My Hero Academia and the Horrifying Nature of Quirks

My Hero Academia is one of the most bizarre anime series I have ever seen. Not because it’s challenging, or intricate, or even that high concept, but because it lacks any semblance of logic. Now, that’s not to say I don’t like My Hero Academia. On the contrary, I watched both seasons with great enthusiasm, and enjoy much of the comedy, action and characters. However, when you really think about the setting, and the concept and apparent boundless nature of quirks, it is really quite strange and even horrifying.

I started thinking about this when the character of the Principal was introduced, who is essentially a very small polar bear. He is, according to the Wikipedia entry, a rare case of an animal manifesting a quirk, which is the show’s name for a super power. His power is that he has super intelligence, and thus he is treated just like a human, and is even in charge of Japan’s most prodigious school. Imagine the logistics of that — one day a polar bear is placed in charge of your education. You could devise a court room drama about him fighting to be recognised in society.

But if that seems outlandish, know that a dog is in charge of the police force. Unlike the Principal, the Police Chief appears to have been born human — only his head is that of a nonchalant beagle.

110

In the show, people are either born with their quirks, or they manifest by age four. That means one of two things: either his mother gave birth to a baby with a dog’s head, or one day as a child, he woke up in the morning to find his human face had warped quite spectacularly into a canine’s face. I wonder what would be more horrifying. Imagine the struggles this man has known and all he has overcome to reach the respectable heights of Chief of Police.

He isn’t the rarest specimen, though. During one of the early story arcs, the protagonists are attacked by a league of villains, many of whom sport terrifying features. There’s somebody with a Venus flytrap for a head, one is literally a black hole, and some are just beyond description. Just look at that cyan-coloured dinosaur thing and that paper man plastered in eyes. No wonder these people are villains, what do they have to live for!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Being born a monster is difficult enough, but imagine you’re born a regular person, only to lose your humanity one day when you transform into an abomination. Forget Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and the chilling imagery of Cronenberg’s The Fly, the real horror stories are in My Hero Academia.

Early on in the story, the protagonist is terribly upset that he does not have a quirk of his own, but in a world where you could end up a monstrosity, I would count my blessings. The characters themselves are never fazed, though. Nobody bats an eye when some nightmare fuel walks past, and even the weird looking ones are strangely content. At one point, Mina — who is a pink skinned girl, with black scleras and wonky horns — proudly declares herself the alien queen. That’s some quality self-assurance, right there. What a world it would be, where humanity more closely resembled an unearthly population of creatures. I would probably die of trauma if I awoke one day to find I had turned into a boulder, but these people rejoice.

Now, I know this is an action shounen series, and you could rightly deride me for taking it all so seriously, but it isn’t a straight-forward parody like One Punch Man. It takes itself seriously enough for me to take it seriously, and when you create a functioning, fictional world, you generally expect some semblance of sense. My Hero Academia is a special kind of ridiculous, but I kind of love it for that reason. Half the time I’m watching with a befuddled expression, but it’s so outlandish that it’s fascinating. It’s unproductive, but I love to ponder at the would-be traumatic pasts of all these surreal looking characters.

Watched This Month: April 2016

Hello, Captain! Welcome to another edition of Watched This Month. After pretty much two solid months of television, I’m finally catching up on some movies! I also recently joined letterboxd, which is essentially a film-focused social network that enables you to track and rate everything you watch. Give me a follow if you’re also set up over there and I’ll stalk you back. Also, I’ll make note that some of my ratings over on letterboxd may differ slightly to those I’ve given here because of the ability to award half stars. I wish I could hand out half stars on my blog, but there doesn’t appear to be a code or symbol for them and I’m not too fond on using an image as they look different depending on the browser and/or device and I’m all about order and consistency. Anyway, on with it!

Film Rating
Hail, Caesar! (Dir. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen)

The Coen brothers’ latest film follows Eddie Mannix, a Hollywood ‘fixer’ who is employed to protect and disguise the private lives of film stars. In the film, ‘Hail, Caesar!’ is a huge production that is halted by the kidnapping of its lead actor. Eddie Mannix begins proceedings to have the actor returned, all the while juggling with his usual daily duties such as dealing with the ever-persistent press and tending to an assortment of film stars embroiled in personal affairs.

The film is roughly shot in segments as Eddie Mannix travels from production to production for his work. Each set is beautifully and attentively crafted and all are brought to life by the wonderfully illustrious cast.

Come the end, it wasn’t as gripping as I anticipated it to be, but Hail, Caesar! was nevertheless charming, frequently funny and terrifically written with an assortment of masterful dialogue. In many ways, I saw it as the Coen brothers’ love letter to cinema and a fine piece of endearing and pleasurable light viewing.

★★★☆☆
Kung Fu Panda 3 (Dir. Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh)

The third film in the Kung Fu Panda series is more of the same, as we follow Po’s everlasting journey of self-discovery with more kung-fu to learn and a new villain in tow. I absolutely loved it, though. Just like the first two films, Kung Fu Panda continues to sound like a silly idea on paper, but is – in actuality – a highly stylistic film with a lot of heart and some expert comedy.

My only gripe with the third installment is that the film struggles to have a serious moment. Oftentimes the drama is lightened by a moment of silliness or some comical dialogue. The comedy itself is great – with even some of the less pronounced jokes worthy of an audible chuckle – but it’s a step back from Kung Fu Panda 2, which blended action, drama and humour so well.

Nevertheless, the film is an absolute blast with barely a dull moment. As ever, Jack Black is perfect as Po and I was glad to see Jackie Chan had a couple more lines this time around. Furthermore, J.K. Simmons and Bryan Cranston were wonderful additions who really brought their characters to life (though it is a shame Simmons’ villain Kai wasn’t was well developed as previous antagonists) and the film itself is so gorgeously animated and designed that – should the story fail you – at least it’s glorious to look at. The action sequences are also stunning and live up to everything precedent.

Kung Fu Panda 3 completes one of the finest animated trilogies around, but apparently there are no less than three more films planned. DreamWorks have done exceedingly well so far, but I wonder if the franchise will fatigue going into a hexology.

★★★★☆
New York, I Love You (Dir. Natalie Portman, Shunji Iwai, et al)

A collection of eleven short films by a variety of directors all set in New York City and revolving around themes of love or sex. Some are great, others not so much.

I watched the anthology due to Shunji Iwai’s involvement and (unsurprisingly) I found his short film – which stars Orlando Bloom as a composer stuck reading Russian literature – to be one of the most interesting. The plot was more satisfying and complete than most, though it wasn’t my favourite.

I really loved Shekhar Kapur and Natalie Portman’s segments. Kapur’s follows a suicidal opera singer (Julie Christie) who checks into a hotel and is befriended by a doleful bellboy (Shia LaBeouf). It’s delicately shot and very melancholic in tone. Almost everything I see of LaBeouf outside of Transformers I find entirely affecting; he’s a wonderful enigma of an actor.

Portman’s film is possibly the shortest, but I found it nonetheless emotional and also quite solemn and bittersweet. It follows a ballet dancer (Carlos Acosta) as he spends a day with his daughter, before handing her back to his ex-wife and her new partner. The daughter is played magnificently by Taylor Geare and though Acosta is actually a real life ballet dancer rather than an actor, I found his performance very nuanced and touching. It’s a very wistful and stirring few minutes that the format of a short film is able to portray immensely.

I also enjoyed Faith Akin’s short, which follows a painter (Uğur Yücel) obsessed with a local shopgirl (Shu Qi). Eventually he asks her if she’ll sit for him, but she declines. It’s another melancholic tale (I seem fond of those) tackled beautifully.

Sadly, I didn’t care for much else, which is why the rating isn’t so great. But if you have a couple of minutes to spare, a short film can be a great use your time. Sometimes I would much rather watch a collection of shorts over a feature, as there are often a couple of hidden gems and the format and low budget nature of shorts allow for a lot of artistry and creativity.

★★☆☆☆
Picnic (Dir. Shunji Iwai)

Picnic is a Japanese short-film helmed by one of my all-time favourite writer-directors; Shunji Iwai. There are two slightly different versions: a 67-minute cut and another at 72-minutes. The one I have is the 67-minute version.

The film follows a trio of mentally unwell 20-somethings – Coco, Tsumuji and Satoru – who are all patients at a psychiatric hospital. They long for the outside world but are forbidden to leave the walls of the asylum. However, they believe as long as they don’t go beyond the wall, they aren’t violating any rules, and so they climb up onto the wall of the institution and explore the surrounding city by walking along the walls and never touching the ground. Before long, they have a chance encounter with a priest who introduces them to the Bible. Tsumuji misinterprets a portion of the text and believes the world is ending soon. Thereafter, they hunt for the perfect spot to picnic and witness the end of the world.

First and foremost, the film has a very intelligible portrayal of the mentally ill; displaying to great degree how the simplest of phrases can have multiple interpretations. Furthermore, in such a short space of time, the audience grow to have such a tremendous understanding of Tsumuji and – to a lesser degree – Coco. The characterisation is magnificent, with Tadanobu Asano and Chara (who play Tsumuji and Coco respectively) truly excelling (fun fact: the two met on the set of Picnic and married a year later).

The cinematography is typically Iwai – very dreamy and quietly alluring – and the music is well implemented and accentuates well the enchanting tone of the film. Despite the almost fantastical quality of Picnic, however, some sequences were rather haunting (well one, especially). Tsumuji has hallucinations of his old homeroom teacher, who is portrayed to a very effective and disconcerting degree by a puppet. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s one of the most visually unsettling sequences I have seen in a while.

Picnic is one of the strongest and most comprehensive shorts I have seen from Iwai thus far; as emotionally engaging as April Story come the end, with excellent development for a short work. Iwai often ends on bittersweet tones and I have a feeling some of the imagery from Picnic will stay with me for a very long time.

★★★★☆
Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974 (Dir. Julian Jarrold)

On my quest to watch Andrew Garfield’s entire filmography, I have come to the Red Riding trilogy, which chronicles almost a decade of police corruption, organised crime and serial murders in Yorkshire.

The first film – set in 1974 – follows Yorkshire Post journalist Eddie Dunford (Garfield) as he investigates a series of child murders he believes to be connected. His investigation uncovers massive corruption in the West Yorkshire Constabulary and Dunford finds himself embroiled in a dangerous world with no one to turn to for help.

Garfield is on-point as cocky Northern reporter Eddie Dunford; his accent is convincing and the character is very layered and compelling. Sean Bean also stars as a rather vicious and shady real estate developer. As vile as his character was, I found his performance utterly captivating.

The film starts off as a bit of a slow burner, but picks up during the second half. The climax was thoroughly gripping and though it’s the first in a trilogy, I felt the movie also worked well as a stand-alone story.

The opening Red Riding installment is an absorbing work of neo-noir and I can’t wait to see where the sequels go given the ending. Furthermore, Andrew Garfield’s earlier work continues to impress. The Red Riding trilogy was released two years after his film debut in Boy A; it’s amazing to see what powerful and impassioned characters he debuted with.

★★★★☆
The Jungle Book (Dir. Jon Favreau)

I’m not the biggest fan of Disney’s animated collection (with my favourite being the seldom mentioned Hercules), but like many, I have fond memories watching Disney’s The Jungle Book in my childhood and was curious to see this fused digitised, live-action rendering.

Faverau’s version is an enjoyable romp and a blockbuster with a little more soul than most, but to me it never became great. As per the original, Mowgli’s journey remains a satisfying and delightful tale and many of the characters retain their lovable characteristics and/or memorability, but I never felt particularly engaged. The film could have done with some more development for a couple of its characters (especially the wolves) and the death of a significant character – a prime opportunity to garner some strong emotional investment – was all but glossed over.

I wasn’t too keen on some of the singing, either. The nod to the Bare Necessities was great, but King Louie’s song seemed a little stilted and out of place and served as a reminder of the original more than anything.

Furthermore, it seems as if the ending was altered to allow for the opportunity of sequels. I’m not too sure how I feel about that, but who knows – they could be good. The whole environment and setting of the film was brilliant (although it was at times geographically skewed) and if they continue to perfect that then – if nothing else – they can crank out some visual marvels. The effects were a real stand-out aspect and display absolutely how convincing artificial, computer-generated environments can be.

I also loved the voice cast. Bill Murray and Ben Kingsley were near perfect as Baloo and Bagheera respectively and Idris Elba is stunning as the domineering Shere Khan. His voice is suitably commanding and sinister.

Neel Sethi did a good job as Mowgli considering he was likely acting alone against a green screen, though I did feel his expressions were somewhat wooden a couple of times throughout and some dialogue was unconvincing, but it’s nothing that distracted me from the character or the film.

The Jungle Book is by no means a bad film, but I was never able to lose myself in it like you should in a great adventure. It’s a film with a lot of spectacle and one I can certainly enjoy, but not one I truly believe in or can get behind.

★★★☆☆
The Witch (Dir. Robert Eggers)

I’m not the biggest fan of the horror genre, but there are a couple of horror movies that I do believe are rather tremendous. The Witch is one of them.

Set during the 17th century in New England, The Witch follows a family excommunicated from the Christian plantation on which they live. They set up a farm on the edge of a forest and settle in to a new way of life, but when new-born baby Samuel vanishes, their lives begin to go awry and eldest daughter Thomasin carries the brunt of the blame.

The Witch isn’t an in-your-face kind of horror. It doesn’t rely on jump scares (though there are a couple) or excessive gore. Instead, it builds an eerie sense of discomfort and a strong unnerving atmosphere. Like the aliens in Dark Skies and the creatures in The Descent, there are small glimpses of the eponymous witch very early on, and much of what’s frightening is the very knowledge of this crone and the families confusion and denial to accept their situation.

The dialogue is mostly based on writings from the time the film is set and is thoroughly unique and immersive. The cast, too, inhabit their characters terrifyingly well and in many ways, the film is more about the Thomasin character than the witch or anybody else. She is portrayed near flawlessly by Anya Taylor-Joy (whom I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more of from now on) and the characters’ journey and progression is enveloping and very well developed.

It took me a little while to digest The Witch, but the more I think about it the more it grows on me. Definitely a film to add to my ‘must watch horrors’ list.

★★★★☆
Tokyo Fist (Dir. Shinya Tsukamoto)

Tokyo Fist is my first film from Shinya Tsukamoto. I’m aware of the directors massive cult status and had often wanted to explore some of his work. I’m not sure Tokyo Fist was a good starting point, but it certainly had a very distinctive and ferocious style, which I’ve read is Tsukamoto’s signature.

The film follows a business man who takes up boxing in an effort to seek revenge against an old school friend (who is now a semi-professional boxer) he suspects is having an affair with his fiancée.

I believe I went into Tokyo Fist with the wrong expectations. I started watching it thinking it was a boxing film, but in many ways it’s more akin to a horror than a sports drama. This – combined with Tsukamoto’s very explosive style of filmmaking – threw me off a little. I came away from it slightly haggard; it’s been a long time since I watched anything so intense and strangely unnerving.

The film depicts a lot of rage, both in the characters and in the way the film is constructed. The way it’s cut, the sound effects, the choreography in the action sequences – it’s fierce, powerful and violent. The films depiction of boxing and vehement fury are unlike anything I have viewed before. Tsukamoto’s directorial style certainly seems very unique and I’m interested in exploring it further, but I feel I need to give Tokyo Fist another go to really appreciate its artistry. It’s very chaotic and tumultuous and at times oddly distressing. It’s difficult for me to work out how I feel about it, which is something I haven’t felt about a film in a long while.

★★☆☆☆
Undo (Dir. Shunji Iwai)

I believe Shunji Iwai is one of the most interesting contemporary directors around and I always go into his films with a sense of excitement and wonder. Iwai has a very distinctive style; often utulising muted colours and a somewhat dreamy quality, with a large focus on observation and tone with less a reliance on dialogue. Undo is very much an Iwai movie, but I wasn’t as drawn in as I have been with his other work thus far.

The 47-minute film follows a couple whose relationship has become somewhat stale. Things begin to unravel after the girlfriend develops ‘Obsessive Knot-Binding Syndrome’ and begins tying up everything in sight.

As with most of Iwai’s work, there’s no clear-cut way to explain Undo. It’s a pensive piece and one I won’t hesitate to admit I don’t fully understand, but that’s what I love about Iwai. His films require working out, but even then, there’s no explicit interpretation. From Undo, I took the girlfriend’s knot-tying syndrome as a cry for help to her boyfriend, who fails to satisfy her or their relationship. In the end, she repeatedly requests he “really” tie her up but the boyfriend can’t adequately fulfill her desires, thus she relents he doesn’t understand or gratify her and disappears.

I appreciate the artistry of Undo and it is beautifully shot, but I wasn’t absorbed by the film as I often am by Iwai. Needless to say, I didn’t particularly connect with the characters and the film didn’t seem to have as much substance or heart as some of the directors other short work, namely April Story and Picnic. I’ll probably revisit Undo at a later date in an effort to take something more from it, but thus far it’s one of my least favourites from Iwai.

★★☆☆☆

As usual, onto television next. I finished the second season of Better Call Saul this month and as you’re all probably aware, the hotly anticipated sixth season of Game of Thrones premiered on April 24th. I also returned to anime after a lengthy break. Next month it’ll be more Game of Thrones and the third season of Peaky Blinders will be hitting our screens. May 5th, mark your diaries!

TV Show Rating
Better Call Saul, Season 2 (Created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould)

A largely satisfying albeit very moreish climax to a superbly written series edging ever closer to the creation of Saul Goodman.

Gilligan and Gould continue to show they can barely put a foot wrong as Season 2 perfects upon everything that was great about Season 1. Jimmy’s characterisation remains impressive as his relationship with his brother Chuck continues to sour. We’ve already had some explosive drama surrounding the two and I can’t wait to see the final tipping point.

On Mike’s end, looks like a major player from Breaking Bad will enter the fray come Season 3. Now we wait!

★★★★☆
ERASED a.k.a. Boku dake ga Inai Machi (Dir. Tomohiko Itō)

I returned to the world of anime this month following a recommendation by 1 Nothing Please. If a series has both a manga and an anime adaptation, I would usually always go for the manga, but as I am backed up with a lot of manga at the moment and don’t like to be reading an awful lot at the same time (and given how well received the anime adaptation of ERASED was), I opted for the anime this time around.

ERASED is a twelve episode series that follows Satoru Fujinuma, a 29-year old dejected mangaka. Satoru has an extraordinary ability he labels ‘Revival’, which sees him whisked back in time a couple of minutes without warning in order to avert some sort of accident or tragedy. Satoru has to figure out what’s wrong in any given scenario and amend the situation, so that he can prevent any wrongful doing from ever happening.

However, after the murder of somebody close to him, Satoru is sent back 18 years to when he was a child. He realises the murder may be connected to a series of abductions that involved several of his classmate and that this might be his chance to uncover the mystery, save his friends and make everything right.

I love a good mystery and it’s a genre that has been portrayed tremendously in both anime and manga. I watched ERASED over the course of two days and found it to be an incredibly absorbing story, though not without its flaws.

The series does have some predictable elements (it isn’t very difficult to work out who the antagonist is) and one or two odd red herring-like moments that are very misleading for seemingly no reason.

Besides that, though, it’s an enthralling tale of mystery, friendship and love that is tackled with just the right amount of finesse. I felt the first half was stronger than the second, but everything came together wonderfully come the end, so much so, it deserves its spot as one of the more stirring and well produced anime series of recent times.

★★★★☆
Game of Thrones, Season 6 (Created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss)

From Better Call Saul onto Game of Thrones. It’s been wonderful having a constant stream of quality television to watch recently. Thus far, only the first episode of Season 6 has been broadcast, but so far so good. I enjoyed the premiere a lot more than Season 5’s, though the Sand Snakes and the Dorne plotline continue to tire.

The writing for Dorne and its characters has been rather lackluster; going in bizarre directions, not sufficiently developed and with a lot of cringe-inducing dialogue. I’m hoping we spend much of the screen-time elsewhere this season, because everything else is far more absorbing.

Melisandre has always been very enigmatic, but more than ever I’m intrigued to see which direction her characters goes and Lena Headey continues to display such raw emotion that I almost feel sorry for Cersei.

Bran is back next week! Remember him?

★★★★☆

That’s all, Captain. This is the most mammoth Watched This Month thus far! I always go on longer than I intend to, but you don’t mind, right? Watch anything exciting this month? Let me know! I’m always looking for recommendations. Thanks for stopping by and see you again.

Watched This Month: March 2016

Hello again, wayfarer! Welcome to another addition of Watched This Month. We’re in March now and on time this month. I’m actually away for a couple of days come tomorrow, so I’m glad I could finish this first. I’ve gone and binged on a lot of television again, though I managed to fit a film in this time, too. Let’s get into it!

Previous: Watched This Month: February 2016

Film Rating
Deadpool (Dir. Tim Miller)

Deadpool is the first Marvel film I have truly enjoyed in quite some time. Many of the superhero blockbusters that have been gracing our screens for the past couple of years just don’t do it for me. I enjoyed almost all of the first installments, but from then on every sequel seemed like more of the same and the stories and characters became very tiresome.

Eventually I stopped watching them altogether, but I wanted to check Deadpool out as it seemed like a genuinely fun movie and I loved the humour and charisma of the character from what I had seen in the comics and from playing as Deadpool way back when in the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance game on Wii.

The tone is set right from the opening credits: this movie is self-aware and will not take itself too seriously. The latest Marvel films have always been chock-full with quips and comedy, but attempt to balance it with the drama. Audiences seem to enjoy it, but I think it makes for a slightly odd tone where you can’t really take anything seriously and there’s barely any genuine tension.

Deadpool is a lot more straight-forward; it sets out to be nothing more than a thoroughly exciting and humorous romp, which it succeeds at entirely. It’s a comedy-action film with a lot of soul that never loses it way. It’s the breath of fresh air that the Marvel cinematic franchise needed and, for me, shows so much how the X-Men universe is far more enticing than the Avengers.

★★★☆☆

And now – television! I finished Breaking Bad and moved onto Better Call Saul. The 4th season of House of Cards was released this month, too. Besides these, I also watched the latest series of Britain’s Next Top Model and Australia’s Next Top Model. You probably wouldn’t guess it, but I love the Next Top Model franchise. The British version returned from a two-year break and the 9th series of the Australian version was just all-around great, but I won’t bore you by going on about my favourites (Alex, Izi and Bethan) and discussing how I kind of like reality shows! On with the proper discussion…

TV Show Rating
Better Call Saul (Created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould)

I moved onto Better Call Saul shortly after finishing Breaking Bad. At the time of writing this, a total of 16 episodes have been broadcast. Ten in the first season and so far, six from the second.

Saul was one of my favourite supporting characters from Breaking Bad, so I was ecstatic there was a spin-off based on him. Though – before I had seen Breaking Bad – I remember wondering how good a spin-off based on a supporting lawyer character could be, but it turns out its popularity is well-warranted.

Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould continue to work their magic and craft Saul’s – or rather, James “Jimmy” McGill’s – backstory into something genuinely enticing, heartfelt and believable. It’s not just about Saul, however, as thus far many other supporting characters have featured. Mike – another fan favourite – is given masses of depth with his own backstory that at times has a stronger focus than Saul’s. Though audiences know where these characters end up, the storylines are extremely gripping and much of the tension and excitement is finding out how these characters become who they are in the Breaking Bad timeline.

Gilligan has spoken of the series’ potential longevity and a third season has already been green-lit, so here’s hoping we have a lot more Better Call Saul to come. Furthermore, Gilligan has hinted that many more Breaking Bad characters will feature in Better Call Saul and – if the situation is right – even Jesse and Walter could appear. There have already been two sequences with Saul post-BrBa, so perhaps there will even be a season or episode(s) set during the initial Breaking Bad timeline. It seems as though the series is still in its infancy, which is a wonderful feeling, as I’m looking forward to following these characters for many more years to come.

★★★★☆
Breaking Bad (Created by Vince Gilligan)

So, here we are. I’m part of the club, outdated as it may be. I’ll try not to repeat what everyone has already said ad nausea, but I must applaud this show. Breaking Bad fully deserves its enormous praise; it lives up to all the hype and thensome. I went into the series knowing how it ends, yet I devoured all sixty-two episodes in just over two weeks and not once did I feel the show was tedious or that the tension had been diminished by my knowledge of the ending. It was thoroughly enticing from beginning to end, with more stand-out moments than there are episodes.

I’ve always loved Bryan Cranston and he gives such a convincing, phenomenal performance in Breaking Bad it’s as though he was born to play Walter White. Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman, too, was just amazing; so incredibly layered and entirely engrossing. Two such absorbing characters could completely outshine the supporting cast, but surprisingly that’s never the case. The entire Breaking Bad universe and every single episode comes together on such a tremendous level, that I am so glad I didn’t have to wait a week between episodes let alone months between seasons.

Come the end, I was surprised by how tragic a character Walter White is. The scene in the final episode where he essentially says goodbye to his family really got to me. Until then, everything had been for the sake of his family – or at least, that’s what he told himself – but now there’s nothing and what’s more, they despise him. The scene where Walter watches his son return home was absolutely hard-wrenching; throughout every season their relationship had been so strong, but now his son has denounced his name and will never recognise his fathers legacy. Walt watches on, though – one final time – and walks calmly to his demise. He fulfills Gus’ words: “A man provides… and he does it even when he’s not appreciated, or respected, or even loved. He simply bears up and he does it. Because he’s a man.”

If I am disappointed by anything, it’s that I can’t rewatch the series as though it were fresh, but hey… we have Better Call Saul, now! The Breaking Bad universe lives on.

★★★★★
House of Cards, Season 4 (Created by Beau Willimon)

I hate to use the term back on form; it’s such a cliche phrase, but it describes Season 4 of House of Cards completely. I never got fully behind Season 3; it certainly had its moments, but the plot wasn’t as gripping as the prior seasons and Claire’s character went in a peculiar direction. Season 4, though, is one of the strongest yet.

Frank’s political maneuverings are ever-captivating and the Underwood dream-team makes for completely engrossing viewing. Furthermore, a number of supporting characters have returned and shake up the story in new and exciting ways. Frank faces some truly turbulent times this season and at times, the drama is phenomenally tense. The dialogue is on-point, as are Frank’s asides and the ending scene – without giving anything away – rivals the spine-chilling knock from Season 2.

Truly, an absolutely exceptional season. I finished Season 3 a little haggard – certain parts really did feel as though they dragged – but I finished Season 4 completely ecstatic and eager for more. I can’t wait to see what direction House of Cards goes next; it appears as though it has diverted entirely from the source material at this point.

★★★★★

That’s it for this month. I still have a huge back catalogue of films I really want to get around to, so I’ll try and give some of those a watch in April, but Game of Thrones returns, also. It looks amazing, if they trailers are anything to go by. Until next time!

Watched This Month: February 2016

Greetings, everybody! We’ve just snuck into March, which means we’re slightly overdue another addition of Watched This Month. February looked to be a slow month at first (after I devoured more than 35 hours of film and television in January), but then I got into a certain TV series, which has been eating away at my time ever since.

Previous: Watched This Month: January 2016

Film Rating
I Saw the Devil (Dir. Kim Jee-woon)

My first foreign language film of the year (long overdue). I Saw the Devil solidifies my belief that South Korea is home to some real pioneers of gritty, revenge thrillers. Byung-hun Lee stars as a special agent plotting revenge for the murder of his fiancée through a series of captures and releases. Min-sik Choi of Oldboy fame plays the big bad and – as expected – he’s terrifyingly good.

The cinematography is gorgeous and – though I felt the film was perhaps a little too long – I can’t commend the writing enough. Both the plot and the main cast are absolutely absorbing. I went in looking forward to Min-sik Choi, but it was Byung-hun Lee that stole the show. To see his character decline from a seemingly lovable fiancé who sings to his wife-to-be over the phone, into this morally ambiguous beast of a man – almost akin to those he’s hunting – was fascinating. Lee felt very authentic and I can’t wait to work my way through his filmography.

It’s gritty and gruesome, but also beautiful and fascinating, albeit in very dark ways. If you’re in the mood for a superbly grisly and utmost rousing film, look no further.

★★★★☆

Just one movie this month, but I haven’t been slacking (honest). My time has been devoted to some long overdue television.

TV Show
Rating
Breaking Bad (Created by Vince Gilligan)

Yes, I know. I’m way behind. Never mind jumping on the bandwagon; the bandwagon has long since come and gone.

I remember back during my first year of university, my classmates and I had to record an interview one day (nothing serious — we just needed to get used to the recording equipment as part of our journalism class) and my group wound up with me asking everybody questions about Breaking Bad, because I was the only one who hadn’t seen the show. It makes me laugh, thinking about it now. How naive I was. Despite the gushing praise given by my classmates, I continued to avoid this clear marvel of television for whatever reason. But now I’ve arrived and I’ll tell you, being able to marathon it is wonderful.

At this moment in time, I am three episodes into the final season. Since starting Breaking Bad almost two weeks ago, I have watched perhaps four or five episodes a day, so it’s difficult to comment on individual seasons since it’s all blurred into one. Commenting on anything at all seems a bit inane, though. Everyone has heard it all before by this point, but I can’t sing its praises enough. You know a show is special when it causes you to recall every series you’ve ever loved and consider whether they compare at all. I’ll offer some proper thoughts when I have watched the final thirteen episodes, but if you are like I was and haven’t seen Breaking Bad… wait no longer. Watch it, please.

★★★★★

Not a lot of individual things to comment on this month, apologies about that. By the end of next month, I will have finished Breaking Bad and also the fourth season of House of Cards, which is due for release in only four days. I’ll probably also want to devour Better Call Saul coming from the inevitable Breaking Bad high, so a lot more television next time!

Watch anything exciting this February? Let me know in the comments!

Favourites of 2015 – TV, Video Games and Music

Here we are, another year gone by. Getting older. Self-lacing shoes never happened. This year I learned that modern humans are in fact two-hundred-thousand years old.

Anyway…

End-of-year favourites rundown! This time around, I find myself in the odd position of actually being well informed enough to write about television and video games, so I thought why not! Let’s throw in music, too. Everybody loves a good summary!

On the whole, I believe 2015 has been a fairly impressive year for television and video games. There have been some truly wonderful releases, with many more on the horizon and while music is more constant—it’s hard to pin down a golden year—and not something I’m always clued up on, there have been an abundance of critically acclaimed albums, singles and soundtracks to have graced the charts. Here are some of my favourite television shows, video games and music of 2015!


Television

I have been really into television this year, which seems to be at an all-time high with some truly stunning productions coming out. For once, I’ve been able to keep up with many of the critically acclaimed shows, though I have missed a couple such as Jessica Jones and Fargo. However, my favourite this year is actually one of the lesser know TV shows, at least outside of the UK.

It is This is England ’90.

I was ready to give this year to Mr. Robot. House of Cards‘ third season was a bit of a let-down, as was Game of Thrones up until the last couple of episodes and although the internet was raving about Daredevil, ultimately I found it rather mediocre. I adored Mr. Robot, though. Rami Malek was enthralling as troubled hacker Elliot Alderson and the writing rarely faltered — I adored Elliot’s monologues. The cinematography was also impressive, with the title sequences always unique and something to anticipate. Mr. Robot was tense, exciting and memorable and I can’t wait until the second series. Best TV show of the year, I thought.

21

The first episode of This is England ’90 (the third and last in the series) was broadcast just under two weeks after the finale of Mr. Robot. It was wonderful to be back in the company of Woody, Lol, Shaun and the gang. Set two years after the previous season, the first episode was a rekindling—here’s the gang, this is where they’re at—but the subsequent three episodes delivered on the trademark hard-hitting drama. I was loving the new series from the first five minutes, but it became my favourite of the year following the third episode.

The dinner scene in episode three is quite possibly one of the finest sequences in televison history, at least to me. I’ve followed This is England since its inception in 2006 and with every new series I am left entirely shell-shocked. Not only because the drama is utterly heart-wrenching, but because the actor’s completely embody their characters. I don’t see Joe Gilgun and Vicky McClure, I see Woody and Lol. Never in anything have I been so invested in and utterly enamored with the characters — the emotions feel so raw and unfiltered, which is why the drama is completely affecting and every wrong move the characters make feels so disheartening. The dinner scene—which was filmed all in one take—left me breathless for that very reason. The emotion and drama—the pain of these characters—everything came across as so honest and real.  The talent on display was phenomenal and it was soul-destroying to watch characters you’re so invested in fall apart.

And to think there was another hard-hitting, tear-jerking, heart-rending episode still to come. You know you’ve connected with your audience when they feel like a lie down and a sob after every episode. Hats off to you, Shane Meadows. This is England is very special.


Music

I typed ‘2015 albums’ into Google and it gave me a list of the fifty most frequently mentioned albums on the web. I’ve listened to one of them. I guess I haven’t been too clued up in regards to music this year, but I still think there have been some gems.

First and foremost, I love Lana Del Rey and—naturally—I love her third album Honeymoon, which was released back in September. It’s certainly one of my favourites of the year, with my favourite track being Art Deco — the instrumentals are dark and beautiful, Lana’s voice is celestial and the throw-back to Born to Die is just perfect. However, while Lana is probably my favourite singer right now and I haven’t been so in to an artist since Sigur Rós a couple of years ago, I don’t rate Honeymoon as highly as Ultraviolence and it isn’t my absolute favourite of the year.

That honor goes to Allie X’s CollXtion I.

20

Allie X has been on the scene for a while, but she grew massively in popularity last year following the release of her song Catch. This year she released her first EP and I can’t get enough of it. CollXtion I includes the best selection of synthpop since Chvrches’ first album. The stand-out tracks to me are Catch, Prime and Bitch, but my favourite has to be Good, which is one of her newest additions.

Allie said in an interview that the song was about a small flicker of hope—a desire to be good—after the focus of the song had self-exiled themselves from their life and everyone they loved. I adore the lyrics and Allie’s vocals — the first and second verses send shivers down my spine.

Interestingly, she cites Haruki Murakami as an influence, who I am a huge fan of. I was able to catch Allie on social media and asked what her favourite Murakami novel was, to which she responded 1Q84. I can definitely see a bit of Murakami not only in her music, but also in the singer herself, who is a little bit like an enigmatic Murakami character. She’s coming to the UK next year, so I’m definitely going to see her live.

But what else did I like besides CollXtion I and Honeymoon? Well, I loved No Romeo by Indiana, Ludovico Einaudi’s Elements, Dark Sky Island by Enya (worth the wait) and I enjoyed Every Open Eye by Chvrches, but following The Bones of What You Believe, I was also a little disappointed (mainly by the lack of Tether-like tracks). I’ve also fallen back in love with Radical Face following the release of The Bastards: Volume 4. I should’ve never stopped.


Video Games

I was really into video games when I was younger, but from 2010-ish until late 2014, I just didn’t really care all that much. Then, in November 2014, when—all of a sudden—Black Friday became a thing in the United Kingdom, my girlfriend suggested buying a PS4 on a whim. From then on, I played video games again.

Grand Theft Auto Online was my main go-to game for a while, with sprinkles of LittleBigPlanet 3 and Minecraft in-between, but it finally went back into its case this year as my video game catalogue grew.

April was all about The Elder Scrolls Online, which was only my second MMORPG following Rift. The following month I dedicated myself to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and then I got madly into Rocket League. I also began playing Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare — a game I had owned since launch in 2014 but never gave the time of day. I found it surprisingly fun, but also slightly frustrating at times. After that came Fallout 4 and Star Wars Battlefront, the latter of which was fun in short bursts, but the flaws grew evermore apparent the longer I played.

Of all the games I experienced this year, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is certainly the most polished and well-crafted. Despite having played my fair share of action-adventure RPGs, the world of The Witcher is unlike anything I have experienced before. The game is so incredibly immersive and rich in detail that it’s awe-inspiring.

19

The main storyline is tremendously enveloping and exceptionally well-written (it is based on a series of novels), but even the side-stories are a cut above the rest. I felt they were so good, in fact, I found it hard to move on with the main quests and head to the next area without finishing even the smallest of tasks, which ultimately left me incredibly over-leveled (d’oh). What’s more, the NPCs weren’t just husks, they felt like actual inhabitants of a functioning world; it made the game all the more captivating. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a game you can truly lose yourself in and I love that.

Is it my favourite video game of the year, though? Well, it’s one of them. The other is Fallout 4. While not as polished nor as beautiful as The Witcher 3, Fallout 4 is just bundles of fun. It’s a game I can lose myself in for hours, but also one I can pop onto for a brief moment and have a ton of fun killing some Super Mutants. The storyline isn’t up to The Witcher standards and the NPCs can be incredibly half-witted at times (there’s also a lot of repetition in the quests), but due to the superbly realised world, I find it just as immersive as The Witcher and I love the level of customisation in terms of character creation, items and settlements. I believe The Witcher 3 is ultimately the better game, but Fallout 4 has potentially more longevity thanks to the inclusion of mods. Either way, I love them both.


There we have it. Though our favourites most likely differ, I hope that was as engrossing to read as it was to write. Please stick around for my favourite movies of 2015 in a week or two and let me know what your favourites are! Is there anything I’ve missed? Should I hurry up and watch Fargo already? Regardless, thanks for stopping by!