Quick thoughts on the two Touken Ranbu animes

Touken Ranbu is a popular Japanese smartphone game about swords that come to life in the form of handsome young men who then protect the world as we know it from the evil Time Retrograde Army. That’s the premise, anyway, but the whole game is just a gender-flipped version of the usual “collect pretty girls” kind of smartphone game, pandering to female customers instead of male ones.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s never really seemed like my kind of thing. Still doesn’t, but it came to my attention recently when I heard there was going to be a collaboration between Touken Ranbu and Granblue Fantasy, a browser/smartphone game I dabble in occasionally. On one hand you don’t need to be familiar with the source material to play a Granblue collab, but in the case of Samurai Shodown and Shadowverse, I found myself not enjoying the story because I didn’t know the characters or their backgrounds. So this time, and seeing as Touken Ranbu has two animes out, I thought I’d check them out and see if they were any good.

 

That was the plan. The reality was a little different. First I tried Katsugeki! Touken Ranbu, which is currently airing and up to episode 10 or so right now. I made it through two episodes. That’s enough for me. The animation is nice and I don’t mind history shows but

  • Yagen is dull, Kunihiro is extremely annoying with his constant squealing of “Kane-san! Kane-san!” Kanesada is kinda ordinary, Tonbokiri is boring, Mutsunokami’s lively act is also annoying.
  • Those kinds of stories where the heroes are always one step behind the enemy are frustrating to watch.
  • The action is all just running around slashing at stuff.
  • Animation is nice but the CG really clashes with the ancient setting.

Based on that, I think two episodes of the show is enough. Maybe I will google around and find out what the Time Retrograde Army is really after, but TBH I don’t really care. At least now I’m familiar with the main characters in the show, which should be enough for me to understand the GBF collab.

Once I was done with Katsugeki! Touken Ranbu, I checked out the first 5 minutes of the other anime, Touken Ranbu Hanamaru. The former aspires to be a standalone series, the latter is pure fanservice for players of the game. Those first 5 minutes alone introduced at least 10 different characters, all vaguely good-looking bishies without much to distinguish them. It looked like a slice of life show, but with that many characters introduced at once without introduction I didn’t feel like watching any further. Might be fun for people who are fans already, but not for me.

Welp, that’s enough experimentation for one day. While I was at it I also downloaded some episodes from other shows airing this season, but it will take a while for me to get round to watching them. I have so many other things I want to watch instead, mostly TV shows and Cantonese dramas. I’ll squeeze in some anime here and there as I get the chance.

Watched Gamers! episodes 1-6

Gamers! is one of those shows where you think about dropping it after every episode, but you decide to watch one more before dropping it, then one more, then one more… I’m already up to episode 6.

Plot summary from WikipediaKeita Amano is a lonesome boy who enjoys playing video games but lacks any friends. One day, he is approached by the beautiful Karen Tendou about joining the school’s Gaming Club, but Keita ultimately rejects her offer as he is not into competitive gaming. This rejection sets off a trigger of events in the lives of Keita and his fellow students in matters of both video games and romance.

The anime title isn’t really all that accurate. It’s about people who all tend to like games to a certain extent, but the real point of the show is wacky romantic hijinks where A likes B who likes C who likes him back but thinks B really likes D who does like B but also likes A, and round and round and round it goes.

It’s almost hilarious how many unlikely misunderstandings Gamers can fit into one episode, with people walking in on the most unlikely situations or hearing only part of a conversation and getting completely the wrong idea, and on and on and on. If you like romantic triangles and love decahedrons, Gamers is definitely the show for you.

If you like games, on the other hand… I was drawn to Gamers because I saw a screenshot of a parody of Granblue Fantasy that Keita and his friend like to play. I thought it would be that kind of show where you’re always catching references and parodies to popular video games. And there’s an element of that, but it more or less disappears after the first two episodes in favor for romantic misunderstanding after romantic misunderstanding. The show is called Gamers, not Games, I guess.

The reason I’ve been feeling like dropping it from the start is that a romance show lives and dies by its characters. If you like them, you’re solid. If not… TBH they’re all really annoying, especially Keita’s everyday otaku shtick and Karen’s lovestruck teen gimmick. I’ve been sick of them from the start.

What keeps me coming back, however, is the way the show keeps throwing out curveballs when you expect them to go straight. I fully expected lonely Keita to jump at the chance to make friends via the gaming club, but he turned them down. For fully understandable reasons, but it was a surprise nevertheless. Then when Chiaki and Keita finally met, I was certain they would end up as an item, but they ended up hating each other – or claiming to, anyway. And then at the end of episode 6…. @___@

In short, Gamers is full of surprises so I won’t drop it no matter how much the characters piss me off. I’m looking forward to seeing how the show changes based on the events of episode 6. Please don’t reset to the status quo, please don’t reset to the status quo… I will post a final review when the show is done.

200 pounds beauty (Korean movie) review, contains ending spoilers

It’s been almost 3 months since I started working on Talk to Me in Korean! Remember? So how am I doing? You’ll have to wait till the 20th to find out! In the meantime it doesn’t do to just study in a vacuum so I’ve been watching a few dramas and TV programs here and there to keep my hand in. All subtitled, of course, at least for now.

200 Pounds Beauty (미녀는 괴로워) is a Korean comedy/romance movie about an overweight woman named Hanna with a beautiful voice who is the real voice behind a K-Pop superstar. When she overhears her crush and manager making fun of her at a party, she goes underground, gets a ton of plastic surgery and reemerges as “Jenny”, ready to take the music world by storm!

…We wish. The movie I would have liked to watch is one where Hanna reinvents herself either so she can start a new life away from those who insulted and put her down or so she can get revenge on them. This movie features neither. Hanna just gets surgery because she doesn’t want to be ugly any more (although despite a hideously fake fat suit and bad teeth she was actually rather cute).

She doesn’t have any drive or motivation or purpose so she just walks right back into the same situation she walked out of. Instead of confronting the people who belittled her, she tries her hardest to please them. Instead of boldly being herself as Hanna, she comes up with a lame background story as Jenny – the only thing lamer than her cover story is the brains of the music industry people who never bothered to check it.

What is he looking at down there?

But 200 Pounds Beauty isn’t a story you watch for its cleverness. I at least was watching to see whether Hanna would ever get together with her crush Sang-Jun. Yes, the same crush whose cruel insults drove her to desperation. That guy. Does she? …Probably? It’s left ambiguous at the end. What’s also ambiguous is how Sang-Jun really felt about Hanna all along. There were strong hints that he actually liked her, overweight and all, and only put her down to please his protege (the lip syncer Hanna was really singing for). Now that Hanna = Jenny, the viewer will never know for sure whether Sang-Jun liked her for who he was, or just liked her voice, or if he’s now only attracted to the beautiful Jenny.

On Hanna’s part she doesn’t seem to have forgiven him for his cruelty to Hanna, and while she still seems to like him, it’s clear that something has cooled in their relationship. Plus as a successful singer in her own right now, she has far more options and a far busier schedule to deal with than just being Mrs. Sang-Jun. Whether they will end up together at some point or not is left up to your imagination. I like to hope they won’t. He doesn’t deserve her and she has a lot of issues to work out any way.

As for the message of the film concerning plastic surgery, what the characters say and what the movie actually promotes are two different things. Hanna/Jenny eventually gives a tearful speech about how she thought surgery would make her life better but it didn’t… except it totally did. Before she was broke, fat, made fun of, lonely, afterwards she is beautiful, slim, dressed in the latest and hottest fashion with thousands of adoring insta-fans, a growing music career and a very handsome not-quite-boyfriend. It’s clear she got all this by completely changing her image.

In the end the main character spends 5 minutes saying “Plastic surgery won’t solve your problems” while the movie spends 90 minutes saying the opposite. Who are we supposed to believe? You can draw your own conclusions, but it’s telling that even after Hanna’s heartfelt “confession,” the movie closes with her best friend sitting in front of Hanna’s plastic surgeon (now rich and famous) and begging for a procedure as well. As I said, draw your own conclusions but the meaning is obvious.

Despite the wackness of the message and the fruitlessness of the romance, I did quite enjoy 200 Pounds Beauty. I’m not quite sure why, but I suppose it had some charm to it. Rags to riches plots are a timeless classic for a reason and I wanted to see how things would work out between Hanna and pretty boy. If you’re not the type to take movies too seriously and you don’t have body image issues, it’s worth a watch. Preferably with a buddy so you can roll your eyes together when things get a bit ridiculous.

Pure Dynamite by Tom Billington (book review)

I haven’t read a book in several weeks, so to get back in the habit I’m cleaning up random books lying around the house. Pure Dynamite – The Price you Pay for Wrestling Stardom will mainly be of interest to people who are/were fans of professional wrestling in the 70s, 80s and early 90s. If you’re not in that select category, you might want to give this a miss since it’s a not very well-written autobiography of a not very nice person.

Abridged summary

Pure Dynamite is a blow by blow account of the career of Tom Billington, who wrestled solo as The Dynamite Kid, and with Davey Boy Smith as half of the British Bulldogs tag team. Although he should have been a millionaire when he retired in 1993, after 16 years of professional wrestling, he had little but memories are scar tissue to show for it.

Now confined to a wheelchair as a result of serious damage to his back and legs, his years of steroid use have also damaged Billington’s heart and personal life. Pure Dynamite is as much a cautionary tale as it is a glimpse into the world of a wrestling legend.

If you watched the WWE (then WWF) in the early 90s then you definitely remember the British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith, most likely for his legendary Summerslam 92 match against Bret Hart. If you watched even earlier, you will remember he was part of the British Bulldogs tag team with his less buff, less fan-friendly cousin the Dynamite Kid.

I started watching pro wrestling around 1990, but there were plenty of tapes of earlier Wrestlemanias around. I liked the Bulldogs well enough – not as much as the Hart Foundation, but well-enough. Just not enough to read this autobiography by the less popular (but way more talented, seriously, just Youtube his early matches) half.

What made me get Pure Dynamite? The promise of an honest tell-all book in an industry filled with soft-pedalling books full of “eat your vitamins and say your prayers” kind of talk, that’s what. Nary a mention of drugs or steroids even though we all know they were a big part of wrestling particularly in the 90s. Apart from Bret Hart’s book which laid it all on the line, even allegedly honest books like Jericho’s and Mick Foley’s, while being excellent reads for the wrestling fan, didn’t really expose the seedy underbelly of the WWE in the way the gossip fan in me wanted to see. They were also suspiciously light on the self-criticism. Pure Dynamite, I was told, was written by someone with nothing left to lose and thus was the place to go if you really wanted true dirt from that era.

Brutal Honesty?

Well, was it? Alas, no, though it is indeed much more honest than most of the other books I’d mentioned. In particular Tom Billington makes no secret of what a horrible, horrible person he was – without meaning to, actually. He’s a sociopath through and through who can’t see what might be wrong with setting someone on fire in a McDonalds. Or cuffing someone for ignoring him. Or beating someone up because they might possibly be angry with him.

If you’re interested in reading about wrestling “ribs” i.e. backstage pranks, this is definitely the book for you. Just realize that what Billington considers “ribs” are physical and mental abuse and sometimes outright crimes, stuff that should have landed him in jail 200 times over if anyone had bothered reporting it. Reading it you really wonder if this guy has normal thought processes and feelings, he’s just so amoral and blase about it. This happened and that happened and then I did this (completely immoral) thing.

Billington is also honest about the different drugs and steroids that sent him on his downward spiral. He straight up names those who first gave him speed, where he got his steroids from. What he took, when he took it, why he took it, why he quit both steroids and drugs, the sequence of physical punishments he put himself through that landed him in a wheelchair, it’s all explained frankly and clearly in this book.

Dynamite Kid also wrestled for or with most of the key wrestling figures in Canada, Japan and the USA in the 80s, so his book is a veritable Who is Who of wrestling names. Antonio Inoki, Giant Baba, Andre the Giant, Giant Haystacks, Tiger Mask I and II, Terry Funk and on and on. It seems he tangled with just about everybody who was anybody back then, and he’s not shy to let us know what he thought about all of them.

Spoiler: he thinks the world of all his friends and everyone else sucks. Oh it’s not quite that bad, but there’s a pretty obvious bias towards those he likes while those he dislikes are quickly dismissed with backhand compliments at best. Still, he’s not afraid to name names or criticize even popular wrestlers, so it might be worth it reading Pure Dynamite just to see what Billington has to say about your favorite old school wrestler. The biggest surprise for me was that Vince McMahon was actually portrayed very positively. Guess Dynamite doesn’t want to burn all his bridges, eh?

Dynamite Hypocrisy

That’s not the only place where Billington is shady and hypocritical, however. It’s particularly glaring if you’ve read the autobiographies of Bret Hart and Diana Hart and know the truth behind the dissolution of Dynamite’s marriage. Billington tries to play it off as “we just grew apart” but his years of abuse and outright torture of his wife are well-documented.

He tries to paint himself as a hero for not contesting the divorce and giving Michelle everything he had, but after the hell he put her through, it’s the least he could have done. And he talks about how proud he is of his children while admitting he almost never saw them and that he got a divorce even before his third child was born. There’s something missing here. It’s hard to call this an honest book when Billington won’t come out and admit the wrong he did to this woman – and to her friends if one particularly lurid anecdote by Diana Hart is to be believed.

Billington is also inconsistent in his preaching about his wrestling philosophy as well. Several times he states that he always tried to give everyone he wrestled with a good match. After all, if you make someone look small and pathetic and beat them, you’ve beaten a nobody. All good and nice advice, but in between the philosophizing he also recounts at least two incidents where he and his partner intentionally no sold opposing tag teams (the Nasty Boys and Los Guerreros) for no good reason. There’s really no reason, he just didn’t like the look of them so he was a jerk. That’s a pattern you’ll see a lot throughout this book.

You will also have a lot of unanswered questions at the end of his book, particularly regarding his finances. He’s very diligent to record much of what he made from his tours and matches, e.g. $6,200 for a one week tour with NJPW, $10,000 for a commercial, and so on and so forth. But then suddenly he’s broke and returns to England with less than $30 in his pocket. Wait, what? What happened to all that money? Drugs? Women? (of whom there are suspiciously few in his account) Bad investments? He mentions buying a house for $200,000 cash and having some land, but where did all the rest of the money go? Again it’s hard to call his book “honest” when it has such glaring gaps in the narrative.

Cautionary tale for wrestlers

As the summary says “Pure Dynamite is as much a cautionary tale as it is a glimpse into the world of a wrestling legend.” I don’t think Billington meant it as such, though. He himself says he wouldn’t change a thing if he had to do it all over again. He speaks approvingly of “hard” fighters, i.e. fighters who hit you for real and dismisses wrestlers who didn’t want to work dangerous styles or with dangerous wrestlers. With all due respect, the results show for themselves.

It’s almost funny how oblivious he is to the fact that he’s a walking advertisement for not doing the things he did. At a point where his own body is almost completely broken down, he criticizes Davey Boy Smith for not wanting to get hurt. It’s like, duh? Look in the mirror first?

And this book came out before the Chris Benoit tragedy, so his praise of Benoit for aping the Dynamite Kid’s style comes across all the more as “Don’t try this at home, kids.” I think fans who don’t like the WWE’s present safer working styles and wellness policies will rapidly change their minds when they see the toll unsafe practices took on Tom Billington. It’s definitely a “cautionary tale” whether Billington means it to be or not.

On the quality of the book itself

Last few notes on the book – this review is longer than I’d expected – for better or worse it definitely feels like something Billington wrote himself, even though I know there was a ghost writer. That means a lot of typos, inconsistent spellings and quite a bit of repetition.

It suffers from quite a bit of disorganization and rambling before getting back to the point. Your mileage may vary on this, since it does have a genuine feel of listening to the Dynamite Kid recount his life. A little more editing, cutting out the hundreds of prank stories and “I wrestled this guy” stories and more explanation of his life outside the ring would have really raised the level of this book.

This especially applies to his family in England. His dad shows up prominently but the rest of his family is like a shadow. His mother and his sisters almost never appear. It’s not so much that I want the nitty gritty of his private life, but it’s a very incomplete autobiography when most of the stuff you would expect from such a book are either covered up or completely ignored.

Another ‘mileage may vary’ issue is that many of the matches are written in “kayfabe,” as if the outcome of each match was ever actually in doubt. There are matches where this isn’t the case and Dynamite shows the decision-making process, but the bulk of the matches are written up like they were real fights. For me this wasn’t a problem at all and was actually very interesting to read, but I’ve seen complaints about it online so I just throw this out there. YMMV.

Final thoughts

Pure Dynamite is worth a read on one hand, but on the other hand it’s kind of hard to recommend this book. It’s invaluable for its frank look at the excesses of the 80s Rock n Wrestling era. It’s also useful if you’re the nosy type and want to know how much wrestlers typically made in those days – a lot if you were at the top and a good negotiator.

The problem is the subject, Tom Billington. He is just so, so unpleasant. A lying, unrepentant jerk that it’s really hard to feel sorry for despite all he’s going through now. Not that he wants or deserves your pity, of course. But you will come away with a bad taste in your mouth. Overall I’d say read it if you’re a fan of that era but definitely skip it if you’re not. It makes me grateful the WWE has changed so much these days, even though it does mean the angles and matches are so boring that I can’t watch it any more. At least lives are being saved, and that’s what matters.

Watched Kung Fu Cult Master (Jet Li movie)

Watched it in Cantonese, of course. But with subtitles because Kung Fu Cult Master (a.k.a. Evil Cult a.k.a Lord of Wu Tang) is one of my favorite kung fu movies of all time and I can’t bear to not understand a single line. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!

SummaryTwo different schools of kung fu fight for possession of two magic swords that will let the owner know all martial-arts secrets. Young Chang Mo-kei (Jet Li) is caught between the two but is unable to do anything because he suffers from a curse that prevents him from practicing kung fu. All that changes with an invitation from an alluring young woman one sultry evening…

Don’t worry, nothing happens with the alluring young woman. And in fact the “nothing happens” sends Mo-kei into a rage that drives him off a cliff and into the lair of the only man who can cure his curse. The movie kicks into super-overdrive from that point and doesn’t let up until the rather unsatisfying ending.

Best features: I don’t think too much of Jet Li as an actor, but as a martial artist he’s always a delight to watch. His actions are crisp, fluid and logical. Everything moves smoothly from one attack to the next. Even when he’s firing off balls of light you get the sense it’s the most practical option at the time. And it’s not just him but all the other battles are well-choreographed and easy to follow, even the ones featuring what look like thousands of extras on the screen.

It may also be because I’ve watched this at least 3 times, but I found the story easy to follow despite the sheer number of players. It’s easiest to divide them into two broad groups and remember that the people you spend the most time hanging with are the Shaolin coalition and that the really bad guys are the Yuen government’s dogs.

There’s good chemistry between Chang Mo-kei and his leading ladies, especially between him and the coquettish Chao Min, played by Sharla “Yee Mong” Cheung. You really want to punch her in the face, but at the same time you can’t help admiring her chutzpah. In a world of overpowered martial artists, it’s admirable to have a character who makes her way around with  her wits and an understanding of human nature.

There are also a lot of cute moments between Mo-kei and his servant Siu Chiu as well, making you wonder what secret she’s harboring and if they’ll ever get together one day. I always did like Chingmy Yau’s characters. It’s too bad all three lead actresses in this movie have retired now.

Stuff that’s not so good: The lack of a conclusive ending. This is clearly part 1 of two or even three, but the film was such a bomb (unbelievable!!) and apparently Li had issues with the director, so the promised sequel never came out. Since the story is based on Jin Yong’s Heavenly Sword and Dragon Sabre, I know what drama I’m watching next!

The other negative is the juvenile sexual humor and a bit of bad language – from a bad character, but nevertheless. It’s only in a few brief scenes and not enough to detract from the rest of the movie as a whole, but I include it for the sake of completeness.

I should also say that the story might be a bit confusing if it’s your first time watching. There are so many faction names thrown about that it can be hard to follow. Especially for characters who are mentioned but don’t show up. I also expected some explanation for why Jet Li’s mother and Chao Min are played by the same actress (long lost relatives?) but got nothing.

Overall: Lots of great kung fu action. If you like wire-fu, you should definitely watch Kung Fu Cult Master. Great story once you get the hang of it. Very cheesy, but in a feel-good way. Highly recommended

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