Return of The Backlog Show Splurge

Hopefully that title grabs people, because I don’t want to write something light novel-y.

As I said a little while ago, I’m not participating in Secret Santa partly because I’m incredibly hard to pick for and partly because I don’t have the time to do the thing. In addition to watching a shit-ton of bad anime so I can review them for the blog, I play video games, watch movies, keep up with some Western cartoons, go to work, write for this blog, etc. etc. I do so much stuff that I can’t even find time to read the books I’ve bought (well actually I could. It’s just lack of motivation compared to everything else I do that’s keeping me away from polishing off The Count of Monte Cristo). Nevertheless, I have been working on my show backlog in-between all the open-world games and Saturday schlock I put myself through, and I want to write about them, so here we are now. A summary post on some shows you’ve heard about but have never actually seen.

Akatsuki no Yona

I was thinking of giving this thing a full review, but I backed out at the last minute because the moment sort of passed and I’m kinda too weary to write a thousand words on Yona of the Dawn or however its English pronunciation goes. Which probably goes a long way to indicate my feelings towards the show. Iffiness on the comedy aside, I can sort of understand why people like Akatsuki no Yona because it does a lot of things right. The action is decent for the most part, the characters all have their own personal stories, the overall narrative is grand, and it’s technically well-made for the most part. But oh my god, why are are shoujo anime so bloody slow to get going? It takes two episodes for the main conflict to kick into gear, but that’s not an automatic deal-breaker since some shows I’ve been enjoying this year didn’t really sell me until their third episodes (and on a side note, I still think most anime could really benefit from having hour-long premieres). Of course, those shows usually keep the progression going afterwards, whilst Yona feels like one big prologue to a much better anime that I’m unsure we’ll ever see.

My main problem with Yona is that the entire two-cour series is spent on Yona gathering the dudes for her army to take back the capital whilst she grows into a stronger person as a result with the main threat being waaaaaay in the background whilst she’s doing so. Like less so than Fellowship of the Rings or Deathly Hallows Part 1. And on top of that, Yona’s progression is a little too predictable for how stretched out it is and the character stories are too black and white for my taste. The closest we get to complexity is in the pirate arc, but it suffers from the same problems as Uncharted 3’s pirate arc did (without having a great chase scene from in-rushing water to compensate for it) as in it’s overlong, it involves bad guys that have little to no involvement with the main threat, and the actual story progression it added was nowhere near meaty enough to compensate. On top of that, it ate up so much of the second half that the final chosen dragon dude literally just appears out of nowhere in the last episode to join because he wants to. If it’s supposed to be a joke regarding how the last guy is usually the hardest to recruit, then why am I not laughing?

Whilst there’s definitely potential for an epic second season, I fail to see why this season as of now is getting as acclaimed as it is. Maybe characters like Yona really appeal to them or something.

Fresh Off the Boat

Some of you are probably aware of this show given its reputation as “that sitcom with an Asian-American cast”. I personally avoided it when it was announced because I’m Asian myself (not Chinese like the cast, but…) and it looked like a yellow version of all those crappy black sitcoms I watched growing up. However, my family put it on whilst I was visiting them for Thanksgiving and the episode where the dad tried to hide his vacation from the family cracked me up, so I caught up to the show within the span of two days. It’s a decent ABC alternative to Modern Family, especially since that show’s latest season has been pretty awful, but I have my gripes.

It was probably a good thing my family used the second season to entice me because like most sitcoms still trying to find their way, hoo boy were the early episodes of this show rough. That first season kind of sine-waved between being the show Eddie Huang wanted it to be and a more traditional ABC sitcom with Asians without really deciding on a direction, causing the humor to come off as unfocused and the scenarios to be little better than that new Muppet show airing right now. And it’s not like the second season is gut-bustingly hilarious either. Eddie’s fictional self is nowhere near as interesting as his fictional parents on the show, particularly Jessica whenever she rips into someone. He’s just an Asian dude who’s into black culture, which comes off as gimmicky to me and doesn’t allow for the most hilarious of scenarios. And before people start making comparisons between him and me, I was never into that side of black culture growing up (and even when I did indulge in the stuff, I never worshipped it).

Overall, the show isn’t exactly Malcolm in the Middle or anything (I haven’t seen much of Everybody Hates Chris so I can’t vouch for that one), but it makes me laugh. Can’t say the same for practically every other Asian sitcom I subject myself to (yes, anime comedies count as Asian sitcoms).

Silicon Valley

This show is another example I’m going to shove into people’s faces when they try to convince me that Classroom Crisis/Robotics;Notes are good shows about working hard to achieve your dreams in the middle of a corporate technology-driven environment. You know why I hate both shows? Because they have nothing interesting to say about the workplace environment and their poor attempts at humor along with the ungodly amount of exposition and character-building moments that do nothing to progress the story put me in a trance. Mike Judge, on the other hand, does have interesting things to say about the workplace environment. Silicon Valley gives an insight into what it takes to fuck the man and start up your own company within the very first episode and continues to build from there. But whilst that automatically makes it better than the other shows I just mentioned, that alone isn’t what makes it good.

No, Silicon Valley is good because this particular “fuck the man” story is driven by the characters with any problems that they face mostly being a result of their own personality flaws, particularly Richard’s inability to take control and desire to do the right thing even when it fucks him over. Where nobody is really a good guy and you only cheer for the protagonists because they’re not as insane as the big wigs (and said protagonists include two dudes who are open to letting a stunt driver die so they can fuck his girlfriend) And this is a comedy series for god’s sake. A comedy series that is flat-out hilarious, which is something I usually struggle with in regards to Mike Judge. Where men can get last-minute inspiration to improve their algorithm from an overnight conversation regarding how it’s possible to jerk off four-hundred dicks in a room within ten minutes. Where your second-in-command is a lazy asshole who will nevertheless beat up kids that are ripping his friends off and hire gangsters to paint your company logo. Where you can achieve victory by sheer dumb luck, only to discover said victory to come with a giant asterisk next to it shortly after.

Where exactly was all that in your beloved Classroom Crisis, guys? Huh?

Boardwalk Empire

Martin Scorsese is nowhere near one of my favorite movie directors, but I do generally like the guy and was curious about what he had been doing since The Wolf of Wall Street, so I googled him and discovered he was involved in an upcoming HBO show called Vinyl: a show about a record company (I think) created by the man who made Boardwalk Empire. Then I thought to myself “wait, isn’t that the Prohibition gangster series where Steve Buscemi plays as the big man in regards to smuggling alcohol? Maybe I should take the time to actually see if I’d like it”. The result? Well as of this time of writing, the blu-ray for the entire series is being shipped to my apartment. Not because I love the show or anything. At least not yet. I just prefer to watch live-action dramas on my big-screen TV as opposed to my laptop and there’s something unsatisfying about just hooking an HDMI cable from my laptop to the TV that I can’t quite explain. Probably because I don’t have a remote to control what I’m watching that way.

Anyways, I’ve watched five episodes of Boardwalk Empire so far and it’s mostly getting by on the execution for me – namely the casts’ moral ambiguity and how it’s used to progress the story in a visually interesting setting. The actual story by itself isn’t anything special so far, being about a bunch of gangsters rising in prominence through their bootlegging activities and exploring the time period whilst contrasting the main character’s secret life with his public life as a political figure. That’s enough to make a show decent and gangster stories have about as much plot variety as superhero ones so I don’t exactly expect anything mind-blowing from Boardwalk Empire. But my favorite crime stories play with the deconstruction of what it means to be a gangster a little harder than what I’m currently seeing, usually by having a powerful contrast to their goals. And whilst Nucky’s opponents in the game are fair, they’re hardly Heath Ledger’s Joker if you know what I mean.

Don’t Trust The B— In Apartment 23

Whilst I’m aware of Krysten Ritter’s roles prior to Jessica Jones, I’ve never actually watched any of the other things she was in apart from when she played the bitchy friend in that She’s Out Of My League film (at least I think that was her). So I looked up her resume and discovered the existence of this show on Netflix. And holy hell does it make me laugh out loud, mainly in the relationship between June and Chloe. The former being a good girl who will take charge if you push her too far and the latter being a complete bitch who will treat her friends with some level of humanity makes for a lot of mean-spirited yet ultimately good-willed humor, and having James Vanderbeek play himself (or an exaggerated version of himself at any rate) whilst being the only male to “get” these two ladies is the icing on the incredibly warm cake. Not really much else I can say about this show since the setting and story are typical sitcom fodder with no real noticeable flaws unless you hate women who borderline tortures people to get what she wants.

Haven’t watched the second season though, so maybe its cancellation from the ABC-lineup was justified sometime down the road.

7 responses to “Return of The Backlog Show Splurge

  1. For comparison’s sake, Arslan managed to advance the plot further than Yona (well, get more things done at least, and round up the Main Party much faster too), but I still vastly prefer Yona. For better and worse, Yona never skimps on building up each principal’s backstory and personality (last guy notwithstanding), and personally I’d rather a story taking its time to make me care for the characters rather than bumrushing just to ensure it wouldn’t end on a cliffhanger. Of course, continuing on to the manga is a viable option for me (on top of me being a reader more than a watcher tbh), so I could sympathize with the disappointment of the others if we don’t ever get an anime continuation.

    Rytter’s also impressive at Breaking Bad, which was the first time I’ve seen her. I thought at that time that it’s going to be her breakthrough performance and a bit surprised that she hadn’t really caught on since then, but in retrospect it kind of makes sense. Doesn’t really fit the popular/traditional mould of leading female role.

    • Arslan goes too far in the opposite direction in that the characters have incredibly generic motivations in service of an incredibly generic Fire Emblem-like plot. Also, whilst they are better than Arslan’s cast, I said that Yona’s characters were too black and white for my taste, which meant I didn’t find ’em that interesting either. Their stories lacked complexity and there’s no reason they couldn’t have had better ties to the main villain. It barely needed more than a dialogue change. Being better by comparison isn’t enough for me, I’m afraid.

      Rytter’s also impressive at Breaking Bad, which was the first time I’ve seen her.

      I didn’t really enjoy Breaking Bad so I never got to her parts. Doesn’t she only play Jesse’s girlfriend who Walter let die though? As good as she probably was in that role, she had less screen time than any of the characters in Game of Thrones.

      • I know you generally don’t enjoy historical epic, but I will try to defend Arslan. Not that I don’t have problem with the anime adaptation, mind you. The animation can be shocking bad at many times, and the director made some poor choices when adapt it. But is it generic? Hardly. The author of Arslan novel definitely has better understanding of history and warfare than Yona’s mangaka or any Fire Emblem writers (I’ve played every Fire Emblem games at least 3 times, with the exception of 1 and 2). The show follows a hero’s journey myth,but added historical context and modern philosophy. The author managed to subvert the hero’s journey and make intersting alterations while still use the general outlines of this type of story.

        I liked it better than Game of Thrones at a point. Martin tried to go for the opposite direction, borrowing heavily from historical novels while at the same time give it a fantasy coat of paint . After a few GoT seasons, the lack of focus begun to hurt that show, not to mention I’m beginning to see plot contrivances. Still, GoT’s production value and direction is 20x better than Arslan Senki.

  2. ^She’s in the show for the entire second season,so she get’s a good amount of screen time.

    • I read she was in 9 episodes of that 13-episode season. Granted that’s a lot of episodes, but even with Breaking Bad’s popularity, I don’t picture that as enough to achieve breakthrough fame, let alone the one she caught with Jessica Jones. I definitely didn’t think much of the actor who played Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones despite thinking he was scary and lasting a full season of that show (actually, I’m not sure why Peter Dinklage is the only actor from that show to achieve widespread media fame, or at least in the circles I pay attention to).

  3. I knew someone who was really into Boardwalk Empire, but it seemed like he liked it mostly because he was an American history nerd and he thought it was a good evocation of the period. Haven’t heard of Vinyl, but I’ll probably check it out now since I like Scorsese.

    Only one of these I’ve seen in full is Silicon Valley. I think the things you pointed out about their personal flaws being a major issue and victory coming with a giant asterisk complement each other really well. Their personality problems are an issue throughout the whole series, no matter how much progress they make, so combined with the way every victory just leads them to a bigger challenge, it feels like they’re just continuously spiraling into total crisis.