No. 6 review

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May 112015
 

No. 6 is a short series (11 episodes) that works really well for quite a while, but crumbles in its closing episodes. It starts as a boy named Shion living in a utopian city helps and feeds an injured child named Rat. Four years later, it’s clear that this moment of kindness has essentially ruined Shion’s life, casting him out of the city’s elite area and into the life of a menial caretaker. In this role he stumbles across a secret that is killing the city’s people and is sentenced to death for discovering it. Rat rescues him, and from there the story develops, exploring their relationship and their conflicting attitudes towards the city (Shion wishing to save it and Rat to destroy).

This goes very well for several episodes, although I felt the show should have spent more time with the boys and with Shion’s friend Safu and less with his mother’s travails within the city. When it comes time to actually deal with the city, however, the story falls apart. From a relatively straightforward sci-fi dystopia the story suddenly shifts to one about a magic bee goddess out for revenge. There are some strong character moments in these episodes, but it goes overboard with near-death and actual-death experiences, not to mention a really silly deus ex machina moment.

Worse, the show ends with an off-putting moment of ambiguity as Rat kisses Shion and then departs. This works better (but still is not fitting) in the manga, where we are at least told (if not convinced) that Rat is a free spirit who needs to wander. The anime does not emphasize this idea, instead adding immediately before this a moment where Rat resolves to stay with Shion and die in a collapsing building rather than flee and save himself. In this context, where if not for the intervention of Magic Bee Jesus, Rat would have given up his life to stay with Shion, his decision to walk away moments later is inexplicable and alienating.

The late turn into fantastic nonsense and the forced ambiguity of the ending doesn’t undo my enjoyment of the preceding episodes, but it makes the series feel incomplete. The show I was watching for 8 or 9 episodes never ended, and the show I was watching in the last 2 or 3 never started.

May 042015
 

Because I got to watch it for free on an airplane, I recently saw The Battle of Five Armies, without having seen the previous two entries in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. I was so struck by it that I decided to go through the whole trio of films on my own. Having done so I feel I can say with certainty that Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit films are the most startlingly inept adaptation of book to film that I have ever seen. They are bad movies in themselves, and they are even worse in the context of the book from which they were drawn. They were so bad I went back to watch The Lord of the Rings just to convince myself I hadn’t imagined my positive reaction to them.

I hadn’t; I still like The Lord of the Rings movies. They have their problems, but in them Jackson showed appropriate restraint both in removing bits of Tolkien’s books that weren’t really necessary and in adding as little of his own invention as possible. This is important because Jackson’s additions to the plot were generally not very good. Most were entertaining nonsense, like the appearance of the Elves at Helm’s Deep. At worst, they were insultingly stupid, like his changes to Faramir’s arc or the incident he added on the stair to Cirith Ungol. Yet at his very best Jackson managed to add masterful scenes like Denethor eating the chicken in The Return of the King.

His additions reach no such heights in The Hobbit. Few of them even ascend to the level of entertaining nonsense. Radagast is a Jar-Jar-level disaster of a character, and the entire subplot involving the Necromancer’s castle is only marginally comprehensible even if you’ve already watched The Lord of the Rings beforehand (I can only imagine what a mess it is for people going in cold). This is to say nothing of the dozens of actiony sequences added for no reason other than to make it seem like something was happening in a given chapter of this bloated mess of an adaptation.

Worse, Jackson seems to have lost whatever knack he had for creative deletion. The “break the plates” song is actually in here, despite its complete disagreement with the tone Jackson casts over everything that follows. I’m somewhat amazed we managed to get through this trilogy without any elves singing “fa-la-la-lally down deep in the valley”. A wise adaptation might have discarded this nonsense as too time-consuming, but seeing as Jackson managed to commit himself to showing every minute of the Battle of Five Armies and also pissing away some 15 minutes on the tale of Alfrid Lickspittle without bothering to resolve it, time was no object.

Of course I have yet to mention Jackson’s worst, and most controversial addition, Tauriel the elf, who exists so that an actual woman will be in the film somewhere. I am sympathetic to the complaint that Tolkien’s works are sausage-fests and that women deserve representation. However, adding an elf-woman whose main task in the plot is to lust after one of the dwarves and be lusted after by Legolas (a less-bad addition) doesn’t accomplish much. Besides, if you wanted to shoehorn a female character into this story over the objections of fanboys the only correct course is to gender-swap Bilbo. His character arc of going from a state of uncertainty and incompetence to a state of capability and moral strength through intelligence and empathy rather than physical force is one that’s typically given to girls anyway, and the gender swap would add interesting dimensions to the dwarves’ reluctance to accept Bilbo as a useful member of the team.

Of course, Jackson couldn’t have done this even if he had the onions, because he seems not to understand what the story is about at all. Everything about the staging of the films and the incidents he adds speaks to an unrestrained desire to make this into a massive, epic story, which The Hobbit is not. In the first movie Jackson actually adds a moment where Bilbo bravely leaps forward to defend a defenseless Thorin from an orc, essentially negating the point of Bilbo as a character. The whole idea is that Bilbo isn’t a classic warrior hero and he needn’t be. Peter Jackson doesn’t get this; thus the Battle of Five Armies, which occupies less than half a chapter of the book, gets its own film.

In this story, the heroic role ought to be filled by the dwarves, but they’re not available because Jackson thinks dwarves are funny and therefore reduces them to comic relief even as he tries to elevate this narrative from bedtime story to solemn epic. Hence, despite the grinding, torturous length of this trilogy they receive essentially no character development and must make due with ridiculous hairpieces and a superfluous romantic sideplot. Occasionally they get to put on a good show in one of Jackson’s dioramic action sequences but in all honesty the paint seems to have come off the plastic in these. The Hobbit never got me caught up in an action moment enough to miss the fakery.

Jackson doesn’t succeed in making The Hobbit the epic he clearly wants it to be. The core of the story can’t sustain that weight, because epic heroics are not only at odds with the book’s themes, they are entirely opposite. Jackson seemed to have at least understood what he was working with when he made The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit is not The Lord of the Rings, however, and in trying to make them the same Jackson failed utterly.

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