Summer anime 2019: Fire Force

It’s anime time!

I used to be fairly regular about lightly covering every new season of anime as it started, but a combination of my Brain Problems and a few successive seasons with not a lot of interest put the breaks on that. This season is stuffed full of interesting looking shows, so I’ve decided to dive back in.

This time I’m splitting it up into seperate posts covering one or two series each, as my aformentioned Brain Issues are quite bad at the moment and it’s probably going to take me a while to write about everything I want to cover. This delivers a greater volume of content to you, the loyal customer. Thank you for your continuing patronage.

First up, it’s:

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His Dark Materials trailer polar bearnalysis

I've written before about how I'm a big (but not uncritical) fan of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. If I were to have a pop cultural "thing" akin to Star Wars or Harry Potter like lots of other people have, this would be it. It was hugely formative for me and has massively influenced everything I've ever written.

I also run the premier trailer analysis website on the internet. Since HBO just put out a longer teaser for the first season of the BBC's big-budget TV adaptation, these two interests are now dovetailing nicely. Let's get out our alethiometers and dive in!


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And now, my Game of Thrones predictions

Over the last few years, I've featured a variety of content on this blog. We've covered political thriller, zombies, Star Wars, even Harry Potter! But I know my loyal fans have had one burning question in thier hearts: Ronan, how is Game of Thrones going to end?

Now that there are three episodes left in the entire series, I'm here to tell you. No, I don't have insider knowledge*, but these 100% accurate predictions are guarenteed to come true. Trust me.

*Fun fact: I did actually have insider knowledge of a major spoiler from a previous season, almost a full year before it leaked online through other sources, but I never spilled the beans in order to maintain my flawless record of journalistic integrity, and also to avoid getting someone fired,.

(Spoilers for the entire series up to the third episode of the last season, and I guess the last three in the extremely unlikely even that I'm actually right)

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Crime Police, doing Police Crimes

(Note: I intended to post the next Oscar Debate this week (it's about BlackKklansman!), but I've been a bit under the weather and haven't been able to get that post together. Instead, I pulled up something that's been sitting on my hard drive since early last year and polished it off. Enjoy!)

Living in Ireland, I watch a lot of British TV shows. Because what am I going to do, watch stuff made here? PFFFT.

I also, like a large proportion of the world's population, regularly unhinge my media-jaw and consume vast quantities of American entertainment. The differences between the two are deeply-baked and striking; for example, serious “prestige” TV series (as opposed to soap operas, sitcoms and things like Doctor Who) in Britain tend to be extremely short, running four to six episodes per season and frequently having no more than two or three seasons at most. Often they don't even get that, being conceived from the beginning as a discrete story with no intention of continuation once the initial batch of episodes is over.

This makes Line of Duty something of an anomaly. A relatively big-budget police drama produced by the BBC, it feels very much like something that was intended to be short-lived, with the first season telling a stand-alone story and the next two forming a distinct arc with a definitive climax and end-point. But the show was unexpectedly, wildly popular and was renewed multiple times; a fifth season is currently airing, with a sixth expected some time in 2021.

Unfortunately, it might have been better if the show had stuck to the British formula and ended early. Today we're going to look at each of the first four seasons seperately and pin-point where it all went wrong.

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Trash TV: Suits

I've been hopped up on Brain Drugs for the last week and unable to concentrate on anything remotely complex or engaging. In situations like this, there's only one thing to do: find the shallowest, trashiest television imaginable and imbibe it like a deep-sea jellyfish sucking up marine snow.

I found the perfect example in Suits, a lawyer show that features approximately five different sets and episodic stories that rarely get anywhere near as complicated as a CSI: Miami episode. More importantly, it's on Netflix and there's six seasons of it. But while staring slack-jawed at my tablet, my brain occasionally managed to engage a neuron or two correctly, and I found that I actually had opinions about the show. Most of them are negative, so I want to emphasise up front that I am in fact enjoying it so far.

The main character of the show is Mike Ross, a genius college dropout who's managed to achieve approximately nothing with his life despite an eidetic memory and other skills that smart people in TV shows have. Through a series of improbable shenanigans, he crosses paths with Harvey Spector, a partner at a high-powered law firm that recruits exclusively from recent Harvard graduates. Mike impresses Harvey with his intellect and quick thinking, and Harvey decides to hire Mike as the firm's newest associate...despite the small wrinkle that he's never set foot in Harvard (he has actually passed the New York bar exam though, as before their meeting he was making a living taking tests for people). 

The show kind of pulls a bait and switch with that premise. I assumed--and the pilot would lead you to believe--that this is going to be a House style affair about an insufferable genius impressing everyone with his brain powers. I assumed that Mike would swan into Harvey's firm and show everyone that all their fancy book-learnin' is meaningless compared to his inherent intelligence.  

But actually, no. Mike's lack of formal law education is a huge disadvantage: he has all the laws and statutes and trove of theoretical knowledge memorized better than even senior judges, but he doesn't actually know how to use any of it effectively. At least over the course of the first season, he repeatedly either makes mistakes or gets taken advantage of in ways that his non-genius colleagues never would, simply because he doesn't know any better. To really drive the point home, the show pairs him up in a will-they-won't-they relationship with a paralegal (played by Meghan Merkel, who according to the tabloids is due to become God-Queen of Brittania any day now) who has years of experience and is probably all-around better lawyer material, but who can't manage to pass the entrance exams to law school and actually become one. 

Rather than being about a genius doing genius things (Mike's genius superpowers are actually fairly believable by TV standards, and they don't really come up all that often), the show is much more about an experienced lawyer taking a younger newbie under his wing, and that's where we get to Harvey Spector. 

While Suits doesn't fawn over Mike's intelligence, it absolutely fawns over Harvey's awesome rich-guy masculinity. He dates hot women! And he lives in a big fancy apartment that looks like a glass cube! And he drives cool cars! In the first season alone, there are multiple scenes where Harvey engages in impromptu trivia contests with other men over classic cars, rock music and sports. They're about five nanoseconds away from whipping their dicks out to compare sizes.

Harvey's character arc revolves around the fact that his bosses at the firm are reluctant to promote him to the upper echelons of lawyer-dom because he lacks compassion and only cares about his work (at least, theoretically; it seems like the actual reason he isn't promoted is because he keeps doing shady things like hiring Mike behind his managing partner's back and refuses to co-operate with people). This leads to endless, repetitive scenes where Harvey does something that clearly shows he actually cares about his clients after all, then insists he was only doing it for the good of the firm. And then he gets in a cool car, delivers a pithy quip, and drives away while 90s-era cheese-rock plays. 

Oh yeah, the quips. The show's writers apparently attended the Joss Whedon School of Dialogue, with the result that a good third of every episode consists of characters making Sick Burns or literally stopping in their tracks to trade acidic barbs. Sometimes they do movie quotes. This show really likes movie quotes.

I'm not sure if I'm actually going to watch all six seasons of Suits. Watching it is kind of like eating fast food--it seems like a good idea up until you actually do it, and then you really need to let some time pass so you can trick yourself into doing it again. But if you're in the mood for a breezy, un-challenging dramedy that isn't completely stupid, there's worse things you could put on. 

Next up is another Kvothe post, y'all! Please be patient with me while I slowly adjust to my new medication.  


Game of Thrones season 7 (contd)

It's time for some Very Important opinions on Game of Thrones' just-concluded seventh season, with full spoilers.

In my last GoT post, I talked about how the show was gradually moving away from being the dark, gritty deconstruction of epic fantasy is started as and toward just being plain epic fantasy. With this most recent episode, that transformation is fully complete.

All of the surviving characters have developed inch-think plot armour, half of them have supernatural powers or near-superhuman combat abilities, there's magic destinies and secret birthrights left and right, and the bad guy is flying around on a zombie dragon that shoots nuclear Godzilla laser-breath. If you mildly toned down the amount of boobs and swearing, you could easily pass this off as an adaptation of a YA novel.

Not that all of this is necessarily a bad thing--because sometimes you've had enough pointless death and misery and just want to see attractive heroes fight scary monster villains with their magic swords--but it does mean that the entire story's priorities are now suspect. Case in point: Jon Snow.

I knew there was something up with Sir Gormsalot as far back as the second season, because he kept making decisions that should have gotten him killed if the same rules that governed everyone else were applied to him (and they did, but then he came back to life). Things got more suspect when the story kept rewarding him despite his being a total dingus: first he became commander of the Night's Watch despite looking about nineteen at the very most, then he was crowned King in the North even though he nearly got all of his friends and allies killed, and now it turns out he's the rightful heir to the Iron Throne and probably the literal Chosen One (and got to sail to the bone zone with Daenerys Targeryan).

Strip away all the surrounding grimdark, and you're left with an absolutely bog-standard fantasy yarn about a mildly downtrodden (but still extremely privileged) youth who rises from a lowly position in life, proves himself, discovers his secret destiny and saves the world while having sex with an attractive woman ( actually his aunt, but let's ignore that for now). Unless this is all setup for a spectacularly cruel twist where Jon gets stabbed in the forehead in the first episode of season eight, it feels like a massive betrayal of the show's core principles.

Except it's not, because it turns out all of that grittiness and deconstruction baloney was a smokescreen. This is where the story was always heading: cool, dashing heroes fighting epic battles against zombie laser-dragons. 

I for one fully embrace the cheese, and plan to plunge headfirst into the stupidity come season eight.

Game of Thrones season 7

We're four episodes into Game of Thrones' truncated penultimate season, and I'm Not Entirely Pleased.

On one hand, plot points that the show has been teasing since literally the first episode have finally happened--Dany is finally in Westeros with her dragons--which is undeniably exciting. But the episodes released so far have also been strangely flat and lifeless, featuring unusually poor dialogue and acting (I suspect the latter is a consequence of the former).

The battle scenes are a prime example of why this season isn't really doing it for me. Game of Thrones has come to be known for big, expensive battle sequences that far outstrip anything else on TV in terms of budget and production value, the standout being last season's "Battle of The Bastards". 

That scene was the culmination of a two-season-long standoff with the show's most loathsome villain, and a major turning point in the saga of the Stark family that began all the way back in episode one. Given how brutal Game of Thrones can be, you knew* there was a very real chance that the Starks would lose and we'd have to watch Ramsay Bolton butcher a bunch of our favourite characters for shock value.

*(Okay, in hindsight it's obvious that wasn't going to happen, but the show did a good job of making it seem like it might)

By contrast, the two big battles this season (and given how expensive these sequences must have been, I seriously doubt there's another one coming) have been random, fairly low-stakes clashes. One major character momentarily seemed to be in danger; the cliffhanger ending implied that another one is in mortal peril. He's probably not, since at this point the cast has been whittled down to characters who obviously have a role to play in the climax of the series and/or are walking plot triggers that have yet to go off.

That's the thing, over the last season or so Game of Thrones has quietly ceased being a dark, grounded story where there are no heroes and villains and anyone can die at any time, and has become the kind of fantasy story its source material was meant to be a refutation of: a low-stakes action-adventure romp featuring near-superhuman badasses who can't die before their story reaches a suitably dramatic moment.

At this point, I'm just left wondering what the endgame is. Do out heroes defeat the white walkers? I'm not sure how satisfying I'd actually find that. People have floated the possibility of a bleak ending where all the bickering over power finally comes back to bite Westeros in the ass, everyone dies, and our last shot is the Night's King ascending the steps to the Iron Throne. The internet would have the biggest meltdown in history, but I'm kind of hoping that's where we leave off.