Approaching and trying to compare Frank Miller’s late 1980s dystopian opus “The Dark Knight Returns” to the new animated perception of it requires a degree of separation. Miller’s perception of a darker view of the older, worn-down exploits of Gotham’s crime fighter can be reflected at times in “The Dark Knight Rises”. In adapting this noir progression, the director and animators do an effective job of respecting the source material and the dark color schemes. “TDKR” was always a difficult property to adapt because of the age of its lead character but also the general myopic view of the state of society. Most of the graphic novel works from the access of how the news media sees how these ideals in the world function. Oddly enough, what Frank Miller envisioned in 1986 is much more prevalent today than it ever was because of the internet and cable television. While The Mutants (including their grandly fat leader — who has more than a passing mixture of DeVito’s Penguin and Tom Hardy’s Bane), there is something less human and more lethal about them especially with his physical form (like the Clown from “IT”). The story has a built-in cliffhanger which probably intersperses itself from the books. This is the crux of the waking of Joker out of a coma in Arkham Asylum which is nicely played within the final moments without overarching what it means. The intermittance of a new female Robin actually plays more into the texture of today even more so than in the 80s when it was written. The use of incessant incantations of blood also in a more realistic setting does set the progression aside because it feels more grounded. The small featurette on the disc points to the next installment with a little bit of animation as well as concept drawings which seem to keep it in texture. The inclusion of a promo for a dark Batman/Superman animated film where they are hunted down like villains keeps in the track of the general tones of the DVD. The presentation of “The Dark Knight Returns – Part I” is bare bones but understands necessity and the point of the track without overdoing it.
The intention of another plague like the one in the Middle Ages seems like a given at some point in modern life. The key is how does one fight against this kind of knowledge versus what we are able to control. “King Of Thorn” attacks this idea with an old world resonance, using mythology against us. The “Medousa” virus is born out of that legend of the woman/lizard who turned men to stone with a glance. The same element rules here with an incubation period of 60 days which is 100% fatal. Creating a Noah’s Ark type scenario, a scientist brings together a way to stop the virus until a cure can be found. The set up is wonderfully clever despite many holes along the way. The director interview on the extras would have one believe that everything is tied in together (which might be true) but the reality is that there is a lack of clarity on first viewing. The visuals and labyrinth approach in terms of structure are quite interesting but, not unlike the new “Dredd”, it suffers as well from the “just-get-out” problem. The reality is that the timeline and the basis of two twins becoming the catalyst for dreams (or video games) coming to life just doesn’t connect. The back story which involves the lead scientist and CEO finding an alien that was created by a little girl in Siberia by her mind tries to recount “Hellboy” but again without a truly specific through line. Even the intrigue behind the scenes with both the planted engineer as well as the soldier/spy sent in to protect the “experiment” seem a little far fetched. The influences from “Resident Evil” and beyond are apparent. The narrative is a bit clearer in the English dub but only based on the precedent of differences in accents and backgrounds in the character which for English speaking audiences cannot ascertain in the original Japanese dialogue. The eventual revelation of the two sisters as well as the connection to the computer/spirit of Alice has possibility but is not truly flushed out. The Q&A in the extras as well as the director interview tries to explain some of this but the visuals seem to take an overall higher road. The pilot film hints at something much more religious and intensive in the process and shows why the director got the job because there is scope. The overall film itself carries this but, towards the end, it forgets about context. The Japanese trailers do play to the strengths but the initial overseas trailer does the best job outside the pilot film. The US trailer uses different music which works but takes the idea in a different direction. In terms of other previews on the disc, “Stein’s Gate”, with its notions of time travel, has interesting possibilities until the microwave scenario cuts in. “Gai-Rei-Zero” in terms of its tone provides the most energy and darkness with a sense of knowing. “King Of Thorn” is ambitious in many ways and succeeds in some of them. However, despite its good ideas, there is a lack of overall clarity, some of which might be cleared up in consequent viewings, but nonetheless creates confusion on first impression.
“Fractale” is a story of world consumed in technology and yet primarily rustic in its appearance. The series does bring up a texture of life experience versus life downloaded but the overall instinct lends itself with a bit of irony.
Disc 1 The presentation of a story of almost reverse technology tends to idealize the notion of simplicity over the ideas of “progress”. Religion, as with all things, takes its approach in the process but requires a sensibility to frame it in context. Here, the Fractale system can be seen as both a calming force or a means of control, as long as it is used for that specific reason. The key in telling the story is, of course, self-reverential. The character of Clain does find himself between two worlds in his ability to access the technology but has a love for analog things which, more often than not, opens new possibilities for him where none might necessarily arise. A young woman, a priestess of sorts, falls literally into his life and he is smitten. Now granted he has not seen many girls before so this becomes a structure of irony anyway. What she brings, which is a continued mystery in the world, is a doppel. In this world, people function towards the idea of being in every place at once which allows them to do many simultaneous things (which they do through artificial constructs). Clain heads out to help the priestess but finds a sort of civil war progressing where certain people want to be unplugged. The land itself is not wasted but it is barren compared to say the fields that were tilled before because nobody needs to do to exist. Now work apparently gets done through the doppels but its execution is vague. Like “Waterworld”, these “unplugged” people are in search for an oasis but they are not quite sure where. The Japanese language and subtitles are more straightforward while the English dub progresses more playfully though only for the first couple episodes. The commentary explores the balance of technology and the Celtic influence but not with any real depth.
Disc 2 Continuing on within the structure of a trinity of friends that will not leave each other, the series continues its religious connotations in effectively pursuing the assimilation of one whole. The participants are struggling against their respective destinies thinking that something different should befall them. After getting a taste of the Fractale universe through the city of Xanadu, Clain realizes that the basis of what people are fighting for is not all it is cracked up to be. Entering into the temple (another religious connotation) as a heightened doppel (think the Holy Spirit in the Catholic religion) becomes more and more brazen in her rescue attempts, the trio finally acquiesces to their fate. The interesting progression is that nothing really changes. The balance effectively moves in the idea that Clain himself is on a crusade to save both these women, who hold different emotions for him (whether they be real or not). Happening upon a cloning structure of a girl fashioned to be “god” is a little heavy and doesn’t quite connect the dots. Save for some slang, the translation is similar on both sides of the coin. The promos both regular and Blu Ray speak to the two lead characters but hold out on the spiritual bridge between them which is the core of the series. The inclusion of an orchestral performance of a suite from the score highlights the almost John Williams-breathe of its sound., The textless songs as usual provide a depth filled backdrop while the trailer for “Tales Of Vesperia” stands out among the coming soon trailers.
“Fractale” is a retro-implication of technology gone awry that circles back around to notions of religion simply as a matter of course. These philosophies work well within the narrative bent of the show though at times, the notion of what the creators are exploring seems to get away from the texture of what the show is truly about: fate