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Saturday, 30 January 2016

Editorial: The Top 5 Anime Openings of 2015


Editorial: The Top 5 Anime
Openings of 2015


I'm a bit late getting around to this one, not least because 2015 was not exactly a stellar year for anime, but since I did this last year, it's only fair I should do it again. Any anime airing in the calendar year of 2015 is applicable, although in shows with multiple openings, only one of them can actually end up on the list.

Okay, let's roll on with number five:


5. Butter-Fly, Kouji Wada, Digimon Adventure Tri: Reunion (Crunchy Roll version).



It feels, in a way, a little unfair to put this so low on the list, since the thing that really drops it down - the uninspiring visuals almost entirely recycled from trailers - is the result of having fewer resources to work with than every other entry on this list. After all, in the film that Crunchyroll split into episodes, there's only one opening sequence, with just the track playing behind scenic shots of Odaiba and Taichi riding a bike.

What gets it on its list is, really, Kouji Wada's reworked rendition of his old classic, Butter-Fly, a cheerful yet oddly melancholic song about feeling constrained by the world and fearing for the future (both of which are themes very much present in Tri) that served as the opening for the very first series of Digimon.

Wada's reworked version is heavy on the nostalgia, downplaying the brighter, more action-y elements of the song in favour of playing up the sense of wonder.


4. Kyouran Hey Kids!!, The Oral Cigarettes, Noragami Aragoto.



It's no scratch on Hello Sleepwalkers, the opening song of the first series of Noragami, but Noragami Aragoto's opening - a fast-paced song about ... about ... actually, I've been looking at the lyrics for ten minutes and I can't figure out what this song is meant to be about at all - is a fun listen.

It's also got some especially striking visuals, with the characters rendered mostly in black and white, with only their eyes coloured, and set against stark, colourful backgrounds in shades of blue or orange. 

No, but seriously, though, does anyone have any idea what this song is actually about? Anyone?


3. Hello World, Bump of Chicken, Kekkai Sensen.



If this was a list of best endings, Kekkai Sensen's ending would be at the top of the list with no competition. Alas, it is not. But Hello World, Bump of Chicken's upbeat, optimistic song about aimlessness, misery and struggling with existential crises, is nevertheless a particularly excellent, and very catchy, earworm.

The song is accompanied by a lot of imagery regarding protagonist Leo's occupation as a photographer, and the bustling city of New York - which is fitting, really, since Kekkai Sensen could probably be best described as a love letter both to the city itself, and to the general idea of mundanity and everyday life.

Particular props go to the Avengers moment, where the camera circles Leo as the various members of Libra show off their skills, apparently in aid of protecting him.


2. Renegade, Stereo Dive Foundation, Gangsta. 


There's always one where I can't find a good video of it on Blogger's horrendous video search, however if you meander over here, you can watch this there.

Okay, the shower of dominatrixes is a litte bit weird, I'm not going to pretend that it isn't. In general, though, the opening combines a great song about, er - actually, no, I don't know what this one is about either, with sharp, striking visuals that make great use of colours.

It also gives us important information about our three main characters, too: One drinks Perrier and has a sword, the other one only puts on his clothes literally as he's heading out, and the third one is possibly possessed by Satan.

Good. That's information we will surely need going forward.


1. Two Souls - toward the truth -, Fripside, Owari no Seraph: Battle in Nagoya.



It almost pains me, a little, to give this the top spot, since out of all of these, it's probably the most aggressively typical anime opening. 

But I can't help it. I just really like it. It's upbeat, fun, a little bit dramatic, and the visuals have everything I love about anime openings, by which I mean they have slightly overwrought shots of all of the characters posing together, and various shots of fight scenes that never, ever actually happen in the show.

I mean, what more could I ask for, really. It's also the only one on this list with lyrics that actually seem to relate to the show in question, being about two people vowing to find each other. 

Friday, 29 January 2016

Legends of Tomorrow S1E2: Pilot, part 2.


Legends of Tomorrow
Series 1, Episode 2
Pilot, part 2.



I think in the last part I actually slipped up and said that Rip Hunter was from the 26th century. He's not, he's from - 2166, I think. There are twenties and sixes in the name of the era he is from, just not quite in the configuration I thought they were. So that's nice. It's nice when things are nice. 

In this week's episode, the team infiltrates a black market arms deal where Vandal is selling a nuclear warhead. After a fight breaks out, Ray ends up leaving part of his suit behind accidentally, inadvertantly changing the future. Stein, Sara, and Jax race to find and retrieve the technology before Vandal's scientists can reverse engineer it, and are forced to team up with Stein's twenty-five year old self in the process. Meanwhile, Leonard, Ray and Mick go after a dagger in the possession of a wealthy Russian, which they believe to be capable of killing Vandal.

So, it's immediately obvious that this and the first episode were more or less always intended to be a single episode. This episode picks up almost immediately where the previous one left off, and while the first episode's dramatic, climactic moment was the team discovering Rip's deception, this episode ends on a much more decisive note, with Vandal stabbing Carter to death and the team resolving to take down Vandal in Carter's name. Which I think was the plot of The Avengers, actually, but never mind.

Okay, Darhk is growing on me, I admit.

It's an interesting choice, really, not least because it hammers in that in DC's and Berlanti and company's eyes, Hawkman isn't really an equal partner to Hawkgirl. She's the headliner, and he's essentially her supporting character - which is fair enough, since Hawkgirl not only has more name recognition, but has more cultural gravity with the Arrowverse's target audience, since it's aimed at people who were just about the right age to watch the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited cartoons.

(Carter's death, conveniently in 1975, also opens him up to be recast if they ever decide to bring Hawkman back, since the new Hawkman would be about forty, rather than, say, a baby.)

This episode also sees the plot very cleanly splitting into two, although in a slightly strange way. First, we have Team Explosion going to find Ray's suit tech. Secondly, we have Team Crime, going to steal a dagger from a wealthy man, composed of Leonard, Mick, and ... Ray? His inclusion is meant to be in aid of an ongoing 'who's the leader' plotline between Leonard and Ray, but that entire character conflict feels totally pointless, because neither of them are the leader. Rip, who gets about one line in aid of this subplot pointing out that he's in charge, has the ship and the advanced AI and the plan - but even if he didn't, Kendra and Carter, who have encountered Vandal before and have a history with him, are still around (well, Carter isn't shortly after this, but nevertheless). But even if they weren't, Stein, easily the smartest person in the group, or Sara, who's an elite assassin with experience leading people, would be the most obvious picks.

Crime auction.

Instead, wouldn't it have made more sense to have Ray go along with Stein and the others, since he actually knows his way around physics? Since it's his tech they're looking for?

Wouldn't it have worked better for Rip to go with Leonard? Quite apart from the fact that he's the main character and yet barely had a role in this episode, it would make the leadership conflict make a lot more sense. Unlike Ray, Rip actually has a viable claim to being the leader. Rip, a member of a military(ish?) organisation, has better reason to distrust Leonard than Ray, who regularly consorts with criminals, since Ollie and company are definitely criminals. And finally, the key leading-to-a-fight line from Ray, "I won't let you jeopardise another mission," makes no sense coming from Ray - because it wasn't Leonard who jeopardised that mission, it was Stein, the Hawks, and Ray himself. Coming from Rip, though, who wasn't there and holds them all accountable for that mission's failure, it would make perfect sense.

Somehow, it's only in still images that I notice that he has what appears to be a side
parting.

All of that said, I actually did enjoy this episode. I enjoyed it a lot, in fact - as with the first episode, it was light, fluffy fun, and the fact that they managed to have it convincingly end on a pretty unexpected and dramatic note (Carter's murder, made all the more effective by him having been a major character in the Flash/Arrow crossover and both episodes of Legends) bodes well for the rest of the series. The arc with Stein and his younger self was predictable, perhaps, but no less enjoyable to watch because of it, and I am having an absolute whale of a time with Leonard and his endless stream of snark and odd intonatiooons. 

I am massive enjoying Legends of Tomorrow, even if this episode did have some logistical flaws, and I'm excited to see where it will go from here. Give us more Rip, though. Honestly, he's just Arthur Darvill playing the Doctor, it's amazing.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Flash S2E11: The Reverse-Flash Returns.


The Flash
Series 2, Episode 11
The Reverse-Flash Returns.



You know, despite Thawne having really impressed me as a villain in the first series, I wasn't that excited for this episode. It'd been Cavanaugh's Thawne, with his interesting mix of coldness and affectionate warmth, his quiet and understated menace punctuated by occasional moments of overt megalomania, his general matter-of-fact way about everything. Letscher's Thawne was only glimpsed briefly in the first series, making him effectively a new actor to the role, for the audience, at least, and he had a tough act to follow.

In this week's episode, Cisco vibes that the Reverse-Flash is back in town. After he kidnaps Tina McGee, the head of Mercury Labs, the team, baffled that he could still be alive after Eddie's sacrifice in the first series, head out to find him - discovering in the process that this Thawne comes from earlier in his timeline and, while he knows the Flash, this is his first time in their timeline, and his first time meeting any of the STAR Labs team.

Okay, so the simple fact of the matter is that Matt Letscher is not as good an actor as Tom Cavanaugh. It feels a bit harsh saying that, but it's  true: While Cavanaugh's Thawne had a menacing presence, to the point where he could be sitting in a wheelchair, talking softly and eating breakfast foods and it would be terrifying (I'm not even extrapolating, that was a scene in the first series), Letscher's Thawne seems to constantly be in full-on Smug Saturday Morning Cartoon Villain mode, and is completely unintimidating for it.

It's all very yellow.

They don't even seem like the same character. Letscher's Thawne is loud, angry, crowing and smug, nearly the exact opposite of Cavanaugh's soft-spoken, perpetually calm Thawne. This is the same character, they should really act at least similar to each other. It's a shame, really, but maybe when he shows up in future episodes, Letscher will be a little more accustomed to the role, and a little better at it.

(Please don't make him the villain of the third series. I will take a confused sword-wielding dad from Canberra's suburbs over this.)

But even apart from that, I do kind of have to say that this is the weakest episode so far. For most of it, very little seems to happen - it seems like the story jumps from them first encountering Thawne to the final showdown with him, which, while it's a very well done showdown, feels like it had almost no build-up. There's a lot of stuff about Cisco's vibing, but it's not really anything new, so much as it is just a bit of stuff on him learning to control it.

The ending, where they are forced to release Thawne and send him back to the future, is both predictable and disappointing. Obviously, they can't keep him locked up forever, because he does eventually have to return to his own time, but it would have worked better for the overall series plot, I think, if he had been locked up until near the end of the series. 

Fraught interpersonal dynamics.

Consider this: Thawne knows more about the speed force than anybody else, and could have been an invaluable resource when dealing with Zoom, thus forcing the team to go back to him again and again for advice and giving him an almost Hannibal Lecter esque role for a spell of episodes, manipulating and toying with the team while leveraging his knowledge to get things that he wants.

That could have been a much more interesting storyline, allowing Barry's issues with Thawne to grow even more, fostering a kind of mutually respectful relationship between him and Wells which would set him up well to later steal Earth-1 Wells' face, and fostering relationships between himself and both Cisco and Caitlin that could evolve into him respecting their scientific abilities and contextualise him seeking them out and hiring them later.

We have a few subplots this episode, too - one with Iris, Francine, and Wally, which is fine but not especially inspiring, and one with Barry and Patty, which is from Smallville. I'm not actually joking there, the 'I know you're [x hero] but since you won't admit it, I'm leaving town, thus ending our romance' plotline was literally used in Smallville, a show not renowned for its high quality and excellent romantic subplot writing. 

D'aww, Wally.

Even though I did like Patty, I'm kind of glad to see her go. That particular romantic subplot had kind of grown out of control, and we were already getting into Smallville-oid territory even before this episode happened. I do hope we see her return, at some point - or even better, show up on Legends of Tomorrow! That'd be great. It'd just be so great.

So, definitely my least favourite episode. Our next episode is apparently about a tar dude. He's going around and tarring things. It happens.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Teen Wolf S5E14: The Sword and the Spirit


For those wondering why it isn't The Flash today, the answer is that since The Flash and Teen Wolf air on the same day, I'll be alternating which one comes first and which comes second, week by week, until Teen Wolf is done. The Flash will be up tomorrow, and Legends of Tomorrow the day after that.


Teen Wolf
Series 5, Episode 14
The Sword and the Spirit.



I misread the episode titles and thought 'The Sword and the Spirit' would be episode fifteen, and now I'm very confused. The name would suggest it's a Kira focus episode, but she shows up in all of one scene: Instead, all of the focus is squarely on Malia and Lydia, and while that's fine, this is not the first time that Teen Wolf has given its episodes rather misleading titles.

In this episode, Malia goes hunting for her mother, the Desert Wolf, with the help of Braeden and Theo, with Theo using one of the Doctors' devices on her to reveal that the Desert Wolf has arrived in Beacon Hills. Tracking her down to an abandoned building, the three prepare to defeat the Desert Wolf and rescue Deaton - a plan which quickly goes awry. Meanwhile, in Eichen House, Lydia begins having premonitions of deaths, and under the tutelage of Meredith, learns how to project her scream as a weapon, leading to the unsuccessful escape attempt from the pilot. Meanwhile, Argent and Gerard investigate the tunnels where Scott and the others once searched for Liam, only to run into Scott and Liam, sent there by Malia.

So, in a refreshing change, we really only have three storylines to follow in this episode.

"I can hear you, but I can't see you, I'm ... trapped behind glass."

We'll start with the shortest: The Argents' plotline. We don't really see a lot of it, and its purpose is mostly to slide the plot on a little further, giving us exposition about the Beast of Gevaudan (described by Gerard as 'a shadow trying to be real' - I do wish they'd decide exactly what it is. Is it a werewolf? Everything prior to this series suggested it was just a werewolf, but it seems to be a magical shadow werewolf), and how to kill it (a maiden with a silver spear, apparently - the Maid of Gevaudan, confirmed to be played by Crystal Reed in an Ye Olde Times episode coming up), and establishing that it's possible to incapacitate or at least put the Doctors off if you know their frequency, tying into what Valack said ages ago about the Doctors deriving their powers from a particular electromagnetic frequency. 

We also get Scott finding out about Gerard, and taking it surprisingly well, so that's a thing. It's all interesting stuff, and it'd have been nice to have a smidgeon more time spent focusing on it, but Teen Wolf's glacial plot is, as ever, glacial.

The next storyline up, in terms of content, is probably Lydia's. Not a lot happens in her part, but we do get one important development (her learning to project her scream as a weapon), and some Meredith backstory, as she apparently injured her entire class once during an everybody-will-die-induced panic attack. Lydia's arc this episode also made it pretty clear that she's going to be the one to take down the Doctors: With the episode having already established that the Doctors are vulnerable to certain frequencies, and with Lydia's storyline this episode both being about her learning to be a precise weapon and drawing attention several times to her scientific abilities, she's clearly being set up to destroy the Doctors.

Never a good way to wake up.

(In fact, we're slowly seeing the lines drawn for who will be defeating what - Lydia defeating the Doctors, Scott definitely defeating Theo, and probably Parrish when he inevitably goes Hellhound-y, Malia defeating the Desert Wolf, and Kira, whose storyline is all about weapons and how they're a gateway for her Fox, taking up a silver spear or sword and striking the finishing blow on the Beast.)

That leaves us with Malia's storyline, probably the meatiest of the bunch. Interestingly, like Kira's, her story doesn't end in any kind of resolution, but is instead left open-ended to continue over the rest of the series, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. It feels messy, somehow, even though it will probably mean that both these characters (who I both absolutely adore) will get more screentime and important plot stuff.

It's always great to see Braeden, too, although every time she appears I am reminded that Derek, one of the best parts of the show, left, and then I'm reminded that Allison's gone as well. It's tough. Still, I will reiterate what I've said before: Braeden is wasted on a guest role and should be a regular character. 

Theo's betrayal of Malia is actually genuinely surprising, although in this case I put that down to poor writing more than anything else. There's nothing to really suggest that he had even met the Desert Wolf before, or that he had anything he wanted from her, so his helping Malia really did come across as him just trying to get her on-side so that he could try and turn her to his pack later. The betrayal feels completely out of the left field.

Oh, yeah, Stiles shows up once or twice too.

Bonus points for a Big Damn Heroes moment from none other than the Beast of Gevaudan. Speaking of which, where was Mason in this episode? Oh, right. He didn't show up. At all. How very suspicious.

Oh, and Deucalion showed up again at the end of the episode. He's evil again, apparently. To be honest, I have no idea who's going to deal with him - maybe he and Gerard will mutually murder each other, I don't know.

This is a solid episode, even if it certainly isn't the best so far, and it looks like things are going to kick into an even higher gear next episode, as the gang tries to break Lydia out of Eichen House - which, one imagines, will involve them bursting in on the episode eleven flashforward, with Theo's pack and Parrish.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Bloodborne: The Old Hunters


Bloodborne:
The Old Hunters.



Obviously, I enjoyed Bloodborne. It was my game of the year for 2015, if I didn't enjoy it that would have been a very odd choice indeed. So it was only natural that if someone should tell me that there was a story DLC with three or four new areas, five new bosses, a dozen different enemy types, and several new weapons, of course I'm going to jump at the chance.

After receiving the Eye of a Blood-Drunk Hunter, the Hunter of Bloodborne is granted the ability to travel to the Hunter's Nightmare, a twisted nightmare realm where blood-addled hunters go after they die. Traveling deeper into the Nightmare, it quickly becomes obvious that the Nightmare conceals a secret - a terrible act committed by Gehrman and the Old Hunters. To discover what it is, the Hunter must make their way through the Nightmare, up the Clocktower, and into the realm beyond - and on the way, they'll have to face monsters, blood-addled hunters, and several important figures from Yharnam's history.

So, let's start with just how much new content this DLC offers you. You'll travel through, functionally, three full-sized areas and one small area in this DLC, and while the first one makes heavy (but very skillful) use of assets from the main game, all three feel unique and interesting. 

She has the most stylish hat.

The Nightmare, where you start of, takes the familiar setting of Cathedral Ward and Central Yharnam, puts it under a sickly daylight, and then distorts the geography into disconcerting shapes, twisted about so that everything is in the wrong place. It's one of the best video game representations of a dream I've seen, as the distorted geography gives the impression of a place reconstructed by someone who didn't quite remember it properly.

The Clocktower's Research Facility, meanwhile, has you ascending a seemingly never-ending set of stairs in a dark, blue-tinged environment, and functionally transforms the game into a stealth game, for a brief period of time. Then comes the Fishing Hamlet, which might win an award for being the most archetypally Lovecraft-y of any area in Bloodborne.

The game adds to this with five new bosses, who are, for the most part, completely different to any of the bosses in the main game. I say 'for the most part' because one of those bosses is Laurence, whose first stage is identical to the Cleric Beast, the first boss of the main game, bar that he's on fire. Four of the five bosses are multiple stage (whereas almost none of the ones in the main game are), and the game plays about with the multiple stage format in interesting ways. 

Simon's bowblade - a sword that turns into a bow and arrow. Where do the arrows
come from? Nobody knows.

Ludwig goes from being a difficult but fairly standard beast-type enemy to essentially a gigantic hunter, throwing sword beams at you in a total switch of fighting style; Maria, meanwhile, simply enhances her fighting style with each stage, going from being basically a regular hunter, to using blood magic to enhance her power and reach, to having the waves of blood she creates catch on fire a few seconds after they appear, thus doing more damage and, in essence, leaving damaging shapes in the air for several seconds after she attacks. Laurence starts off fighting like the Cleric Beast, then tears off his lower half and starts spewing lava from the wound, drastically limiting his speed and power, but also removing your ability to attack his blind spot - and so on, and so forth. The only boss without multiple stages is the Living Failures wolfpack boss, and even that kind of sits on the edge of having one, with them gaining a powerful new attack once five of them have spawned.

In addition to new bosses, there are new regular monsters as well. A lot of them are variations on monsters already seen, like the Cthulhoid Executioners and the bloated Blood Lickers, but by the time you reach the Research Facility and the Fishing Hamlet, they are almost all entirely new, with no resemblance to monsters from the same game.

There are a good few new weapons, too, ranging from the bizarre (like the Bloodletter or Kos Parasite) to the elegant and graceful (like Simon's Bowblade or the Rakuyo). For a game which already makes a big deal of its shiny, transforming, anime-esque weapons, this can only be a boon.

Lounging.

The story is delivered with the same light touch that Bloodborne's is, but I admit, this time the touch was a tiny bit too light, and I found my interest in the actual story of the DLC waning at points. While I left it fascinated, the DLC hadn't left me with enough hints to actually form any viable theories, which grated on me a bit.

It's a very well-made DLC to a very well-made game, though, and I do recommend it to anybody playing Bloodborne. Especially if you're playing Bloodborne in online mode - while I could do most of the mandatory battles in the main game without help, I needed help for the Living Failures, and for getting through the Fishing Hamlet, in this DLC. 

Monday, 25 January 2016

Kamen Rider Ghost E13+E14


Kamen Rider Ghost
Episode 13 & Episode 14



I'll be honest, I barely noticed the New Year's hiatus for Ghost. Unlike Gaim, where I was impatient and eager to know what would happen next, and Drive, where every hiatus offered a blessed break that I was very thankful for, an extra long wait for Ghost barely registered. Which isn't to say I'm not enjoying Ghost, because I am, just that it's not gripping me the same way that some other series have.

Anyway, in episodes thirteen and fourteen, Takeru goes hunting for the Eyecons once more, and quickly encounters the Ryoma Eyecon, which has possessed a man named Nagamasa, who dreams of working with his father to launch a new kind of satellite into space. With Ryoma refusing to join Takeru unless he forges an alliance between Nagamasa and his father, Takeru attempts to heal their broken relationship, while also dealing with the Sword Ganma, the Planet Ganma, and Aran himself.

Okay, so we get two new forms in these episodes, and they're both absolutely hideous. Goemon, based on the semi-legendary outlaw who was purportedly boiled alive by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, is the most hideous one of all, a bulky, quilted, sick-yellow coat clashing horribly with Fighting Boost's bright red everything; but Ryoma, based on ronin-turned-politician-and-economist Sakamoto Ryoma, is also pretty awful, and brings huge shoulderpads to the table to boot.

Truly hideous.

In addition, neither of them are that interesting in terms of what they can do. They both seem to have exactly the same abilities as Fighting Boost, with Goemon making him better at using a sword (possibly?) and making him act like he's in a kabuki drama, while Ryoma makes him better at using a gun. That's a fairly far cry from the forms we've gotten before, which have generally come with new weapons and abilities (even if it hasn't always quite worked out - Benkei is still totally ridiculous to me).

It's just a little disappointing, to the point where I wonder if it wouldn't have been better if Goemon and Ryoma (and later Himiko) were all forms for Ghost's base form, rather than forms for Fighting Boost.

In terms of story, these two episodes are a bit of a departure from what we've gotten so far - it's the first time we've seen somebody possessed by a Heroic Eyecon, after all, and the plot reminds me very much of Fourze, OOO, and Double. Given that this is a space-themed arc that references Fourze several times, that might be intentional, but I suspect it's just a coincidence, especially since there are also shades of Den-O here with Ryoma's possession of Nagamasa.

A little better, but not by much.

The episode fell a bit flat for me in a lot of ways - the Ganma plot for these two episodes was pretty tired and cliche, the two Ganma-of-the-fortnight were fairly unintimidating, and the episodes both felt oddly paced to the point where, at times, theys seemed positively glacial.

I was eventually invested in the relationship of Nagamasa and his father, and the show fairly deftly handled the reveal about Nagamasa's brother, and the resulting fallout of that reveal, so that was all right to watch, but since that plotline only really kicked into gear in episode fourteen, thirteen was left to be mostly set-up, and the writers didn't do a great job of making that especially interesting.

I also liked the brief glimpses we got of the Ganma World and Aran's brother. Obviously, this is all leading towards the introduction of Kamen Rider Necrom, due to debut very soon, but I'm always keen on finding out more about what the Ganma World is like, and what Aran's family and backstory are like.

Lots and lots of red lighting and filters.

The show has continued dropping hints about Takeru's father, too, with the Hermit (who I'm now less convinced is evil?) saying that Takeru will never see him again, but that his spirit might be saved if Takeru collects all fifteen Heroic Eyecons before the time limit's up (apparently we're at ninety-four days left on that, and he still has three to collect, I think? Maybe four), and Ryoma suggesting that he knew Takeru's father as well. It'll be interesting to see where they go with that.

All in all, this was certainly one of the weaker two-parters in Ghost, but it was still very enjoyable. It looks like the next two episodes, which will see Makoto having a focus episode and using his Houdini Eyecon, and Aran becoming Necrom, along with some various other important happenings, will probably be a lot better, so I'm looking forward to those.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Heroes Reborn


You may have been expecting a Kamen Rider Ghost review today, and one was planned - however, series that have just ended take priority over ongoings, so expect that review on Monday next week.


Heroes Reborn.



Was anyone really crying out for this series? Genuine question, had anybody even had a single passing thought about Heroes in the past half a decade or so, let alone gone 'but what I really want is a sequel series that is alternately incredibly boring and totally ludicrous'? I know I hadn't, but who knows, maybe some people did. Heroes Reborn's ratings, which were on the whole consistently actually pretty good, suggest that at least some people were craving this.

Set some years after the end of Heroes, Heroes Reborn sees superpowered people, or Evos, as social pariahs hunted by the rest of the world, as people believe them to be responsible for a massive terrorist attack. As Renautus, a global tech conglomerate that arose from Primatech, puts into motion a set of sinister plans, groups of Evos and regular people around the world are embroiled in a battle for their lives - one that is, according to a prophecy, meant to culminate in Claire Bennet's two children stopping the Hele, a pair of massive solar flares that will incinerate the Earth.

So, the truest thing to say about Heroes Reborn is that it begins where Heroes ends, in terms of tone, composition, sheer absurdity, and bad writing. Heroes was never exactly stellar, but it got drastically worse with every series that aired, as the writers became increasingly divorced from any notion of how people actually act or how a television series should be plotted. In that respect, Heroes Reborn fits perfectly as the fifth series of the show.

Introducing 'vortex with a much more boring explanation than you might expect'.

One thing that jumped out at me every episode is just how strange the dialogue all is. Characters will burst into bizarre, contextless monologues at the drop of a hat, even regular dialogue sounds forced and stilted, characters will often respond to questions and statements as if they're in a completely different conversation - but the show also has gems like a man rumbling "A redhead, very clever," and then never telling us what's so clever about red hair; or a character anguishedly explaining that a girl his sister wants to kill "isn't that much younger than you!" 

That last particularly stood out, because that sentiment usually goes "[Character who we want to murder] isn't much older than [character whose youth and innocence is recognised by all parties,]" because otherwise what you're essentially saying is that if she was even younger, it would become more acceptable to kill her. 

As with all Heroes shows, its plotting relies on coincidence and happenstance, which the writers thinly veil as 'destiny' by having characters occasionally say "It's destiny," despite having very little to base this exclamation on. It was lazy writing when Heroes started, and it's still lazy writing now, especially as by the time we reach the end of the series, half of the characters involved haven't even realised they were involved in the plot at all. A fair number of their storylines just kind of fizzle out.

The show tries to set this dude up as a Batman-esque unpowered hero, but it falls flat.

Maybe with a better plot that would have worked, but nothing in this story feels threatening. Our main villain, Erica, and Renautus all feel like utterly weak villains, and the threat that the Hele poses is never especially well-established. It will kill everybody and scorch the surface of the Earth, sure, but that's a pretty abstract concept for viewers to internalise, and showing us a desert thousands and thousands of years into the future does nothing to hammer in that threat.

Add to that that not a single character on the good guys' side is actually interesting. Our main two, Tommy and Malina, are both flat as pancakes, with Malina's character consisting solely of monotone remarks about destiny and Tommy's character being eighty percent angst over his girlfriend (who has no motivation or character other than 'interested in Tommy') and twenty percent gurning. None of the other cast members turn in worthwhile performances for their badly written characters either, with the possible exception of Toru Uchikado and Kiki Sukezane as Ren and Miko, who are joys to watch and who also have the bad luck of being saddled with the worst storyline of the lot.

I'm going to take a moment just to make special mention of the Evernow plot that Ren and Miko are part of, because it's a plot about video games that seems to have been created by people who know nothing about video games, may not have even encountered one before (bizarre though that may seem), and were apparently unwilling to research. The 'video game world' sections look like they came out of an early Playstation 1 tech demo. At one point, Ren, in the middle of nowhere, announces that he'll start playing the game, and pulls a video game controller, attached to nothing at all, out of his bag to do so.

Did you think I was joking about the PS1 graphics?

(It also has a hefty dose of racial stereotyping involved, so that's - that's just lovely. That's brilliant, guys.)

So, in conclusion, expect to see this on the next Fission Mailure Awards as one of the worst series of the year. You - you should expect that. The series ends with a sequel hook, but good god, I hope they don't do a sequel. Don't make me go through this again, you guys.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Legends of Tomorrow E1: Pilot.


Legends of Tomorrow
Episode 1
Pilot.



So, here it is. After months of waiting, and enough clumsy build-up to kill a horse, Legends of Tomorrow, a ten episode crossover show about time travel and whimsy, is finally on our screens - and it had better be amazing, because frankly, all the build-up episodes in The Flash and Arrow, including an entire crossover two-parter, were annoying to watch and killed both series' pacing.

In the 26th Century, Rip Hunter, a Time Master, appeals to his fellow Time Masters to grant him one timeship and leave to alter the timeline in order to stop Vandal Savage, who has conquered the Earth at some unspecified time, and now wishes to expand his reign to all eras. Travelling back in time with Gideon, who you might all remember as Harrison Wells' AI companion, he puts together a team of people to stop Savage: The resurrected Sara Lance, now taking the identity of the White Canary; Ray Palmer, former CEO of Palmer Industries and the Atom; Leonard Snart and Mick Rory, the criminals Captain Cold and Heat Wave; Kendra Saunders and Carter Hall, the reincarnations of the ancient Egyptian Hawkgirl and Hawkman; and Martin Stein and Jefferson Jackson, two halves of the nuclear-powered hero Firestorm. Together, this team will travel throughout time, foiling Vandal's plans with an eye to eventually taking out the man himself.

Once this episode got going, I actually really liked it. The whole set-up and vibe of the show reminds me of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, which is fairly high praise from me, since I've noted before that I think Guardians of the Galaxy is the best work in the MCU. I'm a sucker for science fiction shows about ragtag bands reluctantly teaming up, and both Guardians and Legends fit the bill, with both drawing some pretty clear and obvious inspiration from shows and films like Farscape, Stargate, and Star Wars. Both have a particular focus on fun, as well - the emphasis in both is on this being a rollicking, wacky adventure - but are able to switch to a more serious tone when necessary.

Everyone is very alarmed.

(Legends also draws no small amount of inspiration from early Doctor Who, but that should be a surprise to nobody, Doctor Who being perhaps the most prominent show about time travel in television history.)

While the show has a large ensemble cast, none of them ever feel superfluous or ignored, with the writing deftly managing to balance both a fairly complex plot while also showing us how these characters all interact with each other.

Particular props go to the writing of Snart, who apparently decided about six seconds in that he was the sassy, slightly overprotective one of the team, and spends the majority of the episode either being sarcastic at people, smiling proudly as they wreck everything around them, and wading in to help out (including one particularly nice moment where he rather sharply warned Rip that he should give Kendra a straight answer). 

Further props go to Gideon, who in contrast to her more mechanical personality in The Flash, is seen here to be quite sarcastic and cutting herself, cheerfully trolling the members of the team and acting as a foil to Rip himself.

Almost no props go to Ray, easily the most annoying character on the team. He was utterly insufferable in this episode and I couldn't stand him.

Fashion.

Vandal comes off as a more compelling villain here than he did in his introduction, even though he barely shows up, only appearing in two short scenes - one during his conquest of the Earth in the future, and one in 1975, where he's shown to be preparing to start a war there. While Vandal in the Arrow/Flash crossover just came off as kind of silly, here he comes off as genuinely sinister. 

Much of the episode is devoted to establishing these characters as a team, and it works surprisingly well, focusing on each of them struggling with whether they want to initially join, and later on whether they want to stay, as well as giving us a short fight scene where they all team up against Chronos, an assassin sent by the Time Masters.

Oh, and also the 1970s bar fight scene.

We also, rather gratifyingly, don't get as much intrusion from Team Arrow or Team Flash as the trailers suggested we would - while I'm not against them showing up, doing so at this point would have just added extra characters and plot elements to an already complicated episode. We do get brief scenes with both Ollie and Dinah, but they're short, meant to tie in to Ray and Sara's characters.

So, a very strong opening episode. I'm fascinated to see more, and if this show keeps up the momentum it has going and builds upon the plot elements it's already set up, we may have something which beats out The Flash for my favourite television show. We'll see: As much as there is potential for this show, there are also a lot of ways it could go wrong.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Teen Wolf S5E13: Codominance.


Teen Wolf
Series 5, Episode 13
Codominance.



Alas, alack, that with the start of The Flash, this review has been shunted to Thursdays. Or, at least, sometimes shunted to Thursday - I'll probably vary my schedule a bit. Anyway, so I noted last week that I was quite excited for this episode, since it was set up to be a Kira focused episode that would bring her back into the fold, and I'm quite happy to say that I wasn't disappointed in that regard. Kira got plenty of stuff to work with in this episode, along with a decent amount of main plot shenanigans brewing in the background, and hints of another Kira focused episode in the near future. 

In this episode, Kira and her mother meet with a group of skinwalkers in Mexico, who say that they will test Kira. If she passes, they will spend the next few months or years training her to control the Fox, but if she fails, she will become one of them for all eternity. Meanwhile, in Beacon Hills, Mason and Luke continue to have fraught personal relations with Theo's pack, while Theo approaches the Dread Doctors to ask for their help - only to be turned down and come face to face with the Beast of Gevaudan. Scott and Stiles set out on their own trip to Mexico, intending to help Kira. In Eichen House, Lydia learns from the vision of Meredith how to channel her screams into destructive force.

We'll start by talking about Theo's plotline, because that has a genuinely interesting turn - the Beast of Gevaudan still isn't that interesting to me, but the idea that the Doctors are trying to get it to remember its true identity is. Even more interesting is the assertion that the Beast's 'host' is probably a student at the school, and probably doesn't realise they're the Beast at all.

Fire is nice.

I say that that's interesting because, going by mystery plotline rules, it has to be somebody we know, and there's really only one person it can be. Anyone who's a part of Theo's pack is ruled out; anyone who's directly encountered the Beast (such as Liam) is ruled out; anyone who is definitely absent from Beacon Hills or engaged in a fashion that would make any change noticeable during appearances by the Beast (Scott, Stiles, Lydia, Kira, Malia) is ruled out - which leaves Mason as the only viable candidate, I think.

Which works, in a way. We've never seen Mason and the Beast in the same place at the same time, and we've never been shown Mason doing anything anywhere else while the Beast has been operating.

We also get a nugget of backstory from Stiles in his and Scott's plotline that the Beast's original identity, the one the Doctors are trying to make it remember, presumably to supercede whichever teenager the Beast is currently possessing, was a serial killer who boiled his victims. That's - not as scary a piece of backstory as it could have been, all told.

Moments before Scott and Stiles arrive.

Lydia's plotline is nice, and obviously building up to her escape attempt in the near future. There's not a whole lot to say about it, but it was very atmospheric, so that's all good.

Kira's plotline was the major draw of this episode. The skinwalkers, who I fully expect that we'll never see again, were set up as being actually quite sinister, speaking in layered, unnatural voices and making ominous, cryptic remarks about how Kira will become one of them if she fails. Admittedly, the whole idea that she might be stuck with them for years even if she succeeds would have carried more weight if we knew she wouldn't be back in Beacon Hills by the end of the series at the absolute latest, but both Kira's reaction and her mother's felt very true, with her mother noting that as a kitsune, Kira has centuries left to live - a few years is just a drop in the ocean.

The test itself was fine too. I would like to see television, when it writes itself into a 'test of spirit' corner, actually give us something other than 'you've gotta fight an illusion', because while I recognise that that's an easy, dramatic way to show an internal struggle, it's also pretty overdone at this point, and just feels a bit lazy. Since Kira accidentally lets loose her Fox powers to defeat the illusory Oni she's fighting, the skinwalkers declare that the Fox passed the test, not Kira, and so Kira will have to stay with them forever.

Liam continues to be quite boring.

Her rescue from that fate seems surprisingly easy, with Scott and Stiles showing up in a jeep and them all driving off, but I suppose it's no skin off the skinwalkers' back if Kira goes out of control and ends up murdering a few people.

We have an episode called 'the Sword and the Spirit' coming up in a few weeks, so it looks like after Malia's focus episode next week, we'll have another Kira focused episode where she'll finally learn to deal with the Fox. That'll be nice. I do like Kira as a character.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The Flash S2E10: Potential Energy


The Flash
Series 2, Episode 10
Potential Energy



So, The Flash is back. It's back much earlier than I expected, actually, since I assumed that both it and Arrow would be resuming after Legends of Tomorrow was over and done with, much like how Agents of SHIELD resumes after the close of a series of Agent Carter. Apparently not, though,.

The first act of the series ended on an interesting note, as we discovered that Wells is allied with Zoom, who wants to steal Barry's speed (no surprise there) and got our first glimpse of Wally, dropping in on Joe and Iris to join their Christmas party.

As this episode picks up, Barry and the gang set out to catch the Turtle, a thief who uses his ability to slow other things down in order to steal rare items of personal significance to people. Hoping they can use his powers to derive a way to slow Zoom down and defeat him, the gang lays a trap for him, with Barry seeing it as an opportunity to tell Patty about his secret identity. Meanwhile, Caitlin runs tests on Jay without his knowledge and finds out something terrible, and Wally chafes at Joe's attempts to be a father.

Also, there's dancing, briefly.

So,this is a fairly standard issue meta-of-the-week episode, and actually one that would probably have been slightly more at home in the first series, since it doesn't really involve any world-hopping shenanigans. The set-up is the same as usual: There's a wrong'un with superpowers that need stopping, and this gets in the way of personal issues, and so on - and, as usual, what sells it is that it's fairly relentlessly fun.

The Turtle has one of the more interesting powersets of the Flash's villains, essentially making himself a speedster by virtue of slowing everything else nearby down. He kind of jumps the shark a little the moment he starts kidnapping people and tying them up because they're 'precious to the Flash', when it actually would have worked better, I think, if he was just a thief who stole valuable items without harming anyone - or, at least, not harming anyone unless it was absolutely necessary.

This is also quite a heavily Patty-centric episode, which is, you know, a thing. I do like Patty as a character, but more and more it feels like hers and Barry's romance is hackneyed and poorly written, and like their romantic subplot is just overtaking any chance for Patty to be an interesting character with her own goals and agendas. The episode ends with her saying that she's leaving, and although I expect she'll change her mind, because the writers want to keep her around for more romantic nonsense, I kind of hope that either she goes or, at the very least, that she breaks up with Barry.

Running in slow motion.

The fact that he ended up not telling her that he was the Flash despite the episode teasing it also bothered me, because I don't like secret identity plots much. They're almost never fun, they just tend to be maudlin and cliche.

The Wally plotline, meanwhile, was fun enough, but did kind of come out of the blue. It's a little odd to have Wally nervously show up for a Christmas party and then, just an episode later, be apparently nearly totally uninterested in getting to know Joe or Iris. To be honest, while this plotine is generally fine, I think I would have preferred it somewhat if it had been between Iris and Wally, since I'm a bit more invested in their sibling relationship.

I do really like Wally so far, though, and I'm eager to see more of him. He seems like he could be a lot of fun, and played right, the process of him getting to know Iris and Joe (and Barry) could be really interesting and touching.

The last subplot in this episode was Caitlin finding out that Jay is dying, and I just kind of shrugged at that. I don't much care for Jay, so him being ill is of very little concern to me, to be honest, especially when - spoiler alert - Ronnie has already been confirmed to be returning, as Firestorm villain Deathstorm.

Crime and stuff.

Like a lot of Flash episodes, we get most of our big plot developments at the end - in this case, by way of Wells killing the Turtle (and possibly extracting something from him? I wasn't clear in this scene whether he was killing him to stop the team from trying to stop Zoom, or because it was a quicker way to devise a way to stop Zoom) and by way of the Reverse-Flash (addressed by Gideon as Professor Thawne, which is always nice) arriving and having no idea where he is. Possibly a Reverse-Flash from before he met Barry? Or Earth-2's Reverse-Flash?

All in all, though, a fairly strong opener to the second half of the series, and I'm looking forward to seeing more.



Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Editorial: 5 Fights We'd Like To See In RWBY


Editorial: 5 Fights We'd Like To See
In RWBY.


We have two or three episodes left in Volume 3 of RWBY, and they're bound to be action-packed. With that in mind, here's five fights we at Fission Mailure would like to see in the remaining few episodes of the third volume. Which has been excellent, incidentally.

Also, since this is an RWBY editorial, allow me to draw your attention to these RWBY: Grimm Eclipse Let's Plays.


Glynda & Qrow vs Cinder.

Here's the big one for this list.

Glynda and Qrow both have a history with Cinder, having both tangled with her before, however briefly. Glynda, in particular, is the only character in the show to even come close to fighting Cinder on equal terms, while Qrow is apparently feared enough by Team CRME that Cinder would not only rather flee than fight him immediately after gaining the Autumn power, but that you can see her genuinely considering giving up her plan altogether when he arrives at Beacon.

So obviously the two need to team up and go after Cinder. All three of them are fearsome combatants with a wide range of abilities at their command, so a fight between them, done right, would undoubtedly be the highlight of the third series. Cinder would win, obviously, because her role as a main villain is clearly far from done with, but it's fair to say the fight would probably force her to make heavy use of her Maiden powers.

Also, I love team-ups. I just - I love team-ups so much, guys. So much.


Pyrrha vs Emerald.

Frankly, after what Cinder and company did to Pyrrha, she deserves a little bit of payback (even if she's maybe not in any state to be getting it), and short of fighting Cinder herself, Emerald is the best one for her to have a match-up against. 

Why? Well, because it's Emerald's mind trick power that led to Pyrrha ripping Penny apart. A duel between the two of them could see Emerald trying to trick Pyrrha again, and Pyrrha fighting through it, displaying to both of them that she's not going to fall for Team CRME's tricks again, while simultaneously getting revenge for both herself and Penny.

Out of all the ones on this list, this is probably the one that's least likely to happen, if only because Pyrrha is unlikely to be fighting at all for the rest of Volume 3, on account of being totally traumatised.


Sun & Blake vs Adam.

I've been hankering to see both these two characters fight Adam for a while now, although I don't really want them to fight him together. What I'd rather have is Sun fighting Adam and being beaten, only for Blake to swoop in and save the day, starting another fight between her and Adam. Typically lolzy action show stuff.

My reasons for this are mostly ones of theme and character arcs. Sun has been set up very much as the anti-Adam, a playful and laid back guy who isn't especially keen on violence and who sees the White Fang as a bunch of wackos, so them clashing would work, in a way, as a kind of clash of ideals. Blake, meanwhile, has a personal history with Adam and her own ideals that don't gel well with Adam's, so ultimately, if he's going to be taken down, it should be her to do it.

Still. Sun vs Adam followed by Blake vs Adam. It'd be great.


Neptune, Velvet, Sage and Fox (at least) vs the Grimm.

These are four characters we really haven't seen in battle much, and hordes of Grimm are always very good for showing off multiple characters abilities, so it'd be nice to get all four of these characters in a battle (as Temporary Team VFSN, no, that's a terrible name) beating up various Grimm creatures and showing off their abilities.

Not to mention, at the moment we have no idea what Velvet's weapon or Semblance is; no idea what Sage, Fox, or Neptune's Semblances are; and no idea if Sage's weapon is capable of transforming at all. I wish to know the answers to these questions.


Ruby vs Mercury.

So, now Mercury's personally wronged Ruby, and it is vitally important to me that she scythes him in the face.

On a mechanical level, these are two of the fastest characters in the show, and a proper battle between them would be one of the fastest and most action-packed battles we've had so far, probably, but no, no, mostly the first thing.

You've had it too good for too long, Mercury. You need a scythe to the face for the good of one and all.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Minecraft: Story Mode E4: A Block And A Hard Place.


Minecraft: Story Mode
Episode 4
A Block And A Hard Place.



I had actually thought that I'd already reviewed this one, but it turns out I hadn't. Possibly what was confusing me was that I have, in fact, already Let's Played it. Possibly it was that while I'm enjoying Minecraft: Story Mode, each episode doesn't really give me anything new to say, resulting in reviews that are essentially nigh-identical copies of each other. Maybe it just got lost in the New Years rush.

After their failure to take out the Wither Storm, instead merely splitting it into three, the gang flee. With Petra's condition getting worse and Lukas desperate to go and find the other Ocelots, Jesse is forced to choose between doing what's best for the mission and respecting his friends' wishes. When Ivor arrives, telling them of his laboratory located in the Farlands, the group sets out, meaning to find Ivor's lab and an enchanting table that will enchant any weapon to destroy Command Blocks - but on the way, they also discover the Order of the Stone's terrible secret. Meanwhile, Axel leads the Wither Storm on a merry goose chase, in order to draw it into an ambush by Endermen.

If it feels like I'm padding out that synopsis, it's because I kind of am. As is always the case with Telltale Games' work, the gameplay is totally interchangeable with every other game they've put out, and the only real difference is the story - and the story for this episode is, tonally, very similar to that of previous episodes. It's wacky adventure fun times with ominousness looming in the distance.

Orderly Sentai Stonenger.

That's not a criticism, you want to have consistency of tone in any work, but especially in episodic video games, where the episodes are spaced far enough apart that too much variation in tone can make it feel like you've suddenly switched games, it just doesn't make for hugely fertile ground for a review.

(One interesting thing about this episode, though, is that it has the customary 'your chickens are coming home to roost' moment that most Telltale Games eventually have, and rather than it being a concrete effect on the world, it mostly comes in the form of whether your friends are still your friends by the time the final battle hits. Apparently, it's possible to get Lukas to consider himself Jesse's sworn enemy, even though in my run, Lukas is clearly Jesse's boyfriend best friend.

That's arguably a better way to do it than, say, Game of Thrones, which tried and failed to convince players that their decisions were having meaningful impact on the world around them. It means that your choices still feel like they have some weight, while allowing for Telltale's almost totally linear stories to play out. Telltale lacks the deftness that, say, Until Dawn developers Supermassive Games have with a branching narrative, after all.)

Horsies.

In terms of story, at least, this is at least a slightly meatier game than some of the previous episodes. While it's artificially padded out at points, with such charming distractions as a maze filled with dead ends that you can spend a decent twenty minutes trying to navigate, for the most part this is an action-packed episode, one that sees players getting pay-off for a lot of storylines set up early on.

For example, we finally find out what the Order's secret shame is, and the (sort of) origins of the Command Block (which, as you'll recall, I noted was a bit weird, since Ellegaard was trying to create one and didn't seem to know how). It's a pretty well-handled pay-off, actually, fitting with the tone of the series: They aren't mass murderers or anything like that, but they are frauds, with their fame built on lies and good fortune, who functionally bribed Ivor into keeping quiet and then surgically erased him from history books. It's a crime of sufficient magnitude that Ivor's ire at them seems warranted (even if it does require him to be completely unhinged, no surprises there), while also not making them necessarily bad people, and the game gives you the opportunity to let them redeem themselves and reveal their lie to the world.

The Farlands.

(It also makes Ellegaard dying in my run feel that much more meaningful, I think, since a few characters note her as being the best of them, who didn't even need the Command Block - but then, they might well have done the same to Magnus if he died, I don't know. One nice moment involves Ivor offering Jesse several different armours, and the game providing the option to keep the armour of whoever the deceased Order member is, which is a nicely emotional touch to the game as well.)

Overall, a fun episode, but I'm a little apprehensive about where episode five will go. With the Wither Storm defeated, I imagine it will involve facing the returned Ender Dragon, and possibly the new Order of the Stone collapsing in on itself and dissolving - and the fact that I don't want that to happen says a fair amount of Minecraft: Story Mode's character writing, that I am actually invested in these characters' friendships with each other.