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The Quiet Relatability of Rilakkuma and Kaoru

Released fresh from the Netflix original factory in April, and armed with enough cuteness to give a puppy a run for its money, Japanese stop-motion series Rilakkuma and Kaoru is a perfect show to sit down and watch after a long, tiring day. It'll turn your frown upside down with its cute antics, while also making you nod along with its inoffensive relatability as it covers the many niggles of adult life.

Created by San-X, the show focuses on the life of an office lady called Kaoru. Her work is stressful and she feels unimportant in her job role. She's indecisive and she worries a bit too much. She feels left behind as her friends have gone on to lead much more involved, successful lives, finding love and having children. Then there's the problem that she's older and too sensible to be invited along to anything the younger women are doing in the office. However this doesn't mean her free time isn't lacking in excitement, because living in her small apartment is Rilakkuma, a brown toy bear who spends his days eating and sleeping (his name literally means "relax bear"), as well as Korilakkuma (basically a smaller, female version of Rilakkuma) and Kiiroitori, Kaoru's pet chick who really loves to keep the place clean. How did these two bears end up living in Kaoru's apartment? Did they simply show up one day? Did they come down from space in a UFO? We don't get told until the very end of the series, but sometimes, we don't need questions like that answered straight away. Sometimes it's simply okay to accept things for what they are, and that is what makes Rilakkuma and Kaoru such an uninvolved but calming watching experience. I mean, who wouldn't want these cuddly teddy bears living in their apartment? Why question something like that? Especially when it looks this damn good too.

The hard work from the show's creators is constantly on display. It was revealed in a behind-the-scenes video that ten seconds of this show's animation can take an entire day, a fact that just makes everything all the more impressive. The show's presentation is bursting with life and colour, featuring expertly crafted scenery depicting the sleepiness of rural Japanese suburbia. If it wasn't for the stop-motion characters that inhabit it, I'd be convinced I was looking at something real. Speaking of characters, Rilakkuma and the gang, whose adorable antics take up a large share of the show's screen time, all look and move like cuddly toys brought to life, all complete with fluid movements that match their sizes and personalities. Rilakkuma moves heavy and lethargically, while Korilakkuma is much more energetic to match her smaller size and enthusiasm. Kiiroitori jumps around frantically, not just because he's a chick, but because he is often prone to bossiness and a temper. Along with their movements, the facial expressions and sounds these cute characters make manage to convey their emotions perfectly. This bunch really are the star of the show, with their cute little routines and attempts to be helpful providing the highlight to any episode.
When it comes to human characters, they're all represented using dolls. They remind me of something from a Tim Burton animation (Coraline, Nightmare Before Christmas, etc.), although definitely nowhere near as grotesque-looking. There are occasions where the dolls pass into uncanny valley territory (creepy fortune teller, ghost girl), but it's usually only to emphasise the eccentricities of their characters, and nothing that will keep you up at night. Kaoru herself looks like a perfectly normal office lady. Her simple, plain, but endearing appearance sets her aside from the other human characters in the show, and in turn makes her easier to relate to.

In the average episode of Rilakkuma and Kaoru, Kaoru will find herself in a typical adult life-related predicament. The inconvenience caused and its resolution will be the main focus of each episode, but its never anything dramatic or life-changingDramatic tension in this series is overall pretty minimal, and the stakes are never raised to any serious extent. You see, Rilakkuma and Kaoru seems to be another production in a wave of shows from Japan that are affectionately referred to as "iyashikei", a Japanese word that can be translated to "healing". These shows often involve little to no conflict, and place emphasis on the little delights in life - with the aim being to relax and soothe the viewer. I've discussed one of the forerunners of this genre previously on Alt:Mag, the absolutely wonderful anime Laid-Back Camp, but it can also be seen in other anime shows like Girl's Last Tour and K-On!. On a surface level, the average viewer might see shows in this style as not being all that deep, but in the case of Rilakkuma and Kaoru, if you take a step back and think about it all for a second, it is a much more relatable show than you might think. Often in life we find ourselves in Kaoru's situation: we get tunnel vision about the simplest of dilemmas and wonder how we'll ever find a way out. We waste hours of our lives stewing about such inconsequential nonsense, before finding our solution through a series of simple happenings, or someone helping us to see past it by thinking another way. In this series, Rillakkuma and the others are the metaphorical shoulder Kaoru can lean on. Their simple, easy existences and lack of responsibility make them the polar opposite to Kaoru's stressful adult life, and sometimes she needs to see things through their simplistic lense in order to get the clarity she has been so desperately in search of. An example of this is seen in episode four, where Kaoru has trouble making decisions, and envies Rillakkuma and the other's ability to just simply pick the thing they want without the added stress. The episode ends with her learning from Rillakkuma and the others that she doesn't always have to pick between things all the time, and can instead have more than just one thing. A simple solution to a simple dilemma, but the mountain that Kaoru makes out of this tiny molehill is bound to be relatable for many.

Netflix have really become a trusted name when it comes to exclusive shows, and in an attempt to broaden their content, they've slapped their name onto some brilliant and unique Japanese shows; anime, live action, etc. Sanrio's Aggretsuko is a particular highlight from their catalogue (seriously, if you've not seen Aggretsuko, you need to watch it) as well as the absolutely amazing Hi Score Girl (I swear I will finish my review of that at some point). It's clear Netflix has some clout when it comes to endorsing shows, and Rilakkuma and Kaoru is continuing in this trend of quality. If you've had a rubbish day at work, I guarantee it'll make you feel better, making you think just a little as you smile a lot.

Let's Talk About Rebuild of Evangelion

This year, the people at Netflix threw us a bone and a curveball. For the first time in eleven years, the acclaimed anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion is now available to stream worldwide. But, there’s a catch – it’s been given a new dub with an all-new cast and a retranslated script. And fans and newcomers aren’t taking the change well. The new dialogue is stiff, and the performances lack the punch and polish of the original dub. To top it all, the music’s been changed in places – all because Netflix didn’t want to pay the extra money for it. I watched the first six episodes and didn’t want to keep going, which is all the more upsetting because I’m a newcomer. However, my first taste of Eva wasn’t to be my last. The next day, I found an alternative in my local second-hand shop. It wasn’t the original dub on DVD, but another version of Eva I’m just as glad to have found. If you’ve been let down by the Netflix version of Eva – and you can’t afford the out-of-print box sets – keep reading. I’m going to tell you about my alternative: Rebuild of Evangelion.

Known in Japan as Evangelion: New Theatrical Edition, Rebuild’s a film series based on the original anime. Hideaki Anno, Eva’s creator, is the films’ chief director and writer; and most of his crew from 1995 returned to make them. The original concept artists, animators, Japanese voice actors, and original composer Shiro Sagisu are all back with some new hands to help them. They all gathered at Anno’s request for one purpose: to remake Eva as he originally intended. In 1995, Anno and his crew were held back by budget cuts, strict deadlines, the limits of hand-drawn animation, and Anno’s own struggles with depression. The series’ production suffered, and it took a much darker turn than Anno had planned – until, at last, it ended on a bleak note with the film End of Evangelion. Since then, it’s been loved and hated even by its own creator. However, he’s not done with it yet. After End’s release in 1997, Anno’s fortunes changed dramatically – he’s now the head of his own studio, Khara (which includes his returning colleagues from the original series), and he’s happily married. He still grapples with depression, but now he has a strong network of friends, family, and fellow filmmakers to support him. And if that wasn’t enough, his career’s been given a boost by none other than the King of Monsters. Anno wrote and directed 2016’s Shin Godzilla, which became the most successful Japanese Godzilla film of all time! With his recent success – and a little help from today’s technology – Anno is ready to recreate Eva as it should’ve been. And he’s making the most of his new resources to do it.

In 2007, Anno proved he meant business with his first Rebuild film: Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone. The film takes viewers back to the series’ beginnings, with Shinji Ikari’s first dealings with the mysterious organisation NERV. Shinji’s estranged father Gendo forces him to pilot the biomechanical Eva Unit-01 to protect Japan from monstrous aliens called Angels. Shinji goes unthanked by both Gendo and the people he protects but finds friends in two of NERV’s members: his guardian Misato Katsuragi and fellow Eva pilot Rei Ayanami. 1.0 follows the events of the series’ first six episodes, but it’s far from a simple rehash. Every scene is reanimated from scratch, blending traditional animation with CGI. Most animated works suffer when they do this, but Eva’s an exception – it benefits from the new technology immensely and uses it to improve on scenes from the anime. Operation Yashima, the climax of episode six, is a fine example. One of the least exciting battles in the original anime is now a stunning, thrilling finale! A few scenes were cut to pick up the pace but, having seen the film and the episodes it covers, I can honestly say it made the right cuts. I saw the episodes on Netflix and didn’t want to go on… but when I saw 1.0, I didn’t want to stop. It was released on DVD as 1.11 – an extended version with improved animation and additional scenes for newcomers – and you can find it online at the average price of £10. If you’re lucky, you may even find it for less (I bought my copy at CeX for £3). I highly recommend 1.0 to fans of the original series because of its fantastic dub. Two actors from the original series' first dub return for the film: Spike Spencer and Allison Keith; the original English voices of Shinji and Misato!

Two years after taking us back to Shinji’s world, Anno took it in a new direction with Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance. Shinji and Rei are joined in their fight against the Angels by two new pilots: Asuka Langley Shikinami and Mari Makinami. The girls couldn’t be more different – Asuka hates having to team up with Shinji and doesn’t try to hide it, but Mari is nicer… yet keeps her true intentions close to the chest. Meanwhile, Rei plans to bring Shinji and Gendo closer together with a dinner party. Her plans are ruined, though, when the test run of a new Eva unit goes terribly wrong. While 1.0 adapted the series’ first six episodes faithfully, 2.0 took the key events of the next thirteen and made them its own. The result is a film that played on fans’ expectations then subverted them in surprising and shocking ways. It was acclaimed for this and for its new portrayals of Shinji & Co. – one of Anno’s intentions with Rebuild was to rewrite the characters without his own emotions affecting them. His efforts paid off handsomely, but of course, it doesn’t stop them losing it when all hell breaks loose. 2.0 was released on DVD as 2.22 and is now out-of-print, but you can find copies online from £10. And fans will be pleased to know the cast of 1.0's dub return along with another familiar face: the original English Asuka, Tiffany Grant!

In 2012, Anno took Rebuild into brand new territory with Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo. Fourteen years after his last battle in 2.0, Shinji awakes in a devastated world. Humanity is on the brink of extinction, Rei is nowhere to be seen, and Shinji’s surviving friends have turned against him. Misato is now the head of WILLE – a new organisation bent on destroying NERV – and threatens to kill Shinji if he ever pilots an Eva again. Crushed by their hostility, Shinji escapes from WILLE and returns to NERV’s headquarters, where he finds his father with a new pilot in tow: the mysterious Kaworu Nagisa. Gendo tells Shinji he must pilot a new Eva unit with Kaworu to restore the world – but keeps the boys unaware of his true intentions. When it was released, 3.0 received mixed reviews for its new direction and darker tone. Some considered it even bleaker than 1997’s End of Evangelion. However, there are crucial differences between the two films. When he made the original series, Anno faced hardships at every turn. They drove the series, and End, down a much darker path where there were no happy endings for Shinji & Co.. But, things have changed since then. Anno’s in a better place now than he was twenty-four years ago, and now his characters are too. Although their world is on the edge of collapse, 3.0 leaves Shinji and his friends in a position to do something about it. And their story is far from over. At the time of writing, 3.0 is the only film that hasn’t gone out-of-print. It was released on DVD as 3.33, and you can buy it new for as little as £5.

The final film is being made as we speak. Evangelion 3.0+1.0 (a.k.a. Final) is due to arrive in Japan next June, and it promises to bring Rebuild to an explosive and satisfying finish. There aren’t many details at present, but a post-credit teaser in 3.0 gave us enough to guess where the story is going. Having played into his father’s hands, Shinji has lost the will to live. However, Asuka literally drags him back to WILLE as the war between them and NERV reaches its climax. Misato rallies her remaining forces for a final battle – but whether Shinji will fight alongside her remains to be seen. Although it was announced in 2012, Final has been over seven years in the making. Anno succumbed to depression again after 3.0’s release and almost cancelled the last film. Fortunately, Toho stepped in and offered him the chance to make Shin Godzilla – and the rest is history. Shin Godzilla’s success gave Anno a badly needed morale boost, and now he’s back at work on Final. In fact, the Japanese cast are recording their lines now! Sadly, we in the West will have to wait a while longer. When Final’s released next year, it will be another year or more before we get an English dub. When we do, though, there’s one thing I hope for above all else: a comeback by the cast of the last three films. Studio Khara and the films' English cast don't always get along, but it's widely agreed that their dubs are much better than the recent Netflix dubs. An iconic series like Eva deserves to go out with a bang - and as far as dubs are concerned, there's one cast with the skill, experience, and above all, the passion to see it done. Spike Spencer, Allison Keith & Tiffany Grant became famous for their work on the original series, and they outdid themselves with Rebuild. Let's hope Anno feels the same way and allows them to come back for one last turn.

Have you seen the Rebuild films? Are you eagerly (and patiently) awaiting the last instalment? How do you think they compare to the original series? Leave us your comments or tell us what you think about them on Facebook & Twitter.

Why Breath of the Wild is a Breath of Fresh Air

Ever since the release of the very first game, The Legend of Zelda, in 1986, every single instalment has followed a pretty linear structure. Side-quests aside, the games force you along a set path in order to progress in the story. Even against the vast backdrop of Hyrule in Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, Termina in Majora’s Mask and the Great Sea in Windwaker, there’s still that structure that you have to follow – the second temple can’t be defeated without beating the first one, this objective can’t be tackled without this item, etc. Some places can be explored to a degree, but you can’t progress in the main quest unless you’ve ticked the right boxes. The story is set. Your path has already been determined.

Then Breath of the Wild came along, and suddenly, we had something completely new – a completely open-world Zelda game.

Polarising? Yes. There are those who praise it as the best of all the Zelda games, some who argue it doesn’t really feel like a Zelda game, and those who have been left feeling indifferent. Sure, the same arguments have been made about a lot of the games, particularly the Oracle games and Skyward Sword, but Breath of the Wild has introduced an entirely new concept for a Zelda instalment. Nintendo have changed the game, and they changed it good.

Because, differences of opinion aside, Breath of the Wild just…works. Before I even get into anything else, the visuals are indisputably stunning – important when it comes to creating a world that people should want to explore. For me, part of the appeal of the game was how beautiful and crisp everything looked. Even the tiniest things, like the little bulbs of apples that hang from the trees, have been painstakingly created, and it shows.

And then we come to the sheer size of the world. I’d be lying if I said I had any idea how gigantic the world would be before I played the game. I’m accustomed to the likes of the worlds in Twilight Princess and Ocarina of Time, and sure, while neither of their versions of Hyrule are particularly small, they’re still dwarfed by the one in Breath of the Wild.

As is par for the course with Zelda, there are the specifically tailored areas where the different races reside, like the Gerudo and the Rito, but there’s so much more than that. Getting from Point A to Point B is no longer a quick trip across Hyrule Field. There are wetlands that stretch for what seem like miles and forests that are easy to get lost in, not to mention the hundreds of tiny, hidden nooks that you’ll want to explore.

Best of all, you can go wherever you want, whenever you want. Sometimes, yes, you’ll need to find certain items to traverse certain areas but they’re all accessible, if you know where to look. Nothing is blocked off, not even Hyrule Castle. Yep, that’s right. Once you’ve obtained the Paraglider, you can walk right up to Calamity Ganon with nothing more than three hearts, a branch and a pot lid and take him on. You won’t win, obviously, but the point is you can try, and having that option is great. You can also liberate the four Divine Beasts in whatever order you fancy. There’s a recommended order, but it’s nothing definitive. Again, you can go wherever you want, whenever you want. No Zelda game has ever been that open before.

And then there’s the obvious thing that really is the icing on the Zelda cake – Link can climb, and I don’t just mean up ladders or vines.

For years, Link couldn’t even jump, unless it was off the edge of a platform or with the aid of certain items. He could walk, run, ‘hyaa!’ and that was about it – until Skyward Sword first introduced the concept of a stamina bar in a Zelda game. That in itself was refreshing. But Breath of the Wild suddenly has Link Assassin’s Creeding across Hyrule, and it suits him. As a strong, adventurous swordsman, climbing seems like something he’d not only be able to do, but would have to do. As much as I love Ocarina of Time, nobody should simply be able to walk up Death Mountain as if they’re out for a Sunday stroll. The clue’s in the name, people.

Naturally, with the world being so vast, there are endless side quests and numerous detours from the main quest that you can take if you’re so inclined. There are tribes of monsters to fight through around every corner, shrines to seek out and defeat if collecting the spirit orbs is your thing, and characters dotted all around the landscape that need your help in some way or another, including the famous Great Fairy sisters. You can buy new clothes and accessories to add to Link’s outfit or dye his clothes whatever colour you want. You can tame and keep up to five wild horses, all with their own markings, temperaments and speeds. There’s the Yiga clan, the challenges presented to you by the Koroks (not to mention the whopping 900 Korok seeds you can search for throughout the game), and of course, the extensive list of food you can scavenge, and the even more extensive list of meals and elixirs you can cook from that food. Oh, and don’t forget the memories of Princess Zelda that you can recover if you look in the right places.

The list goes on. And on. And on, and on, and on.

Breath of the Wild is the kind of revamp that the Zelda franchise seemed ready for. That’s not to say that it was struggling in any way, although Skyward Sword and Tri Force Heroes weren’t exactly knocking the ball out of the park – but admittedly, the franchise’s formula needed a little tweaking.

Don’t get me wrong – as a huge fan, I love any and all of the Zelda instalments by default. They’ve all brought something new to the table, and some of those things have worked, while some, unfortunately, haven’t (I’m looking at you, Spirit Tracks). But for me, playing Breath of the Wild was genuinely exciting. It reminded me of the way I felt at ten years old, playing Ocarina of Time or Windwaker for the first time, feeling the thrill of it all and really, fully losing myself in them. That’s what good games do. They tell stories that make you want to keep playing, that make you forget you’re even playing at all. Nobody can deny that Breath of the Wild is a good game – if you need reminding why, just go back and read this entire article again. But most importantly, it’s different. Nintendo took those decades-old rules, tossed them straight out of the window and now here we are with the biggest, best-selling Zelda game of all time – a title that Breath of the Wild fully deserves.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: has Tarantino Still Got It? (Movie Review)

Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino latest, and plays out just as the title would imply: a story of trials and tribulations in the so-called city of glamour that is Los Angeles. The time is 1969 and in an increasingly modern yet still somewhat chaotic Hollywood, our fictional leads are taken through the same kind of journeys of self-reflection and stylised absurdity that have become a staple of the legendary director's work. Suffering from first-act sluggishness, Tarantino's ninth film ends up being an engrossingly mesmerising retelling of history.

Rick Dalton, played by our favourite Oscar-winner, Leonardo DiCaprio, is a famous veteran actor with the direction of his career going stagnant. Being a longtime TV and film star, Dalton's hurt that the recommended next step is for him to take roles in what he deems the lowest form of entertainment: Spaghetti Westerns. After confiding his upset in his driver/part-time stuntman/war hero/possible-wife murderer, Brad Pitt's Cliff Booth, Rick reassures that he'll commit to doing his best and make sure he is ready for set the next day, only to get drunk whilst reading his lines. Featuring Margot Robbie portraying Sharon Tate, an adventure of multiple storylines ensues.

While this would normally be "the boring" part of a review, it became obvious that talking about the camera work in this movie would be an utter joy because just a couple of minutes in. It's clear that Once A Upon Time in Hollywood's cinematography is part of its identity. A doting tribute to the fine works that came out of 60's LA; Tarantino's direction and masterful cinematographer Robert Richardson's skill in crafting camera angles have come together to birth a hybrid of visual flair. Long, drawn out tracking shots and pans typical of the decade hit you in a slow, humble way; causing you to appreciate everything that's going on and present in a shot. During production of one of Rick's films, the shots utilised offer a captivating in-film peek behind the curtain of how you can be grabbed by a scene done right; making you hang on every word being spoken before you're snapped out of it by a fumbled line or a director yelling "cut!".

His first film in four years, Leonardo DiCaprio is an unarguably welcomed return, especially with it being a Tarantino feature. As he did in 2013's Django Unchained, DiCaprio reeducates us as to why as an actor, he's a tour de force to be reckoned with. As performer and director, he and Tarantino seem to bring out the best in one another; with the former being able to convey complex emotions and the latter being a definitive writer of incredible dialogue that serves as a foundation to make them shine.

The pinnacle of this combination is a scene during Rick's time on set of the Western TV series he was drunkenly reading lines for the night before: Lancer. Getting himself together whilst waiting to film, Dalton strikes up a conversation with his 8-year old co-star about the book he's reading. The more Rick talks about its aging and broken protagonist, it's clear that he's relating to it more than even he realised, becoming more emotional with each word; being a stepping stone for wanting to become a better person. Being a mature filmmaker, Tarantino has further perfected the art of making you root for the flawed heroes in his stories; whom when they achieve some form of resolution, it's likely you'll shed a supporting tear of delight to match their own.

As much of a spectacle of a performer DiCaprio is in Once Upon A Time, Brad Pitt is on equal footing. Returning to the Tarantino filmography for the first time since 2009's Inglorious Basterds, Pitt carries his reputable charismatic intensity as the indestructible Cliff Booth, serving in an impeccable back and forth with DiCaprio as well as others around Cliff in his own story; enough to be one of his best roles. The beloved chemistry between the two leads is especially appreciated during the first thirty minutes, where the pacing noticeably drags on enough to make you question where the direction of this story is going, before the progression of the story is finally put back on track.

Despite there being arguably too much runtime, there isn't enough of Margot Robbie's Sharon Tate. From a certain perspective, at least. As much of a joy it is to see Robbie bring the late actress to life before her screentime is seemingly cut short, it's not until the events of the film coming full circle in the third act that you understand why. Without going into spoilers, it's the fusion of the director's legacy for stylish brutality and the desire to change history.

In addition to the unsparing humour in Quentin Tarantino's films, the merciless violence is at its best when it feels justified; when the recipient of the stabs, blows or gunshots are getting what they righteously deserve. On a scale of 1 to 5, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood turns it up to 13 on the Tarantino Meter: making everything you've seen in the two hours seem like the ultimate roller coaster incline before the most satisfactory drop. Saying you'll laugh in elation is an understatement.
Final Thoughts

A beautifully warped portal into 1969 LA, the gorgeous, timely aesthetics and set pieces are not why Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is such a captivating time. Picking up the pace after a stumbled start, this humbled yet enthralling story filled with witty dialogue and Tarantino-esque twists indicates that the director shows no signs of slowing down when it comes to delivering the gut punch of a satisfying finale. Whilst divisive in its audience reception, elements of Once Upon A Time in Hollywood are Quentin Tarantino at his best.

Rating: 8/10

So How Good is Dragon Ball Super: Broly? (Movie Review)

As much as I respect Akira Toriyama, I was worried when I heard he was writing the next Dragon Ball film. Four years ago, he made his screenwriting debut with Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F. What should’ve been a glorious return for one of anime’s greatest villains was a glorified disaster – horribly paced, overpacked with action, and anticlimactic. His friends at Toei Animation sought to make up for it with Dragon Ball Super, the new series that began as a retelling of the films Battle of Gods and Resurrection F before telling its own stories. Now that the series has come to an end, Toriyama & Co. have given us a new film: the eagerly awaited Dragon Ball Super: Broly. Released on Blu-ray & DVD in May, it’s the third film Toriyama has supervised and the second one he’s written. He and his crew meant to take the lessons they learned in the past four years and do another iconic villain justice. Keep reading to find out if they succeeded – and as always, beware of spoilers!

Broly begins forty-five years in the series’ past, on the Saiyans’ home planet. King Vegeta III (our Vegeta’s father) discovers a Saiyan child with latent abilities that exceed his son’s immensely. Jealous and fearful of the child’s potential, the King banishes him to a hostile world then abandons the child’s father after a failed rescue attempt. Years later, their home planet is destroyed leaving only a handful of the Saiyans alive. We then move to the present day – after the events of Super – to find Goku and Vegeta fresh out of the Tournament of Power… and already seeking their next big challenge! It comes sooner than they think when their old enemy Frieza, newly resurrected after the tournament, comes to Earth to wish upon the Dragon Balls. This time, though, he doesn’t plan on fighting – Frieza has rebuilt his army and brought along two new recruits to do the fighting for him. To Goku and Vegeta’s surprise, the newcomers are Saiyans: the exile Paragus and his grown-up son Broly! The pair have spent their entire lives in isolation training, and now Paragus wants to take revenge on King Vegeta by having his own son fight the Prince of All Saiyans. Paragus thinks it will be an easy win – but he has little idea how powerful Broly really is. And no one, not even Broly himself, knows what terrible power he’s about to unleash.

I had a hard time getting my act together for this review, so I’ll start by saying this: if you hated Resurrection F, you need to see Broly. Everything about it is a huge improvement over the last film, from the writing to the battle scenes we’ve all come to expect. However, the first thing you’ll notice is the animation – it’s smoother, faster, and more fluid than ever before! That’s because Toei Animation formed a new team of animators to make the film. The lead animator is Naohiro Shintani, a Dragon Ball newcomer, and instead of staying with the art style we’ve gotten used to over the years, he gave it a complete overhaul. The screenshots I’ve picked don’t do it justice – the film looks so good in motion, it puts the finale of Battle of Gods to shame! Some of you may be upset that, once again, the film combines 2D animation with CGI. However, under Shintani’s wing, they blend together much better this time. In Resurrection F the CG characters were easy to spot, but even the most attentive viewers will have a hard time picking them out now. The trademark fights are improved too; unlike the clashes of yesteryear, the bouts in Broly use everchanging camera angles to give each punch, kick and blast extra impact. In a single shot, the view can change from a bird’s eye view to a closeup to a first-person perspective in the blink of an eye. Some viewers may find the action harder to follow, but the fast and furious camerawork makes it more intense than any fight yet seen in Dragon Ball. To top it all, they’re accompanied by a catchy soundtrack by Norihito Sumitomo and Daichi Miura.

Of course, there’s more to like about Broly besides what we expect – in a change from past Dragon Ball films, the character building is surprisingly strong. Instead of bombarding us with cameos, the film spends a good deal of time establishing the new characters. It’s especially good for Broly, the film’s star, who’s been given a makeover for his cinematic return. If you’ve been a fan of Dragon Ball since the 90s, you might remember him as the Legendary Super Saiyan from the classic DBZ films. Back then, he was little more than a madman who threatened Goku’s family… all because Goku cried incessantly as a baby. The new Broly is much deeper; a gifted child shunned by his own people and forced to become a fighter. Unlike most Saiyans, he’d rather make friends with you than beat you to a pulp – sadly, his father would have none of it. Paragus is so obsessed with revenge, he goes to horrible lengths to train Broly to get it. He even uses a shock collar to keep Broly in line, like an attack dog! Thankfully, not everyone treats Broly so harshly. The two Saiyans are rescued by two members of Frieza’s army: the non-combatant Lemo and thieving cutie-pie Cheelai. You wouldn’t expect someone from the Frieza Force to be nice, but these two come to see the best in Broly and do their best to bring it out. Lemo & Cheelai make Broly far more likeable than his original self… but he’s no less dangerous. When the gloves come off, he’s every bit as powerful as he was in the past – and unlike Frieza in 2015, this Broly gives our heroes a hell of a fight to the very end. Both fans and newcomers will come to love him by the film’s end; and you’ll be pleased to know that he’s now canon!

From the opening scenes, it’s clear that Toriyama & co. have raised their game since Resurrection F. Although Broly moves at a fast pace, it’s more even than the last film and doesn’t rush from one fight to the next. In fact, it spends its first forty minutes developing characters old and new – and if you’ve followed Dragon Ball since the beginning, you’ll be surprised at what you’ll see. In the opening act, we get a glimpse of the family lives of King Vegeta, Paragus, and Goku’s father Bardock. And far from being single-minded killers, as we were led to believe, they’re all loving parents! It’s quite the game changer, but fans will appreciate this as it makes the Saiyans’ fate more heartbreaking; and newcomers will love it because it shows them exactly who to root for. The last two films were weighed down by a huge cast, but Broly keeps the cameos to a minimum. No one is seen or mentioned unless they have a part to play, keeping our attention squarely on Goku, Vegeta & Broly. The film’s also more accessible due to its tone; even at its most intense, Broly isn’t afraid to have a laugh. Some of its funniest moments come in the battles with Broly, and they come out of nowhere in the best possible way! And don’t worry if you haven’t seen Super to the end; the film makes clever use of rapid-fire flashbacks to fill you in on the essentials. At the least, you only need to have seen Battle of Gods and Resurrection F to fully enjoy Broly. If this is your first taste of Dragon Ball, however, you’re still in for a treat.

If Resurrection F is Dragon Ball’s equivalent of Thor: The Dark World, Broly is its Ragnarok – a rich, refined, and rip-roaringly fun film for fans and newcomers alike! If you’ve seen it already, share your thoughts in the comments below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter!

Every Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie Ranked From Worst To Best (August 2019 Edition)

It's been two years since Avengers 2.5, aka Captain America: Civil War and the third Avengers film, Infinity War is here. As we bask in the joy that is Thanos actually doing something more than just sitting in a chair for six years, surely everyone has thought of watching all 19 Marvel cinematic universe films again and ranking them from worst to best? No? Well one (awesome) saddo

The 5 Best Films of 2019 So Far (Jan-Jun)

Films have been looking good as a whole in the first half of 2019, despite a couple of recent blunders which dampened our spirits (*cough* X-Men Dark Phoenix *cough*). Although certain franchises have been making massive, well-deserved returns, others are just starting out with original titles that have the potential to become so much more. Whilst we've entered the foray of Summer blockbusters

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (Movie Review)

It's been five years since Godzilla - the debut film of Legendary's new Monsterverse - returned the atomic giant to our cinema screens. Taking into account our criticisms of the first film (the main one being that it focused too much on the human characters), writers made it a mission to make the sequel more of an ensemble piece: blending a more balanced mix of monsters and humans into the story

A Brief Guide to Dune (and the Upcoming Movies)

Two years ago in November, my father died. He had suffered from a chronic illness for years until, finally, succumbing to it just before I’d planned to move out. I was given a choice: delay the move until after my dad’s funeral or see it through and mourn him when the time came. I saw it through and moved to Brighton two days later, with my aunt’s help. On the way down, I read a book about a young man who had also lost his father. He too was starting a new life, but everything else about him – his background, the cause of his father’s death, and his new home – couldn’t have been more different. His name was Paul Atreides. And the book was Dune.

Published in 1965, Dune is the first in a series of bestselling sci-fi novels by Frank Herbert. It follows Paul, heir of the Great House Atreides, as he moves with his family to the planet Arrakis (a.k.a. Dune). It’s a desert world branded the most barren place in the universe, yet it’s the only source of the most treasured drug in the universe: the “spice” melange. The drug prolongs life, enhances mental abilities, and makes space travel possible. Whoever controls the spice controls the universe – and that makes Arrakis a prize to kill for. At the order of Galactic Emperor Shaddam IV, House Atreides move to Arrakis to take control from their hated rivals, the Harkonnens. However, the Baron Vladimir – head of the Harkonnen family – plans to wipe out the Atreides and take Arrakis back. With a traitor’s help, Paul’s father is killed, and his forces are scattered. Only Paul and his mother, the concubine Jessica, escape into the planet’s southern regions. The Harkonnens leave them for dead, but Paul and Jessica find help from an unexpected source: the Fremen; a community of desert people who suffered under the Harkonnens. The Fremen have a prophecy that a messiah, Muad’dib, will come from off-planet to free them and turn Arrakis from a desert planet into a lush, green paradise. Paul and Jessica exploit the prophecy, presenting himself as Muad’dib to win the Fremen over. With their help, they plan to take revenge on the Harkonnens – but there’s a price to pay for the Fremen’s allegiance… and more to their enemy’s plans than the Atreides expect.

It’s hard to describe Dune in just a few words. Arthur C. Clarke called it the sci-fi equivalent of The Lord of the Rings, while Denis Villeneuve thinks of it as Star Wars for adults. However, neither description is spot-on. Dune’s universe is just as intricate as Middle-earth, but it’s not your typical story of good vs. evil; and although it has a lot in common with Star Wars, it was published twelve years before the world met Luke Skywalker. Some of you may be surprised to hear that it shares elements with another popular series: royal houses at war with each other; organisations plotting behind their backs; clashes between politics and religion; and a seat of power everyone and their brother wants. If you pictured Game of Thrones in space, you're on the right track. The violence, language and sex are milder, but that’s forgivable since Herbert wrote Dune long before George R. R. Martin wrote A Game of Thrones. And Herbert left quite the legacy – in 1966 Dune won the first Hugo & Nebula book awards, and today it’s the bestselling sci-fi novel of all time! Five sequels followed it, and after Herbert died in 1986, his son Brian took charge of the franchise. Brian wrote another two sequels from his father’s notes, and eleven prequels with acclaimed writer Kevin J. Anderson. And if that wasn’t enough, he’s now an executive producer of an upcoming film adaptation of Dune (we’ll come back to it later).

Dune has many themes and stories to tell, but at its heart it’s about a boy fighting to make a name for himself in a new, harsh world. In his journey, Paul Atreides learns from many people – and his two most important teachers are the Bene Gesserit and the Fremen. The Bene Gesserit (BG for short) are a sisterhood that aims to control human breeding and create a superbeing with their unique skills and more. Paul’s mum Jessica was a BG Lady, but she defied their orders by giving birth to him and teaching him in the BG way. A BG student can control every muscle and nerve in their body, allowing them to think and act faster than the average person. They can resist poisons, suppress their instincts, and deduce a person’s character from the very smallest clues. By taking spice, they can see the future – and a select few can even tap into ancestral memories through large doses. The BG’s skills have limits, of course, but they remain vital to Paul’s survival on Arrakis. Later in the book, he finds new teachers in the Fremen; the blue-eyed natives of his new home. To survive in the deserts, the Fremen conserve all the water they can. They wear stillsuits to reclaim body moisture, distil water from the dead, and even use water as money among their tribes. They train themselves to fight from infancy, and even their women are fearsome! The Fremen have to be tough because they face death wherever they go – from the heat, the Harkonnens… and enormous sandworms. Sandworms are the top predators of Arrakis, armed with crystalline teeth and tempers that would make the Graboids from Tremors squirm! However, instead of hunting them, the Fremen have learned to live with them. How they do it is a lesson both Paul and you will learn in reading the book – and it’s just the beginning.

If you’d rather watch a screen adaptation, I have some good news and bad news. First, the bad: there are only two right now and they both have their flaws. The first is David Lynch’s 1984 film starring Kyle MacLachlan. It has an all-star cast, unique visuals, and a rocking soundtrack… but little else to justify its cult classic status. Lynch wrote and directed the film, but sadly, he hadn't read the book nor was he interested in sci-fi. The result was a two-hour film that suffered from horrible pacing, incessant voiceovers, and characters radically different from Herbert's creations. It was a commercial and critical failure, and Lynch disavowed the film upon its release. His producers made an extended cut without his permission and, incredibly, it turned out worse than Lynch’s version. We wouldn’t get a decent adaptation until sixteen years later. In 2000 the Sci-fi Channel (known today as SyFy) produced its own version of Dune, written and directed by John Harrison. Frank Herbert’s Dune was made to be truer to the novel than Lynch’s film and, to that end, it was made into three feature-length episodes. The series was held back by a low budget and some clunky, expository dialogue… but it fared better than Lynch’s film and remains the most successful adaptation of Dune to date. It won two Emmy awards for its special effects and cinematography, and its success led to a superior follow-up, Children of Dune, starring James McAvoy. Both series were released on DVD, but sadly, they’re both out of print. If you find copies of them in good condition, I suggest you get them immediately. For now, they’re the best way to experience Dune if you don’t have the time to read the books.

Now, for the good news… three years ago, Legendary Pictures bought the film and TV rights to the Dune franchise – and they just started work on a new film! Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049) is directing the film, and he’s called together a cast including Timothee Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Zendaya, and Stellan Skarsgard to name a few. They started filming in March in Hungary, and video diaries by Chalamet and Brolin have revealed they’ll be filming in Jordan too. There’ll also be talent from Game of Thrones involved – Jason Momoa has joined the cast, and Dothraki linguist David J. Peterson is creating languages for the new film. We don’t know yet how long it’s going to be, but Villeneuve plans to make the film in two parts; a smart choice given the sheer length of the novel. The two-film approach has worked well for Harry Potter, It, and the Avengers, so this writer hopes it will do just as well for Dune. The first part will be released by Warner Bros. on November 20th 2020, so keep an eye out for further features and a review nearer the time. Until then, keep you knife arms free – and your shields at full charge!

What Made Game of Thrones Season 8 So Disappointing?

Disclaimer: Game of Thrones Season 8 spoilers will follow!

The long night finally arrived. After taking a year off in 2018, Game of Thrones returned to conclude the story which began eight years ago (or longer, if you’re a fan of the novels). The show captured the minds of millions of viewers, becoming a cultural phenomenon over its running, with online theories and unimaginable hype engulfing the internet. It was impossible to avoid, the fear of spoilers lurking around every corner, forcing some viewers in the UK at least to get up in the middle of the night to watch each episode as it airs. So, with this unreal expectation, were creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss ever going to be able to satisfy all fans?

Following the events of the seventh season, everything has changed in Westeros. The Night King (Vladimír Furdík) has broken through the wall, and now in the possession of one of Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) dragons, is marching his army south towards Winterfell. The Stark and Targaryen armies have teamed up ready to do battle against the immense evil heading their way, whilst Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) is bulking up her army back in Kings Landing. Season eight crams a lot into its six-episode run, including the battle against the Night King; the destruction of Kings Landing; and finally, the decision as to who should sit on the Iron Throne.

With the story set up for an intense ending, it’s a real shame that most of the plot feels rushed. The build-up that has been present in the previous seasons appears to be absent for many key plot points here, with events taking place and concluding in an astonishingly fast time. Where previously a character of the stature of the Night King would take more than a few episodes to defeat (as well as taking a few of our beloved characters with him), he is defeated within an hour of his first appearance in season eight. Whilst it could be argued that we’ve seen many scenes featuring the Night King and his army in prior seasons, you can’t help but feel that they are disposed of far too quickly. This is a threat that has loomed over the realms of men for over a thousand years, and yet after it, most of our main cast is still standing. It all feels a bit un-Game of Thrones and unfortunately takes away from the incredible ending of the episode.

Not only does the plot feel rushed, but also most of the character development we’ve come to expect from the series vanishes in season eight. Such an incredibly talented cast feels wasted, with the connection to the characters we’ve enjoyed in previous seasons feeling a little blurred. One of the biggest tragedies is in how Daenerys’ character is treated. Despite having control of the city, and the surrender of the Lannister forces, Dany goes against all her beliefs and erupts pure horror onto the innocent people of Kings Landing. Yes, the loss of Missandei, two dragons and many of her close allies can explain the sudden turn. But such a monumental twist in Daenerys’ character deserved to have more time to breathe, to really play on the audience’s mind. More time was needed to allow the brilliant Emilia Clarke to showcase the mental decline of the character. Thankfully some characters, such as Tyrion, are still allowed time to entertain us with their wit; however, more screen time to develop characters would have made for a much more satisfying season.

As the episodes went by, it became more and more clear that our favourite characters were going to survive against impossible odds. The shock factor had gone, with moments such as Ned Stark’s execution and The Red Wedding simply not being there. This becomes clear during the battle of Winterfell, where despite facing thousands of the dead, only a few major deaths happen. And when major deaths do finally arrive, I was left feeling empty. I wasn’t shocked when Cersei and Jamie were crushed under the Red Keep, or when Jamie defeated Euron Greyjoy. I was surprised by my lack of feeling when Jon made the difficult decision to kill Daenerys. These are moments that should have carried a lot more weight and be given time to play on our minds. We’ve followed these characters for many years, with them becoming a huge part of our lives (see how many people have been naming their kids after Thrones characters). To see them suffer life-changing moments, and for them then to be brushed over onto the next main plot point, feels like a real shame.

Game of Thrones has often felt like a riddle, with every little detail and plot point amounting to some greater cause or event. Take Jon Snow (once again portrayed wonderfully by Kit Harrington): from leaving the comfort of Winterfell to join the Nights Watch; uniting the Wildlings; to then dying (and returning from the dead), everything felt like it had a purpose. It’s odd then, that in the final season, many of the plot points which have been built up over the last few seasons felt pointless. Jon Snow being Targaryen doesn’t really impact the overall plot, as Daenerys would likely still have gone mad in the end anyway. Despite the characters’ heritage, he ends up cast aside back at the wall (which now has no purpose due to the White Walkers being eliminated), with all his achievements seemingly ignored. Bran being the three-eyed raven suffers a similar issue, where aside from seeing that the wall has been smashed, didn’t really add anything to the story. Cersei getting the Golden Army again was completely useless, with the whole army wiped out in a matter of seconds. The only plot point I felt truly carried much purpose was with Arya, whose assassin training helped her to overcome the Night King (something which is astonishingly overlooked in the final three episodes). It all just feels so unsatisfactory, something I never expected to feel from a show that has always felt so clever and unpredictable.

Despite being the worst of all of the Game of Thrones seasons, there are still things to appreciate for long-time fans. This is still the world of Westeros you’ve been sucked into over the past eight years, and being a part of the world still feels great. There are still meaningful moments here, despite the feeling of the story being rushed. The long-awaited battle between The Hound and The Mountain is bloody and brutal, bringing a close to the rivalry which has stood between the two siblings throughout the entire series. Sansa becomes the Queen in the North, taking all the pain endured throughout her story and using it to become powerful and strong. Brienne of Tarth becomes the first female knight in Westeros, whilst Jon Snow gets his reunion with Ghost. For all of its problems, Game of Thrones has many heart-warming moments certain to bring a smile to long-time fans of the series. It’s just unfortunate there aren’t more of them.

Game of Thrones must also be appreciated for the success it’s had over its nine-year run. Records have been smashed, with record numbers of viewers tuning in to see how the story ends. The bar for CGI in TV has been raised, with a near-cinematic quality being displayed, something which helped make the show feel that little bit more believable and engaging. Scenes such as the heart-breaking moment where Drogon discovers his mother has been murdered, or Jon’s heart-warming reunion with Dire Wolf Ghost, feel that much more engaging thanks to the effects on display.

Whilst all things must come to an end, what feels most painful is the fact that the show is ending with a highly disappointing season, full of rushed plot points and unsatisfying moments. It’s a show which has unfortunately lost its way, and for the first time in the Thrones series, I feel no urge to go back and re-watch. Whatever the reason for the change, be it the lack of source material due to the books not being completed, or the decision to cram the remainder of the series into a mere six episodes, the series as a whole should not be tarnished because of this. It’s a real shame that the story ends in predictable fashion, with an almost too happy ending that feels out of place. Whilst we’ll always be left wondering what could have been (until the books are released, that is), I’m thankful to everyone involved in the series: it’s been one hell of a ride.

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