Naika Reviews “Urban Square: Kouhaku no Tsuigeki”

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“Th’ fuck am I doing in this O-V-AAAAAAAAAAYYYY!!!???”

There was a time in the 80s when the OVA (Original Video Animation) was king.  It provided the chance for both animation directors and studios to experiment with whatever the hell they wanted.  Some were one-shots, while others were probably cash-grabs.  Many have gained a cult following, where one in particular has become one of the most beloved of all time, but that’s not the kind of OVA I’m here to talk about today.  The OVA I’m here to discuss is not a high brow masterpiece.  It is not based on a popular manga.  Hell, it’s not even all that original.  Nevertheless, this particular OVA excels in execution, color, action and the kind of fuck-this attitude that illustrates why this decade of anime is so beloved by fandom the world over.  Now sit back, take a deep breath, put on your favorite jazz record and light it up as we shoot the breeze over Akira Nishimori’s Urban Square.

Ryou Matsumoto is just a down-on-his-luck screenwriter.  He’s young, single and not really all that wise in the business.  Nothing he writes gets greenlit, and tonight is just one of those nights all over again. He’s frustrated, so he does what other pissed-off screenwriters do when nothing seems to work: He shacks up in the bar and decides to get smashed.  Fucker doesn’t even finish his whiskey and guess who walks in?  Yep, you guessed it, that piece of ass who he’s going to chase throughout the entire fucking movie.

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“Ooooh mama look at her drive that stick shift. Keep this shit up and she’ll brrrrr-eak it!”

However, that goes by the wayside for a bit because before he knows it, he’s being chased by Roy friggin’ Batty for witnessing a murder.  What Ryou soon realizes is that he becomes embroiled in an antiques smuggling operation that’s willing to off him and whoever else stands in the way.  Add the hard-boiled Detective Mochizuki in the mix and you got yourself a certified red-meat action thriller in OVA format.  Oh, and did I mention that during all this craziness, Ryou still had the fucking temerity to hit some ass?  Oh I did?  Well he does, and she’s an utter badass!

Our female lead is Yuki Tamura and she’s no damsel-in-distress.  Instead, she’s a whip-smart grad student who finds out her grad mentor is in cahoots with the smugglers.  Telling you why her boss is involved is too hard for me to do right now ‘cuz I’m lazy, but let’s just say her troubles, coupled with Ryou’s, helps to bring them together.  However, no one really takes their life-death issues seriously except for the aforementioned Mochizuki since he’s the wise-ass that pisses off EVERYONE on the force.  He knows something’s up and goes through life and limb to help our two lovebirds out.  He carries guns, guns and big guns and all he does is either smoke his cigs or smokes the bad guys.  Nobody fucks with Mochizuki!

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“Lemme show you how impractical actual policing really is by blowing your fucking brains out without any due process!!!”

Urban Square is so full of 80s goodness that it hurts.  From the awesome Jazz fusion score by Hidefumi Toki and his band Chicken Shack to the great use of colors which bring us all back to a ‘much simpler time.’  Hell, there’s even a Bruce Lee send off where Ryou has to fight a superbly animated henchman with all the moves from the Little Dragon himself.  Mochizuki is more or less a Dirty Harry send off and Yuki’s awesome car chase scene is a welcome nod to any great stunt set-piece you’ve seen 30+ years ago.  Furthermore, Ryou himself mirrors the kind of spunky protagonist that you’d find in movies like Fright Night or The Monster Squad, where he’s waaaaay in over his head yet refuses to back down, even at the cost of his life.  In this day and age, you’d be hard pressed to find great one-shots like Urban Square, but for any hard-boiled 80s anime geek, you owe it to yourself to give it a try.  OVAs like this are a reminder that anime wasn’t always so thought-provoking, but was likely to be a big, dumb and pulpy enterprise that was ready to flip you the bird without any hesitation.  And you know what?  That’s quite alright.  Now stop reading this shit and go watch it.

Farewell Florida

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Way too much has happened in the last few months for me to even sit down and write anything, but after the tragedies in Orlando, Brexit, Istanbul and a whole host of other depressing things occurring throughout the world, what I wanted to write about seems like small potatoes.

But yes, I am officially not a Floridian anymore.  As of yesterday, I am now residing in the Virginia area with a new job in D.C.  It’s a new adventure for me, and most importantly, with my missus.  We’ve been apart for quite a while now aside from the visits we’ve had between Arlington and Tampa, but now I’ve landed some work and I’ll get to be with her from now on.  For those of you in the know, it’s been a grueling experience looking for work in a new state, but the new team seems to like my skills.  It’s a new type of job (that’s still related to cancer research) and I’m a bit nervous, but I’m also hoping that my work ethic will pay off and that I can stick around for the long term.  Cross your fingers for me please!  In reference to my blog, my tag line use to be “the Chicagoan in Florida” but I guess that won’t work anymore.  Any ideas for a new tag line would be most welcome indeed.

I’m sad to leave my parents, relatives and pals in the FL, but let’s raise our glasses to some positives here too.  Euro is turning out to be one helluva tournament (Wales, Iceland, keep it up) and I’m hoping Arsenal will snag more players since the silly season has officially started.  Here’s a big shout out to all my Floridian peeps for their love and support during this trying time and please know that no matter how hard I try to forget y’all, I really won’t.  Thank you for being so crazy Florida, and thank you for being such a confounding yet wonderful backdrop for me and the last 9 years of my life.

 

Bidding Farewell to the 2015-2016 Premier League Season

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There are so many words I could use to describe the Gunners’ season, but given that much has happened on Sunday (including that horrible scare at Old Trafford), I truly can’t use many words like “Wenger Out” or “Time for Change.”  We’re lucky that we’ve all got to enjoy our football in one piece obviously, but if there’s a phrase I could use, its “Missed Opportunity.”  With horrible losses to the likes of Swansea, United, Chelsea and Southampton (the latter two being refereeing catastrophes), it’s horrible to see our title hopes become forfeit like that.  Injuries have also, once again, demolished us, so I hope next season, we’ll finally figure out a way to rest and rotate our players accordingly.  With Leicester now Champions, it’s easy to throw Arsenal under the bus and ask “If they could, why couldn’t we?”, but have a look at United, Citeh and Chelski.  The Foxes took it one game at a time in a season where no one (save for Arsenal) took them seriously on the pitch.  Congrats to them of course, but I can bow out of this season knowing that my Gunners did their part against them.  This really is history in the making so bravo to LCFC.

Sunday’s game against Aston Villa will be one for the history books for me as well.  It really did look like we were going to finish this game at 1-0, but Giroud came through with a glorious hat-trick that in all honesty should be a bit more routine from him.  Each goal was a testament to his abilities and I hope he finds that audaciousness to convert more ruthlessly against stronger clubs next season.  I missed the last goal since my Dad was bouncing around channels to see the other scorelines, but finding out that it was Mikel Arteta who made it happen (to heck with the OG) is icing on the cake for a man who ends his footballing career with Arsenal.

arteta farewell 5-15-2016

Arteta helped steady the ship at Arsenal when the likes of Nasri and company were leaving the team one after the other.  A natural leader on and off the pitch, he gave the Gunners the calm they needed to see out some intense games.  His through-balls, his metronomic passing and work-rate were excellent.  I’ll never forget him taking two penalties against Everton in the FA Cup, or the time he beat Man Citeh 1-0 at the Etihad with that firecracker of a goal.  He gave his all to Arsenal during these past five years, and although injuries and age have taken his toll on him, I think we’ll all remember him for helping us get through some dark times as we finally ended our trophy drought.  His tears at the end of the game against Aston Villa speak volumes about how he feels about Arsenal and his career overall, so good luck to you Mikel in whatever you do.  A true captain in every sense of the word.

The same can be said for Rosicky and Flamini.  Two huge personalities at the Emirates.  Tomas in particular has spent 10 years at Arsenal when many left, yet in my opinion, it will be hard to get someone that can emulate his level of skill.  Little Mozart embodies everything that Wenger’s brand of football is known for, including slick passing, tenacious dribbling and an amazing hunger to press press press.  I’ll never forget his goals against the Spuds, including the Rocket at White Hart Lane, his outside-of-the-boot finish as we won 5-2 at the Emirates in 2011 and the poach from Danny Rose to chip Lloris in the 2014 FA Cup.  However, his tiki-taka goal against Sunderland will always be his masterpiece.  If you haven’t seen it, I’d suggest you check it out.  Oh, and Flamini?  I will miss his pointing, his yelling, fouling and his awesome personality.  I’m glad he took care of his unfinished business at Arsenal and helped us win 2 FA Cups.    Oh, and that volley against the Spuds in the League Cup last season?  Priceless.

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With other Premier League stalwarts like Tim Howard leaving Goodison Park, this has truly been a Premier League season of unprecedented events.  Legends are leaving.  A team with very little odds makes the impossible possible to win the Premier League trophy.  West Ham bid a victorious goodbye to the Boleyn Ground at the expense of a shambolic Manchester United.  Mourinho continues to NOT be missed at all.  Sunderland survive the drop yet again.  Arsenal, despite failing to win the League, have made it to 2nd place for the first time in 10 years while Spurs implode once again.  It’s been a crazy season once again folks, and it’ll definitely be one for posterity.  Until next season everyone!

Naika Reviews “DOPE”

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Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope is the nerd comedy that our young generation needed.  Before that, the only big budget film depicting nerd life to me was Revenge of the Nerds, and that was in the 80’s.  Sure, there’s been other movies that touched on the subject, but nothing comes close to the zaniness and vulnerability of the Nerd film quite like Dope has.  2016 is a different time now and we all would like things to be a bit more diverse, so it’s refreshing to see that finally, a black nerd takes center stage.

Dope focuses on the life and times of Malcolm Adekanbi (portrayed with panache by Shameik Moore), an Inglewood high school senior who get good grades, stays out of trouble and loves 90’s hip-hop.  Flanked by his two best friends and punk-rock bandmates, lesbian wonder-girl Diggy and the goofy yet earnest Jib, Malcolm is dreaming of the day when he can finally attend Harvard and leave his hard surroundings behind him.   However, things take a strange turn for Malcolm when he finds out that neighborhood tough guy Dom stashes his bag full of drugs during a very dubious party that ends in a shoot-out.  With options dropping minute by minute, Malcolm has to find a way to not only get rid of the drugs, but to do so without ruining his future.

There’s a lot that I love about Dope, but one of the elements I that I feel it gets right is the sense of WTF that occurs once Malcolm discovers the drugs in his bag.  His initial reaction is gold and the way the film sets up the promise you see in Malcolm’s life thusfar makes the revelation of the drugs all the more tense, confounding and jarring, much like getting hit by a Mack truck.  Lets also be honest and say that the revelation digs deeper for the fact that Malcolm is black (duh), and as y’all know, the consequences for him are a LOT worse compared to your average white or asian kid.  This sense of urgency transforms the film from an urban coming-of-age tale to a caper-like escapade, where Malcolm is forced to use his wits to elude danger, wackiness and some very shady people in order to survive.

I also felt that Dope really portrayed the life of a nerd better than most films do nowadays while not curbing around with the stereotypes.  For example, Malcolm isn’t some dweeb with glasses and a pocket protector.  He likes 90’s hip-hop culture, and that seems to really RILE up the bullies in his life.  One scene in particular that stuck with me was when he was harassed in the school hallways and was pushed onto the lockers, where said thugs / bullies questioned his “weird” style and fashion, while trying to steal his damn sneakers.  No one helps him except the security guard, who earnestly feels that Malcolm’s a good guy.  Nevertheless, scenes like that where school violence spurts out from unhinged and ultimately insecure assholes are what grounds Dope on reality, and this is especially the case when Malcolm fights back in his own way.  Overall, Dope is a fun coming-of-age film which revitalizes how we see nerd-life onscreen.  Its fresh approach in a very REAL setting reminds us that the plight of the geek extends beyond the realm of the straight white boy, and into the hands of some very cool, smart and hip teens of color.  If that doesn’t spell out DOPE to you, then I don’t know what will.