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Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Scream: The TV Series S2

Scream: The TV Series
Series 2

(Spoilers below.)

Turns out, this show finished last week, but I didn't realise - the fact that there's a two part Halloween special coming up beguiled me into thinking this was a twelve episode series, and to be honest, it didn't help that this series feels oddly incomplete.

Set some months after the first series, the second series of Scream sees Emma return to Lakewood, just in time for a new killer to start their reign of terror. Obsessed with Emma and Audrey, who is revealed to have been Piper's accomplice during her murder spree, this new killer starts by murdering Jake, and begins to escalate from there, setting up a series of sick games to torment Emma and Audrey. As tension builds, suspicion quickly settles on two suspects: Stavo Acosta, the new Sheriff's son, and Eli Hudson, Kieran's cousin.

It's odd, I finished watching this series last week and already it is starting to fade from my memory. I remember certain moments: I remember the sequence with Noah trapped in a coffin, which was definitely the best episode of the series. I remember figuring out that Kieran was the killer and then being vindicated shortly thereafter. I remember an excellent episode revolving around the gang all being in lockdown at the school.

Stavo's very pretty, at least.

But that's the thing: While this series has a lot of very good moments (and gratifyingly it gets into the swing of things a lot quicker than the first series), there's no sense of cohesive story and pacing to it. Murders begin, and then they continue, and then the killer is revealed, and then they stop -- but there's no slow build to the killer being revealed, no escalation of stakes, very little progression in the mystery.

The best way I can demonstrate this is by talking about the suspects. In most mystery stories, you are presented with several clear suspects early on, and then as time goes on some of them get ruled out, some people you thought were innocent come under suspicion, and the details of the mystery gradually become clearer. In this series of Scream, the early suspects are Stavo and Eli, and then by the final episode, your suspects are -- still Stavo and Eli! 

Nothing about the mystery has been clarified, and nothing's become clearer by that final episode, so the audience never has anything to formulate their own theories on, or to pick out any new suspects with -- in fact, the only reason I realised Kieran was the killer was through a combination of recognising that his role in the series had been scaled back some, and because it's a callback to the first Scream film. While we're told much of the killer's motivations and psychology, the show is suspiciously quiet on the matter of offering new evidence or having the mystery slowly unfold for us.

Same killer dealio.

For a series that enjoys going on impressively long diatribes about the absence of its status quo, that's a very odd status quo to set up, wherein the 'mystery' just becomes a solid, unchanging background detail that you're not meant to figure out.

But that is clearly partly the result of the fact that, try as they might -- and much as I actually do enjoy Scream -- this isn't a story that meshes well with television. It's telling in a lot of ways that, having introduced most of its core cast last series, this series is clearly loathe to kill any of them off (for obvious reasons), instead killing one for shock value and then relegating its small cadre of newly introduced recurring cast members to the role of throwaway victims. 

Going into the third series (although one hasn't been confirmed yet, but with the Halloween specials it seems like it's probably only a matter of time), that kind of saps any tension out of the series. One of the big advantages of slasher flicks is that anyone can die, and television shows, which revolve around a stable cast of characters, might struggle to reproduce that.

Kieran, who is super obviously evil.

The series ends on an oddly abrupt note, as well, with a very short confrontation with Kieran before he goes to prison. While leaving Kieran alive is an interesting turn -- trial and escape arc, anyone? -- combined with the strange abruptness of the ending, the pacing issues of the series a whole, and the cliffhanger final scene without really any resolution of any other dangling plot threads to balance it out, the result is that this series feels not yet done, like it won't be entirely complete until the Halloween specials.

So, while I did enjoy this series (it was certainly more enjoyable than Guilt), I admit to being a little disappointed. It was fun to watch, but it was ultimately forgettable, and that's something of a shame. Still, the Halloween specials should be fun, at least. Apparently there's a third murderer, which I'm going to speculate now is Emma's father, because there's something super-suspicious about that guy.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Orange E9

Orange E9.

Oh, deary me.

I'd say I've been generally positive towards this series so far, and I stand by that, because even with its flaws I still think this is a fun series, but this episode seems like it'll mark the point where my comments get distinctly negative. There's really no way around that, for reasons that will become obvious very shortly.

In this week's episode, the athletic meet (including the much dreaded relay) begins, giving everyone an excuse to meander about in various states of undress. As Naho decides to read the letter, she discovers that the athletic meet is a disaster in the original timeline, as nobody comes to watch Kakeru, and he seems down all day, before a failure during the relay leaves him nearly in tears. As Suwa invites Kakeru's grandmother, Kakeru seems to still be distracted and unhappy during the meet, and an awkward conversation with Suwa leaves him feeling jealous and skittish.

So, serious question, what -- actually happened in this episode? I watched it, obviously. I watched it twice in preparation for this review. I'd still struggle to tell you what the actual plot was, because while there's a set-up, detailed above, nothing is ever actually done with it. I felt like by the end of the episode, we'd progressed no further with the plot than when the episode began. Kakeru was still sad over athletic meets. The relay still hadn't happened. Naho and Kakeru still weren't dating even though they were basically dating.

I'm not against fluff episodes, where nothing much really happens, but this wasn't that. This was an episode that believed that it had a point, but actually didn't, because nothing had changed  by the end. I, as an audience member, had learned nothing about the characters, seen no change in their relative relationships with each other, seen no change in their circumstances.

Nice background.

For an episode that immediately follows us discovering that Azu, Chino, and Hagita all have letters of their own, that's baffling. When we discovered that Suwa had his own letter, it led to a sea change in the show's paradigm, as the conflict shifted from being about Naho struggling to follow the letters' instructions, and towards those instructions not necessarily always being correct, and Naho and Suwa having to figure out which was which, and what were the best ways to approach it. 

With the introduction of three more letters (all of which apparently just say 'get Naho and Kakeru to date', because clearly that's going to sort out his depression), you'd think we'd get another paradigm shift. I suppose if you count 'literally nothing happening' as a paradigm, we do.

The other thing that bears talking about is the animation quality. We saw a slight dip in quality last episode, but it was slight enough that I didn't really feel it was worth mentioning, since it was just one or two frames of humourously over-simplified animation in an episode that was otherwise very impressive. Well, this episode had a sharp, massive dip in quality, and it is always obvious. Always.

I ...

Actually, that's not true. About three shots in this episode look passable. Everything else, though, is staggeringly terrible, to the point where I haven't actually seen an anime this badly animated for quite a long while.

It's tremendously strange, not least because it's so sudden. For a series to have pretty consistently high quality for eight episodes, only to then apparently run out of animation budget on its ninth episode out of thirteen almost beggars belief, and yet, it's what has apparently has happened here. Maybe episode ten will be an improvement, but this one was actually almost painful to watch.

(I saw someone remark that 'Suwa's muscles were the only well-animated thing', and I must assume from that that the person in question has never seen another human being in their life, as Suwa spends most of the episodes looking like four cardboard boxes wearing a skin coloured blanket.)

Just ...

The animation is also filled with bizarre errors. A joke in an early scene is that Hagita draws abs on himself (which is a slightly bizarre choice, as the animation team has already done that for him) in purple marker, but the marker lines disappear between shots constantly. Character clothing randomly changes between scenes, a sizable injury on Suwa appears and then disappears as it becomes and then stops being relevant, and so on, so forth.

The end result is that this episode is more bewildering than anything. What exactly went wrong in the production of this episode, that it is both written terribly and animated terribly? It even feels like the voice actors aren't putting their all in, although I admit I might just be imagining that one, or it might just be that they're not really given any interesting material to work with in this episode.

Incidentally, this episode takes us to the end of chapter fourteen of the manga. Starting to lose hope that this won't have a second cour, which if it's as bad as this episode, should at the very least be morbidly entertaining, I suppose. 

Monday, 29 August 2016

Editorial: Thoughts on Bleach's Ending.

Editorial: Thoughts on Bleach's Ending.

With fifteen year shounen manga Bleach having ended about a week and a half ago now, it seems like I should probably talk about that in some capacity -- and since doing a review of the entire fifteen year run seems like it wouldn't be very entertaining, let's talk about the ending, instead. In this instance, I'm defining 'ending' not just as the final chapter, but the final battle onwards to the end, but we're going to be focusing mostly on those last two chapters.

Specifically, in these last few chapters, we have a timeskip of ten years, to Rukia becoming a captain and going with Renji - with whom she now has a child - to visit Ichigo, who is married to Orihime with a child of their own. As Yhwach very briefly attempts to escape into this future, he is forced back by Ichigo and Orihime's son, Kazui, who then meets Ichika, Rukia and Renji's daughter.

Full disclosure, I kind of hate 'and then there was a timeskip and everyone was married with kids,' and I think it was actually even more poorly handled than usual here. I've seen people suggest that Kubo Tite deliberately sabotaged the ending to spite Shonen Jump, and while I think that's an absurd idea (no writer in the world would sabotage the ending to fifteen years of their life's work, no matter how annoyed they were at their editor), I do think there's a degree of editorial fiat at play here.

Not necessarily so much with pairings (although, we'll touch on those briefly), but more in respect to the fact that a truly grotesque number of Shonen Jump's comics (and especially its long-running, big name works) have ended in this way. Bleach, Naruto, Rurouni Kenshin, Shaman King, Nisekoi, and multiple different iterations of Dragonball have all ended in this fashion, and those are just the ones I remember. 

It's no secret that Shonen Jump's target demographic, teenage boys, get weirdly angry and vitriolic if the stories they read don't end with marriage (don't -- don't ask me why, but by all means pick apart the motivations behind that at your leisure), nor is it any secret that editors and publishers exert a degree of creative control over the works they edit or publish. That's part of the point of being an editor and a publisher, and publishers especially have their own agenda that revolves entirely around shifting more issues.

Man, twenty-something Ichigo really resembles his dad at that age.

But regardless, it's the ending we got, and that's something of a problem. There are three reasons for this: Firstly, a good ending to a story should, ideally, reflect the story, and in some fashion encapsulate or see the culmination of its themes. This is why a 'and then the future happened and they were all married' ending worked for Fullmetal Alchemist, since that was a series whose overarching theme was family -- but Bleach's themes, insofar as it really has themes since it is essentially just a 'beat 'em up with swords' manga, are the struggle between traditionalism and modernity, between stagnation and change, and those aren't effectively served with a random timeskip.

Instead, any ending to the series should have focused on the rehaul of existing systems, and their replacement with kinder, gentler, more enlightened systems, because believe as not, that's always been the running theme of the story. It's the theme at play when a noble from a feudal-esque society teams up with a modern teenager; the theme at play when Rukia is sentenced to a barbaric, vicious punishment for a relatively minor crime, and pushed towards execution by her own brother for the sake of tradition; the theme at play when the arrancar, presented as forces of modernity under the direction of a scientist who is motivated by intense moral revulsion at an esteemed religio-political authority figure, clash against that figure's samurai-themed defenders; the theme at play when Urahara has to flee his home because eight loyal soldiers are to be slaughtered for being victims of someone else's experiments; and the theme at play when the entirety of that traditional society collectively decides to break their own laws because it's the moral thing to do.

Families factor into Bleach, but they've never been among its main themes, so a family-focused ending falls kind of flat.

This goes doubly when that random timeskip puts some of the characters in frankly baffling life situations. I speak, of course, of Chad being a boxer (when a large part of his character was vowing only to use his fists to protect others), Orihime not being a giant robot rampaging through the streets of Tokyo, and Ishida being a workaholic doctor after his entire arc was about learning to understand but also not wanting to be like his father.

Possibly Yhwach would have been a better villain if he didn't look like a sad pirate.

(I'm actually broadly okay with Ichigo becoming a doctor. I know a lot of people aren't, and in all honesty I think I'd prefer it if he was a member of the Fourth Division or something, but I like the idea that he's become a healer rather than a fighter.)

The second reason: A timeskip also robs us with a chance to get a satisfying ending to -- well, to any romance subplot. 

Touching briefly on pairings, I'm not tremendously keen on Ichigo and Orihime as a couple: I don't actively hate it, but I find it a little boring, and I think it tickles up against some pretty uncomfortable tropes in manga. More importantly, though, by suddenly darting into the future, the audience is denied any chance to actually see a romance blossom between them.

While we've seen that Orihime has feelings for Ichigo, and we've certainly seen suggestions that Ichigo has feelings for Orihime, a mutual crush does not a romance subplot make, and by timeskipping to the future, Kubo is not so much showing us a romance as he is telling us that it happened.

Wouldn't it have been better, instead, to have foregone a timeskip entirely and have the last few chapters involve Orihime asking Ichigo out, and him agreeing? That would still be a clear cut romantic end, but it would have been a lot more natural and a lot less hamfisted.

Ah, well, we got Older Hitsugaya, at least.

This applies equally to Rukia and Renji, for whom there was certainly the suggestion of a romance, but for whom 'and ten years later they had a child' seems equally jarring.

The third reason is that we'd kind of been set up to expect a completely different ending. Given Kyoraku's ominous grumblings about how Ichigo might not be able to return to the human world, we'd been given a pretty clear Chekhov's Gun, setting us up for a bittersweet ending where Ichigo couldn't return home. Instead, that's a plot thread that ends up completely dropped.

In an ending with slightly more bombast, this might have been forgivable -- an ill-thought out coda to an otherwise strong ending -- but it comes at the end of the one of the most lackluster battles in an already lackluster final arc. 

While the basic concept of 'Ichigo and Aizen team up against Yhwach' is a pretty good one, what it amounts to is about two chapters of very hurried fighting that ends in a moment of confusing symbolism at best. It's a final battle that inexplicably doesn't involve Rukia (who'd been set up as one of Soul Society's last hopes against Yhwach) or Orihime (whose 'powers that trespass on God's territory' plotline never did get tied up, despite this arc being the perfect point for it) or, for that matter, Chad, who doesn't really have any plot relevance here, I just like Chad.

So, they're ghosts, but they're also zombies? They're ... zombosts? Zombhosts?

For that matter, you'd expect Isshin and Ryuken to want to join the fray, but they never do. They just drop off their special delivery of a silver arrowhead (admittedly a nice callback to Ryuken dissecting his wife) and then chill out for a bit.

Later this week, we'll take a look at how that ending could have been improved, but long story short, I am somewhat disappointed. Kazui and Ichika are adorable, though, so there is that. Also, why is Tetsuzaemon Iba a captain? Really?

Saturday, 27 August 2016



It's no secret at this point that I really like mysteries. I like having something I can sink my teeth into, something I can theorise about, so Guilt, touted as a dark, thought-provoking story of a young woman accused of a vicious murder, automatically caught my interest, and I hurried over to watch the first episode.

Boy, was that a mistake. A brilliant, wonderful mistake at first, and then rapidly just a regular, terrible mistake.

In London, an American international student named Grace discovers her roommate, Northern Irish girl Molly, dead in their flat. As Grace becomes the prime suspect for the murder, maverick American lawyer Stan Gutterie and Grace's sister Natalie set out to prove her innocent. Standing in their way is zealous Crown prosecutor Gwendolyn Hall, who seems to have a personal grudge against Grace. Worse still, the case draws the attention of the crown prince, Theo, who had a sinister personal connection to Molly.

The blandest promotional pictures ever.

So, the first episode really set the tone for what the entire series would be, given that about a third of it was just characters launching into strange, off-kilter diatribes about how British women hate American women. Another third of the episode was committed to various rants about how the legal system works differently in America (seriously, you could take a shot each time someone righteously screams "Well, in America ...") while the British characters stared on with a mixture of disgust and admiration; while the remainder was the show throwing as many shocking plot twists at the audience as possible, regardless of if they made sense.

These plot twists seem to all be delivered with a kind of knowing drama behind them, as if the writers don't quite trust their audience to understand the significance of the story turns unless everyone delivers them while turning wide-eyed towards the camera and deeply intoning their lines. One example from the first episode is when we see the creepy brothel-visiting sadist being driven home and he's talking to his chauffeur. He says something, and I kid you not, the driver verily booms, complete with dramatic pauses "Of course ... Prince Theo," while the camera focuses on Theo slowly smiling, despite the fact that neither of them would act this way on a supposedly relaxed car journey.

I don't even remember this character's name.

The first episode draws the battle lines pretty clearly as America vs Britain, and while they do get very slightly blurred as time goes on (in the form of British police detective Alex eventually switching sides, in a subplot riddled with casual misogyny as it becomes a strange vehicle for a 'all British women are secretly jealous of American women' plotline, seriously, who wrote this show, who was it written for?), for the most part, the entire storyline is depicted as a battle between two cultures. Three, maybe, if you count the three Northern Irish characters who occasionally rant about how they're going to destroy the Crown.

That last is interesting, because despite being set and filmed in Britain, there's this baffling sense that the writers didn't really understand their own setting. Generally, terminology and language are on-point, but characters will occasionally drop in references to 'the BBC's army of paparazzi' (here's a hint, the BBC has no army of paparazzi), or slip up and say something subtly wrong ('the ITV'), or portray a complicated political situation in the broadest, most cartoonish way possible.

Because the Troubles were, actually, a fairly complicated period with its roots in historical, political, cultural, religious, and class-based strife -- but in the show it gets boiled down to a caricaturish 'arglbargl destroy the royals for what they did to us,' and used as essentially a plot device to have Theo shot.

Grace and her equally boring boyfriend.

The show really has nothing else going for it. Its directing is fine but not inspiring; its writing alternates between slow and boring and completely absurd; its acting tends to be fairly wooden, with Daisy Head as Grace being the most wooden of the bunch. I never found myself interested in the mystery, never felt invested in the characters' welfare, I just flip-flopped between boredom and irritation throughout watching. Slowly, the amusing novelty of a series so clearly written less for other people and more to satisfy the writers' bizarre, personal agenda started to fade, and at that point, the show just became a slog.

After a truly anticlimactic ending, I was glad that this show was over. I truly hope it doesn't get picked up for another series, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it might, and I'll probably make at least an attempt at watching it. I won't enjoy it, and I probably won't make it more than a few episodes through, but I'll try.

Still, this was not a good series. In fact, it was almost cartoonishly bad, so I think we have a potential candidate for 'worst television show' come the next Fission Mailure awards.

Friday, 26 August 2016

A Rec Post.

A Short Rec Post.

Hey, guys. So, today's review has been put on hold due to personal issues, which I'll probably talk about in my personal-issues-talking-about spaces at some point, so as a holdover until tomorrow when I (hopefully) plan on posting Guilt, here's a very quick rec post for a few different things.

A friend introduced me to these recently - specifically, his series on The Asterisk Wars, which can be found here, a show I've never watched and now most definitely never will, except possibly out of a sense of morbid curiosity - and I've been enjoying watching his stuff quite a lot.

I don't always agree with him (he has a fair few problems with Kekkai Sensen, and anybody who read my review will know that I adored that show), but he's an excellent reviewer, with an eye for technical details and a great sense of humour. 

I'd also highly recommend checking out his much shorter series on Sword Art Online II, as well, which had me in fits of laughter more than a few times while also being a very detailed, thoughtful review of both the first arc of that series and the show as a whole. That's over here

Arguably the lore master du jour for the Dark Souls fan community, VaatiVidya's lore videos are incredibly well-researched and very well made, and the dude has both an amazing voice and a staggering talent when it comes to telling stories. 

A good place to start with him are his Bloodborne Lore Videos, short videos on various characters from Bloodborne, because I think those videos really hammer in what a good storyteller Vaati is. 

(Alonne and the Iron King is also an excellent lore video, so maybe check that out too.)

Even if you've never played Dark Souls, I'd recommend him, as his videos are a great way to experience the story - often fragmented in the games themselves - in a way that doesn't involve dying to a single Mimic three times.

I've given these guys a rec before, so I'm not going to go into too much detail. They do a couple of really good abridged series. Go check those out, maybe.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006).

Once again: No review or editorial tomorrow, we'll be back properly on Friday.

Also, here's The Boy and the Beast and Summer Wars.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

For the third in our Mamoru Hosoda series, let's take a look at The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, a film of his that I very almost forgot about. While it takes its name from the famous 1960s novel, it's actually not an adaptation, as I learned during a quick research spree - it's a loose sequel, with the main character's aunt being the protagonist of the novel. It's also, interestingly, written entirely by Satoko Okudera - who also co-wrote Summer Wars and Wolf Children and had at least passing involvement in The Boy and the Beast.

Set in more or less the modern day, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time follows Makoto, a girl enjoying the summer with her two friends, Kousuke and Chiaki. After accidentally falling onto a walnut shaped object in her school's science room, she discovers that she now has the ability to travel backwards through time. Under her aunt's (sometimes disapproving) eye, Makoto starts using her jumps to prevent awkward or undesirable situations from occurring, including foisting off a disastrous home economics lesson onto a classmate, reliving a karaoke session for hours, and avoiding a confession of love from Chiaki. 

One by one, though, her time leaps start to have horrible, unforeseen consequences, culminating in one accidentally leading to Kousuke and his new girlfriend dying. As time freezes around her, Makoto discovers the true nature of the time travel device: It was Chiaki's, and with Makoto having used all his leaps - apart from one final one, which he uses to save Kousuke - Chiaki can no longer return to his own time. Distraught, Makoto sets out to set things right.

The main cast.

Once again, I find that it's very difficult to summarise Hosoda's films, because they never settle into a status quo. While most films set up their goals early on and have most of the film be the pursuit of those, Hosoda's films (with the exception of Summer Wars) seem to have an ever-changing set of goals.

In general, though, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is -- interesting. Full disclosure, I'm not a fan of the 'someone uses their special new power for harmlessly making their life better but it turns out that doing that was wrong' trope, so I was somewhat predisposed to dislike this film when that started happening, but it managed to win me over anyway.

What managed to win me over was a combination of the fact that Makoto's enthusiasm (and the mounting frustration of Chiaki and Kousuke as they wonder how she seems to have perfect foreknowledge of everything) is very endearing, and her motivations are all presented as being very understandable. The film never really expects us to cast a moral judgement on Makoto - instead, we're meant to see it for what it is: Outcomes that Makoto couldn't have foreseen, but which she can correct.

I mean, tbh, I would use time travel for petty stuff too.

Like Summer Wars, we have some pacing issues here, in that the first half hour is very, very slow. As in Summer Wars, the opening section is arguably necessary to set up the stakes and situation, and once Makoto starts to use her time travel abilities, the plot picks up quite sharply - but also, as in Summer Wars, I felt that once the plot did pick up pace, things like character motivations, stakes, world information, et cetera, were all being communicated more clearly to me, because I wasn't being bored out of my skull.

There's also the romance subplot between Makoto and Chiaki, which, while never the main focus, is pretty skillfully threaded throughout the film. It's nice, because Okudera and Hosoda never try to frame it as a great, sweeping romance - it's just two awkward, rough-around-the-edges teenagers who happen to fall in love. The mundanity of it is important, I think, because it would have been all too easy for the romance to be framed as a tragic, borderline-Byronoid love story for the ages, but we are consistently reminded both through the writing and animation that it's not, and that makes it a lot more relatable. 

It ends on a slightly bittersweet note, as Chiaki has to return to his own time, with Makoto leaving him with a promise that she'll preserve the painting her aunt (the protagonist of the novel) is restoring for him to see in the future, while Chiaki gives her a promise to see her in the future - although the meaning of that isn't entirely clear, since he's apparently from very far into the future.

The hug/whisper scene.

The later parts of that subplot actually give us some of the most clever parts of the film, interestingly. The time-freeze section, a fairly long sequence in which Makoto and Chiaki wander around Tokyo, frozen in time by Chiaki, is easily the best in the film, not just for animation, but also for scripting, and voice acting. 

In terms of animation, it's very pretty, and very cleverly done, as the characters weave their way around a maze formed from frozen crowds of people, simultaneously evoking both a bustling cityscape and nothing so much as hedges. 

In terms of scripting, though, it is one of the more dialogue-light but meaning rich part of the film. In a film where people very often ramble at a mile a minute, dialogue is reduced down to short sentences and statements, and the various emotions at play in the scene - fondness, sadness, and bitterness for Chiaki; affection, confusion, and fear for Makoto - are reduced down to very basic, subtle turns of scripting and voice-acting.

This film came out earlier than Summer Wars, and in a lot of ways, you can see in this sequence Hosoda and Okudera doing the same playing-around with silence and pauses that defines Summer Wars' script.

The other part of this subplot that is actually pretty clever is the idea that Chiaki came back to see a specific painting - one Makoto's aunt is restoring. We're told very little about Chiaki's future, except that there isn't any baseball or a lot of people gathered in one place, but we're told about the painting: Specifically, that it was painted during a time of war and famine, and that it makes people who look at it feel peaceful. That tidbit alone gives us a pretty clear view both of Chiaki's character and what his future is like.

Comparing this to the other two in this Hosoda series so far, I'd say that I probably enjoyed this one more than Summer Wars but less than The Boy and the Beast. Next week, we're going to muddy the waters slightly as we branch out from Hosoda's original works a little and instead look at his work on Digimon.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Editorial: The Top 5 Worst Legend of Zelda Bosses.

Quick note: No post on Thursday this week, for no other reason than that I'm busy all day and won't even have a computer near me until probably six in the evening or so.

Editorial: The Top 10 Worst Legend of Zelda Bosses,

This was actually meant to be a two part list, but you know what? The Legend of Zelda doesn't have that many bosses. It has the same bosses in various different forms. How many games have we fought Moldorm in now? When will be free from the tyranny of Moldorm?

(Moldorm is, incidentally, on this list.)

The upshot of this is that the franchise is pretty good at refining and adjusting its bosses to make them the best they can be, so it doesn't have a huge amount of terrible bosses. Certainly not enough for me to make a top ten list. Instead, most of them are either great or, you know, fine.

But it still has enough uniquely terrible bosses to make a top five list! Most of them are from Skyward Sword. I want us to all think long and hard about what that says about that game.

5. Demon Lord Ghirahim, Skyward Sword.

I do somewhat like the concept of Ghirahim, but as is the case with a few bosses in Skyward Sword, you fight him a a lot, and the devs didn't seem to have any idea of how to escalate the gameplay.

As a result, your first two battles with him are slow and awkward, an exercise in awkwardly holding your sword at one angle while attacking from a different angle - something you're not even told you could do at any point during Skyward Sword's grotesquely long tutorial section.

The final battle is mostly better, with a 'shove him off the platform' mechanic for the first phase, and an energy tennis mechanic for the second. It's the third phase that gets my goat. In it, Ghirahim holds up a huge broadsword, which he will occasionally change the position of, often mid-way through one of your attacks. 

You must hit it four or five times on the same side to break it, and if you don't do so within the span of about a second, he'll magically repair it, making the battle essentially come down to luck, and the vain hope that he'll just hold his sword still.

4. Bellum, Evil Phantom, Phantom Hourglass.

Oh, Bellum. The whole game builds him up as an amazing, terrifying, eldritch sea monster, but his boss battle is just kind of disappointing.

The first phase of the battle, involving you dragging him out of the water, is fine. It's not exactly inspiring, or really final boss material, but it's fine. It's the second phase where the problems start appearing, as you can only get close enough to attack him by using a time freeze ability - activated by drawing an hourglass on the lower screen.

In a game that's been very forgiving about how well you can draw up to this point, the time freeze ability inexplicably requires you to have the artistic skill of a young Picasso, and expects you to demonstrate this skill while being attacked by a tentacle monster. 

Then he becomes a monster you've seen about a dozen times in this game already, except he's more aggressive and can only be hit with - you guessed it - the time freeze power in effect. Good. Great.

3. Levias, Skyward Sword.

Hey, guys! Who wants to spend hours researching a seemingly easy but actually deceptively difficult move using the awkward flying controls before you can progress through the game, only to then nearly immediately have to utilise said rehearsed awkward flight move in a boss battle against a giant whale?

Nobody. Nobody wants to do that.

That's what's going on with Levias, a late-game boss in Skyward Sword. Instructor Owlan will teach you the 'Spiral Charge' move, but refuse to let you progress through the game until you demonstrate that you can do ten of them on small, specific targets within a time limit. If that sounds fun, when you have to actually use it, you'll take damage if you miss! Fun!

Then you end up playing energy tennis with a parasite monster, because why wouldn't you.

2. Moldorm, Link's Awakening.

If you've fought Moldorm once, you've fought him a thousand times - and if you play the whole series, you probably will literally fight him one thousand times.

Moldorm has the frustrating schtick that you fight him on top of a platform, which he will glide around trying to push you off and doing damage to you. The only vulnerable part of him is his tail, and if you hit any other part of him, you will rebound off him. 

It's a pretty frustrating boss battle at the best of times, especially as falling off the platform will result in him regaining health.

But the Link's Awakening version takes the spot on this list for three reasons: Firstly, the platform is much, much smaller than in any other game, making it far easier for Moldorm to push you off; secondly, Moldorm is just slightly faster than usual; and thirdly, you have three hearts at that point in the game, and Moldorm takes out one of them every time he hits you.

Wow. Wow.

1. The Imprisoned, Skyward Sword.

The Imprisoned is a nightmare, and not in a good way.

In its first boss battle, it's not so bad: It's a big land-whale thing that slowly ascends up the hill it was imprisoned at the bottom of, and you have to slash its toes to bring it down to the ground so that you can hit its head. Not exactly a tremendously interesting boss battle, but one that's generally fine.

It's in its next two fights (oh, yes, you have to fight him three times) that he starts getting frustrating. First of all, he starts creating shockwaves from his feet whenever he moves. You know, the feet you have to attack. These will knock you down (and do damage) just long enough to be caught by another shockwave as you get up, leaving you in a never-ending chain of shockwave-knockdowns. He also starts moving faster.

Worst of all, though, trying to stop him quickly becomes pointless, since every time you hit his head, he'll wriggle up higher onto the hill, up to a predetermined position, with you being unable to stop him, meaning that you could be the most skilled Imprisoned-slayer in the land and he'll still nearly be at the top by the time you stop him.

Also, three times, guys? Really? And in Hyrule Warriors?

Monday, 22 August 2016

Orange E8.

Episode 8.

For people keeping track of where we are in the manga - so, me, basically - this episode takes us to the end of chapter twelve. I have to say, the possibility of this being two-cour is looking more and more likely, even though it would leave a second cour more than a little bit short on material. If it continues at the pace it's going at, it'll end on chapter seventeen or eighteen of the manga.

In this week's episode, after Kakeru collapses at a football game - something which was never mentioned in the letters - Naho and Suwa decide not to rely entirely on what the letters tell them. When Kakeru volunteers for a relay, though, something the letter warns will leave him distraught after he lets the team down, the two of them scramble to get Kakeru to drop out, despite his insistence that he wants to compete and is looking forward to it. As they do this, they draw the attention of Azu and Chino.

I actually really enjoyed this episode, more than the last few, and I think there are a couple of reasons. One of them - and the less important reason of the two - is that Ueda is completely absent from this episode, and it seems like her subplot is well and truly done with. I did enjoy Ueda's vaudeville villain antics, I'm not going to pretend I didn't, but it did eventually wear thin, and with that part of the plot out of the way, the show feels like it's returned a little more to the tone and mode it had at the start of the series.

Suwa is so pure.

The more important reason, though, is that this episode sees the characters all being very active - instead of a lot of time spent having Naho agonise over whether she's just going to do what the damn letter says, we have the entire cast taking different approaches to following the letter, and eventually coming to a conclusion in which they take on board what the letter is saying, but do not follow its instructions precisely.

Apart from the fact that any episode of any show in which the main characters are actually driving their own destiny along, with the conflict coming from well-meaning disputes over the best course of action, is always better than an episode where one character is just angsting endlessly over whether they should follow obviously correct instructions, this also represents a big turning point in the series.

Specifically, it has always been a little odd that in a series about choices and regret, the characters would be beholden to other people's choices, always kind of railroaded into doing what the future versions of them want. In a story about breaking free of regret, it has always been a little jarring that the characters have been functionally slaves to their future selves' regrets.

Hagita is where romantic moments go to die.

So seeing them take what the letters say to heart, but finding their own, better way of dealing with the problem is important, because it marks the point where their arcs and development over the course of the show culminate in them growing into the series' main themes.

It was also a turning point because we finally discovered that Azu, Chino, and Hagita all had letters of their own. Again, thematically that's a key point, because another big part of this series is the friendship and bonds between this group, and them all deciding together to send the letters makes it immediately obvious that while their regrets might have sent them off in different directions, they still share an unbreakable bond.

Which is all very warm and fuzzy and nice. It's also clarified explicitly by Naho seconds later, so -- thanks for ruining a nice, implied moment, I guess. One day, I'll do an editorial about the importance of leaving things implied, but not today.

The gang, minus Kakeru.

Quick rundown of technical stuff: The animation is very pretty - in fact, it looks noticeably better than the last couple of episodes. Voice acting remains strong, and Okitsu, Kinugawa, and Takamori as Hagita, Chino, and Azu actually all get significant amounts of lines in this episode, so they get to show their stuff a little. There's a few particularly nice moments where Chino and Azu are talking in perfect unison.

So, I quite liked this episode. It feels like we're heading into the final stretch - Naho and Kakeru have already said they love each other, after all - but obviously there's still a lot more story left in the manga, so we'll see. Maybe some disaster will hit in the next episode. Maybe it'll pull a Samurai Flamenco and suddenly change genres. Who even knows.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Kamen Rider Ghost E43+E44.

Kamen Rider Ghost
Episode 43+Episode 44.

First thing's first: Who thinks that Makoto's evil doppelganger is going to end up as the final villain? Much has been made of how Adel is redeemable, and a significant amount has been made of the Ganmaizers attempting to understand human emotion, and possibly developing their own wills and agendas that may clash with Adel's. With these two episodes, which see them not only return but also manifest a 'final' Makoto doppelganger who proudly announces that he's a real human, it's seeming increasingly likely that the fake Makoto is the result of their become-real-people plan.

Also, Ganmaizer Wind is back! My favourite character!

Anyway, in this fortnight's episodes, as Demia approaches launch, Takeru and the gang end up chasing down its beta testers, who upon putting in their Demia contact lenses, have become preoccupied with scribbling calculations onto every surface nearby. Things escalate when Igor starts turning beta tester's souls into eyecons, and when their bodies start turning invisible, and Akari and Eadith race to find Demia's server and shut it down before it can launch. Meanwhile, Adel, who has connected to the Great Eye, revives the Ganmaizers, who create a final Makoto doppelganger.

My biggest problem with this set of episodes is that we still don't really know what Demia is or what it does.

Yay Ganmaizers.

We're told a lot that the main result will to be to create a new world similar to the Ganma World, but it's never made clear how, or how Adel's plans to 'become the world' factor into that. Demia has loomed over the plotline since episode nineteen (although it's very often been overshadowed by the much more interesting Ganmaizer antics), but we know almost nothing about it, and it's increasingly starting to look like we're never going to know much about it. It's just a vague, unpredictable magic wish device, at this point, whose vagueness allows to facilitate just about any plotline the show wants out of it.

Given how little we know about Demia, and given that it's never been exactly the most interesting plotline in the first place, these episodes feel almost like filler even though it's decidedly not. The entire set-up, with the people scribbling calculations and the music and Igor just being Igor (the man has an eerie ability to make any episode he has a major role in seem like filler) makes it feel less like the dramatic climax of a twenty-five episode long plotline and more like a monster-of-the-fortnight story to tide us over until the next bit of plot.

Ganmaizer Wind! My favourite!

Which is baffling, given how plot-rich these episodes are. We get Adel linking with the Great Eye, and the Ganmaizers returning - both events that should have been massive deals, but feel weirdly shoved into the background in the midst of the Demia shenanigans. It doesn't help that the characters are so nonchalant about this: Takeru and Makoto both sense the Ganmaizers returning, but they only discuss it very briefly, and when Takeru finds out that Adel has linked with the Great Eye, the revelation is quickly drowned out by a fight scene - a fight scene with added comic relief Onari, at that.

That's another thing that doesn't work in these episodes: The Onari plotline. 

I don't dislike Onari having a plotline where he chafes under the idea that he's the most useless member of the group - in fact, I like it a lot, especially given that Onari is taking the role of the nurturing support character in this series, and that's a role quite often derided (often with good reason) as useless. The scenes of him possessing Alain were also a lot of fun, since Hayato Isomura is actually really good at playing Onari's body language.

But in an already busy, crowded episode, it added more noise to the mix, reduced the amount of time available for the bigger, more important plotlines, and generally felt more like a distraction than anything else.

A moment later he gets slapped again.

I can't say I really enjoyed these episodes that much, in all honesty. I certainly didn't hate them, but I found that they bored me somewhat - which is a little bit of a problem when we're four episodes or so from the end of the series. It looks like the next episode - or at least the next two - will see the end of Adel as a villain, since we're having at least one climactic fight between him and Takeru, and also Takeru meditating into Adel? I don't know, it looks like it's going to be bananas.

Also, what's up with those two children at the end? They seem to be either manifestations of the Great Eye or two of the Ganmaizers, but I guess we'll find out either way next episode. Maybe we'll even find out what exactly it is that Demia does and how it works, but I doubt it somehow.

Can we at least have Igor die? He hasn't been an effective villain for quite a while, I think it's time.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Summer Wars.

Summer Wars.

So, last week we looked at one of Mamoru Hosoda's recent films, The Boy and the Beast, and I actually really enjoyed it - enough so that I thought I'd check out some of his other work, which is how we've ended up at possibly his best known non-Digimon film: Summer Wars. It's often touted as being basically a reworked version of Digimon Adventure: Our War Game, and it's not difficult to see why - the two share a broadly similar concept (the internet is invaded by a rogue AI who wants to cause massive destruction) and an incredibly similar aesthetic. 

I think that comparison does both films a bit of a disservice, though. We'll get to that in a moment.

Kenji Koiso is a gifted mathematics prodigy and a part-time moderator of the virtual reality OZ who, after taking a 'part time job' from fellow student Natsuki Shinohara, ends up pretending to be her boyfriend at the four day festivities for her great-grandmother's ninetieth birthday. While there, he meets Kazuma, Natsuki's cousin and the alter-ego of famous OZ fighter King Kazma; Wabisuke, Natsuki's granduncle who has been living in America for the past decade after absconding with the family fortune; and Sakae Jinnouchi, Natsuki's great-grandmother and the family's powerful, well-connected matriarch.

Before long, havoc strikes, though, as a rogue AI, Love Machine, takes control of OZ using Kenji's avatar. As Love Machine accrues more and more avatars (and through them, more and more personal information and authority) it begins to cause worldwide havoc. In the midst of all this, Love Machine's link to the Jinnouchi clan is revealed, and a tragedy strikes, leaving the family divided as they attempt to deal with Love Machine.

One of a few Love Machine vs Kazuma fights.

So, touching quickly on the oft-leveled at this film accusation that it's a rehash of Our War Game, I can certainly see why people say that. Apart from the loosely similar plots, Summer Wars has an almost identical aesthetic to Our War Game, both in its online and offline sections - in fact, it resembles Our War Game much more than it resembles Hosoda's later work like Wolf Children or The Boy and the Beast. It even shares some themes, like criticism of America's foreign policy, the power of people working together, and the people's propensity towards ignoring major problems.

But I'd argue that's where the similarities stop. Our War Game is very markedly an action-adventure film, and its plot basically begins and ends at the fight to stop Diablomon - but for Summer Wars, the AI plotline is a conflict meant to facilitate the film's real plotline, which is about the virtues of family, traditionalism, and reconciliation. In Summer Wars, Love Machine is a catalyst for the events of the film (and an outlet for some truly gorgeously animated fight scenes), but the conflict between Wabisuke and his family, between the two different sides of the family and their differing views on how to move forward, and between multiple warring notions of family values, is the real conflict of the film.

(One day, I'll do a proper comparison between Summer Wars, Wolf Children, and The Boy and the Beast, because they all deal with different kinds of family unit, to the point where Hosoda's portfolio could easily be considered an exploration of different types of family.)

Moments after this he becomes a giant shadow bunny.

I admit, I didn't enjoy this film quite as much as The Boy and the Beast, and the biggest reasons for that are pacing and animation quality.

While Summer Wars is transfixing once it hits its stride, it takes a ridiculously long time to get there - the first forty minutes feel slow and ponderous, and I had trouble giving it my full attention. Much time is spent establishing the family, and while that's undeniably necessary for the rest of the film to work, it's a tortured, dragging affair, shot through with comic relief moments that only really hit their mark about half the time.

After that forty minute low point, though, the film picks up considerably, and it more than makes up for a slow first act: The remainder of the film is snappy, fast-paced, and engaging. The Love Machine and family plotlines are balanced perfectly, intermingling with each other in interesting ways, and I found myself rapidly being roused from apathy to actually caring about these characters, their plight, and their relationships. 

Almost bafflingly, each family member feels like they're more fleshed out from the second act onwards than they are in the first. I learned more about each of them during the 'preparation for the big Love Machine plan' section than I did in the part of the film devoted to showing me what they were like.

A big high point in the film. So glowy.

As far as animation goes, it's certainly not bad, in fact it's very good - it's very obviously Hosoda's work, very closely resembling both Miyazaki and Our War Game, but he and Studio Chizu have obviously refined their craft a lot since then. There are a lot more shortcuts and lapses in animation quality than in his later films, the animation is markedly both less detailed and less fluid, and the colour palette feels significantly less vibrant and visually interesting.

The voice-acting is strong, and the script is concise, interesting, and well-structured. While The Boy and the Beast is quite a noisy film, Summer Wars makes a lot more use of long silences and prolonged periods of quiet, and I prefer that, somewhat. Hosoda is very good at switching up moods, and Summer Wars particularly shows how he can switch between 'joyful' and 'depressing' on a dime, often midway through a conversation between several characters, without it feeling jarring.

I enjoyed this film, even if I do prefer some of Hosoda's other work, and I can certainly see why it's probably his most beloved film. I'd recommend it, especially if you've enjoyed any of Hosoda's other work, or if you're a Miyazaki fan - as mentioned before, Hosoda and Miyazaki are fairly similar, both in terms of their animation style and in what they write about.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Editorial: The Top 10 Legend of Zelda Bosses, Part 1.

Guess who didn't watch the thing they were going to review because they were too busy playing video games, yes it was me, let's move on.

Editorial: The Top 10 Legend of Zelda Bosses,
Part 1.

The Legend of Zelda is pretty well known for its bosses (and for reusing boss concepts: How many times has energy ball tennis showed up now?), end-of-dungeon puzzle monsters who force you to apply whatever puzzle-solving item or ability you've found in the dungeon in battle.

As you'd expect from a thirty year series, it's had its fair share of high points and low points. Let's start with the high points.

10. Abyssal Leviathan: Tentalus, Skyward Sword.

While the actual boss battle is kind of disappointing, a supremely unimpressive battle against what I can only describe as a happy squid mushroom, the build-up to it - which functions somewhat like a first phase - is pretty brilliant.

As Tentalus attacks the ship you're on, you must work your way up through it, dealing with tentacles that burst through the walls, dodging debris, coping with the ship swinging and tilting, and being chased by water rising after you. In this phase, you don't ever see Tentalus properly, you just see its tentacles, and the effect it has on the ship, putting you in mind of a terrifying kraken attack.

Which is why when you do see Tentalus, it's such a colossal disappointment. I mean, really. It looks absurd, and the entire boss battle is just you hacking at tentacles and occasionally shooting its eye.

9. Ancient Automaton: Koloktos, Skyward Sword.

Coming at the end of what might be the best dungeon in the game, Koloktos both looks cool and has a genuinely fun gameplay mechanic behind it.

In keeping with the Ancient Cistern's theme of heaven and hell, it's a shimmering, many-armed golden automaton held together with filthy, rancid water. As it attacks you with its many weapons, you must use your whip to drag its arms off, allowing you to dismantle it bit by bit and get at its heart.

Like a lot of Zelda bosses, it has some good escalation, too. After you've attacked its heart twice, it will pull itself up from the floor, close a cage over its heart, and draw a whole lot of giant swords. In the second phase, you're still whipping its arms off, but now you have to contend with it being able to move after you, a whole new moveset of dervisher-esque attacks, and having to get rid of its cage - something you can only do by picking up its giant scimitars and attacking it with them.

(Fittingly, it then escalates further once you've gotten at its heart again, adding an ability to summon three fairly weak moblin-things to the mix.)

While Koloktos is a tense boss battle that is constantly escalating its gameplay, it never feels unfair - in fact, in a game full of unfair boss battles, it's probably one of the easiest.

8. Twinrova, Ocarina of Time.

Twinrova is an interesting study in a two-phase boss battle that changes up its gameplay dynamic while still utilising the same item.

A pair of witches who are Ganon's allies and surrogate mothers, Koume and Kotake will at first try to hit you with ice and fire projectiles, which must be reflected with the mirror shield back at the opposite sister. The challenge in the first phase comes from redirecting the attacks in time, and making sure you do so at the right sister.

For the second phase, however, they merge into Twinrova, and the only way to beat them is to store three charges of an elemental attack within the shield, while taking care to make sure it's only one element each time. So the challenge in the second phase becomes to make sure you only absorb attacks of the same type, something that's difficult to do when they're alternating between fire and ice.

She shows up again in the Oracle games as well, with a pretty similar mechanic, showing that she's a boss who works in both 3D and 2D.

7. Shadow Hag, Oracle of Ages. 

Shadow Hag puts a twist on an old 2D Zelda concept: Namely, bouncing your attacks off walls.

While you spend a lot of the battle avoiding the four shadows she creates to chase Link around the room, or fending off the evil butterflies she sends after you, the true challenge of this boss battle comes when she recombines and becomes vulnerable to attack.

While she's vulnerable, the Shadow Hag will immediately vanish if Link looks at her, meaning that the only way to hit her is to use your seed shooter to bounce attacks off the walls. It's an interesting way to play the whole 'bounce your attacks' gameplay mechanic.

Also, she just looks really creepy.

6.  Twilit Fossil: Stallord, Twilight Princess.

Stallord is just a blast.

The only way to get close enough to attack him is by using the Spinner to zoom up the spiraling walls of the boss arena, which briefly turns what is usually a hack and slash dungeon crawler into some kind of pinball racing game.

As you spin your way up the arena, Stallord will try to impede you with Staltroops, traps, and balls of fire, and you must avoid these until you're close enough to smash his vertebrae - only for his head to come alive, prompting you to race him up the central column of the arena again, until you can knock him down and expose his weak point.

It's a fast-paced, exciting boss battle, and like Koloktos, consistently escalates, by throwing more obstacles into your way as you attempt to smash Stallord.