Anime Review: Fate/Stay Night (2005)


Adaptations of visual novels to anime are something of a mixed bag. Sometimes, like with Clannad and Comic Party, the adaptation is a hit. Other times, it doesn’t work quite so much. Fate/Stay Night falls into the former case, though there are times where the work stumbles in its execution, primarily on the animation front, though there are some narrative issues. Continue reading → Anime Review: Fate/Stay Night (2005)

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Film Review: The Yakuza Papers Pt. 2 – Deadly Fight in Hiroshima


After the original The Yakuza Papers came out and did incredibly well at the box office, a sequel came out with a relatively fast turnaround. Unlike the first film, the sequel, Deadly Fight in Hiroshima, bypasses Bunta Sugawara’s character, Shozo Hirono (who does appear in this film as a cameo appearance), for a new character, and new story of induction into the world of the Yakuza.
Continue reading → Film Review: The Yakuza Papers Pt. 2 – Deadly Fight in Hiroshima

Book Review: The Chronicles of the Chinese Emperors


Chronicle of the Chinese EmperorsMovies set in historical periods or otherwise based around historical events will never go away. We will always have Victorian tales of class-based angst. Same with tales of valorious (or conniving) knights in medieval Europe. For Eastern cinema, we’ll probably always have samurai films of various stripes, and the same with various Wuxia films, discussing various martial artists and their exploits in Imperial China.

To get try and some background on wuxia films and their I recently read The Chronicles of the Chinese Emperors by Ann Paludan. The book gives an overview of the reign of approximately every emperor in Chinese history that is considered to be “officially” an emperor. Officially is in air-quotes because the book appears to defer heavily to the official Imperial histories. Continue reading → Book Review: The Chronicles of the Chinese Emperors

Manga Review – Red Hot Chili Samurai Vol. 1


Red Hot Chili Samurai Vol. 1Red Hot Chili Samurai is a manga that feels like it’s not sure what it wants to be. The manga follows samurai Kokaku Sento as he fights various criminals in rural Japan during the Shogunate. Kokaku’s strength and weakness is his dependance on hot peppers, which he eats regularly, and which strengthen him, like Popeye.

Like Kenshin, Kokaku and his comrades, bespectacled Ento, ninja manservant Shou, and girly-girl of action (if that makes any sense) Ran refrain from killing at all times, even if by all rights it doesn’t make sense for them to do so. However, like Samurai Champloo, the series is filled with anachronisms. Ran is introduced wearing spike-heeled knee-high leather boots with stockings and garters under her kimono. Kokaku is also introduced to a young kid who invents the Polaroid camera, the squirt-gun (modeled after the Colt M1911A), and aerosol pepper spray. Additionally, Kokaku wears a distinctive tattoo, something that would have been taboo for a historical samurai.

With the various chapters in this volume, they all have a comedic tone. Even when Kokaku is infiltrating a brothel which is drugging the women with opium (and occasionally over-dosing them), and whose owners are responsible for several murders, the tone of the story tries to stay incredibly light. This leads to a cognitive dissonance, particularly when it comes to more serious subject matter. Hopefully later volumes will take things slightly more seriously, but this volume is simply average. It’s not great, not terrible, just average.

Anime Review – Area 88


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In the anime portions of Gainax‘s OVA series Otaku No Video, there’s a sequence where the main character is being shown the various types of Otaku that the members of his friend’s club are part of. There’s the vehicle and mecha otaku, who is a geek about engines and how things work, and so on. One of the members of the club is an animation otaku, and he demonstrates his affinity for animation by pointing out the detail in an animated sequence (taken from the DaiCon IV video). I, personally, haven’t had many moments in animation where I felt compelled to freeze frame a video and stop to appreciate it – until I saw the OVA Area 88.

Continue reading → Anime Review – Area 88

Ryunosuke's wake

Movie Review – Sword of Doom


Ryunosuke's wake
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It’s been a while since I put a film review together, for something outside of a genre film for Bureau42. However, what better place to get back into the swing of things than the 1960s jidaigeki film Sword of Doom.

The film stars Tatsuya Nakadai as samurai Ryunosuke Tsukue, a sociopathic-at-best samurai, who cares for nothing but the improvement of his skill. The film follows Tsukue over the course of two years, as his violent tendencies slowly get the better of him .

The script does an excellent job of making it perfectly clear that while Tsukue is certainly the main character of the film, he is not a protagonist. Literally, the first thing he does in the film is to kill a defenseless old man in cold blood, and he proceeds through the film with a sense of clinical, cold detachment similar to later anime and manga characters like Duke Togo of Golgo 13 and Ogami Ittō of Lone Wolf and Cub, which likely took a certain degree of inspiration from novel this film was based on.

However, the sense of detachment is where the similarities end. While Ittō and Togo are certainly remorseless, compassionless killers, their opponents are often even more vile creatures then they are, to keep the audience on their side. On the other hand, as the film progresses, Tsukue never improves as a person. By the end of the film, guilt and fear have come to get the better of him, but even then they are unleashed in a psychotic episode comparable, in terms of violence, with the climax of Scarface. All of this is executed wonderfully by the writers and the director, as we see Tsukue’s sanity slip further, further and further.

The film is not without its faults. Originally intended as part of a trilogy, based on the absurdly long novel (about 1,533 chapters long) of the same approximate title as the film, several sub-plots are introduced that go just about nowhere. While they do intersect with the main plot in several points, they otherwise introduce what seem to be Chekov’s guns that turn out to be little more than display pieces. These side plots are significant enough that dramatically trimming them down could easily cut the film down from its current 2 hour run-time to closer to 90 minutes. These side plots could have been resolved in a sequel – however, we didn’t particularly get a sequel to this film.

All that said, the film is extremely well done, and a wonderful example of what this genre of cinema is capable of. If you consider yourself a fan of samurai films, you owe it to yourself to see this film.

Ogami Ittō

Movie Review – The Crimson Cult


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Occasionally a horror film comes about where the premise might be unimpressive, but the film’s cast commands attention. The Crimson Cult, originally titled “The Curse of the Crimson Altar” in the UK, is one of such films.

The film follows Robert Manning, an antique dealer who has come to the town of Graymarsh, in search of his brother – another dealer who has failed to return from an antique buying expedition. In the town he arrives in time for a festival celebrating the burning of a witch 300 years earlier, and he finds himself suffering from horrific and vivid nightmares that are more real than they seem.

The plot itself is nothing special. It allegedly takes its plot incredibly loosely from the HP Lovecraft story “The Dreams in the Witch House”, however it’s little more than a standard Satanic/Occult Horror film. What makes the film special is the film’s two co-stars – Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff. Both characters are similar. The script has Lee and Karloff both playing warm, welcoming, landed gentry, with each seeming to have sinister undertones. This, combined with Lee and Karloff’s history in horror films playing dark and sinister villains leaves the audience wondering who the villain is. Is Lee’s character, J. D. Morley who our hero is staying with, the villain. Is Karloff’s Professor Marshe, who collects torture instruments and studies the history of witchcraft the villain. Or are they in cahoots?

The rest of the cast’s performances are fair, and Manning’s nightmares of a “Witch’s Sabbath” are bizarrely surreal – with the witch wearing green body paint and wearing leather nipple covers, and attended by a large hooded man in an almost-too-tight loincloth. The series of sequences feel far too much like something out of a bad horror comic than anything else, and make the film more laughable than sinister.

Fortunately, Lee and Karloff’s genteel menace really help to carry the film, and help get across the audience’s confusion on who our hero can trust. I can definitely recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys older horror films, particularly those which focus a little less on the gore effects, and more on building a sense of dread and the supernatural.

Note: This film is not in print on DVD, so if you want to get it, you’ll have to go to eBay.

Quality Control – Mighty Final Fight


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On multiple occasions, I’ve heard the expression mentioned that restrictions breed creativity. Sometimes that doesn’t hold true. My last Quality Control pick, Raging Fighter, was a great example of this. The game was a fighting game that just didn’t hold up well on what was essentially a 4-bit hand-held system. Such is the opposite with this Quality Control pick, Mighty Final Fight, from Capcom for the NES. Capcom was basically given the task of porting the SNES (and arcade) classic brawler Final Fight to an 8-bit platform. I would say that they succeeded admirably.

Now, to be fair, Final Fight wasn’t a particularly complex brawler – and the brawler genre in general doesn’t have as much complexity to it as fighting games do. That said, Capcom handled the port very well. As the game couldn’t support the same size of sprites that the original game used, characters are instead depicted in a “Super Deformed” style. To tie in with the change in art style, the story has been altered to something more comedic. This in turn really helps to differentiate this version of the game from the original and give it a sense of identity.

Similarly to the original game, Mayor Mike Haggar‘s daughter, Jessica has been kidnapped by the sinister leader of the Mad Gear Gang, who has gone absolutely gaga for her. Haggar, Jessica’s beau, Cody, and Cody’s friend and training partner, Guy (yes, Guy is in this game), must fight through all the members of the Mad Gear Gang before the wedding ceremony. The game only has a single player mode, instead of an alternating two-player mode like in Double Dragon. However, similarly to Double Dragon, only two enemies can be depicted on-screen at any one time, making crowd control a little simpler.

The game also borrows the sort of “leveling” system used by Double Dragon, among other similar games, of gaining experience points by defeating enemies, which in turn, in theory, unlocks additional moves. I say in theory because, really, you can only unlock one move, and that’s at level 4. Each fighter has a special move that can be unlocked, and is performed by hitting the attack button and a direction on the D-Pad. This move gets you a little extra XP if you defeat an enemy with it. However, by this point you really don’t need to level up any further and the move itself does less damage on average than your regular combo, and you gain no other benefits, like life bar increases or anything else). Power-ups are also moderately scarce, as are weapons (there’s one dropped weapon in the whole game, at the obligatory Elevator level).

All in all, this is a decent classic style brawler, and I would say that I like it better than the original Final Fight, blasphemy though that may be. I would recommend picking it up, if you can find a copy, either as the NES cart or in the GBA collection “Capcom Classics Mini-Mix”.

Quality Control – Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose!


Box art for Tiny Toon Adventures - Buster Busts Loose
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With my last Nintendo Power Recap, I picked Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose for my next Quality Control pick. This was in part because I was a fan of the Tiny Toon Adventures TV series, and partially because I kind of liked the last Looney Tunes game I played, Death Valley Rally.  So, we’ll see how well this game holds up. Continue reading → Quality Control – Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose!

Comic Review – Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 11: Carnage


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So, it’s now time to review the Ultimate Universe’s take on the member of Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery I hate the most. I’m going to say this right now. I hate Carnage. The character is completely unoriginal. He was created to be a darker-and-edgier version of Venom, who was in turn meant to be a darker and edgier version of Spider-Man. The character has essentially no depth. He kills people for no reason. That’s it. He breaks out of where he’s held, kills people until he’s stopped, and wash, rinse, repeat.

Thus, when I picked up this volume, I had my doubts about how they could make this story interesting. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised by how they did succeed. Basically, they managed to pull it off by not directly attaching the character to Venom, but instead to Curt Connors, aka The Lizard. Connors has been, in my opinion, one of the better members of Spider-Man’s supporting cast. This is, for a large part, because he’s a tragic figure. He experiments on himself  in an attempt to develop a way for amputees to re-grow limbs, and ends up turning himself into a lizard-man. Everything the character does is meant with the best intentions, as opposed to villainous figures like Doc Ock and the Green Goblin. Continue reading → Comic Review – Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 11: Carnage

Music Review – The Fine Young Cannibals: The Raw and the Cooked


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So, in my wanderings across the internet I came across the music video for the song “She Drives Me Crazy” by the Fine Young Cannibals, which I, frankly, hadn’t heard before. So, I decided to check out the album that it came from, The Young and the Cooked, and give it a try. I was rather impressed with what I heard. Continue reading → Music Review – The Fine Young Cannibals: The Raw and the Cooked

Book Review – The Black Hole War


Cover art for The Black Hole War
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So, last week I talked about the documentary about Stephen Hawking, “A Brief History of Time”. This week I have a book review taking an alternative approach to Stephen Hawking’s theories of Black Holes, and how they are wrong. The book in question is The Black Hole War by Leonard Susskind.

Essentially, the plot of the non-fiction book is pretty simple. Stephen Hawking comes up with his theories of how Black Holes work, and how nothing can escape them. Well, sort of – Hawking Radiation is emitted by black holes (that’s one of the ways we can find them), but the amount of radiation emitted is not equal to the amount of material that is captured by the black hole. Thus any “information” captured by the black hole (from light to anything else) is lost. Continue reading → Book Review – The Black Hole War

Movie Review – A Brief History of Time


The movie poster for A Brief History of Time
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I love physics. To be more accurate, I love all the space sciences. This ties in to my enjoyment of science fiction series like Star Trek and Star Wars, and from watching documentary series like Nova on Public Broadcasting as a kid. Plus, like most people, I love underdog stories. So, when I learned about Professor Stephen Hawkings, a physicist from the UK who helped to expand our knowledge of how the universe works in spite of the disease that was slowly destroying him – Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. So, when I learned there was a film based on his book “A Brief History of Time”, where he explained the basics of quantum mechanics to a mass audience. I leaped at the chance to watch it. Continue reading → Movie Review – A Brief History of Time

Movie Review – Three Days of the Condor


Movie Poster for Three Days of the Condor
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I enjoy spy thrillers. Marathon Man, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Smiley’s People, Sneakers, Spy Game, etc, have all stuff I’ve enjoyed. I bring up Spy Game, because it was my first exposure to Redford in a spy film, which in turn leads me to this week’s review – Three Days of the Condor, which features Redford acting alongside Max Von Sydow in a spy thriller set in the US.

The plot follows Joseph Turner, code name “Condor,” an analyst for the CIA. When assassins kill everyone at his station except for him when he’s out getting lunch, he finds himself on the run, and trying to find out why he and his station were targeted. He seeks help from a Kathy Hale, a civilian he comes across while evading pursuit in a sporting goods store. Continue reading → Movie Review – Three Days of the Condor

Movie Review – No Country for Old Men


Movie Poster for No Country for Old Men
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I came in to this movie knowing nothing about Cormac McCarthy. I hadn’t read the book this movie was based on. I hadn’t read The Road, nor had I seen the movie that was adapted from the book. What I did have, however, is knowledge of the Coen Brothers from seeing Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou. I can justifiably say that after seeing this movie, I couldn’t see anyone else doing this film. I don’t have this reaction with all films. Sometimes, when watching an film, I can sort of get ideas about how the film might look with another director – how John Carpenter might do the original Friday the 13th instead of Sean S. Cunningham for example. This, though, is a film only the Coen Brothers could do.

The film follows three characters, hunter Llewellyn Moss, sheriff Ed Tom Bell, and hitman Anton Chigurh (rhymes with “Sugar”). While hunting in west Texas, Moss comes across a drug deal that turned into a bloodbath. Among the carnage he finds a satchel carrying 2 Million dollars. Chigurh has been hired by the owner of the money to get it back. Finally, Sheriff Bell finds himself following in the wake of blood left by Chigurh’s passage in search of the money. Continue reading → Movie Review – No Country for Old Men

Movie Review – Live Free or Die Hard


Movie Poster for Live Free or Die Hard
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As someone who intends to become a network security professional, I know a little something about hacking. Not how to penetrate people’s systems or anything like that, but I know about security flaws, I know about ways a possible attacker might come at your system, and I know that the visual for these attacks would be pretty boring. After I learned that the premise of Live Free or Die Hard would involve cyber-crime, I developed a lot of reservations about how this film could turn out. However, after much deliberation, I decided to give the film a watch.

The movie brings back Detective John McClane of the NYPD. Now formally divorced from his wife and estranged from his daughter, he’s ordered to take a computer hacker from New Jersey to Washington DC for questioning related to an attack on the FBI’s computer system, as well as the deaths of several other hackers. After he arrives at the house of the hacker, Matt Farrell (played by Justin Long), some assassins attempt to kill Farrell, ringing alarm bells for McClaine. As John and Matt make their way down to DC, a series of hacker attacks, masterminded by former NSA hacker Thomas Gabriel (played by Timothy Olyphant), bring the US infrastructure to it’s knees. It’s up to McLane and Farrell to stop Gabriel’s plot before millions of lives are lost. Continue reading → Movie Review – Live Free or Die Hard

Video Game Review – 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand (PS3)


Box art for 50 Cent Blood on the Sand
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Awhile back I played and reviewed (somewhere else – I can’t find the precise review) 50 Cent: Bulletproof. The game was the first game featuring rapper 50 Cent. It wasn’t a good game, but it wasn’t absolute crap either. It was just incredibly mediocre. However, it sold incredibly well. So, I wasn’t surprised when the game got a sequel, but I wasn’t particularly expecting quality in any form, so I just ignored the game. However, then I started hearing murmurings from game journalists whose opinions I trust about action shooters. I was hearing things about how this also was not a bad game. To the contrary, the word was that it was actually kind of good. So, I added the game to my GameFly queue, and now I finally got it, and beat it – which means it’s time for me to give my opinion on it. Continue reading → Video Game Review – 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand (PS3)

Movie Review – In The Electric Mist


Movie Poster for The Electric Mist
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As a quick note – I’m reviewing the US release of the film. The European Union cut of the film is several minutes longer and is the director’s vision for how the film would turn out.

The way that crime thrillers and mysteries have been adapted to the big screen has kind of changed over the years, more or less. While TV series like Peter Gunn and Bones try (and succeed) to provide a “knowledge chain” sort of like a chain of custody, where the audience has access to the same pieces of evidence that the people investigating the crime(s) has, and they see how the conclusions are drawn, and they usually figure out who solved the crime around the same time the detective does. Films, and in particular In the Electric Mist, don’t do it that way. Continue reading → Movie Review – In The Electric Mist

Quality Control – Super Star Wars (SNES)


I’m sorry, but I have to admit that I wasn’t able to get past the first level of this one. The game sends a never-ending string of enemies at you in the first level, and I wasn’t particularly able to figure out a pattern for the first boss, so I wasn’t able to get past it – at least not within my self assigned deadline. This is not a game I would have been happy to spend money on. Pass on this game unless you don’t have any problems regularly running into a brick wall.

No, seriously – if you’re looking for a run-and-gun (as that’s all this game really is), hunt down a SNK or Metal Slug collection instead. If you want a Star Wars game, pick up one of the Jedi Knight games, or Republic Commando, or Knights of the Old Republic. There are much better Star Wars games out there.