Thursday, June 19, 2014

BRONTOSAUR NOT APATOSAUR!

This is a declaration.

I am hereby taking back the term Brontosaurus. 

Othniel Charles Marsh whom discovered the Apatosaurus, later found another dinosaur which he named Brontosaurus, but was in fact the same dinosaur.  This has been known for decades even during when Brontosaurus mania was at it's highest.  However, for some reason, in the last decade or so, people have to always say, "You know Brontosaurus isn't a real dinosaur, it's Apatosaurus." 

I'm saying it's Brontosaurus.  Just because one guy made the mistake of naming the same Dinosaur twice, over half a century of pop culture should not have to suffer as a result.  The popular name is Brontosaurus and that is the name it should be known as henceforth. 

Sing with me brothers and sisters!

BRONTOSAUR NOT APATOSAUR!
BRONTOSAUR NOT APATOSAUR!
BRONTOSAUR NOT APATOSAUR!



Are you going to be the one to tell baby Littlefoot he ISN'T a Brontosaurus?


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fate/kaleid Liner Prisma Illya Impressions


As a Type Moon and Fate/Stay Night fan, I approached Fate/kaleid with much trepidation.  Initially, I tried reading the manga years ago, but it didn't quite grab me, so I stopped after a couple of issues.  I recall trying to read it shortly after finishing Fate/Hallow Ataraxia, and I had a huge Fate/Void in my soul that needed to be filled and Fate/Kaleid didn't quite do it for me.

I'm also not a big fan of Magical Girl animes unless it is Cutey Honey. Of course, had I stuck with Fate/Kaleid a little longer, I would have realized it was a decent deconstruction of the Magical Genre.

I say decent deconstruction, because it reinforces the tropes more than it deconstructs them.  The main character, Illya, is a fan of Magical Girl anime, but when she is presented with the chance of becoming a Magical Girl herself, she is strictly against the idea, and is suspicious of anyone trying to forge a pact with her.

Even after becoming a Magical Girl, she is very reluctant of the idea, and feels silly and foolish when she has to change her clothes into ridiculous outfits in public.

At the same time, she uses the power of imagination, and can magically power up when in trouble whenever she needs to, as you've seen in a dozen shows of this type.  Fights can also last two or three episodes, ending with a character's typical, "This isn't even my Final Form!" type moments.

Still, it is self aware enough, without breaking the fourth wall, to make these moments enjoyable.

Ultimately, however, the show is all about fan service.  And I don't mean panty shots and jiggly breasts, which it has plenty of (or at least one pair of jiggly breasts).  I'm talking Type Moon fanservice.  To the point, I think this show would only be enjoyable to someone familiar with Fate/Stay Night.

There are cameos abound in the form of the Servants she has to fight, and about seven episodes in, Illya receives her true power, her ability to take the form of different Servants.  It was a cool scene that had me yelling at my screen saying, "Say it!  Say, 'I am the bone of me sword.....".

She didn't, and I was disappointed, but it was still an enjoyable scene to be sure, but again, only if you have any idea who Archer from Fate/Stay Night is.  In this regard, sometimes I feel like I'm watching a spin off of Carnival Phantasm, more than an actual Fate/ anime.  It feels like Pinky and the Brain to Carnival Phantasm's Animaniacs.

Also, I'm not certain how I feel about Illya's characterization.  She's cute and mellow, and she is likable to be sure.  It's nice that she isn't like most Magical Girl leads, being overly naive or optimistic. But she doesn't feel like Illya from F/SN, even a little bit.



In the original F/SN, Illya gets the worst of it in all three routes due to the nature of what she is.  In the original visual novel she was supposed to get her own Route, but it was cut.  So there was a large part of me, that wanted this to be the Illya route.  But sadly, it can't really be considered that, even if she looks like Illya from F/SN, she is not the same Illya.

Tohsaka Rin, however, Illya's mentor and master of sorts, is exactly like her F/SN version.  It's nice to have her familiar presence involved in the story in a more major way than I expected.

The first season ran last year, and a second season has been green lit, and will start in July.  I find it strange this series will be the filler now between Fate/Zero and the new Fate/Stay Night anime that begins in the fall.  It would seem better to space out some of these Fate/ series, as they cover a lot of the same ground as far as the Servant fights go. Perhaps they didn't expect a new F/SN to be made so soon.

In the end, this is a good solid series, that fits within the Type Moon multiverse quite nicely.  It's also nice to have a series with the Fate/ characters with a more fun and lighthearted feel, without all the tragedy and heartache that comes from the more official branches of the universe.



Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Return of the Miku Miku






It has been nearly 2 years since my last post, but we are back, baby, and what better way to signal our rebirth than with one of my personal favorite topics: Hatsune Miku!

Just when I think I'm off the Vocaloid hype train something happens that pulls me back in.  This time it comes in the form of a localization that I never thought would happen.  That of course, is the Project Diva games hitting American shores at long last.

Having played the previous installments on PSP, and mastering every song on Hard, getting the PS3 version of Project Diva F, seemed like a no-brainer.  That is until I played the Demo back in August 2013.  For whatever reason I couldn't even get past normal mode on a song.  What happened to me?  I threw the controller in disgust and swore my love affair with Hatsune Miku was over.  I boxed up her Figmas, put her CDs in a drawer and turned away with a tear in my eye.

Okay.  Maybe it wasn't that dramatic, but it did cool me on the whole Vocaloid thing for a while.  That was until one week ago, when the Vita version of the same game got released.

Now I'm back on board, getting Excellent rankings on all songs, and not really sure what happened in between the two releases that made my rhythm improve.  Some say there is a slight input delay on the PS3 due to HDMI cables.  I can't confirm or deny that.  I was probably just having a bad rhythm day.  I think it also helps to play the game with headphones on so you can really hear the notes you need to hit in time with the beat.

Regardless I'm loving the Vita version and it will probably force my hand to try the console version again shortly.

All that was just a long pointless preamble so that I can post my new favorite Hatsune Miku song: World's End Dancehall. It features both of my favorite Vocaloid's Megurine Luka and Miku.



The song is arranged and created by wowaka who came onto the Vocaloid scene in 2009.  He has since gone on to form his own band, devoid of any Vocaloids.

The above video is from the PS3 version of the game, which is the same as the Vita version, and below is from the Arcade Version:






And finally, the original video, done by wowaka himself:


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Xenoblade Chronicles Mandeldroit


So I was sitting, bare-assed, on a cactus late last week and thought quietly to myself, "This isn't very fun.  Maybe I should play that game all the kids are talking about:  Xenoblade Chronicles.  Maybe that will be fun!"
I raced as quickly as I could to my local Gamestop.

"Hey do you guys have a copy of Xenoblade Chronicles: Power of the Monado, I could buy?" I asked with eager eyes and a wealth of orchestrated enthusiasm.

"Did you preorder it, you scum-sucking water weasel?", the clerk replied with a mouth full of gold.

"Yes I did!" I said with a sparkle in my eye.

"Then here you go you sick son of a bitch.  But I won't let you leave until you preorder a copy of Diamond Dusk Dogs of War IV.  Lock the door, boys!", and with a motion of his hand, three dozen 400 lbs gorillas dressed in red, jumped out and blocked all seven of the exits! I was barricaded inside, until I slapped down $5 for Diamond Dusk Dogs of War IV.  So hopefully that game will be good!

To be fair to the Gamestop clerk, his hostile attitude was somewhat justified as I had just bought a game from his fine establishment, pantsless, and with a cactus stuck on my backside.

Then I ran home, ten miles as the crow flies from Gamestop to my house, laughing like a lunatic, tongue flapping in the air and choking on bugs.  I threw open the door and slid the copy of the game: Xenoblade Chronicles: A Tale of Two Gods.

Later that night, while playing the game alone in the darkness I heard a loud crash from the library.  My dog immediately looked in the direction of the crash and barked.  I felt a cold sweat permeate on my brow.  Should I investigate, or keep playing?  I was on my fiftieth side quest for the night, so I decided the fifty-first side quest could wait.  I set down the controller and slowly walked into the library.  There sitting in the middle of the room was a copy of Stephen Kings, "Desperation." I gasped!  Then as I turned around, I heard, very softly in my right ear,
"Just fuckin' with ya," said the ghost.

One week later.

Over the last three months I have played exactly three Japanese Role Playing Games.  The first was Persona 4.  The second was Final Fantasy XIII-2, and the third is Xenoblade Chronicles: Adventure, Revenge, and Love on the Kneecaps of Hope.

When I discussed where Xenoblade Chonicles: Underboob Edition fit in with these other games, with the ghost that lives in my house, I came upon some interesting conclusions.

First, we both agreed that Persona 4 changed our lives.  And considering my ghost compadre didn't even have a life, this is pretty groundbreaking stuff.

"Why did we even finish Final Fantasy XIII-2?" Dingo (the ghost) asked me in a bemused tone.
"It wasn't a bad game," I said slightly defensively.

"Yeah, it was fun, but man, I felt no real motivation to continue watching you play," he said.  " I mean what the shit was all that about Paradoxes and Changing the Future to Change the Past.  Makes no sense.  And the characters were all way too peppy for the world about to end.  I need to feel a reason to go on the journey.  You know what I mean brother?"

"Yeah I feel you," I said back.  But that wasn't really true.  I couldn't feel him at all, as he is a ghost and as invisible to the touch as Phil Collins would have you believe.

In any case we agreed that Xenoblade Chronicles: The Deus Ex Machina Blade of Justice, fell somewhere in the middle, though heavier on the Persona 4 spectrum.

"It's a lot of fun, and man there is a lot to explore," Dingo said.  "But I'm kind of getting the vibe these characters are a little too happy for a revenge story."

"They are way more realistic than the typical angsty teen hero from most Japanese Role Playing Games," I defended.  "I can do without any Tales games Protagonists."

"But come on," he said.  "At least one scene where Shulk yells to the Bionis, or whatever they are called, for revenge and demanding their blood would have been nice."

"That might come later, we aren't that far into the game."

"Speaking of which, the game is too damn long."

"I think it is at least 50 Hours," I confirmed.  "If it was any shorter you would complain about it being too short, you stupid specter!"

In a huff, Dingo got offended and dissipated in a cloud of smoke.

But his point of it being too long is valid to some people.  I'm a busy guy these days and dedicating so much time to a game is not something I can do like I used to, so I fear I might never see the actual end of the game.  But for people in college or younger, a 50 Hour game is a blessing I'm sure.

The other point of contention is the main character is blonde.  As a brown headed individual I find it hard to get behind a blonde lead character.  Plus the blonde hair and the British accent reminds me too much of Gareth Keenan.  Actually no, I take that back, Gareth as a lead action hero makes this game way more badass.

In summary, Xenoblade Chronicle: Operation Rainfall can be summed up in a word: Meat.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

All Things Alice

I've seemingly been in Wonderland the last two months.

Once I realized my voice is soothing to my son (now three months old), I realized it was time to start reading to him, as I was quickly running out of songs in my mental database to sing to him.

So we plowed through every Dr. Seuss book I have, until I decided, perhaps something a bit longer won't have me trying to get up and jostle the poor sleepy kid every time I finish a book.  Plus I realize he isn't understanding anything I am saying at this point.  I could just as easily read him Dante's Inferno for all he will retain, but I decided to keep it fairly kid friendly in any case.

So I picked up one of my favorite reads of all time, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Through the Looking Glass is the real gem and the book I have the most fondness for, but to get to it, one must pay homage to Wonderland first.  "Jabberwocky" specifically is the poem that changed my life, when I first heard it in seventh grade, and I can still recite the entire poem from memory to this day.  In fact, just last week, at a good friend's Bachelor Party in New Orleans I recited the entire thing in the middle of Bourbon Street after a few too many shots.  As you might imagine, anywhere else in the world that might garner some attention, but hardly anyone batted an eye.

Regardless I have a great fondness and affinity for the works.

So as typical of how I work, when I get into something I emerge myself in all things related to the work, going down the proverbial rabbit hole myself in a vast wonderland of pop culture.

For some reason, the first thing I checked out was the Grimm Fairy Tales comic book Return to Wonderland.  I believe I just typed Alice into the search bar on my comicology app on my iPhone and that was the first thing that popped up.  I wasn't really familiar with the Grimm series of comics other than their usually racy cover art.

Without any expectations about what the comic was beforehand, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found there.  It wasn't anything mind blowing, as it was pretty standard comic book stories and characters but it was really enjoyable.  It reminded me a lot of the hack/slash series I covered on this blog awhile ago.

The plot is about the daughter of "Alice" who was taken to a demon dimension called Wonderland as a child and is kept alive as long as a a part of Alice of her family goes into Wonderland.  The familiar Wonderland characters are here except they are all evil and they all want to kill Calie (Alice's daughter).  Like I said it isn't very deep, and a lot of the panels are excuses to show Calie in some state of undress, but the action and suspense are good and it's knowledge of the source material is also evident, unlike the abomination of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.

This is one avenue I decided not to go down.  Although I saw the film in theaters when it was released, watching it a second time is not a mistake I will make.  Clearly, Tim Burton had either never read Alice's Adventures, or even watched the cartoon version from the studio who funded his insult of a film.  Clearly he wanted to make a Wizard of Oz movie because he missed one important point in Wonderland that isn't true about Oz.  Alice isn't really good friends with anyone in Wonderland except MAYBE the Cheshire Cat.  Alice is like a wave of destruction through Wonderland and the Looking Glass world.  Just ask poor Bill the Lizard, who's life she makes a living hell.

In Through the Looking Glass Alice says to her nanny, "I will play the hyena and you can be the bone."  This is a 7 year old girl with an appetite for destruction.  On top of that, nearly everyone she meets she is instantly bored with and ready to move on to the next odd character.  She doesn't even recognize the Mad Hatter and the March Hare in Through the Looking Glass, because she hardly gives anyone or anything a second thought.  But in Tim Burton's film she remembers everyone and everyone is so happy to see her and it is just like when they all got together and made their way down the Yellow Brick Road to meet the Wiz.... oh wait... yeah now you see the problem.

So enough about that loogie that Burton spat of Charles Dodgson's grave.

Somewhat by chance I then stumbled upon the PS3 game Alice: Madness Returns.  Using some coupons and discounts I was able to snag this game for $4, so I decided not to pass up this chance.  For whatever reason this game went way under my radar when it was released.  Being an Alice fan you would have thought I would have been all about it.  But I really didn't watch any videos or read any stories about it at all.  I think it seemed to come out of nowhere.  It was a sequel to a game over a decade old.

Ignoring the game was even stranger as I actually loved the original game: American McGee's Alice.  In 2000, when the game was released, I was 19.  I had just bought a new computer and that was one of the first games I bought for it.  I remember combing over the included booklet that came with the game, which told about what was happening to Alice in the real world while the game was happening.  After her family house was burned to the ground, and she was blamed, being the sole survivor, she went mad, and thus Wonderland went mad with her.  Her journey through the game is her catharsis to get well.  Repairing Wonderland would repair Alice.

That said, while I loved the story concept and the characters in McGee's Alice I also remember finding the game very bland.  The first level you are dropped into is very dark, claustrophobic, and didn't hearken back any feelings of "wonder" and imagination that inspired me from the original book.  Of course this was a corrupted Wonderland, but it just didn't seem to resemble any Wonderland I knew.

Also, perhaps I wasn't very familiar with PC games, but the controls seemed difficult to use and archaic, in a PS2 world.  

Still I had fond enough memories of the characters, where the sequel should have registered on my radar to some degree.  But for whatever reason it didn't.

So I put in Madness Returns with zero expectations or knowledge of what to expect.  I really wish I could do this with all games, because I think it would heighten my enjoyment of everything.

Madness Returns, so far, is the Wonderland experience I have been waiting for.  From the get go, after a brief stint in the real world, when Alice drops into Wonderland and you get control of her for the first time it is clear that all my complaints about the first game is gone.  Wonderland, while still corrupted is absolutely breathtaking.  The art design in the game is about the best I've ever seen.  The colors are vibrant, rich and deep.  She now has a cool Mario-esque floating spin jump.  She can lock onto enemies like Link and has an arsenal of different moves.

Playing the game feels like playing a cross between Batman Arkham/Mario/Zelda.  And that is a hell of a combination.  And going back to the Batman: Arkham Asylum connection, the overall feel of this game is probably akin for Alice fans as Arkham Asylum was for Batman fans.  The amount of respect and love for the source material in this game is evident, and Alice is very much like she is in the original stories.  Other than the Cheshire Cat (and white rabbit), she pretty much regards everyone else as a nuisance or a means to an end, but is still as polite as she can manage.

I imagine, if you don't have a love for the original stories this game would seem kind of mediocre, as half of the appeal is wondering what classic Wonderland character is going to be waiting for you in the next section.  But the game is fun to play besides just the classic characters, and the puzzles and platforming are all really well designed.

After playing and reading these different works inspired by Alice in Wonderland, it dawned on me however, that these are all "dark" takes on the original books.  I can play Madness Returns in front of my son for the most part, but if he were a little older that would be a no go.  He likes watching Alice jump as she emits colorful butterflies when she does, and all the colors capture his attention.  But this is also a bloody gory game and not meant for little ones who have concepts of what these things mean.

But the game is so beautiful.  It makes me really wish someone would make an actual Alice in Wonderland video game with no fighting where you can explore a world as vast and beautiful as the one in Madness Returns.  Not just so my kid can enjoy it, but so that my inner child with fond memories of the original books can get swept away in it as well.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Black Rock Shooter Anime Impressions: Beta

For some reason, before starting this show, I didn't look up any previous reviews or impressions.  This wasn't on purpose, but now I am glad I did as it would have hampered my original viewing.

There is a lot of hate out there for this show, and really I'm not surprised.  While there is divergence of course, it seems people fall into three camps.

1) They loved the OVA because it left EVERYTHING up to interpretation, and thus hate how the anime explains anything.

2)  They hated the OVA, and by default hate the anime because they wanted a Black Rock Shooter TV series that is more like the PSP game, with less moe slice of life high school girl stuff.

3)  They like the TV show

I guess I fall into camp three, though with an added, I also hated the OVA.  And at one point a part of me would have liked a more sci-fi BRS, like the PSP game.  However, the more I get into the anime the more I realize that is a shallow, and overused concept compared to what is going on in this TV show.

Now I'm not going to say the anime is revolutionary or one of the best series ever, but it is really good, after more than a few seasons of really lousy anime.  I think it is a step in the right direction.

Sure it has the overused "highschool girls/slightly yuri" vibe, but it doesn't really fall into a lot of traps of other anime before it.  There is a cast of female students, but you won't find any K-On moments here.  It feels a lot closer to high school for me than most shows, as everyone is worried about their own personal hangups and relationships and what everyone thinks about them. 

And through all the awkwardness of adolescents, our main heroine Kuroi, stands the voice of reason in the series.  Every time I see her I like her more and more.  She is such a good easy to relate to protagonist.  Most of the time when everyone else is doing something completely stupid, she won't beat around the bush to tell them they are being a moron.

One scene in particular (which I should have mentioned in the Alpha impressions), was when she confronted Yomi's mother about letting her daughter waste her childhood taking care of a girl who didn't need taking care of.  She called Yomi's mother "weird" about 30 times in 10 seconds, and I couldn't have agreed with her more.

Of course that is Kuroi's role in the series, to fix everyone's personal hangups, while Black Rock Shooter cuts off their heads in the other world.

It's nice to see now, the direct effects from BRS's actions and how they affect the human world.  At first it seems when she lops off someones head she severs Black Gold Saws control of that person, but at the same time, that person looses some of their memories or feelings during that point in their life.  But by the sixth episode we know the full extent of what is going on in a pretty shocking plot twist.

Black Rock Shooter is more of a villain than a hero.  Black Gold Saw is trying to keep people in the other world alive and safe and Black Rock Shooter is going around decapitating anyone she meets.

In her own way BRS thinks she is doing the right thing, in that when someone dies in the other world, in the human world, all their emotional baggage vanishes, including any positive and negative feelings they were feeling at the time. 

The twist caught me off guard, as I was just rooting for BRS for no good reason other than she seemed like the good guy.  And she still kind of is, but now every character exists in a shade of gray and not just good and bad.  In the other world, the humans "other selves" feed off the emotions of the human world counterparts.  Saya, as Black Gold Saw is keeping everyone alive in the other world, but in the human world as a school counselor she has to make all the girls as emotionally damaged as possible to make them stronger in the other world. 

Kuroi gets really emotionally attached to everyone she meets and wants to help people through their problems, thus making Black Rock Shooter really powerful.  However, BRS is a murdering lunatic and keeps slaughtering anyone who gets close to Kuroi. Kuroi and BRS merge completely by the end of the sixth episode with it seeming like Kuroi is in full control of her other self.  But we will see what the last two episodes have in store for us.

The character of Yuu/Strength has turned out to be an amazing character in the series.  In the OVA she was annoying and forgettable.  Here, she is the shining star.  In fact, the biggest mystery so far, is who she is.  She doesn't have a shadow, but in flashbacks with her and Saya in high school she does have a shadow.  My theory is that Yuu and Strength switched places.  Strength in the other world seems a lot like Yuu from Saya's flashbacks.  Yuu in the present (who hasn't aged) is much friendlier and outgoing, and no one seems to remember her after she leaves their field of vision (except Kuroi).  Also Saya keeps referring to Strength as "that girl" when she should be referring to Yuu.  That's just my theory anyway.

Saya

Although I always liked Black Gold Saw's character design, up until the last two episodes I was fine with BRS killing her and getting back at Saya, but now I want to see her make it through the series.  the last two episodes should prove interesting. 

Now, I'm actually caught up to the series so I won't be able to post those final comments for another two weeks.



Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Black Rock Shooter Anime Impressions: Alpha

I'm going to go back to something I tried a long time ago, where I give impressions of a show in three stages, instead of going by each episode.  The Alpha stage will cover initial thoughts while watching the show, Beta will cover the middle, and of course Omega the final thoughts.

To get back in the groove of things, I'll start with a show that is only 8 episodes long, and also a previous subject of this very blog: Black Rock Shooter.

First of all a little background.  For my feelings on the Black Rock Shooter franchise you can check out a previous article I wrote called "What I want (wish) out of Black Rock Shooter."  Since that article was written, what I wanted has more or less come true.  There are a couple of BRS manga (not counting the  beaucoup and beaucoup of doujin), a couple of video games,  an OVA and an anime, and all of them have different plots... for the most part.  The two most similar are the OVA and the Anime series, obviously because they share the same creative staff.

I was not impressed with the BRS OVA at all.  It seemed like a pretty bland concept, with boring characters, no explanation, and no emotional tie to anything going on.  The idea in a nutshell (or I assume as it is never stated) is that there are two worlds and one of them is like the world we all live in and deal with our real world problems, and the other world everyone just fights.  There is never any explanation as to how the two worlds connect.  You can kind of infer that the girl that looks like Black Rock Shooter in the real world (Kuroi) and the girl that looks like Dead Master in the real world (Yomi), when they interact, their fighting counterparts engage in battle.  But there never seems to be any rhyme or reason to it.  In fact, by the end I'm more convinced that the Black Rock Shooter world is the future and they will do battle for all eternity.  Who knows?  There is no information given to the audience to explain any of it.  It was a sloppy mess.

Really the OVA's only purpose was to drum up enough interest in the idea to support the development of a TV show.  I found the OVA to be such a poor spectacle, that I hardly felt any excitement when the TV show was eventually announced.

Like most people, my interest in Black Rock Shooter comes from huke's character designs.  There is something about the designs, that you just want to see them in something awesome.  So then, the trailer for the TV show came out to try and get people excited again, and then what little interest I had in it dipped even further.

The character designs changed for nearly every character!  At least that was how it seemed from the trailer.  The twintails that Black Rock Shooter was known for, were now covered up by a hoodie.  Dead Master looked like the crazy cat lady who chased you off her lawn when you were 8.  And Black Gold Saw, my personal favorite of all of huke's creations, looked like a blonde girl with wheels for feet.  At that point I pretty much wrote off the entire show without seeing a single episode.

But as time went on, and the show started, and I would sit at my desk and look at all my beautiful Black Rock Shooter Figmas, it was only a matter of time before my mind was like, "Hey just give the first episode a shot.  It won't hurt anything."

So I did, and now I can say, being only two episodes in, I'm hooked.

What I find the most perplexing is; how come, in only one episode of the TV show, with an airtime of almost 30 minutes, I care way more about these characters than I did in the 45 minute OVA?  Kuroi is a whole lot easier to relate to, and she has this wide eyed optimism that you just want to see her succeed, but damn it seems like everything and everyone is against her.

This is where the show shines, and what the OVA was missing.  With the character of Kagari, a sickly girl who keeps Yomi at her beck and call, you instantly feel Kuroi's pain and humiliation when Kagari berates her in front of her new friend, Yomi.  I think every person has been in Kuroi's shoes at some point in their life, and because of that, I felt a bond grow between myself and Kuroi, which I never felt in the OVA.

And speaking of bonds, there is also the bond between all the main characters and the other world, the more familiar Black Rock Shooter characters.  Also, unlike the OVA, there is a clear connection between what is happening in the other world and the human world.  While in the first two episodes, nothing has really been explained as to what the other world is, the connection between the two worlds is very clear as for every action in the human world, has a clear metaphor battle in the other world.

This is what really captured my attention.
As a video editor by day, I have an appreciation for good editing.  The OVA failed in editing in about every way imaginable.  Shots were too long, the cutting was haphazard, and I never knew what I was supposed to be looking at any given time.  Why all of a sudden did we cut to the Black Rock Shooter world?  If the characters aren't telling me, then the visual storytelling should be doing that.  But it didn't.

The BRS anime by comparison has some of the best editing I've seen in modern anime.  By the end of the second episode, the first storyline arc comes to a head, and is culminated in a back and forth between the human world and the other world.  While the high school character girls are all having an emotional verbal back and forth fight in the hospital, their other world counterparts are having a physical battle.  But the editing of the two worlds back and forth make both worlds seem like they are part of the same battle.  The point in particular is when Kagari is yelling in hysterics at Yomi trying to get her attention and screams "Why are you smiling?", then it cuts to Black Rock Shooter's actions in the other world and we see her fighting to free the imprisoned Dead Master.  It makes it seem like she is smiling because of what it happening in the other world, and I think that is partly true, but then we cut back to the hospital and Kagari is saying, "Are you smiling, because she called you Yomi?"

It's like a double hitter as far as the emotional impact, and I know I'm not doing the scene any justice by describing it.  But it is very effective in what it is trying to accomplish.

Which brings me another observation that really impressed me with the show.  I think one of the major criticisms to a lot of action anime is there is no real weight when characters are involved in fight scenes.  The fights are always these flashy over the top spectacles which look really good when you see them in trailers and in music videos.  However when it is tied to a story, it seems these characters are invincible while being thrown into a wall or getting stabbed or tossed off a fifty foot building and walking away.  There is nothing ever stated as to why characters can take so much punishment and not die.  It's the same reason I've never like Superman.  Too powerful and not enough vulnerability. 

If Black Rock Shooter were just composed of the other world segments, then it would easily fall into this stereotype.  BRS herself is stabbed by a giant metal crab at the end of the first episode, with her blue electric blood flying everywhere, and is seemingly fine in the next episode.

But the writers decided to turn this concept on its ear.  The vulnerabilities of the characters are shown in the human world.  Their weaknesses are the human avatars they are tied to.  They are all powerful Gods in the other world, and can do their flashy moves and pull chain guns out of midair and look badass doing it, but in the human world they are just human and that effects them in both directions.  So instead of seeing Black Rock Shooter in a sticky situation and thinking, "she's not going to make it out of this," instead it is the moments in the human world where you think, "ah poor Kuroi is going to be hated forever".  But that feeling only works because of what you witness Black Rock Shooter do.  I understand it's confusing, and it's hard to explain, other then just saying I felt a new kind emotional experience that was unique.

While it seems, so far, no one is aware of the connection people have with this other world, the draw of Kuroi's character is that she is starting to get the connection, and has used information she learned in the other world to help her human world self.  Likewise, in this battle in the hospital, Black Rock Shooter used information from the human world to help her win (or at least it is implied.  BRS is a silent protagonist so far).  It gives both Kuroi and BRS a slight advantage in their own lives to get ahead of their challenges.  It's what they were trying to accomplish in the OVA but failed, but here they master it beautifully. 

Then the big shocker at the end, just when you think everything in the human world is matching up with the other world, with Dead Master and Black Rock standing together against the defeated Chariot, and Kuroi and Yumi are standing against Kagari.  BAM!  Black Gold Saw shows up in the other world and just screws up everything.  She takes Dead Master away and give Chariot extra power.

But in the human world Black Gold Saw doesn't have a human avatar represented.  So everything I thought I knew about what was happening between these two worlds just got demolished.  Again, it worked beautifully.  It also confirms that the other world isn't just a dream world happening in Kuroi's head.  Something else sinister is in the works.
Also this would be a good time to mention that my worry for the earlier character design modifications, has also been mostly eliminated.  Black Rock Shooter looks just like she should with her twin tails.  She fights a lot of the times with her hood up, but that is okay as it makes the moments where she puts it down all the more awesome.  The character I thought was Black Gold Saw was Chariot.  Black Gold Saw looks exactly the same, which couldn't make me any happier.  Dead Master still looks like an old school marm.  My only hope is that by the end of the series she takes off the glasses and veil and looks more like the younger, cuter, Dead Master.  I won't hold my breath though.

So I think it is pretty apparent I have been really impressed with just the first two episodes of the series.  If the OVA had consisted of just these two episodes I would be happy, but now I have six more episodes to look forward to.  I only hope it can build on the momentum they have already started.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Gaming with a Newborn

Well, I'm back from outer space, and I come here to see you with that sad look upon your face.

But be sad no longer, as I have survived having my first child! Woo hoo!

Of course the Dad has it a lot easier than the Mom, and we are only two months into his life, but still I think it is safe to say I am a survivor.

The whole pregnancy and getting ready for the baby is the reason I give for letting this blog fall off the map.  I'm not sure if it is a good excuse, but it is an excuse nonetheless. 

Regardless, even though I'm only two months in I can already tell a change in my lifestyle, and most notably my gaming habits.  That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, but I'm here to say it's not as bad as you might think.

I have a good friend who just had his 3rd and 4th kid (twins!) and I remember when he had his first, he gave up gaming altogether.  He was never that big a gamer to begin with, but still, that prospect of giving up my favorite hobby scared me a little. 

So then my own little bundle of joy came, and I was able to take about a month off work to help my wife take care of the baby.  All that time off, at home would be the perfect time to get some gaming done, but I decided to follow the lead of my friend and quit cold turkey.

And perhaps, maybe I'm just addicted, but I went a good two weeks without turning on a game console at all.  But after a few nights of staying up late with the kid, with him laying on my chest, going in and out of sleep, and me with nothing to do but stare at a dark room and a blank TV screen I thought, "Hey I should be able to do SOME kind of gaming."

This is where things have changed.  Before my son was born, I was playing Madworld.  Madworld is a Wii game where you use gesture controls to kill your opponents, and rip off their limbs.  The kid is a month old and I'm not that concerned about picking up subliminal messages, so the content of Madworld wasn't what made me think twice.  It was the motion controls.  I couldn't be swinging my arms around on the couch with a fragile little baby on me.  So ironically, the "family friendly" Wii will get virtually no playtime while he is in this delicate state. 

This made me go through different video game genre's as to what would be safest to play around a baby.  I'm not a big FPS player, so striking that off the list was fairly painless.  FPS games require too high reaction time to play while not disturbing a sleeping kiddo.  The flip side of this was it also meant most action games were out as well.  Shadows of the Damned was another game I was currently in the middle of before the birth.  While it uses a standard controller, I use too much of my body to play it while in sticky situations.  So sadly that was out.

To make a long story short I realized my best option, was the Japanese RPG.  Most of the time you only press one button, and you can travel around a wide open area at leisure.  Of course there are all kinds of JRPGs, but for the most part this assessment holds true.

I decided to go into my archive of games I have bought but never played.  There sitting in the middle, nearly glowing with it's bright beautiful golden yellow cover box was Persona 4.

I'm a HUGE Shin Megami Tensei fan, and Persona fan, but for some reason I was never able to get into Persona 4.  Well all that has changed in just a month.  Without getting into a review, Persona 4 is hands down the best Persona game.  It flows so much more like a natural narrative than Persona 3 and the characters are all so well fleshed out that you really feel that connection.  Persona 3 was a great game (until the out of nowhere horrible ending) but most of the time I felt like I was going through the motions of a game.  Persona 4 felt like an actual story unfolding like a great novel.  I loved it.  And I guess that was kind of a review.

And more importantly, it was easy as hell to play with a sleeping baby on my chest.  I think it also helped add to the feeling of the game, that I usually only got to play from about Midnight to 3 am in the morning (while the Wife gets some much needed rest).  The game world revolves around this place called the Midnight Channel.  A channel that takes you away from real world responsibilities.  There is some kind of metaphor or life imitating art in there somewhere I'm sure. 

The real benefit was, when my son wakes up from his slumber with a roaring wail, I can easily put the controller down, get his bottle, rock him, change his diaper or do whatever needs to be done until he is happy or asleep (preferably both), then I just pick up in the game where I left off.  Any other type of game would result in an immediate "Game Over" as soon as the baby was awake.

A benefit for the baby, is a lot of the times, as I played, he would be wide awake and just watch the screen mesmerized.  Persona 4 especially has lots of big splashes of bright colors and fantastic music, so the effect isn't much different than Baby Einstein.  And I don't know about you, but I would much rather play Persona than watch

Then about a week ago I finally beat Persona 4.  Oh no!  What now?  I figured another JRPG was the way to go, and lo and behold Final Fantasy XIII-2 came out.

I didn't care for Final Fantasy XIII that much.  I had the same problems with it that everyone did, but as I played the demo for XIII-2 I loved the new "Pokemon" mechanic where you can fight and train monsters to fight with you in battle.  Having that extra character in battle to buffer you while choosing what Paradigm you want makes a WORLD of difference. 

The game is no Persona 4, but it is a really fun game.  Also the improved HD resolution and even more vibrant colors really make my son happy. 

Developmentally, he has gotten older and has become more aware of his surroundings, and one of his favorite things to do now is be rocked while I stand up and play Final Fantasy.  He just watches the screen and coos and laughs while I do my thing.  It is actually a rewarding experience.  Although I know he has no idea what is going on, and is interpreting what he sees and "colors are pretty and voices are funny", just knowing he is getting joy out of the same thing that I'm having fun playing is a fun feeling to experience. 

And as he gets older and starts to appreciate games more and more, I know I will have a good time sharing that with him.  And eventually, our experiences playing the game will be similar.

Now comes my second point with having a baby and gaming.  This probably goes without saying, but money becomes a lot tighter with a baby in the home.  Meaning I can no longer buy every new game that comes out on release day.  This has been a killer, because while normally I would have picked up Soul Calibur V along with FFXIII-2, I now have no idea when I will be able to pick up SCV.  When it hits the bargain bin most likely.  And in the next month Mass Effect 3, Street Fighter X Tekken, and Hyperdimension Neptunia mkII all come out.  But for the foreseeable future my game of choice will be Final Fantasy XIII-2.  That is what I have invested in until I beat it, and then I can think about the next game.  I can no longer plan ahead my gaming purchases.  Play what I have until completion, and then get a new game.

Really this is a much more healthily way to live, as I've mentioned, I had Persona 4 sitting in my closet untouched since it came out.  A game I payed full price for, where I could have easily walked to Gamestop and bought one for $10 by the time I actually got to play it.

But at the same time it means when I get a game now, I want it to last.

This is why I'm going to say something that is probably blasphemous to a lot of people, but DLC is the future, and now I fully embrace it.

Lets face it, a lot of gamers, like myself are getting older.  If not just having kids, but marriage, or just work gets in the way of gaming.  It's sad but true.  DLC is the best way to keep the life of a $60 purchase going.  Of course DLC costs money too (usually), but a few bucks here for a few more days of gameplay is well worth it instead of dropping another $60.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 already has two DLC episodes out with the promise of a lot more in the near future.  While I'm not even close to beating the game, some people say the ending just leads into needing to be wrapped up in DLC.  Works for me.

I beat Disgaea 4 a month after it came out, and it makes me happy to know that there are now two extra episodes that I can play when I go back to it.  And eventually when I get Mass Effect 3, I know it will be supported with DLC episodes as well.

As a new gaming father, DLC that was once an evil word to me, now sounds like a saving grace. 

So, yes, parenthood will change how you approach your hobbies, but you don't have to eradicate them.  One thing I've learned in life is that with any new situation you only need to adjust to it, not change who you are.  If you change who you are completely, you won't be happy.  And being unhappy is no way to raise a child into the world.

And instead of ending this article with the usually hot fictional babe, I'll be obnoxious and end it with a picture of my totally nonfictional babe:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

They are doing it again.

Not long ago I posted an article about how I can't stand when a Company tells me I must buy Product X for Product Z to come out.  It seems to happen in the gaming industry all the time.

Although, my predictions in that article of Nintendo of America releasing Last Story and Xenoblades in the states as an inevitability have yet to come true, it doesn't change my point in the article.

The latest offender is Ubisoft in an interview: here.

To sum it up, they are telling me to buy Rayman Origins if I want any hope in seeing Beyond Good and Evil 2.

Here is my problem.  I love Beyond Good and Evil.  I hate Rayman.

Maybe hate is too strong a word.  Indifferent perhaps is better.  Lord knows I've tried to get into Rayman.  I love BG and E so much it was impossible for me not to give the franchise a shot, but after attempting every game I just can't do it.  And I am one who is all about characters with no joints.  You remember Vectorman?  What a guy.

But Rayman just doesn't appeal to me.  I find the characters bland, and I find the gameplay handled better in the games it mimics.  Why would I ever play a Raymna game when I can play a Mario game?  There is nothing it offers that Mario doesn't.  BG and E is a Zelda clone, but it gives us something we never see in Zelda, a futuristic setting, dark setting, and characters who speak and interact.

Rayman is a silly cartoon world with wacky characters.  Mario is a silly cartoon world with wacky characters.  The difference is one features creative level design and tight controls and mechanics, and the other does not.  I'll let you figure out which is which.

To be fair, Rayman Origins looks absolutely stunning.  But that does not a good game make, and my repeated attempts at giving the franchise a chance doesn't lead me to want to get this one.  I have no desire to play it.

Now I understand some people love Rayman, and I get it.  That is fine.  I don't, and therefore, I shouldn't be expected to buy a game of a franchise I don't like to support a game in a franchise I do care about.  The fact they are made by the same person should be a moot point.


 So now when, Rayman Orgins tanks and we get no Beyond Good and Evil 2, the suits can say, "For shame on you fans!  You are the reason BG and E 2 died!  Look at what you have done!  Your hands are red in the blood of Pey'j!"

You are making Jade sad.  Stop it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya Review

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Season 1 is probably my second favorite anime of all time, just behind Evangelion, if that wasn't apparent already from my number 1 and number 2 anime girl choices.

I'm sure most fanboys/otaku/haters (I lump them all together at this point) would say I'm a bandwagon fan who likes whatever is popular.  I would take issue with this in a major way, as with both series, I just happened to stumble upon them by chance.  With Eva, I rented a single VHS from my local video store and was hooked like painkillers.  With Haruhi, my friend and I  just downloaded a random anime to watch that had started that season.  Again, hooked instantly.  I actually take pride in my ability to instantly realize when a work of fiction is going to be beloved by all (or most).  That is why I feel when people go on tares about how something is "overrated" and "only popular because they are told it is good" are talking out of their asses. 

But that is a rant for another day.

In any case, as I stated Season 1 specifically is one of my favorite series.  That is an important point, as Season 2 I do not include in that list.  The first thing that probably comes to mind when someone mentions "Haruhi Season 2" is the infamous Endless Eight story arc.  Eight episodes with the same storyline and plot but animated and voiced as if each episode was something new.  I don't think any act has ever turned a fanbase against a show so rapidly and so quickly.  And as annoying as Endless Eight was, that wasn't the main reason I didn't warm up to it.

Mostly it was about how much I didn't like Kyon anymore.  In Season 1, he is a fairly laid back guy which anyone can relate to.  He isn't a wimp or coward like many anime male leads.  He has a relatable, almost Peter Parkian (yes I just did that) aspect about him.  The Everyman.  He might complain about his life every now and again, but in the end he knows what it takes to get the girl and win the day.

After the first season I decided to read the books.  The show follows the books nearly verbatim (in a wacky order of course); With one key difference.  Kyon bitches and moans a lot more in the novels.  Nearly every other sentence is about how Haruhi is driving him up the wall.  So much so I found them hard to read after a while and stopped reading before the "Disapearance of Haruhi" novel.

When the second season got Greenlit, one surprising omission had been made to the staff. Tatsuya Ishihara was the director of the first season, and from what I can tell he was on board with Season 2 as well, however the Directing credit was actually given to Yasuhiro Takemoto.  Now I had no proof of this, but I believed what Ishihara brought to the table as Director in Season 1 was toning down Kyon's personality from the novel.  I say this because Season 2 seemed to follow the book version of Kyon to a fault.  This was my thinking all though Sesason 2, as it culminated in the worst possible outcome of Kyon nearly punching Haruhi in the face.  That scene in the book nearly killed the franchise for me, and I really hoped they would have omitted it in the show, but they didn't.

Other parts of Season 2 that left me a little cold was the absolute lack of development of some characters like Yuki Nagato, who had to endure thousands of days of Endless Eight without batting an eye.  At this point, a character who I really liked in the first season, seemed like nothing more than what she was, a lifeless alien robot.

So up until the release of "Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya", the theatrical film version of the novel, my love for the Haruhi franchise was on shaky ground.

Now that I have seen the "Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya" on glorious Blu-Ray,  I can safely say that, ladies and gentleman, Season 2, was all part of the show.  Or perhaps a better way to put it, Season 2 was a necessary evil to set up everything for the movie.

Now I don't want to shit on Season 2 too much.  It is still well written and has some really hilarious parts, but the characterization of some characters just went to a bad place.  But I see now it was intentional.

The way "Disappearance" works is sort of a reverse "It's a Wonderful Life".  After a typical day with the SOS Brigade, Kyon wakes up one day to see that Haruhi (as I'm sure you guessed from the title) has vanished.  Not only that; no one remembers her, and none of the SOS Brigade is an alien, time traveler, or esper.  In other words, his life is normal.  His life is how he has always wanted it to be: Haruhi-less.

The surprising part, given what I have just said about Season 2, is Kyon is almost instantly driven into hysterics over the absence of Haruhi.  This is what made me instantly take a liking to Kyon again.  There was never a scene of him going, "Alright! Finally the bitch is gone, now I can live my life how I want."  No, from the onset he does everything he can to bring her back, to the point of nearly ending his friendship with his two lifelong buddies when he finds out Haruhi does actually exist in some manner of speaking (although he would never admit it, Kyon is clearly a "Hos before Bros" type of guy).

By the end of it, Kyon goes through a near "End of Eva" type of self revelation about Haruhi and the SOS Brigade.  The whole film stands as a major piece of character development for Kyon.  The Kyon by the end of the film is completely different than the Kyon at the beginning, and in a movie that is what I look for in regards to character development.

Also, there is another character that gets a surprising amount of development and screen time, Yuki Nagato.  I don't want to spoil the plot, but she is the main female protagonist in this story and not Haruhi.  On top of that, Endless Eight makes sense, or at least WHY they put the audience through it.  They wanted us to feel a taste of what Yuki had to go through.  The frustration, and the anger, multiplied by 1,800 times.  We never see the frustration from Yuki in the TV series, but the culmination of those repeated days are very important to her character, and we see the result of it in this movie.  Does that make "Endless Eight" a good idea?  Probably not, but it does make it an interesting psychological experiment on the audience.  Again, not saying I condone it, but it is interesting.

So that is why I say Season 2 is a necessary evil.  It sets up the characters for this movie, at the cost of making a less enjoyable TV series.

That being said, to a Haruhi virgin, I believe the movie stands up pretty good on it's own legs.  It is an interesting and unique, Kurt Vonnegut-esque time travel story that also deals with alternate universes.  There is enough of Haruhi and the SOS Brigade at the beginning to understand the dynamic and relationships, and then the plot happens and the story unfolds and reaches a resolution at the end.  All in a pretty 3 Hour package.

However, I think it would probably be best to at least watch the first six episodes of Season 1 and the nearly essential episode "Bamboo Lead Rhapsody" from Season 2 (which is the best episode in Season 2 and maybe the entire series).

A question I asked myself after watching it was, how does this stand as a possible end to the Haruhi animated series?

I realize there are many more novels that continue the SOS Brigades adventures after this, but the way anime works isn't how popular TV shows and movies work in the West.  Sometimes things just end in the middle of the actual story, despite the popularity.

Adding to this problem is the fact that Haruhi's voice actress, the irreplaceable Aya Hirano, has come upon some tough times as of late.  Without going on too much of a rant, and it should be pointed out this goes slightly with my rant earlier about Otaku/fanboys/haters in that I think they are complete slime.  They would want to see a woman's career fail because of what she does on her free time.  If Kyon's voice actor,  Tomokazu Sugita, had been caught having sex with multiple women, or even multiple men, he would still be playing Kyon without hardly any backlash. 

Again, a rant for another day.

But back to my question.  If this is the end of the Haruhi series, I think it would work well as a conclusion.  Even though the Haruhi/Kyon relationship isn't fully completed, there is enough in the final scenes to let us use our imaginations on how it will end up.  Still, since Haruhi isn't even in this film all that much, and there are a few loose ends left by the end of the film, I think at least one more movie would really seal the deal for me.  But ONLY with Aya as Haruhi.  No Aya, no Haruhi, no deal.