Thursday, January 3, 2019

Bleach - live action anime done right?

If you read my Top 4 Movies of 2018 list, then you saw how I alluded to the following movie at the very end there. I debated whether or not to include this film in some capacity, as it really did impress me, and I really did want to discuss it. However, it didn't feel quite right fitting it in on that list, and what I had to discuss was probably too much to cover in that post anyhow. So, I'll be discussing it now instead, as we'll take a look at the recent live action anime adaptation to hit Netflix, Bleach.

I actually first noticed this was on Netflix back in November, while I was waiting overnight in the Charlotte airport for my connecting flight to New York. I hadn't even heard that Bleach was getting a live action movie, so it instantly caught my interest. However, as most live action adaptations of animated properties tend to not turn out so well (more on that later), I didn't exactly prioritize it, as I was honestly expecting the worst from it. And I wouldn't finally wind up getting around to it until the tail end of the year, over a month after first discovering it.

And while I was all ready to completely write this thing off, well, once I finally gave it a shot, I have to say, it wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but overall? I really enjoyed it. Based on the manga and anime of the same name, this movie essentially covers the events of the first big introductory arc in the series, the Substitute Soul Reaper arc, just before they go into the Soul Society. Back when I first watched the anime years ago, I actually wondered how they would tackle this arc if they were to do a movie adaptation. Because see, the real good stuff doesn't really get going until the following arc, and this first arc really only exists as a means to introduce us to our lead characters and the very basics on how this world works.

So I always wondered if they would try and condense this section down and get to the Soul Society arc as quickly as possible, seeing as that's when the plot really kicks in. However, that's not the case here, and they honestly do spend the entire movie just focused solely on that opening act arc. And I've gotta say, I can totally appreciate their willingness to take their time with this material and not rush through things, despite there being no guarantee that they'll even get a chance to move on to the better stuff that's to come.

So that was really cool to see. As I said, I often find myself doing that while watching anime, or even while reading books and comics and such, is that I'll be adapting them into movie form in my head, deciding what should be cut for the more limited time constraints of film, and how the story should be presented to where it remains true to the source, but still playing like a naturally flowing narrative that wasn't just a complete butcher job of the original material.

Usually in my mind, a single arc in an anime like this would translate to a single film. But for more longer series like Bleach, you also have to decide which arcs are most pertinent to make the cut, as they've gone on for several, several years, yet you typically wouldn't expect a film series to last for nearly so long. And for me, I always questioned if this opening arc would make that cut, but I think they made the right decision in keeping it fully intact, and really just focusing on our core characters and really getting to know them before expanding into a much larger cast.

And what I can especially appreciate is just how faithful an adaptation this is to the source material as well. We've seen countless adaptations of anime or animated properties that feel like they were made by people who had never even seen an episode of the original series. Whether we're talking about something like The Last Airbender, which while accurate to certain degrees in plot, is completely unfaithful in terms of capturing the tone and the characters from the show. Or Dragonball Evolution, in which literally the only thing it has in common with the series it's based off of is that they got the character names right. And when the live action Ghost in the Shell movie came out a couple of years ago, I actually debated at the time putting together a dissection breaking down all the reasons why that version didn't work, and how it gets the material so wrong, feeling like a dumbed down version of the story, whereas the original anime film of the same name still holds up to this day as a masterful work of sheer brilliance.

And I could keep going, as like I said, there's countless other similar examples like this. But here, for this live action adaptation of Bleach, they managed to not only accurately depict the plot from the anime, but they also accurately captured the tone and the characters at that, really staying true to this series' spirit. And this was just a really pleasant surprise, as I was not expecting this thing to be even remotely faithful, given what I mostly have to use as a basis of comparison.

Another example of a film that got a live action adaptation right would have to be the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from 1990. Despite there being the far sillier cartoon around at the time, that movie honestly took most of its inspiration from the original source, which was a much darker black and white comic book. Stylistically, the Ninja Turtles comic does have a bit of a manga feel to it in certain regards, and the accompanying movie definitely stayed true to a lot of those aspects, and sure enough, wound up being not only one of the most faithful, but one of the best overall comic book adaptations that we've gotten even to this day.

And I bring that up, as there were definitely certain aspects of this film that reminded me of that original Ninja Turtles movie while I was watching. For instance, that movie absolutely nailed the look of the characters (to this day, no other live action Ninja Turtles movie comes even close to looking as good as the original from 1990 did), and the Bleach film gets pretty close as well with the actors they got to portray these characters, and the hair and makeup is definitely on point. They even got the look down right in terms of its costume design, though the costumes do admittedly look a bit cheap, and it does feel a bit like seeing people running around in cosplay at times.

But not only that, this movie's main villain, Byakuya Kuchiki, totally had a vibe to him that kept reminding me of the Shredder as well, just in his mannerisms and the real stern yet sinister way he carried himself, which was a comparison I can't say I would've necessarily made with this character in the anime, but I totally dug these shades to the classic Turtles villain with his portrayal here.

The version on Netflix was sadly dubbed, with no options that I saw for a subtitled version. But what I found interesting about this dub was that they actually got a number of voice talent from the English version of the anime to reprise their roles here, which was both really weird, but also kinda cool, and helped it to retain its anime feel a bit. And I also found a number of editing choices to be really interesting as well. You can tell this isn't an American production, and in fact, in many regards, the way this film is edited feels more like something you would've seen decades ago, back when films didn't use to cut to different shots nearly as often as they do nowadays.

It's not even that there's a lot of stylistic long takes, like you'll often see in artsy indie movies these days, it's just that they'll just kind of hang onto certain shots, and in moments where you would feel they should naturally cut to a different angle, they instead just stay on the same shot and let the scene carry on. The first time I watched this, I found this decision kind of curious. But on a rewatch, I gotta say, I really dug this decision, and it helps the movie stand out a bit and feel a little more unique compared to everything else that comes out these days, and even adds to its overall Japanese quirk.

But I also really dug how many shots were totally cut precisely how they would look if you were watching this show in the anime, or even reading it in the manga. For instance, there's a running gag where one of Ichigo's classmates keeps falsely lamenting over Ichigo's death, only for Ichigo to appear behind him and call him out. Every time we see this, they use the exact same angles, and that consistent framing only makes this recurring element even funnier every time it pops up. It's a style of recurring humor seen all the time in anime, and one that I've written into anime-inspired scripts of mine that I've yet to film, so it's really neat to see it actually play out for real, and not only that, but to see that it actually works as well as it does in live action at that!

That all said, the movie wasn't without some shortcomings. I already mentioned the cheapish looking costume design, but you could tell they were working with a really low budget on this film, and that was also evident with the CG work at times, which also has a fairly cheap look to it (though this is far from the worst CG I've seen in a movie, I'll note!). And the movie could've also perhaps done with a little more style to it, something to really make it feel a little more like an actual anime come to life.

I'm thinking kind of how something like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World truly feels like a comic book brought to life in live action. Or how Zack Snyder will incorporate his signature style into his films like 300 or Watchmen that help make them really pop, and really feel like the characters from the comics are truly stepping right off the page and into the real world. Or even how something like Speed Racer just goes all the way and is just straight up a live action cartoon personified. Because this movie does have a bit of a cheap sci-fi movie sorta feel to it, but with a little more flair, whether that be through even more of an emphasis on its editing, or perhaps its music or camera movements, or its use of color or what, that cheapness could've easily been masked.

But while this might not be the most stylistic film, for what it was, I was still impressed with how good it turned out all the same. And really, I'd love for them to make more of these. And if other similar anime series are to be adapted into live action, this movie is a real good template for them to build off of in terms of how to do things right. Because while not everything that's animated needs to be remade in live action, whenever such a transition is done right, man, it can truly be just a thing of beauty, like watching magic on the screen.

It's just a shame that it's so often that this transition into live action just doesn't turn out right at all though. I already mentioned a few examples, but you could also add in literally every single live action Disney remake to come out in the past decade, all of which have been absolutely terrible, and clearly made by people with absolutely zero understanding of what actually made the original animated films so good, and each of which feel like nothing more than soulless cash-grabs that completely fail to capture the heart and magic of the originals in every single regard. These films have been nothing but frustrating and dispiriting experiences, one after the other, year after year, and have left me wishing that these studios would just leave these animated properties alone and stop even trying to adapt animation into live action in the first place if this is really the best they can offer.

But then this movie comes out, and it gave me back a little bit of faith again, showing that a live action transition can turn out well in this day and age, and gives me hope that future adaptations of animated properties can at the very least turn out similarly as well.

For the longest time, I have dreamed of being the one to direct the inevitable live action adaptations of the Naruto series into feature films. And while I've come to accept that this particular dream of mine may very well never come to be, I can at least see that it would be possible now for the series to work in live action in someone else's hands, after seeing how well Bleach was able to make the transition thus far. Besides which, I already have my own anime-inspired fantasy series to fall back on for future live action installments, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here.

I also feel like the concept of a live action anime is perhaps partially responsible for my recent love of Babymetal (which, if you haven't checked them out yet, here's a good place to start). Unlike any other band that I've gotten into before, this is a band that's just as much visual as it is musical, and their overall presentation feels like a live action performative anime in the form of musical theater. The band members all have their own characters, and even dress like characters out of an anime. There's a vague yet ever present ongoing storyline that carries over from show to show, and they have elaborate set designs that incorporate elements from their lore, with individual stories playing out on each different show, which feels as if they're being told through a series of anime openings come to life on the stage in the form of their individual song performances.

They even have individual story arcs, which are presented as separate episodes in the Babymetal saga. It's so funny, but I've actually found myself wanting to gather some people together to just binge watch their bigger shows in order, same how you might try to introduce someone to a new TV show by starting with the first season and bingeing from there. But the way I've gotten into that band definitely feels more reminiscent to how I've gotten into other series in more visual media than it does to other bands. And its their live action anime presentation that I feel has especially connected with me, and which really reinvigorated my interests in Eastern media in general, and leaves me further interested in seeing more actual anime try their hand at coming to life in live action as well.

I've just always been fascinated by the idea of bringing anime to life in this manner. Sorta like how people always love to see their favorite manga series adapted into anime in the first place, or even novels adapted into film, there's something about that added step of bringing it into the world of live action that has the potential of making a great story feel all the more real, and all the more special for it. So it's always really motivating when I see it work out so well. And that's how I was left feeling upon watching this new Bleach movie on Netflix.

I went into this new live action Bleach movie with very low expectations, but it turned out better than I would've ever dreamed. It has some weird aspects to it, such as its odd editing choices, the dub with the cast from the anime, and its overall cheap feel, but none of this stuff really bothered me much on a rewatch, and a number of these elements actually add to the film's overall charm. So I'd say if you're a fan of the series, it's definitely worth checking out. And if you're interested in actually seeing animation being adapted into live action done right in the modern age, well, this film might just be right up your alley as well. It's sure given me hope for the future of this practice at least.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

My Top 4 Movies of 2018

2018 may have been a weak year for great films, but it was an alright one for alright movies. And honestly, while there were very few movies I saw this year that I would consider truly great, there were also about as many films that I would consider seriously bad as well, and for the most part, everything's just been, well, fine. Not bad, not great, but just perfectly okay and enjoyable in the moment, if instantly forgettable upon leaving the theater. So yeah, it hasn't been an awful year for film, even if it has been perhaps a weaker one than I would like.

But there were at least four standout movies that account for the ones I would truly consider to be great films, which I'll get to in a moment. But first, let's take a look at a handful of honorable mentions, which consist of the movies that were a few pegs below those on the main list, and thus not quite worth actually ranking and discussing, but still among the better movies that I saw from this past year that I'd at least like to point out, and which are well worth checking out.

Honorable Mentions
Adrift (Baltasar Kormákur)
American Animals (Bart Layton)
Overlord (Julius Avery)
Skyscraper (Rawson Marshall Thurber)
Tag (Jeff Tomsic)
Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley)

And that's about it. And sure, while I understand that there's enough movies listed here to where I could technically do a Top 10 list, as I said, I honestly don't feel like these movies quite warrant being ranked and discussed here, and there's certainly not anything beyond those listed here that I feel is worth pointing out as honorable mentions themselves. But these were still decent enough flicks that I genuinely enjoyed, and which happened to stand out the most to me from what I saw in the past year. But now, moving on to the main list then, let's start with...

#4

Aquaman
(James Wan)

Admittedly the one I'm most hesitant to include, seeing as how it's so soon since I've seen it, so who knows how this one will age on me compared to the others. But I'll say this, I was thoroughly impressed by this movie, so much so that I decided to include it here, despite being fully prepared to make this a Top 3 list prior to seeing this film. I'm not sure I'd say it's my favorite DCEU movie necessarily, though purely in terms of its quality, it is certainly the most technically solid and consistent of the lot. All of the other movies have something about them that makes them feel like a bit of a mess, if still enjoyably so in most instances. But this was the only one where I never did feel that way at any time.

But even beyond that, boy, this movie is just a grand sweeping epic of a film, and is supremely satisfying in its execution. I was genuinely blown away by how well this all came together. James Wan is a hell of a visual filmmaker, and this film is one of his most visually stunning and imaginative yet, with just this really grand sense of scale to it all. The world building is seriously off the charts, and it often feels like we're watching an underwater Lord of the Rings installment. And it's also loads of fun, as Jason Momoa is oozing with charisma, and all of the side characters just feel so dynamic.

Typically speaking, while I'm still watching them as they come out, I do feel like the superhero stuff is getting to be a bit much, and the market is totally oversaturated with them. But like another entry later on, this one felt like a breath of fresh air by feeling more like a fantasy epic than a traditional superhero flick, and this approach totally paid off big time.

#3

Creed II
(Steven Caple Jr.)

Despite loving the first movie, I admittedly had reservations going into this one, seeing as how Ryan Coogler wouldn't be returning to direct. But Steven Caple Jr. more than steps up to the plate, and produces a film that's quite possibly just as good as the first one, if perhaps in a completely different way than the first.

While I'd say that the first one was more of a filmmaker's movie, with an emphasis on its cinematography and other technical aspects, this one is definitely more of an actor's and a writer's film. From top to bottom, the performances in this movie are simply outstanding. Sylvester Stallone gives yet another Oscar worthy performance as Rocky, and Dolph Lundgren gives a career best showing, as does Michael B. Jordan in an especially intricate and emotionally fueled turn, both of which I'd also consider Oscar worthy at that.

But even beyond the acting, just the writing of these characters, man I tell you, this is hands down the deepest character work I've seen in any film all year. Despite being a sequel to the far sillier Rocky IV, this movie takes these characters incredibly seriously, and fleshes them out into fully realized human beings, to the point where you're given ample reason to care about everyone. They could have so easily made the Dragos these cartoon villains, but they instead chose to make them as complex and sympathetic as our heroes, to where by the end of the movie, when we see Creed taking on the son of Ivan Drago, I was honestly left torn on who to root for. That's how good the writing in this movie is.

Creed II gave me chills, brought me damn near to tears on many occasions, and left me with the biggest grin on my face throughout. This one is definitely a winner!

#2

Deadpool 2
(David Leitch)

Like Creed II, I similarly had reservations going into this, again for the same reason, as the director of the first film, Tim Miller, wouldn't be returning to reprise his directing duties. However, also like Creed II, I was thoroughly impressed by what we got here all the same, which felt right on par with the first film, which I also thought was absolutely fantastic.

As I mentioned with Aquaman, these Deadpool movies just feel like such a breath of fresh air in the genre, and are just so much damn fun. And this entry ups the ante from the first film in a lot of regards, with funnier jokes, better action sequences, and it introduces us to a number of great new characters, including Domino, who is hands down the best new character introduced in any film this year, with a breakout performance by Zazie Beetz, who is now firmly on my radar to keep an eye on.

2018 was also a standout year for rated R comedies in general, particularly in the first half of the year. I singled out Tag in my honorable mentions, but I'd also like to give a quick shout out to Blockers and Game Night, both of which were also really damn good and unique rated R comedies to come out this year, which are both well worth checking out as well. But good as those movies were, Deadpool 2 managed to handedly top it out in the genre for me as the best rated R comedy of the year.

And not only that, but in a year that saw a lot of big Marvel releases, Deadpool 2 was also by far and away the best of that lot as well. And to give the quick rundown of my thoughts on this year's Marvel movies, Venom was just really stupid, and honestly pretty bad, but in that awesomely bad "so bad, it's good" sort of way, which I actually think a younger version of me would've appreciated a lot more. Black Panther was a pretty middle of the road MCU outing, and Avengers: Infinity War was decent, if not exactly great. Ant-Man and The Wasp was a lot of fun, and definitely the best of this year's MCU releases, but still not as good as the impressively lively and creative Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which was itself still nowhere near Deadpool 2's league, good as it may have been.

If the Disney merger does go through and the Fox properties revert back to Marvel, I fear that these Deadpool movies are going to be the biggest casualty, as I just absolutely love them, and would love to see this franchise continue on in its unabashed R rated format. This was the first truly great film that I saw this year, and one of the few to stay right near the top through the majority of it. However, one film eventually came along that would take that top spot away...

#1

Bohemian Rhapsody
(Bryan Singer)

Man what a movie! This film was simply breathtaking, and had such a larger than life feel to it. I've heard some complaints that it's actually more a work of fiction, and doesn't accurately follow the band's real life story, so I can understand how one might find that bothersome if they were a particularly big follower of Queen. But as someone who was more of a casual fan who really just enjoys their music, even if I never actively followed them or got too deeply into the band, this movie seriously blew me away.

This movie felt simply epic. And unlike a lot of musical biopics (or really, biopics in general), it didn't feel like it was just hitting the greatest hits of this band's story, and leaving the stuff in between on the table. And sure, this might come from the fact that this movie is very well a complete work of fiction. But in any case, it works, and this fantastic element helps give the story of this band a bit of a mythical feel in hindsight, which honestly feels pretty appropriate given the band in question, as well as the song in which they fittingly chose to name this movie after. "Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?" Indeed!

But I loved seeing how a number of their bigger songs came to be, how different bandmates came up with different classics. And I loved following all of the various character relationships throughout, and going on this complete roller coaster ride that all felt so organic and so real. And I especially loved how the last 20 minutes are essentially the band's full Live Aid set. This movie had the balls to actually do that, as opposed to maybe highlighting a song or two, and then ending on a more cliched and expected note for a movie such as this. But no, they went all the way and turned this movie into a full blown must see event, and especially on the big screen, it felt like you were really there watching one of their concerts live. And in the end, I was left immensely satisfied by what was an all around fascinating story that they told us here.

Needless to say, the music in this was great (but would someone please explain to me what's up with the Golden Globes nominating both this and A Star Is Born in their drama category, when they literally have a category specifically for musicals??). And Rami Malek is Freddie Mercury in this film, as he gives hands down the absolute best performance of the whole year, in what is certainly the biggest and best film that I've seen this year.

So there you have it then, my Top 4 Movies of 2018. Another year down, and now it's onto the next. But first, well, I mentioned before that these were the best of the best, and the only ones that I felt were most worth discussing. However, there was one other film from this past year that I'd actually like to discuss too, one that I caught at the very tail end of the year. And while I toyed with the idea of including it here, I'm honestly not certain it would feel quite right placing it on this list. But even so, it still impressed me quite a bit all the same, and I'd still like to take the time to single it out and talk a bit about what impressed me so much about it. So join me next time, as we'll discuss a movie that takes a live action anime adaptation and gets maybe the closest I've seen yet to doing it right.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Big Moves in 2018

From writing novels and scripts in Tampa, to filming my own movies in Tallahassee, to working on film sets in New York, 2018 has been a year of big moves for me. Now, a lot of what I'm about to discuss here has been vaguely alluded to in my recent series of Babymetal posts which nobody but the Babymetal community actually read (though they're totally worth reading, and they're a band that's totally worth getting into at that! Try starting here). But I promised in one of those posts that I'd eventually stop being so vague about everything, and so now's the time when I'm finally going to open up a bit and publicly discuss everything that's been going on in the past year a little more frankly.

I was still living in Tampa at the beginning of the year, and with my lease coming to an end, I honestly felt that my time in Tampa had expired. I wasn't really doing anything of note there, and I didn't feel I had anything really tying me down to the city any longer. Plus, I had written a number of new screenplays during my time there, and I was eager to get working on some of them. So I made plans to move back to Tallahassee and reacquaint myself with some of the local filmmakers there who I had worked with in the past, so that we could get back to work on filming some of these scripts.

I officially moved back to Tally at the end of March, and I had a five movie plan upon my move back. I had scripts for at least two new short films, and three feature length ones. And over the course of the summer, we slowly made our way through those two shorts. The first was Sianostra, which I've already discussed in-depth.

And then we eventually moved on to the first Ninja Kat movie, Kip. And I really haven't talked too much about the experience making this film, but it was definitely an interesting one. Directing a film while in front of the camera is already hard enough as it is. So then imagine doing that, but also while wearing a mask that's already hard to see out of, in the dark, and the moving mouthpieces aren't properly cooperating half the time, in a suit that's pretty darn hot, meaning we were drenching in sweat for hours on end, and which required help to both put on and take off, and we're on a limited time that we could use the location for, and yeah, it definitely came with its challenges.

But despite the headaches that came with making the film, I was overall very pleased by the final product. I just love the look of the movie, how a lot of shots look straight out of the original 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie with the lighting and the costume design. And it's also by far my best sounding movie at that, seeing as how literally every sound you hear in the movie was captured in post-production, from the sound effects to the voiceover work. Definitely a lot of learning experiences doing that (matching your voices to the mouth movements is way harder than you'd think, and I've gained so much more respect for voice talent on animated shows who have to do this), and it resulted in by far my cleanest sounding film to date, which I'm certainly pleased by as well.

I also really liked how the music turned out too, and how it really not only compliments, but even elevates the images on screen. Getting the music right for this thing was a challenge all its own, and we actually went through two different composers before we landed on the perfect match. I gave my final composer, Mr. Outlawed Beats, a sample track to use for inspiration, and it was pretty cool how what he produced really became its own beast, while still maintaining elements of the original inspiration sprinkled in there. But it sounded to me like something you'd hear on the score for The Neon Demon or something like that, which wasn't necessarily what I was going for initially, but I totally dug it, and felt it totally fit the vibe of this film as well. So all in all, I was pleased by that as well, and all these elements really came together to put forth a package that I was fully satisfied with, and proud to put out there.

That said, I was however disappointed by the noticeable lack of response towards both of these films, if I'm being completely honest about it. We worked really hard on these films, and I'm always eager to share them and see what everyone thinks. And I follow a lot of people who are totally into film, and who do nothing but watch movies and talk about film all day every day. So to see those same people almost wholly say nothing and seemingly ignoring one of their own when they release a brand new movie themselves, well, it's pretty discouraging, to say the least, and honestly says everything.

It was enough to drive me away from the movie forum I used to frequent, and it's also partially to blame for why I've left social media behind, outside of strictly for promotional purposes. The other reason being the ever rampant politics and vitriol on social media has become quite frankly too much to bear anymore. It's overwhelming, and it was making me angry and miserable every time I signed on. And needless to say, by the time I had either muted or unfollowed over half of my feed due to this, well, I knew it was time for a change, and the dismal response towards my films just happened to be my last straw moment that had been brewing for some time.

But anyways, that's not to say that these films were ignored by all parties, and I definitely appreciate those of you who did take the time to watch them and comment on them (believe me, I see you!). And I'd especially like to give a shout out to the wrestling forum that I still frequent, as the guys there are just really awesome, and it's one of the few places that I can consistently count on the people there to regularly watch and read all of my creative works and share their thoughts on them, so I'm definitely grateful for that.

So yeah, despite any shortcomings, I was still happy enough with the end result of both of these film projects in and of themselves. But neither of them were exactly anything that I would call a smooth shoot, and it became especially clear to me by the time we were filming Kip that my bigger projects that I had in mind weren't going to be nearly as filmmable as I had hoped for upon first moving back. And this realization sort of sent me into a bit of a depression.

See, Tallahassee has a bit of a reputation for harboring people who are incredible flakey and unreliable, and who really don't take things too seriously. And the more people you tend to bring onto a project, the more you have to worry about how many of those people are going to let you down. That's why so many filmmakers here become used to working on as small of crews as possible, and why directors here will oftentimes take up many roles, just because that's one less person to have to worry about flaking on you for each job you take on. And that works fine enough for smaller productions. But the second you try and get a little too ambitious, that's when things start to fall apart pretty quickly. And I've been on a number of big productions in this town that have fallen apart for this same reason time and time again.

Heck, a few years ago, I tried my hand at a larger production of my own, only to see it crumble apart at the seams, again for this same reason. It was enough back then to motivate me to leave town, and I guess that I just had to come back and be reminded of it all over again for that lesson to really sink in, as even just in the pre-production phase on my next movie, it was already happening again, as people who I thought I could count on were really letting me down in a big way, and driving my passion into a downward spiral along with 'em.

And seeing as how I wasn't working a regular job at the time either, I was also starting to run low on funds, and likely wouldn't be able to properly finance these bigger films on my own like I was able to with the short films, and my efforts to bring on investors didn't exactly pay off like I had hoped. So, given my financial situation, as well as my demotivated frame of mind due to these ever present circumstances I was facing, I just sorta quietly placed those other scripts in the shelf along with my past unfilmed scripts, as they became more and more of a fantasy to see come to life, at least so long as I was still residing in this city.

So I found myself with a whole lot of nothing to do, and nothing really keeping me here in town anymore. And I felt really lost and really frustrated, just wandering around and wasting away. My screenplays were unfilmmable given my currently available resources, and I desperately didn't want to go back to another regular job. But I didn't know what I could do to change my situation, either. But then my Uncle Mike came to visit town one weekend, and I briefly saw him. And while I was there, he had mentioned how proud he was that my brother Tim and my cousin Andrew were both working in the film industry and doing what they loved. And all this did was make my heart sink in my chest, as that was precisely what I wanted to do too, and yet here I was, in this town, just wasting my time.

I spent the next couple months just sorta battling with myself, trying to figure things out. I knew what I needed to do, but I didn't yet have the confidence to do it, as I had become a bit estranged with my family for quite some time now. But it wasn't until I had spoken about these issues with a girl I've sorta been seeing lately that I was finally pushed to do what needed to be done, after she had really urged me on and encouraged me to do so. And so I finally reached out to my brother in New York, not knowing what to expect. But thankfully, he agreed to help me out on this journey of mine.

So I packed my bags, and I booked my flight. And two weeks later, in the middle of November, I had officially moved up to New York. And this rather spontaneous move truly did just happen really fast like that after I had first reached out to my brother. I was initially staying at his house, living with him and his family, as they helped me get acquainted with the city and forming a plan to find some work in the industry. And I've since moved into my Aunt and Uncle's house until I get a little more settled in here, who have been nothing but great to me, and I've found work on a number of film gigs already.

And right off the bat, it's funny how different things operate on film sets up here compared to Tallahassee. For instance, 12 hour shoot days are the standard here, and they've oftentimes gone far longer than that. Meanwhile, in Tally, anything more than 4 or 5 hours is considered long, and you'll start hearing complaints or seeing people flaking out beyond that. And where I'd say probably less than 25% of the people you might work with on a film set in Tally might actually take it seriously and truly want to be there, the opposite is definitely the case here, as the vast majority that I've worked with takes this stuff incredibly seriously, which is just such a refreshing change of pace for me to experience.

Also, just about every set I've been on has been far larger than any I've worked on in Tallahassee, featuring trucks full of thousands of dollars worth of expensive lighting and camera equipment, and several hands on deck for each individual department. It's like I'm actually working on a real film set, like you always see in the behind the scenes footage on DVDs and such. And yet, everyone on these sets still considers these to be small productions. Man, if only these people knew what small really looked like!

I've mostly worked as a Production Assistant, though I've gotten at least one Assistant Director gig, and I've found myself slating on most of my jobs too, which is actually pretty neat. And while most of these gigs have been unpaid work so far, I've most recently actually worked my first paid gig at that, and several of the people I've worked with have told me they want to bring me on board to their future projects, which would also be paid work, so things are already starting to look up!

It hasn't all been completely great, however, and I'd like to take a moment to share my own personal #MeToo moment that I've already experienced here. I was a PA on set for a web series, and it was my first day there. Everything was cool, I worked hard and worked well with everyone, and had no reason to believe that anything was awry. However, the following day, the Producer told me that they were not going to ask me to return for the rest of production. The reason being? Apparently, someone on set accused me of staring at her, and said she was now uncomfortable by my being there. And this blanket accusation was enough to lose me my job.

Now mind you, I literally have no recollection of this situation, as I was never at any point in the day actually staring at anybody on set. As I told the Director that day, I was just marveling at everything that was going on, as that was by far the largest production I had ever worked on to date, so I was really just standing back and taking things in. And sure, perhaps I was at times watching some people as they were working, seeing what all they were doing. But it should've been clear by my demeanor and the professional manner in which I carried myself that I was never explicitly staring at anybody. And I tried to tell the Producer that this was clearly a misunderstanding. However, she said that the matter wasn't up for discussion, that I wasn't going to be granted a chance to defend myself, and that I was being released, and that was final.

And yeah, that was one of my first gigs here, too, so that was a pretty disheartening way to start things out. It was completely ridiculous, and I was just sorta stunned into a state of disbelief when it happened. And the way it all went down honestly does leave me suspicious of all the other #MeToo stories that have come out in recent times, and leaves me questioning just how many of those stories are as nothing as this one. It also tells me that Henry Cavill wasn't just right when he made his controversial statements on the subject earlier in the year, but quite frankly, he was perhaps underselling how bad things have gotten. You literally can't even allow your eyes to merely glance on the wrong person without it possibly costing you your job anymore.

That's just incredibly scary to think about, and incredibly unfair, and it's left me constantly paranoid of such a situation suddenly arising from out of nowhere on every project I've been on since. How am I supposed to know who else I might unknowingly encounter on a future set, who might hold some sort of unwarranted prejudice against me for whatever reason and try to cost me my job, even when I've literally done nothing wrong? But I digress, and that was just one particularly bad instance, but one that I felt was important to share, especially during these strange times when this sort of nonsense is reportedly happening all the time now.

But honestly, bad as that situation may have been, it was also almost a blessing in disguise, as it left me available to take work on a couple of other projects that I found to be far more rewarding experiences. And outside of that, yeah, I've been having a blast on these film sets, and I've worked with a ton of awesome people who I'd love to work with again on future projects. I've been learning a lot, and I've found that many have even considered me a valuable asset to their teams, as it turns out that my time in Tallahassee making no-budget films with minimal crew off my own dollar has paid off, and I've been able to bring all of that knowledge and experience with me onto these larger projects, helping these filmmakers out as they tackle arising problems on their own sets.

Shortly after moving here, I also applied for the chance to take part in the Director's Guild of America Assistant Director Training Program. I learned of this program by complete happenstance, as I was roaming about the city putting in resumes while trying to find work. And at one of the places I applied to, the manager just happened to be someone who had completed the program, and who was a member of the DGA herself. We had gotten to talking about what it is that I wanted to do in the industry, and I told her that I wanted to be a Director. So she not only recommended the program to me, but she even wrote me a letter of recommendation as well, which was just really cool, and incredibly kind of her to do.

And so I've since completed my application, which included letters of recommendations from my cousin Andrew and my old manager who I've worked with for years at various health food markets, Joe, who I can't thank enough for helping me out as well. And I'm happy to report that I've been accepted to move on to the next stage of the process, and testing will commence this February. So here's hoping that things continue to work out in this venture!

To speak outside of the film stuff for a moment, things are also definitely different up here in New York, as compared to what I've been used to for so long in Florida. I don't have my car up here with me, so I've had to learn how to get around using public transportation and navigating the subway system and such. And it's definitely a lot more expensive up here than I'm used to as well. So it's been a bit of a transition, as well as a learning process. But I'm figuring my way out, and my family up here has been of tremendous help along the way, so I'm definitely grateful to all of them for everything that they've done and continue to do for me. And I'm also very grateful to my mom for helping me out all along the way as well.


I've even seen snow for the first time since I was like one or two.
Do you want to build a snowman?

And also, since I'm no longer on social media, nor am I constantly overhearing my mother's political shows anymore, I've noticed just how tranquil everything feels when you're not being relentlessly bombarded by all of the non-stop outrage culture and propaganda all the time. You learn pretty quickly just how little a lot of that stuff really matters in the end, and just how much of it exists solely to stir up negative emotions, so it's nice to finally escape from all of that nonsense.

And one other big difference that I've noticed up here, working on these bigger film sets, is that a lot of my own film ideas that felt so far away from being possible to complete in Tally, suddenly don't feel nearly so impossible here in New York. Working on these bigger film sets, with these up-and-coming filmmakers all in their own right, I can suddenly now see some of these other scripts potentially coming to life before my eyes. So who knows, maybe here is where I'll be able to continue where I left off with those scripts I had written in Tampa, or even before then? Maybe. But we'll see!

So yeah, it's been a year of big moves and big changes for me. And while the year has had its ups and downs, I think for the most part, the wins definitely outweigh the losses. I wasn't feeling so sure about things during the third quarter of the year, but by the end of it, things are looking up, and I'm genuinely happy with my place here. I've been finding regular work, building up my resume, and I have high hopes for only bigger and better things to come in the new year.

Friday, December 21, 2018

My Top 10 Favorite Babymetal Performances

Now that I've seen and reviewed all of Babymetal's bigger shows from over the years, I'd say it's about time for some rankings, as I take a look at and single out my personal Top 10 favorite performances from all those shows. Now, I've already discussed every song on this list in my show reviews, so I'll try to refrain from repeating myself too much. But first, before we move on to the main list, how about a handful of honorable mentions that just missed the cut?

Honorable Mentions


Akatsuki - Legend 1997


Amore - Live at Wembley


Catch Me If You Can - Makuhari Messe 2014


Tamashii no Rufuran - Legend 1997


Tsubasa wo Kudasai - Legend D

All phenomenal performances that I've gone back to time and time again, several of which actually made the cut in earlier drafts while I was still narrowing things down. But now, without further ado, onto the main list, starting things off with...

#10

Syncopation - Big Fox Festival

Have I gushed over this song enough yet? God this is such a kick ass tune. Just from the buildup of that guitar at the beginning, teasing what's to come, you know you're in for something awesome, and something special. And then the music kicks in, and it's just full throttle energy on that stage. This is seriously just one of the coolest damn songs there is, and this performance gives me chills watching it. It's seriously like watching the most bad ass anime opener being performed live on the stage, and I love it!

#9

Catch Me If You Can - Live at Tokyo Dome

I was so torn between this performance of this song, and the one from Makuhari Messe 2014. But in the end, I just had to go with this one, because holy crap do they just go above and beyond and put on a full blown spectacle with this song at the Tokyo Dome. Whether the girls are skipping and running around the stage, performing their choreography while being spun around, or calling out to the fans to join in on the action, they just accomplish so damn much with this performance, and make this song feel so damn big, while showing us just how versatile this band can be, changing things up in so many different and satisfying ways on just this song alone, yet doing so in a way that still stays true to the spirit of its traditional arrangement. Just a fantastic outing.

(no video available)

#8

Meta Taro - Big Fox Festival

A big theme of a number of the songs on this list is just the sheer scope and scale that these performances manage to achieve, and that definitely rings true for this entry as well. This performance just feels so larger than life, and its atmospheric and transportive nature will leave your imagination running wild, as you forget you're watching this band performing on the stage and feel as if you've been transported onto a ship at sea, as they take us on an epic journey while we all sing along to their tune.

#7

Babymetal Death - Legend 1997

This one is by far the band's most theatrical performance to date, and I love absolutely everything about it. I love how they took this song that's really just an introductory track, and they managed to transform it into an absolute epic, and a satisfyingly big show closer at that, through the sheer storytelling and visual theatrics on display. If the previous entry transported us onto the sea, this one transports us straight to Hell, in a true masterpiece of musical theater.

#6

Song 4 - Live at Wembley

Of all of the performances of this song that I've fallen in love with, their outing at Wembley was by far my favorite, and the one that I've gone back to the most. And the extra cute factor of seeing Yui and Moa playing to the crowd in their broken English just adds to the overall charm, as those girls bust their asses putting on an absolute clinic, running from one side of the venue to the next, and making sure that each and every single person in that building leaves with the biggest possible smile on their face. The work ethic of these girls is simply inspiring.

#5

No Rain, No Rainbow - Legend S

And now here come the tears. This is such a beautiful and all around stunning rendition, as Su-metal gives it her all and leaves her heart on the stage, putting on the performance of a lifetime in front of her hometown. If it weren't obvious to anyone before, this is definitely a star making performance, and one that, for me at least, solidifies Suzuka Nakamoto as one of the absolute best damn singers working today, blessed with one of the most powerful and most emotionally stirring voices on the face of this planet. This is Su's best solo performance, and you'll be raining tears by the end of it.


#4

Tales of the Destinies - Live at Tokyo Dome

As much as my #9 entry accomplished in one performance, that was a song that had years to try out new things and figure out different ways to change things up, all leading to their awesome performance at the Tokyo Dome. This entry, however, is the only time this song has ever been performed, and they managed to accomplish just as much in that one flawless go, and without any added stage gimmicks at that, putting on one of the most satisfyingly complex performances in this band's history. This one just takes my breath away every time, and leaves my eyes welling from the sheer effort being put on in order to accomplish what they did here, in a performance that is almost overwhelming just to even think about. They had one shot at this, and in that one go, they put on an incredible awe-inspiring performance, and one of their absolute best ever.

#3

Ijime, Dame, Zettai - Sonisphere 2014

Really, I'd love to just include their entire Sonisphere set in this entry, but if I have to narrow it down to one song from that set, then it's gotta be this. Sonisphere was a battle for this band, with so much working against them, from technical issues to having to win over a sea of die hard metalheads who were ready to write them off at a moment's notice. But through it all, they prevailed, and they won this audience over in a moment that feels straight out of the movies. I can barely even write about it without starting to tear up a bit, it's just such a stirring thing to see play out. But they pulled it off, and they won the day, and they won the hearts of this die hard audience, and cemented themselves as the real deal.

#2

Over the Future - Legend D

I've mentioned time and again how this band can just get me so emotional and leave me a mess. But this was the first song that actually touched me in that way. And it's not only the first Babymetal song, but the first song ever to leave me in tears. This song is literally a dream come true, and it's just so touching to see those girls up there experiencing their dreams coming to life. There's so much history on that stage with this song, with Su-metal being a part of the band that this cover originates from, and this song being Yui's inspiration to get into the business herself, as she and Moa would use this song as their audition that would land them a spot in Sakura Gakuin, the band from which Babymetal was born.

And this history is even reflected in this song's arrangement, where it starts out with just Yui and Moa on stage, mirroring their audition, before Su shows up and makes her grand entrance, the veteran returning to perform her old song, in a gesture of acceptance towards her new bandmates who had looked up to her so long ago. And after learning all of that, to see those three up there performing their own unique spin of this song is truly the thing of dreams. You just can't make this stuff up.

#1

Road of Resistance - Legend 2015

Theatrical. Kick ass. Epic. Emotional. Larger than life. All descriptors I've used to describe a number of the previous entries. All of which also to apply to this one, yet none of which come even close to doing this phenomenal performance justice when trying to describe it. Point blank, this isn't just the best performance this band has put on yet, this is quite frankly the single greatest live performance I've seen of any song, by any band, ever.

Not only is this performance Babymetal at their peak, this is metal at its peak, and those girls look like legends out there. Hell, this performance is what every single performer out there should aspire to. And the way they get the crowd involved and make them just as much a part of the show is second to none. Those girls' charisma and the commanding energy in that building is just off the charts, and it resonates all over and transfers through the screen to everyone watching at home. This performance isn't just an accomplishment, it's something more than that. Something greater. This performance is an inspiration, and I can't get enough of it. I get chills just thinking about it, I get choked up just listening to it, and I become an absolute wreck while watching it. Just, what a performance, and what a show, like nothing that's ever come before it.

So there you have it, my Top 10 favorite Babymetal performances! Did your favorites make the cut? Let me know! And while we're still ranking things, I suppose I should probably rank my favorite shows overall as well, seeing as how I've just finished reviewing them all. So if I were to rank, say, a Top 5, well they'd probably go a little something like this:

1. Legend 1997
2. Legend 2015
3. Live at Tokyo Dome
4. Legend D
5. Sonisphere 2014

And then I'd probably toss Legend S on the tail end there as an honorable mention. So yeah, those are my favorites from what I've seen. And with that, I think that about wraps up this series of posts looking at this band, at least for the time being. So thank you to everyone who joined along with me on this little journey of this band's history. And until next time, see you!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Babymetal - 2018 Year in Review

So now we've caught up to the present year of 2018, and what a year it's been. Yui had gone absent at the tail end of 2017, and her absence continued into the new year. But not only that, but tragedy would strike, as guitarist Mikio Fujioka would sadly pass away in January as well. So things weren't off to a strong start at all for the band, and a lot of uncertainty clouded their future.

Now, this is a pretty controversial year to discuss about this band, but I'm going to do so from the perspective of a new fan, someone who only got into the band within the past few months. So I'm not going to pretend like I was experiencing the same sort of confusion and disappointment that many were expressing throughout the year. I'm going to discuss it based on how I personally experienced it, which as with all of my other reviews so far, is from a look back after the fact.

And based on what all I saw, honestly, I was very pleased by what the band turned out, all things considered. Most of the year was spent working around Yui's absence, and I think they did as good a job as possible in that regard. They changed their stage layout, introducing a rear platform for Su and Moa to swap out on, ensuring that those two would always remain the centerpiece of their choreography. And they introduced two backup dancers (unofficially referred to by the Babymetal fandom collectively as Muscle Metal) who performed on either side of Su and Moa, adding back some much needed symmetry to their routines, while still keeping the focus on the core band. And for the most part, I feel as a short term solution, this definitely worked.

This new format also meant that the choreography for all of their returning songs needed to be reworked a bit, and Moa was now performing all of Yui's singing and dancing parts (with the sole exception of Meta Taro, in which Su was taking on Yui's parts). And in addition to this new layout, they also busted out a new look, as our girls were now wearing these really awesome warrior-style outfits with headgear, which I just thought looked really cool. By this point, the girls are now full grown women, so I think it's nice to see them wearing something that's a little more age appropriate, particularly for Moa, who still looked like a kid even on Legend S, yet looks totally like the adult that she is now in their new updated outfits.

And yeah, I really dug all of this, and watched a ton of their shows. During this period while they were touring America and Europe, they worked a number of festivals and some smaller headlining shows, and there were tons of fan recorded videos of these events, which I just absolutely scoured. It was so neat seeing the different ways they changed up their returning songs, such as how Moa was singing and dancing Yui's parts during Gimme Chocolate, or how she totally took GJ and made it her own, so much so that I've honestly come to prefer her solo version of the song over the original.

But they've also introduced a number of new songs on this tour as well. We were first introduced to In The Name Of at Legend S, but while only Su performed it there, the rest of the girls join in on the choreography now, and they were all sporting these really big metal fox masks that were just so sick. We also got the new song Distortion, which is a pretty cool song, though perhaps a rare example of a song that I actually prefer to just listen to as opposed to watching them perform, as the choreography's honestly not all that interesting.

Distortion also had a music video, which was the first to not feature any of the girls in it. I assume this was due to the uncertainty regarding Yui's future with the band, an uncertainty which effected other aspects of the band as well, particularly regarding their social media activities, and the fact that they were no longer saying "We are!" at the end of their shows.

Muscle Metal was put to work during Akatsuki, as the spotlight was shined down on them to put on an elaborate fight dance during the dueling guitar solos. And we were also introduced to a new Su-metal solo, Tattoo. Again, this one isn't my favorite song either (certainly my least favorite Su solo at least), and probably just needs to grow on me a little more. But it's definitely more of a chill song than anything else the band has put out, and it's one where Su tends to go on stage and really just groove out to the music, so it's a nice little change of pace from the norm all the same.

Probably my favorite new song the band introduced though was Elevator Girl. Now, this is a controversial pick, as it would appear this is quite possibly the band's most polarizing song yet, with some loving it, and others utterly despising it. But I land firmly in the former camp, as I find this song just infectiously catchy, really fun and upbeat, and it also features one of the band's absolute best and most intricate choreography routines in their entire lineup, quite possibly second only to Catch Me If You Can. And as we would see in their Japan shows, it's also the rare exception of a song that actually appears to only get better the more dancers you add to it. I just can't get enough of this song, and can't wait for a professionally shot version of this to finally release, as unlike their other new songs I've mentioned, only fan recorded footage exists of this song at the time being.

And then not too long after they wrapped up this part of their 2018 World Tour, that's when I finally enter the picture, discover the band, and just fall completely down the fox hole. And what's especially funny is when I found out just how recently these shows were taking place, and how close to my location the band was. It makes me frustrated thinking about how I could've so easily seen this band live already (and I was especially jealous upon learning that they performed in Tampa in 2017 while I was still living there!), but I keep having to remind myself that I didn't even know they existed yet, so no matter how close they had come to me, I still couldn't have actually gone. But man, I can only hope they come back around these parts again soon, maybe in the next year?

But yeah, I enjoyed the hell out of all the footage I watched. And the big thing that stood out to me watching their shows from this period of time was seeing just how much fun the band was still having on stage, despite all their setbacks earlier in the year. Moa especially had come to regularly pranking Su on stage, and even though the Kami Band kinda got pushed into the background, and we're still waiting for the day when they would take to the spotlight and get some time to perform some solos again, you can often see them still back there just rocking out and having a blast all the same, which is really just so awesome, and so uplifting to see.

But during all that time, there still remained the uncertainty as it regarded Yui's role in the band. She was still considered an official member of the band, and myself and many others fully expected to see her inevitably make her return, possibly once they moved onto their Japan shows. I know I personally couldn't wait to see her all decked out in that awesome warrior gear. However, on October 19th, the band released an official statement announcing Yuimetal's departure from the band. And when I read that statement, it was like my heart skipped a beat. I was just stunned and in disbelief.

And then I read Yui's personal statement addressing the situation. She mentioned how she had battled with this decision for some time, but ultimately decided that it was best for all parties that she parted ways at this time. However, while this may have marked the end for now of Yuimetal, this wouldn't be the last of Yui Mizuno, as she assured her intentions to continue to pursue her other goals and aspirations. And despite only being a fan of the band for a little over a month by this point, reading that statement from her actually brought me to tears.

I've been into a number of bands. I've seen band members leave, and I've seen some of my favorite bands of all time break up completely. Hell, so many musicians and other celebrities even die all the time without it phasing me in the least. And yet none of those instances hit me nearly as hard as the official announcement of Yui's departure from Babymetal. I dunno what it is about this band, but something about them just touches you on such a personal level, and they just have such a tremendously strong connection to their fanbase, to where a moment like this can just really knock you off your feet. And I'm still only a new fan, so I can only imagine how hard it must have hit fans who've been into the band for far longer.

On this same day, the band also released a brand new single and accompanying music video for their latest song, Starlight. And this is just really an incredibly powerful and emotionally driven song. It's clear that it was originally intended as a tribute to their late guitarist Mikio, but due to the timing of its release, the song also works as a fitting farewell to Yui as well, as the band would move forward with Su and Moa as their core, and we even see the image of those two's eyes looking off into the distance at the very end of the video.

And move forward the band did, as they changed things up even more with their big shows in Japan. Now, I kinda want to hold off on getting too in-depth on these Japan shows for a couple of reasons, the first being that just about all of the fan videos that came out of these shows are of an especially low quality, and the other being that I'd honestly just prefer to wait until one of these shows is officially released, and then do a proper full review of that show (most likely Dark Night Carnival, I would assume).

But what I'll say for now is that the band indeed continued to evolve, and for these shows, they actually introduced three more dancers, bringing the total up to five backup dancers. However, they also brought back the traditional triangle formation, with one of those dancers taking Yui's spot, giving Moa a dance partner on these shows. A lot of people complained about Moa getting lost in a sea of dancers on stage, however, there were two spotlights specifically shining down on Su and Moa throughout the shows to help keep track of her. And while I can see how being there live in person might've been hard to pick her out of the pack, I personally never lost track of her for too long, at least from the footage that I saw.

While their set list for the American and European tours was pretty strict, they finally introduced a couple of changes to it on their Japan shows, where they swapped out Tattoo for Starlight, and they even brought back Meta Taro on Dark Night Carnival. And these shows also finally saw the return of the girls saying "We are!" to the fans during Road of Resistance. And I tell you, it may seem like a small thing, but just little things like that are enough to well the eyes up. The uncertainty regarding the band's future was finally over, and this showed a sign signalling a return to form of sorts, as the band could now confidently proclaim that we are all Babymetal once more, without us feeling like something was missing.

They also introduced another alteration to their look on these shows, which featured some especially fancy outfits, as well as these new stylized pulled back hairdos, which I also quite dig. And they would continue to wear these new outfits as they ventured out into their final shows of the year taking place in Singapore and Australia. And for those shows, all but one of their backup dancers would go away, as they returned fully to their traditional triangle formation for their songs. And performing in Yui's old spot, we would become familiar with Saya Hirai, who was totally the talk of this leg of the tour, as she would win over the hearts of fans the world over with her genuinely enthusiastic and exuberant outings on these shows.

Welcome, Saya!

Despite wearing a mic, we still haven't actually heard her sing yet, and her spot as a full time member of the band remains to be made official. However, based on what I've seen so far, I'd personally love to see Sayametal become a real thing in the not too distant future. But of course, as to whether or not that will actually happen, only the Fox God knows!

But as to the shows on this final leg, something I noticed was how I found myself eagerly awaiting the live footage to be uploaded or streamed live by the fans in attendance, and I've already watched all of these shows in their entirety now. And I was left wondering, well, I guess this is just going to be the way things are now, and moving forward, I'm just gonna wind up watching literally all of Babymetal's live shows from here on out as they're performed.

And meanwhile, most other bands I'm into I've never even seen a lick of their live shows, nor do I have any real interest in doing so. Yet I still can't get enough of Babymetal. Every show just has something about it that's worth watching for, not just the big changes I mentioned all throughout this rundown, but the smaller stuff, those moments where Moa trolls Su, or where one of them interacts with the fans in a certain charming way, or how one of the guys in the Kami Band will be doing something funny in the background when they really get into the music. All of these moments I find myself just fascinated by, and I can't say that I've ever cared about these smaller details concerning any other band. This band just has some sort of magic to them that makes myself and so many others just completely entranced by them, where we just can't get enough of them. And I love it!

So yeah, this may have been a weird time to become a fan of the band, but they managed to win me over all the same. And while it's possible that someone who's been a fan of the band for a longer time may have been put off by a lot of the changes the band underwent in the past year, as someone who's still new to it all, I really liked what I saw. And I also totally appreciated seeing the band's willingness to change things up and evolve. One of the worst things a band can ever do is just stay stagnant, and it's the quickest way for me to lose interest in a group. So I really dug the hell out of what I was seeing out of them during this period of time, and continue to look forward to seeing how they'll continue to evolve still.

And with that, we are now officially all caught up on Babymetal! However, I'm still not done talking about them, as now that I've seen all of their bigger shows, I'd now like to discuss some of my personal favorite performances that stood out the most to me. So join me next time, as I'll be counting down my Top 10 favorite Babymetal performances. See you!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Babymetal - Legend S

We move on now to Su-metal's hometown of Hiroshima, where we're set to celebrate her 20th birthday in the most epic way possible with Legend S, an event which surpasses Wembley as the band's longest one-night show. In addition to being a celebration for Su, this show is actually notable for two other big reasons, those being that this would be the first show to not feature Yuimetal, and it would also be the last show to feature Mikio on guitar before he would tragically pass away the following month.

But not to linger on a down note, the show begins in full theatrics, as Su-metal steps out of the mouth of a massive fox head and onto a small circular stage surrounded by giant fox heads facing outwards towards the audience (where the bulk of this evening's performances would take place on, as the stage would at times move up and down the center aisle). Then a group of fox warriors grab hold of a pair of chains attached to the stage, and they pull her across the aisle to the main stage on the other side of the venue, where the music kicks in, and we're introduced to the band's new introductory track, In The Name Of.

This is the only song of theirs to feature no vocals by any of the girls, and even the choreography is pretty minimal, as we see Su at times stamping her staff against the ground, and at other times slowly waving it from one side to the next. This song is mostly for spectacle, and an excuse to show off the band's elaborate costume designs. And it's another song of theirs that's taken some time to really grow on me, but I've come to dig it quite a bit. The guitars are just awesome, and the death voice's vocals are especially sick time time out, particularly when he almost sounds like a fox growling at certain points.

This particular performance was done by Su alone, and featured those fox warriors banging along on these big tribal drums throughout, as the lights would obey Su's every command and followed along with the wave of her staff. This was just such a cool way to introduce this new track, and it leaves me excited to see what other creative ways the band can find to incorporate this song into their set in the future, similar to all the awesome ways they've found to incorporate Babymetal Death. But what an epic performance, and an epic way to start the show!

And it only gets more awesome from there, as they jump into a fiery rendition of Ijime, Dame, Zettai, and already my eyes are starting to well up from excitement. We see now that on this evening, the girls are dressed all in black, and the Kami Band have finally changed up their own wardrobe as well, sporting an all black look themselves. And we see right off the bat how the performances are generally going to look on this evening with just Su and Moa up there, which is a bit off balance with that empty spot that Yui would normally occupy just left wide open (this was before they would introduce backup dancers to work around Yui's absence).

And where in future shows, either Moa or Su would sing Yui's parts depending on the song, for this show, most of her lyrics were just left out entirely, so there were a number of empty spots in the vocals throughout the evening where the girls just left that spot blank before resuming with their own vocals. The first time this is most noticeable is during Gimme Chocolate, where Moa would do her part, then there'd just be silence as she stands there and waits to resume with her own lyrics, though the fans did their best to fill in for Yui, singing her parts during those empty gaps. So yeah, certain aspects to their performances on this night are a bit strange to both see and hear. However, as the show goes along, you do get used to it.

We move on to the band's first pair of solos, and during the dueling guitar solos for Akatsuki, Su rushes up the stairs on the main stage to combat against a masked foe in a brief little fight dance, which we haven't seen her take part in since Legend Z. And then after this brief skirmish, man, just looking at the expressions on Su's face, you can just see how much she's really pushing herself as she's belting out this song, really giving it her all to put on the best damn show possible.

And then we get to GJ, and this now marks the moment when Black Babymetal's songs have officially become Moametal solos. And this night in fact is the only occasion in which Moa actually had the stage entirely all to herself, without even any backup dancers around her or anything, and I tell you, she more than carries her own out there.

I mentioned in my Big Fox Festival review how I'm never not gonna gush over just how bad ass Syncopation is, and you're damn right I'm standing by that! And on this night, throughout the song, they kept cutting the lights to this really deep, dark red, which helped give this song this real sinister edge on top of everything else. And Su's death glares only added to that edge. So awesome.

Then seeing a sea of people pumping their fists through the air and singing along to Meta Taro got my eyes welling up again. And by the end of this song, I found that I had been smiling so hard that it was actually hurting my face again. I can't think of any other band that has so consistently had that effect on me. And god I love this song live!

The eyes started welling up again just during the video hyping up our next song, and as soon as No Rain, No Rainbow kicked in, it was over for me, as my eyes were raining tears. This performance even features a live pianists and violinists, in what is undoubtedly the definitive version of what I consider my personal favorite Su-metal solo. She gives the absolute performance of her career here, and comes out looking like a superstar in front of her hometown. You can just feel the emotion in her voice, and that emotion hits you right in your core. This is just such a touching, beautiful rendition, as the crowd was left in a quiet awe, until they uproared with applause at the end.

But it's time to wipe away those tears for now, as we jump back into some more fun with Song 4! And this song features one of the few exceptions in the evening where Moa actually did sing and dance Yui's parts. I guess they figured it would've been a little too awkward for her to pretend to be hiding behind an invisible Yui for an extended period of time.

During Headbanger, Moa may not have had her smoke gun handy, but that was okay, because those giant fox heads had her back, as they came to life and proceeded to breathe out smoke through their mouths and into the crowd, making for a really awesome effect. And on this special night, while this song is normally about a girl celebrating her 15th birthday, Su altered the lyrics to reflect her 20th birthday, which got a huge pop out of the audience. And you could hear how much this little change really pumped everyone up, as there was an added level of intensity in the crowd's chants for the remainder of the song. So that was a really awesome little detail they did for this song on this night, and I loved how Moa was already mouthing along with the updated lyrics (please tell me they'll let Moa sing this version of this song for her own 20th birthday in this coming year!).

I had alluded to this evening's performance of Babymetal Death in a previous review when discussing the different ways the band has utilized this song over the years, and on this evening, it was used as a super dark lead-in to this show's closing number, which we'll get to in a minute. Now, on first viewing of this show, I actually thought that they had piped in Yui's vocals during her parts where she's introducing herself, but on this rewatch, it appears as if Moa is actually singing her parts, which is an interesting choice (she's certainly dancing Yui's part at least).

Similar to Legend 1997, after a certain point in the song, a group of hooded individuals make their way onto the stage, and they proceed to crucify Su once more (by my count, marking the fifth time we've seen her crucified on one of these big shows), this time onto a giant XX symbol that has been so prevalent throughout the show. And the stage is then set aflame, as Su lets out her bloodcurdling scream, and Moa's left running around the stage until Su disappears.

However, unlike Legend 1997, this show doesn't end with Su's sacrifice. Rather, the lights all go out, and as the spotlight shines down, we see her step onto the smokey aisle newly reborn, and adorned in a magnificent golden dress and with a large crown on her head, looking like a true Queen. And as she's accompanied by a soft piano, Queen Su slowly makes her way to the fox stage, where she performs a slower, softer rendition of The One.

But then the song kicks in proper, and we see that Princess Moa has joined her Queen, making her way to that stage dressed in a similar attire, where the two resume the song in its more traditional form, looking like true royalty in front of their loyal followers. They then step back off for the main stage, where they make their way back up the stairs and exit through an open door at the top, signalling the closing of yet another chapter in Babymetal's lore.

All in all, this was an excellent show. And I love how, similar to Legend 1997, this show really upped the ante in terms of its theatrical presentation, and how they brought back a lot of elements from past shows as well, making the show feel like a celebration of Babymetal's history in addition to being a celebration of Su. It's a bit of a shame that the Kamis couldn't have been more utilized throughout, as none of their songs that feature their individual solos were performed on this night. And Yui's absence is perhaps more felt on this show than on any other, which makes it hard to review this show without bringing her up quite often (though her absence on this night and the way that Su and Moa worked around it does make for one of the most unique Babymetal experiences). However, despite these setbacks, this is still an outstanding show, one of the band's best, and one hell of a birthday celebration, if I do say so myself.

And so with that, I'm all caught up now, and this now marks the end of my reviews of the band's bigger shows (until they get around to officially releasing their next one, that is). However, I did want to share my thoughts on the band's journey through 2018 as well. So join me next time, as we'll take a look at their most recent year, and all of the changes the band has had to endure in order to keep moving forward and power through the unfortunate circumstances that they would be dealt early on in the year. See you!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Babymetal - The Five Fox Festival and Big Fox Festival

In 2017, Babymetal held a series of shows known as The Five Fox Festival, which, similar to The Black Mass and The Red Mass, featured specific fan stipulations with each show. Black Fox Festival was males only, Red Fox Festival was females only, Gold Fox Festival was teenagers only, Silver Fox Festival was elementary school children and ages 60 and up, and White Fox Festival required the dress code of wearing corpse paint.

Now granted, the audience specifications made a pretty big difference during the two Mass shows, but sadly, that same can't really be said for these shows, outside of perhaps the all female Red Fox Festival. The one I was most curious to see how it would look and sound was the Silver Fox Festival, but it turned out that they merely had a special seating area reserved for those age ranges, and the rest of the audience in the mosh'sh pit consisted of their usual crowd, which really confused the hell out of me when this show first started.

But whether it was that they dropped the volume on the audience, or you just couldn't hear them as well due to the venues they were performing in, that ferocious intensity we got out of the audiences for The Black Mass and The Red Mass was missing in these shows. That's not to say that these weren't still good shows mind you, just that the fan restrictions didn't quite play as noticeable a role in the overall shows this time around.

But anyways, as to the shows themselves, I'm just going to share my thoughts on what stood out to me in general for all five, rather than covering them each individually from start to finish. They all started with Babymetal Death, and I dug how they brought the curtain drop back for these shows, which I don't believe they've used in a couple of years by this point (at least not at any of their shows that I've seen from this time period that is).

On each show during Megitsune, they would take a breather to welcome the audience to that night's festival. Sometimes this came closer to the start of the show, but then on the Black, Red, and White shows, they didn't officially welcome the audience until halfway into the show when this song kicked in, which I got a bit of a kick out of.

Then we get to Gimme Chocolate, and while it's usually either Yui or Moa I catch mouthing along with someone else's lyrics when it isn't their turn to sing, for these Fox Festival shows, it was actually Su who I caught doing it this time, as she was mouthing along with Yui and Moa during their parts of this song on all five nights. I'm not sure if she's done this before and I just haven't noticed, but usually she tends to just smile and nod along during their parts, so it was really funny to see her break out of her usual mannerisms and sing along with those two. (And speaking of singing along, I caught Hideki singing along to Headbanger later on in the night of Black Fox Festival, too!)

On the nights in which they performed Awadama Fever, the Kami Band did their solos as a lead-in to that song, similar to how they normally do for Catch Me If You Can, which was really cool. I remember the first time I saw them do this before Awadama Fever, it really threw me off when that song kicked in instead of Catch Me If You Can (and I'd be lying if I said it didn't still throw me off on Red Fox Festival as well, even though I knew Awadama Fever was going to kick in once the Kami solos were done!) And on the Silver Fox Festival, I even noticed during their solos that Mikio and Ohmura had matching guitars! Sweet!

As far as solos for Su-metal and Black Babymetal, the first three nights they performed a different song out of the four they each had to choose from. On Black Fox Festival, Su performed Rondo of Nightmare, and Yui and Moa did Sis. Anger. Red Fox Festival saw Su performing Akatsuki, and Yui and Moa Song 4. Gold Fox Festival was Amore for Su, and GJ for Black Babymetal. And then Silver Fox Festival featured no solos from either of them at all.

So I was curious if they were gonna finish us off with No Rain, No Rainbow and Onedari Daisakusen, the only two solos they had yet to perform on these shows. But nope. Instead, we got a repeat of Amore from Su, and GJ from Yui and Moa. Granted, I sorta didn't actually expect to see No Rain, No Rainbow, as that's a pretty rare song to see them play live, but Onedari Daisakusen used to be a staple of the band's, so that one is a bit more surprising to see completely left off.

It was cool to see them close off Black Fox Festival with the duo of Headbanger and Ijime, Dame, Zettai, which helped give that night a bit of an old school feel. And I notice how they chose to close with this song on the men's show last time around during The Black Mass as well. I guess they feel it's a particularly masculine song? Heck, I ain't complaining!

And now I just have to mention Hideki's drum solo for Catch Me If You Can on the Gold Fox Festival. About halfway into his solo, Hideki suddenly stops, stands up, and he just looks out to the crowd and shrugs his shoulders, before sitting back down and resuming. Now, this wasn't quite the sick effect as the drum pause during the solo for this song back at O2 Academy Brixton, but rather, this was a much more comical moment this time around, and I seriously died laughing! And you could tell that the Kamis were all just generally having a lot of fun during this song on this night, too. It's always great to see the Kamis really getting into the music like this.

I got thrown off about halfway into Gold Fox Festival when Headbanger suddenly kicked in. I had to check and see if the show was almost over already, as that song usually comes on much later, but nope, we were only at the halfway point. And this would happen to me again during Silver Fox Festival when Road of Resistance started up only halfway into the show as well, which I'm used to seeing played as either an opener or a closer, as opposed to a midway song. So a couple of curious placements there.

But then for the last show, White Fox Festival, I perked up in my seat at the opening note of Syncopation. I knew this song was going to be on the Big Fox Festival, but it's another pretty uncommon song of theirs, so I honestly didn't expect to see it on one of these smaller shows. So that was a surprise to be sure, but a welcome one!

So yeah, those are my sporadic thoughts on these five shows. All were really fun, solid shows, but the band wasn't through with the Fox Festivals just yet, as they had the Big Fox Festival waiting for us still. And unlike The Five Fox Festival, as its name implies, Big Fox Festival was a much larger show, emanating from the much larger Osaka-Jo Hall.

Like Budokan, I had already seen this show before I had started reviewing all of these shows. But also like Budokan, it was due for a rewatch now with the context of all of the band's history in mind. And this show is notable now due to the fact that it marks the last appearance of Yuimetal performing with the band. The first time I watched this show, she hadn't yet officially announced her departure, so there was still hope that she may return. Yet a year after this show took place, that announcement was finally made, and she was no longer a part of the band, giving this night a new historical significance that definitely changed the context during this viewing.

But onto the show now, where we saw the Kamis performing solos in front of Awadama Fever during The Five Fox Festival, here they do their solo thing ahead of Yava, which even has a bit of a tropical flair to its sound. Really cool to see them experimenting with more ways to utilize the Kami Band and give them more opportunities to just jam out with the spotlight on them. The girls then rise up from beneath the stage, all smiles, and as they performed the song, the big screens behind them would display these really cool lightning effects on top of their live footage, making for an electrifying performance.

We move along to GJ, and it just hit me watching this performance that this was the last time we would see Black Babymetal. It just feels weird thinking about that now, and this song would go on to become a Moametal solo after this night. And now I'm suddenly really starting to feel Yui's departure.

I mentioned this song above, but as soon as that first guitar note hit for Syncopation, the crowd went wild, and understandably so. I'm never not gonna gush over just how sick a song this is, and their performance on this night was just so utterly bad ass, and reeling with intensity.

This was then followed up by yet another one of my all time favorite performances from the band with Meta Taro. And in fact, it's their performance on this night that's the reason I'm left gasping with excitement anytime I hear this song start up on any of their shows now.

I keep mentioning in my other reviews how this song feels larger than life and atmospheric whenever they perform it live, and that feeling is never more the case than on this show. Particularly when we get to the call-and-response, and then the music cuts out for a moment as the fans all sing the song back up the band on the stage, the song just sounds like the sort of epic track that you'd hear in a blockbuster Pirates film or something, and I feel almost as if I'm transported onto the sea itself watching this performance. This is definitely their best performance of this song, and really, as grand and sweeping as they make this song feel, I'd say it's up there among the band's best all around performances period at that.

The cool effects work on the big screens came into play again during Karate, in which the girls were made to look as if a fiery aura was glowing around them. And it was nice to see Yui and Moa bust out their handy smoke guns one more time during Headbanger. It feels like it's been a while since we've seen those, too.

Then we get to this show's closer, The One, and now's when it really starts hitting me hard again, as I watch and realize that this is it, this is Yui's last performance with the band. But she couldn't have left on a more fitting note. Because just as we all are, no matter where she may be or what she may be doing now, she too will always remain a part of The One, as the show ends on the image of the three girls raising their kitsunes in the air towards one another before the lights cut out.

So all in all, yeah, this was another really damn great show with some really fine performances throughout, even if I almost feel like this review winded up being a bit of a downer in places. But I suppose that's hard to avoid now, all things considered. It's still hard to believe that this was it for Yui, and that I've finally reached the end of the line for her performances with the band. A part of me still expects to move on to the next show and see her show up again like normal. But nope, I know that's not going to happen, as the next big show after this was performed with Su and Moa alone. But we'll discuss that more in-depth in my next review, as we move on to Su-metal's hometown of Hiroshima and celebrate her 20th at Legend S. See you!