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Monday, 20 November 2017

What We're Watching 20/11/17

What We're Watching

Supergirl S3.

You know, Supergirl isn't doing terribly this series. After a stellar first series, I really thought that the second series had drifted away from the brightness and joy that really defined it, and had lost something because of it. Series three isn't quite at the quality of the first series, but it's a little closer to it than the second series was.

Of course, the lack of Mon-El certainly helps in that regard, as does the renewed focus on Kara and Alex's sibling relationship. I'm a little concerned that they seem to have written out (for the moment) Alex's and Maggie's romance, but I doubt that that'll last long -- something will happen to push them back together.

(God, I wish the CW shows didn't try so hard to push a boring 'oooo, relationship drama' angle.)

The Gifted.

The Gifted remains surprisingly un-terrible.

I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say it's good. It is, at its core, like someone dumped every episode of Heroes into a blender and then strained the results into thirteen episodes, added a sprinkle of X-Men, and then put it on air.

What it is is surprisingly entertaining so long as you don't try to actually engage with it in any fashion. It's just sort of there, being vaguely fun but not really being noteworthy in any fashion, and I'm actually pretty okay with that.

Legends of Tomorrow S3.

Legends of Tomorrow is also surprisingly good this year. Despite having not yet shown up, Malus has been elevated to a halfway interesting villain by the indication that he's someone who successfully did what Savitar was trying to do in last year's Flash, and the quirky miniboss squad of Darhk, Kuasa, and Eloise works surprisingly well.

Legends seems to have found its niche as a wacky, comedy-action show, and the freedom offered by its time travel premise allows it to flit between various genres while retaining that comedy-action vibe: So far this year we've had an ET-esque 80s sci-fi story, a vampire horror story, and a Red Dwarf-esque sitcom story.

So, that's a lot of fun, at least.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Star Trek: Discovery S1 (First Act)

Star Trek: Discovery
Series 1
(First Act)

Star Trek: Discovery, the first Star Trek series to air since Star Trek: Enterprise ended in 2005, was easily one of my most anticipated shows of this year, not least because there was a long period of time where it seemed like it'd go the way of the Star Wars live-action series -- a cool concept that ultimately just kind of fizzled out before it saw the light of the day. I'm very glad that that turned out not to be the case, and while Discovery's debut series has not been without its problems (including airing on CBS' absurdly overpriced online streaming service), it has nonetheless been one of the most exciting new shows of the year, a well-written, well-produced space opera helmed by a compelling lead character.

In many ways, the show doesn't feel much like Star Trek: The decreased focus on the crew at large in favour of focusing on the Burnham-Lorca-Stamets triumvirate of characters, the fact that the show has any kind of significant budget, and the more serialised and arc plot focused storytelling all combine to make it feel Trek-ish, but something of a far cry from the Star Trek people grew up with. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I admit that it's the source of almost all of my reservations about the series. It is a fascinating, deeply engaging show in its own right, but as an entry in a wider franchise with an established style, structure, and aesthetic, it feels oddly jarring.

Nor am I the only one who has noticed, and unfortunately any criticism of the series immediately becomes grist for the 'ohhhh, Star Trek is ruined now' fanboy mill, that asserts that the inclusion of a black woman as the main character, and of a gay man as a prominent tritagonist, is somehow insidiously 'making political', and thus ruining forever, a franchise that is both not ruined forever and which has always been political (actually political, not political in the sense of 'some characters aren't white and that makes me sad'), giving us such gems as 'the episode in which Kirk discusses abortion politics with a planet of pro-lifers,' 'the episode about the treatment of prisoners of war,' 'that entire series about the politics of colonialism,' 'the episode in which Troi discusses abortion politics,' 'the episode in which Riker fights for the rights of a transgender alien,' and 'approximately sixteen episodes about alien species that are half black and half white, and are inexplicably racist against aliens who are the same but the other way around.'

Just because you were too young to notice the politics, doesn't mean they weren't there, guys.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Flash S4E6: When Harry Met Harry

The Flash
Series 4, Episode 6
When Harry Met Harry.

All right, let's start off by addressing the Elephant of News in the room, because I don't feel comfortable writing this review without at least mentioning it: So Andrew Kreisberg, one of the three showrunners for The Flash (and Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, and Black Lightning) has been accused of sexual harassment and suspended from the show, and one assumes (or at least hopes) that that will be a precursor to his getting fired.

As others have pointed out, the evidence has always been there for anyone who cares to look: A string of female writers who have written one or two episodes and then never returned to the show again, the certain get-away-with-anything kind of high status that Kreisberg had within the CW, et cetera. The news is not nearly as shocking as it could be. I don't want to delve into and start analysing how various stars on the show have responded, but there are certainly indications at this point from what people working on these five shows have said that, at the very least, fellow showrunner Marc Guggenheim was entirely aware of this behaviour and turned a blind eye to it.

It's worth also praising Emily Bett Rickards, Candice Patton, Melissa Benoist, Grant Gustin, and Stephen Amell, who have all been fairly quick off the mark in making statements condemning Kreisberg's behaviour.

Moving on from that to an episode which thank god wasn't written by Kreisberg, but instead by Jonathan Butler and Gabriel Garza. What have they written before?

I need some vodka.

Right, okay, positive thinking here. 'Cuck' wasn't as big a thing back in 2009. Probably.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Black Clover, 51 Episodes, And Why It's So Bone-Crunchingly Bad

Black Clover, 51 Episodes,
And Why It's So Bone-Crunchingly Bad.

Last week, it was officially announced that Black Clover's initial order of thirteen episodes would be expanded to a whopping fifty-one episodes and, not coincidentally, I decided on the same day that I just couldn't do it as an ongoing any more. Thirteen episodes I can handle. Fifty-one episodes I cannot.

So, for now and forever, because it's doubtful this show is ever going to improve, let's break down exactly why Black Clover is so very, very bad.

Glacial pacing.

At this point, the show's horrifically glacial pacing is perhaps what it's best known for, especially considering that the manga it's adapting is so fast-paced.

The pacing is so poor that by the end of episode five, the story was barely up to halfway through the manga's third chapter -- this in an industry where it's not uncommon for a single episode to adapt multiple chapters into a single episode. For a comparison, My Hero Academia's most recent arc adapted ten chapters into five episodes, and did it while literally adding in extra material. 

Highlights of the absurdly slow pacing include 'taking a single page flashback and spinning an entire episode out of it,' and 'starting an episode by showing the last four minutes of the previous episode again.'

Terrible voice-acting (and terrible direction).

Every time Asta talks, I lose five years off my life, and he talks a lot. Or perhaps it would be better to say that he screams a lot.

It's easy to blame Asta's voice actor, for whom this is his debut role, for Asta's horrific, crunchy, shrieking voice, but that is rather missing that, actually, all the voice-acting is bad. It's just that most of the voice actors are boring to listen to, not actively painful.

Whether it's down to bad casting or bad directing (let's face it, it's probably bad directing), this show is an assault on one's ears.

So cliche that it's not even remotely original.

Here's what I wrote during my first review:

"It's actually kind of alarming how much this episode tries to just be a crystallisation of every single shounen trope in existence -- and, let's be honest, most shounen anime aren't exactly bastions of originality in the first instance. You've got the powerless main character (My Hero AcademiaA Certain Magical Index), whose personality is hot-blooded and determined (Aoi no ExorcistOne PieceNaruto) and the cold, remote rival who is nevertheless quasi-friends with them (NarutoBleachMy Hero AcademiaAoi no Exorcist). In time, however, the main character is revealed to have a dark power (NarutoBleachAttack on TitanAoi no Exorcist, Fairy Tail, Yu-Gi-Oh) which is the reverse of the powers possessed by everyone else (BleachA Certain Magical Index) but marks them out as special.

Do you see the problem?

I'm fully expecting to see the main character join a team of quirky characters (My Hero AcademiaAoi no Exorcist), with the power trio filled out by a girl who we're told is really powerful but who never really does much (Fairy TailBleach), along with some kind of interim villain appearing."

Well, since then, the main character has indeed joined a team of quirky characters and the power trio has indeed been filled out with a girl we're told is really powerful but who never does much, and we've also had an Exam Arc in which the main character appears to fail but actually succeeds due to a last minute success (My Hero Academia) and a smug quasi-rival who uses underhanded tactics to get ahead (literally everything).

The cliches wouldn't be so bad, but there's absolutely nothing beneath them. For a lot of shows, these are jumping off points to doing something that might not necessarily be original, but has some depth, maybe some interesting twists on those ideas, some kind of soul to it. Black Clover has nothing but a smattering of superficially sketched out cliches masking its deep, deep emptiness.

Bland, boring animation.

It's worth clarifying that Black Clover's animation isn't overtly bad. What it is, however, is bland. Middling. Uninspiring. By the numbers, but by the numbers in the most extreme way, where you could splice scenes from it into any anime, by any studio, produced and published in any year, and you probably wouldn't be able to tell.

It's full of cut corners, but none of those cut corners are noticeable, and the overriding feeling of it is just that it's -- there. It's boring to look at, visually unattractive, and perfectly middling -- and that's already by the standards of Studio Pierrot.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Fate/Apocrypha E19: Dawn of the End

Episode 19
Dawn of the End.

You know, these days I'm just tired of doing this ongoing. I never have anything new to say about these episodes, and they're nearly always just boring to watch, with even the show's flights of utter insanity now just seeming dull to me. Even though we're in the final stretch, with only five episodes left after this one, it seems like an absolute eternity.

Maybe the final battle episodes will give me more to talk about, but that seems very dubious. Very dubious indeed.

Friday, 10 November 2017

What We're Watching 10/11/17

What We're Watching

RWBY Vol. 5.

This volume is going from strength to strength, with improved animation, a better paced plot, longer episodes (all between eighteen and twenty minutes, putting it nearly at professional par), and with the voice actors all improving massively between each volume.

RWBY is a very long way from a perfect series, but I do hold that it is an inspiration for other indie animators wanting to make their own work and commercialise it, and I'm always happy to see it improving. I look forward to the rest of the volume, to volume six, and to whatever the team does after RWBY.

P.S. Work in in more faunus. Love the faunus. Yours, Not A Furry.

Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony.

Killing Harmony is the latest entry in the startlingly popular Danganronpa series of murder mystery/legal drama/sci-fi visual novel puzzle game things -- honestly, while the franchise can't exactly be called genre-defying, it is difficult to classify into a single genre.

Centered around sixteen students who wake up in an overgrown school within a giant metal birdcage, with six bears -- Monokuma and his five Monokids -- and the usual killing game shenanigans. So far (and I'm only just at the first class trial), the crimes are a lot less easy to figure out than the first game's, but easier than the second game's, which is a bit of a shame, since I thought the second game's were just the right amount of mystery.

Still, this trial has time yet to surprise me, and there are five more that can shock me too, so I look forward to seeing what this game will throw at me.

Outlander S3.

Oh, Outlander. Having embarked on the point in the story where it swerves violently off the rails, the series has had to struggle with how to show that the characters are now twenty years older. They've done this by not showing it at all: They look the same, act the same, and only occasionally drop references to being old'uns.

This isn't just true for the main characters, either. Supporting cast members are equally un-aging. In the world of Outlander, Scotland is populated entirely by immortal vampires, apparently.

The series has yet to reach the point where it truly jumps the sharks in the books, with the characters going to America and getting involved in the revolution and all that jazz, but it's getting there. Slowly. Avoiding it for as long as possible.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

The Flash S4E5: Girls' Night Out

The Flash
Series 4, Episode 5
Girls' Night Out.

It's an odd thing: Out of all the episodes thus far, we were lead to think that this one would be the most comedic of this series so far -- in actuality, it's the second least comedic (with the first episode still being the least by a fair margin), with the Hen Night/Stag Night antics mostly serving as a way to facilitate the episode's main plot: A story about Killer Frost, and whether she is or is not a good person (and her relationship to both Caitlin and the rest of the cast). 

We also get it nominally tied in with the main Thinker plot by way of the macguffin this week being the fourth of the twelve new metahumans -- the Weeper, whose tears are a psychoactive drug -- but let's be honest and say that the Weeper's relevance to the overall plot is probably not going to be all that considerable.