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So, last night, although I read an incomplete series translation (fine by me, only because I feel like the latter half of the third act of KH2 in-game is kind of...weak), I read through the KH2 manga. By read through, I of course mean plowed through over the course of one night, because that's how I roll. And for the most part, I liked it, but at the same time, I'm glad I own physical copies of just the first two volumes, as I felt they were the strongest overall. Then again, for the vast majority of this manga, I read it in chapters and not necessarily volumes--so, it's hard telling. When the writer adds embellishments to the canon plot that focus on further development of certain characters, it's quite strong. Other times, there are additions that seem just plain silly. Then, with other times, it feels like there are dramatic tonal shifts that affect the overall quality--I think one would see this most apparent in the Disney world panels, there's just such a clash of light-hearted and kind of fucked-up that was almost uncomfortable. Overall, though, I'd say the additions are for the better than for the worse...for the most part.

Before I go any further with this review, I feel like I should add some context. The first couple of volumes of the KH2 manga were probably two of the last things that TokyoPop ever published before they folded in 2009, leaving the series incomplete. Then, another publisher, YenPress picked it up for continuation. As of, like, two months ago, apparently, they just wrapped things up (at least English version)--see, KH2 is a complex game, so it only makes sense that it would take this long...kind of. Not surprising, the Japanese versions came out before the English ones did, so people online took the liberty and did some translating themselves. So, with that said, it is interesting to see how often curse words show up, which makes me wonder if that's on the end of the translators or the publishers.

Considering that in the online translated Chain of Memories only, Sora tells Marluxia he'll kick his ass, I'm going to have to go with the former on that one.

I'll get the negative out of the way: there are some weirder or darker moments involving Disney characters. I bring this up, because you can tell that between the initial drafting of the previous KH mangas--Chain of Memories and KH1--and the publishing of them, there was a lot of dialogue sanitation, I guess. I doubt Disney plays much of a role in the manga volumes getting published, but it's clear that these mangas are geared more toward 12 and up rather than the largely teenage and young adult fanbase Kingdom Hearts tends to have. KH2 manga kind of caters more toward the older audiences....while at the same time trying to maintain the younger audience. This is a detriment here.

I'll give some examples. In the KH2 game, Sora figures out that Mulan is a woman disguised as a man, because he overhears her talking to Mushu while in uniform. In the manga, he finds out because he catches her swimming....Yeaaah, why was that necessary?

Example number two: Pete is plotting with Hades in the Underworld, trying to figure out the best way to weaken Hercules to turn him into a Heartless. As with the game, Hades brings up Auron from the pit of the dead to do battle with Hercules. One of the first things that happens upon his revival is that, when Pete says something stupid, he gets at him so hard that his clothes go away and he's just left in his underwear. And he's just standing in his underwear for at least six more chapters after that. Kind of uncomfortable. I know it was meant to be funny, but it was just weird to me, especially since it never happened in-game. And it's one thing to see that in a cartoon, but usually in the next shot, the character gets their fucking clothes back at least. Awkward!

And example number three isn't really an example but just something I noticed throughout: the characters curse quite a bit. Now, that's not to say I inherently object to fictional characters cursing in stories--we do it ourselves, either out of habit or frustration/anger--so it would be stupid to expect them to sound angelically perfect all the time. That's not what a good character is, usually. But, back when I did the vast majority of my fic writing, I often operated under this rule--if it doesn't make sense for certain characters from a certain world to curse, don't have them curse. I didn't have a problem here with the more Final Fantasy-like characters cursing--especially Cid, naturally--but more so the Disney characters. Obviously, this probably has more to do with the sanitation of official publication/translation being absent, but it's still awkward. Like reading Maleficent say "shit". Kind of cool but more out-of-place once you think about it--she's too eloquent for that sort of talk, she'd think it was beneath her.

And every Disney character here (with the exceptions of the purer ones such as Mickey, Minnie, etc.) pretty much takes their turn at saying "damn" or "damn it".  Even Donald casually refers to Goofy and Sora as "dumbasses" at one point. At first, I thought it was pretty funny, but as I read, I was starting to get annoyed by how often this was happening. Japan and China really like to curse, apparently--rumor has it that cursing is a thing even in their kids' cartoons.

And the other really negative thing I have to mention here is that there is some padding with certain chapters, and the pacing can be off sometimes. I don't think we necessarily need four chapters of them being in Olympus, yet here they are. There's a chapter dedicated to Maleficent interacting with the treasure hunters (Rikku, Paine, and Yuna) and another one dedicated to her interacting with Pete--both probably could have been omitted. Those are the ones that just really stuck out in my mind, although I'm sure there are others. Another one I'm thinking of is when Sora interacts with Hayner, Pence, and Olette one last time before he goes through the portal to the World That Never Was. These panels definitely feel like they go on forever and are just very tedious.

Oh, and Vexen--or, rather, Vexen's clones--return here. Again, an attempt at comedy gone south. Basically, Vexen clones collectively are Kenny from South Park. And one of them kills Xaldin. Look, I get Xaldin wasn't really a good person and didn't have much of a character arc, but for fuck's sake, he definitely deserved a better end than this! He at least dies more epicly in the game, I'll give him that much credit there.

OK, so that's finally all the criticisms out of the way. For the most part, I liked that this series focuses more on the more relevant Disney worlds (as in those more relevant to the plot, mostly ones that have Org. XIII members running around) and featuring more "behind-the-scenes" scenes that the game writers didn't bother to think of or include but maybe ought to have, especially with Axel's characterization and I'd say Kairi's characterization to some extent. Everyone actually gets a bit of character development, and even Sora's is slightly better here than in the actual game...which is, kind of sad, as the manga is by no means considered canon.

And it's so nice to have a prologue that isn't so stuffed with padding compared with the original game! It just goes to show the game developers, really, that you could develop this interesting story and not take as long with it to start things off. I guess it doesn't help that the games have this tendency to overexplain everything. Roxas also felt more like a character to me here than he did in the game's prologue in which he didn't start feeling this way (at least initially, in my opinion) until basically the third act of the prologue--yes, the in-game prologue is that freaking long. Before then, he seemed pretty bland and was slated to being the "emo" one of his friend group, always angsting out over something and not just existential either. 

DiZ manages to be even more unlikable than he is in the games. How impressive. And I never noticed this before, but I can definitely draw some parallels between him and Dumbledore, right down to their enjoyment of sweet treats. But, like Dumbledore, DiZ/Ansem the Wise seems to have control issues due to a traumatic life event (sister's death for Dumbledore and basically causing his realm to fall apart for Ansem) and is intent on manipulating everyone around him to meet his own ends. They at least have him cry in regret for this later in the manga, and that's fine and all...BUT, you still referred to Roxas as "it" earlier and locked Namine away in a broom closet. Go fuck yourself.

I also liked that more attention seems to be drawn more to Xigbar and Saix, and I'm pretty sure this manga came out BEFORE the spin-off games. Even in KH2, it was fairly obvious that these guys were going to be more plot-relevant and complex characters later on in the overall games' story. Particularly Saix, who interacts with each of the main trio at some point and has this history with Axel that points to them being enmeshed in each other's lives still--probably one of the greatest yet most tragic rivalries in the series. In the manga, I noticed that whenever he gets into his "moon rages", that's when he basically lets go of all inhibitions and gets to the metaphorical "heart" of what he implicitly means when he's more reserved. I can't, unfortunately, explain things better than that, but suffice it to say...he's always been one of the more emotional Nobodies than what he lets on. Which makes his apparent fate in 3D that much sadder, as he's reduced to little more than a puppet...I don't know if he'll even operate of his own volition when we get to KH3, but that's another discussion for another day. And Xigbar is Xigbar--casual slacker in appearance and mannerisms but seems to know more than the hero and perhaps more than the rest of the Organization. He's still evil, though, but I feel like he at least deserves a solid, surprising ending to his arc once KH3 happens.

To repeat what I mentioned earlier, Sora is a better character here than in the game, simply because he empathizes with the Nobodies somewhat, especially with Demyx and Axel. His interactions with them make him question if all the Organization XIII is pure evil or if all Nobodies in general are inherently bad when it's clear that they lack hearts and not by choice either. This is the Sora I had expected but didn't get in the game--he was kind of a douche, to be honest. Look, there's a reason why in half of my KH parodies I used to write, he was portrayed as someone who wanted to mindlessly kill Nobodies first and ask questions later. But, eh, not relevant here.

Axel's whole arc is, not surprisingly, THE BEST part of this manga for me. If Sora and his ongoing search for Riku and Kairi isn't considered the most emotional center of this whole thing (and let's be real, it is), Axel's arc plays just as much of a factor. As it is, it's definitely a close second to Sora's quest for his friends. Axel is essentially living proof that Roxas' non-existence matters, as much as DiZ keeps saying otherwise, even after Roxas is fused with Sora. And that Sora, as the gatekeeper between light and dark, has left his mark on the "darker" side as well. Axel is a completely changed person by near the end of KH2 compared to how he was in Chain of Memories. What's great about the manga is that the process Axel goes through in becoming a better person is more detailed than in the game. In the game, I almost feel like we don't get enough of the transition--we still see it but only in subtle ways, and he doesn't have a ton of scenes besides. Which I get, because at the end of the day, this is still a video game we're talking about here, not a book.

What I really, really liked is here, the reader pretty much gets what Axel and Kairi's dynamic is while he still has her captive. And it's pretty much what I always speculated it would be, if written out and explored more: Kairi initially wants to fight Axel and interrogate him for answers that he won't initially give concerning why he's even bothered to kidnap her in the first place...and once he does give her answers, she's more understanding and sympathetic toward him. And as they get to know each other a little bit and develop a somewhat uneasy truce/alliance, Axel changes his mind about wanting to use her as bait for Sora to get Roxas back. Because I think he understands that Sora means a lot to Kairi, almost as much if not more so than Roxas means to Axel. He develops a strong sense of empathy, in other words, just by interacting with her. I think he already had that with Roxas, but with Kairi and then Sora, it becomes more and more apparent that the light is having its impact on him. 

His whole arc, really, is emotional as FUCK! Because, whoosh, Saix sweeps in to kidnap Kairi himself and take her back to The World That Never Was to also use her as bait for Sora. Interestingly, both Axel's and Saix's goals are essentially the same, but obviously Axel's is more emotionally driven and Saix's is more of a chessmaster's motive--it only makes sense to capture the queen and hope the upstart chess opponent, so to speak, makes his move to counter it. And I don't like chess, but I digress. But, what I find even more emotional, is that Axel, out of regret and guilt for what he's put Kairi through, actually INFILTRATES ORG. HQ to try to break her out! Then, another emotional high point, Saix comes around and fights Axel in a moon rage. Knowing now what's been established with them having been such great friends once, nothing is more damning and almost Shakespearean tragic than when Saix manages to successfully impale Axel with his claymore.

Here's me at this point:

I mean, damn! This Disney/Square-Enix property probably wouldn't have the guts to portray something so violently tragic in the games, although I see KH3 being a game-changer as far as that's concerned. Yet, Axel is still not dead, but it is heavily implied that the wound he sustains is a mortal one...and at the hands of his ex-best friend. That right there gives me less and less hope for a full-on redemption arc for Saix/Isa, because even in-game, we see Axel has already been weakened before he fights the Dusks with Sora.

And his last thoughts of Roxas are written so beautifully and so precisely, even his dying moment is longer than it is in the game, when he speaks to Sora about him. Basically, just when I thought I was desensitized to this whole scene, considering I've played KH2 at least six or seven times at this point, Amano made it just new enough that it brought all the emotion of it back. So, yeah, I cried like a fucking baby again.

So, for the most part, this manga does an excellent job in not only making some of the game's story concepts easier to understand but also adding more depth to the characters. Even Demyx gets more screentime! In spite of the filler, I think the good in the series more than makes up for it. Especially with Axel's arc, just very, very strong work right there. 

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 Going to take this directly from my LJ on this one, where I basically talk about things I've watched on Netflix and/or outside of it that I personally find interesting enough to write about. I don't do this literally every week but every now and again.

This is Spinal Tap (1984)--Weirdly, not as funny as I remember it being from when I saw it a few years ago. I think it suffers a little bit from length (it's not even 90 minutes, guys), because I think there could have been so many more rock band stereotypes to make fun of. As it is, the interchangeable drummer gimmick from their interviews was great...And I mean Stonehenge. Just Stonehenge--probably one of the funniest gags I've seen in ANY movie! But, then there's the "Yoko Ono" stuff with lead singer David's girlfriend Janine, and the manager just quitting halfway through the movie...I swear after that manager left, the movie just dragged a little bit more, because oops, there goes your biggest source of conflict right there (between him and the band)! I think the main cast playing the band did more than a convincing job of nailing their roles as "rock gods (in their own minds)", especially Christopher Guest. The faces he makes when playing guitar, just pure physical comedy at its finest! Or perhaps pure rubberfaced comedy. Either way.

People to watch for: Fran Drescher before she became "The Nanny" and Dana Carvey as a mime--you will recognize him when you see him, trust me! And one more I'd never noticed before and can't believe I didn't, but I'll leave that for you to find out.

Although I do enjoy this movie and appreciate that it was the first of its kind, it's definitely not the best mockumentary I've watched. I think, for my money, I'd pick "A Mighty Wind"...Really, you can't go wrong with Christopher Guest movies in general if dry humor's more to your liking. His movies also tend to delve deep into the subject matter, you will almost think you're watching a real documentary and not a comedic fake one. He's comedy's Ken Burns, is what I'm saying. 

E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982)--Believe it or not, a movie I haven't watched since childhood. Yes, it's been that long. I think I tried catching it on TV a few years ago, but the 10-minute long commercial breaks obviously put me off watching movies on cable in general. Otherwise....yeah, I think it's been a good 15 years since I'd seen it. What pushed my lazy ass to finally rewatch it was the fact that it was going to be off Netflix very soon (my reasoning behind half the stuff I watched this week). And man, talk about a movie that is just an experience.

I mean, I feel like everyone knows all about it--the iconic shot of E.T. and Elliot flying the bike by the moon, John Williams' score (probably my favorite score of his to be honest--yes, I'd rank it over his Star Wars stuff), the perfect cast,  that traumatizing quarantine scene that personally scared the crap out of me....

But, what's struck me rewatching it as an adult is just how interesting they make the slice-of-life stuff when Elliot and his siblings (Mike and Gertie) introduce so many Earth concepts to E.T. Seriously, slice-of-life stuff is hard to pull off effectively in a movie, especially a live-action family movie. It's either too dragged-out or too schmaltzy or just plain too boring. The screenwriter(s) or director might not even *get* kids, and that throws a real wrench in things. But, I always got the sense that Spielberg *got* kids, and this movie is the ultimate proof of that. There's no doubt that these are real kids with realistic sibling relationships--Elliot may be the precocious one, but at least he's the only precocious kid and not surrounded by the schmaltz of multiple precocious kids. Some might argue that the kids' interactions with E.T. get to be on the cutesy side, but I think they're fine. Some of them are still genuinely funny and hold up after all this time. The whole movie does, no doubt about it. And if it doesn't make you cry at some point, well, I won't say you don't have a soul but maybe you don't have emotions? I kid, sort of. ;)

Not surprising, a great movie, and those last ten minutes are PERFECT.

Things to look for: holy shit, all the Star Wars stuff. Yeah, I remembered the Yoda costume, but there were a few other Star Wars references here and there that surprised me. There's also a director cameo, but given this director's history with doesn't look so rosy now, let's just say that. If you know your film history at all (more specifically, your big on-set disaster history), you'll be like me and be "hey, it's that guy!", then you'll remember and be all "oh yeah...that didn't end well."

The Prince and Me (2004)--OK, coming from someone who actually likes this cheesefest (and also really likes Julia Stiles movies), I never understood why they made an entire series out of this one movie. I liked the ending, it left no doubt what they would do or where they would go in their relationship (not technically spoilers, because that's almost every chick flick's ending), only when they would actually be together forever. But, I LIKED that about this movie. The direct-to-DVD sequels are so terrible, and they couldn't even find an actress who even remotely looked like Julia!! Ridiculous.

Anyway, I have to admit, I do have a soft spot for this movie. It takes me back to a weird place of nostalgia where yeah, middle school sucked for me and I didn't really do anything on the weekends, but you would probably find me in a room watching chick flicks on ABC Family. And I'd watch them all--Dirty Dancing, Ever After, Chasing Liberty, 13 Going on 30--this list goes on forever! ABC Family will never be that great for me again (no, not calling it "Freeform"), if only because I learned to appreciate chick flicks during this time. And I realize it's because I was seeing all these women-focused stories, even though we're not talking high quality with most of these movies. But, that's still really important.

OK, so is this movie some feminist masterpiece? No. That would be When Harry Met Sally for the record. But, what I really like about this movie is how driven main character Paige Morgan is and that she has all these goals and ambitions in life that she still wants to achieve, even AFTER she gets the guy. And that's actually, really, really important, because I feel like a lot of chick flicks will either skim that concept or not touch it with a ten foot pole. Like, oh, she got the guy, it's over. But, not in Paige's story. Granted, it's one of those cliche, overblown Cinderella stories, but it never loses its heart or its focus on what the female lead really wants out of life. Romance is a bonus, not a necessity to her. I think that's why my soft spot for the movie is as big as it is. And between this and 10 Things I Hate about You, there's no doubt at all that Julia Stiles is more than capable of playing a character with that kind of fire about her. Also, yes, the lead guy Prince Edvard (Luke Mably) is very hot--and I'm not a huge blond fan, usually. He's aged well by the way, for all of you curious Googlers.

I really liked the little references that only Midwesterners will get, since Paige is from Wisconsin--like how so many young women get engaged before 21 because they want to be wives and mommies immediately without considering all the options, how we will make the most random thing a sport (in this movie's case, riding lawn mower racing), and that there is room to dream big and get the hell out. But, it's always good to have your roots. OK, so things get a little folksy at times but not super obnoxious.

But, OK, I do still have problems with this one--like how pretty much all of Paige's female friends are introduced then dropped as if to show Paige isn't *like other girls*, so she's just meant for something bigger. That really bothers me sometimes in chick flicks, like, hello, your boyfriend shouldn't be your only friend or even the only person who truly understands you. I guess this is why Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants resonates with me so much. I also thought it gets awkward with how sloppily the movie transitions from being your typical slick, early 2000s rom-com to a Roman Holiday rip-off (almost). It's just a jarring transition and makes you feel like you're watching two different movies. Possibly three, if we're counting the Wisconsin vacation. I don't know, I just feel like we're talking a whole different caliber here where Miranda Richardson's involved--she's too good for this movie, and it shows. Not that that's meant to be an insult--but for real, Miranda Richardson deserves a better career. 

But, other than that, eh, I still really like it. I appreciated the Windsor family parallels to this fictional Danish royal family's. And it has enough endearing moments for me to save it from being....honestly, Chasing Liberty, a movie I loved when I was younger but now am almost too embarrassed to revisit. It's just a fun bit of fluff.

Christine (2016)
--I don't think I'll be watching this movie again any time soon. Not that it isn't good--it is, and Rebecca Hall's performance is just stunningly brilliant--but it's massively triggering for me as a depression/anxiety sufferer. Now, I know people like to make fun of that word "trigger" these days, but there's a reason it's used when talking about mental health. But, yes, there's one scene I did not expect to even be included in this movie--it's based on a real life anchorwoman and her story--that they outright showed. It's honestly haunted my thoughts ever since, it is so brutal, so graphic, and, I think, unnecessary. No wonder this woman's family was against this movie ever being made, I'm sure it would have brought up a lot of bad memories for them.

It also can't decide whether it wants to be a movie that addresses/delves deep into mental health issues, a movie that calls out "blood and guts" journalism that really took off in the 70s, or, weirdly, a thriller ala All the President's Men. I think it tries at all three but doesn't quite succeed except maybe in the mental health category. And even though it halfway does, the screenwriter(s) still resort to stereotypes that seem to paint Christine Chubbuck as a one-dimensional "crazy person" and not someone a little more layered. It's kind of the same problem I had with Last Days, a not-so-subtle allegorical story similar to Kurt Cobain's: it focuses on the tragedy of the person and how this person was so *doomed* and things didn't look up, not once, you're supposed to see the subject as dead person walking....I think Hollywood definitely needs to think about mental health portrayals more often than they actually do.

It's not quite as bad here as in Last Days in my opinion: you do see moments where, even though Christine is going through a well-defined rough patch, there's still hope for her. She has co-workers who genuinely care about her, even though their boss is a major dick...almost to parody levels. She does volunteer work and clearly enjoys working with children. She's trying to really get her career on the up and up, so she's very driven. However, the movie does show that she can also be her worst enemy at the least opportune times...almost to the point of melodrama with outbursts that make me wonder ever actually happened in real life. I get the nature of bipolar disorder, but even then, I feel like this movie's understanding of it is so, so limited. But, better than most, dare I say it. Which is a sad state of affairs, but there you go.

And God, I don't even want to talk about that scene...I had some heavy dreams that night that didn't necessarily have anything to do with it, but that scene briefly took me to a dark place.

But, this movie is at least worth watching for Rebecca Hall. She carries this movie so well, and this is a way more suitable role for her than that literal throwaway character she played in Iron Man 3. She shines here, and her American accent is pitch-perfect. I'd love to see her in more things. I wish this movie had been thought out better and gotten more buzz, she would have been nominated for an Oscar for sure!

Unfortunately, I just can't get past the fact that this movie very much wanted to focus on someone inherently "doomed" as one is watching her descent into madness, so to speak. Fall from grace might be more accurate, maybe. And when they go into such graphic detail with that one scene, there's no question that that is what this movie's intention is. And that, ironically, makes it just as exploitative as the violent stories that Christine is so reluctant to cover on the news. There were all these rich themes and concepts that this movie could have extrapolated but just couldn't quite get there. Shame, this is a good cast involved, too.

Justice League (2001-2006)--
I really can't believe I didn't get into this show sooner. I think when it was initially on the air, I was going through a superhero backlash similar to the anime backlash I had pretty much around the same time. I didn't want to let on at school that I was actually this total nerd and adjusted my tastes accordingly. So, while I became totally obsessed with Teen Titans, I figured, that's it, this is the one exception I'm making for superhero shows. It was a weird time. That and watching a show like this where almost every episode is one part of a two- or three- episode arc made it really hard to just jump into right away. I can't imagine even watching it live now, having to wait for the next week for the follow-up episode--that would have made me so mad! Especially if it was a suspenseful ending.

I got through most of the first season this past weekend (and have since finished it up today), and I really enjoy it so far. It's one of those shows with a good ensemble cast that makes it really hard to pick a favorite character. As far as the comics world goes, I'm pretty much a Batman fan by default, but like I said, every character is awesome on this show. Wonder Woman might actually be my favorite, although Martian Manhunter is also pretty cool...And it really tickles me that Michael Rosenbaum was the voice of the Flash, considering how much I loved his Lex Luthor on Smallville

What makes this show very special is not only is it a Bruce Timm show but it's one that takes time to develop characters as well as showing the usual fight sequences. This is not Superfriends, thank god (how I was exposed to that crap before Justice League will forever be a mystery to me....). It also makes me think how, even though this is an animated show, it never dumbs itself down just for kids, because the writers seemed to know that it wasn't just kids watching this at the time. Older audiences were into it, too, though I didn't see too much JL-related merch on anyone at my school back then. Maybe this show--at least, my impressions so far--didn't consistently "go there" like Batman: The Animated Series often did, but there were moments just watching that have given me pause. This is definitely a smart show. And I miss animated shows like that--not to say they don't exist now, but they seem fewer and far between now than they've ever been.

So, really liking it so far. I hope to get through this and Unlimited by the end of the week.


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July 2017



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