Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Game of Thrones Season 5 Review

Note: This post would have come up yesterday or even Sunday if not for this little thing called "E3" that everybody seems to be going gaga about. Reaction to that is coming up at the end of this week, once I've seen everything. I'm not there this year (sad face) but I'm still following the streams, sorry for spamming your twitter.

I guess it was inevitable in some way that the season adapting "A Dance with Dragons", by far the worst book of George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series was going to be by far the worst season of HBO's smash hit "Game of Thrones"*.  "A Dance with Dragons" is not a very good book in my opinion, being full of unnecessary padding and leaving open far too many plot points to possibly justify itself. Where previous books of the series were in some ways stand-alone complete chapters, "A Dance with Dragons" is just a chunk of story that happens to be bound in a single volume, utterly useless without knowing what comes before or next. So when the show runners of "Game of Thrones", D. B. Weiss and David Benioff, decided that they were going to make huge changes to Season 5, I was pretty much behind it. Change away, I said, it cannot get any worse.

Guess what? It got worse. "A Dance with Dragons" is far from a good book, but it did have good qualities. It is amazing how much we have lost in order to condense things down. There is no Lady Stoneheart, nobody baked any Freys into pies, it seems the battle of Meereen is just not happening (not that it happened in the books either yet), so much of the tension of the Winterfell plothole is completely gone, Ser Barristan's most badass scenes are just not happening this time, etc. etc. Luckily though, even if you are not an avid book reader who obsessively devoured the first four books of the series in a single summer, "Game of Thrones" Season 5 is still impressively awful. Maybe you have never read a word of anything in your entire life, it doesn't change the fact this was still a disappointing and miserable season to watch.

In a lot of ways "Game of Thrones" has been too good to be true. GRRM has created a vast universe with memorable colorful characters, and the show runners have done a fantastic job translating them to the screen. Can you even imagine Tyrion Lannister without thinking of Peter Dinklage? How about the incredible work they've done with Ned, Varys, Davos, Arya, the Hound, Jaime, Tywin, even relatively minor characters like Balon Greyjoy? That one of the largest and most complicated fantasy series ever written has managed to make compelling television, even amazing television is truly an impressive achievement. Eventually their casting luck had to run out, so we ended up with the Sand Snakes. The pacing has been phenomenal, eventually that had to slow down as they ran into GRRM's slow middle portions of his story that ultimately go nowhere. So a solution needed to be found to keep the show interesting during an inevitable rough patch.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Persona Q: Fanservice of the Labyrinth

Hello again, Space Monkeys.  Sorry for long wait between posts.  Hopefully you'll enjoy this:

A few years ago Atlus released "Persona 3", taking their obscure hardcore occult RPG series Shin Megami Tensei out of the realm of the super nerds and into the mainstream realm of the regular nerds.  Then they released "Persona 4"*, an even more popular game that launched this series into super stardom.  The obvious thing to do at this point was pull out all the stops, double down, and sell out like a madman.  We had "Persona 4" fighting games, we had "Persona 4" animes, before this year is out we will have a crossdressing rhythm dance game on the Vita, and there was whatever the heck "Catherine" was supposed to be.  But can you do both?  Can we not have a shameless cash-in that is also a fairly decent JRPG in its own right?

Onto the subject for today.  "Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth" for the Nintendo 3DS is a shameless cash-in on the 3DS that is also a fairly decent JRPG on it's own right.  The plot here is that a magical time dimension opens up in a Japanese high school summoning two groups of teenaged Shadow-fighting heroes with the power to control Personas.  Now if you do not know what a 'Persona' or a 'Shadow' is, then "Persona Q" is not the game for you.  As a matter of fact, even if you have only played "Persona 3", this is not the game for you.  "Persona Q" is exclusively a fanservice romp for fans of both games.  And not just casual fans.  I am talking about the kind of fans that have subscribed to the subreddit, listen to a live album of the "Persona 4" battle themes every day, and are currently creating really creepy Deviant Art drawings of themselves and their selected underage video game waifus.

Story-wise, "Persona Q" is actually rather light until the final dungeon when events actually get real.  There is no grand save the world narrative, just characters you have met before chilling in one location.  There is no obvious villain, so the heroes take their sweet time defeating the four labyrinths that hold the four keys that are imprisoning them.  And really, what is the rush?   Everybody here are friends of each other or friends of the player, so why not have a party?  Basically this game is just a cast of some of the best characters in JRPGs letting their bubbly personalities bounce off each other.  I don't recall enjoying "Persona 3" altogether (my review is rather bitter upon my re-read) but I was pleasantly surprised at how happy I was to see Aigis, the cute doggie, and even Fuuka again.  If you are not getting those warm and fuzzies at the sight of your old Senpai in colorful chibi make-over, I really cannot sell this game to you.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Rant on Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works

Hey, long time no post.  Been busy.  Working on a novel.

I think it is official:  I am a masochist.  I must enjoy pain.  I like a feeling in my gut that whatever entertainment I am consuming is dicking me around and screwing with my head.  Otherwise there really can be no explanation as to why I continued to watch Studio ufotable's  "Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works" the kinda sequel to their "Fate/Zero", one of the best anime series of this decade.

Now this is not a review because I have not seen all of "F/SNUBW: Ridiculously Long Abbreviation" yet.  This a rant.  The difference is that with a review, I would have seen the entire show and come up with a final definitive opinion on it.  With a rant, I am just generally pissed off, am abandoning all reviewing structure, and will just jump into my point, willy-nilly.  The point I'm making is this:  "Unlimited Blade Works" sucks.  Technically "Fate/Zero" is the prequel to this, so that is the work you're supposed to experience second.  But that's not how I did it, because "Fate/Zero" was awesome and I never would be interested in this whole franchise otherwise.  As somebody coming from "Fate/Zero" - not somebody who has played the original hentai game this now-hentai-less show is based on - this has been an awful sequel.  I should have dumped this episodes ago and never written anything at all (I held myself back for a long time before this, too).  But here I am, still chugging along, trying my best to find a silver lining.

Here's some positives:  "Unlimited Blade Works" is probably the biggest blockbuster of an anime series ever released.  The anime is stellar across the board.  Any one screenshot from this show is cinema-quality.  Action-wise too "Unlimited Blade Works" is fantastic.  "Fate/Zero" is clearly blown out of the water in terms of fluidity of movement, expense in individual fight scenes, and definitely in background drawings, which are gorgeous beyond even Miyazaki at some points.  However "UBW" will never manage to surpass the final climatic fight of Kiritsugu vs. Kotomine (spoilers) from "Zero", which is currently a good candidate for being the greatest single fight scene in anime history.  Here's why:  no matter how much money you pour into your animation, you cannot replicate the emotions and build-up that "Zero" had to create that fight.  Because "UBW" just does not have those sorts of characters, does not have those emotions, and instead is mostly the tale of a high school dimwit and his bitchy girlfriend.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

April 2015 - Look Ahead(?)

Hey, it's April!  Have you met April?  She's a lovely month.  Young, full of hope, with bright green eyes, and ready for life.  Please treat her well, she's kind and confident, but also very innocent despite her proud ways.  Mistreatment of months is now a crime punishable by federal prosecutors.  I knew a guy who slapped July 2011 once, he won't be out of prison for another six years.  So be good to April, and she'll be good to you, and we won't have to get any Grand Juries involved.

Anyway, here are the movies and video games coming out in April 2015... I think:

Predator: Pilgrim Hunt (April 3rd) - So finally a fourth... or maybe sixth Predator film, the long-running 80s franchise dating all the way back to the hallowed muscled days of Schwarzenegger himself.  I was rather easy on Robert Rodriguez's previous film in the franchise, "Predators" but I am not really a big fan of just rebooting the franchise again.  Especially since this time, the Predators are not fighting modern action stars, but rather are going back to 1692 where they will be fighting Puritans at the Salem Witch Trials.  Somehow the idea of Michael Cera with a pitchfork is less of a serious threat than Schwarzenegger with a machine gun, you know?
--Chances to be Good:  40%.  "Alien vs. Predator" was silly enough but "The Scarlet Letter vs. Predator" is just too much.

The Astronaut Loner (April 3rd) - Well, here's your big arthouse movie of the month, this one from Lars von Trier.  Michael Cera stars as a cantankerous misanthropic astronaut in terrible old age make-up living seven million light years away from Earth, spending his days mostly refusing to answer his phone.  Stuck somewhere in the Horsehead Nebula, Astronaut Cera sits lonely, bitterly recounting to himself how he was cheated out of five dollars from the girl at Panera Bread.  Later he befriends a cute alien friend, and they get married.
--Chances to be Good:  10%.  Since this is von Trier you know explicit sex is going to happen, and probably some disturbing scenes of self-mutilation too.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Insurgent - Timid New World

"The Divergent Series: Insurgent" is not a movie any parent would be afraid of their teenager watching.  It is safe, inoffensive Young Adult entertainment, carefully managed to be as blandly competent as possible.  I cannot imagine the book series by Veronica Roth is all that more compelling.  The marketing around this title is "The Hunger Games" but with even less teeth, a gray harmless fiction, enjoyed mostly by kids who do not know any better.  God help the YA industry when these kids discover that Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, and Robert A. Heinlein exist.  We can only dream of the day that all of these baby's first SciFi novels and their film adaptations end up in the trash where they belong.

I did not even bother reviewing the first film in this series, "Divergent" when it came out last year.  I assumed that the movie would be turgid floppy mediocrity.  But I made another assumption:  that nobody else would care.  These days with advertising campaigns so heavily manufactured on social media, I do not know if people legitimately like the Divergent Series or if it is just inflated manipulation.  Certainly "Insurgent" has had the most intense marketing of the year so far.  You cannot escape this film even if you want to not care.  So last week I finally bothered to watch "Divergent 1" - which turned out be everything I expected:  competent but forgettable.  Let's discuss the sequel.

"Insurgent" takes place in a post-apocalyptic Chicago just up the road from "The Hunger Games"' PanAm.  This is Dystopian Society No. #3442*, where all of humanity is segmented into five different clans based upon their role.  No created universe is complete without long complicated world-building details that ultimately add very little depth to the overall simplistic plotline.  Each clan has an elaborate stylish name, such as the Amnity who are hippie Amish farmers or the Dauntless who are soldiers or the Candor who are scum-sucking lawyers.  Our heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley) is a former Abnegation, the boring gray bureaucrats, who changed her Job Class to Dauntless.  But ut-oh, she's actually a Divergent, the special magical Chosen One who does not fit into any of the categories.  So she is wanted by the evil Erudites, the wicked science class, who need her to open a McGuffin Box to complete their scheme to conquer the Factions, and naturally is also the only one who can stop their plans.