Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Best Horror Movies of All Time

Note: This feature was originally posted on Myspace. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

The Best Horror Movies of All Time!

I wasn't a huge horror fan growing up. Other kids my age would talk about all these scary movies they'd watch - Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one I specifically remember them mentioning - but I was always out of the loop. It's not that I had a specific aversion to horror, it's just that, like many things in my childhood, the opportunity never really presented itself to me. And I wasn't really the type to carpe the diem.

At the ripe old age of 18ish, my horror obsession began to bloom (along with other things). It wasn't my first exposure to horror cinema, but it did mark a turning point where I slowly began to recognize my interest in the genre, and gradually began to associate myself with the term "horror fan". I like to attribute this change to the movie 28 Days Later, but in truth there were other films that played an important role. Still, seeing 28 Days Later was an iconic moment for me. It helps that I saw it in the theatre, and that it was such a damn good movie.

So enough of the background, whether you're already aware of my love of horror or not, you might be asking yourself, particularly at this time of the year, "what is zharth's favorite horror movies?" Well, you're in luck, because I'm about to tell you! Comments are appreciated. Feel free to make a list of your own, as well. After all, it's Shocktober, and this is what the month's all about!

Jacob's Ladder (1990)

Although this list isn't specifically in order, this movie tops it by default, being not only one of my favorite horror movies, but one of my all-time favorite movies, period. I first saw it on television one October during high school age. I actually missed the very beginning, but from the strobe light dance rave scene, I was hooked. The movie is just fantastic. The atmosphere throughout is beautifully creepy. The demons are so well done...the problem with a lot of monster movies is that the monsters are either not scary, or look obviously fake. The demons in Jacob's Ladder are both real and terrifying. Plus, the whole movie is very artistically shot. And the psychological angle plays with your mind, something I thoroughly enjoy when I want to be entertained. I liked this movie for a lot of the same reasons I later became attached to the Silent Hill video game franchise. Psychological demon horror. And the issues of life and death and what to believe, who to trust. Masterpiece. One of my favorite non-demon scenes is when Jacob is lying in the bathtub, and the camera ever so slowly pans outward. Beautiful.

Aliens Trilogy (1979/1986/1992)

Here's the bottom line: I had serious nightmares about xenomorphs throughout my childhood. Maybe I'm making a leap here, but it might actually have something to do with the insomniac symptoms I sometimes experience. There was a period when I was deathly afraid of being the last person to fall asleep. That feeling of being alone, like as if the people sleeping were as good as dead, or just nonexistant. It was rather frightening. Course, now I feel great comfort in being the only person awake or around at any given time. I do still have a bothersome fear of arachnids, however, and I'm not 100% sure if it's a result of the xenomorphs or vice-versa. Bottom line is, xenomorphs freaked me out.

I have only a vague recollection of watching Alien for the first time. It must have been a summer evening, because I remember it was light out pretty late, until after dinner. Alien came on, I think before it even got dark, and I watched it in the living room. I don't remember much more about that experience, but when I think back on the way I used to view the Alien films, I can feel the fear deep in my gut. Even if it's not an entirely pleasant feeling, I respect things that can make me feel so strongly. As much as it scared me, I don't remember ever actually hating the films. I quite loved the sequel. And was still very scared by it.

Nowadays, though it's still pretty creepy, it doesn't freak me out near as much, but I can still respect it as a masterpiece of sci-fi horror. It goes back to that whole believability thing. The sci-fi atmosphere - in that ship, on the planet, the aliens themselves - they don't look or feel like sci-fi toys. And the seriousness of it all - this isn't a bunch of geeks getting off to wild hallucinated fantasies of intergalactic travel and bizarre alien lifeforms - this is seriously scary shit. I've probably always respected that aspect of it, too, even if not always consciously. H.R. Giger absolutely deserves some credit here. I still consider the xenomorph to be the perfect lifeform - in terms of perfect terror.

28 Days/Weeks Later (2002/2007)

There are very few films that I can credit for single-handedly getting me interested in a whole new musical genre. 28 Days Later introduced me to "post-rock", via the Sad Mafioso portion of East Hastings, a song by Godspeed You! Black Emperor used in the film's best scene. A man wakes up in a hospital, apparently coming out of a coma. The building is completely abandoned. Not a soul around. It's quiet. The man goes outside. The whole city is dead. Like as if everyone had just vanished. The man walks through town, not finding any life or signs of life, but finding clues that something very terrible has happened. And he managed to survive through it, while unconscious. Only to waken to an empty, lifeless, post-apocalyptic world. Panic sets in. Then he finds signs of life. But that's when the true terror begins.

A truly brilliant movie, which raises the bar impossibly high for the sub-genre of zombie horror. Even so, the sequel was every bit as good. Maybe even better. And a third installment is planned for sometime in the future. I hope to one day be able to refer to "the 28 trilogy" alongside "the aliens trilogy", but until then, these are two truly great horror movies for my collection.

John Carpenter's The Thing (1982)

Quite possibly the greatest movie remake ever made. Stranded in an antarctic research facility with an unknown terror, likely not from this earth. That's a good start for a horror film, but what really makes this move unique is a combination of two factors, among other things. The first is the special effects. Some might say they went a little overboard, but I think the fx are not only iconic, terrifying, and memorable, but also suit the nature of The Thing perfectly. The other factor that serves this movie is the paranoia. Being cooped up for extended periods at the ends of the earth is one thing, but having to face a monster that has no true form, and can perfectly imitate other life forms, really tests your trust in the people around you. Any one of them could be a monster, and they wouldn't know, until it's too late. This is definitely my favorite of John Carpenter's films.

The Descent (2005)

Spelunking can be quite terrifying on its own, when things go wrong. Being stuck below the ground, afraid that your lights will run out, and that you'll be buried alive. Throw in an underground colony of carnivorous cave-creeps, and you've got yourself a horror movie. Better yet, The Descent boasts a nearly all-female cast. There's even a psychological aspect which parallels the descent into the earth with a descent into madness. This film is a sparkling jewel of modern horror.

Hellraiser (1987)

I only saw this movie and the first of its sequels a year ago, but I really dig its style. Sadomasochistic demons who are summoned from hell by solving a puzzle box called the Lament Configuration, to give the solver a chance to experience the ultimate in pain and pleasure. Awesome. These demons, the Cenobytes, are considered angels by some, demons to others. It's only a matter of perspective. Most well-adjusted citizens would consider them demons, however. The design of the Cenobytes (including the iconic Pinhead) as well as 'The Engineer' are awesomely creepy. Sometimes it just comes down to a matter of style, and I like Hellraiser's attitude. (P.S. You might as well throw in the sequel, Hellbound, as it's required viewing for any Hellraiser fan - I still, regrettably, haven't seen the rest of the titles in the series, though).

The Exorcist (1973)

I still remember the first time I saw this film. I was relatively young. I remember staying in the house, probably on Halloween night, maybe after trick 'r treating, and watching some horror movies that my mom had picked out for us. I remember watching The Exorcist that night. All I can remember thinking about it, after it was finished, was how gruesome it was. I didn't necessarily register it as a "good" movie at the time, but I was absolutely affected by it, and I respected its ability to thoroughly shake up the core of my being. I had never seen a film anything like that before. A lot of people praise this movie, and rightfully so. It manages to pull off the religious horror angle flawlessly. Very disturbing.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

A lot of people give this movie flak, but for me, the bottom line is that I thought it was terrifying. It might not be so scary if I sat down and watched it again, but first impressions are the most important, right? Being out in the middle of the woods, in the dark, and hearing strange noises, then having people disappear. That kind of situation speaks to me. Anyone who's ever been camping before, sleeping in tents, sitting around the campfire at night, particularly as an impressionable child, can identify with the fear that the Blair Witch Project invokes. And at its heart, it's an exhibition of the fear of the unknown. A true "let your imagination fill in the scary bits" kind of film. And even if it wasn't actually real, it did feel more real than most horror movies do.

Fire In The Sky (1993)

I don't know just how many alien abduction movies there are. In fact, I'd be willing to bet there are plenty more "space invaders" type alien movies than alien abduction types. But I suppose that's irrelevant. It seems to have cooled off mostly, but there was a period of time, I wanna say it was focused around the 90's (probably concurrent with the X-Files phenomenon), that a specific kind of alien scare was prevalent. The fear of being abducted, taken right out of your bed at night, and being subjected to horrifying experiments while in the presence of strange beings that look almost like man, but different enough to freak you out. And the fact that all of this could even happen without you remembering it, until those memories resurface, perhaps during hypnosis. Yeah, it's pretty far-fetched, but there was a time when it didn't seem so unreal. At least not to me. And it was, at one time, one of my biggest fears. Once again, I don't know if seeing Fire In The Sky prompted that, or if the movie was so frightening because of that fear, but the end result is that this movie terrified me more than most I saw during my childhood. I couldn't even look at the aliens for fear of their faces haunting my dreams. And the most unsettling part is that the movie was allegedly based on a true story...

Jurassic Park (1993)

I know it feels more like a "big Hollywood action/adventure" type movie than a horror movie, but if Jaws counts as horror, then so too does Jurassic Park. Besides, at least for a child, Jurassic Park was pretty darn scary. It was also one of the films that I saw the most times in the theatre. I don't remember what the count was, but I must have seen it at least 8 times while it was still running. Dinosaurs can be pretty scary, and this is probably the most well-made dinosaur film I've ever seen.

Carnosaur (1993) [and quite possibly its sequels]

It would be unfair to list Jurassic Park and not mention Carnosaur. Carnosaur is almost certainly scarier, but I didn't have the advantage of seeing it at the same young age I saw Jurassic Park. Even though its budget can't compare to that of JP, Carnosaur is pretty damn awesome for a B movie. And its dinosaurs are first and foremost horror creatures, and only secondarily prehistoric lifeforms. I need to watch these movies again.

And at this point, the horror titles start coming up in your memory faster and faster - too fast to comment on them all - and you realize that you've probably listed the cream of the crop already anyway. So I'll finish it with a brief Honorable Mentions list.

Honorable Mentions:
Black Christmas (1974)
Halloween (1978)
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Friday The 13th (1980)
Carrie (1976)
The Shining (1980)
Night of the Lepus (1972)
The Amityville Horror (1979)
Ju-on/The Grudge (2002)

I hereby reserve the right to glaring omissions.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Silent Hill 3

Note: This review was originally posted on Myspace. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

A teenage girl's day at the mall turns into the worst nightmare imaginable. First, while snoozing in a café (Happy Burger), Heather has a horrific dream about a hellish amusement park. Then, a suspicious detective starts stalking her, mentioning her past. Demons show up, and after running into a strange woman named Claudia, who babbles on about gods and paradise, and Heather's true self, the mall is plunged into a nightmarish darkness. If that weren't enough to ruin your day, the subway has also been infested with demons, and the train leaves Heather off at an unknown, locked station, forcing her to travel through some underground passages and an office building before making it back home...


...only to find out that her dad has been murdered. Then, on the way to Silent Hill, to put things right, the truth is revealed. Heather is the reincarnation of Alessa, the girl from the first Silent Hill whose purpose was to birth a god. She is the baby that Harry Mason was given in the game's ending. Harry took her away from that hellish town, but seventeen years later, cultmember Claudia Wolf is anxious to bring her back and commence the ceremonies. So Claudia enlists the help of a detective named Douglas, who only gets caught in the middle of things. Douglas is responsible for reuniting Claudia with Heather, thereby initiating the whole fiasco, but he was just Claudia's pawn, and ends up being Heather's only real friend in the ensuing battle for all mankind. The fourth character in the story is an independent cultmember named Vincent, who seems to have his own disagreements with Claudia's methods.


SH3 is a bit of a mix between old and new, conjuring up the memories of the previous SH games while creating new memories to add to the legacy. Among the locations, the Brookhaven Mental Hospital, a classic from SH2, is revisited here, as well as the Lakeside Amusement Park, which is explored much more in depth than it was in the first game. However, at least half the game occurs nowhere near the town of Silent Hill - a first for the franchise. (Rest assured, even the non-Silent Hill locations are sufficiently nightmarish). This unfortunately denies us, as players, the pleasure of getting to excitedly explore new outdoor areas of our favorite ex-resort town. Another byproduct of this situation is that much of the game feels a bit more linear than in the past, going directly from one area to the next (why does the church have a door leading to a tunnel that directly connects to the amusement park?), instead of being able to carouse about the town looking for open buildings. While this is a decided disadvantage, the linear aspect of the first part of the game is actually a nice experience, since the plot at that point is that you're trying to get home from the mall. You start the game with your house key, and you just know that your travels are eventually gonna lead you there. From the mall to the subway, through the sewers, and out through an office building next to your apartment, your journey leads you back home. But even after you get to Silent Hill and finally get to move about the streets, the options are depressingly limited.

Brand new locations include the mall (nice choice), subway station, an office building (nice chance for a variety of decor, from a dance studio, to life insurance, to auto parts, and more), and appropriately, a church. The Silent Hill atmosphere is fully intact in this game, from the graphics, to the music and sound effects, and the moments of sheer terror we Silent Hill fans have come to expect. One thing I sincerely missed, though, was the sirens that mark the transformation from Silent Hill to Silent Hell, if you will. Those sirens are iconic, and I really missed them. Instead, we occasionally get this creature allegedly named Valtiel, who looks like Pyramid Head without the characteristic pyramid helmet, climbing on walls, turning a valve. I'm not entirely sure what purpose Valtiel served, but he was never used for more than effect. That is, he never attacks you, and isn't even directly referenced by the game. So he freaked me out at first, but after realizing that he's harmless, I didn't mind him so much. He's certainly no Pyramid Head.

New techniques: Silent Hill 3 offered two new gameplay additions. One is the block (at least I don't think it was featured in the earlier titles). I didn't use it a whole lot (run seems to be a more effective option), but it was useful against the Memory of Alessa boss. The other new addition is the beef jerky. A rather clever idea. You can pick up beef jerky throughout the game, and place it on the floor to distract some of the demons. I suspect it only works on the more animalistic and lower to the ground enemies. Truth is, I didn't really use it that much. It did come in handy during my play-through when I made a point not to kill any enemies (except for bosses). The jerky was essential in at least one of the hallways in the Nightmare Hospital, to distract those annoying lizard things that love to get Heather on the floor...I think they're called Slurpers. A pleasant image, indeed.

Speaking of monsters, the monsters were pretty good in this game. The first ones were generically creepy (the fishy ones), and the tall lumbering things with huge arms were rather intimidating. The dogs were cool, with gruesomely split heads (I can't imagine how they're still able to bite and howl...) - annoyingly fast, though. The wasps pretty much freaked me out for quite awhile, before I got the nerve to actually kill one. The fact that they can fly - meaning they can move across pits, coming from directions you wouldn't expect to be attacked from - doesn't help. Nor does the freaky grating sound they make with their blade-things. The ambling, lizard-like, floor-crawlers were equally disturbing and frustrating, particularly when they attack in numbers. Getting pushed flat onto the ground in the middle of an ambush is not pleasant. The fatsos were interesting. I believe they're officially referred to as "Insane Cancers". The way they lie on the floor, seemingly lifeless until you approach, is unnerving, even when you know what's going to happen. They take a lot of pain, although I worked out a way of killing them with consecutive thrusts from the katana (my favorite weapon), which saves ammo and damage - it's somewhat less effective on harder action levels, though. I think the only monster I'm leaving out is the type that shows up in the church and looks like the roof boss. I guess they're your typical late-game addition to the bestiary - formidable and feisty.

One aspect of the game that was a little iffy was the voice-acting. All the parts reek of over-acting, in that cheesy game-dialogue sort of way. At least it's not like I play Silent Hill for the FMVs. The game held a certain bland sense of humour, which in some cases I enjoyed. But ending the game with the line, "don'tcha think blondes have more fun?" ...this is Silent Hill, I remind you. I have to say I preferred the alternate ending (possessed). It was definitely more of a "Silent Hill ending", even if it was less believable. Vincent actually made one joke in the game that I wish was true. He's talking to Heather about all the killing she's done, suggesting that she's enjoyed it. Heather asks if he's talking about the monsters, to which Vincent replies, "they looked like monsters to you?" That could have led the game into a psychological direction akin to the second game, but alas, it was only a joke. In the game's defense, the in-game text used to describe items you come across really captured Heather's personality, I think.

Extras (this section obviously contains spoilers about the different kind of extras you can unlock in the game)

I was pleased with the extras in SH3. As for the extra weapons, you can unlock a beam saber, a flamethrower, and the Unlimited SMG (Sub-Machine Gun). Of the three, the Unlimited SMG is probably the least cool, but actually the most useful. It stops enemies in their tracks pretty well, and makes the bosses considerably easier. I feel like I didn't really give the flamethrower a fair chance, but although it's really cool, I didn't find it to be particularly useful. It's just too slow and too weak, and the range is rather pathetic. Considering that my favorite weapon was the katana, the beam saber was a dream come true. Basically it's a green lightsaber. It still has the shortcomings of the katana - short range, not so hot in an ambush - and though I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be stronger than the katana, it does require a couple seconds to activate each time you use it. Though there is a trick to get it open on the fly.

The other significant extra feature in SH3 is alternate costumes. After beating the game, you unlock an option on the title screen which lets you type in passwords to acquire new costumes for Heather to wear in-game (including FMVs!). Those passwords can be found in a number of ways. A handful of costumes are "Silent Hill 3 Originals", and their passwords are uncovered by beating the game under certain conditions (like killing no enemies, or achieving a 10 star ranking, etc.), or otherwise found within the game, or given in the official strategy guide. There's also a wide range of promotional costumes for various video game magazines, websites, and such, who gave out their passwords in their own medium, though all of those have since been conveniently compiled for the SH3 costume collector.

I automatically love it when a game featuring a female protagonist offers an option for alternate costumes (TR outfit modding anyone?), but I was disappointed that the vast majority of the costumes were simply color/pattern variations of the jeans/sleeveless shirt outfit. Though the jeans/shirt outfit was a considerable change from the standard gore-tex jacket/miniskirt/boots outfit. Still, despite the monotony of outfits, SH3 redeems itself with the Transformation costume. You aren't gonna believe this.

Beat the game twice, and you get the Transformation costume. Equip it in-game, and you will be treated to a hokey transformation animation showing Heather morphing into magical girl Princess Heart. No joke. Then you get to traipse through the darkest, dankest corridors of hell-on-earth as a justice-fighting, love-redeeming magical girl (mahou shoujo)! And that's not all! There's actually a fourth extra weapon you can unlock, called the Heather Beam, which uses up stamina to shoot energy balls and sprites from Heather's eyes. Use it with the Transformation costume equipped, and it becomes the much stronger Sexy Beam! You can even shoot beams from your eyes like Superman! And here's the best part - go on a rampage, killing demons with the Sexy Beam, and you can get the "Revenge" ending. Like the UFO ending in Silent Hill, and the Dog ending in Silent Hill 2, the Revenge ending is a rather bizarre joke ending which showcases the creator's unexplainable sense of humour...


Silent Hill 3 lives up to the Silent Hill name, and if you enjoyed the first two games, I can't imagine you not enjoying this one. Still, I'd like to see the outdoor portion of the game series not vanish altogether. I've heard that Silent Hill 4 is even more of a departure from the traditional formula, but I have confidence that it'll work out well. I can't wait to play it. I'm really grateful for the Silent Hill franchise - I have not before or since played a video game that is quite as scary. Realms of the Haunting is a close second, but where RotH's horror leans toward a mythical bent, Silent Hill is just pure hell. As an adult who no longer fears the dark (in general), Silent Hill freaks me out much more consistently than any of the horror movies I love to watch. I simultaneously look forward to, and dread, my next foray into the world of Silent Hill...

Endgame Stats

Sunday, October 21, 2007

30 Days of Night (2007)

Note: This review was originally posted on Myspace. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

A roving colony of vampires invades the solitary town of Barrow, Alaska, during it's annual period of 30 days of darkness. On the day of the last sunset for a month, preparations are made. Cell phones are stolen and burned. Every last sled dog is butchered. The only helicopter in town is junked. The townspeople are trapped for the month. The Sheriff doesn't know just what's going on yet, but it doesn't look good. Soon, the power is cut, the phone lines dead. People start disappearing, then some of them turn up brutally murdered. Then all hell breaks loose. Will anyone survive the vampires' 30 day fiesta? A truly great plot for a horror film. And 30 Days of Night delivers.

The vampires were really cool. They looked creepy, but also believable. They also had a bit of an international look, which solidified the idea that these vampires were probably culled from all sorts of civilizations throughout the globe, and throughout time. Their language was an impressive addition to the experience. Guttural, even orcish in nature. But it sure beat having the vampires speaking normal English.

The human characters were also interesting. Many of them had endearing backstories which enhanced their contribution to the plot, and upped the emotional ante. The story focuses on the ruined but possibly rekindling relationship between the two human leads (sheriff and girlie). Ultimately destined to end in tragedy.

I really liked the vampire leader. He was intelligent, and philosophical as well, in his own vampiric fashion. I also like the way the sheriff managed to inadvertently present himself to the vampires. He ends up decapitating one of the converts, and the vampires find the body, and examine it, and you can tell they're probably thinking, "there's somebody here who knows how to fight us." The scene with the UV lamp of course enhances that impression. And then there's the final brawl.

Cool scenes: when the vampire chick gets sunburned, ruining her "beautiful" face, and the vampire leader says "what can be broken, must be broken" before he presumably destroys her. Also, after the dynamite explosion, when the vampire leader, instead of getting pissed off, calmy explains, "when man meets something he cannot destroy, he destroys himself instead." Also, I have to give the movie kudos for not shying away from killing off a little girl (converted, of course).

The finale was exceptional, right down to the last moment. Overall, the movie was consistently scary, and the secluded blizzard town atmosphere served as a perfect setting for such a horror story. One thing that puzzles me, though it doesn't really bother me, is the sheer volume of blood spilled, considering that this is a movie about creatures that you wouldn't expect to waste blood. Maybe they can afford to be picky, I dunno.

This next point doesn't have much to do with the film itself, specifically, but it got me thinking. The action in the film is presented in that choppy quick-edit style that seems to be in vogue in horror these days. It's a style I first really noticed when watching 28 Days Later how many years ago. I can't quite come to a conclusion whether I like it or not. On the one hand, I like the fact that it attempts to recreate a psychological, panicked state, resulting in a visual that might be more akin to what you would actually experience were you in that situation. On the other hand, I can't help but say to myself, "just show me what's there, already! Quit jerking around and let me look at the damned thing!" Ah well, it certainly doesn't keep me from enjoying a film, and if nothing else it sets today's films apart from yesterday's (I wonder what people will be saying about that technique decades from now); I'm just kind of anxious for someone to come up with something altogether new and even better.

But as for 30 Days of Night, I very much enjoyed the film and I recommend it! If you're looking for a scary vampire flick, or snowed-in survival horror, don't miss it!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Welcome to the NHK (2006)

Note: This review was originally posted on Myspace. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Warning! This post contains major spoilers, including end spoilers. I suggest you watch the series first, and then read this review.

hikikomori ni youkoso

What is this series about? Basically, it's about a hikikomori (the Japanese term for a modern trend in social reclusion among young adults), and his trials and tribulations as he attempts to overcome his condition with the help of a mysterious girl. I have to say this series was just great. For once it's a character that I can really, truly, honestly identify with - however unfortunate that is...

The main character is a guy named Satou, who is somewhere around the age of 24, a college dropout, and going into his fourth year as a hikikomori. He lives (exclusively) in a small apartment in Tokyo, living off an allowance his parents supply him with. The first episode was a perfect introduction to his character, and the circumstances of his lifestyle. When a solicitor comes to his door, he takes a chance on opening it and ends up meeting a beautiful young girl. Satou doesn't know it yet, but it turns out that the girl, Misaki, has been watching Satou for a while, from the vantage point of her aunt and uncle's mansion on top of the hill, and has her own reasons for wanting to help Satou. She meets up with him in the park at night, and eventually gets him to sign a hand-written contract outlining the rules of her "project", which is to cure Satou of his hikikomori ways.

Naturally, Satou is suspicious, and suspects a conspiracy as usual - this side of him was obviously influenced by one of the two important figures from his high school life - Hitomi, the female upper-classman who convinced him to join the literature club, which just ended up consisting of the two of them playing cards to pass the time. Hitomi appears to be a clinically depressed individual with obsessive paranoid delusions about conspiracies. There's obviously some chemistry between Hitomi and Satou, but it never seems to get the justice it deserves. Well, that's life.

The other important character from Satou's high school days is an under-classman whom he attempted to save from some bullies once (mostly to impress Hitomi). Satou ended up getting beaten up as well, but the under-classman, Yamazaki, appreciated the gesture all the same. So by cosmic coincidence, it turns out that Yamazaki is living right next door to Satou in the apartment complex in Tokyo, attending classes to become a game creator. Though, Satou doesn't figure this out until he finally gathers the courage to bang on his neighbor's door and tell him to turn his music down for once. A potentially traumatizing confrontation unexpectedly turns into a friendly reunion.

Turns out Yamazaki is a major otaku and figure collector, his walls lined with anime, manga, and game-related items. In what begins as a huge ploy to deceive Misaki into thinking he's not a hikikomori (not realizing that she already knows better), Satou and Yamazaki decide to design their own computer game. Of course, the only realistic option for them, considering time and resources, is to create a galge (a less obvious term for eroge - basically an erotic dating sim). And so the fun begins. For inspiration, Yamazaki first gets Satou addicted to all of his favorite eroge, then introduces him to the wonder, the splendor, the beauty of Akihabara with all of its otaku stores and maid cafés. And for even more inspiration, Yamazaki unlocks the world of internet porn, and Satou apparently develops a loli fetish. While we're on the topic of uncouth hobbies, Satou later gets seriously addicted to an MMORPG, but this time, Yamazaki plays the savior by teaching him the hard way that people in those games are not who they seem.

All the time, Satou and Misaki are meeting nightly in the park for "hikikomori recovery tutoring", but their "relationship" develops rather slowly. One thing I didn't really agree on about Satou's behavior was how much he seemed to ignore Misaki. Suspicions and conspiracies and insecurities be damned, if I had a savior like Misaki (if only), you can bet I'd pay more attention to her. Then again, these kinds of things can be confusing. I guess it doesn't help that she keeps calling him things like "trash", "failure of a human", and "lower than a stray dog". But it turns out she has her own psychological problems to deal with. Don't we all.

There was a rather somber arc (heh, even for this series) midway through the series where Satou and Hitomi go to an "offline meeting" where depressed individuals meet to die together. I didn't really want to see these characters die, but I was a little disappointed in the resolution to the arc. I just don't see Hitomi being happy with that jerk Jougasaki. "I love you", "I need you"...if you care about her so much, pal, then why is your work more important? At least he acted like an upstanding guy when he found out what Hitomi was planning to do. Still, "I want to marry you", "those were the words I was waiting to hear", just doesn't convince me. Furthermore, after the recovered would-be suicidees were brought in, the guy that came in lecturing them about the trouble they would have caused had they jumped, and the families all worried about them...it felt so phony to me. But I guess I don't know much when it comes to suicide. I'm glad they didn't shy away from the topic in this series, though.

As much as I hate to spoil - though I've already spoiled the midway climax - this review wouldn't be complete without discussing the series' outcome. Does Satou ever recover from being a hikikomori? Well, yes, it would appear so. Obviously, there are some deep-rooted psychological issues to be concerned with, but he does eventually get a job. Of course, that's not until Yamazaki moves away (forced to drop his dreams of being a game creator and go home to take over the family farm), Hitomi goes off to start a family, his allowance gets canceled due to his father's forced retirement, and he even forsakes Misaki and her help. Oh, and the game he and Yamazaki were working on gets finished, but flops, and Satou realizes he doesn't cut it as a "creator". So, with no money, and nobody to fall back on, he eventually takes that step out into the world and ends up with a job conducting traffic. Unfortunately, that's the straw that breaks Misaki. Turns out she's just about as miserable as Satou, and her only purpose in life was being needed by Satou, the one person she found who was more pathetic than she. So with Satou doing okay on his own for once, Misaki's life no longer has any purpose.

The buildup to Misaki's attempted suicide was beautifully depressing. The whole scenery of it was amazing, with the snow, and the one song during the scene in the park, when Satou walks out on Misaki, it's like an acoustic guitar strumming some minor chords...I want to learn those chords. I still don't quite understand how things got resolved. Misaki obviously wasn't just trying to get some attention. She was ready to die, even despite Satou's attempts to stop her. And yet, they managed to work it out. Somehow. But I am glad they did. I still think Satou should be more honest about his feelings, though. Unless he really doesn't have them... That would be sad.

"Question: Why would someone want to continue living as a hikikomori?
"Answer: Because his clothing, food, and housing are guaranteed. Since he always finds a way to get by, he can afford to continue living as hikikomori. In hindsight, living as a hikikomori was a luxury in itself. Without clothing, food, and housing, you don't have any other choice but to work unless you're prepared to die."

"What to do from here on out, how to improve my life... I actually know the answer. I've read around two hundred books on self-improvement. I've even thought about writing one myself. I know everything."
"I'm scared."
"I'm scared of changing my way of life. If I do, I feel like something unexpected will occur. ...I know things can't continue like this forever. But... I also want to remain like this. I don't want to log out. Although I know it isn't realistic, I keep thinking that suddenly, one day, a surprise will occur and everything will resolve itself."

Human Pathos

For me, this series works on two levels. It was great fun to watch. And it's also probably one of the most important series I've watched. There's no question I'm a NEET, and even though it's primarily a Japanese phenomenon, I don't feel that it would be a stretch to describe myself as a hikikomori at this point in my life. Maybe I'm not worst-case scenario, but the problem is there. Although, I don't like admitting to problems because doing so instigates a push towards a solution, and the solution is precisely what I'm afraid of. See the quote above. Still, despite one's desire to be unique, it is comforting to associate oneself with a group, because it helps to know that you're not the only one dealing with a specific type of problem. It's kind of like the ancient practice of naming a demon to strip it of its power.

But where does it go from here?

"In dramas, there is an introduction, development, turn, and a conclusion - a burst of emotions and closure. Our lives will always be filled with a vague uncertainty."