible cannot be made to occur by writing it in the Death Note. You can't make someone from a prison in America die by jumping off of the Eiffel Tower. By the rules of the Death Note, that guy should have died of a heart-attack, plain and freaking simple. But, since they cut all of the specifics of that experimentation, as well as literally all of the rules of the Death Note, I suppose that's all up in the air! Even though setting up all those rules was critical to the Death Note not being incredibly overpowered.
Speaking of Death Note rules, they only ever mention one of the fake rules in the Death Note, carrying on from what they were doing in the first movie as well. Even though that second rule was critical to them not just flat out destroying the Death Note. You know, the rule that said that destruction of the Death Note would kill literally everyone who touched it? That rule? That incredibly critical rule?
Anyways, almost all of Light's plotting around the Kira task-force to keep in contact with Takeda and Mikami has been removed.
The whole movie is basically a rush to the last episode, which plays out almost in its entirety, with a little bit of abridging thrown in to make it a little shorter. There's also the dinner between Misa and Takeda, which ultimately seems pointless when Misa and Takeda alike have had an incredibly small amount of screentime in this movie.
Long story short, Mello kidnaps Takeda, she kills him (Even though she doesn't have any way to do that. She doesn't own a Death Note, ergo she can't bargain for the Shinigami eyes.) and Light kills her. Mikami's entire routine and most of the SPK's surveillance of him has been cut, as well as him retrieving the Death Note from the bank (at least until Near tells Light this at the end of the movie) so we don't even have any hint that Mikami was trying to kill Takeda until the end. We also don't get any kind of communication between Mikami and Light, so they never establish that Light wasn't able to move freely, ergo Mikami just seems like an idiot working on his own, rather than applying a bit of logic to the situation like he did in the comics and animated series.
They then speed to Light's death at the hands (or more to the point, the pen) of Ryuk. They skip the symbolism, the mirage of L looking over the dying Light, everything that made that a powerful moment.
Something I found particularly strange is the extensive use of original animation in areas where stock footage would have worked just as well, if not better. Most of the original footage centers around Near and the SPK, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense. They had plenty of footage of Near and the SPK from the series, and get this, most of the new footage is Near screwing around with puzzles and games and whatnot. Stuff he did plenty of in the show.
The only noteworthy piece of original footage is a flashback to L talking to the Whammy House kids and answering their questions. That's literally it. No other piece of original footage serves to do anything unique. Even then, that little clip was adapted from a one-shot tie-in to the comics.
All in all, this movie is loaded with plot-holes, it's terribly paced, and above all, it's way too short.
The plot lurches around without much care for coherency, moving too fast for its own good at some points and then grinding to a halt at others. The comics and the animated series alike knew how pacing worked, bringing things down slowly and then slowly building back up to the intensity they needed.
Then we come to the voice-acting. In Visions of a God, the newly recorded-lines, while not on-par at a writing level matched the original lines in performance quality. In L's Successors, there are a few of Light's new lines that sound just off enough that I wonder if this special was rushed to completion. The same goes for some of Near's new lines. It's almost as if they didn't have enough time to do multiple takes. I'd say this goes for the Japanese as well as English voice-tracks, but Light and Near's Japanese VA's didn't really have far to sink.
What I'm trying to say is, this movie is bad. Incredibly bad. It's even worse because it came from something good. In that regard, it's incredibly similar to the first Hunger Games movie. In fact, that's the best comparison I can draw. So many things have been cut from the source material that the final product literally doesn't make a lick of sense. Even Visions of a God had a bit of redeeming value to it, what with the original footage in the beginning, middle and end of the movie. This film on the other hand just butchers the plot of the show without giving any significant reason why you should watch it if you've already seen the animated series, and if you're a first-time viewer, you should just watch the animated series.
In the end, I give it a 1.1* rating. I didn't enjoy this film either as a critic or a fan of the series.
Next week, we'll either be tackling a videogame, or the first live-action Death Note movie. We'll see what happens.

Image from walmart.com

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Power Rangers Dino Supercharge: E1, When Evil Stirs

Originally written for OutLoudculture.com


If you guys follow my YouTube channel (You should, it's where the OLC podcast is uploaded) you know I'm a huge Power Rangers fan. Been one for most of my life, and I'm never ashamed to admit it. The fact that I bring up Power Rangers RPM whenever I see an opportunity to should be proof enough of that.  Unfortunately, for a fan such as myself, there hasn't been a good (new) season of the show since... Well, since RPM back in 2009. Part of the problem was that RPM was intended to be the last season of the show, and in knowing this, the writing staff went all out, making bold decisions, massive changes to the formula, and changes to the world the likes of which we hadn't seen since the end of the Zordon era of the series. I won't spoil how RPM ended, so let's just say that when Saban bought the rights to Power Rangers back from Disney, they found it incredibly hard to write around, and thus wound up creating an alternate universe where the series could continue. A single point of divergence where the world was taken over by a rogue computer-virus in one universe, and where it wasn't in the other. The added benefit to this was that Saban could then exploit nostalgia from the previous seasons of the show without having to contradict RPM directly. This might have been excusable if Saban had then gone on to make a single subsequent season that was as good as anything that came before, but the moment the first episode of Power Rangers Samurai aired on Nickelodeon in 2011, the fandom realized that they were in trouble. Samurai had stupid jokes, terrible, worn out ideas, and worst of all, it had been sliced in half. You see, for those not in the know, Power Rangers is typically adapted from a previous season of the Japanese Tokusatsu series, Super Sentai. Each Sentai season is around forty or so episodes in length, and for the most part, Power Rangers has followed that same pattern, with a few more or less episodes per season depending on original content. Starting with Samurai, however, Power Rangers has averaged twenty episodes a season, with each Sentai adaptation being split into approximately two seasons, sometimes with elements of other Sentai seasons mixed in. And by "mixed in" I mean they dropped the adaptation of one Sentai series halfway through production when they realized they were coming up on the twentieth anniversary of the franchise and rushed to adapt the subsequent anniversary Sentai season. This mess was know as Power Rangers Super Megaforce, colloquially known in the fandom as "Super Mega Fuckup," since they took one of the most beloved seasons of Super SentaiKaizoku Sentai Gokaiger and pounded all of the wit, and charm, and personality out of it. I could write a whole series of articles on why Super Megaforce failed, and I might at sometime in the future. For now, we're covering the first episode of Dino Supercharge, the twenty-third season of the series, as well as the followup to last year's Dino Charge. Suffice to say that Dino Charge wasn't great. Granted, it was a huge improvement on Super Megaforce, but overall it was pretty lame. I'd go into detail, but I fear I'd just be repeating myself later on in my review of this episode. All in all, it was a massive waste of potential held together by a few awesome fight-scenes. Right, with that out of the way let's dig into the episode. Spoiler warning, as I'll be deconstructing this episode on an almost minute-to-minute basis.
Right off the top of your head, what's the most memorable part of Mighty Morphin' Power RangersKamen Rider, or Super Sentai? The suits, yes, the characters sure, but for me at least, the music is the first thing that grabs me and the last thing I forget about a show. For a long time, between the original Saban era and the end of the Disney era, Power Rangers had entirely original scores. The background music during downtime, the combat anthem, everything was made for the series, and that was part of why it was so memorable, because you weren't going to hear that music anywhere else, unless it was from another season of the show. That still rings true for Super Sentai and Kamen Rider these days, with memorable soundtracks filled with unique music. They use different musical cues for different scenarios, even going so far as to have theme-music for individual characters or teams. I bring all this up because literally the very first thing you hear in Dino Supercharge is a piece of stock music called Careless Talk by The Royalty Free Music Crew. Something you might recognize if you've been on the internet at all for the last decade or so. It's been used by countless YouTuber's over the course of its existence, as well as by Power Rangers Dino Charge at least three times during the course of its run. Four if you count this one. My point is that the music is among the many, many budget-cuts Saban has made since buying back the franchise. Sure, there's still some original music, the theme-song is pretty cool and every now and again they have a decent piece of original background music, but for the most part the series lacks anything that could be considered a "unique" soundtrack. Even with all of the budget-cuts Super Sentai appears to have endured, they still use mostly original music for the soundtracks. As far as music goes, we start as we mean to go on.
Tyler Navarro, the Dino Charge Red Ranger (Played by Brennan Mejia), spends the entire intro sequence recapping the events of the last half of the series. The framing-device for this is him writing the events down in his journal, but he's already written most of these down at least once already in the last season. One would reasonably wonder why they had to recap the series at all, seeing as the season finale aired only a few weeks prior to this episode. Then again, I've got a mind like a steel trap (most of the time anyways) and I don't forget details like this. This helps me in my critiques of long-running franchises such as this, especially when they introduce plot-devices and storylines that contradict previously established canon. I'll come back to this later on in the series, because they're bound to introduce things that don't make sense based on the series up 'till then.
The opening credits sequence is selling a show that's way more action-packed, way cooler, and way more interesting than the show we're likely going to get, based on both this episode, and the previous twenty-two episodes. (though more like twenty and a half since the two holiday specials were glorified clipshows) This is something I detest, an opening sequence which oversells the show, or else shows that just don't deliver.
Another, rather interesting thing to point out (Which was made aware to me by @Razzle1337 and @Evilspacewhale on Twitter) is the fact that in the final shot of the intro-sequence, rather than creating a new shot to accommodate the female Purple Ranger, they just re-used a shot from Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger (The source material for this series) and recolored Kyoryu Cyan purple. Because it's not like their helmet-designs are based on two very different dinosaurs or anything. Or like there are people who watch Super Sentai and Power Rangers who would notice that. Or for that matter like the two Rangers in question are the opposite gender! Come on, Saban. That CGI skirt isn't fooling anyone. Especially when you compare the builds!
Then there are other issues in the opening, such as when the two times the T-Rex charger is seen in the opening, it has "Gabutyra" written on the side. For those of you not in the know, Gabutyra was the name of the Red Dino Charge Zord in Kyoryuger. But those are just minor issues compared to the real meat of the matter. For instance, most of the CG in the opening sequence looks atrocious. Toei is to blame for part of this, since they appear to have taken Saban's lead in cutting production values as much as they can, possibly in an attempt to see how little effort they can put into a series and still make bank on toy sales. (Although that's pretty unfair since Ressha Sentai ToQger, the series that immediately followed Kyoryuger had much better effects) Saban still takes a great deal of the blame, however, since they were the ones who chose to re-use sub-par assets instead of throwing the sub-par CG models out and starting over fresh with a higher polygon count, better rigging and better shading.
Earlier in January I was rewatching some of Power Rangers Jungle Fury, and I was astounded by how good the effects were. Just unreal enough to give the show a magical quality to it, but decent enough that stop-motion animation with the toys wouldn't have been a step up. Compare that to the CGI from this show. For the most part, it looks like someone took the toys (The American ones, not the Japanese ones) and scanned them into a computer using really bad 3D modeling software, did some rudimentary rigging and then dropped them into the scenes without bothering to shade or light them properly. As such, you wind up with CG that looks worse than filming toys on a diorama.
Mind you, these are all issues we see before we even get into the bulk of the show. We haven't even touched on some of the bigger problems. So, before we dig into the rest of the episode, let's introduce the cast so far.
Tyler Navarro is the Dino Charge Red Ranger, and third Red T-Rex Ranger (Fourth if you count the one from the RPM toyline). Supposedly he's the leader of the team, but he's never really shown taking charge of either the team or the situation. The Rangers basically take turns leading the team whenever their particular "expertise" is required. Tyler's whole motivation in life seems to be to find his father, who happened to disappear approximately a decade prior. You know. About the time that Tommy Oliver was leading the Dino Thunder Rangers against Mesagog. I don't know if they're trying to make any connections to Dino Thunder, and I certainly hope they're not trying to imply that one or possibly two of the Dino Thunder Rangers are Tyler's parents. I know Kyoryuger had a crossover with Bakuryū Sentai Abaranger (Japanese counterpart to Dino Thunder) and Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, (Japanese counterpart to Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers) so they could be trying to lead up to some big "We are your parents" reveal later on in Dino Supercharge as part of an MMPR/Dino Thunder/Dino Charge crossover, but considering how badly the last few crossover events worked out, I doubt it.
Tyler appears to have more personality than, say, Troy Burrows from Megaforce had. He's still got a heaping deficiency of personality or authority though, otherwise he wouldn't get roped into some of the teams stupider plans. I tell you this, he's no Jason Lee Scott from MMPR, or Tommy Oliver from take your pick of the five teams he led, or Casey Rhodes from Jungle Fury, or RJ also from Jungle Fury, or especially Scott Truman from RPM. All of those I just listed were field commanders that wouldn't have gotten roped into lobbing construction equipment at a team-member until they found someone worthy of being a Ranger. It's a shame too, because I really want to like Tyler, and the series seems to be doing its best to make him a likable guy, but he doesn't have a whole lot of charisma, and his voice just isn't suited for a commanding role. I don't know if this is an issue with Brennan Mejia's acting or if it's just a direction issue. Either way, something different needed to happen, because I would buy Ziggy Grover from RPM as a leader before I'd buy Tyler as one.
Before I go on with the cast, I'd like to point out that it took me a while to remember all the Ranger's names in this series, and I still barely remember them now. I barely watched Power Rangers SPD and I can still name you most of the names of the characters off the top of my head, and I basically know the names of the entire lead and supporting cast of Mighty Morphin' Power RangersJungle Fury and RPM by heart, even years later. Dino Charge, on the other hand took about half a season before I could list off Ranger names. It got to the point where I had to have the Ranger Wiki open on my other computer while I was recording my commentary videos just so I could stop referring to the Rangers by suit color.
Anyways, next on the list is Chase Randall, played by James Davies. Black Parasaurolophus Ranger, and the token acknowledgement of the country Power Rangers has been filmed in for about a decade. Yes, we've finally got a Kiwi Ranger on the team. Not that you'd know that if they didn't plaster him and his gear in Kiwi birds and dedicate somewhere around four episodes or so to gushing all over New Zealand culture, since his accent is so broad he could pretty much be from England or Australia. Funnily enough, the actor himself is from New Zealand, and I actually know a guy from New Zealand who has a similar accent to Davies, so it's entirely possible this is his normal speaking voice, and not just something the directors cooked up to make American audiences more comfortable. Who knows?
Chase is sold as the Hot-Shot of the group, using his Morpher-gun and Parachopper as his primary fighting weapons. He's supposed to be this brash, bold figure who charges into battle guns-blazing, but all I see him doing is exploiting his catch-phrases and gimmicks while attempting to form a "unique" identity in a series which stomps on unique ideas, proper pacing, decent characterization and good storytelling until they can fit into manila folder. Chase seems like he was intended to be the new Dillon from RPM. They're both Black Rangers, and they both have Zords which act as cannons when attached to a Megazord. The difference is that Dillon was mysterious, talented, and sarcastic. He had flaws, goals, ideals, relateable emotions, and some kind of purpose in the story! Chase is a bunch of Australian and Kiwi (But mostly Australian) stereotypes holding a fancy magic gun while he spouts off his "radical" catchphrases. Dillon is cool. Chase was manufactured to be cool without any real idea of what makes a character cool.
In fact, let's compare this Chase to another Black Tokusatsu hero from 2015, one who just so happens to share his name. Spoiler warning, go watch Kamen Rider Drive, it's a really good show, and much better than anything Saban's put out in the last five years. Fans of Kamen Rider Drive will already know that I'm talking about Chase, AKA Kamen Rider Protodrive, AKA Kamen Rider Chaser. Another character that uses a gun a lot, but unlike Chase from Dino Charge, Chase from Drive had an arc, decent development over the course of the series, emotional conflicts he had to come to grips with, and actual relationships with his fellow Kamen Riders. You got to see Chase in Drive change, and learn things over the course of the series. Something which Dino Charge's Chase didn't do at all. I'd say it has to do with Drive not having to try and characterize somewhere in the order of eleven main characters over the course of its run, but Power Rangers RPM had seven Rangers, and they were all incredibly well-characterized, so it's basically down to a writing issue here. If it wasn't for all the episodes they spent piddling around doing jack squat, maybe we could have some good characterization. Who knows. No matter what, Chase from this series isn't cool, he's manufactured cool. He's never gonna be cool.
Moving on to our Blue Stegasaurus Ranger, a cave-man Koda, played by Yoshi Sudarso. Koda is about the closest thing this series has to a decently-written character, although the way his character was written back in Dino Charge was inconsistent to say the least. Fortunately there are some good character details that help to clear up some of the questions I had about the character. Unfortunately however, this episode starts off with a few character details we could have done with earlier in the series. Like how for instance, Koda is afraid of ice after having been frozen alive for thousands of years. The basis of Koda's character could have been summed up as "dumb guy jokes" back in Dino Charge, with a total of one episode dedicated to him adjusting to modern life. I hope they intend to play up Koda's innocence and drop the incredibly bad jokes made at his expense, because then we could have at least one character worth remembering. If not, then it's just gonna be one more thing to add to the pile of reasons why Saban shouldn't be making Power Rangers anymore. I'll say this for Koda though, no matter how many bad jokes or puns are made, either by him or at him, you can't ever hate him. It's just not possible.
Next up is the Green Raptor Ranger, Riley Griffin, played by Michael Taber. His gimmick is that he fences a lot, so he uses a sword. He's also apparently the requisite nerd of the group, since he happens to be able to calculate angles and pounds of force in his head. Not that this is ever of much use, except for that one time he got into a match of 3D chess with a monster-of-the week. No, seriously. Riley is another character that I can't summon up any dislike for, for no other reason than I can't really figure out what he's supposed to do. You could have easily cut him from the team, rolled his personality traits into one of the other characters and wound up with a tighter-knit group. As it is, outside of the handful of episodes dedicated to him last season, he doesn't seem to really do much outside of fill space.
Our fifth Ranger is for once not a Yellow Ranger, but a Pink one. A Pink Triceratops Ranger, Shelby Watkins, played by Camille Hyde. Shelby is Tyler's sort-of love interest when the writers actually remember that they're supposed to be having some kind of relationship. Because Daigo and Amy had a romantic relationship in Kyoryuger and we're too cheap/lazy to try and make the suit footage match actual characters!
No, seriously. Saban actually recreated some scenes and basically the entire plot from Samurai Sentai Shinkenger shot for shot, blow for blow while making Samurai. The reason why I bring this up now is because there are some shots in the episode that I'm told are taken from Kyoryuger footage which literally make no sense in context otherwise. Not between Shelby and Tyler, but between Tyler and the ninth Ranger in this little catastrophe of a team.
Shelby is... Odd. She's a waitress, but she's sort of way too smart to be a waitress, while also lacking much in the way of common sense. Then again, that basically describes most of this team when they're not in their suits. Shelby's whole gimmick is basically that she's a stereotypical girl about some things, and not others unless she feels the need to be with Tyler in that moment. For instance, the whole reason she gets roped into one of the dumber schemes the team cooked up back in the first season is because she thought Tyler looked hot in a military dress uniform. I'd love to try and give a more in-depth opinion of Shelby, but like most of the characters in this show, she feels like someone got done writing about a quarter of her defining traits and then someone was asked to write a script around them. All I ask for is a bit of consistency and detail. Show me what they like and what they don't like. A bit of personality, a taste even would be enough to shut me up at this point, at least until Saban digs more plot-holes.
The sixth member of this motley crew is Sir Ivan of Zandar, portrayed by Davi Santos, a knight from Medieval times and a country which doesn't exist. He's the Gold (Sometimes Yellow depending on the footage used) Pteradactyl Ranger. He was sealed inside one of the main villain's bodies for some reason, and was released by Tyler hundreds of years later. He joined the team after going off on an incredibly stupid journey to recruit more worthy team-mates. Picking elderly crossing-guards and pensioners rather than any of the scores of Rangers that have come before. (technically after, but I'm not even sure Dino Charge takes place in an existing Power Rangers universe) Ivan comes close to being a good character, but falls just short due to the desperate lack of any kind of development beyond "chivalrous and brave knight." We've had brave characters before, we've had honorable characters before. We need something that makes Ivan stand out. Personally, I can't hate Ivan much since he'd be just about perfect if the writers put even a little more effort into his character. I'm basically a sucker for a good time-displacement story, and Ivan is literally from one of my favorite periods of history. He fights with a longsword too! And he shoots lightening from it! He could only be more awesome if he was in charge of the team! But alas, he's not. It's a shame, because Davi Santos has exactly the kind of command to his voice that I'd expect out a Red Ranger.
The next Ranger on our list is Prince Phillip III of Zandar, played by Jarred Blakiston, crown prince of the fictional country and the Graphite Pachycephalosaurus Ranger. He became a Ranger after finding out about the Dino Charge Rangers and deciding that he wanted to help out. So, he scoured the globe for an Energem and started doing good deeds in an attempt to prove his worth to whatever mystical force governs the Energems. Long story short, he succeeded in that task and became a Ranger in his own right. Unfortunately, he never seems to show up when he's needed. Mostly because he runs a country, but also because the Graphite Ranger didn't have a whole lot of screentime in Kyoryuger, and Saban wanted to cut down on original footage. Kind of like how Tommy didn't show up until the very end of a lot of fights in the first season of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers because his Japanese counterpart lived in stasis cave and only left when his teammates were in extreme peril. This brings up some fairly major issues later on in this episode which we'll get to later. Honestly, Phillip is pretty cool. He's literally the only member of the team who joined voluntarily as opposed to being roped into it by chance, luck or circumstance. Phillip, Ivan and Koda are easily the three best characters in the show, since they've got the most personality. Right off the bat, from the moment Phillip was introduced, you could tell that he was cut out to be a Ranger. Unlike how civilians or governing figures tend to handle alien incursions in Power Rangers, he decided to pitch in and help. Hell, he went a step further, devoting the resources of his country to bolstering the combat effort. Just a shame that this has to be set in a fictional city in California (No doubt somewhere near Angel Grove) instead of a fictional country in Europe. It would have been something new at least. And they wouldn't have been able to drool over New Zealand like they did. Nothing against New Zealand, it's just that Saban seemed determined to fulfill some sort of "New Zealand promotion quota." I'll tell you this much, it was harder to watch than the sightseeing in ToQger was. At least that series is set in the place it's touring. I guess what I'm trying to say is that they should have just set the show in New Zealand, and let us see a team of Mighty Morphin' Kiwi Rangers. Some kind of change of setting at least. Something to shake things up.
Finally, we come to the last Ranger, (for now at least) Kendall Morgan (Claire Blackwelder), the Purple Plesiosaurus Ranger. For some reason, even though she's obviously the same age as or younger than the other Rangers, she insists that they call her Miss Morgan. What's her personality like? Well, it's best described as a bad knockoff of Doctor K from Power Rangers RPM. Except that unlike Doctor K, nobody sees any reason to call her out on the fact that she's placed herself in a position of authority above them despite being about the same age as the rest of the team. There's literally no other way to describe her, she is literally a bad knockoff of Doctor K, with all of the unique personality and character dynamics hammered out. And rather than making new equipment that the Rangers might actually need or have some use for, she makes useless stuff like the Dino Cupid Charger. Or a flamethrower Charger that's only ever used once. Or the Dino Stretch Charger, made completely irrelevant by the fact that they have two flying Megazords. Or, god forbid, the Dino Gas Charger, which literally causes the Megazord to fart gas into the enemy's face. Not. Making. This. Up. Rather than building new Zords, she waits for them to come to her. Rather than being pro-active and constructing some kind of Energem-powered laser-cannon to blow Sledge out of the sky, or converting his ship into something the Rangers can use, she just keeps building pointless crap, and things that barely work. Then again, they don't really establish to what extent Kendall actually built the Ranger equipment, so for all we know most of it was created by the Energems. Kendall is utterly devoid of personality, and basically just serves to fill the team roster and the base-commander role without actually doing anything unique that couldn't be done by a completely different character. Combine Kendall, Riley and Shelby and what changes? Not a whole lot.
Anyways, down to the plot.
Last time, the Rangers crashed Sledge's ship, and like idiots, didn't search it to make sure him and his crew were 100% dead. So, a new villain named Snide had taken over in his command and promised all of the inmates he rather stupidly didn't turn in for the bounties on their heads millions of years ago that they would gain favor with him if they were to bring him an Energem. Second verse, same as the first on that front. The Rangers, idiots as they are, have given up their powers and gone their separate ways for a few weeks before getting abducted by a freezing monster and taken to Snide to steal their Energems. Why they don't just break into the Ranger's base is beyond me. It's only got three Rangers on duty at this point, and abducting three Rangers from around the country, possibly even from around the world seems incredibly counterproductive, when you could just send in a single spy to monitor Ranger activity for a few days, determine that they're not even guarding their damn base most of the time, break in when nobody's there with the entire ship full of backup, kick Keeper's ass, and steal all the equipment. Keeper's staff can un-bond an Energem, so all they'd have to do is un-bond the energems and re-bond them to their own people so they can have the power all to themselves. But they don't do that. Instead, they abduct four of the seven Rangers with only Koda and Tyler escaping, although it's never really explained how Tyler escaped. Prince Phillip is nowhere to be seen for some reason, even though Snide's people managed to track Chase to New Zealand (Or possibly not, we're never actually told where he was, although he said he was going back to New Zealand at one point.). Maybe Phillip was the only one they couldn't take, because between his security and the fact that nobody seems to know where his country is, they just decided not to bother.
Most of the time, Power Rangers only leave their Morpher's behind when they've burnt out, or need repairing. Hell, Adam Park had a damaged Mastadon Morpher that he kept on him, and it still worked! So why, when you could stick a Charger in your pocket and when you appear to be able to literally summon gear from thin-air (Point Kyoryuger, at least they had holsters) would you not keep a Charger or two as backup? Why wouldn't you just use the Power to fight street-level crime the way Albert Smith, the original Dino Charge Purple Ranger did? With great power comes great responsibility, and if I had Ranger powers and had just annihilated all known alien threats, I'd keep the gear around, because you just know you're going to need it!
The only two Rangers that stayed with Kendall at the Museum after Sledge's defeat were Koda and Ivan. Koda at least makes sense, where else is he gonna go? But Ivan should be in Zandar with Phillip, he is a Knight of the Realm after all. Maybe he chose to stay there, who knows? I'd love for these things to mean more than they seem, but I'm hesitant to try and make sense of this series plot. After all, the last prediction for the show I came up with was what Koda's origin was, and I was almost entirely wrong.
Anyways, Tyler and Koda make use of Koda's earlier technique of letting clothing get caught in the ice and then ducking out, but unlike before, they do so with their Ranger suits, to which I call shenanigans. First off, I've seen behind-the-scenes footage of Power Rangers, you cannot get out of those suits without some kind of help. Second, the only part of the suit you can take off while inside it is your helmet. If you demorph, the suit vanishes back to wherever it comes from. This is a well-established rule of the franchise. It was even partially explained in Power Rangers RPM. Then again, Saban seems to take pleasure in attempting to undermine every point RPM made about the franchise. And third, I've worn paintball gear and baseball gear less complicated than those suits are, and I still can't get out of them that fast! Fourth, this raises the question as to what those suits are made of. Part of the reason I like Kamen Rider is that the Riders actually get suits that can pass for armor, whilst Power Rangers and Super Sentai teams are usually wearing Lycra or Spandex, neither of which would provide adequate protection against most of the attacks sustained in a typical episode.
Long story short, they use that flamethrower Charger to melt their team-mates, they kick some ass, the requisite Megazord fight ensues, Rangers save the day, Rangers get back together after two weeks apart due to them not following up on their last kill.
Now, let's cover some specific issues. First off, back in Dino Charge, they introduced a resurrection machine to bring back dead monsters, but it only works if they have a piece of the monster to bring back. The Rangers knew that Sledge had this technology, so why didn't they steal it? I know of more than a few dead Rangers and one dead space-wizard that they could use that on. Hell, the Rangers could use it on themselves if one of them was ever killed, that way they have a means of resurrecting fallen comrades. Hell, that machine would make death utterly irrelevant, so why didn't they take it? Or salvage Sledge's entire space-ship and turn in all his prisoners to whoever runs the space-jail for the bounties on their heads? It'd eliminate a bunch of potential threats, and turn them a nice profit as a bonus! That's money they could spend on maybe expanding the Corinth Project beyond just one city. Earth seems to deal with alien-invasions all the time, it'd be nice to have a huge shield around the planet. We are coming up on the actual time of Power Rangers SPD, so they might as well start stepping the general technology up a bunch so they don't have to erase that from continuity as well. Maybe it'll just get shunted into the main universe where all of the good shows live and whatever series airs in 2020 can just be Blando Mcboring Rangers. Season Nine.
Then there's Keeper, basically Dino Charge's attempt at creating a Zordon-style character. Except Zordon had a reason for not doing much other than giving advice, he was literally trapped between dimensions. In a lot of ways, Keeper does even less that that, since he only shows up ever now and again, occasionally fighting monsters, but for the most part, Keeper doesn't serve much real purpose. Another case of a character that could have been sliced out of the final product without any major consequences.
Finally, we get to Heckyl. Heckyl is the human form of Snide, and he would be a great villain if only he knew what an inner-monologue was! As it is, he all but incriminates himself in front of the Rangers multiple times across every episode he's been in.
This brings me to an issue with the music. There's a scene where Heckyl is talking to Kendall about getting a job at the cafe (Oh yeah, another criticism I could make that I'll get to later) and the music they play is so upbeat and cheerful that it ruins any drama the scene might have had! If this was Death Note, or Kamen Rider Drive, or Jungle Fury or RPM there would have been a much more appropriate musical cue playing behind the conversation. One that truly demonstrated the gravity of the scene.
Then there's the fact that A) The Rangers seem to feel the need to keep their identities secret despite there being plenty of very public Power Rangers teams beforehand, and it's pretty much pointless since the monsters know their faces and names, and B) That the Rangers work out of a cafe in a museum. I know in Jungle Fury the Rangers worked out of a pizza parlor, but those guys had the excuse of both being broke and having an incredibly roundabout teacher who used the pizza preparation as lessons in teamwork. These guys don't have that excuse.

So, all in all this episode kinda sucked, but it was still better than some of the worst episodes of the last season. Last season had about six episodes worth of decent content at best, but I'm holding out some hope that this season doubles that amount. Who knows? Maybe the next series, Power Rangers Ninja Steel (Yes, that's actually the title) will have higher production values and better writing if we can prove to Saban that that's what the fans really want.
Oh, what's that? Saban Capitol Group just donated two million dollars to Hillary Clinton's campaign for president? Well, so much for that then.

In the end, I give this episode a 4.0* rating.