There have been numerous anime about anime and anime fandom – from Otaku no Video and Genshiken on the fandom side, and Shirobako and Animation Runner Kuromi on the production side. This last year had Anime-Gataris, an anime series spun-off from a series of shorts that aired in a specific movie theater in Tokyo, a series that does a little bit of both – and then some. Continue reading → Anime Review: Anime-Gataris (2017)
Before Quentin Tarantino made Reservoir Dogs (or, for that matter, Kathryn Bigelow made Point Break), Ringo Lam made City on Fire. Continue reading → Film Review: City on Fire (1987)
Black Panther came out in the middle of last month (February 17th). I’ve waited a few weeks for people to talk about it, and now I’ll give my thoughts on the movie. Continue reading → Film (Vlog) Review – Black Panther
This time I take a look at an early Mind-F*** series from the 90s.
Key The Metal Idol property of Studio Pierrot.
Licensed by Discotek Media
Magnificent Warriors is another of the early films in Michelle Yeoh’s career – made a little before Royal Warriors. As with Royal Warriors – the film has Michelle Yeoh in the lead, along with another male co-lead in a similar action role, and the third male lead being a comic relief character. However, that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Continue reading → Film Review: Magnificent Warriors
In a few days (as of when this goes live) the second half of Fate/Apocrypha will come out on Netflix. This show was licensed as part of Netflix’s first really large anime licensing initiative, and was split into two chunks, one per “cour” (Japanese TV season) of the show. So, as we wait for the show’s second half, I might as well talk about the first half of the show. Continue reading → Anime Review: Fate/Apocrypha (First Half)
The Cat Returns is, to my knowledge, the only semi-sequel feature film that Studio Ghibli has ever put out (ignoring shorts made for museums). It’s also one of the small number of films put out by Studio Ghibli that aren’t directed by Isao Takahata or Hayao Miyazaki. The film was directed by Hiroyuki Morita, as part of an initiative at Ghibli introduced by Miyazaki as an attempt to groom new directors so the studio isn’t dependant on Takahata and Miyazaki, so when they retire, the studio could go on.
If your response to that last sentence is “Didn’t Ghibli shut down when Miyazaki retired?” then you know exactly what came of that initiative. I don’t know if this was due to internal politics where Miyazaki wasn’t happy with the directors who came out of this project, Miyazaki being a general curmudgeon, or what? Takahata, on the other hand, in spite of my general comments about him and his work in my article about Akira, seems to be okay with younger animators directing films at Ghibli – as the decision to shut down seems primarily driven by Miyazaki, without any feedback by Takahata.
Anyway, as far as the film itself goes – this is probably the most conventionally “anime” film that Ghibli has ever done. This isn’t a slight against the film, by any means. It’s just that most Ghibli films, especially those from Miyazaki, tend to be more pastoral in their settings while most anime (that is set in Japan) tends to be metropolitan (even historical pieces like Rurouni Kenshin). This film, is instead in modern Japan, and most likely in Tokyo.
Just to put an underline on how more conventional anime this film is, the opening of the film is our protagonist, ordinary high school girl Haru Yoshioka, waking up late, quickly getting getting ready for school, but not having enough time to leave breakfast. This leads to her racing downstairs, and seeing her mother eating breakfast of a fried egg on toast, with a similar dish waiting for her, setting up the archetypal anime shot of female protagonist running to school while trying to eat a piece of toast – before she decides to leave without the toast. While this is a subversion of that bit – the key is that Takahata or Miyazaki wouldn’t even go that far.
This goes on with most of the character designs as well – they have some of the slightly larger eyes you see in more conventional anime characters, as opposed to most of Miyazaki’s other films where the characters are less stylized (aside from Castle of Cagliostro, where aside from Fujiko Mine who is almost unrecognizable compared to her other appearances, the Lupin crew retained their conventional designs)
It reminds me a lot of Your Name., where that film lead to a lot of people lauding Makoto Shinkai for being “the next Miyazaki”, when all things considered, his film is a lot more conventionally anime in terms of style and settings.
Where the story kicks off is Haru sees a cat (carrying a parcel) while walking home with her friend. When said cat goes to cross the street and is nearly run over by a truck, Haru grabs her friend’s Lacrosse stick and runs in front of the truck, scooping up the cat, and evading either certain death or ending up in an isekai story. The cat then stands up, and thanks her for saving him, says that he’s a Really Big Deal back in the cat world, and she’ll be rewarded for this.
When the first attempt to reward her – by planting foxtales in her yard (which sets off her and her mothers pollen allergies), putting catnip in her pockets (which leads to cats following her to school and gets her in trouble), and live mice in her shoe locker (which is just freaky). While helping clean up after school, she complains about the gifts to the Assistant to the King of Cats, and complains about her relationship problems at the time. The Assistant offers to deal with that for her, and match her up with the Prince of Cats – without listening, she agrees.
However, once she realizes what she’s done, she’s directed to the “Cat Bureau” run by The Baron (who was introduced in Whisper of the Heart), who agrees to help get her out of this – and the remainder of the story ensues.
I really enjoyed this film – it’s a very well put together coming-of-age adventure romp, though it’s not without some faults. Haru has a lot less agency than most of Miyazaki’s other female protagonists – spending most of the film reacting rather than acting, and having to be rescued rather than rescuing herself. There are exceptions – she certainly makes choices on her own behalf, and she makes a few important observations that help lead to our protagonists extricating themselves from various situations.
However, when she gets into bad situations (whether situations that are perilous or negative), she generally has to be extricated by the actions of someone else (often The Baron, but not always). To the credit of writer Reiko Yoshida and the film’s director, there are legitimate textual and metatextual reasons for this. The textual reasons are that the means of escape are often related to information that Haru simply doesn’t have access to.
The metatextual reasons are related to the fact that the writer envisioned this story as being written by the protagonist of Whisper of the Heart about the character of The Baron. In other words, the story of The Cat Returns is as much about Haru as Big Trouble in Little China is about Jack Burton. While Jack and Haru are both one of the protagonists of their respective stories, they aren’t the main protagonist – they’re viewpoint characters. Their role is to give the audience perspective of the world’s they’re going into.
That said, I still would have preferred if Haru had more of an active role in the story – once she meets Yuki and she and the audience learn that Yuki works at the palace, I would have liked if Yuki had come onboard as an equal supporting character if not on par with The Baron, than on par with Muta, in terms of providing Haru assistance in her escape – like finding a way to provide her information about how to escape, so that Haru is looking for that opportunity when The Baron makes his appearance again.
Sadly, director Hiroyuki Morita has only directed one other work of anime – and it wasn’t for Ghibli. He directed the incredibly dark super robot anime Bokurano, before returning to working in Key Animation, most recently working with Polygon Pictures on Knights of Sidonia, Ajin, and the new Godzilla anime film series. He has worked with Studio Ghibli a few more times as an animator as well – working on Tales of Earthsea, and The Tale of Princess Kaguya.
On the other hand, writer Reiko Yoshida has a ton of other series and films under her belt, including Girls Und Panzer and its OVAs and films, the film version of A Silent Voice, and most recently the currently airing Violet Evergarden and Hakumei and Mikochi.
Back when I was getting actively into gaming again, I started reading Knights of the Dinner Magazine, and some issues of Dragon Magazine when I could. In those issues of the magazine, I encountered ads for Dwarven Forge, a company making miniature dungeon terrain out of really durable material, what I presume is plastic resin, called Dwarvenite. It was incredibly well sculpted, beautiful to look at, and as a high school and later college student, I couldn’t even begin to hope to afford it, never mind to have space for it. But I really wanted to be able to be in a game that used it.
Fast forward to a few years ago when I finally got in a long-running game again, and much to my delight, my GM owned pretty much all of the Dwarven Forge terrain that had come out to date – so I was able to play with it and experience using it first hand – and it was great. And then I learned about a documentary on Netflix about the guy who started Dwarven Forge, and I decided I had to check that out. I didn’t know exactly what it’s tone would be. However, thus far Netflix had not steered me wrong on the documentary front, so what the hell?
The Dwarvenaut is a interesting documentary – as both an character study of Stefan Pokorny, the founder of the company and one of the sculptors of the terrain the company puts out, and a brief snapshot of what draws people to Roleplaying games. That said, the film is tends strongly more towards the former than the latter. Stefan talks about what drew him to RPGs and we get some interviews with people, often industry luminaries, about what drew them to RPGs – but while the documentary goes to GenCon and other locations we don’t get much of an opportunity to talk to newer roleplayers about why they play, and what draws them to the products that Dwarven Forge makes.
The framing “narrative” as much as there is one, is based around the launching of Dwarven Forge’s third kickstarter, for their City Terrain set, after their earlier “Dungeon” and “Cave” sets. In particular, there are some concerns that due to overpromising on the kickstarter, if they don’t raise $2 million, they will end up going bankrupt. The “will they or won’t they make the goal” part of the
The profile of Stefan is far more engrossing – getting into not only what motivates him as a person who is into roleplaying (specifically designing a product that would motivate people to play in person instead of online), but also as an artist. There’s an scene in the film where Stefan goes back to Venice, where he spent some time after he graduated from art school, and he talks about the wear on the stones and about the stories those buildings must have scene – and that speaks volumes of the artistic motivations behind the Dwarven Forge terrain.
The film also does an amazing job of presenting Dwarven Forge’s terrain, visually. We get some really well shot closeups of the terrain, with lighting and dry-ice fog that makes it look like a miniature from a fantasy movie (and that’s not a bad thing – this is a product that you can buy after all). It kinda makes for a really strong advertisement for Dwarven Forge’s products, which is not what I expected from this documentary.
It’s an engrossing film. I don’t know if it’s one that I’d necessarily add to my collection, but it was definitely worth watching. The film is currently available for streaming on Netflix, and also on Amazon on DVD and Digital.
This week, in the spirit of this year seeing the release of Alita: Battle Angel, I give my thoughts on 5 anime that could work as western Live-Action films.
All footage property of their respective owners – used under Fair Use for purposes of criticism.
Probably the first anime I ever saw any of as a kid was Demon City Shinjuku. I saw the opening sequence of the anime on the Sci-Fi channel on Saturday mornings. The opening of the anime was exciting, and the conclusion of that opening (with the protagonist’s father failing and Shinjuku being transformed into the titular Demon City) hooked me in.
And then my parents got up and I had to turn the TV off because my dad didn’t like the TV on early in the morning.
I wasn’t able to watch the film again, and with it see the whole story, until I was in high school, and I was able to get the film from the library. Since then I’ve watched the film a few times, and while I still view the film with a degree of nostalgia, I’ve developed a bit of distance from that original viewing, so I have a degree of emotional distance from the film, and can see some of the flaws that I overlooked before.
Demon City Shinjuku is a film that makes a lot of assumptions, and expects you to just roll with them. There’s a Global President who has managed to craft a lasting peace agreement in the Middle East, because why not? He comes to Japan with his daughter by space shuttle because why not? Further, the force responsible for Shinjuku’s transformation, the sorcerer Rebi Ra, targets the Global President for attack, in spite of him not planning to launch a spiritual attack against Rebi Ra, because why not?
None of those points, among numerous others are explained. While the film is based on a novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi, creator of Vampire Hunter D, the first book is effectively a stand-alone story (though there are later sequels), so there’s prior reading you can bring with you into the story, to help explain things. It’s a story that asks you to take everything at face value, while leaving an undercurrent of mystery underneath everything, with no promise that the questions asked by those mysteries will be answered.
That said, the film is a visual feast. This is one of the films directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (who would go on to direct adaptations of some of Kikuchi’s other work), and Kawajiri has a profound sense of visual style. His action is incredibly fluid and dynamic, without causing the viewer to lose track of the scene. Kawajiri is undoubtedly one of the best directors of action in anime (and sword fights in particular), and this film is a great example of why he’s earned that reputation.
That said, because this film is an OVA from the ’90s, it does run into the problem that it feels visually restrained. By which I mean it was made with a 4:3 TV aspect ratio in mind, so we get numerous sequences where as a view I want to see a little more beyond the edge of the screen, but we don’t get that. It makes me wish, somewhat, that this film had gotten a remake that could take advantage of the fact that everyone has widescreen TV sets these days.
Also, the film has many of the other problems that adaptations of Kikuchi’s work have with female characters. Women are generally written as either predators or passive. Even if they’re somewhat active characters, they’re still weak and vulnerable in the face of larger threats in the way that male characters aren’t – and such is the case here.
I still liked the film, but I simply cannot recommend the film without reservation. Demon City Shinjuku isn’t as openly hostile as, say, Ninja Scroll is. However, it’s still harsh and oppressive, and the way that the film’s female lead is written is rather eye-roll inducing. However, I think it’s more newbie friendly than Ninja Scroll is.
Demon City Shinjuku was license-rescued by Discotek Media a few years ago and is currently available from RightStuf and Amazon. Amazon and Rightstuf also have the novel as well, in a physical edition, and Amazon has it through the Kindle store.
If the The 8-Bit Generation was a documentary that had the unpleasant habit of painting over the truth of Jack Tramiel’s run on Commodore in an appeal to fans of the Commodore 64, Viva Amiga is a documentary that makes a much more sincere attempt to appeal to fans of the Commodore Amiga, in terms of their love for the system. However, due to a runtime that goes over just one hour, it’s attempt to serve two masters – telling the story of the Amiga itself along with the story of the devotees who adopted the system and who are keeping it alive to this day – leaves the film under-serving both.
I understand that this is a documentary that was funded on Kickstarter, and you can only make as much documentary as you have money for. However, it tries to serve two masters and serves neither well. There are really interesting portions of the documentary with great development stories. There’s the story of how the Amiga almost didn’t come out, and they took out a loan from Atari – then headed by Jack Tramiel, with the Amiga Hardware and OS as collateral – and they got bought-out by Commodore at the last minute, with the CEO of Commodore personally delivering the loan payment to Tramiel just to twist the knife a little bit more (perhaps explaining why The 8-Bit Generation chose to downplay the Amiga, considering the film’s view on Jack Tramiel).
Further, the documentary bounces all over on the user side of things. There’s a few seconds discussion of modern Amiga user groups, and a few seconds of discussion of how it was used in video production back in the ’90s (with 2 seconds of footage from Babylon 5), and a couple minutes of discussion of use of the Amiga in electronic music, giving the implication that there’s room for, if not a much larger documentary, then at least more time in this documentary on the modern Amiga user scene – especially considering that part of the point of the film is that there is a modern Amiga user scene, and that the platform is still a living, breathing viable platform.
It feels like there was enough material here a 90 to 120 minute documentary, but for various reasons, possibly in part due to the amount of Kickstarter funds brought in, there was only enough room for the hour that we got. It’s a bummer, and, honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing a Viva Amiga 2.
This week I’m taking a look at a Gundam series that I think is a little underrated.
Footage Property of Sunrise and Namco-Bandai
Gundam ZZ is available for legal streaming on the Gundam Official Channel
Gundam ZZ is also available on DVD or Blu-Ray from these referral links:
Collection 1 DVD: Amazon, RightStuf
Collection 1 Blu-Ray: Amazon, RightStuf
Collection 2 DVD: Amazon, RightStuf
Collection 2 Blu-Ray: Amazon, RightStuf
I like retro computing – I grew up on Apple II computers at my school and an Atari 800 computer at home, with a Commodore 84 & Atari ST at the houses of relatives so in addition to watching YouTube channels dedicated to old computers and games like PixelMusement and Lazy Game Reviews, I also love documentaries about the history of computing like Triumph of the Nerds and Revolution OS (which I think I reviewed on a previous blog, but which I am currently unable to find). When I found about about this particular documentary on the history of Commodore, I was very interested in checking it out.
The 8-Bit Generation focuses almost exclusively on Commodore computers, with a perspective from within the company, and in particular from the view of Jack Tramiel and his boosters within Commodore. From the view of this documentary, with Jack at the helm, Commodore can do no wrong, and their opponents could do no right. Apple never gained any real market share while Commodore dominated the market (Wrong – the Apple IIe was solid rival for Commodore), Atari had no 3rd party publishers and actively fought them for the PC (Wrong – their main opposition to 3rd party publishers was on the video game console front, they had plenty of 3rd party developers and publishers for PC), and once Jack was ousted from Commodore, they never accomplished anything ever again (Wrong – The Amiga says “Hi!”). Particularly damning is the claim that Atari didn’t get VisiCalc until a year after Commodore did, which is clearly false.
It’s really rather disappointing. While the documentary has interviews with Tramiel himself, I get the strong impression that the reason the director was able to get these interviews in the first place because they were already a booster of Tramiel. The majority of the interview footage comes from Commodore employees and Tramiel supporters, with the only exceptions from that being a brief interview with Howard Scott Warshaw about Atari Corporate culture (which appears to lean towards the 2600 and the home games division), and an tragically even more brief interview with Steve Wozniak.
For a documentary that bears the title of The 8-Bit Generation, and which does give a fair amount of time on the MOS Technologies 6510 processor architecture, it is a very strong disappointment that the film wears its slant on its sleeve, and I think it’s very much to the detriment of the film. I’d really have enjoyed a more even-handed take on the various systems from this computer generation, with a serious take given on, for example, the TRS-80 and the TI-99. Instead, we get a pep rally for the Commodore 64, with some flagrant mis-truths. I wanted to like this documentary, but I cannot recommend it in the slightest.
If you do decide to get this documentary in spite of my recommendation to the contrary, it is available from Amazon.com.
Dancouga (with the alternate full English titles of either Super Beast Machine God Dancouga or God Bless The Machine Dancouga – depending on who you ask) is a hybrid Super Robot/Real Robot anime, taking the serious tone of the Real Robot anime of the mid-to-late 80s, and combining it (har har) with a Super Robot anime of the Combiner variety.
The premise takes elements from some of the iconic premises for both sub-genres. Earth is attacked by alien invaders whose weapons outmatch those of humanity, lead by an evil Overlord and commanded by their Four Generals (Super Robot). The invaders steamroll Earth’s defenses and crush humanity before them, leaving Humanity fighting a guerilla war with whatever high-tech weapons they can get (Real Robot). Humanity’s secret weapon is a team of hot-blooded young pilots piloting a team of mecha that transform into beast machines, and then humanoid robots, and also into a larger humanoid robot – the titular Dancouga (Super Robot). However, there is a connection between one of the pilots of Dancouga and the Four Generals – one of the Four Generals is a Human traitor who is the fiancee of one of the Dancouga pilots (Real Robot).
Now, just mashing a bunch of concepts together will certainly get your foot in the door, but ultimately it comes to the execution to determine if the show is any good, and Dancouga is a mixed bag. Most of the the main characters – the Dancouga pilots, are archetypal. The show’s normative lead, Shinobu Fujiwara, is the Hot Blooded Impulsive Pilot, Masato Shikibu is the Jokester Youngster, and Ryo Shiba is The Spiritual Guy.
On the other hand, the team’s female member, Sara Yuki, has much more narrative depth. Her fiancee was the Human traitor who joined the Four Generals, which makes her role in the story much more personal, than just wanting to save the world. Most of the other characters – aside from their connections to the team – don’t have as much of an outside motivation. They want to save the world from the Alien Zorbados invaders because that’s their job. On top of this, Yuki often demonstrates a wider emotional range than her fellow pilots, and more proficiency than her fellow pilots (even beating opponents in martial arts combat that Ryo fail at). I get the feeling that while Shinobu Fujiwara is the Normative protagonist, from a narrative standpoint, Sara Yuki is the de-facto protagonist.
Unfortunately, there are a whole bunch of stumbles through the production. As with many other contemporaneous anime series, characters of color are very, very poorly written. Some of the Hispanic characters have very stereotypical names, and a depiction of some African American characters in Harlem later in the series could just as easily be taken from a minstrel show, with the clothing updated to the mid-’80s. Additionally, the quality of the animation is across the map – with some vehicle explosions being very well done, while a larger (and more narratively important) fight scene ending up very disappointing.
Finally, the pacing is rather poor. The titular Dancouga is not formed until the series 25th episode, which implies that they were shooting for a 52 episode runtime, but as with Mobile Suit Gundam, the series has a 35 episode length, which leads me to suspect that they got canceled early. The ending of the show goes along with this, giving a “Watch the OVA/Movie” ending, which is especially disappointing since, as of this writing, the Dancouga OVAs currently aren’t included on Discotek Media’s release of the TV series.
Speaking of which, the show has gotten a DVD release from Discotek Media and is available from Amazon.com & RightStuf. The story doesn’t get concluded until the OVA, but that hasn’t been licensed yet – hopefully Discotek will get the rights so we can get the end of this story, but I can’t otherwise recommend it.
It’s time for another RPG Roundup video. This time I’m making my recommendations based on Anime series!
13th Age: Amazon, DriveThruRPG
Maid: Amazon, DriveThruRPG
Champions: Amazon, DriveThruRPG
Icons: Amazon, DriveThruRPG
Mutants & Masterminds: Amazon, DriveThruRPG
Wild World Wrestling: DriveThruRPG
- Sailor Moon – Toei
- Serial Experiments Lain – Pioneer
- Neon Genesis Evangelion – Gainax/Studio Khara
- Armored Trooper VOTOMS – Sunrise
- Bubblegum Crisis – Pioneer
- Log Horizon (Season 1) – Satelite
- Hayate the Combat Butler – Manglobe
- Tiger & Bunny – Sunrise
- Goseiger – Bandai
- Tiger Mask W – Toei
When I read an analysis of a work of fiction – and the person doing that analysis looks at the world presented in this fiction, sees how it’s fleshed out, and because it’s fleshed out goes “This would be better/best as a video game!” I become kind of frustrated. In particular, I become frustrated because it would also work just as well for a tabletop RPG setting. A great example of this is the below installment of the “Mother’s Basement” video series, where host Geoff Thew discusses the narrative and worldbuilding of the excellent recent anime Made in Abyss, and determines that as good as it is, because of that worldbuilding it would be better as a video game:
My frustration isn’t because the opinion is objectively wrong, or because video games are somehow inferior as an medium. It’s frustrating because there’s this mindset I feel in video game fandom circles that tabletop RPGs don’t exist. They’re the thing that people used to day back before MMORPGs, and now nobody plays them anymore. I don’t mean “nobody” in the sense of nobody of consequence – that tabletop RPGs are viewed with the contempt that was/is shown to LARPers in geek circles. I mean that they just don’t exist – that the person who plays RPGs is like the Tasmanian Tiger, who occasionally emerges from the bush, and then runs back into hiding.
Even the gaming news sources that do talk about RPGs tend to focus on certain more niche sides of things. Austin Walker of Waypoint is way into the narrativist Indie game side of things (which is fine – I don’t believe in bad-wrong-fun). It’s also frustrating because there’s so much more to RPGs than that, and most game sites are only willing to do one of three takes.
- RPGs don’t exist anymore. People played them when I was in college, but nowadays tabletop RPGs don’t exist.
- The only tabletop RPG ever is Dungeons & Dragons. There was Shadowrun and Vampire once upon a time (and I know about those because of their video games), but they no longer exist. This isn’t helped by some forces within the game industry (like the new shepherds of White Wolf and the World of Darkness – and old White Wolf too for that matter)
- Dungeons & Dragons exists, but we’re only going to talk about more artistically minded small press RPGs, like some of the Powered by Apocalypse World games or Dogs in the Vineyard.
Quick note about #3: There is anything wrong in these games – it’s just that there’s an excluded middle – there are games that have gotten visibility among tabletop RPG fans, but nobody outside of that circle knows about that are worth discussing and considering – from Runequest, to 7th Sea, to Savage Worlds.
Anyway, my frustration is born out of the fact that these omissions very much come out of ignorance, whether because the people who made these statements have never had the opportunity to play an RPG, or their experience was a bad time at one game, and they dismissed the medium entirely.
I’ve tried to push back against this through videos of my own, giving recommendations based on existing video games and RPGs that are in print, but my audience is small, and there’s only so much I can do by myself, much as I love tilting at windmills. This also isn’t helped by the fact that, for very valid and understandable economic reasons, much of tabletop RPG publication is done online through PDFs instead of through brick and mortar stores, and any connection between big box booksellers and tabletop RPG publishers (in terms of trying to get their books there) is a thing of the past.
What this does mean is that tabletop RPG publishers need to take some cues from Wizards of the Coast (and then some) when it comes to promoting your stuff. There are a ton of livestreams on Twitch and videos on YouTube through the Dungeons & Dragons and Geek & Sundry YouTube channels showing people playing D&D.
Chaosium, Green Ronin, and other tabletop RPG publishers should be doing something similar for their own systems. Get people to stream Call of Cthulhu, Runequest, Blue Rose, and other games. This not only shows people having fun playing the game, but it also shows people who have never played an RPG before how to play the game.
Additionally, and this is a little thing, but whenever a new Bundle of Holding comes out, the new bundle should get tweeted at @Wario64 (or someone similar), to signal boost the bundle.
Finally, the tabletop RPG industry is kinda in a Crab bucket situation. Tabletop RPGs are surviving and enduring, and as long as the books exist it won’t go anywhere, but unless there’s growth in the player base, there’s no room for growth in the industry – especially for people to make money at this full time, for companies to hire the kind of staff that’s necessary to help maintain a necessary level of professionalism (HR departments and publicists to prevent stupid crap like what happened recently with Bill Webb of Frog God Games and TSR Alum Frank Mentzer.) To do that, the industry needs to stop this stupid undermining bullshit. Politely discourage fans on your boards from slagging and actively attacking other companies games (at least professionally published games – they can slag FATAL all they want), and don’t do that yourself. If we work together, we can get out. If we promote a culture of undermining and slagging each other, we promote the perception that all our games are crap, and not worth people’s time, attention, and money.
So, in short:
- Show people having fun playing your game.
- Use avenues people are already watching to look for game deals, to showcase deals for *your* game.
- Don’t run down other publishers – promote how you’re different, instead of “They suck, we’re better!”
There’s a new Star Wars movie – I take a look at it and (while avoiding spoilers for the rest of the film), takes a look at Luke’s teaching style in this movie.
Opening Credits: Star Wars Theme from Super Star Wars on the SNES.
Closing Credits: Chiptune Cantina Band from Chiptune Inc.
A while back I reviewed Andrei Tarkovsky’s classic science fiction film Solaris. However, of the various films in Tarkovsky’s filmography, while Solaris was and is extremely well regarded, it’s a film that hasn’t built quite the same following behind it as Tarkovsky’s 1979 film, Stalker. While Solaris got a highly regarded remake approaching 30 years later from director Steven Soderbergh, Stalker has gotten a series of games that draws more, visually, from the film than from the novel that inspired it.
Stalker effectively follows three characters, the titular Stalker, and his two charges, known only as Professor and Writer, as they travel into The Zone – a geographical area where weird stuff has started happening after a meteor landed. Inside the zone is The Room – where whoever enters will receive their heart’s desire. As they travel through The Zone, the three talk about their personal philosophies, and why they chose to travel to the Zone.
To be frank, in the various axis of Science Fiction that I brought up in my review of Solaris, this is a film that uses Science Fiction purely for set dressing. This could just as easily be a film about two people accompanying a lay-priest through a hazardous journey to reach a shrine that has a holy relic that is said can work miracles. This is especially case when it comes to the subject matter of the film.
With Solaris, both with the source material, and with the interpretation of the book’s themes by Gorenshteyn and Tartakovsky, they made the film about interpersonal connections, both among humans and the potential between the human and the inhuman.
Stalker, on the other hand, is about faith and belief. The Stalker is a true believer. He knows what The Zone can do. He’s traveled this route many times before, and he understands. He has internalized his belief in the Zone’s power, and the faith in what it can do. It’s a part of him, possibly not only in terms of his identity.
On the other hand, the Writer and the Professor are more pragmatic. The Professor respects the Stalkers judgement and with one exception, respects his instructions. The Professor breaks from the Stalker’s instructions only when he realizes that he has forgotten his rucksack and must return to get it (as the contents of his bag also related to his Desire). Ultimately, when the trio reaches The Room, the Professor reveals that it his intent to destroy the room, and possibly the Zone itself, with a portable atomic bomb that he’s snuck into the Zone – as he believes that The Room’s power is too dangerous to be trusted by people, that people are not worthy of its power – that the unholy cannot be trusted with the holy.
By contrast, the Writer is a complete skeptic. He frequently scoffs at the rules put forward by the Stalker, chafes at his instructions, and when he encounters potential peril, he turns on the Stalker. Meanwhile, while talking about his own career as a writer, he frequently puts blame for his lack of success on others – that Editors, Critics, and Publishers don’t properly understand his work. He complains about their appetites – not only material appetites, but appetites for reading, cloud their mind to his brilliance. Only briefly does he admit any personal failing – claiming that he’s lost inspiration – before dismissing his earlier remarks later. He fits perfectly into the archetype of the creator who attacks any and all critics of their work, taking the view that if you don’t like their work, then you don’t understand their work.
There’s also the character of the Stalker’s daughter, “Monkey” – who was born without the use of her legs, due to the Stalker’s trips in and out of the Zone. In the film, scenes shot outside the zone are filmed in a sepia monochrome, while scenes within the zone are in color, much like with The Wizard of Oz. The exception is scenes from the implied point of view of Monkey, which are always in color – and the end of the film reveals that she has some telekinetic abilities, implying that there is a little of the Zone within her.
I’ve had to think a lot about what makes this film something that would be science fiction – why the earlier narrative framework I suggested wouldn’t work just as well if not better. The best answer that comes to mind is that this is a story that, possibly like Tarkovsky’s earlier film Andrei Rublev (which I admit I have not seen), which confronts the topic of faith, but unlike Rublev, is dependant on having characters with a more modern, and in particular more Soviet take on skepticism and religion.
If I had one complaint about this film, it’s that I think the contrast would have been stronger had the scenes within the Zone been in a 16:9 aspect ratio, with the scenes outside staying in monochrome and 4:3. However, going from the documentary material on the film, the movie was a tremendously troubled production, in particular with the developers ruining the negative from the first round of filming.
The film also has one thing in common with the John Wayne film The Conqueror – it was filmed in a tremendously toxic environment. While the environment of the Zone is very beautiful, it’s also toxic as hell, with industrial pollution in the environment giving much of the cast and crew cancer, including Tarkovsky himself.
As with Solaris, this is a film I absolutely recommend watching, though I admit I may be completely off base when it comes to the themes of faith in the film – I’ll let someone more versed than I get into that (and if I do find a good essay on the topic, I’ll pass it along).
The film is available from Amazon.com on DVD and Blu-Ray. If you buy the film through those links, I’ll get a small commission on the size of that order, which will help support my work. Also, please consider backing my Patreon.
I’ve previously reviewed the first two Fate anime. Now it’s time to review the third – Ufotable’s adaptation of the second route – Unlimited Blade Works.
Footage Property of Aniplex and the Unlimited Blade Works Production Committee – used under fair use for purposes of criticism.
I saw Thor Ragnarok on opening weekend, and since we’ve had enough time to allow for some minor spoilers, I’m posting my immediate thoughts.
A while back I reviewed Sgt. Pepper’s Musical Revolution, a documentary on one of the more prominent albums to come out of the second part of the career of The Beatles studio-only era. A little before that documentary came out, Ron Howard came out with his own documentary on the Beatles, covering their touring years, from when they got big in the UK, to their US tours, and finally becoming dissatisfied with touring.
Some of these stories aren’t entirely new – a lot of this is covered through a lot of histories of Pop Music, Rock Music, and the Beatles themselves. What makes this documentary different is the extensive interviews of the surviving Beatles in the documentary. Additionally, when it comes to the reaction of fans, and the experience of going to these concerts, the documentary also gives time to minority voices, to African American fans who were able to go to their concerts in the South because the Beatles required that the audience be integrated, along with fans in the North (specifically New York)
That said, there are some things that were omitted that I wish had more coverage. There isn’t much discussion of the Beatles Cavern Club years, outside of a mention that a concert promoter spotted them at the club and brought them to play a few gigs in Hamburg. And there isn’t much discussion of the point where The Beatles switched from playing smaller venues to more… conventional audiences, to crowds of girls screaming so loud that they couldn’t hear themselves play.
This last is something of a bummer because there’d never been anything quite like that before, and I don’t think there’s been anything quite the same since. Not even the Boy Bands of the ’90s and 2000s got the same reaction as the Beatles did. The documentary also doesn’t give a sense of the pace – a switch is slipped and all of a sudden everything has changed. Even if this did happen overnight, somebody had to have looked into why this happened overnight. This is the kind of thing that people write doctoral dissertations about – in music, in business, and in human psychology.
It’s not like John Lennon went to bed one night, and then woke up the next morning with hordes of screaming teenage girls outside his window like in Life of Brian (though that is an amusing mental picture). In the same way, it’s not like the Beatles only toured for 2-3 years before retiring. Of their 7-8 year career, they toured for half of it, so the transition of the audience reaction is important, and if it really was an overnight thing, where one day you’re playing to what is basically an ordinary crowd reaction, and the next the audience is in full Beatlemania and sustains that fever pitch for 4 years, that speaks volumes. The same thing if there was something of a build-up to that.
The documentary is still worth watching, but that’s something to keep in mind.
The film is available from Amazon.com – if you do pick this up through that link, I get a referral from whatever you pick up on that purchase.
I really liked Season 1 of New Game, as a fan of seeing stories told about creative people being creative in their field or fields. When that review came up, I had already started watching the show’s second season, and I stuck with it throughout that season.
As with Season 1, New Game!! sticks with Eagle Jump games, with all of the previous season’s cast returning, along with a few new characters joining the cast. The story for season 2 follows the same pattern as Shirobako did. Season 1 of Shirobako started with an anime series already in the midst of production, and then went through the entire production process for an anime adaptation of an existing work. In the same way, season 1 of New Game had protagonist Aoba Suzukaze coming onboard with an existing game, season 2 takes us through the entire process of designing a game, writing it, and sending it out into the world.
As part of the shifts in this season, our protagonists have new responsibilities. Aoba’s childhood friend Nene Sakura has come onboard at Eagle Jump as a fledgling programmer, and almost terminally shy (but getting better) character designer Hifumi Takimoto has become the lead character designer on the new game and now has to manage and motivate the team, including new member Momiji Mochizuki (or Momo), who has decided to become Aoba’s rival.
Aside from the new explorations of the software development and marketing process, we also get much more exploration of the personalities of the supporting cast, including the new characters. This season also almost cuts out most of the fanservice from last season. Unfortunately, perhaps in anticipation of the reduced amount of shots Kou in her underwear, we end up getting a shot in the first episode of the season with Kou’s butt in the center of the frame as she gets comfortable again under the desk for approximately 5-6 seconds. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but considering that when you film something in animation you do it on purpose, and considering the posterior in question is not stationary, but moving, it’s a excessive.
Otherwise, it’s a great season, and if you watched season 1, it’s definitely worth moving on to season 2.
Anime has an interesting relationship with the “Otaku” lifestyle. There’s an undeniable appeal to lounging around the house or apartment playing video games and/or watching TV (especially for an Otaku), but that’s not particularly a healthy way to live your life – so we get a variety of anime that romanticize the Otaku lifestyle in a manner both congratulating and self-depreciating, like Genshiken and Otaku no Video.
Himouto Umaru-Chan has an interesting take on this. The main character of the show is Umaru – a die-hard Otaku who is currently attending high school and who is also living with her brother Taihei, a salaryman who handles the cooking and cleaning. However, her public identity is not that of being an Otaku, but instead as one of the most popular girls in school, proficient in most sports, and who gets As in all her classes. On returning home, she undergoes a seemingly physical transformation into a chibi version of herself, with a radically different personality and wearing a hamster hood. The difference is dramatic enough that it’s something of a running joke that people who don’t already know can’t tell that Umaru’s public and private personas are the same person.
From there, the humor of the show comes from juggling the silliness of Umaru’s behavior (and with it the split between her public and private personas) and how Taihei responds to her behavior, along with other characters reactions to the two personas when encountered on their own. The writing for the humor here works very well. It’s helped by the fact that unlike far too many anime of late, this anime writes a brother-sister relationship that stays on the familial level, instead of stepping into the romantic level like like Oreimo and Eromanga-Sensei did. Nor does it get heavily into risque fanservice, keeping the show from getting skeevy.
It makes for a comedy series that isn’t particularly ambitious, and not particularly deep, but is fun and makes for good light viewing.
There are a few films that other people really like that I have completely bounced off of. I bounced off of Fight Club due to how the film handles mental health issues – and particular its discussion of support groups – using support groups as the negative avenue which Tyler Durden uses to put together Project Mayhem, and ignoring or dismissing the helpful elements support groups have (though, having organized a support group, I admit that I bring some distinct baggage to the table).
The same way, I bounced off of Dawn of the Dead – the most beloved film in George Romero’s Dead series, the same way. The first time I watched it, it turned me off the wagon of the entire Zombie genre. That was almost 10 years ago, so I thought with 10 more years of life experience, maybe I’d be able to roll with the story it’s trying to tell.
I bounced off this like Sonic the Hedgehog spin-dashing into a spring in the Green Hill Zone.
I think fundamentally, the reason why this doesn’t work for me is that I’m not particularly nihilistic. I am pessimistic – I try to prepare for the worst so I’m not surprised by it, but I’m never really nihilistic – I never expect and actively hope for the worst.
That’s the problem for me – Dawn of the Dead is a very nihilistic film. It assumes and believes that humanity truly is the worst, and that the best possible outcome for the world is that humanity is wiped out and rendered extinct – that nothing good can come from or for humanity, and that belief is represented clearly by the film’s originally planned (but never shot) ending, where after the protagonists home is destroyed not by the encroaching force-of-nature undead (as with Night of the Living Dead), but by greedy selfish humans – leading one protagonist being killed, one wounded – the remaining two survivors kill themselves – one eating a bullet, the other by decapitation by helicopter blade.
According to my research, that ending wasn’t used not because George Romero thought it was a bit much – but because the audience would have thought it was a bit much.
In the world of Dawn of the Dead, while our handful of protagonists seem okay – or at least are not the garbage humans that are part of the SWAT team, or the project dwellers who are saving their dead even though they are clearly turning into zombies, or the network executive who wants to keep out of date evacuation center information on of the air for the sake of ratings, or the bikers from the film’s conclusion – they are clearly the minority compared to the rest of the world. As that previous run-on sentence makes clear, the rest of the characters in this film are generally crap. We’re not supposed to have empathy for them. We’re supposed to either not care if they live or die, or be okay with them being chewed on by walkers – and that’s the problem.
Horror works best, at least for me, when there are good people in the film who we don’t want bad things to happen to – and for there to be a possibility for the horror to end. With Romero’s Dead series – the source of the horror doesn’t end. The Zombies aren’t going anywhere – and any attempt to rebuild or make any sort of safe place free of the horror will be destroyed by the Assholes.
That said, I can roll with a Worst Ending style apocalypse, but those work for me when it’s a clearly telegraphed uncontrollable situation – the alien from The Thing, The Ancient Evil from In The Mouth of Madness and Prince of Darkness, that sort of thing. In Dawn of the Dead the apocalypse persists because people are inherently assholes so attempts at reconstruction aren’t worth it or automatically tainted.
My original intent was