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Friday, 22 September 2017

What We're Watching 22/9/17

Hello! You all might recall that Wednesday and Thursday were both entirely sans posts: This is largely because I was off visiting Reecey most of this week, and while we did plan to watch and write a review of Lars von Trier's Manderlay, what we actually did was play a ton of Yakuza Kiwami, on account of how that's a lot more fun, and how I hate Lars von Trier's work.

In that vein, here's a What We're Watching that could probably be more accurately described as a What We're Playing.

What We're Watching

Yakuza Kiwami.

So, during my four day absence, there was a great deal of Yakuza Kiwami, as myself and Reecey finished Yakuza 0 on the Monday and spent the next few days determinedly making our way through the first eight or so chapters.

Thus far, it's definitely a very fun game (that one boss battle with Lex Luthor and Kingpin's son notwithstanding), and it's vastly improved by the addition of the Majima Everywhere system, where local lunatic Goro Majima will come up with zany, off the wall ways to make Kiryu fight him.

And by 'vastly improved,' I mean 'it turns half of the game into the weirdest dating sim,' as you roam the district looking for Majima so that you can take him out drinking, or bowling, or to a private club. Sometimes it doesn't even end with a fight.

Best love story in video games 2017.


In my ongoing quest to stockholm myself into liking Fate, I elected to watch a few episodes of Fate/Zero -- the original novel was written by Gen Urobuchi, whose work I adore, and the anime was directed by Ei Aoki (who most recently worked on the brilliant Re:Creators), so I thought it was worth a shot, even if I've thus far found every other branch of this franchise to be physically painful.

The first thing that stood out to me was how much of a gap there is between Urobuchi and Kinoko Nasu's writing skills: Nasu has his characters drone on and on, delivering very little information in a lot of words, and usually adding a hefty dose of creepiness on top of it; Urobuchi, meanwhile, is markedly more concise, emotive, and clever in his use of language.

(Not that Urobuchi doesn't have a tendency to have characters drone on: Makishima in Psycho-Pass is evidence enough of that.)

Bafflingly, Fate/Zero isn't terrible so far. It may even be good. It's certainly not a great anime (at least not three episodes in), and it doesn't hold a candle to Urobuchi's later works, but it's easily the best branch of this particular tree.

Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below.

So, when Reecey and I weren't playing Yakuza Kiwami, we were playing Dragon Quest Heroes, which is actually a charming little game.

It's a Warriors-style game, so a hack and slash with a wide range of characters, wherein they're pitted against dozens or hundreds strong hordes of enemies, with only bosses posing a threat and with the main challenge being a spinning-plates type thing, wherein you must defend multiple places at once by rushing between them.

It's got a fun, lighthearted storyline (despite the accidental implications that monsters are an oppressed slave class), some really fun gameplay, characters that aren't that deep but are at least a lot of fun, and the short missions mean that it's the perfect game to play in little bitesized chunks. 

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Teen Wolf S6E18+E19: Genotype & Broken Glass

Teen Wolf
Series 6, Episode 18 + Episode 19
Genotype & Broken Glass.

Another two parter! Wow, MTV is really eager to get this series over and done with, aren't they? I don't think I've ever seen a television network be in such a hurry to get a show well and truly off its channel.

Well, until the reboot, at least.

Also, because I feel I should bring this up since I made a big deal of it last week: Cody showed up again in episode nineteen! For all of two scenes. The fact that he can be out of the show for nearly three episodes and it changes nothing about the story does not say good things about how much stock the writers put in his and Mason's relationship, especially when we have several minutes devoted to the totally chemistry-less Scott and Malia having poorly lit shower sex.

Anyway, these episodes start off with the gang trying to find the Anuk-Ite: Scott and Liam hunt down its female half by trying to expose one of their teachers as a werewolf, for -- reasons; Mason and Theo hunt Aaron in the sewers; and Lydia and Malia attempt to wake up Halwyn and find out how to defeat the Anuk-Ite. Unfortunately, the Anuk-Ite merges into one body, a Skeletor-esque guy with glowing purple eyes who can turn people to stone when they look at it, leaving Scott and Malia to try to learn how to fight without sight from Deucalion; while Liam follows Nolan, who wants to show him something. Meanwhile, elsewhere, Argent meets up with Derek, and they both run into Kate, who steals a bottle of green wolfsbane for use on Scott.

Good news, guys! I've figured out why the pacing of this show is so atrocious. It's because rather than having shocking moments occur naturally in the story, every episode is working towards the shocking moment that ends the episode.

That's how we get, for example, Lydia and Malia doing a boke and tsukkomi skit about knocking Lydia out and/or MRI machines -- even though it would be more effective to have Halwyn's warning not to let the Anuk-Ite unite, and not to look at it if it does, halfway through the episode, the writers seemingly decided it had to happen at the end, where the moment was robbed of any tension or meaning because we already knew they were going to reunite (which they did, about thirty seconds later).

It's also how we get Liam and Scott wasting time trying to make their teacher shift instead of just asking her, even though they do, eventually, just have to ask her anyway. It's because they have to do something while they wait for the last ten minutes, because the last ten minutes is where all of the actual story is stuffed.

Oddly, there are other plotlines afoot that basically just completely lose their threads: The storyline with Nolan wanting to show Liam something comes out of nowhere and tapers off to a total non-finish; and Mason and Theo are never followed up on after Aaron gets away from them (and, in fact, Theo isn't seen at all after that). 

The episodes are far from irredeemable: Seeing Gideon Emery back as Deucalion is a treat, and the scenes with Argent and Derek are a lot of fun, even if they're rather thin on the ground. The Anuk-Ite is actually shaping up to be a halfway compelling villain, with shades of the eldritch abomination about it, and its alliance with Gerard is, at least, a halfway interesting one. Lydia's visions continue to be fairly atmospheric and sinister.

There is another elephant in the room we should briefly talk about, though: It's the same elephant we talked about a few weeks back -- the 'you have a black woman and a disabled boy facing off against heroic white law enforcement' problem. Well, good news, the white law enforcement is also evil now. Bad news, we're now explicitly comparing said black woman and disabled boy -- both of whom would have been Holocaust victims -- to Nazis, and their almost entirely white (Scott and Mason being the only ones who aren't), almost entirely straight (Mason, Cody, Aiden, and Jackson -- the latter three of which are barely in this show), entirely American (and needless to say there's a degree of controversy over depicting Americans as the victims of Nazis right now, when America is in every respect a Nazi state by any other name) heroic cast.

The icing on that particular cake of 'the writers didn't think this through' (because I'm certain they didn't: I don't think this is malice, just thoughtlessness) is that, you know, werewolves aren't real, whereas Jewish people in Germany and Austria absolutely were and did not have the advantage of claws and healing factors.

Anyhow, next week we have the very final episode of this show, with Stiles returning for what will surely be a very brief few scenes, and presumably everything with the Anuk-Ite and Gerard and so on and so forth being wrapped up. I mean, I guess. There's rumblings that the story might be left unfinished and wrapped up in podcast, which would honestly just be the perfectly awful way to end this series.

Ah, Teen Wolf. I don't hate you, but you have disappointed me for a very long time.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Fate/Apocrypha E12: The Triumphal Return of the Saint

Episode 12
The Triumphal Return of the Saint.

Is 'triumphal' even a word? It probably is. Probably is a word.

So, surprisingly, we have another episode in which stuff actually happens. I was shocked, because that's, what, three episodes now in which events have actually taken place, with some semblance of a story and, like, an arc that has a beginning, middle, and end? What on earth does it say about this series when basic storytelling gets me more excited than a furry at the Megaplex prom. 

So, this episode sees Darnic commanding Vlad (Lancer of Black) to assume his vampiric form, and the two of them merging, preventing Vlad from killing him. As the Vlad-Darnic vampire rampages, Jeanne commands Achilles (Rider of Red), Chiron (Archer of Black), Karna (Lancer of Red), Avicebron (Caster of Black), and Atalanta (Archer of Red) to form an alliance to take it down. Fleeing, Vlad-Darnic encounters Shiro, who kills him and reveals his true identity to Jeanne: He is the Ruler of the previous Holy Grail War, who has chosen to subvert this one to his own ends.

So, quick question: Why did Darnic think this was a good idea, again? Because all we know about this character is that he's preserved his youth by fusing with the souls of babies, and that he wants the Holy Grail for some undisclosed glory of Yggdmillenia reason -- but it's made clear that fusing with Vlad turns him into a barely intelligent beast who would definitely use the Grail to wish for everyone to be vampires, and something tells me that wasn't Darnic's original wish.

If the show had made more of a big deal of Darnic's will and personality being subverted by his new vampiric nature, I would've bought it, but as it is, Darnic just looks like an idiot who did something stupid and then proceeded to have a total personality transplant for the sake of drama. And don't say it's Vlad's mind influencing his, because Vlad's wish was to eliminate the vampire legend entirely.

Apart from that, I actually didn't hate this episode. We got some actual status quo shifts -- the leader of the Black Faction is dead, leaving it under Fiore's control; and the most powerful Black Faction Servant is also dead. At the same time, we actually find out some of what Shirou's deal is, including that he's Amakusa Shiro Tokisada, an apocryphal saint. 

All that means that not only is there a bit of a power vacuum in the Black Faction, but the numbers in the war has changed. The new count stands at four Black Servants, six Red, and three neutral Servants. That seems more equal than it is, because one of those Red Servants is Karna, the strongest character in the series by a long shot.

(Speaking of, what's Mordred doing right now? This episode is almost laser-like in its focus, to the point where I have no earthly idea what any of the characters not mentioned above are doing. Hell, what's Shakespeare doing? He's in the Hanging Gardens, after all, where Vlad-Darnic and everyone else also are. You'd think he'd at least show up to write a sonnet about Vlad-Darnic or something.)

The action is also surprisingly well-animated. Well, for this series, at least: It's not gorgeous, and it relies overmuch on having characters and objects move so fast that they're basically blurs, but it works out to something surprisingly effective when it comes to selling Vlad-Darnic as a threat -- which makes it all the more weirdly anticlimactic when Shirou unceremoniously murders him with magical wolverine claws.

This episode also gives us another flashback and, yet again, the flashbacks are the most interesting part of this show, with Shirou seeming to have some kind of love affair with a young woman, who then -- dies? Somehow? Darnic probably kills her? Darnic probably kills her.

Speaking of Shirou, though, this is a really odd situation where the show pulls a 'aha, plot twist' moment on us, but the plot twist is less interesting than what we all thought. Because 'Shirou Kotomine,' who looks like Shirou Emiya from Fate/stay night, but with Archer's hair and skin colour, seemed like he should be an AU version of Emiya, who was raised in the church and become a wrong'un. Instead, he's some apocryphal (yes, yes, it's in the title, well done) saint of little relevance to the story.

This brings us to the end of this story's third act, and also puts us at roughly the halfway point. Things we no doubt get to look forward to coming up: A new opening! More Hanging Gardens shenanigans! Many interminable episodes of people doing nothing! Sieg being a milksop! Mordred continuing to be one of the only interesting characters!

Saturday, 16 September 2017

What We're Watching 16/9/17

What We're Watching

Outlander S3.

New Outlander! I admit that, even though Outlander is not exactly a good show (although it is, on occasion, an effective one) I am actually pretty happy about that -- for all its many flaws, I do really enjoy Outlander, especially since there's nothing else quite like it on television right now.

This third series is adapting Voyager, the third book in the series and also, coincidentally, the moment where the book series flings itself off the rails, with a massive timeskip and an oddly convoluted plot that is essentially all just a ruse to get the characters to America.

Last series showed us that the show tends to suffer when it takes Jamie and Claire out of Scotland, so god knows how this series is going to turn out.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider.

So, in preparation for Let's Playing it, I've been doing practice runs of Death of the Outsider, and so far I'm very much enjoying it. 

It's a slightly different beast from the usual Dishonored fare -- there's no power upgrading (with, instead, you having all of Billy's relatively few powers from the second mission onwards), and no chaos system, meaning that you can kill as many people as you like.

To account for that, the game now incentivises stealth in other ways (you'll very quickly be overwhelmed if you try to fight your way through, and some powers only function if people are alive) and has made the missions longer and more complex, along with adding in optional contracts.

Jikan no Shihaisha.

You know, Jikan no Shihaisha is definitely growing from being a shameless Fullmetal Alchemist to being something that's really quite enjoyable, even if it's not going to be winning any awards soon. 

At the heart of why the show works is the weird family unit the main characters have formed, with their interactions helping to elevate what would otherwise be a very mediocre battle shounen to a -- slightly less mediocre battle shounen.

(The creative uses of time magic also help.)

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Kingdom Hearts: Five Disney Worlds and the Final Fantasy characters that would suit them. (A Reeceytorial.)

When I wrote my schedule for this month, I was assuming that I’d come up with a rant worthy subject to share with you all. I mean, this is me, you know me. I have about as much control over my temper as Bruce Banner.

Yet, somehow there has been no pop culture thing that has annoyed me enough to spend eight hundred to fifteen hundred words complaining about it. I have been alarmingly chill these last two weeks.

(Well, apart from being annoyed at PewDiePie, but we’re all tired of the endless think pieces on whatever he thinks he’s doing.)

So, today, let’s do something classic Fission Mailure and have some fun talking about a thing we enjoy and how it can be improved.

It’s a long running source of mild frustration for us on this blog that Kingdom Hearts doesn’t have more Final Fantasy characters in it. Sure, dedicated Final Fantasy worlds wouldn’t go amiss, but I think that it would be a lot more fun to try and integrate Final Fantasy characters into Disney Worlds. Which would help with this idea that the worlds in the series were once part of a larger united entity, because at the moment they are such discrete units that this backstory is obviously total nonsense.

So, what worlds would I put these characters in and who are the characters in question?

Kingdom Hearts: Five Disney Worlds and the Final Fantasy characters
that would suit them.
(A Reeceytorial.)

The Land of Dragons and Yang Fang Leiden.

If you’re not familiar with our boy Yang, he’s a warrior monk that appears in Final Fantasy IV.

Having there be a small allied mountain kingdom in the wider world of The Land of Dragons would only help it feel like a real place.

Sure the idea that China didn’t manage to invade and subjugate this kingdom, or at least tried to recently enough to make an alliance impossible, is somewhat laughable, but Disney is involved and Pocahontas exists. So why bother with logic?

Have him be attached to Shang’s unit and help out with training and the like.

Heck, you could have him be all ‘Wait, you’re actually a woman? I thought you were just trans,’ at the big reveal.

He could act as a supportive big brother type to Mulan. It would be nice and, since I’m a proponent of ‘for the love of god, split these film plots into multiple visits’, it would make Sora leaving Mulan in her time of crisis acceptable because Yang’s there.

Not to mention, it would be cute for this big, burly, warrior monk type to be in Mulan’s corner.

Port Royal and Balthier.

The great thing about Balthier is that he’s a sky pirate. This means that having him be able to travel between worlds is consistent with his presented character in Final Fantasy XII.

So as well as inserting him into the film plot as a long suffering wingman to Captain Jack Sparrow (he could condescendingly pat him on the shoulder when Elizabeth hugs Will, for example) there could be an additional plot thread where Sora and co. help him repair his ship and get the hell out of there.

Possibly with Jack in tow, because that would be entertaining as hell.

I’d also like to suggest a second character who could be integrated into Port Royale.

... Also, Lulu.

Of course, she’d need redesigning a heck of a lot more than Balthier or Yang, but I still think having her as a smart mouthed friend of Elizabeth’s during the Balthier centric section of the world would be deeply entertaining.

Heck, she could go with Balthier, and possibly Jack, when he leaves to show up in other worlds every now and then to offer assistance.

She could snark with Meg in Olympus Coliseum, it would be great!

Just having characters who move around more would help, to be honest.

Agrabah and Vaan, Penelo, Basch, and Ashe.

Rabanastre is also a desert kingdom.

You could very well have Ashe visiting Agrabah for the wedding of Jasmine and Aladdin with a small retinue consisting of the other three. You could even have Balthier’s dad be the one trying to revive Jafar for reasons of his own, causing a villain scuffle between him and Maleficent.

Villain scuffles are a lot of fun and need to happen more often.

You could also have a lot of this happen with Balthier and his little gang arriving for a big damn hero moment. Which, let’s be honest, is why I’d like Jack to go with Balthier. He could complain about the lack of ocean.

Also, Vaan and Aladdin could bond over their shared passion for those little waistcoats.

Halloween Town and Vincent.

Just have him lurk around as a weird loner.

Jack Skellington could constantly be trying to bring him out of his shell and enjoy Halloween.

His character arc could consist of the old ‘seemingly misanthropic but helps save the day because he really does care about Halloween Town’ and Jack and Sora could learn a valuable shared lesson that not everyone shows their love in the same way.

Not to mention that his Final Fantasy VII backstory includes an unscrupulous scientist and Halloween has one of those too.

Additional point while I’m on the subject of Halloween Town ...

... And Vivi.

He’d make a much more natural (and adorable) fit here than Twilight Town where they actually put him.

Seems like a missed opportunity, if you ask me.

The Pride Lands and Red XIII.

A non-experimented on version, obviously.

He could be from an area near the pride lands that is also negatively affected by the plot of The Lion King.

Sure, a bit simple, but it’s still a fun way to integrate the franchises together.

So, there you go, five worlds and nine characters who could have been integrated together to create more believable universe, and stopped those of us who like Final Fantasy more than Disney grinding our teeth into nubs.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Dark Matter

Dark Matter.

So, Dark Matter's been cancelled. We all knew that, right? We're all entirely clear on it being no more, ran up the curtain and joined the choir invisible, et cetera? It's a bit of a downer, not least because we're now down one space opera, but also because it ended on a hell of a cliffhanger, with space having been torn open to admit the alien Black Ships through.

Well, we're definitely never going to see the conclusion to that cliffhanger, but if it helps, the decision was motivated by Syfy's increased focus on original works that it can have a monopoly over, rather than acquired works where it shares the rights with other companies, and not down to a drop in audience -- in fact, the show still had a considerable audience.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Fate/Apocrypha E11: Eternal Radiance

Episode 11:
Eternal Radiance.

Well, well, well, another week where stuff has actually happened, surpassing my expectations in the process. Will wonders ever cease? Probably, yes. In fact, they'll probably cease next week, but I suppose we can dare to hope that the show might continue this streak of actually telling a story instead of meandering about pointlessly.

Continuing on almost directly from last week, this week's episode sees Mordred (Saber of Red) emerging victorious in her battle against Sieg (Saber of Black), only to be interrupted by the now crazed and monstrous Spartacus (Berserker of Red). As Spartacus unleashes a powerful sacrificial attack, Shirou, Semiramis (Assassin of Red) and Shakespeare (Caster of Red) move the Hanging Gardens into position to steal the Greater Grail. Incensed, Vlad (Lancer of Black), Chiron (Archer of Black), and Avicebron (Caster of Black) give haste, coming face to face with Karna (Lancer of Red), Atalanta (Archer of Red), and Achilles (Rider of Red). Meanwhile, Jeanne sets out for the Hanging Gardens, leaving Astolfo (Rider of Black) and Sieg to retreat.

So, wow, okay, wow, dude, man, amaze: There are actual changes to the status quo here! By the end of the episode, not only is the Greater Grail in new hands, but our Servant count has also changed, with the Black Faction down to five (really four, since Jack doesn't count) Servants, the Red Faction at six, and the neutral faction staying at two.

The episode predominantly focuses on Vlad and Jeanne, with each of them having their own plot threads (and never the twain shall meet). Vlad gets a rivalry set up with Karna, the only Servant strong enough to fight him on his own turf -- but, to be honest, it never rings entirely true. Karna represents a significant threat, sure, but we've not been given any indication prior to this point that Vlad is the sort of person who'd obsess over not being able to beat someone.

Still, it's one of the few interesting character dynamics the show has seen fit to give us, so I'm not going to look a gift vampire in the mouth. 

Speaking of gift vampires, though, we also get introduced to the idea that Vlad has a vampire-related Noble Phantasm, but that he despises its use and will kill his Master rather than use it, which is -- actually halfway interesting, to be honest. It's not difficult at all for me to imagine other writers having Vlad revel in his vampiric reputation, and cheerfully use those powers, but having him actually hate them, and see them as a stain on his reputation (as it diminishes his struggles as a king and lumps him in with the sorcerous undead) actually creates some nice character conflict: Does Darnic, who seems to respect Vlad, use those abilities, even though doing so puts him at risk? Does Vlad give in and use them himself, when it seems like his goal might not be in sight?

See? Character conflict! It's not difficult, and yet this show has spent eleven episodes struggling with it.

Having Shirou and company go and steal the Greater Grail was also a nice touch, even if I'm unsure of the point when they're all fighting over the Grail anyway. I thought the whole point of this war was to determine which faction had the right to use it? Surely if you win, it doesn't matter that it's in Yggdmillenia's castle, right?

Well, either way, it means the battle -- so far the most interesting part of this show -- continues, with people tangling in the hallways of the Hanging Gardens.

Which leads us onto our second, less interesting plot point: Jeanne's. Mostly, this plot thread seems here to write out Spartacus and show off some of Jeanne's abilities, but it does so in a way that almost deliberately saps any kind of dramatic tension the plot would have.

Basically, almost as soon as we see that Spartacus can heal from any wound, we're told he's at his limit and will release a powerful attack instead -- and instantly we know that we no longer need to care about Spartacus' crazy healing ability. There's no tension anymore, and there continues to be no tension because we know that Astolfo, Sieg, and Jeanne aren't going to be killed by a random energy blast from Spartacus of all people.

Problems in fiction can be compelling because we don't know the outcome, or compelling because we don't know how an outcome will be arrived at: In this case, the problem is compelling in neither respect -- overcoming Spartacus' healing factor would be an interesting thing to watch, but blocking his big crazy energy attack isn't, because we can pretty easily figure out that someone will just throw up a magical shield.

Still, I won't say this wasn't one of the more entertaining episodes we've had, and I'm actually reasonably interested to see what happens with Vlad, Darnic, and Karna next week, so I guess roll on next week? Maybe this show can actually salvage something worthwhile after all.