The Tale of Kissshot Acerolaorion Heartunderblade: Nisioisin’s ‘Kizumonogatari’

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I don’t know what it is about these characters and their story that I found so immediately engaging, but once I started Nisioisin’s Kizumonogatari: Wound Tale I kept wanting more. Not only did I finish the book over a long weekend, but also I sought out other incarnations of this vampiric world, which resulted in my discovery of the Monogatari Series, which is available on Hulu. As for the book under review, it was a recommendation—the kind that’s commonplace nowadays as our “likes” and purchases are constantly tracked—which I responded to proactively for two simple reasons. One, I really liked the vibe that the cover illustration and design gave off. Vofan’s rendering of the polysyllabically named blonde vampire was especially enticing. Second, I had read Nisioisin’s 2008 Del Rey light novel edition of xxxHolic, which I enjoyed as a worthy addition to the anime and manga series. Nisioisin, of course, also did a light novel of the Death Note series, also in 2008, which VIZ Media published. In light of these two factors, plus knowing that Kizumonogatari was being released in January 2016 as a feature-length anime movie, I couldn’t wait to dive in.

What I read more than satisfied my need for a brisk and entertaining story about awkward teens confronted with the extraordinary situation of having to reluctantly aide a vampire named Kissshot Acerolaorion Heartunderblade, who’s dealing with an existential crisis and the threat of three formidable vampire hunters. Koyomi Araragi, a geeky teen on spring break, unexpectedly finds himself working as Kissshot’s “thrall” after finding her limbless and helpless. Allowing himself to be bitten, Araragi becomes a “half-vampire” with unusual powers, which he needs when battling Dramaturgy, Episode, and Guillotine Cutter. At stake are the reclamation of Heartunderblade’s missing extremeties and the restoration of Araragi’s humanity. Complicating Araragi’s quests is Mèmè Oshino, a middle-aged man of mysterious origins who lives in an abandoned cram school, and who periodically avails himself to Araragi with help and information, in addition to having something of a history with Heartunderblade. Less mysterious but no less threatening to Araragi’s self-esteem is Tsubasa Hanekawa, his buxom classmate, who’s described as a “model student among model students, a class president among class presidents.” She’s also Araragi’s only friend, both intelligent and charming in equal measures, who will later play a critical role in enabling her reticently heroic friend at fulfilling his destiny. In the end, as long as you’re a fan of light novels based on anime and manga characters—which are the equivalent of the tie-in novels featuring Marvel and DC Comics characters—and aren’t expecting some kind of Haruki Murakami-Anne Rice hybridization, then you’ll more than likely enjoy Kizumonogatari: Wound Tale. It’s perfect for when you get some time-off or need something to titillate your imagination.

Photo credit: David Martínez

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The Girl in the Iron Mask: ‘Mutant Girls Squad’

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“Rin” (Sugimoto Yumi) is a teen who is bullied by a school full of cute high school girls—I did not recall seeing a single boy—and who learns the hard way, on her sixteenth birthday, that her dad (Tsuda Kanji) is a mutant. This occurs when Rin’s parents surprise her with a cake and some streamers upon returning home from a rough day at school. During this meager celebration, Rin’s dad chooses to reveal to his daughter an important truth about himself and about her true identity. He then disrobes to reveal his “treasures,” which consist of reddish snake-like growths covering his nipples and crotch. It is at this point when Rin’s family is attacked by an anti-mutant squad, killing her mutant father and human mother (Ito Maiko). Rin is then forced to flee for her life, although not without having to fend off a vengeful mob, before she is finally rescued by “Rei” (Takayama Yuko). It is under Rei’s protection that Rin is led to an underground group of mutant girls called “Hiruko,” whose chief is a human hating transvestite named “Kasagari” (Sakaguchi Tak), who reminded me of “Chairman Kaga” of Iron Chef fame and who has a giant tongue protruding from his stomach.

Mutant Girls Squad (2010) is divided into three parts, each with its own director (Iguchi Noboru, Nishimura Yoshihiro, Sakaguchi Tak), in which Rin goes from bullied teen to a member of Hiruko, where she trains with other mutant girls, preparing for their battle against the anti-mutant forces organized by General Koshimizu (Takenaka Naoto). As part of her training, Rin is compelled to don an iron helmet, which she is told will help her to learn how to control her power, or her “treasure,” meaning her mutation, which consists of a Freddy Krueger-style hand that slices through opponents like butter. Other girls’ treasures include one who has a chainsaw that comes raging out of her posterior and another who can brandish katana—or samurai swords—from her breasts. It is during training that Rin meets “Yoshie” (Morita Suzuka), a cosplay nurse with tentacles for hands and an elephantine snout, complete with some pretty impressive, shall we say, vacuuming abilities.

At first, Rin is committed to Kasagari’s ambition of defending the lives of mutants like her and the other girls. However, because of her half-human identity—which elicits the scorn of Kasagari’s right hand officer, Rei—Rin begins to have serious doubts about Hiruko’s final solution. Defeating Koshimizu and protecting mutants from genocide is one thing; pursuing the extermination of all humans and being no better than the anti-Hiruko forces is another. In the end, Mutant Girls Squad is a wild and often humorous romp, complete with memorable but ridiculous fight scenes and a simple but thankfully non-preachy message about acceptance and social harmony. In other words, Mutant Girls Squad is an over-the-top good time to watch! The movie even manages to satirize its predecessors in the extreme mutant action genre, namely The Machine Girl (2008) and Tokyo Gore Police (2008), which is remarkable given that the latter two movies were as self-spoofing as they were brilliant and fun.

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The Many Faces of Sadako: ‘Ringu 2’ and ‘Spiral’

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One of the perennial questions of cinema is which is better the movie or the book? Depending on the author, director, and story, the debate over which form is most satisfying—text or moving image—is the stuff of late night conversations and elaborate essays. Be it the Harry Potter series, Stephen King’s The Shining, or classics like Anna Karenina, The Great Gatsby, and Dracula, opinions abound as to which produced the superior story. Then, there are those who think that one should not even engage in such matters in the first place, pointing out the fundamental differences and, hence, the incomparable attributes of book and film. Each format is a unique experience unto itself—as different as admiring a still life painting of breads and fruits in a gallery is from indulging in a hearty meal of apples, pears, and a freshly baked loaf.

However, what happens when, in the case of a sequel, the book and the movie bare very little resemblance to one another? For Ringu, which Koji Suzuki published in 1991 and Hideo Nakata turned into a 1998 movie, the respective sequels are even more divergent than their originals. In 1995 Suzuki renewed Sadako Yamamura’s curse in Spiral, which is about Ando Mitsuo, a coroner, and his effort at solving the mystery behind his old college friend’s death, Ryūji Takayama, a logician of great repute. Ando’s investigation soon leads him to Mai Takano, Ryūji’s student and paramour, who inexplicably disappears when she and Ando were to meet for dinner. Ando, aside from feeling drawn to Mai, wanted her help with understanding how Ryūji died. In particular, he wanted to comprehend his friend’s sudden heart attack, the evidence of smallpox found during his autopsy, and the coded message uncovered in a suture, which had been deciphered as “mutation.” Because of Mai’s disappearance, Ando is compelled into the world created by Sadako and the curse recorded on the infamous videotape.

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When Nakata released Ringu 2 in 1999, he took the story of Sadako’s legacy in a completely different direction. While some characters are retained from the book series, others, most importantly Ando, are nowhere to be seen. In fact, whereas Mai Takano vanishes early in the story told in Spiral, she is the main character in the movie sequel. Played by Miki Nakatani, “Mai Takano” is the one searching for answers about Ryūji’s death, which leads her to a reporter, “Okazaki” (Yûrei Yanagi), who is looking for someone who has seen the now legendary tape. Okazaki’s own quest connects him with a young girl, “Kanae Sawaguchi” (Kyoko Fukuda), who knows others who have seen the tape. Okazaki asks Kanae if she can get him a copy of the tape, which she agrees to do. Upon delivering the copy to Okazaki, Kanae tells him that she has now viewed its content and is visibly shaken. Kanae wants Okazaki to promise her that he will watch the video for fear for her life. Okazaki promises, only be seen depositing the tape in his desk draw, clearly with no immediate intention of viewing it.

As for Sadako, she manifests herself in very different ways in each version of her story. In Spiral she makes a subtle yet effective appearance into Ando’s life, leading him into a dilemma that may mean either the recovery of someone irreplaceably dear to him or humanity’s extinction. The curse embodied in the video is acting like virus, like smallpox, and it is up to Ando to find a way of eradicating this menace to human existence. However, what will he do when given the opportunity to atone for an incredible guilt that destroyed his heart and family? In Ringu 2, Sadako’s presence is felt throughout the movie, as a wandering ghost and as a paranormal psychotic whose anger extends from the well in which she perished to the mental hospital, where “Dr Kawajiri” (Fumio Kohinato) will attempt to purge her from the minds she has afflicted with her curse using an experiment he has devised based on his theory of energy transference.

In both stories, Spiral and Ringu 2, Suzuki and Nakata demonstrate the narrative richness of Sadako’s story of abnormal psychic ability and the consequences of her tragic rape and murder. With the latter in mind, Sadako is a literary icon of abused and missing girls and women. She is more than a ghost story, she is the face of anger at a patriarchal society that saw her psychic abilities as abnormal, calling her a “freak,” while her beauty exposed her to the insipid yearnings of men who only sought to exploit her vulnerability. The real terror, then, is not Sadako but the predatory nature of the male psyche, when it is allowed to objectify women without fear of condemnation.

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‘Negative Volume’: The Unholy Union of Dragged Into Sunlight & Gnaw Their Tongues

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November 2015 will forever be the time in which two converging forces in the world of Black Metal finally came together in an explosion of aural mayhem. More specifically, this month is when Dragged Into Sunlight and Gnaw Their Tongues released their long-awaited split album NV. Consisting of five songs spanning about thirty minutes of music, NV assembles the thrashing chords and scorching vocals that have characterized Liverpool’s Dragged Into Sunlight over its previous releases, namely Hatred for Mankind (2009) and Widowmaker (2012), and the collage of audio clips, sound effects, and occasional instrumentation of the Netherlands’ Gnaw Their Tongues, whose most recent release, Abyss of Longing Throats (2015), was described as a “hellish cacophony of mangled industrial black metal, lurching heaviness, twisted electronic carnage and bombastic orchestral power.”

According to T, the vocalist for Dragged Into Sunlight, in an interview with Echoes and Dust: “We’d record Dragged Into Sunlight in arbitrary pieces and send it over to Mories [Gnaw Their Tongues] and he might re-record some drums or vocals, or add some vocals or noise, or add a bassline. Then it would go back to us and we’d record more drums, add more guitar, add more vocals, add some Moog – then it would go back to Mories and he’d add some of his more obscure influences. We’d work on it very carefully and each track, it wasn’t uncommon for us to go a year with just having done a single track.” Consequently, the process of writing and recording NV this way took about four years to produce the album that we have today.

As for what we have exactly, NV is one of the darkest, yet sonically satisfying albums of the year, which may sound strange, given the themes that define the collaboration. More to the point, the five tracks are titled: 1 “Visceral Repulsion,” 2 “Absolver,” 3 “Strangled with the Cord,” 4 “Omniscienza,” and 5 “Alchemy in the Subyear.” As for what these songs are about, I cannot say without a lyric sheet, which has yet to be posted anywhere that I can access. Unsurprisingly, like much of metal music over the past two decades, especially the subgenres of Black, Doom, Sludge, and Death, even the most ardent listeners will be challenged at discerning the lyrics. Then, again, purveyors of this type of music are typically not the type to sing-along.

On the contrary, an album like NV is meant for those seeking an intense experience of heavy chords, shattering the notes into fragments of reverberation, complemented by screeching vocals, which evoke the aliens, the ancient Babylonians, of The Fourth Kind. As for how the artists think of what they created, T said in the same interview cited above about the album’s title, NV, which stands for “Negative Volume”: “Well, I was having a conversation with a close friend of mine, one of the Bossk [members]. We were talking about it and watching Will Haven—they were playing—and he turned around and said, ‘I can’t deal with this modern volume, I remember back in the day, hitting it hard and look at these guys now, they’re still hitting it as hard, like the old stuff from years ago.’ Will Haven were a great band back then. Then they split. Negative Volume summarizes how it was back then with so many strong bands when scenes weren’t so restrictive. Godflesh is a negative volume, they just make you feel that discomfort and contempt that got those involved in Dragged Into Sunlight into extreme music.”

As for me, what I think Dragged Into Sunlight and Gnaw Their Tongues have created is a work of incredible significance. NV is one of these albums that is a complete world unto itself, in which the outrage of humankind’s collective psyche for its own sins and failings is validated through the music, words, and sounds of two artistic forces turning their unique musical visions into a double helix of light and darkness. NV is the iridescent soundtrack for the end of the world, just as the sun is burning out.

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