Tag Archives: dark

Parasyte – the maxim – (Anime)

Title: Parasyte – the maxim –

Episodes: 1-24 (complete)

Shinichi wakes up one night reflexively slapping at a bug that then proceeds to burrow into his right hand. Only quick thinking saves his life . . . but in the morning, his right hand starts talking to him, and he realizes he’s now unwilling partners with a bizarrely intelligent parasite. But Migi isn’t the only parasite that’s shown up in Japan. And most parasites eat humans.

I liked this a lot more than I expected. Shinichi changes a lot over the course of the series: from a nervous, wimpy guy who freaks out easily to a shell-shocked survivor of extreme situations to someone who takes everything that happened and actually comes out stronger.

I do disagree with Shinichi’s assessment of himself being unable to cry as a sign he’s not human. It’s very clear why he would believe that, but this also strikes me as an extremely normal reaction to the kinds of violence he’s been exposed to and involved in. He comes off to me more as a state of shock or PTSD, where he’s gone numb in self-defense since he doesn’t have the luxury of breaking down if he wants to survive.

The violence is mostly short, sharp, and brutal. A lot of the messier scenes are more implied than shown, and Shinichi and the others exposed to it are dealing with the consequences long after the actual events are over. I really liked the drawn and haunted look Shinichi has after a certain major event—he’s physically, mentally, and emotionally at the end of his rope, and you can tell just from looking at him.

And Migi is great. I loved how his viewpoint differs so drastically from Shinichi. They may share the same body, but they’re complete opposites. Migi is powerful, coldly logical, and only interested in his own survival. Migi sees nothing wrong with killing anything that gets in his way. Shinichi keeps flailing around with what the definition of being human actually is, and trying to prove he’s different from Migi’s criticisms. But the show isn’t about proving Migi right with his animalistic evaluation of humanity. Migi makes some good points, but so does Shinichi, and both of them end up adopting parts of the other’s viewpoint.

I can’t say I found Kana to be compelling, though. I hated her from pretty much the moment she shows up, as she’s standing there with a bored expression watching her friends beat the crap out of some poor guy, and then joins them in mocking Shinichi when he ineffectually tries to get them to stop. Even if Shinichi weren’t trying to explore a relationship with Murano, I would’ve been mad if he’d started dating Kana, who clearly has her own self-interest ranked much higher than any kind of empathy.

So when Kana makes a stupid decision in episode 12, I found this hilarious rather than heartbreaking. All the romantic comedy shenanigans between Murano and Kana are mixed with the slasher-horror story that is Shinichi’s life, and that kind of crossover was hugely entertaining for me. Especially since Shinichi is responsible for a fair amount of the killing himself. Or rather, Migi is. So the typical girls-getting-mixed-signals is not because the guy can’t choose between them, but because a lot of people are dying and Shinichi can’t extricate himself from bad situations.

I’ve heard complaints about the later half of the series, and I don’t entirely agree. The show as a whole does stumble a bit at several points, in both halves. It’s a bit too focused on over-explaining some things, some characters die in pointless ways, and the random serial killer at the end was out of the blue. But it’s not as though I wasn’t engaged during the second half of the series, and there were still some very good moments (Shinichi’s confrontation with Gotou particularly…. He’s shocked by what ends up working, and I was laughing hysterically). Actually the thing that bugged me the most was Migi’s decision at the end. It felt like a bit of whiplash with him in the last few eps, and hearing what he decides makes little sense.

But for all that, I was still looking forward to each episode, and I enjoyed my time with the show.

Overall, this is definitely a series for more mature viewers who don’t mind a bit of violence. I think the series handles this without glorifying all the slaughter, as it keeps coming back to the negative effects on those who encounter it. And for all that it can be a brutal series, it manages a mostly-happy ending, so it comes off more as dark fantasy/dark sci-fi than horror. I rate this show Recommended.

In/Spectre (Manga)

Title: In/Spectre

Format: Manga

Volumes: 1-8

Kuro is a regular visitor at the hospital Kotoko goes to for checkups, but as he’s usually accompanied by his girlfriend, Kotoko has kept her crush a secret. After she learns they broke up, however, she’s determined to make her move. After all, they both have secret ties to the world of yokai, monsters, and spirits. But both of them will be stretched to their limits by a ghost that’s started appearing. Steel Lady Nanase, whose face is smashed in and who wields the I-beam that killed her, is starting to rampage . . .

This was a lot of fun. Kuro is so laid-back about everything, including having his arm chomped off by a giant monster. Turns out he’s basically immortal (and has one other fun ability that can only be activated when he dies). So he spends the story facing incredible danger with a really bored expression. He’s not good at fighting, but he doesn’t really need to be, because nothing can kill him so that he stays dead.

Kotoko is also interesting, although I don’t like her as Kuro’s girlfriend because she’s incredibly pushy. I suppose she does listen when he tells her no, even if that doesn’t stop her from continually trying. She’s missing one eye and one leg as part of a bargain she made with the yokai when she was a kid to be their goddess of wisdom. Which basically means she troubleshoots their issues, which is how both she and Kuro get involved in the Steel Lady Nanase case.

Steel Lady Nanase herself is a really weird little upside-down mystery. Kotoko’s relationship with the local spirits means that discovering the truth is actually pretty easy—but the truth is the problem. Steel Lady Nanase is an urban legend, empowered by belief, and allowing other people to believe that she’s responsible for the things she’s actually doing will only empower her to do worse. So now the question becomes how to put down a ghost that isn’t a ghost, and it will take everything Kotoko and Kuro can do to stop her.

Although I do find it hilarious Kuro’s role in books 5-6 particularly boils down to “get killed repeatedly to keep the ghost distracted from killing people who can’t survive the experience.”

The first six volumes cover the plot of the novel (which doesn’t appear to have an English version), and it was pretty obvious to me it was based on a book. The way the plot stays tight despite hundreds of pages, the flashbacks, the focus on the mystery, and the way a lot of the action is everyone sitting in a room trying to discuss what they know and what they need to do feels like a novel. Which isn’t a bad thing, as volumes 7 and 8 are definitely less compelling simply because their stories are too short to build up the same stakes.

These stories are also hilarious, even if you don’t have my sometimes macabre sense of humor. Kotoko quoting various pacifists and Kuro responding “He got shot, too,” in volume 7 is one of my favorite moments. Or the myriad of ways Kuro shuts down Kotoko’s attempts to get him to sleep with her. I was rooting the whole time for him to get back together with Saki. The one time he looks genuinely happy talking to Kotoko about their relationship is when he tells her if he can have anything he wished for, he’d wish to break up with her. I think they work well as friends and partners, but Kuro clearly isn’t on the same page as Kotoko when it comes to a romantic relationship.

Overall, this is a fun series that’s enough sideways to your typical modern supernatural story to stay surprising. Books 1-6 do comprise a complete arc, with 7 and 8 feeling more like bonuses. I rate this series Highly Recommended.

Child of the Daystar (Wings of War #1)

Title: Child of the Daystar

Author: Bryce O’Connor

Series: Wings of War #1

The atherian and the humans don’t mingle. But when an atherian slave is left for dead and rescued by a group of desert traders, he fits into human society in a way the rest of his kind never have. Named Raz i’Syul, his actions will shape the course of kingdoms . . .

This is another great series with a draconic main character. Raz is unusual even for an atherian, as he is both male and winged. Unfortunately, he can’t fly, but it’s hard to tell if that’s because he was raised by humans, or because the wings aren’t capable of it. (And by the end there are hints this will change, which I hope is true.)

The characters have a lot of depth. Raz, being non-human, struggles at times with the things that mark him as different—not the looks, so much, but the bestiality that lurks underneath his conscious thoughts. He tries to stick to his ideals, but the world around him is falling apart. Can one person do anything meaningful against all of that? But the quotes heading each chapter are told from a historical perspective, indicating that he will, indeed, be instrumental in some fashion.

I wasn’t quite as fond of Syrah’s portions. Most of the story is about Raz, and he gets a full arc—not one that solves all of his problems, but one that resolves some things for his character and launches him on to greater things ahead. Syrah feels like she’s still setting up for some future development. With one exception, her portion of the story doesn’t touch on his, and it’s harder to see why her sections are important.

Overall, though, this was a compelling story, and I will be interested to see where it goes from here. I rate this book Recommended.

The Forever Court (Knights of the Borrowed Dark #2)

Title: The Forever Court

Author: Dave Rudden

Series: Knights of the Borrowed Dark #2

Uriel Croit has spent his entire life waiting for the Redemptress to awaken. The Croits train and prepare for the War that will come when they will take over the world. But when Uriel’s fondest dreams are realized, he finds the world isn’t as simple as he thought . . .

Denizen Hardwick is in training to become a Knight who kills the Tenebrous who invade the world from some outer dimension. Too bad he’s absolutely fascinated by Mercy, the Tenebrous he saved, the Tenebrous who granted him knowledge of ALL of the Cants the Knights use to control their magic. And when a message comes from the Tenebrous asking for Denizen by name, no one knows what to think. Could peace even be possible, or is this some elaborate scheme? And even if it is a genuine offer from the Tenebrae, will the Knights risk it, or try to sabotage it themselves?

I adored the first book, and was happy to find this one was just as good. Uriel’s sections are important, but Uriel isn’t as funny as Denizen, so I tended to prefer Denizen’s commentary about basically everything.

Like the first, this has a good dose of horror, humor, and fantasy. Denizen is exploring his first crush—and amusingly enough it’s Mercy. Which gets him into no end of trouble with everyone.

We will see each other again, Denizen Hardwick.

Denizen had assumed that was the kind of thing magical glowing girls said all the time, to promote an air of mystery. He hadn’t realized it was something she was going to go and organize.

And:

He’d read enough fantasy books to know that diplomacy didn’t mean honesty and conversation. It meant fancy dinners, watching betrayal flash behind people’s eyes, and not trusting Grand Viziers.

Naturally, the situation is way more complicated than anyone realizes. I liked the rough relationship between Denizen and his newly-discovered mother. He thought of himself as an orphan for so long he’s not sure what to do with family. And honestly, he almost feels like an orphan still, because the way Vivian runs the Sanctuary is more like a barracks and less like a home. He’s much more a novice Knight to her than her son.

It was an occupational hazard of being a bookworm. You stopped thinking in terms of reality and started thinking of nick-of-time rescues and the power of a dramatic speech. It couldn’t be over because it shouldn’t be over.

And I liked how Denizen is an absolute wildcard in this whole mess. His knowledge of the Cants makes him extremely dangerous—but he doesn’t have the training to use them properly, or the physical ability to back them up. Cants are supposed to be a last resort, because of the Cost. He’s the only one who believes Mercy is telling the truth and that peace between the Knights and the Tenebrous is even possible. But is he right about her heart, or have those older and wiser Knights who see only monsters spotted something he missed? Just because a happy ending would be a nice story doesn’t mean it’s actually the truth.

Overall, I was thrilled to finally get a copy of this in my hands, and I can’t wait for the next installment. I really need to start a quote file to save off my favorites—the above are only about half the places that had me laughing so hard I had to put the book down. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

More quotes because I can and I want to remember these:

Mercy gave a passable approximation of Frown No. 12—Here Is Some Sympathy I Am Not Sure You Deserve.

And:

Jack shrugged. “There’s no point to revenge. You either don’t get it, in which case the want grows until it collapses your world around you, or you do get it. And then you have it. Great. Show me something you can build from revenge that you can’t build from acceptance.”

And:

I want a form, Denizen thought. I want everyone to have a form, and you have to fill out your intentions and list why you’re doing what you’re doing. And you’re not allowed to lie.

And:

He’d feel like a right idiot if all this was happening and he died from smoke inhalation.

And:

Denizen didn’t think he was claustrophobic, though he had avoided small spaces up until now precisely because he didn’t want to find out. He had the sneaking suspicion he was home to a whole plethora of phobias he hadn’t discovered, simply because he hadn’t been exposed to them yet.

And:

She gave Denizen a half-smile. “Hardwicks aren’t great with emotion. We’re our own worst enemies, really.” She paused. “Which, considering our vocation, is actually rather impressive.”

Tokyo Ghoul (anime)

Tokyo Ghoul

Episodes 1-12

WARNING: MATURE CONTENT
– minor amounts of nudity, ghouls eating human flesh (mostly not shown), and an intense torture scene (the main reason to stay away if this will bother you)

Ken Kaneki is an ordinary human in a city where ghouls lurk. Ghouls eat people, and a special task force hunts them down. But it’s all distant from his everyday life—until a date gone bad leaves him no longer quite human himself. And even if he wants to live a quiet life, people from both sides have taken an interest in him . . .

This was far less of a horror story than I initially expected, although by the end it does go quite deeply into some hard things. I doubt I’ll watch the last episode or two again, as sitting through someone being tortured while chained to a chair was bad enough the first time. So I want to reiterate up front that this is NOT a children’s show and the Mature rating is for a reason.

On the more positive side, though, the characters are really strong. Although the whole “must eat people” bit would make it easy to characterize ghouls as monsters, both sides have a lot of gradations. There are members of the CCG (the anti-ghoul force) that have far crossed the line with their obsession to wipe out all ghouls. Similarly, some ghouls don’t see the point of giving humans any dignity, or restraining their own excesses. Ken isn’t the only character caught in between those two sides. He falls in with a group of ghouls who only want to be left alone, and try to exist in ways that minimally impact the general human population.

This comes to a head in tragic scenes like the confrontation in episode 8, where the person giving the speech about ghouls having the same right to live as any ordinary person is telling the one person who can’t be convinced, and the one who might be convinced is fighting someone who can’t figure out how to say the same thing. And it probably wouldn’t be as easy as winning that one man over to the ghoul’s side, but that would have been a start. A start that never happened, and might never happen, which leaves the world stuck in the same struggle it’s always been, where ghouls and humans mischaracterize and kill each other.

Some threads might be better in the manga, as, for instance, Ken’s best human friend, who is a major character early on, disappears from the story for no obvious reason. It would have been interesting seeing the two of them interact more after Ken was turned. However, the heart of the story is Ken and his relationship to the group of oddball ghouls who dare to believe they can coexist quietly with humans, and find ways to take the nourishment they need without becoming monsters.

Oh, and although this can be a dark and serious show, the space after the credits where the preview would normally go tend to be lighthearted side stories told in about 30 seconds, and are well worth watching.

Overall this is nothing like what I expected, and I enjoyed it a lot. I watched it in Japanese because I streamed most of it, so I’m not really sure how the English cast performed. I haven’t read the manga yet so I can’t say how faithful or not it was as an adaptation, but I understand a great deal of manga was condensed into these episodes, which may explain why some characters don’t get as much time as I thought they should. I rate this show Recommended.

(As a side note, regardless of what you think about the second season, episode 13 does make a much better ending than episode 12, as it finishes that fight and gives a better sense of an ending. But the box set will only come with episodes 1-12.)