Isaka World Part 7- 死神の浮力 (Buoyancy of Death)

Diving right back into Isaka world, part 7: The Reaper returns.
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Shinigami no Furyoku is a sequel (spinoff?) to Shinigami no Seido, The Accuracy of Death. They both feature a shinigami (agent of death, reaper, whatever you’d like to call him) named Chiba who does work as a death investigator. His job is to make contact with and follow a person in the human world who is scheduled to die for seven days and send in a “Yes” or “No” report to his higher ups in the underground. If he sends a yes, the person dies on the 8th day, but if he sends a no, they continue to live. That said, most people get a “yes.”

The first book was a collection of short stories featuring Chiba and his work, but Shinigami no Furyoku is a full-length novel, and focuses more on moving along the plot and digging deeper into the psyche of the human characters of the story. And boy, what a story this one was.

The Yamanobes are a couple who have lost their young daughter to a manipulative psychopathic killer, and the novel starts with Chiba meeting them on the day the killer’s trial sentence- he is acquitted and found not guilty. This is the start of his sick game of dominance, and their quest for true vengeance.

Shinigami no Furyoku really reminded me a lot of The Lovely Bones. The ironic, satisfying end was also quite similar but still enjoyable.

What also makes this series enjoyable is how Chiba acts around humans. Generally, he does his job to the fullest, but he has no interest in humans and their doings aside from his job. He uses strange, out of date phrases and acts like he’s seen things that happened hundreds of years ago first hand (because he has, but the humans don’t know that.) His only motivation is music, with which he is obsessed to the point where it often is used in some way within the plot to make him inadvertently help or hinder his human subjects.  Also, it’s still always raining when he works.

It’s not my most favorite Isaka book, but it was still fun to read. It was kind of fascinating reading the parts about fearing death (or not) and the group mentality of dealing with a psychopath.

Quote of the day: (Chiba, on wanting to listen to music when a serious car chase is happening)
“So, if we take care of this, can I listen to it then?”

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Current Isaka Count: 21/33

Isaka World Part 6 – Modern Times

Goodness, I’ve really fallen behind. I finished this book in April, and we’re already well into June. A lot has happened, but for now let me catch up with the books I’ve read.

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So this is one of the longer, more intimidating Isaka books I’ve read so far. It comes sold in two parts, as two separate books. The tittle is Modern Times. The story takes place in the future where people are vaguely still aware of the Beatles but nobody is sure what kind of music they played.

The protagonist is a 29 year old computer programmer who is pursued by dangerous people after he types a few keywords (related to a certain incident) into a search engine together. In the process, he learns about the oppressive power of the “systems” of our society and also of the monopoly of information and surveillance.

The novel borders a few genres, including a little science fiction, mystery, thriller, and horror. The horror being more of a “wow, that’s kind of creepy” kind of horror, due to the fact that in the end, the world continues its spiral into further systemizing society.

Some parts of the book parallel themes happening lately in the political sphere, regarding propaganda, false news, cover-ups and the like; it wasn’t a far stretch to compare it to real life. It was really creepy reading this post-2016 US presidential election, considering this was written back in 2008.

My dog-eared quotes from the book:

要するに、国家が望めば、国家が生き長らえるためなら、殺人も合法となるんだよ。国民のためにそうなっているわけじゃない。全部、国家のためだ。
“In other words, even murder becomes legal if a government wishes to make it so, in order to make its power last longer. It’s not for the citizens. It’s all for the state.”

結婚とは、一に我慢、二に辛抱、三、四がなくて五にサバイバル、である。極端に猜疑心の強い妻と暮らす私からすれば、妻以外の女性親密になることはサバイバルの失敗、死を意味した。比喩ではなく、文字通りの死だ。
“Marriage is patience first, compromise second, no three or four, and survival fifth. Being married to my extremely suspicious wife, my getting closer to another woman means I have failed in this survival, and this means death. Not metaphorically. Literally.”

「戦争の話じゃない。もっと大きな話だ。独裁者や指導者は、見方によれば、英雄とも呼べるかもしれない。国家や社会には、周期的にある種の英雄が出現する。戦争に発展することもあった。戦争により、科学や工業が発達することもある。」
「戦争のせいで、科学や工業が破壊されることもありますよ。」
「それでいいんだ。破壊されれば、また、動き出す。動物や国家にとって一番、回避すべきことは停滞だ。変化がなく、動かない状態は、死に近い。」
“I’m not talking about war. It’s bigger than that. Dictators and leaders could be called heroes from certain points of view. Countries and societies have cycled around the concept of certain types of heroes. Sometimes it led to war. And those wars led to advancements in science and technology. ”
“But because of war, science and technology were also used for destructive purposes.”
“Exactly. Destruction brings things back into action. The one thing that any animal or country needs to avoid is stagnation. Not changing or moving is close to death.”

「何、しょんぼりしてるのよ。佳代子が口を開いた。あなたが言ったじゃない。人間は大きな目的のために生きてるんじゃないの。小さな目的のために、行動したら?」
“What, why the long face?” said Kayoko. “You said it yourself. People aren’t born for some grand purpose. So why not start doing something for a smaller goal?”

「あんた、勇気はあるか?」
「勇気は彼女が」 と妻の佳代子を指差した。「彼女が持っている。俺がなくしたりしないように。」
“Do you have the courage?”
“She’s got it,” I said, pointing to my wife, Kayoko. “She’s holding it for me so I don’t lose it.”

Current Isaka Count: 20/32

Atlas Shrugged

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Goodness, this book was a doozy.

I’ve been reading it since the end of last year and finally finished it today, so it took about two to three complete months of concentrated reading. I read every word until John Galt’s infamous rant and ended up skimming that halfway through because at that point, I was more interested in how the story was going to end than Rand’s philosophy, which I got quite a pretty good handle of by the end of the first act. I may go back to reread that formidable rant someday.

I feel a bit of triumph and accomplishment, but am also extremely exhausted from reading Atlas Shrugged. Give extra credit to Ayn Rand for creating a fascinating story wrapped snugly around her life philosophy, which is unforgivingly logical and thorough, and hard to argue against. My next goal is to find a counterargument against Objectivism that is just as unforgivingly logical as her, just to balance things out.
One issue I had with with the book itself is that some parts were just a tad too long-winded and repetitive. (I’m looking at you, John Galt!)

I can see why people are so divided over Ayn Rand, they seem to either worship or hate her based on how much of her philosophy they agree with.

For me, the story itself was actually quite fun to read.

Dagny is a cool character, and I’m glad that Ayn Rand’s longest novel had an imperfect and independent female protagonist running the show.

Plot-wise, it gave me a feeling similar to Anna Karenina, where it’s like watching a train wreck (literally, too!) that you know is going to happen, but can’t keep from watching. Plus, being from Ayn Rand, it also came with that feeling of security I get when watching superhero movies where I know the hero will prevail no matter how bad things get.  Minus the rant, the pacing was just right, I felt that everything said had its place in the story.

I hadn’t read Ayn Rand since we were required to read the Anthem in High School, but I’m glad I got a refresher, and this is probably one of the longest novels I’ve read to date.

Isaka World, Part 5 終末のフール(The End’s Fool)

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Well, I sure did not expect to read another apocalyptic story since I stumbled across Alas, Babylon years ago in my local public library, (Which I especially liked, and which fully fulfilled me enough not to need any more similar stories in the future) but props to Isaka Kotaro for this interesting collection of short stories.

They take place in pre-apocalyptic Sendai, Japan, following the lives of a bunch of different residents of an apartment building two and a half years before a meteor is expected to crash into Earth, thus ending the world completely.

Interestingly enough, the story takes place before the destruction and also after the initial “end of the world panic” occurs. It’s a sort of weird peaceful time where people are still wary, but weary enough not to cause any trouble.

The book had a light but melancholic feel to it, and was the right mixture of hopeful, dreadful, suspenseful, and depressing.

It’s about the survivors still alive at that point in time, and the lives they’ve lived since the meteor was announced. Rather than big adventures or rescue missions, it’s just people living and surviving, in a terrible situation, making everyday choices. There are a few tense moments, like the brothers trying to get revenge on a TV announcer and his family by holding them at gunpoint, but there’s also the old couple awaiting their estranged daughter coming home, and a couple who need to decide whether they should have their baby or not with the future so bleak.

Whether people would really calm down after a few years of knowing that the world is going to end is extremely debatable, considering how people tend to freak out over the world ending in real life, but I found the stories all enjoyable, and they all have their little twists near the end, as usual.

The chapter titles are all stylized to use the same phonetic katakana pattern, which of course sounds awful in English but clever in Japanese:
The End’s Fool
The Sun Sticker
The Sieged Building (Beer?)
the Hibernating Girl
The Steel Wool
The Celestial Night
The Play’s All
The Deep-Sea Pole

…See what I mean? It was actually the title that made me take so long to read this particular Isaka book, because every time I saw it, it confused me. フール? It looks like pool and full, both of which make it incomprehensible, and even if you know it means fool, it still doesn’t make any sense until you finish the story.

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From 週末のフール(The End’s Fool)
「お父さんって、頭の良さってなんだと思ってるの?成績とか学歴とか、ステータスだとか、どうせそういうのでしょ。どうせ。そういうのは、わたしがひきうけるから、いいじゃん。ばかじゃないの。あのね、お父さんが馬鹿なばかりに、兄貴は不幸なんだって。」まるで、犯罪者を告発するかのように、康子はこちらを指差し、声を荒げた。「兄貴はもっと大きいことをやれるんだよ。」
“Dad, what do you even think it means to be smart? Good grades, or going to a good school? Status? That’s what you think, right? That’s fine, I’ll get all of those. You’re an idiot. That’s why my brother is so unhappy, because you’re so stupid.” As if she were pointing out a criminal, she raised her finger at me and said in a wild voice, “My brother can do even bigger things.”

From 深海のポール(The Deep Sea Pole)
生き残るっていうのはさ、あんあ風に理路整然とさ、「選ぶ」とか「選ばれる条件」とか、そういうんじゃなくて、もっと必死なもののような気がするんだ。「必死なもの?」「じたばたして、足掻いて、もがいて。生き残るのってそういうのだよ、きっとさ。」
“Surviving, I don’t think it’s that logical, like people are chosen, or that there’s categories that decide whether you’re chosen or not. I think it’s something more desperate.”
“Desperate?”
“Panicking, struggling, agonizing…I think that’s probably what surviving is more like, really.”

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Current Isaka Count: 19/32

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夏子の冒険- Natsuko’s Adventure

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So sometimes there’s this obscure story from a famous author that is brilliantly written and grabs you with the claws of a four-fingered-man-eating bear with its story and doesn’t let go until the cathartic end, yet nobody else seems to have read…

That would be Natsuko’s Adventure (Natsuko no Bouken), by Yukio Mishima.

Backtracking a little bit, Mishima is supposedly one of Japan’s best modern writers prose-wise, nominated (though not awarded) a few times for the Nobel prize in Literature. I think his style of writing probably doesn’t really translate well into English.

The guy was apparently a genius writer from a very young age and was also had a very chaotic, eccentric kind of personality, which kind of shows in his life and his novels that I’ve read so far.

When I first learned about him (we read one of his works and watched a documentary of his fascinating life) in Modern Japanese Literature class, I thought we was a bit unhinged and strange, and read his most famous novel, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, in English. (Couldn’t read Japanese well enough just yet back then.)

I remember my opinion on it then was that the story (about a priest and his motives behind burning down a famous temple in Kyoto) was very intense. This one was intense, too. His stories have a sort of tension about them that I didn’t like at the time, but can now appreciate.
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Back to the main point! This novel I just read, Natsuko’s Adventure, easily made me want to read more of his novels. I thought it was excellent. It’s a great balance between humor, romance, and adventure/suspense. The story came to a complete circle, and the writing was witty and fun to read. Though it’s not well known, this story has the best female protagonist ever.

Storyline: Natsuko, the beautiful young daughter of a wealthy family in Tokyo, always stubbornly follows through with what she says (to the utter horror of her family), and she is tired of her life and the many guys that court her in Tokyo, who, no matter how successful they may be, are wussies who lack the one thing she wants to see… passion. So she drops put of school and decides to be a nun in Hokkaido. But along the way she gets sidetracked by a guy who is looking for revenge…on a four-fingered-man-eating bear. She sees his passion. The bear hunt begins. Hilarity and shenanigans happen.

Natsuko…is so fascinating. She’s beautiful and clever, but manipulative but stubborn, both the perfect girl and your worst nightmare. She has everyone rolling in the palm of her hand, yet she makes the most outlandish, crazy decisions, it’s amazing, I love her characterization. She’s both detestable and lovable at the same time.
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Also, one more thing: Murakami Haruki, that author I’m a bit unenthusiastic about, has written a novel called “A Wild Sheep Chase,” which is apparently a kind of spin-off of Natsuko’s adventure. I’ve actually read that one in the same class I mentioned earlier, but I remember really not liking it then. It never got anywhere and, unlike Natsuko’s Adventure, the ending seemed like a big mess. But now I feel like rereading it (this time in Japanese) to see if there’s any difference now. Not sure if I’ll ever get to it, but it’s definitely something to check out again.
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It was a perfect book to read in February, and a very pleasant surprise. I will definitely be giving Mishima a second chance. (He also may soon become one of my favorite Japanese writers…but I need to read a few more of his works to make that decision.)

When 900 Years Old You Reach…Look So Good, You Will Not. – Watching Star Wars, Part 5 (Episode VI)

Time to do a recap of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, released in 1983. (When I was still not born.)

This concludes machete order. It’s been…a fairly peaceful and short journey. I’ve enjoyed myself a lot. I may have even become a fan of the franchise.

Jabba is absolutely disgusting.
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And finally, I understand what the famous Leia costume is all about…though doesn’t Jabba being next to her in most of the scenes where she’s wearing it make it kind of a waste?

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Why did I find this so amusing?

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I knew this guy would be back! It’s the bounty hunter’s kid clone, right? (That said, I was hoping for a better explanation of his story.)

So Yoda is 900. That answers some questions.
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And Luke and Leia are siblings…does everyone just ignore the fact that Leia kissed her brother in Episode IV??

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Am I the only one who finds the fish head scientist distracting?

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Hobbits! I don’t know what these guys are called, but they’re really cute.

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My favorite shot of this movie.

1) Let us never forget what a shitty father Vader was! He is domestically violent to his wife, completely ignores Leia, and only saves Luke at the very end. He also dies at the very end, abandoning them after being redeemed. A model parent, he is not.

2) I think that each trilogy is like a three-act play, no wonder they have Shakespearian versions of the movies in book form. I, II and III make a tragedy/tragic romance, IV, V and VI make a heroic epic drama…what will VII VIII and IX be?

3) So far, my ranking of the movies:

III&V

VI&IV

II

4) I do recommend Machete order for people who are watching this movie for the first time, though I imagine watching it in release order is good too. In the lucky case you aren’t yet spoiled for the big reveal, it’s definitely best to start with IV and V.

5) Strangely, It feels awkward calling it sci-fi. It’s more fantasy/adventure to me. Guess that’s why they call it ‘space opera.’ I imagine the story could work just as well even if it wasn’t set in space.

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Next: Episode VII: The Force Awakens (Yup, the new one. Went to see it over new years.)

To re-watch: Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Isaka World, Part 4- The Monkey King

Before I go off on Star Wars again, let’s take a short trip back to Isaka World, shall we?

I read his novel, SOSの猿 (The SOS Monkey).
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Like the cover implies, yes, it is a bit chaotic.

To be honest, it wasn’t my most favorite of his works. It’s still low key mystery/suspense but has a half-comical, half-serious kind of atmosphere that is really hard to describe. With a catholic exorcist, the monkey king, guerrilla acapella singers, a software engineer, and a huge problem with stocks, it’s hard to imagine what kind of story it is just from the synopsis.

Written during his “Don’t give a rat’s ass” period, it is one of those books where he just wrote whatever he wanted to write, so it’s not written to please the audience, in a good way.

It’s a bit similar (and written right after) Aru King, where he connected the story to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, except this time, he’s completely referencing Journey to the West. Yes, Journey to the West. Chinese literature that I haven’t read yet.

If you’re not familiar with Journey to the west, remember that the Manga/Anime Dragonball (the original, where Goku is still small) is also loosely based off of it.

Unfortunately, any references I further make in this post will be using the Japanese names of the Chinese characters.

From information I’ve gathered online, Journey to the west is the story of the Buddhist priest Sanzo Houshi, who has three disciples:
Son Goku (The Monkey King),
Cho Hakkai (the pig/boar), and
Sa Gojo (the water sprite).

They all have some kind of issue (too violent, too gluttonous, etc) that needs to be fixed, and have shenanigans together on their journey to the west. That’s all I know.

Also, Goku has a long stick, a cloud to fly on that only those pure of heart are able to ride, and is able to create copies of himself by taking a piece of his fur and blowing on it.

I was about half confused throughout the first 60% of the story, which takes place in modern day Japan and follows about three different narrators talking about two different people who haven’t met yet. It jumps around from character to character, narrator to narrator until you’re not sure who’s actually telling what story anymore.

Then, little by little, things begin to piece together (as most of Isaka’s books do) and by the end, you get to enjoy looking at everything fit nicely like a jigsaw puzzle in retrospect.

It really is too bad that I’m not familiar with Journey to the West, because I’m sure there were things I missed because of it. I was able to read it through, especially near the end, when things got really exciting and the huge twist was revealed.

My favorite quotes this time were:

物語は、語り手が喋ればそれが真実となる。鬼がいるといえば、鬼がいるのだし、証券会社の総務部長が牛魔王だというのならば、部長は牛魔王に他ならない。
“In a story, when the narrator says something, it becomes the truth. If he says there is a demon, there is a demon, and if he says that the chief of general affairs of a stock trading company is the Ox-King, that chief must be the Ox-King.” pg 88

ばらばらに存在している星が、遠くから眺めると獅子や白鳥に見えますよね。それと同じように偶然と思われる事柄も、離れて大きな視点から眺めると、何か大きな意味がある。
“Stars exist on their own, but can look like a lion or a crane from far away, right? Just like that, some things that seem to be coincidences, when looked at from a wider viewpoint, have a much bigger meaning.” pg304

それこそが作り話の効力よ。物語は、時々、人を救うんだから。
“That’s the power of a story. Sometimes, they save people.” pg 212

That last quote is, in a sense, the moral of the story.

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Current Isaka Novel Count:
18/32

 

 

“You’ve Changed.” Watching Star Wars, Part 4 (EPISODE III)

Okay, I kind of got ahead of myself. I’ve been falling behind in writing about these movies after watching them, and have now watched them all (including the newest one, and except Episode I, just because). Blame it on going back home for the holiday season and just generally being quite busy. (Excuses, excuses.)

Anyway, here’s my review of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, released in 2005.
It’s kind of hard to believe that it was the latest installment in 10 years.

So in the last movie, Anakin was really awkward and difficult to watch, but I found him less grating in this movie. Padme too. And their relationship, which backfired in a very predictable way. (Overly possessive and power hungry boyfriends lead to unhealthy relationships! Why didn’t you realize that sooner, Padme?)

It definitely brought the second trilogy to a nice close, and was a very good kind of dramatic. ALSO, I totally called Palpatine being evil. He turned out to be the big bad!

Things I’ve been noticing:
1. Love that Obi-wan hates flying, while Anakin is like, “WHOOOOOOO!”
2. I found it strange that Obi-wan and Anakin were still friendly to each other at the beginning of this movie. I was pretty sure they ended on bad terms at the end of the last one?
3. So the second Star Wars trilogy is a tragedy in three acts. That helps me make more sense of it.
4. I really like the Darth Vader theme and cannot stop singing it aloud whenever it’s played. DAN DAN DAN DANDANDAN DANDANDAN.

 

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R2D2, the BAMF destroyer!

 

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Yoda again is a badass. Also, this explains why he was in exile. Interesting.

 

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Winner of this Episode’s “Prettiest shot competition”

Next is Episode VI!

“Started Making Sense, This Story Has” -Watching Star Wars, Part 3 (EPISODE II)

Okay, now on to Star Wars Episode II: Attack of The Clones.
It was released in 2002, when I was still in middle school.

After watching IV and V, we get to see what I’m pretty sure is Darth Vader’s origin story. Despite the up-to-date graphics and CG, we’ve taken a jump back in time. I do remember parts of this movie, which means I’ve watched it sometime before, but it’s a good refresher for what is to come. And after seeing IV and V, a lot of things make sense now. And there were so many references and call backs to the original trilogy that made it fun to watch.

Let’s see the blow-by-blow:

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First of all, I feel for Obi-Wan. This story was basically Obi-Wan doing his best not to screw everything up and Anakin making his life impossible. Poor guy.

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Even Jar-Jar looks like he’s pitying him. He knows what’s up.

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Part one of the game, “Where have I seen this before?”

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“Poison Dart” –> WHY are you touching it with your bare hands?!

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I don’t know who this guy is, but he looks evil. Also, he’s talking about immortality. Ergo, he is evil.

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Girls, if you tell a guy to stop doing something that makes you uncomfortable and he makes this face? Don’t fall in love with him. Call the police. Creepy, Anakin. Creepy.

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“I hope he doesn’t do anything foolish” –> Who wants to bet that he will later on in the movie?

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I love the small detail where he’s pulling up his pants.

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This face is extremely creepy.

 

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Winner of the “Prettiest shot” competition. I want a galaxy map like that.

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Wait…is this the couple that raises Luke in Episode IV???

 

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Creepy face #201

 

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Master Yoda’s badass entrance!

 

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I have a feeling we’ll be seeing this kid again soon. Revenge story?

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OOOOOHHHHH it’s the death star!! Things are coming together!!!

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#notimpressed

 

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Love the way master Yoda fights. He’s so fast all of the screencaps came out as a blur.

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It’s that guy from the hologram in Episode IV!!!

  • Things are finally starting to make sense. The Death Star, the Dark side, Obi Wan and Anakin too.
  • I really see now that I was deceived by Episode I Anakin, whom I assumed to be a good guy when I was a kid. (I was still in elementary school!) Do not be fooled by the cuteness, this kid is dangerous. Definitely villainous material.
  • Starting to see a trend of arms getting lopped off.
  • The character I really feel for is Obi-Wan in this movie. Nobody listens to his instructions.
  • I really want to know what happens in VI already, but patience, young padawan, patience.
  • The romance was very very awkward, and a lot of the acting was, too. But I’m pretty sure by now nobody is coming to see Star Wars for the acting.
  • The various outfits for Padme were interesting, I liked the blue long dress the best. (Also, the black one was obviously used to distract the audience from the acting during that terrible romance scene.Onwards to Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, which I have never seen. We’ve now hit the halfway point! No turning back now!

 

“No. I am.” Watching Star Wars, Part 2 (EPISODE V)

I watched Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

First thing I noticed: Huge jump in quality all around. There was more watching it for the story than scratching my head while thinking “There’s definitely someone in that robot suit” or “Hmmm…that food looks suspiciously like corn with the husk still on…” like in Episode IV.

Even the way people were falling down was better. The lightsaber fights were kicked up a notch too.

I also noticed the iconic Darth Vader theme music started in this movie.

Most importantly, the quote I’d learned was wrong. It’s “No, I am your father.” How did that become “Luke, I am your father?” It’s the biggest cinematic reveal in history and one of the most known movie quotes (even I knew it, and I hadn’t even seen the movie) and everyone is saying it wrong?

Screencaps and thoughts:

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I don’t really understand this relationship. It’s a red flag for me for Han and Leia romance, though I don’t really think it’s necessary. The following kiss with Luke was even more unnecessary.

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Awww Chewie you’re the best.

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This is my favorite scene so far, art wise. So pretty!

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Finally, Master Yoda appears! Just how old is this guy? Also, he’s much more eccentric and kooky than I remember in the other movies. Old age?

Thoughts- I liked the quality of the movie. Still not clicking emotionally with Luke (or Leia or Han for that mater) so it’s getting harder to root them on. But because of the non-human side characters (Chewie, R2D2, Master Yoda) it is still fun to watch.

Onward to Episode II- Attack of the Clones