Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Heroes: A Look Back [Season 1, Part 2]

I was able to watch a few more episodes of Heroes, bring me about two thirds of the way through the first season of the series. My overall impression is that the series is currently not as strong as it was in the first part of the season with the Save the Cheerleader, Save the World story-line and that the new How to Stop an Exploding Man is suffering from some pacing issues.

For one, we haven't seen the exploding man for more than a minute or two so far. For another, there's only been one new character worth talking about and one character death that was fairly stupid, But the biggest problem is that not much has actually happened compared to the first half.

Peter Petrelli is learning about control of his powers from, literally, the Invisible Man, and . . . actually that's the only story that's really advanced.

His brother is still a jerk, Nikki's story-line is circling the drain, Mohinder has had about 5 minutes of screen-time, Hiro's quest has been derailed by unneeded family squabbles, Sylar is still killing people, Claire and her friends and family had their memory wiped bringing them back to point one again though at least she found her birth mother. And no that I think about it, why didn't Claire's father order the Haitian to wipe Sylar's mind so he would forget his daughter? He certainly has no problem destroying his son's mind with his employee's power, why not an actual, you know, threat? But I digress.

This is the problem a lot of series that have a 20+ episode season have. In about the third quarter of the show, everyone stays in a holding pattern until the end because they have to save their big reveals until the final few episodes. This means a lot of stalling.

Unfortunately there isn't much for me to talk about this time except that the usage of the Invisible Man has been on of the series best decisions so far. It adds a sort of world-weary figure and guide to Peter who had otherwise been flailing around without any direction and explaining his power as something truly interesting. Where this leads I can't be too sure, but for now this has been the best development of the show in recent episodes.

Claire's mother story-line impact would have been better if her father hadn't literally reset everything to zero and have her not remember anything that happened to save her from Sylar at the halfway point of the season. I'm curious to learn more about her and her relationship to her daughter, but for now we instead involve Nathan Petrelli in another story he doesn't need to be a part of. I obviously don't find the family anywhere near as interesting as the writers do, but I'll just have to deal with this revelation and hope it actually leads to something and makes Nathan actually do anything other than be smarmy for awhile.

I guess I'll just have to see what happens next before I can say more. I do hope the season finale lives up to what they are building up to and this holding pattern is broken soon.

Monday, August 17, 2015

To Be a Real Hero

Recently I read through one of the more popular recent series in Japan's Shonen Jump magazine (essentially a magazine with comics aimed at boys) thanks to a friend lending me the first volume of the story. And let me tell you, even if Japan has been lacking in recent years in the anime department, My Hero Academia is a distillation of everything that appeals to me in not only manga but in stories as a whole.

My Hero Academia stars hopeless wannabe hero fanboy, Izuku Midoriya, who lives in a world where superpowers are so common, they comprise 80% of the world's population. There powers are called "Quirks" since almost everyone has a different one. All, that is, except our main character. You see, Quirks develop in early childhood and never at any other point which means he is destined to be normal since those without Quirks cannot be superheroes (so far, there doesn't appear to be a Batman like hero in the story to prove this wrong, so for now I'll go with it) and Izuku is a bit of a wuss as it is.

Though he's a big superhero fan to the point that he actively studies them and knows almost everything about them, he is bullied by a former childhood friend of his who has an incredible Quirk (he can uses his sweat to cause explosions) and sees Izuku, or Deku as he calls him, as merely a worthless pebble in his path. Nobody else thinks much of him, either, his own mother blaming herself for him not having a Quirk (which is not actually her fault, but she is fairly neurotic), but nobody telling him the one thing he wanted to hear.

Though everyone writes him off, one day everything changes. The "#1 Hero in the World", All Might, is in town battling a slippery villain that keeps getting away. A creature made of liquid, he tries to take control of Izuku's body before he is saved by All Might. The two meeting is what changes the course of Izuku's life and lets him learn that he can be a hero, after all.

What I enjoy most about this manga is that though he is a normal kid who has a penchant for being pushed around, he has a sense of justice of wanting to do the right thing. When all the heroes with superpowers are too scared to intervene for either vainglorious, petty, or legitimate, reasons, it is powerless Izuku Midoriya who runs out into the battlefield to save someone's life despite having no chance of succeeding. All Might is inspired by what has occurred and offers him a chance to be a hero for real. All he has to do is have All Might's power passed on to him.

This is is only the first volume, meaning it mainly centers on Izuku getting his powers by earning them and taking an exam to enter the most prestigious hero school in the world, but even here you grow to like the characters. Izuku is not only smart, but he's very admirable, constantly facing impossible odds with all he has despite being scared out of his mind. All Might is a hero who is experienced and knows the trials of being a hero and doing the right thing, he educates Izuku on how it is not about being "cool" or popular, but about being good-- and that is the hardest thing in the world to do.

It's pretty funny, as well. There are a lot of weird powers and comedic bits based on Izuku's natural cravenness and All Might's image as a "super cool hero who saves people with a smile", not to mention well-timed comedic pratfalls as well. What absolutely floors me is the lack of raunchy humor or over the top gore which had become more common in recent manga. To be sure there are jokes about girls being from a different world and some violent scenes where blood is drawn and bone or two is broken but it isn't graphic at all but well in the natural world of the story. As far as it goes is a woman heroine called Mt. Lady who can increase her size to be a giant and people commenting on how beautiful she is. That's pretty much it. It's less explicit than a Silver Age comic book.

I have been reading recent chapters in the North American version of Shonen Jump, which releases new chapters at the same time they are released in Japan, and I can say without reservation that it keeps up its pace or heroes trying to be good and stopping the villains who merely want to destroy. I have to hand it to Kohei Horikoshi for creating a series for everyone that has such universal appeal. This is not something that comes around every day.

All in all, I heartily recommend My Hero Academia to anyone who enjoys a good action adventure story. Though it's still rather new, it is probably the best popular manga currently running. It is certainly the one with the most heart and a real breath of fresh air compared to certain other trashy series out there.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Heroes: A Look Back [Season 1, Part 1]

This might be strange to anyone reads this blog, but I never watched the mega-hit TV show Heroes when it originally aired. At the time I was so burnt out and tired of television that even hearing about a "LOST-killer" didn't really satiate my interest. So I never watched beyond the premiere episode.

To take you back to 2006, you'd have to remember that I like my shows more bright and hopeful-- sitcoms were dying due to aping Friends endlessly and dramas were all about grim and gritty. Neither of those has changed much, not to mention the reality show glut remains and single camera sitcoms are still basically all the same show of neurotic characters giving interviews for some inexplicable reason for easy punchlines, but there has been more of variety out there than there was in 2006 when Heroes premiered.

Since the superhero boom has been such a success for those of us who missed stories about people trying to be heroic and not moping around in pointless despair, I decided to go back to the show that first tried to make a drama about them. Now, I know a little bit about the show and how it slid far downhill, but I still wanted to give it a chance. Since it is having a revival mini-series this year, I thought that now would be the perfect chance to do so.

With a friend of mine, we watched the first half of season 1, which I had never seen before and which he had not seen since it first aired.

Early impressions? Pretty good, actually.

The characters all have good starting points and motivations. Claire Bennett is a cheerleader that is indestructible, Peter Petrelli and his brother, Nathan, have a combative relationship despite discovering they have unique powers that could change it. Hiro Nakamura believes he can save the world and be somebody special. Matt Parkman is able to read people's minds. Niki Sanders is a mystery even to herself. Mohinder Suresh is determined to find these people and learn more about his deceased father. Then there's the mysterious Mr. Bennett and the Haitian searching for those with powers for some strange reason and the villainous Sylar, who enjoys killing and taking powers for his own. All of this happens in the first half of the season, and there is quite a lot of build up in it that makes it easy to see why it was a hit.

The special effects are nothing much to write home about, being as the budget wasn't that great for the time. Some of the show can get way too graphic with the violence regardless, and some of the plotlines can get a bit soap opera at times. It's also hard to empathize or really wrap your head around some characters at this point like Niki Sanders who is more confusing than anything or Matt Parkman whose life is really unnecessarily overbearing for a normal police officer.

Where Heroes succeeds at this point is in the mystery, We don't know where any of this is going, or where the power came from, or what it's all for, and that makes it an interesting watch. The pacing, reveals, and character turns are all so carefully plotted that you just know someone had this planned out far in advance. There's a lot of good craft at play here.

Still, this is only the first half of the first season. There are still more seasons to go and still half a season left in this one. It could turn at any moment.

But at this point I can safely say I understand the hype and success it had. Now to see if the rest of it's reputation is just as well deserved.

More next time!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Waking up, growing up, and moving on

Sometimes when I'm thinking about things that have happened, the way things could have been and the way they are I wonder how I ended up just how I got here.

I'm passing the fourth anniversary of the day I finally saw the real world beyond what my eyes told me and I still think about this. What if I had moved away a long time ago? What if I had stayed where I was instead of where I am? What if I never woke up up? It's something that happens to me every now and then, and I'm not sure if it'll ever really go away.

Of course, it's a silly thing to wonder about. If any of those things didn't happen, I would be a different person. I know this for sure. Everything that happened in my life lead me to where I am now. What happened, how I reacted, and what naturally followed. The other possibilities? They aren't me. They never happened. They will never happen. Who I am now is purely from an act of Grace and how I chose to react and not a drawing of straws.

But, doubts always assail even in goofy things like this. It's just part of being human. Sometimes my curiosity overpowers what I already know.

What it helps me be is grateful. Grateful that I'm alive. Grateful that I was able to see what I had become and what I could be. Grateful that I was given the opportunity to be something better than I was.

It's something I might always be thinking about-- the what if, but it is not something I will regret.

I've moved on, and now I have to keep myself from falling again. We're all made of glass, but we can always glue ourselves back together with the right help. And that's a comfort for a screw-up like me.

Nite and Grey
Preformed by: Urge Overkill
Written by: Nash Kato, Eddie "King" Roeser, and Blackie Onassis

Would you lie? Would you lie to me?
Down in Memphis
And New Orleans?

Would you lie? Would you lie to me?
'Cause I don't need it anymore
'Cause I got freed

Nite and grey
Night as day
This is the last time
This is the last time

Nite and grey

Never been, never bend a knee
I saw Jesus on the road
And I got freed

Never going down, going down to Hell
'Cause I don't need it anymore
I'm already here

Nite and grey
Night as day
This is the last time
This is the last time

Nite and grey