(6/28/2022) Succession (Season 1)


So, I'm sure we all know about Succession by now, right? Everybody has known about it for a while now and I'm just getting late to the party. I actually had watched part of it around the time that Season 3 was airing, about two episodes, but I didn't like it. I knew it would probably pick up, and that I really liked Roman, but I couldn't get into it. It felt like any other boring white people drama except it was focused around nepotism or something.

HOWEVER.... that wasn't very fair. It's not like it's wrong - if you're into the "white people drama" genre of show you'll probably like this - but it's a lot more than just that original assessment. I wasn't expecting there to be any really deep themes of abuse in this show, or for anything even particularly exciting to happen.

I guess I should start with the characters, since that's what drives the show. There are a lot of characters that come and go, but some of the most prominent are part of the Roy family - Logan, Kendall, Shiv, Roman, Tom, and Greg. Specifically addressing the main three siblings: while on the surface they seem pretty standard for this sort of show, you start picking up on their own special little neuroses related to thinking that they're Daddy's Favorite.

Kendall is honestly my least favorite, because this guy HATES having fun and despite his focus on the company really sucks at managing the company. Seeing how generally pathetic he is can be pretty entertaining though, especially around his (ex?) wife. Shiv is fun, though she's sort of on the outside for most of this season rather than really being involved in company stuff. I do enjoy whenever she comes up though. Roman is the sillyguy who likes to come in and bother people and constantly makes up lies about everything - which can make it pretty interesting the few times he insists that something he said was true. Greg is a big bumbling fool who is constantly just stumbling around, unaware of this new strange world he's entered into. As for Tom... gonna be honest, I don't have much to say about Tom because I've been very confused about his role in this story when it doesn't have to do with marriage or Greg.

No, I'm not talking about TomGreg here. I can see where some of you are coming from with this, but I don't have anything to say about it.

You may be wondering though.... what do I think about Succession's story? Gonna be honest, I don't have much to say about it because I'm constantly confused about what's happening. Shows based in reality when it comes to corporate work really cause me to zone out, and there's a lot of talks about board members, keeping stock prices high, and complicated business deals. Despite that, I have to admit that it's not all complete gibberish and the characters are all so expressive that it's easy to get back on track of what's happening. I can't call it a recap of events really, but they find ways to remind you what particular business thing is happening at any given moment.

What Succession does really well is by taking this sort of business drama and not trying to make you invested, necessarily, in the outcomes of whatever is going on in corporate. Rather, you get excited to see how all the characters are gonna react to what's happening and get in more conflict with each other. Kendall plans some... something regarding a rival of his father's company later in the season, and at this point a lot of Kendall's plans to take some control of the company have failed miserably. You already have a feeling for how it's gonna turn out, but what you're really interested in is seeing how the rest of the family reacts when they finally find out what Kendall was doing (again). And it all sets you up for the next backstab that is sure to come.

I have never wanted to see a family crash and burn more than I have watching Succession.

Despite all that though, I still do think that this season was at least just above average for me. While it is a lot of fun watching all these rich people fight with each other, so far that is really all that it amounts to. A bunch of daddy's boys (and girl) fighting over who gets to be the next CEO. By the end of the season, everything just seems to reset back to how it was in the first episode - except for the fact that Tom and Greg are real deep in it. HOWEVER, it did get me invested enough to want to keep watching and see where this goes. If anything, this felt like 10-episode setup for the show and I've got really high hopes for the following seasons to see if they deliver something really spectacular.

(4/20/2022) Our Flag Means Death

I will preface this by saying I love gay people and I love pirates. And the idea of pirates being gay and doing pirate/gay stuff sounds awesome. I've been hearing about this show endlessly across social media, and I've been excited to see it since I saw people posting fanart of Blackbeard all over the place.

Our Flag Means Death is a historical comedy about the relationship between real life gentleman pirate Stede Bonnett and the great pirate Blackbeard. Every episode feels about something different and silly, yet serves to develop the romance between the two as well as provide more information on their personal histories. I'll also dispel any worries - this show is very explicit with the LGBT themes. At least four characters are confirmed to be gay and don't just exist to be stereotypes or jokes. Another character actually goes by they/them pronouns, which is cool.

I'll be honest, I don't super duper like the show. I have a lot of complaints, and I want to start with some of those right now before I get into my compliments, because I have a lot of the former..

For one thing, this show is shockingly gentle when it comes to the racial and LGBT aspects of the setting. I know that pirates were pretty chill about certain groups who were discriminated against in "polite society," but I mean... come on. The closest the show gets is a comment from nobles referring to the black crewmates as 'slaves', before promptly getting their asses kicked. I'm not saying I want to hear the characters get called the hard R, but in the old days you'd at least hear the word "Negro" get thrown around, you know? And you'd think at least some of these characters would be put off by the gay shit.

I understand that this show is probably made to be inoffensive as possible, which I don't really have any beef with. But I mean, maybe they shouldn't have picked an actual sugar plantation owner to be one of the main characters if that's what they're going for. I enjoy Stede Bonnett the character, but if this is his history, I feel a little weird when I can compare his general vibe to Aziraphale from Good Omens. You know, the angel? I know Blackbeard historically also has connections to the slave trade, but I feel like he's been mythologized enough that you could get away with putting him in your pirate show. However, Stede Bonnet? Couldn't they have just made up their own "Gentleman Pirate" character? They are really trying to have their cake and eat it too here.

Another is that I simply do not enjoy the vibes. This show has a very strong vibe that it's written by theater kids, and I have seen that theater kids do indeed agree about that. I wouldn't necessarily say things are necessarily DRAMATIC, but you can really anticipate the structure and plot beats very clearly. You could easily blame this on me not knowing what I was getting into again. It does get the job done, though.

Now, let me get back to good stuff. The gay stuff in this show is actually pretty cute. This show works very well as a silly sort of romcom with pirate set dressing and SLIGHT historical elements. It ramps up the gay more and more as the show goes on, both amongst the side characters and the main characters. I particularly enjoyed the final episode since it was pretty funny and got me wanting to know how things might end up. The season ends in such a way that really sets it up to have a second come up, but as of right now, that hasn't been announced just yet.

To me, Our Flag Means Death is a pretty solidly alright show. The jokes are funny, but not gutbusters. The characters are interesting enough and get the job done. The character relationships are what really make this show shine... it's particularly fun watching Blackbeard and Stede interact. I'm not sure if this is as "worth it" as many people have described to me, but if any part of this review has intrigued you then I think you might enjoy the show.

(2/21/2022) Gin to Kin (2017)

Gin to Kin (or Silver and Gold in English) is a drama based on Nobuyuki Fukumoto's manga of the same name. I mention this because I'm going to be doing a lot of comparisons to the manga, but I'll try to avoid a lot of the "they changed this plot point slightly" because there is a decent amount of that in here. It's unavoidable, being a live-action adaptation and all.

I feel like the main thing worth mentioning about this drama is that it's a bit hard to feel invested in the characters. Like Morita, we really get thrown into the story, and Ginji's world, just a few minutes into the first episode. It's not overwhelming, but we have about two minutes to get a teensy tiny grasp on who Morita is, and seeing how easily he decides to go with Ginji is shocking to say the least. I guess that's just what makes him Morita, but still. It's obvious that money is a big factor, but Ginji doesn't reveal all that much right off the bat what he's doing, so Morita's motivations are kinda weak. I really feel like they could have improved on the story here by maybe giving us a little more time to spend with Morita in the first episode before he meets Ginji. Another issue is that I feel Morita is more closed off in the drama than he was in the manga... seeing Morita smile and look so smug was a huge charm point in my opinion. Ginji seems even more charming in the show though, so I guess it cancels out.

In general, the show is less about the characters themselves, but more about the different schemes our two main characters get involved in. That's not necessarily a bad thing though. Things drag on a bit more in the manga due to all the internal thoughts and whatnot, but things in the show progress at a fairly appropriate pace. The first few episodes feel a bit fast due to all the different characters being introduced and whatnot, but having Funada be a bit more of a recurring character helps things feel a bit less hectic.

This is also a good point for me to say that by the time we get to the Cezanne part is when things start to pick up. The stories being told get a bit more interesting and the characters (especially Morita) become a lot more charming. It's pretty much the first part I can really call an "arc" in terms of it lasting more than one episode. Also, there's the fact that things get more interesting beyond the more mundane political negotiations. It also helps that the episodes are suddenly based around gambles, the stories that Fukumoto-sensei really excels at writing.

I know I said I'd try and avoid complain about manga changes, but there is a lot more sexual harrassment in this series, particularly in the poker arc. There is a solid chance that I might have just filtered it all out, since I tend to skip over these things when it comes to reading, but it's also just much more blatant here. A lot of the time, women end up being props to show that a character is a bad guy, when it was already clear enough without them having to grope or assault the closest woman in the vicinity. It's a very unncessary addition. A few characters have been turned into women as well, the main one I actually liked being Tatsumi. Having her be the hostess of the bar our main boys frequent was a nice touch, and I like her a lot more than manga Tatsumi. However, having the painter's apprentice be a woman kind of rubs me the wrong way, since the original character is pretty submissive and prone to going along with Nakajima's whims. Changing that character into a woman has some unpleasant implications because of that, and it also comes with the addition of them being in some sort of relationship. If you also think about the power dynamic here, it really proves to be another unncessary addition.

The ending of the series also felt very abrupt as well, since it really actually felt like things were finally picking up. It also ends on such a cliffhanger, but it also never got continued, so... Again, it's another change from the manga, and to me it really changes the dynamic between Ginji and Morita. To me, their bond kinda bordered on homoerotic with how much they relied on each other, but cutting their story short here really changes how you see them as a unit. Even though the manga was cut short with the cancellation, I still appreciated the resolution of Ginji and Morita's relationship. The ending in the drama just feels unsatisfying and leaves you wishing there was more... If they were gonna change that aspect of the story, they at least coulda kept things going for a bit longer.

Also, this isn't a big deal, but the general production wasn't too impressive to me. I don't watch enough j-dramas to understand if it's about on par with any other shows, but certain things were a bit noticeable. For one thing, there aren't a whole lot of fixed shots, and you can tell someone is holding the camera in certain scenes. Sometimes people love the handheld camera, but that's usually in more intense sequences, but you'll see that happening very often in this show. There are also some times where you can really tell they're on a set, and if they're not, then something is happening to rly make the vibes feel off. On the flipside, I did really enjoy the scenes where they are just outside running around town or something- it felt really organic. Other than that, I actually did like some of the cinematography, especially in the Cezanne episodes, even though I didn't particularly like Sano Shirou's acting (he played Nakajima, the art dealer).

Honestly, the main reason I watched to hunt this down and watch it is because the cancellation of the manga has me craving more Gin to Kin content. As a Gin to Kin enjoyer, I think this is definitely worth a look if you had a good time reading the original at all. The faster pace makes some of the political parts feel a lot less boring. The more grounded tone of the show (due to a lot less internal monologuing) takes away a bit of the Fukumoto-esque intensity, but it definitely still works in its own way. Even though I complained a fair bit, I still dig it!

(2/19/2022) Kaiji: Against All Rules

Look, most of this review is gonna be spoilers, both for the first season and the second. If you want the tl;dr, while this season isn't as consistently engaging as the first one, it picks up HARD near the end with a final "villain", so to speak, that makes it all worth it. Overall, if you liked the first season, I'd say you should definitely watch this one too.

Y'know, I think I was too hard on Kaiji Season 2 when I first watched it. In my defense, my brain was kinda fried back then and I was like, what, 13?

I'll spare you the general preamble that I gave in the previous review, because what else is there to say other than "shit gets fucked for Kaiji again"? As it turns out, Kaiji has learned nothing. He's learned about the inherent goodness laying at the center of every man, but PRETTY MUCH nothing from what happened on the Espoir. He's still naive, still SUPER gullible. Still somehow a master of strategy. In this season, Kaiji gets put into a labor camp to pay off his debt with work and the pennies he earns at the job. To be honest, this first half is pretty boring. Kaiji is effectively stranded and there aren't any particularly high stakes going on when compared to him losing vital organs. He can't necessarily go any further down than "Hell" itself, can he? Luckily, things pick up near the end of the jail arc. I finally REALLY got interested by the last chinchirorin game, seeing the foreman's cheat unravel and the massive payoff for Kaiji in the end.

My biggest complaint with this season is that both arcs basically follow the same general structure. The progression starts off with a decently interesting introduction, a VERY boring middle section, and a CAPTIVATING final battle. There is a big bad guy who Kaiji and friends band together to "defeat" and progress forward. Both follow games of chance, as opposed to the first season's games of strategy and, mainly, mind games.

In all honesty, I don't have that much to say about the chinchirorin arc. Like I said, it really picked up near the end, but otherwise I didn't find it particularly mind-blowing. The 45ers, especially Miyoshi, are definitely endearing. Ichida's son is also an interesting character to see Kaiji run into. However, Ootsuki and his goons didn't particularly carry the same charm I would say any other Kaiji villain has. They still do a good job of showing his "presence" in the underground camp, which does make him somewhat intimidating, but he isn't particularly memorable to me. Therefore, let's move on to the pachinko arc, following Ichijou and his Man-Eating Bog.

The pachinko arc, like the chinchirorin arc, is not very interesting at first. However, there are a lot of aspects to this part that add a lot of intrigue to what's going on. For one thing, Kaiji is put on a time limit to victory. There's also the fact that rigging the game is actually a lot more complicated than just having fixed dice, so things get crazy.

We also can't forget to mention the characters Kaiji decides to team up with. He still has the 45ers back at home base, but now he has partnered with Kotaro Sakazaki, an older man who Kaiji runs into in an alleyway, and Yuuji Endou, the loan shark who got him into this mess in the first place. Sakazaki on his own is a breath of fresh air. He is energetic, dramatic, and generally just a bunch of fun to follow around. The series seems to portray him as a neutral character- he helps Kaiji on his quest, flaky and erratic in his behavior. Endou is a character I wasn't expecting to see again, much less as an aid to Kaiji, but it was definitely interesting seeing him let his guard down and put faith in someone he sees as just a degenerate debtor. Overall, they are simply three unlikely figures you would see gathering together in pursuit of a common goal.

And now... the moment you've been waiting for... Seiya Ichijou. The main villain of the season and the pachinko arc as a whole. I find him to be an IMMENSELY interesting and cool villain character, especially compared to the rest of the folks we've seen before. He is very sadistic, but not exactly in the way Hyodo is, but rather because he's a bit of a selfish prick with an annoying backstory. I say annoying as opposed to "tragic", because the most we get is that people kinda found him to be a loser and Hyodo would treat him like dirt. He kind of meets this middle ground between Tonegawa and Foreman Ootsuki- He's a higher-up close to Teiai, shown by his interactions with both Kurosaki and Hyodo, but is still in a bit of a precarious position. Both Ichijou and Tonegawa are at the whims of Hyodo, but Ichijou is still trying to rise the ranks whereas Tonegawa is already at a comfortable point. Anyways, that's alot about him. I can understand why people love him so much. Seeing his personality shift from cocky to absolutely crazed was an amazing and fun ride, especially with how he ends up interacting with Kaiji.

The pachinko arc is a wild ride and probably the best part of the series (aside from One Poker, but that hasn't been animated fully). Like I mentioned earlier, it didn't start off too interesting, as pachinko largely seems like a game of chance. How could you possibly make that interesting? What makes the game so exciting is that fact that both Kaiji and Ichijou have to come up with some absolutely insane cheats and tactics to rig the game in their favor. And boy does it get weird, with Kaiji LITERALLY weighing the entire building down on one side. You can't even really blame him for going that far either, considering that, at this point, his and the 45ers futures are at stake here. If he loses now, there's basically no chance of him ever making it back to the surface for good.

The final battle between Ichijou and Kaiji takes up a good chunk of episodes and it never feels like it drags on- quite the opposite. SO many things are being revealed at once that it just makes you feel like your blood pressure is spiking. Seriously, it's ridiculous how many random TINY THINGS happen during the game and how many hidden tricks are revealed to have been going on in the background. During my watch-through, I had planned to go to bed at episode 15, but the idea of sleeping at that point was futile. I ended up marathoning the entire rest of the season and ended up finally going to bed by the time the sun rose. Make sure you set aside a good amount of time when you get to that point. It gets absolutely insane for what is essentially just high-stakes Peggle.

All in all, for all its flaws, I feel like season 2 is the section of Kaiji where you really realize that Fukumoto-sensei is a genius. Or at the very least, that this series is a lot deeper than you might have given it credit for. Personally, I have gone on to read the entirety of the manga up to the most recent chapter since finishing the anime and I don't regret it one bit. I'm pretty sure the last time I tried reading the manga for something was around the time Tokyo Ghoul came out, and I didn't even finish it. I HIGHLY recommend you check out Kaiji, as it's one of the best gambling series I've ever seen.

Season 3 when? (Please give us a One Poker-hen adaptation, Madhouse!)

(11/27/2021) Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor

Kaiji, Kaiji, Kaiji. One of the best series about poor people being taken advantage of by the rich and put through cruel trials to repay a debt. I feel like Kaiji is definitely an anticapitalist work, but it has a heavy focus on the strength and connection between humans rather than solely being a condemnation of the bourgeoisie. But I mean, I'm gonna try to avoid all the commie talk while writing this.

The very first thing you'll notice about this series is the art style. Kaiji himself has a chin like a character from Gakuen Handsome and an equally as sharp nose. The profiles in this show are also really something to behold, with every feature jutting out really intensely, lending to some incredible stylization. This show probably has some of the most diverse character designs in anime, even putting in just as much detail for background characters you might only see once.

While the style might put off some potential viewers, it lends a great deal to the series' emotional aspect. The willingness to push facial features so far leads to some really incredible expressions, particularly with faces of fear and despair. Often, the vibes are enhanced by the use of very dramatic visual metaphors and the passionate accompanying narration.

Kaiji himself is a really unique character. His introduction portrays him as a low-life piece of trash who only cares about drinking and gambling. The story of starts with him being forced into debt as a result of cosigning a missing friend's loan. He is invited to board the Espoir, a cruise ship where he will be able to participate in a gamble to clear his debt. Naturally, he accepts, since he has little hope of making enough money in his regular life. The games they play in the series differ from arc to arc, and yes, there is definitely more that comes after the Espoir. He starts off incredibly naive and easy to take advantage of, but soon his resolve hardens and he grows more and more calculating as things progress.

One thing in particular I want to praise this series for is having the characters' strategies and deductions make sense. Many series fail to nail this, giving us little insight to how a character's mind may work until after the fact, and even then sometimes it just seems inhuman. In this series though, we generally get to follow his thoughts with every action, and when we don't, it's generally after he has picked up on an EXTREMELY subtle cue. Even then, while Kaiji may sometimes seem one step ahead of the audience, his thought patterns are still pretty sensible. He's even capable of making mistakes, a thing he does A LOT over the course of the show. He's only human, after all.

Also, let's not forget themes I mentioned earlier. Even though Kaiji is branded as low-life scum and slowly realizes that he could be betrayed at any moment, he still retains his compassion for others. This series is really about the strength of human connection and a condemnation of the selfish and exploitative. As close as he gets to pure despair, Kaiji really does believe in the human spirit and finds his motivation in cooperation with others. This man never loses his determination no matter what challenges he faces. It's genuinely really heartwarming.

Overall.... this show is great. I don't think I talked up the intensity of it as much as I should have. This show has you on the edge of your seat pretty much all the time because Kaiji is just constantly being thrown into gambles. The fact that he's such a lovable character makes you worry for him more than you would for someone like, I dunno, Yumeko Jabami. Normally you might go in with the expectation a character is going to win and just wonder how they're gonna do it. It's just like any good mystery, like Columbo, you wouldn't expect him to NOT find the killer, right? But Kaiji messes up CONSTANTLY, so not only do you wanna see how he'll get OUT of a situation, but if he'll even be able to in the first place!

You better make sure you have a lot of time to spare before watching this show, because it's hard to put down once it really gets going.