Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Dark Schneider is back: Netflix’s Bastard!!

I admit I was worried.
Bastard!! was one of the anime/manga series that I remembered from the ’90s – over the top, seriously silly, filled with bouncing breasts and juvenile humor, together with a setting straight out of AD&D and a plot that was basically an excuse to show more violence and, yes, more toned thighs and bouncy breasts. The brainchild of a guy that was a self-admitted fan of heavy metal music and roleplaying games, it was the quintessential late ’80s/early ’90s … thing.
And it was all right.

But now?
We are in 2022, and Bastard!! is back, and on Netflix.
And I heard a few people worrying about the dread effects of political correctness and “wokeness” (I heard grown men cry because in one snippet of preview they caught sight of two women kissing), but I was much more worried about the fad for “grimdark” – after all, with a main character that’s called Dark Schneider, and a tagline that reads “Heavy Metal Dark Fantasy”, Bastard!! is the sort of anime that could easily get the grimdark treatment, for the viewing pleasure of all the sociopaths out there.

So yes, I was worried.
And I was not happy at all with the Italian dubbing, so I dropped the series after about 5 minutes.

But I was able to finally get an English dub (not my first choice, I prefer subs myself), and while Dark Schneider still sounds too damn youthful for my tastes – and the dub fails to capture the surprisingly and hilarious vulgar Japanese of the original – I finally sat down and watched the series.

For the uninitiated, Bastard!! (the two exclamation points are required) is a sword & sorcery series set in a post-apocalyptic world that’s regressed to medieval level. The four kingdoms are being menaced by a dark army hell bent on resurrecting an ancient goddess, and the only hope for humanity is Dark Schneider, a centuries old evil wizard that was once the leader of the dark army – but has been trapped inside a kid’s body these last 15 years.

The series follows Dark Schneider’s exploits after he’s been brought back – and he has to face his former allies to protect the few people he’s come to care for.

And I am happy to report that the new incarnation of Bastard!! is still a lot of fun, it is still incredibly silly, and nicely padded with bouncy breasts and juvenile humor. It is violent, stupid and inappropriate, but it is happily free of angsty grimdark trappings. Bastard!! winks and laughs out loud too much to be grimdark. It does indeed look like something that reached us from, say 1991 via some rip in space-time.
It is also pretty close to the original comics as I remember them from thirty years ago.
The character design is very ’90s, but the animation’s better – and we get new music on the soundtrack.

All in all, silly entertainment – not the sort that shakes the pillars of civilization or changes the life of the viewer, but in this time, in which TV is trying to feed us fake memories of how it was to play AD&D in the ’80s, it is good to find a show that actually captures with surprising accuracy the mix of cliché, silliness, wanton destruction, inappropriate jokes and loud music that characterized those saturday afternoons, so many years ago.


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Steampunk shenanigans: Arcane (2021)

I have never played League of Legends, and I have no idea what it’s all about. I have seen a lot of game artwork around, and I have been duly impressed by the look of the thing, but I am not that much of a gamer anymore – if I ever was. On the other hand, I am a sucker for good animation, and for steampunk, so when the trailer of Arcane, the new Netflix series, was posted, it got my attention.

Now the first three episodes are here – and clocking at 40 minutes each, they are just what the doctor ordered for a break and a cup of tea between writing sessions.
And I am duly impressed.

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Weird in Manila: Trese (2021)

I went into Trese, the new animated series from Nettflix, practically blind. OK, a paranormal detective story set in contemporary Manila and based on the folklore of the Philippines. But that was all.
I had seen the trailer, and I was intrigued.

I was a bit dubious because it is presented as an “anime”, but it is not a Japanese product, it was made in the Philippines. You don’t call it New Orleans Jazz if they make in in Sweden, don’t you?
Wikipedia adjusts this by describing the series as “anime-inspired”. OK.
But apart from that, I was curious.

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Us and time: The Dig (2021)

Based on a novel published in 2007 inspired by real events, The Dig, that is currently streaming on Netflix, is a straightforward historical drama, built on the 1939 excavation of the Sutton Hoo mound. Ralph Fiennes is Basil Brown, a self-taught archaeologist that is hired by upper-class lady Edith Pretty (as portrayed by carey Mulligan) to excavate in her land in search of hidden archaeological remains.

The movie is beautiful to look at, and takes its time to linger lovingly on the British landscapes in which much of the action takes place. A number of plots intersect in the story, that refreshingly gives us the relationship of two individuals that have no sentimental or sexual involvement whatsoever, but just a shared love and awe for history and the passing of time.

Along the way, the film finds the time to portray the effects of class on academical endeavours and research – Brown’s a lower class farmer, considered little more than a digger by the archaeologists that try to step in once the treasure’s unearthed, and the archaeologists are still just middle class when confronted with the rich upper class miss Pretty. The way in which the social class dance is carried on is part of the fun of the movie.

And we also get a romantic story, involving two side characters – quite superfluous, but at least played with elegance. Indeed, the movie (and the novel) play fast and loose with some historical elements to add flavor and romanticism – as I mentioned, somewhat superfluously.

At the core of the story, there remains the relationship between people and history, and the very intimate relationship each one of us has, one way or another, with time itself, and what we make of it.
An excellent movie, filled with great actors and beautifully shot, it’s highly recommended.


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In the shadow of Arséne

And so finally the new Lupin TV series hit the screens, as a Netflix Original, and I spent a day watching it while my computer system was slowly grinding back to normal. Together with the fifth season of The Expanse, this was for me the highest expected show in the late2020/early 2021 season.
So, is it any good?

Short review: it is very good.

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Thrills and chills from Egypt

Paranormal is an Egyptian web series that’s currently being distributed as a Netflix Original, and it’s available both in subbed and dubbed version via streaming. The first season includes six episodes, and I really hope we will get a second season, because this is the most fun I had in a long time with a supernatural themed series.

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Palace intrigue and zombies

I am not particularly fond of the zombie craze of these last few years. I watched the classics, I do enjoy the occasional recent movie, I even wrote a story set in a post-apocalyptic sorta-zombie story, a long time ago, as part of a shared universe a friend created, but I find it damn hard to do something new and cool and meaningful with zombies.
On the other hand, when I find someone that’s actually able to do something new and cool and meaningful, I like it a lot.

Case in point: Kingdom, a South Korean TV/Netflix TV series that pits its main characters against a horde of zombies in 15th century Korea.
And weirdly enough, it’s based on a true story.

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