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I'm an optimist.  I'd pretty much have to be to follow one of my favorite but sadly defunct television shows into the comic medium, and to stick with it through the bumpy ride that was Buffy Season Eight.  And after finishing the eighth and final volume of season eight, I'm filled with optimism for season nine.  I will say that much of season eight was a tough pill for me to swallow, and that much of the show's magic (and humor) didn't translate well into comic format.  But I really love the way things are being set up for season nine, and the new directions the story is heading.  I like that we're getting back to basics, with Buffy more or less on her own again, sans army, and living a simpler life in San Francisco.  Back to the "one vamp at a time" method of fighting evil.  Joss Whedon wrote a lovely letter to readers at the end of this volume, in which he talks a bit about toning down the epic in season 9:

" If you've read this volume, you've got a sense of where we're heading for Season 9.  Back, a bit, to the everyday trials that made Buffy more than a superhero.  That made her us.  I was so excited to finally have an unlimited budget that I wanted to make the book an epic, but I realized along the way that the things I loved the best were the things you loved the best: the peeps.  The down-to-earth, recognizable people. [...] So that's what we'll try to evoke next season - along with the usual perils, and a few new ones, of course.  [...] Buffy's best when she's walking that ally, dusting vamps, and nursing a pouty heart."

Here here!  I'm excited for season 9 because, while Joss acknowledges that Buffy can't be all epic all the time, it's not going to be a total redux of the show either.  Too much has changed.  Season 9 will cover new territory, but will hopefully do it in a more quintessentially Buffy way.  Which is as it should be.

 
 
 
 

Before I launch into my whiny complaints about why Miss Ripley isn't jiving for me lately, gotta give a shout out to that orange and pink and black striped dress Miri wears in episode six.  It looks like it could possibly be a knockoff, and I'm not really sure how Miri's supposed to be able to afford Prada anyways (maybe she manipulated some gullible soul into giving it to her with her silver tongue), but it looks an awfully lot like one of the pieces from Prada's spring 2011 collection.  The same collection sported by Gong Hyo Jin's character in a recent Best Love episode, coincidentally.

Ok, now that I've got that out of my system, on to the complaining.  Miss Ripley is a really good show.  It's well written, with very interesting characters, especially as regards the outside-the-box type heroine, and it's packed with tension and suspense.  Unfortunately, in spite of it's undeniable quality, I haven't really been connecting with it since the first two episodes (which I loved).  This is a totally personal, subjective thing, but I'm having more and more trouble sympathizing with Miri.  I wanted to love this broken girl, and in the first two episodes I did.  I loved her anger and disgust with the world's injustices, I wanted her to fight the system, and I didn't care if she played dirty.  The writer has to tread a very fine line between giving Miri a dark side and making her too unsympathetic, and for me she's crossed that line.  I was still completely on her side when she was forging her diploma and manipulating her way into the world of elite employment.  But I have a much bigger problem with her gold diggery two-facedness in shamelessly using the people close to her.  I don't know if the forgery is any less morally reprehensible, but it just feels like there's a difference between abusing the system and abusing individual people.  

My other problem is that I don't buy her excuses.  Yes, life dealt her a rotten hand, but does that mean she can treat other people like they don't matter?  It would be one thing if she seemed the least bit conflicted about her choices, but we don't get any indication that she is.  I also don't get why her former boss/pimp is so hell bent on bringing her back to Japan.  Sure, she's pretty, but is one bar hostess really worth all that trouble?  It's not like she didn't pay her debt before splitting.  I wouldn't really mind the logic flaws in this, except for the fact that the show uses the threat of this guy as one of Miri's main motivations.  I feel like the writer's using this guy to garner sympathy for Miri, but it's just not working for me.
 
Like I said, these are just my personal feelings.  I know it's a good show, but I just can't feel for the protagonist the way I think I ought.  I'm rooting for her to fail rather than to succeed, and that's just not a very enjoyable watching experience.  One thing I do like about recent episodes, is Hee Joo's developments.  She's gone from a dim doormat to being the one person who sees through Miri's lies and affectations, and I'm all for that.  Team Hee Joo FTW!
 

Oh my goodness gracious, I'm still kind of reeling from the ending of SPEC.   I mean, I pretty much knew beforehand that it would end in a cliffhanger-y type of way, but that doesn't make it any easier for me to accept the fact that there are no more episodes.  I have to believe there will be a sequel or a special.  I have to, because otherwise there will always be a little hole in my heart left by the lingering, maddeningly unanswered questions of this finale.
 
Ok, so maybe I'm being a little histrionic, but still.  This show got to me in all the right ways.  The last time I wrote about how much I was loving it I had only seen the first seven episodes.  I can now easily say that the last three are by far and away the best three of the series.  Each one of the last three episodes took the elements teased throughout the first seven episodes and ran with them, delivering unexpected twists and subverting expectations and generally just getting successively more awesome by leaps and bounds.
 
Spoilery thoughts and many screencaps behind the cutCollapse )
 

So I saw Kung Fu Panda 2 yesterday, and while it wasn't really anything special from a narrative standpoint, the animation and overall design of the movie was truly impressive.  I remember feeling this way after the first film (which included the stylized, hand-drawn opening sequence pictured above) but I think the sequel expanded even further on the aesthetic innovations of the original.  KFP2 also combines a variety of animation techniques to create a wholly fantastical, but visually stunning universe.

In addition to the design of the film, the animated action sequences were also pretty incredible.  The choreography of the martial arts was a real treat, rendered all the more impressive in that they are all brought to life by non-human characters.  I personally think that Kung Fu Panda represents the crowning artistic achievement of Dreamworks Animation, a studio that's come a long way since the days of Shark Tale. *shudder*  Too bad the writing isn't really at the same level as the animation as to sustain all the many sequels in the works.

Follow the jump for a bunch more gorgeous Kung Fu Panda imagesCollapse )
Just a quick, sparse update 'cuz I'm on my phone, but anticipated (by me at least) mainland dramas Bu Bu Jing Xin and New Huan Zhu Ge Ge have both secured summer air dates. BBJX will start July 4 and NHZGG on July 21. Yay!

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 It's a bit more polished than the first one, which quite frankly was a bit rough around the edges, as if it were thrown together hastily.  To be honest it looks pretty silly, but... it's Huan Zhu Ge Ge after all.  And just seeing Xiao Yan Zi wreak major havoc on the palace in the trailer promises lots of good fun.
 
 
 

Back in the day (2007) I used to be all about the doramas, but I haven't really watched any Japanese shows in at least three years.  And then I stumbled on SPEC, the recent spinoff of the '99 show Keizoku (which I've never seen), and now I'm totally back in the jdrama groove.

SPEC kind of reminds me of a mash-up of a bunch of other shows. It's got a bit of X-Files (male/female partners in obscure branch office deal with weird cases), a bit of Heroes (people with "abilities" cropping up all over the place, seemingly in conjunction with mysterious conspiracies), a and even a bit of TricK (extremely odd characters bringing a distinctively Japanese brand of humor).  Yet in addition to the mystery, action, suspense, humor, etc, there's also a surprisingly strong undercurrent of melancholy and poignancy that is really very striking.  Just listen to the main theme (which I love! btw):
 

The show really rides on two things.  First, the main characters are awesome.  I've never really liked Toda Erika before (she kind of drove me bonkers in Hana Yori Dango and Liar Game), but she's blowing me away as Toma here.  It's such a unique and intriguing character, and Erika really nails it.  She's completely off-kilter most of the time, but also a kind of genius at her work.  She can be very serious and scary when she's not just being a gluttonous slob.  And Kase Ryo as Sebumi is delightfully adorable!  His character reminds me a bit of Simon Pegg's in Hot Fuzz: a very serious, married-to-the-rulebook officer who gets thrown together with a hot mess of a partner as a form of punishment from the higher-ups.  Seeing the two of them work together is just awesome.  Each of them are built up with tiny details that you might not notice at first.  For example, it took me a while to realize that Sebumi almost always has the paper bag with him, and then that it's not his lunch but actually how he carries his gun!
 
 
The second factor that carries this show for me is the mystery.  I just finished episode 7, which ended with a killer cliffhanger, and I'm dying to know more!  And yet, as with all really intriguing mysteries I'm a little worried that the answers given will never fully satisfy.  So far the show's done such a good job of incorporating the mysteries into the story bit by bit, each time leaving me more excited and exhilarated.  Now that Tomo and Ninomae are coming face to face for the first time at the end of episode 7 (except for that awesome flashback in episode 5), I'm a little nervous about what will happen next.  Can the show possibly deliver on all the wonderful buildup?  There are three episodes left in which to find out.
 

 
22 more images from episodes 1-7 behind the cutCollapse )
 


I like this drama a lot so far.  It's so nice to have something of an antiheroine in a kdrama for a change!  It actually kind of reminds me a bit of Cinderella's Sister in that regard, although the two shows are obviously very different.  I like the juxtaposition here of Miri with Hee Joo, who in many ways embodies a typical kdrama heroine: bright and cheery despite a hard childhood, innocent and somewhat bumbling, but with a heart of gold.  Miri on the other hand, has a darker edge to her, but is still very relatable.   Lee Da Hae does such a good job of rendering her desperation palpable, such that as viewers we identify with her reckless scheming and follow her right into the abyss, so to speak.
 
 
 
That being said, I think Kang Hye Jung can tone it down a bit; she's really going a bit over the top with Hee Joo's cutesy klutziness.  I'm surprised because I've always thought KHJ had such a natural charm, and I really think she'd be perfect for this character if only she didn't try to force it so hard.  Ah well.
 
 
 
Ok, this is totally superficial, but I really adore LDH's long, crimped hairstyle in this show.  It's gorgeous!  I don't really have much else to say about episode 2, except that can episode 3 please get here soon?
 
 

Overall - I like!  It's dark and twisty, but not too hackneyed and clichéd - yet.  This just might be the drama to cure me of my Lee Da Hae phobia.  There's a tendency for her character to veer into damsel-in-distress territory, but she neatly avoids that pitfall with these brilliant flashes of fierceness that save her from being too victim-y.
 
My main reservation?  I'm sorry to say this, but its name is Micky Yoochun.  I seriously do not get this guy's appeal.  I know it's unkind of me to say this, but every time he appears on the screen all I can think is "froggy face".  And let's face it, he's not exactly the most dynamic new actor out there. Plus, I'm slightly uncomfortable with the fact that he's going to be in a love triangle with Kim Seung Woo.  I mean, just look at them:
 
 
 
Now KSW on the other hand, him I find majorly appealing, at least in this drama.  So maybe the two guys will balance each other out?  Or maybe the mismatch will just be too jarring for me.  Only time will tell.
 
I'm kind of rambling now, but another thing that left quite an impression on  me in this episode was Miri's colored wigs from her hostess days.  I know they were like the symbol of her indentured service status and all that, but I can't be the only one who wishes the show got more mileage out of these babies.  Right?
 
 
 
Ahem, moving right along.  After not really anticipating this drama at all (thanks to my aforementioned aversion to all things Lee Da Hae), this first episode pretty much hooked me.  Which for a drama addict is somewhat akin to receiving an unexpected gift.
 
28 more images from episode 1 behind the cutCollapse )
 

What I like about this drama is that there's very little black and white morality.  The noble bandits are not idealized.  The police officials are not universally corrupt.  The heroine with a tragic past is herself deeply flawed.  The parental figures (Mak Soon and Lord Kim) are not evil caricatures, nor are they angelic martyrs.  The story doesn't beat heavy-handed metaphors into the ground.  The result is a very complex story, filled with human subtleties. Which is not something I can say about the majority of kdramas I watch.
 
Yet there's a flip side to that as well.  Personally, I do find it comforting sometimes to know where the story is going, or at least to feel like the writer knows where she or he is going with the story, and that's not a feeling I've really gotten from The Duo.  Yet in these three episodes something of a bigger picture starts to come into focus as the titular duo starts to diverge, settling on two very different paths in their pursuit of justice.  While Gwi Dong solidifies his determination to address worldly corruption as an upright man of the law, fighting the system from within, Chun Doong finally begins to accept the way of the outlaw, which he's resisted for so long.  I kind of which these developments had happened much earlier, but they're exciting nonetheless.
 
I actually did feel bad for Dong Nyeo in these episodes.  When she admitted to Gwi Dong how lonely she's been all these years, how afraid she is of returning to her dark room at night, lighting her lantern with shaking hands - I felt for her.  And I do get why Chun Doong sees her as a pitiful person - not only because of how she lost her family, but also because she's trapped in her narrow view of the world.  Still, it was satisfying to see him (Chun Doong) finally lose his patience and his temper with her.  Even I was surprised at his harshness.  When he said that he regretted risking his life to help save her from being sold as a gisaeng ten years ago - because then she might have understood the sorrow of being a slave to the upper classes - it was a powerful but painful moment.
 
52 images from episodes 21-23 behind the cutCollapse )

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