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Gintama (2017 Movie)

Warner Bros. Pictures

My rating: 5 of 5

Edo-period Japan has been invaded by aliens from outer space, and the country looks a bit different now with aliens (known as Amanto) in positions of political and social privilege and samurai bereft of their swords. One such former samurai, Sakata Gintoki, has embraced the challenges of this new life by becoming a sweets-loving odd-jobber along with his young friends, Shinpachi and Kagura. But when rumors of a serial killer begin to arise, Gin finds himself drawn back by his past in order to protect the present that he loves.

Okay, first of all, confession: I totally started watching this live-action remake of Gintama just because I love Shun Oguri’s work; never mind the fact that I also love the anime/manga on which this movie is based. Having said that, Oguri did a fabulous job with the role of Gin, but there was a ton of other things that I loved about Gintama. First of all, the casting in general was very well done, and everyone did a great job portraying their characters. And, even though the particular story arc they chose involves a lot of characters, they didn’t go chopping people out left and right, so fair warning, there are a lot of people to keep track of. But I appreciated that they went to the trouble of not chopping . . . either characters or plot, actually. Plot context: at the start, we do get the cafe scene where Gin and Shinpachi first meet–but after that, there’s this big plot gap, and the majority of the movie is the Benizakura arc. I wasn’t expecting them to jump headlong into the story like that, but I think it was a smart choice. It’s one of my favorite parts of the anime/manga for a lot of the reasons that make it a great choice for the movie as well. It captures the absurdity and general silliness that makes Gintama (whatever the medium) such a  fun, funny story; I confess to laughing out loud for a great portion of the movie. You’ve got fourth-wall breaking, references galore, plus just plain ridiculousness (like the Yorozuya and Shinsengumi’s beetle-hunting madness). But this arc also has a lot of heart. It pulls from both Gin’s and Katsura’s childhood days as well as from their resistance-fighter exploits, incorporating that into the present-day plot. And of course, said plot allows for some great action sequences and sword fights–it’s one of the few points in the series where Gin gets a chance to truly look cool for a moment . . . before he ruins it by picking his nose or something. As far as the sets and makeup/CGI, it’s honestly not the greatest. I mean, a lot of the aliens are obviously just folks in animal suits or wearing body paint. But that fits the story–the absurdity and fourth-wall breaking and such–so well that I honestly prefer that over awesome, convincing CG for everything. It just works. So yes, I really loved the Gintama live-action movie, although I would caution that if you haven’t either read the manga or watched the anime at least a bit, you’ll likely be a bit confused; even with two-and-a-half hours of film, there’s still a lot that isn’t explained in a lot of detail. But for fans . . . absolutely recommended; it captures not just the story itself, but the heart of Gintama.

Written & Directed by Yūichi Fukuda/Based on Gintama by Hideaki Sorachi/Starring Shun Oguri, Masaki Suda, Kanna Hashimoto, Yūya Yagira, Ryo Yoshizawa, Masami Nagasawa, Masaki Okada, Nakamura Kankurō VI, & Tsuyoshi Dōmoto

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InuYasha

Mangaka: Rumiko Takahashi

Kagome was just your average middle-school Japanese girl until she got dragged (literally) into Sengoku-era Japan. There she finds she’s the supposed reincarnation of the priestess Kikyo. Her coming sets off a number of misadventures, including the release of the half-demon InuYasha (who used to be Kikyo’s lover, and now becomes Kagome’s biggest problem) and the shattering and dispersal of the powerful and dangerous Shikon jewel throughout the country. Now she must pair up with InuYasha to retrieve the shards of the jewel before they are snatched up by the evil half-demon Naraku–the very same one who came between InuYasha and Kikyo, murdering Kikyo, fifty years before. Joining them on their quest are Miroku (the monk of the wandering hand), Sango (the bereaved and angry demon exterminator), and Shippo (the adorable kid kitsune), all of whom have their own grudges against Naraku. Now if Kagome can only manage to fit in graduating from middle school between all the fighting demons, tracking Shikon shards, and digging up past grudges!

InuYasha is a manga that is near to my heart for many reasons: it was one of my very first manga ever, it’s led me to finding many other great manga, and it’s a great manga to talk about with other people, among other reasons. Even disregarding the history I have with this story, I think it’s a wonderful manga. Rumiko Takahashi is one of my favorite mangaka, and InuYasha is executed with her typical aplomb and signature art style (which I love). It’s an interesting blend of adventure (somewhat dark and bloody at times, actually), comedy (as per Takahashi-sensei’s norm), and romance (also classic Takahashi). While definitely being more serious (and battle shounen) than, say Urusei Yatsura or Ranma 1/2, it still maintains a lighter side that keeps it from getting bogged down and depressing. I think the relationship between Kagome and InuYasha is one of the most intriguing I’ve ever read–and the most amusing when she gets angry at him and makes him “sit!” And of course, Kagome herself is fascinating in general; I mean, what girl gets dragged to another era, sees a guy stuck to a tree with an arrow through his chest, and immediately thinks “Ooh, he’s got dog ears. I want to touch.”?! The inclusion of numerous wild-card characters (Sesshomaru, Kikyo (reanimated), Koga, Kohaku, and even some of Naraku’s subordinates at times) keeps things interesting as well. My only complaints are: 1) the story kind of dragged on a bit towards the end, like Takahashi was having a hard time figuring out how to end it (but the actual ending is really good), and 2) there’s unnecessary fanservice in the early volumes (understandable, just coming from writing Ranma 1/2, but still unnecessary). But I could keep talking about the things I love about InuYasha for pages and pages, so let’s just say that this is definitely a recommended manga.

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Lioness Rampant

Author: Tamora Pierce

Song of the Lioness Quartet, vol. 4

Alanna, Knight of Tortall, has achieved more than anyone might have believed possible: becoming the first female knight in decades, winning the friendship of the Bahzir tribesmen for her prince, winning the affection of the King of Thieves. Still, feeling unfulfilled, the wanderlust grips her, and Alanna sets off questing with her faithful attendant Coram and her cat Faithful to keep her humble. She can mostly keep herself safe. On her quest to claim the Dominion Jewel for the glory of Tortall, Alanna encounters a legendary Shang warrior (who teaches her and falls in love with her), a country torn apart by war, and a mountain spirit intent on keeping her from her goal. On top of all that, as she nears the prize, she finds herself gripped with a feeling that all isn’t well at home and that she needs to return there immediately!

For those familiar with the first three volumes of the Song of the Lioness Quartet (Alanna: The First AdventureIn the Hand of the Goddess, and The Woman Who Rides Like a Man), Lioness Rampant is a brilliant conclusion to an amazing story. The plot is full of delicious features: sword-fighting, magic, romance, intrigue, martial arts, plots, and more. And of course, the story is bursting with Pierce’s wonderful cast–all of whom are so strongly themselves that they totally make the story happen in the best sense possible. Do be warned, there are a number of sad partings in this volume; however, the humor, satisfying conclusions, and general rightness of where the plot goes make up for it mostly. Lioness Rampant comes with high recommendations for anyone who enjoys a solid fantasy adventure.

 

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