“Ghost in the Shell: Arise Parts 3 & 4” Review

I always love coming back to the world of Ghost in the Shell – a fully realized future that is amazing to get lost within its police procedural setting. It’s richly intricate detail in every aspect of its society that rarely slows down, but always feels involving. It’s very dense and even a tad overly expositional to be sure, but that is part of the fun in trying to decipher Ghost in the Shell. It takes a hard science fiction approach to a plot dressed up with layered politics and thrilling action sequences. It’s that rare exception of a sci-fi series that can have its cake and eat it too.

In the third episode, Motoko finds herself being drawn back into a dark organization just as she is starting to form her own law-abiding unit of cybercrimes. While her team investigates a conspiracy involving faulty cybernetic legs, she is caught between her love of a cybernetics designer and her allegiance to a secret society. Motoko has been given much more character than she has in other versions of Ghost in the Shell, but this episode gives her much more to work with. Her attempt at trying to form a romance and distance herself from her past life of violence really brought an extra dimension to the stoic woman.

The mystery of trying to unravel the conspiracy of murder and cybernetic materials is as engaging as it ever was, but boosted all the more by some astonishing moments of character. I also appreciate how the more-human-than-cybernetic Togusa is slowly brought into the fold of Section 9 as the family man cop. He’s always been a moral glue to this cold universe of cybercrime and there’s more a reason to root for him as she rushes to the aid of his pregnant wife.

The fourth episode is one of the most action-packed of the series thus far. It begins with a bang where an operation to find a terrorist during a press conference leads to a mass-hacking which leads to a mass-execution. Riot officers are manipulated into firing at a crowd of protesters and then at each other as the conferences quickly descends into violence amid the city streets gleaming with Christmas lights. Another conspiracy is uncovered involving international politics and the technological crime of “ghost dubbing.” The plot itself is pretty much par for the course of usual Ghost in the Shell cases, but there are some nice touches in the form of rampaging robot tanks and a unique cyber-vision of Wizard of Oz characters.

I can’t reiterate enough how much I love this OAV for actually feeling like an OAV series as opposed to a shameless excuse for animated beach episodes. The budget for these episodes were well spent with such vivid, detailed and lively animation. Just pause any exterior shot and look at all the little nuances in the backgrounds of a glowing metropolis. It’s one of the few anime series I enjoy getting lost in without feeling guilty for lack coherent writing. Given that this appears to be the last episodes of the series – being followed up by a movie – I’m pleased that this OAV went out looking so good. It didn’t end with a bang, but a consistently strong tone.

This latest release of Ghost in the Shell: Arise renews my faith in OAVs and reaffirms my love of the franchise. Though not as robustly dense as its various animated adaptations, this series is well-worth the time of any Ghost in the Shell fan, new or old. It’s more than worth a purchase for an anime series that has more intelligence, detail and thrilling action than any other anime currently on the market.

“Attack on Titan: Volume 2” Review

‘Attack on Titan’ presents a darker twisted world of giants that’s less like a fable and more like a zombie apocalypse. Cities are attacked by marauding, monstrous creatures with human features that eat humans constantly in their mindless hunts for food. They don’t wear clothes, they don’t come from beanstalks and they certainly don’t speak with the usual Fe Fi Fo Fums. The only hope against taking down these towering enemies is an elite group of soldiers equipped with zipping grappling hooks and swords for slicing. I’m not too sure why they don’t just develop guns they could carry, but that probably wouldn’t looks as skillful as swordsman flying across the trees.

This second volume manages to up the ante by providing a new kind of giant. This one is an athletic female who is fast on her feet and doesn’t appear to eat any of her victims. With far more intelligence, she chooses to kill those in her way in a more creative manner by kicking them into the sky, smashing them against trees and whipping their bodies around like yo-yos. With the recent revelation that humans have the ability to transform into these giant killing machines, there is a mystery afoot trying to uncover just who is this new Titan assaulting the current group of soldiers on their current mission. But being such an efficient killer, the group may not live long enough to uncover the true identity.

What’s truly admirable about this series unlike the film ‘Jack The Giant Slayer’ is that there is a real sense of tension. We spend just enough time with the human characters that we care when the carnage begins to unfold. Like most Japanese animation with a horror element, the kills are very brutal and bloody, but they pack a bigger punch when it happens to the primary characters. The show builds them up and then takes them away quickly in a manner that isn’t overly dramatic. There are never any clear visual cues about who is going to bite the dust. When people are killed by the Titans it happens fast and without warning. It is nearly impossible to estimate who will and will not make it out alive.

While this second volume does provide more thrills and some interesting explorations on the mechanics of the Titans, I can’t help but point out that this entire volume was mostly just a chase. Things pull together in the end with a finale between the two human-mutated Titans, but for most of this arc we’re just following a group soldiers being picked off one by one in the woods by the giants. I wish there were some more dialogue exchanges between the characters that developed them just a little bit more. The few passages that are not focusing on Titan strategy is reserved for some truly awful dialogue about teamwork and bravery. Those are solid concepts, but they’re delivered as if this were a program for very young children.

All that being said, I did fall for the addictive nature of the show. The Titans are all very frightening with the otherworldly art style and freakishly horrifying manner they seek their prey. It’s little more than a chase with some swordplay, but it’s darn good at what it seeks out to accomplish more than any other anime. I don’t normally go for series with such a drawn-out arc of little more than action, but this ‘Attack on Titan’ is one I just couldn’t resist.

“Twin Peaks, The Entire Mystery” Review

‘Twin Peaks’ may be one of the best TV series I’ve ever seen produced since it hit ABC in 1990. Now the classic detective show that it is any thing but ordinary has finally come to Blu-ray in the form of ‘Twin Peaks, The Missing Pieces’. All the episodes from the TV series including the prequel film ‘Fire Walk With Me’ are included on this set – all of them with a new HD transfer supervised by creator David Lynch himself.

For those not familiar with the series, it takes place in the fictional rural Washington town of Twin Peaks. It seems like a quaint logging community, but when the popular high school girl Laura Palmer is found dead on the beach, the resulting investigation reveals the dark and sinister nature of the town. Overly-thrilled FBI Agent Dale Cooper, Kyle MacLachlan, is sent to the town to solve the crime and take in the charms of the area. The deeper Cooper goes, he slowly realizes that he’s dealing with much more than just a murder case. This is one case that leads to strange clues, intricate love triangles, creepy characters and a dark force from another dimension that seems to control the woods of Twin Peaks. What makes this show so unique is that it never settles for one note. Sometimes it’s a tongue-in-cheek satire of a soap opera, other times it’s a hard-nosed detective show or even a paranormal thriller. This may seem like a lot of balls to juggle, but creators David Lynch and Mark Frost pull off a very intricate balancing act. The result is a challenging and entertaining adventure through the dark corners of this small town.

The Blu-ray comes in a lavish box unlike anything I’ve seen before with an easy method for flipping through the multiple discs. The set contains all the same extras as the previous DVD boxed set as well as some new features including an interview with David Lynch talking to some of the cast as both people and the characters they play. That’s fun stuff, but the biggest draw is the Missing Pieces feature which contains 90 minutes worth of deleted scenes from the ‘Twin Peaks’ movie ‘Fire Walk With Me’. My only complaint is that the ‘Fire Walk With Me’ disc is a tad off-sync after the first hour. It was only slightly noticeable on my Blu-ray player.

Besides that one error, this is one of the best Blu-rays of the year despite the hefty price tag.

“VEEP: Season 2” Review

Does the need for jokes really outweigh the need for characters? I ask because the entire appeal of “VEEP” seems to be about nothing more than political officials spouting obscenities behind closed doors. Sure, that can be funny for a while, but after a few minutes the jokes gets old real fast. At that point you start looking for any likable characters you can latch onto that are not just vehicles for stupidity. Except once you start looking for something outside the crass humor and mean-spirited nature, there’s just nothing there.

Julia Louis-Dreyful once again plays the vice president who ends up being thrown into uncomfortable political situations. Some times they’re unavoidable and some times she walks right into them without any foresight. Her tactical team is just as inept and dumbfounded at both making smart tactical decision and generating a proper public image. Their angry frustration is mildly warranted by how the vice president just doesn’t take her job that seriously or stumbles into traps. At one point she ends up talking about Middle Eastern politics at a pig roast with a skewered hog directly behind her. Most political figures wouldn’t be able to recover so easily from such a fiasco, but the veep manages to come out of every disaster with few scratches. It sounds like her team works a miracle for this to happen, but it’s really just an unexplained miracle of wiping the slate clean for another troublesome scenario.

I kept trying to find something likable about any of these characters to make me route for them, but there is just nothing to them. Every single one if manipulative and only in the political game for their own gains. Most of these characters hardly bat an eye if given the opportunity to run for a higher office if they can sell out the vice president. And the vice president isn’t all that likable either given her awful mistakes, berating of her staff, constantly cussing and making some rather awful assumptions. There is nobody in this show to root for at all. In the season finale, it looks as though the vice president has a shot at being the actual president. Honestly, who cares about that if all the characters are vile messes? The only way these scripts could have been entertaining is if these characters got their just desserts in the end, but, again, they all come out of these incidents with flying colors. So, once again, who cares about them?

You can have a show with deeply flawed main characters that happen to be antagonists. Just look at “House of Cards”, “Breaking Bad” and “Archer”. However, those shows managed to be enjoyable simply for how well their little schemes were executed and the layered nature of their characters. “VEEP” has none of that; just jokes. Yeah, I laughed once or twice, but that was between long stretches of being bored and tired of the venom these characters spit at each other. It’s much more like “The Office” where it appears more focused on telling a real good joke no matter how out of place or inappropriate it appears for a story.