Death Note a modern take on Plato’s Gyges Ring

In a discourse in Plato’s The Republic, the integrity of man is questioned and, perhaps, ultimately deemed to be fundamentally flawed: The Ring of Gyges is a mythical talisman that grants its owner the power to become invisible at will. Using the story of the ring, Plato’s Republic, explores whether a typical man would remain moral if he did not have to fear the consequences of his own actions, and that no man is so virtuous that he could resist the rings temptation or avoid becoming morally bankrupt by using its power. If morality is a social construct where we act out of necessity, then what happens if those social sanctions are removed, or you come to believe that they no longer apply to you? In the Republic, Glaucon made the argument:

Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a god among men. Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point. And this we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for wherever any one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust. For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right. If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another’s, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another’s faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice.

This is, and always has been, an interesting thought experiment. It’s one that I’ve wrestled with in the past, what would I do if I could do anything I wanted to, if there were no consequences? If power corrupts, then does absolute power corrupt absolutely? Would I be able to stop myself? Would any of us? H.G. Wells also explored this in The Invisible Man, as his character Griffin is transformed from a gifted young scientist, to a megalomaniac planning world domination. Perhaps the only memorable line from the movie Hollow Man, an adaption inspired by Wells work, was Sebastian’s (Kevin Bacon) observation:

“You know what, Matt? It’s amazing what you can do … when you don’t have to look yourself in the mirror any more”

As I said, its a fascinating idea, and one that I’ve been forced to dwell on again whilst watching the brilliant anime series: Death Note, one of the most unique and mind-blowing anime in recent history.

It’s the tale of a young man, Light Yagami, a brilliant young student, with perfect grades, perfect record, perfect looks etc. he’s a decent upstanding young man. All of that changes when a shinigami ( god of death ) drops his Death Note into Light’s schoolyard, where the young man stumbles across the enigmatic looking book and reads the instructions in it, the primary rule being: The human whose name is written in this note shall die. Light is initially skeptical thinking it to be a joke, but after experimenting with it he realises that the Death Note is real. Light, in a very real sense, becomes a living incarnation of the Gyges discourse, a seemingly flawless character, who is given the power to kill anyone in the world, and seizes upon this to create a new utopia with his god like power. He begins by entering the names of criminals into the Death Note:  murderers, rapists, serial killers, child molesters etc. his belief is that the world would be better without them.

As thousands of criminals begin to die suddenly around the world, the number of inexplicable deaths captures the attention of interpol and the mysterious detective known only as ‘L‘. It’s hard to describe L without falling back on cliches but he is a mysterious, enigmatic, eccentric genius. He has a strong sense of justice, yet his methods are sometimes as morally questionable as Lights. It’s the battle of wits that ensues between these two protagonists that makes this series such compelling viewing.

Light can only kill someone if he has seen their face and can visualise it as he writes their real name in the notebook, the more he kills the more he believes himself to be a God- eventually Light becomes more than just a self-styled God, he amasses a huge following under the moniker of ‘Kira’ ( which in typical Japanese is pronounced similarly to the english word “killer” ), and soon he begins to kill anyone that threatens his plans, including FBI agents and others that are attempting to discover his identity. L, however, deduces that Kira can kill people without laying a finger on them provided he has seen their face and knows their real name. Light recognises L as his greatest nemesis and so a cat and mouse battle between the two begins. Each racing desperately to discover the others true identity first – coming second means death. The suspense is exhilarating.

I highly recommend Death Note, it’s utterly brilliant: its dark, morally ambiguous and yet full of humour. It’s great, thought provoking entertainment.

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade

It’s not often I watch an anime, or any movie, that not only moves me but forces me to ask questions about society and our shared humanity. Jin-Roh is a title that has hovered around my awareness for years but I’ve never gotten around to watching it, at least not until today. It’s an exquisite work that transcends genre.

The story is complex and full of depth and some strong characterization, this a very serious movie; so for those who Ilike your robots and bikini girls, with hyper-guns and the whoosh of rapid-fire manga, this is probably not for you! This movie is thoughtful and contemplative … and will leave you feeling introspective.

The story is set in an alternate reality in which Japan has emerged from the second world war as Totalitarian society… The population riots, a group called the Sect creates havoc, and the armored Special Unit of the Capitol Police Organization (CAPO) plots to acquire more power. A soldier named Fuse, who was once one of the most formidable men in the Special Unit, agonizes over the death of a young girl who worked for the Sect and in doing so he becomes a neurotic mess intent on befriending the dead girl’s sister.

The opening ten minutes of the movie hooks you, it begins with a chase under the streets of a rioting city in whic two groups, Sect and the CAPO, which represent two diametrically opposed points of view come into violent conflict. Away from the riots, and killing, a heavily armed trooper hunts and corners a mule, a young girl carrying explosives for use against the police forces. The rest of movie is revolves entirely around the question of why the soldier does not shoot her, its a question that occupies the lead character, his co-workers and us as the audience as we watch him and wonder we can’t let go of her self imposed death. This is a slow serious story, about suicide bombings, and blindly following orders, and humanity’s growth or lack of growth.

What surprised me the most was how much this story borrowed heavily from the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, it’s difficult to go into examples with ruining the rest of the story, however the female terrorists who carry bombs for the Sect are known as “Red Riding Hoods,” and Kei, reads a bloody version of the tale to Fuse throughout the film. The dialogue is fully of ethical question and moralistic observations, consantly question what it means to be human, for example when Fuse superior observes:

“We aren’t men disguised as dogs. We’re wolves disguised as men.”

and he also when another of his superiors makes observation with regards to society:

.”.. apparently some animals when they dominate a group kill all the offspring of the other males under them, sometimes organisations do the same”

In my opinion Jin-Roh is a true masterpiece, and anyone who watches it will not be disappointed.

Anime Reviews: Afro Samurai Resurrection, plus more.

Afro Samurai:Resurrection
Last September I reviewed Afro Samurai which was one of the best anime’s I’d seen in a long time. By the end of the first movie Afro had avenged his father and found a life of peace. In this sequel that peace is shattered by the arrival of a woman from his past (Sio, voiced by Lucy Liu) who is intent in schooling Afro in the same brutal lessons he dealt those who stood in his way as he searched for the number one headband. In a revenge fuelled attack, Sio steals the number 1 headband as well as the skull of Afro’s dead father. With this she intends to resurrect Afro’s late father and torture him. This movie sees Afro restart his journey, he must first find the Number Two Headband so that he can earn the right to challenge Sio. Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as Afro and again provides the voice of ‘Ninja Ninja’ Afro’s imaginary who symbolizes his inner feelings and always acts as the voice of Afro’s conscience.
Like the original series, Afro Samurai provides some great action with plenty of gore and limbs flying around the place, as well as the usual bittersweet, and often tragic drama that asks some pretty profound morale questions. The visual style of the animation is stunning, as is the musical score, which was performed once again by RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan. It’s a great continuation of one the best anime series I’ve seen in a long time.

Hellsing – The Collection
The Hellsing Organization is a supernatural collective dedicated to protecting mankind from a war that rages in the Earth’s shadows in which humanity is only a pawn. Able to keep the dark forces at bay for so long, Hellsing has recently been coming across artificially spawned vampires so powerful that they can do nothing to stop them. So, the Organization calls in Alucard, a rogue vampire who combats this army of the undead with Seras Victoria, a female companion he rescued from death by vampirising. Whilst I found this series entertaining, and I did enjoy it a lot. It didn’t really feel like it had any depth. The series tries to build an aura of mystery surrounding Alucard and yet never really succeeds in explaining why such a powerful vampire decided to become a servant to a human master. Everyone should also also realise fairly quickly that ‘Alucard’ is an anagram of ‘Dracula’.

Mysterious Cities of Gold
Ok, so this isn’t really what I’d class as anime, but it is animation 😉 I recall how much in enjoyed this series as a child and couldn’t resist purchasing it when it became available last year. It’s take a while to watch it all, and I can report that it is still as wonderful now as it was then. For those who have never seen this or even heard of it, I recommend it thoroughly. This series comes from an era when story telling was paramount, watching it again I was surprised at how the series, although humorous and fun, required more maturity on the part of the audience than the sort of vacuous cartoons kids seem to watch these days. Plus I’ve always loved the opening score …

Anime Reviews …

Seem to have watched a lot of anime over the last few months. Here’s a couple of brief reviews:

Guyver: The Bioboosted Armour
This new 26 part collection is a modern makeover of the original classic 1980’s anime series. Based on Yoshiki Takaya’s popular manga. The remake boasts a wonderful soundtrack with stunningly stylized animation and character designs as well as amped-up levels of violence and gore. I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d think of this series, I loved the classic series which was way ahead of its time and was hugely skeptical of this remake. The Guyver tells the story of Sho Fukamachi, a normal everyday teenager who accidentally comes into contact with a power bio-weapon called a Guyver unit. To his surprise and horror, this mysterious unit takes over Sho’s body and transforms him into an incredibly powerful mechanized warrior. With his newfound powers, Sho must protect the people he cares about from the sinister Chronos Corporation and their army of monsters (called Zoanoids) who will stop at nothing to retrieve the Guyver for their own devices and eliminate anyone who knows of it’s existence. I have to admit, I really enjoyed this series!!

I first watched Akira when I was only eleven years old, it was the first anime movie I had ever seen and changed my perception of ‘cartoons’ forever. Even today the animation doesn’t look dated at all largely due to the attention to every conceivable detail. Set in 2019, the film richly imagines the new metropolis of Neo-Tokyo, which is designed from huge buildings down to the smallest details of passing vehicles or police uniforms. The movie centers around the relationship between two disaffected orphan teenagers: the slight, somewhat timid and resentful Tetsuo and confident, breezy Kanada. Both of them are members of biker gang, but trouble grows when Tetsuo start to resent the way Kanada always has to rescue him. Meanwhile, a group of scientists, military men and politicians wonder what to do with a collection of withered children who possess enormous psychic powers, especially the mysterious, rarely seen Akira, whose awakening might well have caused the end of the old world. Tetsuo is visited by the children, who trigger the growth of psychic and physical powers that might make him a superman or a super-monster. You can read a detailed summary of the plot here. Akira is one of the most critically acclaimed of all anime titles and since its release in 1988 has been massively important in influencing the entire genre. I watch it from time to time and never seem to tire of it.

Requiem From The Darkness

I finished watching the series Requiem From The Darkness this evening. It’s easily one of the most disturbing series I think I’ve ever seen, even for an anime! The series comprises of thirteen episodes which are roughly half an hour long each, and absolutely not for the squeamish or feint of heart.

Brief synopsis
Towards the end of the the Edo Period, Momosuke, the son of wealthy merchants turns his back on his family’s profession and decides to become a writer. He comes up with the idea of of writing a collection of stories about the mysterious and the supernatural. After a chance encounter with a monk and his strange associates on a snowy mountain Momosuke is drawn into a world of darkness he can scarcely begin to imagine. Momosuke travels with the trio who have sworn to cleanse the land of corruption: Mataichi, the mysterious monk; Nagamimi, a massive figure who is seemingly a master of disguise; and the beautiful bt deadly Ogin. This trio of strange characters travel the countryside dispensing their own form of karmic retribution on the truly evil.

The very first thing you notice about this series is it’s very unusual and unique visual style. For instance the character are drawn in wildly different styles. The four main protagonists are drawn in a in a rather traditional anime style, but all other characters that are tangential to the story are drawn in a very surreal manner – with almost grotesquely proportioned bodies, enlarged heads, and often missing facial features. This gives the series a very creepy feel. It’s not just the characters, the sky is often a strange purple color, and for some odd reason lakes appear red in this world.

As for the story – the series tries to examine human psychology. Whilst the supernatural does feature in this, it’s the all too real corruption of humans that is central to this – moral and ethical corruption and how it effects people is really what this series is trying to explore. It raises many questions not least of which is the morality of the three outlaws and their method of punishing the criminals, which are truly disturbing at times. Of course so too are the crimes that they are punishing which include incest, murder, witch craft and even cannibalism. Which is why this series complete deserves the 18 certificate it has. Whilst there are sexual themes, there is nothing gratuitous, in fact the same is true of the violence which is also often implied, but the atmosphere the series creates is what drives you to imagine the worse, when you are left to fill in the blanks. It does make you jump at times, and on a couple of occasions made me feel nauseous!!

I have to admit that I enjoyed this series! But that being said I must also confess that even I struggled with the nature of some of the themes it explores. So be warned!

Anime Reviews: Sky Blue, Vexille and X


Set in the year 2077 relations between Japan and the rest of the world have deteriorated to the extent that the country has cut off all communication with the other inhabitants of Earth. Vexille is a female commander who leads a team of U.S. special forces, named SWORD, who have been charged with infiltrating Japan to discover the potentially dangerous technological advances the country is making. Their mission, and their discoveries, reveal that the Japanese have created a new breed of android virtually indistinguishable from human beings. I really enjoyed this movie, which came as no real surprise because it was made by the same people that created excellent Appleseed. The sound is excellent, and the visuals use the same superb blend of 2D and 3D animation that made Appleseed so memorable. This movie is not dubbed into English which might disappoint some people, I personally don’t mind watching it in Japanese with subtitles. If you like Appleseed then you’ll almost certainly love this, whilst it is somewhat formulaic the action is breathtaking.

Sky Blue
An environmental catastrophe has left the future of mankind in the year 2140 fighting against extinction. Slaves inhabit the outside world whilst the lucky ones live in comfort in Ecoban. One man dares to fight against the injustice – he enters the city to find its secrets and bring freedom to the slaves who have been consigned to an early death. This movie had me captivated from start to finish. The animation is flawless and the attention to details is absolutely breathtaking. This film also uses a blend of 2D and 3D animation and actually surpasses almost every other such anime I’ve seen ( yes that includes Appleseed!). The plot is somewhat convoluted and the ending did leave me with more questions rather than answers, yet to me that didn’t take away from how much I enjoyed the movie.

I have no idea where to start with this. It has to be one of the most confusing anime’s I have seen, yet it’s absolutely briliant. This falls squarely into the realms of old skool anime. Yet I have to admit I enjoyed it. It is pretty violent, so I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who is squeamish. In a nutshell its about good vs evil. Tokyo is the city where the final battle between the Dragon of Earth and the Dragon of Heaven will take place The Dragon of Earth wants to wipe out humankind because of the damage people have inflicted on the Earth, while the Dragon of Heaven is fighting to protect civilisation. At the centre of all this is Kamui, the chosen one, who must pick a dragon to fight for. It’s a deeply philosophical movie, far more so than I expected. It also has that eerie haunting beauty that makes it so memorable. Definitly one to watch.

Some quick Anime reviews

Afro Samurai
I really enjoyed this movie, it’s several genre’s rolled in to an action packed animated film. It’s not difficult to tell that the film is heavily influenced by Blacksploitaion Films, Standard Eastern Anime and Japanese culture. The visuals are exceptional, the animation is amazing. The story is simple – Revenge, ’nuff said’. I have to say though that it certainly isn’t for the feint hearted or the squeamish! Be prepared for blood, dismemberment, and some pretty strong language. The voice of the Afro Samurai is provided by the uber-cool Samuel L. Jackson, and the voice of his nemesis is provided by the bone-chillingly evil Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Alien Resurrection). At 175 minutes long the movie was originally a short series, but I actually preferred watching it in one go.

Based on Masamune Shirow’s acclaimed manga, APPLESEED is a haunting and thrilling vision of an apocalyptic future in which human life is slowly being controlled by a new breed of Biodroids, creatures that are half android, half man. In this future, the remnants of the world’s governments create a city named Olympus designed to be a utopia. However, this utopia is controlled by the Biodroids, and soon the human population has had enough. Rallying together a band of terrorists, the humans decide that they must destroy Gaia, the computer that runs Olympus, thereby freeing themselves and delivering a fatal blow to the reeling superpowers.
Visually this film is stunning, the semi-cell drawn animation gives it both a 3D feeling but also allows the movie to retain a strong sense of a traditional Anime. It’s so good I converted the DVD to put onto my iPod so I can watch anywhere!

Appleseed – Ex Machina
This computer-animated feature continues the story of Deunan Knute, a woman warrior whisked away from the ruined battleground where she lives to a distant city in which mankind seems to have put its destructive past behind it. The utopia of Olympus is maintained by the Bioroids, artificial people whose emotional capabilities are diminished in order to balance the careening passions of regular human beings. As a member of ESWAT, Deunan finds herself threatened by cyborg terrorism, a surprise attack on Olympus, and the appearance of Tereus, a human doppelganger for her cyborg lover and partner Briareos. Whilst I didn’t think this was a good as the original it’s still a stunning movie that remains true to the Manga.

Lady Death
This was a pretty dark movie – Hope is a young noble woman living in 15th century Sweden who has no idea her father Matthias is actually Lucifer. When the town priest discovers his secret, Matthias escapes to Hell, leaving his daughter behind to pay for his evil. As her execution draws near, she is given a horrific choice by Pagan, one of Lucifer’s minions. When she takes Pagan up on his offer, she quickly learns why her father is “The Lord of Lies”, as she is sent to Hell, betrayed, beaten, and left for dead. Her soul undergoes a transformation and becomes vengeance incarnate, a being with awesome powers, and a strong fighting prowess. She becomes “Lady Death” and vows to overthrow Lucifer himself. Whilst it all sounds pretty silly, it was fun, I wouldn’t rate it as an Anime masterpiece but it was entertaining.

Karas: Revelation

Took bloody ages to get home last night there was a fatality on the local line between Birmingham International and Birmingham New Street which meant we had to find alternate means of travel to get to the city. By the time I got home I felt exhausted. Richard is working the late shift this week so I had the house to myself and decided to make some food and finally get round to watching Karas:Revelation, the long awaited sequel and conclusion to Karas:The Prophecy which I reviewed a couple of months ago.

The sequel picks up exactly where the first movie ended it’s a much darker movie than the first and the plot remains sophisticated and very complicated, but the movie answers all the questions that we were left with at the end of the first movie. One of my previous complaints was that the first movie didn’t focus a great deal on Otoha the hero of this saga which felt quite frustrating because we never really got a sense of who he was, or how he was chosen to be Karas. Much of the first half of this movie is devoted to Otoha  and you learn who he was and how he first became a Karas. This part of the movie is extremely dark and bloody, I don’t want to spoil it, but you recall that only those who have known extreme sorrow can become Karas – well it’s fair to say Otoha fits that description.

In terms of it’s presentation and production quality this film surpasses the original – the seamless integration of 3d and 2d animation is absolutely stunning, and the soundtrack is brilliant! I really enjoyed the film – and found that I was engrossed from start to end – if you haven’t seen this series … then watch them – it’s anime at it’s very best!


Karas is a six part OVA. The first DVD, Karas:Prophecy, contains the first three parts woven into a single feature length movie. The story is set in the not-too-distant future in Tokyo which is a city populated by both humans and various supernatural beings. The balance between these two dimensions has long been upheld by a young woman called Yuri and her servent the city’s guardian raven Karas.

Karas are armored warriors. Only people who know extreme sorrow can become Karas. When commanded by the spirit Yuri these individuals becomes clothed in impenetrable armour and wield extremely powerful swords. Upon becoming Karas, the individual gains the ability to move with incredible speed and attack with amazing physical and magic power. At times, they can be moving so fast that it appears that everything around them is moving very slowly or has stopped moving completely.

Together Yuri and her Karas maintain the balance by ensuring that demons do not interfere in the lives of humans. But over time that balance was thrown into disarray when humans stopped believing in demons and stopped living in fear of them. During Japan’s Edo period the chosen Karas, disgusted by the arrogance of humans, turns his back on the laws he had once upheld, and takes the form of a human named Eku, while creating an army of Mikura, or mechanized demons, to ready an attack on the human race.

Fast forward to the future and Eku is now a wealthy magnate and his powers as a Karas have grown immeasurably. In the three hundred years or so since he betrayed his calling he has hunted down and killed every new Karas Yuri has trained. In fact the DVD opens with an incredible battle between Eku and another Karas, the fight ends when Eku dismembers and then kills opponent with ease. Yuri leaves and returns three years later with Otoha who we are led to believe is destined to defeat Eku.

Karas:Prophecy is absolutely stunning featuring some brilliant character and set designs and amazing 2D/3D hybrid animation. In terms of sound and visuals I can’t think of any other anime that comes close to this! The hyper-kinetic fight scenes are truly visceral and probably not for the squeamish.

The plot is fairly complex and I can understand why some people might struggle to keep up with it and whilst Otoha is the hero of the piece much more time is devoted to some of the characters and this is at times irritating since we don’t really get to learn as much about him as we might like. Nevertheless it’s still an amazing movie and I thoroughly recommend it!

Also the second DVD, Karas:Revelation, which contains the final three parts is being released on the 23rd October and if the visuals in the trailer are anything to go by the this second feature length movie might very well have surpassed the first.

You can watch the trailer below, enjoy:

Find out more at:

Ghost in the shell: Solid State Society

I haven’t had the best of weeks, spent the best part of two days in and out of hospital at the start of the week. Thankfully I’m ok but I did find myself feeling a certain amount of anxiety. Spent the rest of the week feeling more tired than usual – fell back on the old pattern of burying myself in work and for the most part that works quite well.

Anyway didn’t really feel up to going out last night so I decided to stay at home and finally get round to watching Ghost in the shell : Solid State Society. The story takes place in 2034, and is set around two years after the events of Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig.

The year is 2034, and the face of terrorism has changed. No longer restricted to the limits of the physical world, the war on terror has exploded onto the net. In an attempt to confront this new threat, an elite counter-terrorism and anti-crime unit was formed: Public Security Section 9.

Two years have passed since the team’s commander, Major Motoko Kusanagi, resigned from her post. After a rash of mysterious suicides, Section 9 is forced to confront the Puppeteer, a dangerous hacker with unsurpassed skills.

As their investigation of this terrorist threat takes them deeper into the bowels of a potential government conspiracy, Section 9 once again crosses paths with the Major, but is her sudden reappearance more than a coincidence, or is she somehow connected to the Puppeteer?

No one is above suspicion in this action-packed continuation of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex saga!

Whilst Solid State Society is, more or less, a third installment of the SAC series it is presented more beautifully than the two GIGS with much more improved CGI imagery and sound. In terms of the story and plot for this movie the plot isn’t as complicated as some people seem to think, it revolves around the Solid State, the name given to a autonomous healthcare monitoring system that monitors Japan’s elderly who are connected together in a virtual world where they are able to continue to live with minimal effort from the state to maintain them. They are considered a burden by the state and the Solid State is seen as a way to allow them to live out there remaining years.

Unfortunately the Solid State has a program built into it called “Kugutsu Mawashi” who is referred to as the “Puppeteer”, Section 9 spends much of the early part of the movie trying to identify who the Puppeteer is and how he/she/it is involved in a string of suicides and kidnappings. Eventually it is revealed that Puppteer is a “child abduction infrastructure” built into the Solid State. I don’t reveal too much more about the plot, but although it sounds fantastical wen you consider the pervasive and totally ubiquitous nature of technology in the Ghost in the Shell universe then you realise that this is not only a complicated and intelligent movie but in it’s own, unique, way it addresses social problems such as how does a society deal with an ever increasing ageing population? Whilst this movie is very different and presents a completely different vision of the future it did for some reason make me think of, the seminal, Logans Run.

I really enjoyed the movie, and thoroughly recommend it to anyone who enjoys or is interested in anime … anyway Alanjust arrived so were off to have some fun …