Categories
Anime Television

Star Wars: Visions Review – A Fresh Take on the Galaxy Far, Far Away

Jake: A lot of people love Star Wars, and a lot of people love anime. So, Disney had a thought: why don’t we just put them together like peanut butter and jelly or whatever the opposite of toothpaste and orange juice would be and made Visions! 

Dan: Star Wars is an IP that has so much potential with how it’s set up. There are so many types of stories that can be told in the galaxy. The strength of Visions is that it isn’t weighed down by “canon” and all that junk. Disney basically handed the IP to a bunch of big anime studios and told them to go wild. In my opinion, it was the best choice they could have made because Visions absolutely slaps. Making this an anthology series with different stories and teams on each makes it something truly special.

Exploring the Galaxy Far Far Away with a Renewed Hope

Dan: It’s taken you about 20 something years to get me to finally find an anime I enjoy. I just had a stubborn youth and I now know what works and doesn’t work for me in Anime. There is so much here that 3/4th of these episodes could be their own mini-series. I want to start by focusing on the abandoning of “canon” to tell extremely cool and fresh stories. Even though I think “The Duel” was my least favorite of the batch, it had one of the coolest uses of lightsaber tech. A lightsaber umbrella was just such a cool visual and use of the Star Wars stuff we know to do something radical. Every episode feels like a fresh take on the Star Wars universe and approaches it from different angles. There are episodes about Jedi, droids, and all the other odds and ends of the Star Wars universe.

Each episode has a score that stands out as feeling familiar in the vein of John Williams but never strays into feeling like carbon copies. Each has its own style that lends to the style of the episode. Nobuko Toda and Kazuma Jinnouchi’s score for “The Ninth Jedi” stands out for me personally as does the episode.

Jake: Anime is good and more people should have an open mind, and I think this series is a great sampling of what anime has to offer people. 

This series is so fresh with ideas of what Star Wars is and what it can be. Some of these are great interpretations and others are great additions to the mythos.

The Animation Domination

Dan: Jake, you know more about these studios than I do, how did these episodes hold up to other anime’s these studios have done?

Jake: Well, that’s a bit hard to say because some of these studios are legends in the industry. Also, it’s important to note which directors were involved in each studio’s piece. 

Production I.G that did “The Ninth Jedi” is responsible for animating the cyberpunk classic, the original Ghost in the Shell, and Psycho-Pass. I think for a short one-episode story they really brought their A-game! 

Then there’s Studio Trigger, founded by Gurren Lagann director Imaishi Hiroyuki, that did two episodes, “The Twins” and “The Elder,” both being very different pieces. Imaishi did the “The Twins” and it has big Gurren Lagann drill energy with the color choices of Trigger’s film Promare. I thought that was all big energy, big action, and lots of heart. “The Elder” was  very different in pacing and style. It’s director, Otsuka Masahiko, doesn’t seem to have much directing under his belt but he did a great job. 

Science Saru, known mainly for its Netflix releases of Devilman Crybaby and Japan Sinks 2020, bringing us “Akakiri” and “T0-B1.” ”T0-B1” reminded me of Astroboy and Megaman added into the galaxy far far away, and spiritually it lives up to their Devilman remake. “Akakiri” also lives up to it more thematically. 

The other studios all did great work as well, I don’t think any of them didn’t deliver their best work. Kamikaze Douga, did “The Dual” and it very much is in line with their work on Batman Ninja. Gave us the brilliant style of “Tatooine Rhapsody” which seems way different than their other works that I’m familiar with like A Whisker Away. Kinema Citrus did great work bringing with “The Village Bride” bringing their own style out compared to their catalog of adaptions. Geno Studio’s “Lop and Ocho” makes me excited for what appears to be a pretty young studio with only a handful of work under their banner. 

Force Highlights

Dan: So before I get into the best episode, I need to talk about “Tatooine Rhapsody” because it feels like someone working on this series was doing this for me. Essentially the plot is a rock band in the Star Wars universe and Jabba the Hutt is in it. I love Jabba the Hutt and somehow this series made Bib Fortuna very cute instead of looking like something that crawled out of George Lucas’s nightmares. When I saw this episode, all I could think was that we need 20 more seasons of Visions because this is the absolute best use of Star Wars.

Now I am going to say something that may turn some heads, I think “The Ninth Jedi” is my favorite Star Wars thing since Rogue One. The concept is brilliant, the storytelling and character are brilliant, and it could easily spin off into its own series with the wonderful concept that was set up in a short 20-minute window. It uses the tropes of Star Wars that we all know and rely on when watching, reading, or consuming Star Wars concepts and flips them in interesting ways.

Overall, I think Star Wars: Visions may have knocked Mandolorian out of my post-Rogue One favorite spot. It doesn’t rely on nostalgia like Mandolorian does in some ways. It takes things we know like the ideas, objects, and themes but never reuses them in a way that could be lazy to get some quick cheers. It stands alone as its own unique version of the Star Wars universe. If you were on the fence, jump off and ignite your lightsaber because you’re going to need it with all the wild ideas this throws at you.

Jake: I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments about “The Ninth Jedi.” I really enjoyed the way it portrays lightsabers and their colors being loose and more of a reflection of their owner and their connection to the force. Also the colorless lightsaber was such a cool concept! Like it wasn’t just a which light it was just semi-visible energy. 

Visions is something I want more of and there are some of these episodes that I would love to see developed further into even just one or two more episodes. A few of them really left their ending open to further adventure and I want to see those adventures!

Categories
Television

Loki Asks the Question: Was Kafka Wrong?

Last time we talked about Loki I was screaming about this Czech guy who really didn’t like to do paperwork (you can read it all about it here). Today me and He Who Remains will ask you a question: What if Kafka was wrong? 

But first, a recap: After fighting their way through the TVA, “killing” the Time Keepers, being “pruned”, enchanting Alioth, and finding the master behind the sacred timeline, Loki and Sylvie walk into an office. They walk into a somewhat normal office complete with a bookshelf, a big desk, back windows. Yes, it’s in the middle of all of time and space but an office is just an office regardless of where it is. In that office is a man who controls all of that time and space and he has something to ask of our two heroes. What does the man in the office ask of Loki and Sylve? Well he asks them to take over the paperwork. 

Why? Why does He Who Remains ask the Lokis to take over his job? Why does he ask them to become the ultimate bureaucrat? Because the world, the universe, it needs order, it needs people that set limits and rules, it needs someone to organize it, in short, it needs the TVA and the TVA needs what any good bureaucracy needs: someone in charge. 

He Who Remains explains that if it wasn’t for the sacred timeline different versions of himself would wage war with one another and destroy everything, he says that even if he is evil, his variants are worse. So once again I ask you a question: what is worse than the bureaucrat? Well, the answer is pretty obvious: the conqueror.

He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors) in Marvel Studios’ Loki / Photo by Chuck Zlotnick, Photo Courtesy of Marvel Studios

By the end of the final episode, with he who remains dead, and the conqueror taking control of the TVA I asked myself “What would Kafka think about this?” “Did he hate order, or just the dehumanizing nature of bureaucracy?” “Was Kafka wrong?” Let me tell you, I love the guy, he’s one of my favorite writers of all time. His influence has led me to make big decisions (he’s even one of the reasons I study philosophy), so for me to ask these questions well, let’s just say that Jonathan Majors gave one hell of a performance.

But let’s concentrate on the matter at hand, is Kafka wrong? Is bureaucracy justified by the need for order and the prevention of violence? I don’t think that Kafka was a fan of order, but I don’t think he was against it per se; I think the thing he really hated was the way bureaucracy alienates us and entraps us. In the works he confronts the problem of bureaucracy most directly (The Process, The Castle, The Penal Colony) all those long trials, legal loopholes, and (you guessed it) paperwork limit the freedom of the character, it transforms their life into a meaningless list of steps, it makes them small, makes them like bugs (pun intended). 

But even in the stories that bureaucracy isn’t that present Characters are still trapped in a meaningless existence, doomed to live a life of suffering, to be pathetic human beings. George Samsa from The Metamorphosis was always a bug, even before his transformation. The artist from The Hunger Artist was always destined to fast because he didn’t like food. The man of Before the Law was always destined to stay in the first door. Kafka’s characters are always meant to live life in a prison… maybe he thought the same of himself. 

Sylvie (Sophia DiMartino) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in Marvel Studios’ Loki / Photo Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Sadly, the same is shown in Loki. Sylvie believes Loki will always look for the throne, and she does what a Loki always does, she betrays him. In a twist of events, even with the beginning of the multiverse, the TVA exists because it will always exist. Even without the bureaucracy things are going to happen as they should; the only thing that changes is that things get more violent and more sad. 

So maybe, Kafka was wrong, bureaucracy sucks, but it is necessary, because without it order prevails, but instead of it being buried in a mountain of forms and rules, it buries you, or in other words, it conquers you. 

But there is hope, or at least I believe there is. I say this because, well, let me confess something: I like Kafka, I like him a lot, but to be honest with you… to be really honest with you I think he’s a bit of a bummer and well, I think he’s full of shit. 

Don’t get me wrong, I really hate bureaucracy, I hate the trials and tribulations we make ourselves go through and I’m also not the biggest fan of order but in my mind you are only a bug if you let yourself be a bug, and your story is only written if you let someone else read it. 

There is a point in the episode where even the big almighty He who remains doesn’t know what’s gonna happen. The plan of the guy in the big chair only will always have a final step, and after that who knows things might change or they might not, but you won’t know until you get there. 

Sylvie (Sophia DiMartino), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and Miss Minutes (voiced by Tara Strong) in Marvel Studios’ Loki / Photo Courtesy of Marvel Studios

The thing about Kafka’s characters is they give up too easily, they always stop fighting and even with his amazing writing skills my Czech friend can’t explain why. You may say this argument comes out of nowhere, you may think I’m just trying to be positive for the sake of it and that might be true, but let me ask you something; Wasn’t the Loki series renewed?

The story continues.

So let me leave you with this: you might have noticed that I’ve been asking a lot of questions, and that’s because I love questions; questions are doors (orange translucent doors), and as long as you keep opening doors, as long as the text ends with a question mark your story will continue. So now the question is, do you believe me?  

Categories
Television

Loki and the Kafkaesque

“Evil knows of the good, but good does not know of evil. Knowledge of oneself is something only evil has”- Franz Kafka. 

You are probably wondering, “why would someone start their review of Loki with a vague and pretentious quote from some Czech writer?” and in all fairness that it is a bit weird of me, but give me some time, I promise you it will all make sense as soon as you finish reading this. 

In the interest of complete honesty, I’m not the biggest Loki fan. It’s not that I hate him or even mildly dislike him; it’s more that I haven’t had that much exposure to the God of Mischief. I have read one or two of his appearances in the comics, and I have watched him in the Thor and Avengers movies. Other than that, the most I had ever read on Loki was the few chapters Neil Gaiman dedicates to him in his book Norse Mythology, which is notably not set in the Marvel Universe. So imagine my surprise when I found myself loving the first two episodes of his new series.

Source: Marvel Studios

I spent an unnecessary amount of time figuring out why I had loved the first few episodes of Loki so much. I couldn’t figure it out until one night while talking with my brother about the series. I realized what Loki’s journey reminded me of; the constant jabs at mindless bureaucracy, the hopelessness of some of the characters, the absurdist and surreal atmosphere of the series, all of it reminded me of the works of the Czech writer Franz Kafka, a favorite of mine.

For those who don’t know, Franz Kafka was an early 20th-century author who wrote about the absurdity of bureaucracy, loneliness, alienation, guilt, and good old existential anxiety. Kafka’s most famous work is his novel The Metamorphosis (also know as The Transformation), a story about a young salesman who one day wakes up to discover that he has been transformed into a giant bug-like person (not in the fun Spider-Man way). But my personal favorite of his works is a short story called The Hunger Artist, about an entertainer whose performance is him fasting himself for a prolonged amount of days (I promise this is all relevant). 

Am I saying that the Loki series has been amazing so far just because it’s somewhat similar to the writings of a random dude? Yes and no. I don’t think these similarities make the episodes inherently good, but I do believe that the Kafkaesque aspects of the series work in a wonderful way to develop the characters of the series and to set up a unique conflict. We can see this in the first episode through the way the series develops its titular character.  

The Loki we see in this series is not the same Loki we have watched grow through 5 movies, this is not the Loki that went through the deaths of his adoptive parents or the one that mended his relationship with his brother, and he isn’t the Loki that died at the hands of Thanos. So, how do you take a character who is missing five movies’ worth of character development and get him up to speed with the audience?

Tom Hiddleston as Loki and Owen Wilson as Mobius M. Mobius / Source: Marvel Studios

Apparently, the answer was destroying Loki’s will through the means of mindless bureaucracy, making him question all of his motivations, showing him some clips of his past and future, and finally, making him realise that his attitude and all of his actions are just an illusion of power he builds so that he can feel in control. All the steps he goes through in the TVA have a Kafkaesque quality to them and help bring Loki down from “arrogant god with a glorious purpose” wannabe to a sad broken person who feels that his destiny is to hurt others, so he doesn’t seem so weak. 

In his first moments in the TVA, Loki questions his nature (not knowing if he is a robot or not). Not soon after, he is put on trial for something he didn’t even know was a crime, made to watch the death of his mother, father, and himself. All of this forces Loki to realise that the system he has been trapped in is infinitely more powerful than him. For the first time, this version of Loki is forced to experience guilt, alienation and existential guilt. This way, he is fully prepared for the journey that is about to unfold across this six-episode first season. 

The conversation that Mobius and Loki have at the end of the first episode, where Loki admits that he doesn’t enjoy hurting people, that he only acts that way because he “has” to, reminds me of the ending of The Hunger Artist. At the end of this story, the artist confesses that the only reason he is good at fasting is that he never found a food that he actually liked, so he spent his days trying to transform his suffering, his weakness, into something for which people would admire him, would love him. Loki is (at the end of this episode) pretty much in the same spot, trying to use pain to transform his weakness into power, into respect. 

Miss Minutes (voiced by Tara Strong) / Source: Marvel Studios

To be completely honest, the second episode reduces the Kafkaesque aspects to give more space to action scenes and detective work, but there are still things worth talking about; a small detail that advances the themes presented in the first episode is the small loophole that Loki finds while exploring some of the few available files available to him (another small example of mindless bureaucracy). According to the series, people can do anything they want near an apocalyptic event without upsetting the sacred timeline because no matter what happens, everything will be destroyed. The fact that one can be truly free only when their surroundings and the people around them will cease to exist it’s just the absurdist situation Kafka would have loved.

But perhaps the bit that truly continues the themes of guilt, loneliness and alienation is the last thing Lady Loki says to Loki before starting bombing the timeline: “This isn’t about you.” This line seemingly breaks Loki and makes him abandon everything he had been working for, after “the variant” makes Loki realize once again that he is not the all-powerful 

god he builds himself up to be; he is just another person on the sidelines, a “cosmic error,” as Hunter B-15 would put it. Both Loki and Lady Loki are just variants of the original Loki, flukes in the sacred timeline. They are of no importance, but Lady Loki is trying to make something of the situation by the looks of it. In contrast, after hearing his counterpart highlight his unimportance, Loki decides the only logical option is to follow Lady Loki. 

Sophia Di Martino as Lady Loki / Source: Marvel Studios

At this point of the series, Loki seems to be in a spot of absolute alienation, separated from any context that would give him importance or power. He is as close to a salesman who has turned into a giant bug as he can be without literally being a salesman who has been turned into a giant bug and has been abandoned by everyone, and I love it.  

I find this use of the Kafkaesque journey in service of Loki’s character arc to be well utilized and exceptionally well executed. I feel the team behind the series managed to build an absurd and surreal atmosphere to place a story about guilt and alienation that puts the main character in the perfect spot so that we are excited about where he goes next. 

So that’s why I decided to start this review with a quote from Franz Kafka, and that quote in particular, because I think that through a Kafkaesque lens, we can see what makes these first two episodes of Loki so great, as well as what can we expect from this journey and how it looks at Loki’s very nature.