Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: Empire Season 1

Title: Empire Season 1
Starring: Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Jussie Smollett
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Music
Episodes: 12

It's become a common trend that people have ditched their cable or satellite providers and have strictly stuck to streaming. I totally understand the switch as it is possibly cheaper to keep up with and the choices of programming is way more vast than what channels provide, especially when these shows come on a specific day and time. Nonetheless, I still find myself being content with having cable and watching television programs that air weekly. I just can't imagine being without it. Because of that, I do find new shows to get into from time to time. This was one of them that caught my eye with its commercials.

Lucious Lyon is founder and CEO of a very successful record label, Empire Entertainment, and finds out that he has been diagnosed with ALS. As he continues to keep his business alive, he must decide on which of his three sons will inherit his business once he passes away. Meanwhile, Cookie Lyons, Lucious' ex-wife and co-founder of Empire, is released from prison and tries to reclaim her position at the company as well as repair her relationship with her sons.

I've heard the popular comparison of this show to the Terrence Howard movie, Hustle & Flow, which I'm sure bare some similarities, but I've never seen the movie. I went into this series with an open mind, curious and a bit nervous how this would go. Would this be some stereotypical fanfare that causes me to cringe? Would the music featured be as annoying as what's trending on mainstream radio? Obviously, I had many concerns, but the show surprisingly progressed African Americans forward in a lot of ways. Let's start with the characters! If you only focus on the Lyon family, there are some cliches/tropes laced within their personalities and background, but the story develops and shapes them into something not as regressive as say Tyler Perry movies. In the past, Lucious and Cookie were involved in the drug business while working their way up in Lucious' music career. Instead of Lucious leaving his three sons behind because of his life choice, Cookie takes the fall and is the one arrested. No matter what, both parents want to be involved in their children's lives, even though there are strains in the relationship between them. Lucious has moved on with another woman and has become very successful with his label, while Cookie was incarcerated. Andre, the oldest son, has faithfully stayed by his father's side by working as CFO, but struggles to reconnect with Cookie once she is released. Jamal, the middle son, doesn't have the best relationship with Lucious due to him not accepting his homosexual relationship. Of course, Cookie is very supportive of his relationship and launching his musical career. Hakeem, the youngest son, wants to follow in his father's footsteps of making a name for himself in the hip-hop industry, but approaches certain situations recklessly or naively. Each of these do have hints of stereotypical traits seen in countless television shows and movies, but also add an extra layer to it.

Empire isn't a show that you're going to attach yourself to every character. The characters are very well developed and interesting, but honestly, you're not going to like a lot of the characters. Since the concept revolves the music industry, it can't be helped to have some dirty characters and underhanded scheming. These elements are what keeps the viewers hooked and saves the characters from being flat stereotypes: the story. This show presents plenty of drama, twists, and turns. It also deals with issues that I'm sure many black families try to ignore or struggle with such as homosexuality, ALS, and bipolar disorder. As well as common issues with interracial relationships, gang activity, infidelity, and paternity disputes. These obstacles do not drag or seem unnecessary for drama sake...well, there might be a couple moments, but it's still entertaining. It feels very natural and it's paced well enough for the audience and the characters to absorb and evolve from it. Each episode feels like there's definite progression and causes you to want more by the end of the episode. I know the season finale made me feel upset that it was all over and I would have to wait. Lastly, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the music featured throughout each episode. As someone who has stopped caring about the (American) hip-hop genre since 2003/2004, I was very relieved to hear something good. Good enough to want the soundtrack, although the purchasing system/track availability is silly. I might not enjoy every song, but I liked that there was variety that fit each artists' style and personality.

Empire is a welcoming contribution to the few TV shows on air that feature a predominently black cast. It has interesting, well developed, diverse characters; an entertaining story, some surprising but welcomed special guests, and enjoyable music. The second season will be returning on Fox on September 23, 2015. I am very much looking forward to what's going to happen with the Lyon family.

Rating: 4/5

Friday, July 24, 2015

Review: Nana

Title: Nana (2000)
Author(s): Yazawa Ai
Genre: Drama, Music, Romance, Shoujo, Slice of Life
Volumes: 21 (publishing/hiatus)

Nana Komatsu is a young woman who's endured an unending string of boyfriend problems. Moving to Tokyo, she's hoping to take control of her life and put all those messy misadventures behind her. She's looking for love and she's hoping to find it in the big city.

Nana Osaki, on the other hand, is cool, confident and focused. She swaggers into town and proceeds to kick down the doors to Tokyo's underground punk scene. She's got a dream and won't give up until she becomes Japan's No. 1 rock'n'roll superstar.

This is the story of two 20-year-old women who share the same name. Even though they come from completely different backgrounds, they somehow meet and become best friends. The world of Nana is a world exploding with sex, music, fashion, gossip and all-night parties. (Source: VIZ Media)

When I was first venturing into manga more seriously, Nana was a series I've heard many girls talk about. Whether it was the movie, the music, the manga, or the anime series, I knew it was a popular franchise that nearly every girl was interested in and enjoyed. Naturally, I wanted to see what the hype was about, so I've added each medium to my various lists. Eventually, I would start somewhere and, at the moment, I've only covered the manga series with plans of watching the movies and anime. I was almost tempted not to do a review as the manga is still in limbo status. The mangaka Ai Yazawa was in the hospital ill for quite some time and in April 2010, she returned back to her home, revealing that she was unsure when she would be returning to the series. This lengthy hiatus has left a huge cliffhanger for fans and newcomers alike. I'm assuming the closest thing to closure on the series are the movies and anime. So, here we are with a review on an incomplete series that I'm, and many others, are hoping to have some sort of resolution in the near future.

Nana is a series driven by its characters. It can be a challenge to balance multiple subplots and characters as effortlessly as Ai Yazawa displays in this series. The story takes a typical premise of a small town girl moving to a big city and adapting to life in a new surrounding with a totally different set of people. The story simultaneously puts these two Nanas as our main characters while branching off with other characters dealing with their own individual struggles. Since the series currently has 21 volumes and [hopefully] still going, it has plenty of time to develop its characters and give the reader enough background to have a clear consensus. Honestly, it's impossible not to feel something for these characters, whether you like them or not. Nana Komatsu and Nana Osaki have an admirable bond between each other. Their relationship with Nana Osaki's bandmates and even the "rival" band is entertaining, fun, and very well developed.

Since the series heavily depends on its characters, it's very easy to become attached to them, like 'em or hate 'em. There's plenty of ups and downs and the story doesn't drag on certain plot points for too long either. The story also doesn't forget its characters' past accomplishments or obstacles they had to face. The story really depends on the characters' growth as well as their relationships with each other. Because you get to spend so much time with these wonderful characters, it's almost depressing that the series on hiatus. Of course, there are a couple ways to cope until Ai Yazawa gets back into the studio which is to watch either or both the anime and movies. I know that's something I'll be doing eventually.

I know I didn't say too much about the art, but the visuals are good and flow well with the action, from live performances to traumatic or triumphant emotions. Nana is a very entertaining and heart tugging kind of story with amazing characters that help the reader experience the ups and downs along with them. No matter if you're male or female, I highly recommend this series, despite it being on a rather lengthy and unfortunate hiatus. I'm looking forward to joining these characters again in another medium and hopefully we don't have to wait too long for another installment of the manga.

Rating: 4.5/5

If there's something you want me to review, check out this post on how you can submit requests.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Quick Movie Review

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014, UK) | Rating: 4/5

At first, I wasn't super interested in this movie, but then my mom mentioned that I would've enjoyed it and she was pretty hyped up about it after seeing it in theaters. Later, a patron came in and recommended it to me as well, so I added it to my watch list on IMDb. Once it was released on DVD, my parents watched it first and my dad joined the hype with my mom, then I finally watched it in my room. I must say, it was pretty entertaining and the action was greatly paced. It took me a while to get into and like the younger characters, but I instantly enjoyed the older ones. The whole evil plot was cliched and silly, but in a good Austin Powers kind of way. The climax was brilliant and worth the build up to the final fight. I wouldn't be surprised if a sequel was released in the near future.

A Girls Walks Home Alone at Night (2015, USA) | Rating: 4/5

I've seen the cover for this movie a couple times and I know it's available on Netflix as well. I think this is the first western Iranian vampire film, which is quite a feat. I can't imagine too many movies being created from Iran that feature vampires, especially female ones. Normally, vampires are very sexualized creatures, but due to culture, this vampire has a gentle, sensuality about her that is easily intriguing to her prey. It's not completely a horror story, so don't expect to be scared. It's more about the characters and how they survive in this world the director has created. I urge you to give this movie a chance. The story is well paced, the characters are enjoyable, and the visuals have an interesting balance of classic horror and current dramas.

The Lazarus Effect (2015, USA) | Rating: 1.5/5

Most times I can tell the good from the bad when it comes to horror movies. This one I expected to be somewhere in the middle and I was pretty close. Mostly, I was happy I didn't waste any money to see it in theaters. For the most part, it has an interesting premise, but the execution is kinda poor. The movie didn't really take too much time with a lot of the characters and even when you did, it's a little hard to follow. Either there was too much detail or the details were not that interesting. There's lots of jump scares, poor build up, and just a lot of things that don't logically make sense. In short, this movie isn't really worth your time in seeing. It isn't the worst thing I've seen, but it's not even entertaining in a bad way.

The DUFF (2015, USA) | Rating: 3/5

Another movie based on a teen book, but fortunately doesn't have a dystopian future or supernatural elements to it. No, this is just another contribution of fixing up an average girl into someone dateable...or something like that. It's not truly a makeover story, it's a mixture of delving into the people who make cliques and just surviving high school. Most of us have heard of that one ugly friend in each group when it comes to groups of girls in a club, so this is basically the same without making it exclusive to one specific gender and in high school. I don't see a general audience watching this and it definitely appeals to the female crowd, not because of the majority female cast, but because of the contents. Although, I don't find the main character to be that fat or ugly, the movie does explain that the friend doesn't necessarily have to be either. The story is simple and the characters are fine. It's definitely for a younger demographic, but I found it enjoyable, even if it is a little silly at times.

Jurassic World (2015, USA) | Rating: 4/5

Originally, I was going to do a full review for this movie, but I kinda don't have too much to say about it. Before you assume anything, I really enjoyed this movie. I've heard a few complaints about it being a little slow in the beginning or even the CGI not looking very good, but I wasn't bothered by any of this. Like most additions to older franchises, it was unnecessary, but not a terrible installment. Also, if you're worried about not seeing the previous three films, all you really need to watch is the first one as the movie does reference more things from Jurassic Park. Anyway, my mother and I found ourselves very entertained. In the beginning, I was a little annoyed by Gray and Zach, but they slowly grew on me and I started to care about their well being. Occasionally, Claire would straddle the fence of defenseless/useless female character cliche, but she did redeem herself with some sort of character development. There are some predictable plot points, but overall, I thought the movie was a fun ride and the climax was very satisfying.

If there's something you want me to review (or want a more in depth review of the movies above or previous ones), check out this post on how you can submit requests.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Top 5 Recommended Music Videos

"Unlock" by Daichi Miura
Every time this man releases a new music video, I feel like everything must come to a halt and watch his video for a moment. The video mostly focuses on the amazing choreography, but really, that's all you need from Daichi's videos. His choreography remains unique, creative, and visually appealing. It exudes energy and passion and fits the tone of the music. The song is also very nice to listen to as well, which is just as important. It has a strong power to it and I enjoy the transitions between the verses and chorus.

"Smile Drop" by SKY-HI
This guy and Daichi are both part of Avex and I wanna say that I saw this in the related videos section of YouTube. I've seen his name from time to time and I figured I'd give him a chance. I ended up liking a few videos I saw and this is one of them. I like the fusion of modern and vintage with the visuals and sound. We have a very classic, lounge setting along with lots of brass instruments mixed with pop melodies and SKY-HI's back and forth vocals singing and rapping his lyrics. It's a fun, feel good song that you can't help but enjoy and move to.

"LUCIFER" by Anna Tsuchiya
Ever since seeing her live, I feel like I've missed so much and I don't even know how. Seeing new material from this very talented artist always makes me excited as the releases seem few and far between. This isn't a feel good summertime hit like "Brave Vibrations"; this brings in the goth and rocker sides of Ms. Tsuchiya. It has some beautiful gothic imagery and Anna looks very beautiful in both light and dark forms. I love the balance of tortured and quiet calmness of the music. It knows when to quiet itself during the dialogue and come back with a punch for the chorus.

"Bounce" by BOYFRIEND
Lately, the direction this group has been going is becoming more and more appealing to me and that kinda scares me. Not quite a fan, but I'm enjoying these darker, more mature concepts from this group. Sure, "Alice in Wonderland" has been used as a concept before, but they bring their own little style to it. It's a poppy goth that looks very sleek and polished on screen; I can see VIXX pulling this off. The song is far from dark and sticks to being a quite danceable and energetic pop song. I think this works a little better than their whole vampire concept.

"Paradise Lost" by GAIN
Every time this woman releases a music video, you know it's going to mature and sexual and this video is no different. It's not something I'm tired of either. It doesn't feel exploitative or forced either. What I've noticed is that she knows exactly how to express her sexuality and cover areas that most kpop idols can't touch for one reason or another. Going with the theme of her latest mini-album of Adam and Eve, this carries that theme of a forbidden paradise filled with many forms of temptation while making it entertaining, sensual, and slightly beyond current. The song is full of dramatics as well as the choreography and a great range of vocal and lyrical conflict. A great comeback song for Gain.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Quick Movie Review

The Cobbler (2015, USA) | Rating: 3/5

This movie really didn't get much advertising, which is kinda unusual for an Adam Sandler film. I know a lot of people (and possibly fans) have pegged his movies as mediocre or a waste of time and they most likely have good reason to. I've heard little to nothing about the reception of this movie and the little was negative. I wanted to give this movie a chance, because it actually did look decent. Once I watched it, it actually wasn't that bad. I thought the story was based on The Elves and the Shoemaker, but it's not. It kinda follows a kids movie in which the main character has this boring life and wants to be someone else, which eventually happens for him. Although, it has some adult jokes throughout the movie. I guess this movie straddles the fence of being PG-13 and R. Adam Sandler's character is not obnoxious in the least. You understand his character and it's easy to sympathize with his struggle. In short, I enjoyed the first half of the movie, but the second half does become a bit silly and convoluted.

No More Tears for the Dead (2014, South Korea) | Rating: 2.5/5

A co-worker recommended this movie to me and I picked it up noticing that it was directed by the same person who filmed The Man From Nowhere, which I enjoyed. This movie didn't contain as much excitement for me as the previous movie, unfortunately. It is more exciting than The Suspect, but it seemed like certain elements were recycled and slightly tweaked from The Man From Nowhere. The action is good, but the story is a little confusing. I understand the motive, but some details about the main character and his career seem overly complicated like there's details missing to make the viewer understand his conflict.

Why Don't You Play in Hell? (2013, Japan) | Rating: 4.5/5

I'm so happy to see more of Mr. Sono's work and this is one I've seen advertisements for. This movie stays consistent on being out of the box, entertaining, and strange. It puts together filmmaking and yakuza all in a nice, fun, bloody package. The characters are all likable and the movie really doesn't force you to pick a side in this war as everyone's motives seem reasonable. It's kinda odd to have story where you really don't have one person to root for or a central bad guy. I mean, there is one, but he's so entertaining, hilarious, and has such good intentions for his enemy's daughter it's hard to wish ill will of him. Most likely, I'll be giving this movie a full length review, along with Hizimu and other Sion Sono films for a month or something.

Eastern Boys (2013, France) | Rating: 3.5/5

If you look back in my history of movie reviews, I enjoy gay themed movies and lately I haven't been able to watch too many of them. Hopefully, that will change some day! Anyway, I picked this one up from work with no expectations and it had a loose gay theme to it. I thought about doing a full length review and, as I write this, I'm still kinda contemplating over it, but for now, this quick review will have to suffice. The movie really doesn't focus on homosexuality, but more about immigration and the struggle to fit in. Although the main characters are involved in a sort of sexual relationship, they become something more than sleeping partners. Daniel gradually evolves into more of a father figure than a lover. It's an interesting evolution and I was pleasantly surprised that the ending wasn't unhappy. Sorry if that spoilers things. Only complaint I have is the audio. It's really hard to understand them talking, especially in English, so I was happy when the subtitles appeared and there's sadly no subtitle option for the English either. If you're interested in a full review, leave a comment~

Inside Out (2015, USA) | Rating: 4.5/5

Not too many animated films this year have caught my interest, at least this summer. This movie is obviously one of them. I saw this with my mother, who initially had no interest in it, but figured, "it's Pixar!". This is one of those rare movies that both children and adults can understand and enjoy intellectually. It presents some smart ideas and doesn't talk down to its audience about understanding your emotions and growing up. For a movie that has to deal with memories and brain development, it actually makes you think about your own memories and experiences. The characters are entertaining and successfully present friction among each other as they represent different emotions: joy, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust, but it also succeeds in proving its point of having the joy with the sadness. You can't be happy all the time, otherwise you can't grow and learn from those experiences. This is a great film for the family and the visuals don't disappoint by being vivid, colorful, and eye catching.

If there's something you want me to review (or want a more in depth review of the movies above or previous ones), check out this post on how you can submit requests.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Review: Penny Dreadful Season 1

Title: Penny Dreadful Season 1
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalton, Eva Green
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Horror
Episodes: 8

I heard about this series through a friend talking about it on social media. I know her tastes are somewhat similar to mine and I was looking for more TV shows to check out. I was happy to know that my workplace had it and it took me some time to actually watching. After a few months, I finally popped it in and unintentionally watched the whole first season in one go.

Explorer Sir Malcolm Murray, American gunslinger Ethan Chandler and medium Vanessa Ives unite to combat supernatural threats in Victorian London. (source: IMDb)

Um...yeah, I'm sorry for lack of description. IMDb and Wikipedia didn't really have too much to say as far as plot goes and I'm just at a lost for words on how to describe the story myself. The first season revolves around three different plot points: Vanessa assisting Sir Malcolm with the "Ripper" case and dealing with her own demons, Dr. Victor Frankenstein dealing with his monsters, and Ethan deals with an unexpected relationship along with his investigation with Vanessa and Sir Malcolm. All these characters are constantly on the move and also deal with the problems the other characters are dealing with, especially Vanessa's inner demons. Out of the three plot lines, I found Dr. Frankenstein's storyline the most interesting. Avoiding any spoilers, Dr. Frankenstein's relationship with his monster has a lot of depth and thought put into it. When Caliban (or John Clare) enters the picture, things become even more interesting for Frankenstein and his new monster.

So, the other characters...I guess I'll go from least memorable to the most memorable. Sir Malcolm was probably the least memorable character for me. While I assume he is supposed to be an important figure in town, I just can't remember anything about him nor care about what he's doing. There is a tiny bit of story I do remember about him which involves a séance and his missing daughter, but it's kind of uneventful. Ethan Chandler is next on the least memorable. He kinda lacks personality, which isn't a good thing for a supernatural, horror show like this. The only memorable moments with Ethan involve his relationship with a prostitute named Brona Croft and the moment he helps Vanessa deal with her demons. Later on in the season, there is a little surprise pertaining the character that was definitely unexpected. Even though he doesn't show up as much as the previous two characters, Dorian Gray is memorable for his intriguing background. Whether you're familiar with the story of Dorian Gray or not, his behavior presents curiosity. Lastly, Vanessa is probably the second most memorable character in the series. One reason is obviously that she is the main character of the series. She's a medium, has a mysterious past involving Sir Malcolm's daughter Mina, and, of course, those inner demons. She's not a helpless character and she presents herself with plenty of dimension in her personality.

The show presents plenty of interesting characters and it's the main reason I stuck through it, but the flaws did make it a little difficult for me to keep going. I know the show is on Showtime, but the sex scenes were very distracting. I know it's part of Dorian's character, but I feel like the script could've presented the scenes a little better, shortened them, or erase them completely. They don't really add anything to the show or the character, especially as many times as Dorian seduces someone new. The biggest problem the show faces is pacing. The show is very slow. You have to have a ton of patience for about half of the episodes in this short series for the story to pick up. It's quite sad, especially when you have such interesting characters and the story sometimes feels like we're not progressing forward. Of course, it is worth it once certain events occur.

Penny Dreadful brings well known characters from gothic tales and puts them in a Victorian period that nearly everyone is familiar with to some extent. The costume and set designs really set the tone for horror and mystery and the characters are intriguing and bring a slightly new, alternative twists to familiar characters such as Dorian Gray and Victor Frankenstein. Despite the slow pace and distracting sex scenes, the show is entertaining and great with its visuals. I hope that the second season improves on its faults.

Rating: 3/5

Monday, June 29, 2015

Top 5 Recommended Music Videos

"Vũ Điệu Cồng Chiêng" by Tóc Tiên
A friend shared the dance version of this video, which is actually more interesting than the official music video. Since it is the dance version I'm sharing, there really isn't too many set changes. There's beauty shots, a scene with her on a cube in a different costume, and her dancing with the back-up dancers. It's a fun dance song that apparently seems pretty popular in least, that's what I'm assuming by the end credits and the official music video. She definitely gives me this strong, sexual vibe that Ga-in has in "Paradise Lost", but she shows that she's having fun with what she's doing.

"Tat Tat Tat" by Dan-A Hong feat. Swings
Actually, I have no idea how I ran into this video. Either way, I'm grateful that I've seen it. I love the unique visuals. Dan-A and her background is mostly in black and white while a select few things are in color, kinda like Sin City. The song features trumpets, drums, and piano and her voice has a slight feminine rasp to it. It's a unique sound and it's easy to listen to and tap your foot to.

"Delete" by Azin
I'm assuming I ran into this song the same time as the one above. It's different from your typical kpop songs and has this retro electro-pop sound to it. The visuals range from slightly obscure figures singing in the shadows and silhouettes of dancers behind a white screen. There is a little break up between the scenes with a girl dancing outside in the snow. The visuals are simple, but fit the easing softness of Azin's voice and the music makes it somewhat danceable, but overall intriguing.

"Life" by RubberSoul feat. Madclown
Need a blast from the past? Well, this is the perfect video to get a little taste of the 90s. This trio of ladies remind me of old TLC. From their style, presentation, and sound, it really gives that smooth, confident TLC vibe and I'm not mad at all. There's not many female hip-hop groups in Korea's music scene, so this is very refreshing. It's a chill, positive song that makes you want to dance along to the familiar beat. I'm looking forward to hearing more from these ladies.

"Mi Amor" by Jin Akanishi
Is it just me or has Jin and Miyavi switched places? Or maybe they've become the same person lately. Either way, this song sounds very Miyavi...not that that's a bad thing. It's a beautiful song and has a nice balance of pop and dance in the vocals and beat. The build up is effective and the visuals really match the tone of the song and the lyrics. It brings artsy and pop intimacy images together into a cohesive package. I enjoy the solo shots of Jin; whether it's his shadow, him with paint on half of his face, or interacting with the dancers as well as the actors and dancers that interact with each other. I'm definitely enjoying this new side and direction he's going with his music and perhaps image.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Quick Anime Review

Durarara!! (2010) | Rating: 2.5/5

Years ago, I remember a friend recommending me this show and some time passed and another friend cosplayed Celty...more time passed and I finally watched the show (including the 2 extra episodes). Coincidentally, they announced and released a second season, Durarara!!x2 Shou, which I saw a bunch of my friends squealing and celebrating over. I know the show is pretty popular and I only noticed through cosplay observation. So, what did I think about this show? Well, I honestly couldn't join the hype. I did enjoy the show though, but at times, my attention tend to wane and my main interest lied with Celty's mysterious past and her looking for her head. Other than that, it kinda felt like a bit of chore to watch it came up in my anime rotation. In theory, I should've enjoyed this more as I had fun watching the various characters in Baccano!, but some sort of spark was missing for me. Anyway, glancing at MyAnimeList as I type this, I see that a third and fourth season are in the works to be release. So, I'm happy for the fans of the show, but I don't think I'll be pursuing this series any least not immediately.

Yamato Nadeshiko Shichihenge♥ (2006) | Rating: 3/5

I originally heard about this series through a friend and I checked out the manga years ago. I'm still working on reading the rest of it and I noticed recently that the series ended in January (thank God!). So, I decided to watch the anime in the meantime as I was working on other manga series. It had been a while since I've been in The Wallflower universe, so it felt like I was being reintroduced to these characters while watching it. I tried to watch a bit of the dub in comparison, at least one episode, but I couldn't really get into it as the voices didn't quite suit what was pictured for me, mostly Yuki's. I thought the show was entertaining, but sometimes I kinda didn't feel like watching it as I enjoyed reading the manga so much more. The anime isn't terrible at all. It has the same spirit and humor as the manga, but it feels like it's missing something in the characters. Whenever I finish the manga, I'll try to make it a point to review it here, but the anime series isn't that bad.

Deadman Wonderland (2011) | Rating: 4/5

I originally saw the first episode of this series on Adult Swim, but I never kept up with it. Obviously, I picked it back up later when I finished watching Durarara!!, because I needed something a little darker in its place. It was definitely dark, but I wasn't expecting it to be so brutal. I didn't mind the violence though. It kinda reminded me of Tokyo Ghoul...or maybe I should say Tokyo Ghoul reminds me of this show. They share some similar elements, but for me, this show is more engaging and the characters are more likable. I wanted them to succeed with their goal and I was invested in learning more about their special powers as well as the prison/amusement park system. Although not necessary for viewing, I found the OVA to be entertaining as well. The way the series ended made it seem like a second season would be in the works, so hopefully, they'll pick it back up in the near future.

Junjou Romantica 2 (2008) | Rating: 3.5/5

Eons ago I reviewed the first season of this shounen ai series and now I've finally decided to watch the second season. What I vaguely remember about the first season and just re-read the brief review I written here made me feel about the same way with this second installment. The story and characters are still enjoyable and it was nice that they continued the storyline with each couple from the first season. Occasionally, I had to rack my brain to remember what happened with the side characters, but this season helped a little with refreshing my memory. Since I had the same positive feelings toward the first season, I had the same complaints as well, which mainly lies with the art style. Some of the characters tend to look alike, which can be problematic if you're not familiar or have a hard time remembering character names. Aside from that, it was amusing and it was nice seeing these characters again.

Assassination Classroom (2015) | Rating: 5/5

If you keep up with the anime I review here, majority of the series I watch are older series, but every now and then, I watch a new series that come out that year. This is something I mention from time to time as a reminder and as a fyi for new readers, I will happily watch new series you guys are curious about or even request me to review. Anyway, I've seen this manga occasionally on the shelves of bookstores, but never paid any attention to it. I don't completely remember what got my curiosity: either the title or seeing something about it on Tumblr. Nonetheless, I found this series thoroughly entertaining. The art style took a little adjusting to, but once I caught up to the newer episodes, I got a little impatient waiting for the next episode. I enjoyed every episode and the characters made it extra enjoyable. I'm really looking forward to the second season in 2016.

If there's something you want me to review, check out this post on how you can submit requests.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Throwback Thursday Review: Aaliyah's "One In a Million" (1996)

Aaliyah - One In a Million (1996, USA)
Rating: 4/5
Favorite Tracks: One In a Million, 4 Page Letter, If Your Girl Only Knew, Never Givin' Up

For the longest time, I always thought that One in a Million was Aaliyah's debut album, but there was another album before it. Unfortunately, I've never actually heard her first album, which probably makes me a bad Aaliyah fan or something. Nonetheless, I wanted to review an album that most Aaliyah fans recognized as well as my first introduction to her music that expanded her music video discography on TV. I remember first borrowing this album or listening to it from my cousin, who is a big Aaliyah fan. It definitely cemented my love and admiration for this young talented lady.

"Beats 4 Da Streets (Intro)" is a simple introduction featuring, at the time, Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott. It's a short track with a slight hip-hop beat and some deep, airy vocals from Aaliyah. It gives just enough of a sample of what this album would deliver to its listeners.

"Hot Like Fire" continues a similar beat from the introduction with Missy as the hype woman in the song. The beat is pretty laid back with a bit of bass in the background to hit those back row speakers of your car. Aaliyah's vocals remain a bit deep, but light to float out at the end of lines and during the bridge. The music video features a remix version provided by one of the most popular producers at that time Timbaland. It still maintains that laid back tone, but bumps the beat up to make it more of a club track. It features some simple choreography with a block party atmosphere on a music set.

As mentioned in my first entry of Miko's Music Connection, "One in a Million" was my introduction to Aaliyah's world and probably for a lot of people who watched BET. It's a slightly slower song than "Hot Like Fire" and presents more of a sensual tone. The song reaches out to a lover that Aaliyah is smitten with. The lyrics are very simple to understand and really touches on many points in a relationship. The music video features R&B singer Ginufine Ginuwine as Aaliyah's love interest. There's some great intimate choreography as well that mixes it up between beauty shots of her on a car and interacting with Ginuwine. "Girl Like You" is the essence of 90s R&B and hip-hop. The song starts off with guest rapper from Naughty by Nature, Treach. It's not a track I listened to that often, not because it's bad or anything, but I guess Treach's style of rapping sounded like he was yelling from across the hallway or something. At first, the song seems a bit unbalanced with Treach's voice almost taking over the song and Aaliyah's soft vocals. But it is an enjoyable track.

"If Your Girl Only Knew" brought back the sound that I think fits Aaliyah's vocal talent best. It goes back to a simple R&B sound. The vocals feature a few layers of either back-up singers or echos. I remember jamming out to this song and felt that strong attitude in Aaliyah's voice throughout this song. I could see her telling this guy off to his face, maybe a little side eye, and a cocky smile while she walked away. I don't think I've ever seen the music video until now, but it seems like one of the most risque music videos I've seen by a good way. It's sexual, but not too sexual. Aaliyah's style mixes tomboy and sex appeal. She and the other actresses deliver attitude and dominance over these cheating men in simple scenarios such as a private room and an elevator. Of course, it features some artist cameos like "Hot Like Fire" such as R&B trio 702 and rapper Lil' Kim. "Choosey Lover (Old School/New School)" is part cover, part remix. I remember listening to this track with my dad in the car and he had a flashback of the original by The Isley Brothers. I was happy he approved of this meeting of old school and new school when we listened to this track. Aaliyah's voice is absolutely flawless and the first half keeps that mood of "quiet storm soul". By the end of the cover portion, a strong hip-hop bass beat fuses in while Aaliyah's vocals smoothly transition to the change in beats.

"Got to Give It Up" is another cover track originally sung by the legendary Marvin Gaye. According to Wikipedia, it samples Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" and features rapper Slick Rick. It's an upbeat track that Aaliayh does well. With her light voice, it doesn't quite pack the same punch as the original, but gives a personal flair to the cover that still conveys the same essence of Marvin Gaye's original. Slick Rick's contribution isn't as overpowering as Treach's and simply elevates the mood of the track toward the end.

"4 Page Letter" is by far one of my favorite Aaliyah songs and my favorite track on this album. Not only did this song really cement my admiration for her, but it's just a very good track. It reverts back to being a love song like "One in a Million" and takes it up several notches in quality. The beat is less overpowering and really lets Aaliyah's voice shine, whether she's doing runs or delivering a verse. Every layer of this song is perfection; it really makes you want to turn it up like the beginning requested. Also, the bridge really solidifies this as a great love song. It displays a bit of shyness, but determination in tone. Lastly, I think this is one of her best music videos on this album as well. I'm not going to say too much about it and just let the video speak for itself. "Everything's Gonna Be Alright" is another track I didn't listen to that much...well, not many of the songs after "4 Page Letter" I listened to when I was younger...and kinda now. None of these songs are bad in the least, just less played. This track brings back the upbeat hip-hop elements incorporated in Aaliyah's sound. It's a fun little track that exudes tons of confidence in content and delivery. It really makes me feel that everything will be alright. "Giving You More" scales back some of that hip-hop sound, but doesn't completely disappear. It simply balances out with Aaliyah's R&B roots, although the beat almost takes over her beautiful delivery in the bass section. "I Gotaha' Back" stays consistent in the balance of sound, but gives her vocals a little more opportunity to break through and reach the listener's ears. "Never Givin' Up" is a track that features Tavarius Polk with some very strong vocals and took me until high school to truly appreciate. I'm very picky with ballads, but R&B has a higher chance of me enjoying, although a lot of them around this time period sounded similar. Nonetheless, it's a really, really solid track that I could see on rainy day scenarios in movies when a character's lover goes away or a wedding song. Definitely check this song out for a real throwback sound. Listening to it now, I still think that Boyz II Men were part of this song and occasionally Tavarius' voice sounds a bit nasally in places, but it's still a beautiful song. "Heartbroken" shares a similar sound to "Hot Like Fire", but toned down and mixed a little more interestingly. It's a song with some vulnerabilities in the vocals, but a subtle strength beneath it. "Never Comin' Back" continues the narrative of heartbreak, but encourages moving on and not dwelling on the past. Things were good, but there are better things coming in the future as well without you. It kinda has a bit of a R&B lounge sound with Timbaland's flair on minimalistic sound. "Ladies In Da House" features Timbaland and Missy and an upbeat R&B sound with a hint of hip-hop. Whether you see it as an independent track or a continuation of the narrative from the last 2-3 tracks, it works as a confidence track for all the ladies. I can see this song being featured in the club, back in the day, and all the ladies enjoying themselves on the floor without any men involved. "Just me and the girls~"

"The One I Gave My Heart To" is a power ballad that ends all the full length tracks on the album. With the cohesion of heartbreak above, I probably would've moved this track up and let "Ladies In Da House" close off the album. Nonetheless, this song features some really strong and powerful vocals by Aaliyah as well as some genuine vulnerability. According to Wikipedia, Aaliyah ad-libbed the last verse of the song, which is quite impressive. The music video features her alone with no cameos or special guests to accompany or comfort her. It really fits the tone of the song and shows Aaliyah in the classic "singing in the rain" shot that a lot of pop and R&B male artists used. "Came to Give Love (Outro)" closes out the album with some feature vocals by producer Timbaland. It's a simple hip-hop/R&B beat that I actually like a lot more than the intro. It probably would've been a cool full track too.

One In a Million was definitely a step up from "Age Ain't Nothin' But a Number" (the song, not the album). Aaliyah's voice is a gentle power that eases new listeners in and comforts those familiar to 90s R&B. Timbaland and Missy's beats deliver a great balance of hip-hop and R&B and lets that balance shift in all the right tracks. While there are a couple tracks where the beats overpower Aaliyah's soft vocals, majority of them let her voice float effortlessly through the listener's ears and sometimes resonant with vulnerability and genuine passion. One In a Million is a solid sophomore album that displays growth in Aaliyah's vocal talents and versatility as well as what great producers can do with a great talent.