Book Review: Record of Lodoss War – The Grey Witch

A few years ago I did a video review of the original OVA for Record of Lodoss War. At that time, the OVA was out of print, as was (and still is, sadly) the manga adaptation of the novels. Since then, Funimation (not the company I expected to do it) license rescued all of the anime, and now Seven Seas has done something I never expected to happen – they licensed the first novel, and gave it a fantastic edition in 2017. I got it for myself for Christmas, and finally was able to read it in February. Continue reading → Book Review: Record of Lodoss War – The Grey Witch


Video Game Review: Binary Domain

Now that I’ve beaten Binary Domain, now is as good a time as any to give my thoughts on the game.

Binary Domain, at the time of its release, felt like a game that was deliberately designed to be a Japanese response to cover-based shooters like Gears of War, to show that Japanese game developers could compete with Western Triple-A developers on their own turf. Having played the game now, with a distance in time from my original impressions, I can say with a degree of certainty that particular perspective isn’t that far off.

Where Binary Domain really differs from Gears is that Gears puts a lot of focus on its visual esthetic. Epic put a lot of work into what they described as the game’s “ruined beauty” style – the idea that the game’s world was very visually beautiful, before everything went bad, but without too much worldbuilding as to why things went bad in the first game. Instead, Binary Domain puts more focus on the narrative worldbuilding and storytelling instead of visual worldbuilding.

The plot is based around the idea that the future humanity has developed semi-sentient AI, and the nations of the world have signed the New Geneva Convention to prevent research into truly sentient AI. When a group of synthetic humans who don’t know they’re synthetic (like the Final Five Cylons on New Battlestar Galactica), known as “Hollow Children” are discovered, the US government blames the isolationist Japanese government in general, and an industrialist named Yoji Amada in particular for their development. A group of  anti-robot hit teams called “Rust Crews” are sent to infiltrate Japan to find Amada, confirm the development of the Hollow Children, and bring him to justice.

On paper, this is an interesting narrative concept, as New Battlestar Galactica (nBSG) demonstrated. However, the game doesn’t quite take the time to do anything with it. The story has a few moments where it uses the concept fairly well – taking the idea that Amada is able to take control of any Hollow Child at any time, without the original being able to do anything to stop it – showing that the Hollow Children are a threat. However, however, the game’s main narrative drops its big story bomb very late in the game, and then absolutely proceeds to do anything with it in this game. It introduces the idea that the Hollow Children can have kids, and that they would be a sort of human-robot hybrid, stronger, faster, more resilient than normal humans – and that one of the members of your team is one of these hybrids.

This comes up extremely late in the game, and the reaction from most of the members of your squad is incredibly racist. Further, the governments of the world come to the conclusion that all of these hybrids must be hunted down and killed – in spite of the fact that these hybrids cannot be controlled by Amada. The repercussions of this decision are not explored or discussed, and outside of our immediate squad, we see no dissenting voices. This feels like something that was meant to setup a sequel that never actually got made.

As far as the game itself goes – it’s a fairly conventional cover-based shooter – with a few notes that make it different from Gears – some for the better, and some for the worst. Unlike Gears, killing enemies generates currency, which you can use to buy upgrades for your gun. By the end of the game you can get some very precise shots off with your gun, with some heavy damage, and lots of ammunition in the weapon, along with more power for the weapon’s alt-fire and more ammunition for that. Compared to the fact that your standard lancer in Gears pretty much operates the same way at the end of the game that it did at the start, that’s a rather nice shift.

Additionally, the game provides a lot of options for you to command your squad. While you can’t command your squad members to take cover behind particular points or to attack particular targets, it’s a good first execution. Related to this – in theory you can give your squad orders using a connected microphone and voice commands. However, as I was playing the game for a LP (which readers of my blog might have noticed), I was not able to experiment with this, so I can’t tell you how well it worked.

Binary Domain also uses a “trust” mechanic, where you build trust with your squad mates based on your responses to dialog prompts and your actions in combat. Being a prat with squadmate Big Bo will build your trust with him but may reduce your trust with female squad members, but mowing down a whole bunch of attacking robots in short order will give a massive boost to your whole squad. Accidentally attacking or firing on your squad members, however, reduces your trust. This is an issue, because your squadmates lack the sense of self-preservation to avoid stepping into the path of a firing weapon.

High trust may determine what ending you get, and apparently determines if your squadmates will follow your commands. I never got low enough trust to have squadmates who wouldn’t come to my aid, but I also didn’t actively attempt to reduce my squadmates trust either. There are a couple hinge points in the final boss fight that vary based on your trust level with a couple characters, but aside from one I had to find out what those were after the fact.

Otherwise, the characters are fairly bland. Big Bo is your bro-tastic Black friend who is large, boisterous, and kinda racist and misogynistic. Charlie is the overly professional Brit. Dan is your protagonist who has a reputation as “The Survivor”, and who tends to be put-offishly bro-tastic. Rachel is also British and Professional (though not as overly professional as Charlie). Faye is the designated love-interest and is Chinese (and is frequently shown from the view of the male gaze).

Binary Domain is interesting as a historical curiosity. Some of the narrative ideas are interesting but not executed on. The characters are handled poorly, the game mechanics are fairly standard, and while a few of the level environments are interesting, a lot of them are fairly generic, and the enemies often blur together outside of a few environments. I did enjoy playing the game, but I’m also glad that I rented the game.

The game is currently running around $15 on Amazon right now, which is probably the right price for it, considering the amount of enjoyment I got out of it.

DVD Review: Power of the Daleks

Power of the Daleks is one of the Doctor Who stories that has been lost. The BBC had destroyed all copies of the episode due to royalty issues and in order to re-use the video tapes, and none of the copies that were shipped overseas were found. Thus, the story only lived on through bootleg recordings made by fans off of over-the-air broadcasts, which in turn were made available to the BBC, who had re-released the story with cleaned-up versions of the audio recordings paired with tele-snaps and continuity photos of the show, with bridging narration by Tom Baker.

This past year, the BBC released an animated reconstruction of the story, giving viewers their first opportunity to see this in motion, and I’ve seen it. Continue reading → DVD Review: Power of the Daleks

Anime Review: Tsukihime (2003)

Thus far, the three shows in the Type-Moon universe that I’ve covered: Fate/Stay Night (F/SN), Fate/Zero, and Unlimited Blade Works (UBW) have been two-cour shows – spending 24 episodes to tell their story. In the case of F/SN and UBW, they have each adapted one route from the first Fate game – with the former title dropping a few elements of UBW in to give Rider a little screen time. However, Fate was not Type-Moon’s first game. Before this came Tsukihime, which set up elements that came up later in F/SN and Fate/Zero, and it too received an anime adaptation, one that came out prior to the release of F/SN – and with only a single cour (12 episodes). The question then becomes, how well can it tell its story in half the length? Continue reading → Anime Review: Tsukihime (2003)

Anime Review: Nanoha StrikerS

The Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha franchise has been interesting when it comes the Magical Girl genre of anime. The original series was something of a conventional Magical Girl vs. Dark Magical Girl show, like the Pretty Cure franchise, with the difference being that the battles between Nanoha and her opposite number, Fate, played out a lot like a superhero fight.

The later series played up this concept, with the second series, Nanoha As setting up a battle of superhero teams (or superhero and super-anti-hero teams), with Nanoha, Fate, Arf, taking on a team of opponents with more-or-less similar abilities. The series also played down the school adventure side of the traditional magical girl story, with Nanoha’s school friends, who were very much a prominent part of the narrative for the first series, being pushed to the side very early.

Nanoha StrikerS dumps the “civilian life” side of the equation entirely, with series protagonists Nanoha Takamachi & Fate Testarossa working as, basically, state-sponsored superheroes, and spending all of the series well away from Earth. Previous series had introduced the Time Space Administration Bureau (or TSAB), the bureaucracy behind it, and that the government that it answers to is based on a world called Mid-Childa. StrikerS spends almost the entirety of it’s runtime there.

The premise of the series is that it’s set a little over 10 years after the events of Nanoha As, which would put Nanoha and Fate in their early-to-mid 20s. Nanoha and Fate have become part of a special unit as part of the TSAB, lead by Hayate, the befriended antagonist of As. The objective of the unit is to hunt down Lost Logia, lost pieces of magitech which can be incredibly dangerous in the wrong hands. As part of this unit, Nanoha, Fate, and the Wolkenritter (Hayate’s now-less-dark Magical Girl superteam from As), are also training another team of, for lack of a better term, Magical Superheroes.

From a narrative position this setup puts the audience in an amazing position to see how the protagonists who we’ve followed through the last two series have matured, and it’s certainly successful at that. In particular, Fate and Nanoha have become the de-facto parental figures for two kids who are now part of their unit, Erio and Caro. While they were not actually adopted by Fate, they were adopted by Fate’s stepmother – Lindy, with Fate helping to raise them in a maternal/older sister role.

This leads to Fate & Nanoha. The writing of the first two series loosely implied that the two were homosexual. StrikerS, on the other hand, strongly implies that the two are in relationship with as strong a subtext as you can get without actively crossing over into text – like, stronger than the handhold in Legend of Korra.

The new protagonists, Erio, Caro, Subaru, and Teana, are generally well written, and have really strong chemistry. Erio and Caro, and Subaru and Teana have some romantic chemistry, which is read stronger for me with Subaru and Teana.

The overall story of the series serves to bring back together some plot threads going back to the original series. Hayate’s team, Riot Force 6, ends up coming into conflict with a mad magical scientist named Jail Scaglietti, who has been engaging in genetic engineering to create artificial mages and cyborgs for combat. The research he’s working on is similar to that that was done by Fate’s birth mother, Precia, in her attempts to raise her deceased daughter, Alicia from the dead – work that lead to the creation of Fate. The level of conflict here is nice and personal, and gives the conflict a strong direct tie to our protagonists that makes up for the lack of any real civilian life our heroes have.

That said, the animation doesn’t quite back up the story. This is a 2007 anime from studio Seven Arcs, who animated the earlier Nanoha series, along with the Triangle Heart OVA, and somehow, I can’t quite say why, but the animation here doesn’t feel quite right. The Digicel animation feels a little overly flat and stilted, particularly towards the end of the series. Now, it’s been awhile since I watched the first two shows, and maybe they’re just as bad, but with this series it feels like it stands out more, especially towards the end of the show.

There are also some weird decisions with the animation that seem to make little sense. The show cuts around some early stages of some very emotionally significant fights later in the series, showing the aftermath of the action instead of the action. Now, when we hit the climaxes of those fights, we see the full conclusion, but with this particular fight, the early stage was really important, and it was really disappointed with the fact that we didn’t get a chance to see it.

There are some issues with the costume design. The designs for the TSAB staff, and Riot Squad 6 are fine. However, there is Jail Scaglietti’s team of combat cyborgs, The Numbers. They wear these skin-tight outfits that leave as little to the imagination as the animation budget will allow, without actually showing skin. It’s the kind of outfit that 90s comics were mocked for putting female characters in, with boob socks and precisely defined butt-cheeks. The plugsuits in Evangelion didn’t go nearly as far in their form-fitting nature.

I enjoyed the show enough to finish it, but it was the characters who kept me coming back for the rest of the show, and in particular the fact that I’d come to appreciate these characters and their stories through the last two series. If it wasn’t for the writing and the characters, I probably would have dropped the show due to my issues with the animation.

That said, with how the show wraps up, considering the fourth series, Nanoha Vivid (focusing on a character that Fate and Nanoha adopt in this series), has not yet gotten a US release, StrikerS does make for a decent conclusion to the Nanoha series.

Nanoha Strikers had gotten a brief DVD release by Bandai USA, and is now available for streaming through Amazon Prime as part of their Anime Strike package.

Anime Review: Fate/Stay Night – Unlimited Blade Works (2014-15)

Fate/Stay Night, as a visual novel, had a several routes the player could take through the game. The original F/SN anime adapted the Fate route, with the inclusion of some elements of the Unlimited Blade Works route, with varying degrees of success. After Ufotable’s successful adaptation of Gen Urobuchi’s novel, Fate/Zero, there was question of what it would look like if they were to adapt one of the routes of the game, and in particular the Unlimited Blade Works route in its entirety. Two years ago, we got that adaptation. Continue reading → Anime Review: Fate/Stay Night – Unlimited Blade Works (2014-15)

Book Review:The Cloud Roads

Most fantasy novels that I’ve read work, generally, in the context of an existing society of our world. Tolkien took his cues from Nordic mythology and the Eddas. C.S. Lewis took a mixture of elements from various Mediterranean cultures and his own Christian views. Japanese period fantasy (as seen in anime, manga, live-action cinema, and books like the Kouga Ninja Scrolls) take cues from stories about youkai and oni, along with legends about the history of the Japanese Imperial family and the deities from which they draw lineage.

So, when reading The Cloud Roads, I was rather surprised to see very few connections to any real existing human cultures. However, the book also managed to execute on this without leaving me completely lost. Continue reading → Book Review:The Cloud Roads

Anime Review: Fate/Zero (Seasons 1 & 2)

Gen Urobuchi has gotten a tremendous reputation as a writer of animation, particularly through his deconstruction of the magical girl genre with Puella Magi Madoka Magica. In 2011, he did something slightly different, by doing a novel prequel to the hit visual novel Fate/Stay Night, covering the events of the previous Holy Grail War, which set the events of the original game and anime in motion. The show shifted animation studios from Deen, to Ufotable, who had only a handful of shows under their name at that time – though the animators had years of experience from TMS. Continue reading → Anime Review: Fate/Zero (Seasons 1 & 2)

Video Game Review – Hatsune Miku Project Diva X

I’ve previously played two Hatsune Miku rhythm games, one on the PS3, and one on the Nintendo 3DS. I generally enjoyed them, though I found the gameplay controls a little rough. In particular, in the 3DS version, bouncing between the two screens was difficult at higher difficulties, and on the PS3 version, the size of the screen ended up working against the game. For my next outing against a Miku game on a Sony platform, with the latest title – Hatsune Miku Project Diva X – I decided to take on the Vita version of the game. Continue reading → Video Game Review – Hatsune Miku Project Diva X

Anime Review: Slayers Season 4 (Revolution/Evolution-R)

2015’s revival of Ushio and Tora by Studio MAPPA is not the first revival of an older anime and manga series in the 21st century. In 2008, JC Staff revived the classic fantasy anime series Slayers, with a fourth season after an almost decade gap. The series was was released as a split-cour show, with the first 12-episode cour being subtitled “Revolution”, and the second “Evolution-R”. When the show originally was announced, the big question that fans had was would this show come back with a Dragon Slave sized blast, or would it fizzle like a wet firework? Continue reading → Anime Review: Slayers Season 4 (Revolution/Evolution-R)

Video Game Review: Aquapazza Dream Match

Among the fighting games released last year, one that crept under the radar, but drew the attention of some of those in the fighting game scene was Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel. This was the latest of a number of various fighting games based on dating sims and visual novels, starting from Melty Blood in 2002 (based on Tsukihime), and moving on through Fate/Unlimited Codes in 2008 (based on Fate/Stay Night – the anime series of which I’ve previously reviewed). In 2013, we got Aquapazza Dream Match, a fighting game based on the various visual novels created by development studio Aquaplus. Now, while Melty Blood and Fate were based on visual novels with their share of action, Aquaplus’ bibliography (for lack of a better term), was built around less action focused work, such as Comic Party (which I’ve discussed in issue #10 of my Fanzine). So, the question becomes, how well do dating sims adapt to fighting games? Continue reading → Video Game Review: Aquapazza Dream Match

Video Game Review: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team was, before the release of Paper Jam, the most recent game in the Mario & Luigi series of handheld Mario JRPGs. Unlike the Paper Mario series and the original Super Mario RPG for the SNES, the game focuses entirely on Mario & Luigi as, in this case, they travel to Pi’illo Island along with Princess Peach, on vacation. However, as per usual, Bowser has his own malign plans for Peach, which Mario & Luigi must foil. Much of the game plays fairly well, but there are a few gameplay concepts that don’t quite work that ultimately ruin the whole experience.

Continue reading → Video Game Review: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

Film Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, suffers the same array of problems that the Michael Bay directed Transformers films have suffered. The film takes emphasis away from the title characters of the film to put an increased focus on the human characters. To the film’s credit, it doesn’t clutter up the film with the samedegree of human characters as the Transformers film did, but those elements of the film distract from the main thrust of the narrative. Further, the rest of the film’s action is so cluttered and chaotic that it can’t compensate for the rest of the film’s weak points. Continue reading → Film Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Film Review: The Yakuza Papers Pt. 3 – Proxy War

Proxy War, along with the second film in the series, Hiroshima Deathmatch, are really where the Yakuza Papers series really kicks into high gear with showing the real nature of the Yakuza life. Where the sophomore film in the series introduced a new character, followed him through his induction into the yakuza, until his ultimate death, Proxy War returns us to following Bunta Sugawara’s character, Shozo Hirono, as factions within the old guard start playing the new generation of yakuza against each other, while Hirono himself tries to reconcile this current chain of events with the yakuza code of honor. Continue reading → Film Review: The Yakuza Papers Pt. 3 – Proxy War

Film Review – A Christmas Carol (1999)

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is probably the work of literature that has been most frequently adapted to the screen that wasn’t written by William Shakespeare. With so many adaptations, it’s probably hard to pick the best. I’d probably put the Muppet version at the top of my list, but aside from that, the 1999 made-for-TV version starring Patrick Stewart as Ebenezer Scrooge is my number two pick. Continue reading → Film Review – A Christmas Carol (1999)