Category Archives: Anime

Review: Batman The Killing Joke (2016)

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Courtesy of variety.com

Courtesy of variety.com

Let me start off by saying if you’re a hard core fan of Batman you’re going to want to see the newest entry, Batman: The Killing Joke. If you’re not a Batman expert, this is not the film to start off with. However, if you would like to jump into the Batman animated pantheon there is no shortage of material. I highly recommend you start with the 90s animated series, it’s very film noir, and possibly the best direction of a comic book series to date. Well, now I’m about to spoil this whole thing so if you want to go watch it and come back, please do so now.

The Killing Joke, adapted from the graphic novel of the same name which has influenced most of the newer Batman-related material, follows the basic outline of what is considered to be one of the darkest Batman stories ever told- In an attempt to drive Commissioner Gordon insane, the Joker tortures and subsequently paralyzes his daughter, Barbara aka Batgirl, in front of him. The plot point as well as the ambiguous ending has long been a source of controversy amongst the Batman fandom community. Of course, now that we’ve seen it play out on the big screen, the controversy continues.

The 1988 graphic novel only spans about 64 pages, which really doesn’t cut it for a feature length but it’s also not short enough to cram into one episode, so the creators decided to go ahead and write an almost half hour long prologue that focuses on Batgirl, setting her up as the central character. This is fine because in the events of the graphic novel she’s just there as a catalyst and really there’s nothing more to her involvement. In fact it’s something that to this day has angered Batgirl fans (of which I’m actually not), feeling that the comic disrespected her by disregarding her life and using her suffering as a motivator for the men in her life. The prologue sequence adds depth to the character, showing her as strong and capable and for that I like it.

Courtesy of movieweb.com

Courtesy of movieweb.com

I’m just going to start off by tackling the “big controversy” since the main issues are in the Batgirl prologue arc. The main reasons circulating around the internet by Social Justice Warriors who see this whole arc as a misogynistic portrayal of Batgirl include, the fact that she’s a librarian (which comes from the comics guys), she has a sassy gay friend (who doesn’t?), the fact that she isn’t as capable at fighting crime because she’s a woman (first of all that’s your reading into it, secondly even Batman states she’s still a rookie, a thrill seeker, so nope not letting you have that one) and of course there’s the whole thing where Batgirl has sex with Batman…

So let’s back it up here- the film opens with Batgirl and Batman in pursuit of a cocky little SOB- named Paris France, who is planning on robbing his mafia boss uncle and is obsessed with Batgirl. Not much to him. However the devil is in the details with this one, if you pay close attention to his dialogue he’s basically representative of a misogynistic fanboy. It is heavily implied he regularly uses date rape drugs, which he unsuccessfully tries this tactic on Batgirl. A subtle but notable moment that emphasizes how deep his fetishism of Batgirl goes is when he has a call girl wearing a bat mask. His lines are sexist, at one point saying that “it must be her time of the month,” when she delivers a word of hurt on him. However neither Batgirl nor Batman actually addresses his comments, rather they just ignore him and continue to kick ass.

Now as far as the Batgirl/Batman relationship goes this is where some fans might be turned off out of the sheer idea of Barbara being with anyone other than Dick Grayson, aka Robin who eventually becomes Nightwing. His character is noticeably absent. He was most likely omitted so we could really focus in on the central players, not to mention he’s not actually in the source material so keeping it simple is just the way to go sometimes.

Courtesy of comicbook.com

Courtesy of comicbook.com

Barbara’s story fits into the classic, rookie cop makes amateur mistakes and gets bailed out by veteran cop. It’s not a sex issue. Several Robin stories also have this sort of mentor-who-has-to-correct-his-dumb -pupil storyline (see Son of Batman for another example). To further this point Batman even says, “You’re not like I am Barbara, it’s still a game for you, still a thrill.” And he’s right. In fact it’s pretty early on and she’s already starting to lose that thrill of being Batgirl. But there’s still a couple things driving her down this path; one giving her the chance to open a world of hurt on Paris France, the other her feelings towards Batman.

But of course Barbara is a layered character. To simply say she’s Batgirl just because she’s in love with Batman doesn’t do her feelings justice. In one of her exchanges with her sassy gay friend she says she’s in a relationship with her yoga instructor and wants the acknowledgement that she is his best pupil- this of course is code so as not to give away their identities. When he asks why the instructor, she says it’s the yoga, she likes the yoga.

So breaking that down, she’s attracted to the Batman but she’s also frustrated by him. Some people on the internet are using this as fuel for their misogyny argument.  To them I say imagine this scenario- you’ve had a crush on your favorite celebrity for years and now you’re finally working with them and you’re realizing they are a giant pain in the ass to work with, but you’re still attracted to that idea of them. I can totally believe in Barabara’s sexual frustration if you look at it from that angle.

Courtesy of www.techtimes.com

Courtesy of www.techtimes.com

Furthering my point is the fact that Barbara is the one who initiates the sex; she knocks him down, she takes off her own top before the camera pans up and away- if the film makers wanted to they could have shown the whole thing, the film was rated R. They didn’t because this was supposed to be a moment for Barbara to shine as a strong sexual independent woman and they didn’t want to spoil that image because if they showed everything that’s all anyone would talk about.

So we get to see Barbara in the aftermath of that and it’s not the prettiest of pictures but keep in mind this is Batman, a character with dozens of love interests both with and without the cowl (really, check out DC wikia. His love interests have their own separate page). Are we surprised he didn’t call? People have been critical of the scene after in which Barabara walks by an arguing couple and throws the guy in a bush, citing it as an example of “women’s rage.” You know for a fandom community so concerned with misogyny ya’ll make some pretty messed up comments.

I think this scene is just thrown in for comedic effect and I think she’s mad because her hopes and expectations are not being met- oh my god she’s acting like a real life human being. The first arc starts to wind down, and yes I’m still talking about the first 30 minutes of this film. They confront Paris France and she beats him nearly to death and then every piece of advice Batman was giving her just sort of clicks in her head. She doesn’t like the idea that she nearly beat a man to death and decides this isn’t the life she wants so she retires the Batgirl and goes on to live an otherwise normal life… and then you remember you’re watching The Killing Joke

Courtesy of moviepilot.com

Courtesy of moviepilot.com

The remainder of the story follows the original graphic novel almost note for note, with a few lines of dialogue updated since it is from a story written in 1988. There are two narratives interwoven, the current timeline where Batman is perusing the Joker and a series of flashback that gives the Joker an origin story, one where the audience can finally view him in a more sympathetic light. How Barbara plays into this, as mentioned before, the Joker shoots her and as a result she becomes permanently paralyzed. In a featurette they showed after the film they mentioned that even though they had the R rating, they wanted to tell the story in a way that didn’t make you want to jump off a cliff at the end.

Barbara is raped after being paralyzed by the Joker but it’s never explicitly shown, however we know it happened from four subtle beats. The first being the Joker undoing her top button before the camera cuts to the next scene. When Batman is visiting her in the hospital a detective says something to the effect that she was found naked and bleeding on the floor. While searching for Joker, Batman questions three escorts and one playfully says he usually pays them a visit first but didn’t this time so they assume that he’s found a new play thing.

The final piece solidifies this when Commissioner Gordon is forced to endure a hellish roller coaster ride, during which Joker sings a disturbing song and at the end television screens are covered in bloody naked pictures of Barbara. We don’t seeing anything explicitly detailed, but we know what’s going on. The reason I break this down is because of how much flack the sex scene earlier in the film had. I’d much rather know that Barbara was living life to the fullest then have my only image of her in the film be the victim of a horrific act of violence.

Courtesy of lockerdome.com

Courtesy of lockerdome.com

My criticism of the film is that the whole first part was supposed to be an introduction but really it feels like an episode lead in to a miniseries. Then you have two stories being told simultaneously that have very little to do with the introduction. However I think I understand why the directors did it because prior to the start of the Graphic novel DC was in the process of retiring the Batgirl character so she’s just a tool in a male driven storyline.

To show her in her prime, being Batgirl, kicking ass and showing that she’s just decided to live a normal life gives the audience more of an emotional attachment to the character and gives her more agency to the overall narrative rather than “oh well she was just there.” The biggest criticism the graphic novel received was that it crippled Barbara for no reason. But the film was already alluding to Barbara’s computer skills and in doing so her eventual dawning of the identity of Oracle, so it all comes full circle. The last image of the film is of her, so we know that although broken she is not defeated.

Holiday Shopping: A Few of My Favorite Things Pt. 1

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone contributor

Courtesy of www.estatevacationrentals.com

Courtesy of www.estatevacationrentals.com

Season’s greetings everyone! No matter what holiday you are celebrating this year we all know shopping can be really stressful, especially when you don’t know what to get someone. Personally, I am not a fan of going the gift card route. I want to give something that has a bit more meaning behind it.

Every year Oprah Winfrey releases a list of her favorite things, but let’s face it you have to have an Oprah sized salary to afford about 90% of that list. This is why I’m making one of my own, most of which will be under $20. So without further ado, here are some of my favorite gift ideas I found while browsing the net. Oh yeah, all of them are geek/nerd/pop culture friendly, whether their love is for film, books, or music there’s something out there for everyone. So here we go!

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When it comes to online shopping, most people’s first thought is Amazon. There’s no need to worry if you missed out on Black Friday or cyber Monday, Amazon will continue to add new deals throughout the season. I’m not going to go into much detail here since Amazon is so well advertised and most people know how to get what they’re looking for.

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One of my favorite online places to shop is Etsy. This is for two reasons; one, you’re supporting artists running their own independent businesses, and the other is you can find pretty much anything you want. Here’s just a small sampling of stores I decided to check out for this holiday shopping season.

Home decor– If you’re shopping for someone who may have just moved out or is a collector of a particular fandom getting them a nice ornament might be a good route to go. The Perfect Cup has a wide assortment of ornaments including super heroes and video game designs. Additionally you can personalize your gift and the site offers a small selection of other items such as keychains and blankets.

Comic Decor could be a good place to look for the comic book lover in your life. They have frames, boxes and other decorative items for your home.

Another shop I liked for decorations was Burrito Princess. The highlights are the 8-bit inspired frames and magnets. The Adventure Time set is absolutely adorable. And even though we mainly rely on our smart phones to tell the time, a handsome clock could still bring the room together, especially if it features the fab four on its face.

American Dreamy also features other various wall hangings that lovers of anything pop culture will enjoy.

Candles– Candles are usually a good holiday gift. They smell nice and can literally brighten up the room. Tracks On Wax and Old Glow Candles step your candle game up to the next level. Tracks on Wax is pretty self-explanatory, candles created using music as their inspiration. Included in the selection are Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time,” and Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song.” For those of you who know me well, you’ll immediately know why the second shop caught my attention. In addition to the Miyazaki inspired candles, this shop has various scents inspired from film and literature. The description for “The Shire,” inspired by The Lord of the Rings series, reads –“fresh hobbiton grass, English garden flowers and a hint of a cozy log fire.” If that doesn’t sound pleasant and inviting, I don’t know what is.

Mugs- Another classic gift idea but never a bad one. I enjoyed browsing the mugs from these Tula Tinkers  and Coral Bel  both of which feature some cute sayings and quotes.

And of course we can’t forget what goes inside. I found this delicious looking coffee merchant, Free the Green Bean who even has some festive blends available. And if coffee isn’t exactly your cup of tea, might I suggest Duval Tea?

And how about a nice treat to go with your hot beverage? Sweet Belle Cakes has several to choose from, including truffles that are Han Solo frozen in carbonite from that iconic Star Wars scene.

Kitchen Equipment- Whether it’s a present for your friend who loves being in the kitchen or for you to make them a more personalized basket of treats, there are so many shops that feature everything from personalized cooking boards to Super Mario cookie cutters. These are a few shops I liked; Star Cookies, La Boite a Cookies,  and Rainbow Rolling Pins. They mainly cater to video game fans but there are a few other fandoms included.

Jewelry- Full disclosure here I’m not into super expensive jewelry. Most of my necklaces are butterflies and dragonflies, nothing super fancy. That being said I really enjoyed what these shops had to offer. First up, Sun and Stars Jewelry  covers the whole spectrum of fandoms. I also like their science inspired jewelry, particularly the solar system bracelet. If you have a Disney or young adult literature lover Amanda Jane might be the place for you. They have both charm bracelets and necklaces available.

Tomorrow, I’ll give you the rundown on the cutest apparel stores.

Anime: Death Note (2006)

Death Note: Moral and Immoral Killings

Courtesy of deathnotecharacters.tk

Courtesy of deathnotecharacters.tk

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

If one day out of the blue you had the power to control the life and death of every human being, what would you do? This sounds like the premise of a supernatural crime drama and technically it is, but it’s also an animation and live action film series hailing from our friends over in Japan. Death Note aired in 2006 and quickly made its way over to the US. Even if anime isn’t your thing, this is a must see for lovers of thriller and psychological drama. My mother, who is not a fan of animation, could not wait for each week’s installment back when it aired on Adult Swim (now it’s available for free on Hulu and Netflix).

Death Note’s main protagonist is Light Yagami, a promising student with an interest in law enforcement and a strong sense of justice. Son of the chief of police, he becomes disillusioned as he learns more and more that some violent criminals are able to get away. One day he picks up a notebook that allows him to kill any person whose name is written inside of it. This prompts him to start killing criminals whom he feels the law had not passed proper judgment on, viewing himself as a pure force of justice. He is known as “Kira,” by the media and the police.

Courtesy of deathnote.wikia.com

Courtesy of deathnote.wikia.com

Opposing him is L, the world’s most intelligent detective who feels that Kira’s killings make him no better than a criminal because no one should have the power of a God. This is where things become interesting. Death Note pits two highly intelligent forces together in a game of cat and mouse where both believe he is acting out true justice. Now this sounds like a standard crime drama, but there’s a catch. The notebook belongs to a Shinigami, Japanese for god of death, which is what gives the book its otherworldly power. And there are multiple Shinigami which stirs things up even more.

Ryuk is the Shinigami who dropped the book that Light found because he is bored and wants to have some amusement. Another Shinigami in the series is Rem, who gives a notebook to a girl named Misa Amane who admires and follows in Kira’s footsteps, thus becoming the second Kira. Despite first impressions she herself proves to be an intelligent character who is willing to put it all on the line to carry out Kira’s sense of justice.

Courtesy of tvtropes.org

Courtesy of tvtropes.org

Can I say much more about it without spoiling the other twists and turns, unfortunately no. The series moves rather quickly and by the tenth episode shit hits the fan. It is a must see if you are a fan of NCIS, Dexter, Breaking Bad, or Supernatural. And if the animation part is just something you can’t get behind, there are 3 live action films which have a different ending from the series but that’s what happens when your source material is 37 episodes long. The manga is also available for download on kindle, so go check it out.

Review: Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Witchcraft That’s Not for the Kiddies

Courtesy of www.fanpop.com

Courtesy of www.fanpop.com

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Post conventions I tend to go on anime binges. Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a series I saw for the first time a couple of months ago and I’m already on my second viewing. Now I know from the art style you’re thinking, okay this has got to be a kid’s show. Spoiler, it’s not. In fact my brother, who is now watching it, had to turn it off after episode three because he needed time to recover emotionally, his words not mine. This show took the cute magical girl genre and brilliantly flipped it on its head.

The show follows the lives Madoka Kaname, Sayaka Miki, Mami Tomoe, Homura Akemi and Kyoko Sakura; all of whom have either made contracts or been approached to make a contract with a mysterious cat-like creature, Kyubey. In exchange for a single wish, they are granted the power to transform into magical girls. The girls fight against witches in a trippy (almost acid-induced) alternate reality.

Courtesy of wall.alphacoders.com

Courtesy of wall.alphacoders.com

Magical girl anime has been around for a while, long before Sailor Moon (which was possibly the first one to make it big in the West.) There are typical tropes that come with the genre: typically a disorganized clumsy protagonist, a male love interest with an air of mystery, a flashy transformation sequence where time is apparently suspended long enough for them to do gymnastics in a choreographed nature all while emphasizing themes of growth, finding inner strength, and the importance of female friendship.

This is where Madoka stands out because Madoka herself pretty much has it together. If anything her biggest character flaw is that she is ordinary. Yes she is naive, but that’s just because she’s young, though she’s far superior in terms of maturity compared to past magical girl protagonists. There is no male love interest for her, although fans speculate that her relationship with fellow magical girl, Homura, could be more than just friendship. The transformation sequence is there but it’s relatively short and usually done before the actual fighting so there’s less of a need for that suspension of disbelief.

Courtesy of knowyourmeme.com

Courtesy of knowyourmeme.com

While most magical girls find inner strength after receiving powers, the realization of power actually breaks the girls psychologically. The realization that no one wish is worth the heavy burden that comes with being a magical girl is one of the main driving forces of the show. There are certain rewards given when a witch is defeated which leads to the girls fighting each other rather than working together against a common foe. While the theme of female friendship is present, Madoka shows the ugly side a lot more than its predecessors.

THIS SECTION MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

Unfortunately to really get down to the brilliance of Madoka involves an in-depth discussion that will basically spoil the major twist it puts on the genre. Now those familiar with magical girl will notice I left out the presence of a cute animal when listing the tropes. Technically we get a familiar animal with Kyubey, but he is anything but cute. The manga starts him out adorable, making him progressively creepier as the story progresses; the anime has him creepy right from the get-go. Something about red eyes and not having a mouth is very unnerving. The big twist is that Kyubey is part of an alien race that feeds off of human souls, which is basically what the girls exchange in their contract. They lose not only their physical body but also their chance at ever having a happy, normal life.

Courtesy of www.fansshare.com

Courtesy of www.fansshare.com

Additionally, a soul gem is created whenever one of these contracts is made, so it’s literally all that is left of the girls. The reward given for defeating a witch is a grief seed which can purify the soul gem but gets cloudy not only when they use their magic but also when their emotions run the gambit. So what happens when the soul becomes corrupted? The show demonstrates this in a rather horrifying way. In fact the line Kyubey says about halfway through the series is “if a young female human is called a girl, then wouldn’t it make sense that when a magical girl becomes a woman that she turn into a witch?” I don’t know any magical girl anime that has gone into that dark territory before or since. While Sailor Moon has a dark premise of a war on the moon kingdom and a princess overcome by grief when her love is killed, commits suicide, she and her friends are reincarnated so that they can meet again and live a more peaceful life.

When a character dies in Madoka it’s pretty much for keeps, not to mention their soul is actually destroyed, leaving no room for reincarnation. In fact there is a scene where the girls realize they are going to become witches, so one of the girls turns her weapons on her friends and then herself. The suicide scene in Sailor Moon doesn’t actually happen on camera.

Courtesy of gallery.minitokyo.net

Courtesy of gallery.minitokyo.net

Madoka deals with some heavy themes making it more suited for adults. If you grew up watching magical girl, then you’ll want to see this one. Also don’t underestimate the opening sequence which looks and sounds cute but listen carefully to the lyrics because they perfectly encompass the overall arching theme of the show; they’ll make a lot more sense once you find out what the deal with Homura is. It’s a beautiful show and it’s only 12 episodes long so why not give it a whirl.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica is available in English and Japanese with subtitles on Netflix. You can also watch the subtitled version legally on Hulu and Crunchy Roll.       

 

Anime: Oreimo (2010)

Oreimo: Brothers, Sisters, Boobs, Sex

Courtesy of www.crunchyroll.com

Courtesy of www.crunchyroll.com

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

“Ore no imouto kawaii wake ga nai” My little sister can’t be this cute (this is not going where you think!)

I’ll admit I watched this show completely by accident. It was on crackle and I was drawn in by the art style despite not knowing exactly what the title translated to. I saw the words sister and cute and just figured it had to be about a magical girl… yeah no it’s not.

Courtesy of chrisman1991.deviantart.com

Courtesy of chrisman1991.deviantart.com

Ore no imouto kawaii wake ga nai or Oreimo for short is a slice-of-life comedic anime that is not only entertaining, but also a clever commentary on the whole anime culture. It’s based off of a popular Japanese dating simulator which is a type of video game where the player (typically male) has the option of courting several women, the harem. In a majority of them, this leads to explicit sex scenes when you win the affection of one of the females. However, this game does have homoerotic and reverse-gendered harems geared towards gays and women.

One of the more popular sub-genres is the imouto, where the main character is in pursuit of his younger sister. Sometimes she’s adopted, other times… yeah that’s why people have a hard time approaching this series, but let me assure you, the first season does not delve into that territory.

Courtesy of www.wallsave.com

Courtesy of www.wallsave.com

I went to Connecticon and this show came up more than once. The first time it was brought up was at a panel where the guest was asked if there was a show they would flat out never watch. The second was at a Female Representation in Anime panel where yours truly stated how the show digressed from a very thoughtful first season into a really horrid season two that threw all character development out the window in favor of harem topes and concluded with possibly one of the worst endings I have ever seen.

The show’s two main protagonists are sister and brother Kirino and Kyosuke Kosaka, who used to be close when they were young but grew apart to the point where they literally never speak to one another. The reason to this is hinted at in season one and finally confirmed in season two, perhaps the only scene worth watching from that abomination, but I digress. Kyosuke is the typical male slacker who just does what he needs to get by, while Kirino in contrast is an outstanding student in junior high, star athlete, and part time model.

Courtesy of beneaththetangles.com

Courtesy of beneaththetangles.com

One day Kyosuke finds an erotic dating sim on the floor of his house which turns out to belong to Kirino. This leads to him finding out that she is a closet Otaku (a fanatic generally associated with anime and often regarded with negative connotation). Knowing full well that if her friends find out about her hobbies, especially her penchant for little sister dating games, she will be shunned. She confides in her brother to keep her secret. At which point he realizes how lonely she feels not being able to be true to herself and tries to help her out by getting her into contact with other girls who share her interests.

This leads to her meeting the Otaku girls club and leaves us with a rather predominantly female cast. As this is also based on a dating sim, this makes some sense. However the harem aspects are very subdued in the first season as it only seems like 2-3 of the girls are actually into Kyosuke, none of which are Kirino, though she does interfere quite a bit. The way I see this is finding out her secret was the gateway back to having reestablished a connection with her brother and if he starts dating he’ll go back to ignoring her. Her feelings towards him don’t really allude to romance in the first season. In the second season, uggggghhhh…

Courtesy of www.entravity.com

Courtesy of www.entravity.com

As I said before, Oreimo is really quite profound in showing the side of being enamored with anime in a way most Western audiences are oblivious to. Fans in the States often refer to each other as Otakus affectionately without really understanding what it truly means. And Kirino’s attraction to the little sister genre is weird, I’m not going to lie, but it initially makes some sense. She idolized Kyosuke growing up and thought of him as the ideal brother; the protagonist of these games is the ideal older brother so I don’t think it’s about playing it for the sex, but rather wanting a happy ending to her own story.

Not that she wants to date her brother, she just wants a relationship with him where he looks out for her and she can talk to him. I mean literally the two are not speaking to each other at the start of the series and it’s implied that they haven’t in years, possibly because of a girl, which also adds to why Kirino is not a fan of him dating. All in all season one is well written, funny, and has got great commentary which it does in a self-aware way. Oh, and sit through the opening and ending sequences. Why? That’ll make more sense about halfway through the series.

Courtesy of oreimo.wikia.com

Courtesy of oreimo.wikia.com

Season two… as much as I’d like to continue to pretend this doesn’t exist there is Oreimo 2, which was highly anticipated for years after the first series premiered. All the female characters, even if they weren’t in the slightest bit interested in Kyosuke in season one, all of a sudden have it bad for him so basically it’s an animated dating sim where all the women are throwing themselves at him. So we’ve gone from a profound slice-of-life commentary to just a giant mess that disregards established characters in favor of making them bend to the harem arc-types.

It’s barely watchable and then it goes into that uncomfortable territory… I don’t want to touch that with a ten foot pole… If you’ve been here this long I don’t even need to say what happens, just trust me on this one the two series should be counted as separate and the second should be put in a landfill like the ET video game for the Atari home system. Yes, I have that much distain for it.

Courtesy of blairnoel.wordpress.com

Courtesy of blairnoel.wordpress.com

Season one is currently available on crackle, hulu and crunchyroll for free. There is an alternate ending to season one which is harder to find, but there are ways… You can skip season two. Really, just pretend it doesn’t exist.