Can We Talk About Black Mirror For A Second?

Warning: Spoilers. If you care about that. You shouldn’t. But just in case you do.

I’m not much of a TV person. I’ve got a small handful of shows I’ll watch semi-regularly with my wife, but there are very few shows over the last ten years that I can honestly say I went out of my way to keep up with. Even then, the shows have tended to be comedies (Archer, South Park), current events shows (The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight, The Colbert Report), or anime (RWBY, Death Note). It takes a lot for me to care about dramas. Outside of The Blacklist and Sherlock, there haven’t been many dramas that I’ll go out of my way to recommend to people.

And then there’s Black Mirror.

Holy. Fucking. Shit.

One problem I’ve long had with most television is that it’s formulaic. You almost always know exactly what you’re getting when you watch week to week. Even with “unscripted” shows like Big Brother or Whose Line Is It Anyway?, you’ve still got production companies to clean up the messes and deliver the message that they want their viewers to see. Though sports matches are unscripted and happen in real time, I’ve even struggled to watch those in most situations because the drama and twists don’t move me the way they once did.

Black Mirror is beautifully written. Because of the fact that each episode is a standalone story within the season, all of the loose ends need to be tied up — not necessarily neatly — in order for the episode to end.  You see this in nearly every episode, though there’s still episode to episode continuity in spite of this. The control technology for the grains in “The Entire History of You” makes repeated appearances throughout the series, while the grains themselves aren’t that different from the “cookies” used in “White Christmas”, which isn’t that far of a leap from the alternate reality technology used in “San Junipero”.

Black Mirror is dark as fuck. But that’s not what makes it interesting. It’s that it’s dark as fuck while straddling a very fine line between reality and science fiction. We can easily envision a reality where a technology company uses social media profiles of deceased person to allow alive loved ones to connect with them once more (and not just because one tech company is already trying it). It’s a bit harder for us to envision a dead person’s social media profiles inhabiting a live, interactive android like the one in “Be Right Back”.

The show, in many ways, serves as a cautionary tale for the reality we’re already in. I mean, it’s not like a joke candidate whose only goal is to speak to the uneducated by being provocative, racist, and otherwise just a general terrible excuse for morality would ever succeed in an election like Waldo the Bear did in “The Waldo Moment”, right? There’s no way a person’s social media status could ever determine their social status like what happens in “Nosedive”, can it? It’s not like internet trolls with no moral compass could ever ruin the lives of so many while remaining safe themselves like what happened in “Shut Up and Dance”. Obviously none of those things could ever come to fruition in reality…

Despite all of the excellent episodes so far[1], there’s two that stood out to me for different reasons. The first is “White Bear”, which is the middle episode of series[2] two.  The episode focuses on a woman, Victoria, who, along with her fiancee, kidnapped, murdered, and filmed said murder of a six year old child. Victoria’s sentence for her part in the crimes is to undergo an experience that would cause her to feel the same feelings of terror that her victim experienced. As such, Victoria is chased around by people trying to kill her all day. Of course, the “killers” are putting on a show, but Victoria doesn’t know that. Victoria’s mind is wiped every night, meaning that she believes that the threat on her life is real. Every single day for the rest of her life.

In addition to Victoria’s eye-for-an-eye punishment going on every day for the rest of her life, her escapades are part of a facility known as the White Bear Justice Park. The park not only administers Victoria’s punishment, but it also charges admission and lets park gets get up close and personal as they watch Victoria’s torture. The episode hearkens back to medieval times where crowds would father before someone was taken to the gallows, only to leave when their blood lust was satiated by death. The episode is an exceptionally bleak look into the psyche of mob mentality. I left the episode wondering deeply about where the line cruel and unusual punishment truly existed in society — as well as whether or not this latent desire for torture really exists within each of us.

The other episode that stuck out to me was the episode “San Junipero”. The episode is arguably the most uplifting of the entire series[3], which is saying something as both main characters of the episode are dead at the end. The city of San Junipero is nothing more than a computer simulation, one where people who have died go to live out their eternity as they see fit if they so choose to do so. Both of the two main characters — Yorkie and Kelly — are terminally ill, and are in the process of spending time in San Junipero to determine if that’s where they want to spend eternity.

Yorkie and Kelly fall in love with each other — a fact which wouldn’t have happened outside of the simulation as Yorkie has been in a comatose state since she was 21 and Kelly was married for 45+ years — and eventually decide to spend their lives (deaths?) together in the simulation after they’ve both passed on. The concept itself is an interesting take on the idea of an afterlife that is so pervasive in religion. Of all of the technologies and advancements shown in the entire series, this is the one I’d most like to see exist. Could you imagine the works of art, literature, and music that could come out of people’s consciousnesses surviving in a digital world?

If you haven’t seen Black Mirror yet, go watch it on Netflix now. If you have seen it, what did you think? What’s your favorite episode? For the love of all things holy, just go comment so we can talk about the show.

The Not-So-Serious Anime Awards

I have a growing love for anime and cartoons created in an anime style. They typically have well-written storylines, employ strategic use of action and comedy, all while (typically) being written at a higher level than most modern television shows.

My first introduction to anime almost turned me off to the entire genre completely. As a kid, my brother loved the widely-known anime Dragonball Z. While this series has many tropes and characteristics shared by other anime series, I absolutely hated the show as a kid, and don’t really care for it now. It’s almost too over the top that it makes it just…awful. Had it not been for the existence of the Pokemon anime, I might have turned away from anime before I ever had the opportunity to enjoy it.

Over the past few years, thanks in large part to my fiancee, there is a growing list of anime that I have seen and that I enjoy. Instead of doing a top five or ten list, I’ve decided to hand out completely arbitrary, totally subjective awards in order to talk about shows I like. As always when I talk about pop culture, your mileage may vary. Spoilers abound in this post.

Best Film/Series – Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

I’ve been told by a few people that the original Fullmetal Alchemist series is superior to Brotherhood, but from what I’ve seen from the original, I’m not sure I agree. Sure, the original may stay closer to the manga((I’ve been told I had this fact backwards. Things make far more sense now that I know that.)), but Brotherhood tells a fantastic story in a very entertaining way. While Brotherhood isn’t quite as dark as some other animes I’ve seen, it does a nice job with the balance of its mood.

Runners Up: Sword Art Online, Soul Eater

Best (Read: Worst) Overdubbing – Speed Racer

Come on…you knew this was coming. I mean, just watch this.

Runners Up: Pretty much any Attack on Titan dubbing I’ve ever seen.

Best Lead Character – Weiss Schnee, RWBY

I strongly debated about putting Roy Mustang (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood) and Tsubaki Nakatsukasa (Soul Eater) here, however I really appreciate character growth in a story. Weiss has easily shown the most growth and change in maturity of the four main RWBY characters through two seasons, plus she has one of the two coolest weapons in the RWBY series. Seems like a pretty easy choice here.

Runners Up: Mustang, Tsubaki, Yui (Sword Art Online)

Best Secondary Character – Excalibur, Soul Eater

The only debate here was whether or not this was Excalibur or Riza Hawkeye from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. For as much as I loved the way Riza was written, I didn’t look forward to her appearances quite like I did Excalibur.

Runners Up: Riza, Winry Rockbell (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood), Mimi (Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne)

Worst Series Ending – Soul Eater

I mean come the fuck on. The world was saved through the power of…bravery? 50 of Soul Eater’s 51 episodes were great. The last one came across like a throwaway because the writers didn’t know how to end the show.

Runner Up: The end of season 2 of Sword Art Online (see Creepiest Moment)

Best Series Ending – Gurren Lagann

Apparently everyone hated how the show How I Met Your Mother ended. I thought it was a poetic ending to the show’s lengthy journey, and the perfect ending to the show. Similarly, a lot of people apparently aren’t fans of how Gurren Lagann ended, but how else can you really end the show other than Nia vanishing forever at her wedding to Simon?

Runner Up: The Pokemon Movie

Best Series Music – RWBY

Anime has some kickass music as a whole, but RWBY takes it to a whole other level. Jeff Williams/Casey Lee Williams’ song “This Will Be The Day” is easily the best anime intro song out there (apologies to the Pokemon theme), and most of the music in the rest of the series is stellar as well.

Runners Up: Soul Eater, Hetalia: Axis Powers

Best Show Intro Song – “Black Paper Moon” by Tommy Heavenly6 (Soul Eater, Seasons 2-3)

That said, if you just want to go with the single best intro song for a season of a show (since animes tend to change season to season), this is it. As much as I love Casey Lee Williams’ voice on “This Will Be the Day”, “Black Paper Moon” fits Soul Eater to the letter.

Runners Up: “This Will Be the Day” by Jeff Williams/Casey Lee Williams (RWBY), “Before My Body is Dry” by The Xcellence (Kill la Kill)

Best Anime Film – Howl’s Moving Castle

It’s a close battle between Howl’s Moving Castle and My Neighbor Tortoro, but really it comes down to the amount of the action in the film. Howl’s Moving Castle kept me constantly interested, and while My Neighbor Tortoro told a great story, it’s not an edge of your seat film.

Runners Up: My Neighbor Tortoro, Spirited Away

Creepiest Moment – The molestation scene in Sword Art Online

Without linking to the video, because creepy, one of SAO’s main character’s, Kirito, is attempting to save the other primary character, Asuna, from the series’ big bad guy, Oberon. When Kirito gets there, instead of fighting him, Oberon traps Kirito in heavy gravity and proceeds to molest Asuna for a good 30-40 seconds. Kirito overcomes the gravity and saves her, but not before you’re left wondering why that was needed in a show, especially one that had largely been pretty good up until that point.

There are no runners up here.

Worst Character and Worst Villain – Oberon, Sword Art Online

See above.

Runners Up: Asura The Kishin, Soul Eater

Best Villain – Medusa Gorgon, Soul Eater

I love a well-written evil villain and holy shit is Medusa evil. Using her son (daughter?) for science and alchemy experiments, betraying and nearly killing her own sister, and using love as a deception technique…Medusa has all the characteristics of a truly evil villain. Admittedly, possessing the body of a child to do her bidding after her own body is killed is a nice touch to Medusa’s evil. It’s too bad I can’t find a good video of her fights in English and without music, but she shows up in the video below around 12:35.

Runners Up: Cinder Fall (RWBY), Jessie and James (Pokemon)

Most Entertaining Character – Misty’s Psyduck, Pokemon

I could have put Derpy Hooves from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic here to the same effect. That said, MLP:FiM isn’t anime, Pokemon is. It’s essentially the same character though.

Runners up: Greed (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood), Chii (Chobits)

Most Unexpectedly Good Anime – Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne

Full disclosure, Rin is easily going to be one of the weirdest fucking animes you ever watch, particularly episodes 4-6 (there’s only 6 total). But despite it’s completely ridiculous (and at times grotesque) storyline, it’s easy to follow and tells a unique story. Just be aware that the term “naked throne of creepy sex ladies” was used by both the fiancee and I when watching this anime.

Runners Up: Spirited Away, Soul Eater