I am Number Four: Movie Review

iamnumberfourBecause I was in the mood for some action and eye candy, I checked out by TBW files and pulled out something that I’ve been meaning to see in a while but haven’t gotten the chance to. Reading Young Adult novels of late has piqued my interest for more big screen adaptations and I am Number Four seemed like one that never quite got the follow up it was expecting. I know, because there are currently four or five other books in the series and no movie sequel in the works. I think this is weird because this franchise has plenty more material to explore, compared with other trilogies that are fixing to break up the last books into two parts to get two movies out of it.

Nine Lorien legacies have taken refuge on planet Earth, along with their guardians to gather strength and one day unite to defeat the Mogadorians who have decimated their home planet. But before they can do so, they must first survive from the Mogadorians who have tracked them down to hunt and kill them one by one. After the death of the third legacy, Four (Alex Pettyfer) and his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant), flee to Paradise Ohio to build a fresh cover and at the same time discover the whereabouts of his friend, who is helping him find the other surviving Loriens. But unlike in other towns, John finds a connection with Paradise, particularly with a girl named Sarah (Diana Agron), and conspiracy theorist and school outcast Sam (Callan Mcauliffe), who happens to be the son of Henri’s friend. With the Mogadorians on their trail, Four tries to weigh the importance of his newfound powers and responsibilities against his yearning for a normal human life.

This movie has been ragged on by critics a lot, and for good reason. For one, while the actors playing the main characters are all nice to look at, the characters they play are really one dimensional and clichéd. Sometimes, Four’s lack of foresight and ill timed rebellion becomes really painful to watch. Henri seemed to be the only person who had any lick of sense and in the end, he was the one who had to make the sacrifice, which was really unfair. The fact that the movie chose to focus on Four/John and Henri’s disagreement about the latter’s strict policies may have won over the younger audience who themselves are rebelling against authority, but it was no secret and fairly understandable from from the beginning where Henri was coming from. They were in grave danger and he was being overprotective for a reason. Duh!

On the other hand, Sarah’s uniform expression in all of her scenes did not help matters and made me wonder if the hype from Glee was the only reason Diana Agron got the part. They could have gotten a mannequin to play the part and it wouldn’t have made any difference. I liked Sam (Callan Mcauliffe) and Six (Teresa Palmer),though. They added a touch of humanity and flavor in the otherwise robotic performances of the two leads. Oh, and I also liked the beagle who played Bernie Kosar. For a while, I wasn’t sure if he was a friend or a foe but no matter what, he was still adorable.

Aside from the acting and the stereotypes that the film insisted on portraying (which limited the movie’s potential) it wasn’t a bad film at all. It had great cinematography, cool stunts and a really good soundtrack as well. If audiences can get over the oversimplified writing and the insistence into slotting every aspect of the film into a formula, it was quite passable. It had good CGI and a pretty solid source material, one that I have yet to read. I have a gut feeling that the book will be better than the movie and both Four/John and Sarah would be more likeable in their book forms. I certainly hope so.

All in all, director DJ Caruso and producer Michael Bay stuck religiously to the blockbuster formula for this one, and I would have liked for them to do something different. I felt like the movie kept a lot close to its chest, perhaps in the belief that they should keep the suspense to sustain the momentum for the following movies. The problem with that theory though, is that it runs contrary to the intention of every first movie in the franchise to blow the audiences’ socks off and leave them clamoring for more. As it stands, I would be content to just find out what happens in the books. If the movie franchise continues though, I would very much like for Sarah to die and for Four to just take up with Six. Who knows? She might rub off some of her personality and presence on him. Plus, she’s smart so maybe she could influence him out of lovesick puppy mode?  

Insurgent: Book Review

insurgentSYNOPSIS: Tobias, Tris, Peter and a handful of Abnegation members flee the city to seek temporary sanctuary with Amity, but they discover that the Erudite’s action has split their former faction in half. Some have found allies in Candor while Dauntless traitors led by Dauntless leaders Eric and Max have pledged allegiance to Jeanette Matthews and her mission to rule the government. As Tobias and Tris reunite with their friends, they realize that things will never be the same so long as the Erudite has the power to rule, with her quench to eliminate the Divergent part of her marching orders for her army. As they take the fight to her however, they need stronger allies. The question is – could the allies be trusted to keep their word or do they have an agenda of their own?

I loved the first book in the Divergent trilogy and found myself compelled to grab the second book immediately after finishing the first one. I was intrigued about the extent of the Erudite plot and was amazed by how complicated this book was. There was something going on from all corners but somehow, author Veronica Roth was able to organize the chaos into a gripping social analysis encased in a dystopian fictional setting.

Insurgent attacks all of the readers emotions. With the loss of Tris’s family, they will feel grief and with Tobias’s struggle to come to terms with what happened during his childhood, a more vulnerable side to this competent hero comes to focus. As Tris deals with the guilt about what happened to Will and some choices that she and Tobias don’t see eye to eye on, issues take a toll on their relationship until they are forced to come to terms with each other’s motives.

While their relationship in Divergent was at its tentative stages, it becomes more intense in Insurgent as their romantic ties and their other issues (like being in danger and being the target of Erudite’s army for being Divergent, or being involved in the war) intermingle with each other and muddle their relationship. But what I liked despite all of these issues is Tobias’s faith in Tris’s strength and his obvious love for her, that she does not quite see because of her inexperience in dealing with the opposite sex. This is both cute and frustrating. There were times when I wanted to smack her silly for being too dense, but this is part of her character’s charm, in my opinion.

Insurgent gives readers their first glimpse at the factionless as a group. Whereas before, the factionless were merely depicted like the homeless, relying only on the charity of the Abnegation, in Insurgent, their full force is revealed and their leader is also became quite a surprise.

Alliances are tested, doubts are explored, aid comes from the most unlikely of places and betrayal becomes a most painful part of the equation. The second book in the Divergent trilogy did not pull any punches and served up blow after blow with each chapter.
I think the best part about Insurgent, despite it’s prolonged dwelling on Tris’s dilemma to make the ultimate sacrifice, is that each aspect of the book proceeds at almost the same pace and not one angle is left too far behind the other. Everything blows up all at the same time. And while readers will want to take a break after one chapter of intense battling, they would be compelled to go straight to the next page instead to find out the aftermath.

One of my favorite parts of the book is that despite the hit that Dauntless took from the events of the first book, the Dauntless still have the same spirit and courage to pick up the pieces to take the fight to the Erudite leadership. But Jeanette’s conviction that there is something bigger that needs to be addressed (in order to justify her obsession with the Divergent) piqued my curiosity to no end, especially after Marcus hinted at the same information. I knew there was a big picture, but Veronica Roth chose the right moment to drop the bomb, and it worked really well for the book.

Different sides are presented about characters earlier introduced in the first book, but not all of them are pretty. There are times when black is not so clearly different from white and I think these gray areas are what hooks readers into the story. They are drawn into the story and forced to make decisions along with the characters, and as such, they become much more involved about the outcome.

All in all, the stakes are higher with Insurgent and everything is amped up, but even as the story moves forward, and shocks are delivered a mile a minute, the book stays grounded to its source  retains its strengths from the first installment. Its still well written, excellently narrated, and just as exciting as Divergent, perhaps even more. As a penultimate offering, it surpasses all expectations and delivers the action in spades.

Divergent: Book Review

divergent_hqSYNOPSIS: In the dystopian city of Chicago, a faction system keeps order in society. When children reach the age of 16, they participate in a Choosing ceremony which will determine whether they opt to stay with their families in their faction or settle for another faction. Those who are inclined towards courage choose Dauntless. Those who value intelligence choose Erudite. Those who think honesty is the best virtue choose Candor. Those who wish to live in peace and harmony go with Amity. Those who value selflessness and service to others choose Abnegation. In order to help them make their choice, the teens undergo an aptitude test to see which faction they should belong but unlike the others, the choice will not be easy for Abnegation-born Beatrice Prior, because she learns that she has more than one of the virtues and this makes her a rare breed called Divergent. But being Divergent has its risks because there are those who go to extreme lengths to eradicate the Divergent from society because they cannot be controlled, and Beatrice knows that she must hide her secret to survive.

Its weird because I saw the movie first before I read the book, and I loved the movie because there was such a strong chemistry among the cast, especially lead stars Shailene Woodley and Theo James. I was thinking, how could I muster enough enthusiasm for the movie’s origin material when I pretty much know what’s going to happen? Turns out I shouldn’t have worried because even as the movie remained faithful to the main elements of the book, the book was awesome in its own right, possibly even more so because it provided an in depth perspective from Tris due to the first person narrative.

What I loved most about the books was that Tris, despite being a heroine in a dystopian world, was pretty relatable to readers across ages, but mostly with teens because she harbors the same insecurities and the same challenges about making choices, being at a loss about making decisions, making friends, and of course falling in love. I loved that she was a flawed heroine but she was able to overcome her flaws because of her inner strength and her drive t push forward. I loved her innocence most of all because of her upbringing and her occasional prudishness. It’s a refreshing change and a contrast to their liberated way of doing things in Dauntless. She could well be a transfer student from another school — her anxieties were the same as the usual teens, just amplified more because she was going to learn to survive from training after all.

I also loved that the book talked a lot about the people surrounding Tris to give readers a better understanding of her motivations. The movie introduced her friends but did not dwell too much on their personalities and that was understandable yet a shame because they were very rich characters, especially Al and Christina. But I loved Four the most because even from the books, he was the type of hero that readers  find themselves levitating towards. He is smart and shy but sensitive, and makes a perfect foil for Tris because they complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I love that he was the first to say I love you to Tris and that final scene on the train totally made me melt.

There wasn’t much of a surprise with Divergent but the book was obviously setting up towards the bigger picture and leaves no doubt that more layers in the plot to eliminate Divergents will unfold in the next installments.

All in all, Divergent was a very strong beginning to the trilogy. I loved to read Divergent because Tris’s voice just seemed to reach out and grab readers into the story. Its explores fear and courage and how people respond to these phenomenon and inspires readers towards the latter.Excellent writing on the part of Veronica Roth, seamless transitioning and a lot of action packed between the pages. Divergent was funny, endearing, exciting and larger than life. It was about family, friends, romance and recognizing the person within and having the courage to be that person. What a great read. My only complaint would have to be that Tobias is not really a super cool name for such a cool guy as Four, but then again, I got used to the same well enough so I guess that nullifies my complaint.

The Death Cure: Book Review

The_Death_CureSYNOPSIS: After Thomas and the Gladers successfully complete The Scorch Trials, they are taken by WICKED for the final test to discover the pattern that will reveal the cure for the dreaded Flare disease. Thomas is isolated from his friends for close to a month before WICKED Assistant Director Janssen (Rat Man) gives him and the other survivors the opportunity to remove the Swipe from their brains to recover their memories. He also learns that he is immune from the Flare and so are most of the other Gladers from Groups A and B. However, there are a few who are not immune, part of a control group WICKED has included to get the best results from the tests. Filled with distrust, Minho, Thomas and Newt refuse the procedure and devise a plan to escape and take down WICKED once and for all. In the course of their journey, they discover the extent of the virus’s damage in the world filled with people gripped by madness.

I finished the last book in the trilogy faster than the first two books and it was because of the amount of questions that I wanted answers to. What was the extent of Thomas’s involvement in developing the trials, what the backgrounds of the Gladers were before they were included in the experiments, could Brenda and Jorge be trusted and what was the killzone? For the most part, The Death Cure managed to provide the answers to these questions but without Thomas actually regaining his memories, or without learning what the other Gladers were before the trials, there were many gray areas that prevented me from connecting emotionally to the situation.

There was also a lingering doubt about the loyalty of Brenda althroughout the book, perhaps because of her connection with Chancellor Paige and I just could not understand why Thomas blindly believed in her. Thomas’s relationship with Teresa, which was one of the main storylines from the first book, also never quite recovered from what happened at The Scorch Trials and this, I think worked in favor of the book and against it. In a sense, it added to the suspense and sense of mystery as to whom to trust, but on the other hand, it felt like an open wound that would not close. For me, there was a great big loophole in the story when Thomas did not question why Jorge lied about Teresa and the rest of the Gladers leaving ahead of them from the WICKED facility. While Brenda and Jorge did help them escape, I did not understand Thomas’s blind faith in the two when they were clearly working for another member of WICKED, whom he knew nothing about. And of course, there’s Gally and the Right Arm. While I understand why Thomas would want to side with a group so dead set against WICKED, he did not think things through or ask about their motives of how they would set out to achieve their mission. This was really very uncharacteristic of the Thomas from the first two books.

While reading The Death Cure, I felt like I was transported into the pages of a Walking Dead comic book and it even had a World War Z vibe going on with all of the Cranks going on full attack mode — the chaos, the destruction, the utter lack of humanity. Still, I felt like like Denver was a merely a detour intended to hype up the final revelation as to what the pattern is and what should be done to get it from the killzone.

If I had a favorite part in the book, it would be the first part when Minho, Thomas and Newt stood firm in not wanting to get the Swipe removed. I loved that the Rat Man called them rebels and the I admired the strength of their resolve to take down WICKED with only the three of them. The David vs Goliath scenario was a winner. While the Newt storyline broke my heart, it was one of the strongest points of the book, in my opinion.

All in all, I am still on the fence about how the series ended. It seemed harsh and coldhearted and in the end, it would seem that WICKED still had the last laugh. There were a lot of things I liked about the ending, when they returned to the Maze to finish what they started. After reading the entire thing, I felt like it delivered everything that a climactic finale should, but it made me feel sad, because of all the deaths and future deaths destined to happen in the new world. After The Death Cure, I felt like there were still too many questions about what happened BEFORE, and perhaps this was the reason that James Dashner wrote the prequel The Kill Order. The Death Cure was well written and engaging, just like the first two books but I felt like it should have delivered more closure.

The Scorch Trials: Book Review

250px-The_Scorch_Trials_coverSYNOPSIS: After escaping from the Maze, the Gladers are rescued from WICKED by a group of rebels and taken to a “safe” facility. When they wake up however, they realize that their safety was just an illusion when it is revealed that WICKED is not yet done with their experiments. This time, each Glader wakes up marked with cryptic tattoos that supposedly label their roles in the group for their new task. Teresa is taken from their ranks and is replaced by a boy named Aris, who is supposedly part of Group B, who escaped from a maze identical to that of the Gladers with a reverse ratio of boys to girls. Aris shares the same telephatic ability as Thomas and is Group B’s version of Teresa. Now, the Gladers are told that they are infected with a fatal disease called The Flare, which causes madness and death to its victims, and their only hope is reaching a place called safe haven in two week’s time. With meager supplies and dangers straight in their paths, the boys are in a race for survival, unsure of whom to trust, their mettle tested by the most brutal of circumstances.

The Scorch Trials is far different in tone than its predecessor The Maze Runner. Whereas in MR, the Gladers only had to deal with one major problem (escaping the maze and consequently battling the Grievers) in a controlled environment, the second test is far more challenging and dangerous as they set out on a world destroyed by sun flares and ravaged by disease. In the Scorch Trials, WICKED has basically laid out the task in front of the boys and told them that there would be no mercy for them in embarking on their journey as only the strongest will be rewarded with the cure. The Gladers are picked off one by one, by the barren wastelands that has become of Earth, the crazed Cranks (those who have been infected by the Flare) who are no strangers to murder and even cannibalism. Technology is used mercilessly by WICKED against the remaining Gladers resulting in a much brutal slaying of the weakest of the bunch. Not to mention Group B, whose sole mission is to kill Thomas. In short, there were more Variables in play which makes it harder for the boys to accomplish their task.

More questions also arise as Thomas begins to remember snippets of his life before the Glade and his involvement in developing the Trials, but just enough to get readers curious and form their own theories. This is a stroke of genius on the part of author James Dashner because the mystery that surrounds Thomas continues to grow, and at the same time, his feelings for Teresa also begins to evolve. It becomes more complicated as they begin to see the Trials in different ways — Teresa seemingly resigned and unshaken by their role with WICKED, and Thomas beginning to question his actions before the Glade. I like that the book did not dwell too much on the romantic connection between Thomas and Teresa but rather focused on the bigger picture, continuing to build towards the climax that is expected in the final book in the trilogy — The Death Cure. Well, I’m hoping this is what Dashner is going for anyway.

As for the characters, Dashner continues to bank on the strength of the characters he developed in the first book. Newt takes a slight backseat to Minho in this installment but nonetheless showed the same characteristics that made him so likeable in the beginning like his intelligence, practicality and calm demeanor. Minho, who was assigned as leader of the Gladers was a great choice to lead the boys, showing bravery, sense of humor, sometimes hotheadedness, and quick thinking for decisions that need to be made (mostly involving life and death) which is characteristic of his role as Keeper of the Runners. His bromance with Thomas continues in this book and their relationship is one of the strong points of The Scorch Trials because of his fierce loyalty to his friend. As a new character, Aris didn’t pop out as much as he should even given his role in the twist, but there is potential for him in the sequel given his special abilities. Same with Brenda, although she seemed a bit too clingy for my tastes.

All in all, The Scorch Trials was a well written young adult post apocalyptic adventure piece, that for me, felt more like a teaser of the things to come in the trilogy’s concluding chapter. It was a bit darker and more graphic but it definitely leveled up on all aspects of the first book. I would have liked for Group B to have more participation to play up the competition between the sexes (especially since it was mentioned several times that they got out of the Maze three days earlier than the boys and lost less people) but with the combined group of survivors and the upcoming revelation of mysteries behind WICKED, I have high hopes for Dashner’s next book. That and the fact that I want to know if my hypotheses are correct. And this is why I am happy that I waited for all books to come out before I started reading it.

The Maze Runner: Book Review

The_Maze_Runner_coverFor a book with the title The Maze Runner, the lead character surprisingly does very little running.

I’m a big fan of young adult fiction, despite being a full grown adult. I like stories of adventure and discovery and even with volume of YA novels tackling a post-apocalyptic world of late, I still enjoy reading about them. I’ve actually read a review of The Maze Runner several years ago and thought that it would be a great addition to my TBR pile but when I learned that it was going to be a three-part series, I chose to go The Hunger Games route and wait for all three books on paperback before I started reading it. It was a good call on my part (I think) because now, I get to read about Thomas and the Gladers uninterrupted by a long wait.

SYNOPSIS: Thomas wakes up in a lift disoriented and surrounded by several dozen boys in a huge glade, with his memory wiped clean of everything except his name. The glade, it would seem, was part of a strange new environment, which includes a farm, a homestead, a giant moving maze complete with deadly half mechanical half organic monsters called Grievers, who have killed Gladers (what the residents call themselves) for attempting to escape. Thomas has tons of questions but at the same time feels a familiarity with his new surroundings that he can’t quite put a finger on. Things start to get way more eerie when the first girl is delivered to the maze a day after Thomas’s arrival bearing a message that seems to mean the end of the line for the Gladers.

Thomas is pretty much everything that a lead character in a YA novel should be. He’s smart, he’s curious and there’s a certain mystery to his past that makes him intriguing and interesting. Author James Dashner dropped all sorts of bread crumbs as to Thomas’s identity even from the beginning to set him apart from the others, and he lived up to the build-up. The rest of the characters too, were well developed and well written, and readers will find themselves identifying with the characters even as they try to figure out the puzzle that is the maze. My favorites were actually Newt and Minho, two of the Keepers (councilmen) of the Glade – Newt because he is such a strong leader, sensitive but very logical, and Minho because he’s just so brave and cool despite his short breakdown at the Maze. I liked that they had blind faith in Thomas and didn’t judge him when they finally found out what his role in the Maze was, which spoke of great maturity on their part. I especially loved Chuck – he didn’t show it till the end but he was both smart and brave, loyal and innocent to boot.

In truth, The Maze Runner actually reminded me of Harry Potter’s fourth installment The Goblet of Fire, obviously because of the huge maze and the deadly creatures lurking in it, but it was also reminiscent of The Lord of the Flies with the boys building a community and establishing order in their small version of society. But while Lord of the Flies was a subtle political commentary and Harry Potter was focused on the magic and Harry’s battle with the evil Lord Voldemort, The Maze Runner retained its own identity by focusing the mystery of what lies beyond the Glade and the Maze, especially with the group called WICKED, whom the Gladers refer to as the creators.

It was quite creative for Dashner to come up with Glade lingo that ensures that he can pretty much use the f word freely, as would be natural for sixty something boys living in a single space, by substituting swear words with slang that sounds the same and means the same, but is wholesome enough for his young readers. Shuck for the most obvious swear word, klunk for dung, Greenie for greenhorn, are only some of the more colorful ones in the set. I also liked that while there were sacrifices and brutal deaths involved, Dashner left the conclusion to the imagination rather than be graphic about it.

The twist in the end was not all that surprising but it was horrifying to know that WICKED was not yet done with the survivors and that Phase 2 was just around the corner. I was much more curious about what Ava Paige meant when she said Group B. It seemed quite ominous.

All in all, The Maze Runner was a great read. It was exciting and engaging in all the right parts. I would have liked more things to happen inside the maze to level up the feeling of danger and despair but I might be getting that in the next books so for now, I am content. What I really liked about the book was Dashner’s high level of sensitivity for his young audiences, and that is why The Maze Runner is highly recommended for young readers with a taste for adventure. Adult readers who are more aligned with the writing style of Suzanne Collins might not be as satisfied because this book has less intensity but Thomas and the Gladers are a likeable lot and it would be hard not to cheer them on, especially since they have displayed such marvelous qualities of great literary heroes.

Why the premiere of Under the Dome Season 2 rocked

under-the-dome-618x400I liked the first season of Stephen King’s Under the Dome TV adaptation well enough and I stuck with the show even though it deviated a lot from the book (I only saw the first half of the book. I’m still working on it) but after I saw the premiere of the new season, I am sure that I will like watching this series more now. Here are just some of the reasons why:

1. Two of my most hated characters are dead. Yes, it might sound insensitive to some of their fans but there are just some characters that you couldn’t wait to just get rid of and for me, these two are part of that category. I’m not going to divulge who they are (in case you haven’t seen the episode yet) but here’s a hint. They can be found on this list.

2. New characters. I am liking the new characters who have appeared in the first episode — Sam Verdreaux, Big Jim’s estranged brother in law, the mysterious girl from Junior’s mom’s sketchpad, Junior’s mom, who is apparently alive on the other side of the dome, and Rebecca, the Science teacher, who’s kind of quirky, which I like. It ought to be fun to see how well they play with the other residents of Chester’s Mill.

3. Its all a mess. Nobody really knows what’s going on. Weird things are happening and Angie keeps wanting to kill Big Jim while Big Jim is having issues with the dome himself. The first episode raised tons of questions like why are all the dead people walking around town and making appearances, or why the dome suddenly became magnetic,  and a ton of other questions– which I hope they will be able to answer in the following episodes. I read that the show will be departing from the book a lot more because they never expected to have a second season and basically covered the major stuff in the first season, so we’ll see how it goes. Good thing is, the possibilities are endless. Bad news is they might drop the ball as they go along. For now, its too early to tell.

4. Stephen King’s cameo. In case you missed it, Mr. King makes a very short appearance at Sweetbriar Rose as one of the diner’s patrons who asks Angie for a coffee refill after the drama with Big Jim, Julia and Barbie.

So for starters, I’m on board with this new direction for Season 2. Basically, the show is less dark and a lot less engaging than the book but it does have its good and bad moments, so I’m still willing to stick it out and see this through.

Why Nodame Cantabile is my all time favorite Jdorama/Anime

Nodame_Cantabile_1_coverBefore anything else, I would like to put it out there that I am a big Nodame Cantabile fangirl in any of its forms (manga, anime, live action) so if you’re not into these type of things, you might think that this post isn’t your cup of tea. Okay, now that you have been warned, let me continue. :D  If its not your first time in this blog, you may have noticed how I gushed about the finale of the live action and it was pretty much my entire feeling across the board for the series based on the popular manga by Tomoko Ninomiya. Recently, I discovered that the manga was being rerun on Animax, a marathon of four episodes every Sunday night and it got me hooked to the series anew. As the result, I’ve rewatched the live action Finale, the Paris Special, the first series of the anime and now the original 11 episode Jdorama featuring the beginning of Noda Megumi and Shinichi Chiaki’s quirky relationship in Momogaoka Music Academy in Japan.

A short synopsis: Shinichi Chiaki is a top piano student at Momogaoka Music Academy. Growing up in a family of accomplished musicians, he has developed a perfectionist attitude towards music in general and feels bored about the level of education in his school. The problem is, he has no way of pursuing his dream of becoming a world class conductor in Europe because he is afraid of airplanes due to a childhood trauma developed on his return flight from Prague 10 years before. When Chiaki hears a mysterious girl playing Beethoven at school, he is moved and captivated by the sound, despite the fact that the Beethoven version was not precisely according to the score. He finds out that this mystery girl is actually his next door neighbor, the hentai Noda Megumi, who falls in live with him at first sight and becomes a permanent fixture in his life from their first interaction. The second series and the finale both take place in Paris, Prague and London, while the last part of the manga — the Opera Hen marks the duo’s return to Japan to participate in an opera with the RS-Oke with the original gang.

The thing I most love about this series is that firstly, it appeals to the hentai/otaku in all of us. The reason why people are drawn to the lead character Noda Megumi is the fact that she is guileless, an innocent with raw talent, whose simplistic dreams are really short of her true potentials. But at the end of the day, her heart shines through and touches each person that she comes across. First, Chiaki, who fell in love with Nodame’s piano from the first encounter, allowing him to endure her lack of hygiene and her quirkiness — a running storyline throughout the series; Ryutaro Mine, Chiaki’s best friend and conscience, who was drawn to Nodame first because of her kawaii (cute)-ness, then her soulful piano before they eventually became friends; Kasunori Kuroki, who fell in love with Nodame’s kindness and innocence (of course, he later realized he was no match for Chiaki); the Frenchman Frank, who was attracted to Nodame’s hentai personality, and even Lucas, who harbored a crush on Nodame from boyhood to adolescence. Nodame is a character that draws not only fellow characters in the series but also the audience to fall in love with her.

Each of the characters are also bigger than life, relateable and remarkable in their own ways. They endear themselves to the viewers so effectively that each moment spent watching them is like becoming part of their gang.

Another thing about this series is its sense of vulnerability. Each of the characters have their own internal struggle to wrestle with and how they resolve each of their issues is a marvel to watch. Because the characters are so identifiable, viewers want to cheer them on. Nodame’s struggle to catch up with Chiaki, Chiaki’s struggles to start his conducting career, Kuroki’s struggle to adapt in a foreign country, Mine’s struggle to keep the RS Oke together, Rui’s struggle to have a life of her own away from her reputation as prodigy, Franz’s struggle to convey his love for the girl of his dreams, and countless other journeys that each of the characters have to take. They don’t always get it on the first try, but with each other’s help and support, they somehow emerge from their ordeals as different, better characters. My favorite scene in the manga is actually Nodame’s moment in Greece in a storage room alone, crying out for Chiaki while clutching his shirt. It was such a moment of vulnerability that was so moving and so pure that its such a perfect epitome of Nodame’s love for Chiaki.

The steady progression in the storyline is also something that I love about this series. Now that I’m rewatching the series from the beginning, after seeing the finale, I notice how different Nodame’s playing was from the first. It was mentioned countless times in the various stages that Nodame played sloppily at the beginning and it occurred to me how raw her performances were at the beginning, when she was playing Beethoven’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Rachmaninoff to her debut with Stresseman in London. Chiaki’s conducting style also changed from the beginning but continued to be as intense as ever. Their story has also evolved from a master/pet relationship in the beginning, to a denial and gradual capitulation on the part of Chiaki, and his understanding of Nodame as a budding artist, and later on his acceptance of her true feelings for her. This while they struggle to individually make their own way in the music industry on their own and eventually find their paths merging together in the end. I was a bit frustrated about how insensitive Chiaki has mostly been to Nodame but when his point of realization came, and he was even willing to sacrifice allowing Nodame to stop pursuing piano to do as she liked and still stay with her despite that, I was totally won over.

Another thing that got me hooked into this drama was the continuity of the presentation. True, that since the anime had more episodes, it followed the manga more religiously, but all of the versions had the same focus and the same heart as the original material, generally conveying the same idea and the same message, envoking the same feelings and emotions in all of its forms.

Finally, the music. I must say I’ve learned a lot about the classics and the great composers watching this series and it has been an education of sorts. It gave me a better appreciation of the classics and the sheer joy of simply listening to the pieces as the orchestras come together in perfect harmony. The purity of the sound was astounding, relaxing and simply amazing. Compared to songs with lyrics, the classics are so different but has a different appeal. It also gave a peek into the world of music students and the passion involved in mastering their craft. Respect,  is pretty much all I can say.

All in all, this series made me fall in love, with the story, the characters, the music, and the world… Chiaki and Nodame share an unconventional relationship but their journey was so touching. Learning from each other, together and apart. It was a journey all right, and in the end, they came full circle.  But Nodame was not only a story about romance, its a story about friendship, about growing up and reaching one’s potentials. Its about kindness and love and positivity and at the end of the day, these feelings are infectious. And that is why I love it so much.

Best characters in Game of Thrones: Dead or Alive

Because I have yet to get over the last episode of Game of Thrones (The Viper and the Mountain), I’m posting this collection of my favorite characters in the series so far. Not all of them are alive because this show has a high casualty rate, but their deaths don’t make them any less awesome.
tyrion (1)1. Tyrion Lannister: Born as an imp and considered an abomination by the powerful Lannisters, Tyrion has been the subject of his father and sister’s disgust since the moment he was born. He is the smartest person in Westeros but no one truly recognizes his genius because of their preoccupation with his appearance. He has managed to outwit even the greatest leaders in the Seven Kingdoms which did not help with his popularity issues. He has shown great kindness to Ned Stark’s bastard son Jon Snow, as well as his niece Myrcella and nephew Tommen, and basically baited Joffrey every opportunity he got just because the guy was a major douche. Peter Dinklage gives life to his character with a depth and vulnerability that won him an Emmy in the show’s first season. His heartfelt speech in his own trial where he lashed out at the jury and the audience will most likely earn him a second one. STATUS: Alive but sentenced to death

ned2. Eddard “Ned” Stark: One of the only genuinely honorable people in Westeros, Ned was smart but too trusting. Despite holding all the cards, he made a lot of poor choices during his time as the Hand of the King, made a lot of enemies and underestimated the pure malice of King Joffrey, to whom he originally betrothed his daughter Sansa. His heart was in the right place but in a place like Westeros, doing the right thing is not always the best way to go. Played by Sean Bean, Ned is added to the list of dead characters he played on the big screen and television. STATUS: Dead by beheading

joffrey-baratheon-903273. Joffrey Barratheon: The most evil and vile character in the Seven Kingdoms, Joffrey was the product of incest between his mother Cersei and her twin brother Jamie. because he was naturally malicious, he enjoyed torture and watching people’s suffering. He bullied the weak and took great pleasure in humiliating his uncle Tyrion and talking down to just about anyone except his grandfather Tywin Lannister. Jack Gleeson, who portrayed the role was a a class act, always hitting the mark every time, getting people to unite against Joffrey in hatred. I’m not surprised that he’s chosen to take a break from acting after his Game of Thrones gig because his role must have been very taxing. Despite his character raising my hackles every single moment, I find that I miss him very much. STATUS: Dead by poison in his own wedding.

Cersei Lannister - Lena Headey - Game of Thrones 0044. Cersei Lannister: A queen embittered by her King’s lack of attentions and obvious pining for another woman, Cersei early on learned the hard way that she must be ruthless in order to get what she wants. An intelligent woman by nature, her natural maternal instincts are only matched by her ability to scheme and conspire with Westeros’s political lechers to get the crown for her sons. Lena Headey portrays her role with a balance of vulnerability and strength. Nobody messes with Queen Cersei, especially since she delivered the most iconic line in the franchise : When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. This pretty much sums up the show so far. STATUS: Alive and on a warpath after the death of her firstborn.

EP3025. Stannis Barratheon: For all intents and purposes, Stannis Barratheon, Lord of Dragonstone should be the successor to the Iron Throne following the death of his brother Robert in a hunting accident, because none of Cersei’s children are biologically Robert’s blood. A hard man, but a fair one, Stannis is a battle worn and quiet man whose broodiness is often mistaken for insanity, especially since he takes the counsel of the Red Woman/Red Witch named Melissandre, who often manipulates his decisions. Stannis has only one child, Shireen, a sweet girl whose face is deformed. So far, despite his gruffness and seeming lack of affection for her, Stannis has stood firm in wanting to keep her safe and safeguarding her birthright. He will also be the only contender for the throne who actually sends aid to the wall against the Whitewalkers and that’s a major plus in my book. STATUS: Alive and in debt to wage war against the Lannisters, later diverted to the Whitewalkers

oberyn6. Prince Oberyn Martell: Prince Oberyn might have only been introduced in the show’s fourth season but he sure made an entrance (and exit). The sexy prince of Dorne came to King’s Landing to attend the wedding of King Joffrey to Renly Barratheon’s widow Margaery Tyrell, but secretly wanted to exact revenge for the death of his sister Elia and her children at the hands of Ser Gregor Clegane, the Mountain that Rides at the command of Tywin Lannister during the war that brought the Barratheons to power. In his limited engagement, Chilean actor Pedro Pascal managed to make Prince Oberyn a larger than life character with sensual drawl and fluid grace. I am still frustrated as hell over the outcome of the trial by combat in which he set out to seek his revenge in what was to become the most brutal scene in Game of Thrones history, for now. STATUS: Dead by eye gouging and skull crushing.

dany7. Daenerys Targaryen: Of all of the contenders for the Iron Throne, Daenerys, mother of dragons is one of the most evolved characters in the franchise. Starting off as the meek sister of another douchebag, Viserys Targaryen who luckily met his end in the early parts of Season 1, Dany’s innocence and charisma served her well in earning the love and compassion of her Dothraki husband Khal Drogo as well as his Khalasaar. In the seasons that followed, Dany has proven herself formidable, weathering assaults to her people, and amassing a loyal army of Unsullied warriors, thousands of freed slaves as supporters, and commanding the fear of Masters in Slavers Bay. She may well be the female version of Spartacus. STATUS: Alive, holding court at Mereen and ruling the three cities of Slaver’s Bay.

varys8. Varys: One of the most intriguing characters in the Game of Thrones universe is Varys, a eunuch who holds all of the secrets among all key players in Westeros and beyond. Varys sometimes speaks in riddles and gives hints to help those whom he thinks will be able to help the Kingdom. However, there are times when even Varys’s motives are unclear as he shows no particular allegiance in sharing the secrets that he has received from his “Birdies.” He has said at some point in the series, that he served “the realm, someone must,” and at some point indicated to Littlefinger that they are not of the same ilk as Baelish is guided by ambition and not loyalty to the people. Conieth Hill’s portrayal of this the mild mannered eunuch with a backbone of steel has made his character one to watch. STATUS: Alive and still collecting secrets.

Petyr Baelish9. Petyr Baelish: Like Varys, Petyr Baelish, also known in the Kingdom as Littlefinger, the motives of Petyr’s actions were initially unclear. Growing up with the Tullys of the Vale, it was known from the beginning that he was in love with Catelyn Stark for a very long time and resented the fact that Catelyn saw him only as a brother. He amassed great wealth by making strategic allegiances, first in his role as Master of Coin in the Small Council and by running a brothel and other illicit businesses. He is known to be clever and loyal only to his own ambition. When his role was revealed in the death of Ned Stark and King Joffrey, the depth of his machinations was surprising but made sense, given his character. STATUS: Alive and plotting to manipulate/kill Robyn Aryn, Lord of the Vale, or possibly marrying Catelyn’s daughter Sansa. Its hard to tell with Littlefinger.

Davos-Seaworth10. Davos Seaworth: A reformed smuggler, Ser Davos is Stannis Barratheon’s most loyal adviser, who constantly warns him against the ways of the Red Witch. Time and again, despite being thrown to the dungeons and ignored by his King, Davos has continued to caution and counsel Stannis in his campaign to secure the Iron Throne. He was also responsible for freeing Robert Barratheon’s bastard son Gendry from Dragonstone before Melissadre could kill him for his blood. Davos shares a friendship with Stannis’s daughter Shineen, who teaches him to read and write. Liam Cunningham has effectively carried on the role since Season 2 and has not faltered in his portrayal of Stannis’s faithful right hand man.

Runners Up:

Robb Stark: A brilliant tactician who shares his father’s integrity but made a fatal error in failing to abide by his agreement with Lord Frey to marry one of his daughters. I mourned his death because he was the most gorgeous among the Starks. STATUS: Dead by betrayal at the Red Wedding.

Podrick Payne: Tyrion’s former squire whose fierce loyalty to his Master did not waver even during the most difficult and dangerous times. He saved Tyrion’s life in Blackwater and refused to believe his guilt in the death of Joffrey. He now serves Lady Brienne in the quest to find the Stark daughters, at Tyrion’s request (so that he may also escape King’s Landing).

Game of Thrones S04E08: One of the best and worst hours of television

article-2645807-1E65541F00000578-13_634x372Very rarely do I write about individual episodes of the series that I do watch. Actually, this is the first time I’m doing it and its because “The Viper and The Mountain” episode of Game of Thrones fourth season affected me so much — so much so that I’m still shaking minutes after I’ve watched it and I can’t get that final two minutes of the episode out of my head. It was that good and it was that graphic.

Tyrion Lannister invokes trial by combat when his trial for the murder of his nephew King Joffrey goes south. Luckily, he finds a champion in Dorne’s Prince Oberyn Martell, who is known in battle as The Red Viper. Its no secret that Oberyn has come to Kings Landing not to attend Joffrey’s wedding but to exact revenge on Tywin Lannister and Ser Gregor Clegane, known as the Mountain that Rides because of his sheer size and strength. Since Clegane is to be the Palace’s champion, the Prince saw it as an opportunity to avenge the death of his sister Elia Martell, whom the Mountain himself raped and killed, before killing her children. Elsewhere in the seven kingdoms, Manse Rayder’s troops draw nearer to the Night’s Watch, a traitor is found in Queen Daenerys’s camp while Arya and the Hound finally make it to the Vale. Oh, and Ramsay Snow is finally recognized by his father Roose Bolton, self declared warden of the North.

For readers of the books, perhaps it came as no surprise how the battle between Oberyn and Gregor played out. I too, actually read about it from one of the threads I visited, but nothing truly prepared me for the last five minutes of this episode. Nothing. All of the other events that happened in this episode, definitely will contribute to the development of the story in the future but I just could not get over that final scene. I have never before been so absorbed by anything I’ve watched on television as much as today and I’ve seen a lot. Usually, I would be looking forward to the next episode by this time but such is not the case now because I am totally drained emotionally.

Game of Thrones has cemented its reputation for its marvelous adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s epic saga of A Song of Ice and Fire. There has been no shortage of deaths in this series, that’s for sure, and there are no shortage of epic scenes like the Battle of Blackwater,  or the Red Wedding, or Ned Stark’s beheading. But the timing of this episode, which came two weeks after episode 7 when audiences were already waiting for this particular battle to happen — was a stroke of genius. Placing this scene at the end, after Tyrion launches into a long monologue about their cousin Orson Lannister, a simpleton who was obsessed with crushing bugs (which opens doors for all sorts of analogies)– multiplied the impact of the scene and ensured that this will be the last thing that stayed in the audiences minds and to this end, it accomplished its mission exceedingly well.

This is not to say that there were no other great scenes in this episode — there was the one where Ramsay Snow finally gets his father’s name. Everybody knows this guy is a degenerate psycho but the wealth of emotions in his eyes made him more human. Jaime and Tyrion also shared a bromantic moment in the dungeon where they talked about superficial things that underlined Tyrion’s torment. And there was a sweet moment between Grey Worm and Missandrei.

But for each season, there is really one defining moment — for Season 1, it was the death of Ned Stark, for the second, it was the Battle of Blackwater, for the third it was the Red Wedding and I have a feeling that this is going to be this season’s best moment yet. But there are two episodes left yet, and one more big revelation to come so we’ll have to see. For now, I would have to be content by doing a Maleficent, and saying Well, Well.

By the way, this episode was directed by Alex Graves and written by David Benioff and D.B Weiss.