Review: Penny Dreadful

Penny Dreadful season 1

If there is such a thing as a quintessential SteamGoth series, Penny Dreadful is undoubtedly it. This 8 episode first season of this British series embodies everything that we have come to known as part of the SteamGoth subgenre of steampunk: the dark side of the Victorian Age: mad science, asylums, mysticism, disease and horrific crimes committed by both the living and supernatural.

A word of warning though: this series is not for the feint hearted as it can be very gruesome and very brutal.

Penny Dreadful largely takes place in the London of her majesty Queen Victoria and revolves around a cast of characters fighting an ancient evil.

There’s some serious names attached to this project such as Eva Green, who plays the leading female part of Vanessa Ives, a young woman haunted by things from the past, and not necessary just hers. Timothy Dalton as Malcolm Murray, the man assembling the team of leading characters to save his daughter at all cost. And Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler, an American with his own hidden darkness.

The rest of the cast, although not quite as well known, are all equally strong in their performance and I would say that everyone has been cast splendidly with exception of Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray, who simply lacks a certain something when portraying the immortal. It’s not that he’s doing a bad job, it’s that after the likes of Stuart Townsend and Ben Barnes, he’s got some big shoes to fill and compared to those two and the performances of the rest of the cast, which are simply stronger than his, he is a little lacking.

That said, I love how some of these literary personas such as Victor Frankenstein are brought into this story, and the twist the creators of the show have given to them.

The costumes are also pretty fantastic to look at, in fact the entire atmosphere and scenery of the show is simply stunning.

Another strong suit of Penny Dreadful is that the show is unafraid to take it’s time. Rather than it being fast paced like we’ve come to expect from modern day tv, this series takes it’s time to delve into the plot and explore the back stories of characters, so you get to know them better and things are actually explained in due time, unravelling the plot bit by bit in a masterful way. Some will no doubt think it’s too slow, but I think the pace is one of the strengths of the show.

The horror of the Victorian times is also very realistic, it isn’t gory to be gory, or brutal to be brutal, but it doesn’t sugar coat how things were back in those days, adding the horror element to a series that is essentially a psychological thriller/drama more than anything else.

Of all modern day “dark” tv that is made, Penny Dreadful is absolutely right at the top, not to mention the number one show within its particular genre. The only downside is that we’ll have to wait ‘till 2015 for the second season. On the upside, it will have more than 8 episodes.

Official site.

Movie Review: Rurouni Kenshin

Rurouni_Kenshin

Many of us have grown up watching the Samurai X/Kenshin cartoons (anime) on TV. Or read the classic manga. Kenshin is without doubt one of the best known Japanese fictional characters in the Western world, and it was a bit of a surprise that it took ‘till 2012 for there to finally be a movie adaptation. A live action movie that when announced both rejoiced fans and left them skeptic of the venture.

That skepticism turned out to be entirely unnecessary, as Rurouni Kenshin has become, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best anime/manga adaptations into a live action movie ever made.

The story in this movie takes place in Tokyo, 1878, during the Japanese Meiji period. Or the Tokyo Arc if you want to know which part of the series has been turned into a movie. Samurai have had to make room for an organized police force, and katana for batons, fighting staffs and firearms. Even though this era would be Victorian to our western standards, the movie has a distinctive dieselpunk feel to it. Regardless of this, this is probably one of the best examples of Victoriental cinematography. It mixes the beauty of Japan of that first imperial ear of the country, with the modern progress that is slowly taking over after feudal times. Both traditional Japanese wardrobes are mixed with western dress and law enforcement uniforms of that time, perfectly adding to the entire atmosphere and the setting of the movie. The same goes for the architecture. Whilst most buildings are traditionally Japanese for that time period, the villain resides in a plantation style manor with some elements true to his own country, again presenting the perfect mix between both in the movie.

Every single character has been well cast, and even though some have been slightly altered for this version, they do the original versions proud. The story features all the major cast we’ve come to known from this setting: Kenshin, Kaoru, Megumi, Sanosuke and Yahiko, with their own quirks and personalities perfectly portrayed.

Let me say that special kudos should go to Teruyuki Kagawa, who plays the role of Takeda Kanryū, the main villain in this tale. For seldom have I seen a villain that was so worthy of the title. He really puts down a dieselpunk style bad guy you just can’t help but loving to despise so thoroughly the man deserves an award for his performance. Even more so than the rest of the cast, who are also all doing a splendid job.

Where the anime and manga could be quite brutal, the movie is exactly the same, although it has been limited to necessary violence for the plot. I wouldn’t say this is quite the all ages film as some reading skills for the subtitles are required, because let’s face it, watching this in dub will just take away from it. As for the violence, I would advise parents to treat it like every other action movie, as I’m sure they’ll known their children best.

In any case, for everyone that loves the victoriental genre, Japanese cinema, the original Kenshin stories (whether the manga or the anime), samurai film or action films or dieselpunk, this is a definite recommendation. And everyone else should see it too, because it’s just that good. I look forward to the cinematographic retelling of the Kyoto Arc (part one is currently in theatres in Japan, with part two getting its release in September) already.

Review: Avatar, The Legend of Korra, book 2: Spirits

Legend of Korra 2

The second season of Legend of Korra returns with the characters we came to know so well in the first season, focussing, of course, on avatar Korra, who is now a master of all four elements.

But her friends, Mako, Bolin, Azami and others are of course also still present.

A whole new cast of characters is added to the show, we get more acquainted with the avatar’s family on the South Pole, but also that of air master Tenzin.

Whilst the focus is less on steam and diesel style technology, there is still plenty of it present in the series to keep it something that fits the ‘punk label.

Spirits is a great continuation of the series. The old characters have grown, its fun to see them interact with the additions to the cast and more importantly, the back story of the entire avatar concept is properly delved into, and a lot of questions that have originally been raised in Aang’s storyline (the original Avatar cartoon) are now being answered.

As the title already suggests, season 2 largely revolves around the spirit world, something that has always been quite present in the avatar universe, but rarely delved into very deeply.

It is thus wonderful to see it really featured in this season.

I would say it is necessary to have seen book one (Air) first, because else you will have missed a lot of back story and information you need to really understand all that is happening in Spirits. It is, however, not really necessary to have seen the first Avatar series, although of course it does help to have seen all of it.

Avatar remains one of the best cartoons available at the moment, and with the second season it has only improved on its storytelling, overall plot and characters, making it a great watch for everyone that loves cartoons.

Manga Review: City Hall, Tome 5

City Hall tome 5

The fifth instalment of French steampunk manga City Hall introduces a whole new cast of characters crossing the path of our familiar trio of heroes: Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle and Amelia Earhart. But it also marks the return of Harry Houdini, who is finding himself in a world quite unlike anything he’s ever encountered.

The plot which was set in previous editions continues to weave it’s way along steadily, and the new additions to the cast only enrich the story and add to ongoing plot.

This time the focus is a little less on familiar villains, instead it focusses more on events crucial to the continuation of the storyline and personal interaction between characters.

Once again, the only downside to City Hall its limited availability. It’s easy enough to come by in France or the French speaking side of Belgium, but by only releasing it in this language, a lot of lovers of steampunk literature/graphic stories are missing out. You only need pretty basic French to be able to read it, but you need to know your way around the language regardless. And admittedly the slang and colloquialisms can be terribly confusing if it’s not your native language.

I really hope that Ankama (the publisher) will finally get a move on and have this awesome series translated to English at the very least (and not just the first issue, but all of them) so more people can enjoy these franga, as they are definitely one of the best steampunk works out there at the moment, and the story keeps on getting better every single edition.