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Monday, 31 October 2016

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans S2E5

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
Series 2, Episode 5
Inauguration of the Arbrau Defense Forces.

I can tell that this is going to be an episode I have trouble reaching my usual word count for. It's not even that not much happens in it -- plenty happens, and it's clearly a major turning point for the series, but it's a much quieter, slower episode than the four preceding it, and that doesn't necessarily make for a very interesting review.

Some months after the battle with the Dawn Horizon Corps, the Earth Branch of Tekkadan are preparing for the inauguration ceremony of the Arbrau Defense Forces, with Chad making a speech. Things go direly wrong however when a group in Rustall Elion's employ set off a bomb in Makanai's office, injuring both Chad and Makanai. As Takaki struggles to lead Tekkadan while dealing with an increasingly angry and uncontrollable group, and the obstructive influence of Radice, a Teiwaz bureaucrat who secretly helped set up the bombing, Galan Mossa, an ally of Rustall's, takes over the Arbrau Defense Forces. Meanwhile, on the Arianrhod fleet, Juliette and Vidar bond.

As I said before, this is a pretty slow episode: It's obvious from very early on that something is going to go horribly wrong with the inauguration ceremony, so you'd think that most of the episode would involve the build-up to a climactic catastrophe and the fallout from it. Instead, it happens pretty early on and really isn't all that dramatic: It's just one bomb going off in Makanai's office, with the immediate aftermath barely shown (and focusing exclusively on Takaki and Aston's reactions) and the majority of the episode focusing on a mounting sense of unease as a diplomatic crisis brews.

That is a terribly oversized suit.

It's not the way I would have set the episode up, to be honest, and it feels rather like the whole event was rushed in order to hurry the plot along to the potentially juicier territory of a war between different factions on Earth.

You can tell that the show is struggling a little with the episode, trying to write a story that is really just there to bridge the Dawn Horizon arc with the next arc, and which doesn't involve anything in the way of battles, and very little in the way of politicking or backstabbing.

We did get two new characters introduced, though, both of which I imagine will be dead very, very soon. 

Firstly, we get Radice, a Teiwaz bureaucrat who betrays Tekkadan and then obstructs Takaki's attempts to contact Orga, presumably realising that if Takaki and Orga have a conversation, Orga might realise that something's up. I honestly don't imagine that Radice will live past the end of episode seven -- he's not really long-term villain material, and the animators didn't even bother giving him an interesting design -- but at the moment, anyone could end up killing him, so it'll be fun, at least, to see how the show plays that.

The other one is Galan, and I don't see him lasting beyond the first battle between his forces and Tekkadan -- they're nominally on the same side right now, but given that he's working for Rustall, I can't see that lasting very long. He's a character very much in the same vein as Sandoval and Kudal -- distinctive enough that audiences will remember him, but very clearly meant to be a short-lived villain. Maybe he'll end up with his own Gundam for a time, but I doubt it -- he'll probably just get some kind of custom suit, like Sandoval did.

This is not the face of a character who will survive for very long.

We also got an actual extended scene with Vidar! If there was any doubt that that was Gali-Gali's voice coming from his mask before, there's none now. It was nice to see, as well, that he still seemed pretty sweet and gentle, possibly even moreso than he was before McGillis stabbed him with a giant sword -- it adds an extra dimension to his character beyond 'revenge obsessed cyborg,' and it's nice to see him relating to Juliette, as they're both, in a way, people who Rustall gave a second chance when most of Gjallarhorn would have rejected them.

Juliette and Vidar, bros forever.

We also get to see McGillis being a little bit vexed over the whole brewing war situation. While he'll most definitely be back to being an antagonist by the end of the series, it's nice to see him being protagonist-y for now.

Mika, Eugene, Akihiro, Kudelia, and possibly Hash are all off to Earth now, so I imagine we'll see them turn up either next episode or in episode seven, with a 'war on Earth' arc properly starting maybe a little beforehand (so that we can have Takaki struggling without them). In fact, if previews of Aston in a mobile suit cockpit are anything to go by, that'll probably start next episode.

All in all, this is probably my least favourite episode so far this series, but it certainly wasn't terrible. Also, I am kind of laughing at Chad's full name being 'Chad Chadan.' You really didn't try at all there, did you, Sunrise.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

What We're Watching 29/10/16

What We're Watching

Another Saturday, another What We're Watching, and I still haven't watched Yuri!! On Ice.

RWBY Volume 4.

Web cartoon RWBY has just started its fourth volume, picking up after a pretty shocking and dramatic end to the third volume, which saw the characters' home devastated; the team split up; two of the main characters, Pyrrha and Ozpin, dead at the hands of antagonist Cinder; and Cinder's boss, Salem, revealed.

One episode into the fourth volume, and we're off to a pretty good start, with a first episode that was evenly split between a meeting between Salem and several of her lieutenants, including Cinder, and a battle between the newly formed Team RNJR, consisting of Ruby and the remnants of Team JNPR.

As always, I am hoping that RWBY does well this volume, both in terms of quality and in terms of increasing its budget and audience. It seems to have hit the ground running in that regard, and a DLC for the RWBY video game has just been released as well, which is always nice.

Agents of SHIELD S4.

Like Once Upon A Time, Agents of Shield is a series that feels like it's been airing for a lot longer than it actually has. That said, it's still pretty entertaining, even though I'm not sure it'll ever be especially brilliant.

This series has thus far focused on the appearance of Ghost Rider and a plot by a set of ghostly scientists to discover a book called the Darkhold, which is apparently full of forbidden knowledge. After a few episodes of Skye acting as a rogue agent, the last few have seen her and Coulson teaming back up again, which seems set to put them in the firing line of the new Director of SHIELD.

It makes for an interesting concept, at least, and it'll be fun to see where they take it. So far, the series has been a perfectly pleasant watch, even if I'm not exactly waiting on the edge of my seat to see where the show goes next.

Yu-Gi-Oh Arc-V.

Arc-V, the fifth series of card game anime Yu-Gi-Oh, is now into the hundred-and-twenties, and looks like it's just about heading into the final stretch. Recent episodes have revealed that Yuya and his three doppelgangers in the four dimensions of the show are all fragments of a world-destroying madman named Z-Arc, while Yuya's best friend Yuzu and her three doppelgangers are fragments of Ray, the duelist who stopped him.

'Main character is secretly evil' is actually a pretty standard plot turn for Yu-Gi-Oh, so I don't think anybody was tremendously shocked at that reveal, especially as we've had a good hundred episodes of Yuya occasionally going berserk and trying to kill people with a children's card game.

Almost surprisingly, the series still feels pretty fresh, despite being well into triple figures by now. This was about the point where the last series, Zexal, started to feel increasingly tired and nonsensical, so it's fairly impressive that I'm not losing patience with Arc-V yet. I just wish we'd actually gotten a proper, full length Xyz Dimension arc.

Arrow S5.

Weirdly, this series of Arrow has continued to be kind of okay. Tobias Church isn't a hugely compelling villain, but he's clearly not long for this world, either, with the mysterious archer being the obvious main villain of the series.

Meanwhile, Ollie having a team of recruits has revitalised the series somewhat, and the idea of John returning in the near future to rejoin the team is something to look forward to.

Friday, 28 October 2016

No Post Today.

Hey, guys. I was buried under a sudden onslaught of work today, so it looks like today probably won't have a review or editorial. We'll be back tomorrow, however, with this week's What We're Watching, so keep an eye out for that.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Persona 5: The Daybreakers.

Persona 5: The Day Breakers.

I swear this isn't 'video game tie-in anime' month. Really. It's entirely a coincidence that this is the third video game tie-in I've covered this month. This time, however, it isn't coming from Square-Enix, but from Atlus. Atlus' anime offerings have always been a bit hit and miss (more miss than hit, if we're all being completely frank), so going into The Daybreakers, the thirty minute OVA to hype up Persona 5, I wasn't expecting a huge amount.

It makes sense that Atlus might want to big up Persona 5 a little: Competition is pretty stiff, with it competing with not only Final Fantasy XV but also with Tales of Berseria and the European and US release of Digimon World Next 0rder, thus placing it squarely against two other big name releases in long-running worldwide franchises, and one smaller game with cult appeal in, again, a long-running worldwide franchise.

Set at an undisclosed time during the events of the game, the OVA follows the Phantom Thieves of Hearts as they follow up a request left on their website, and execute a heist against a gang of small-time crooks, culminating in a battle between the Thieves, accompanied by their Personas, and the Shadow of one of the thieves.

That's a pretty light plot summary, but as far as half hour OVAs go, this one has a heavy -- and very intentional -- emphasis on style over substance. Much like Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV, this OVA is animated by A-1 Pictures (who seem to be the go-to group for these kinds of things, possibly because they will just take any project regardless of how grotesquely overworked their staff are), but the studio seems oddly in their element this time around, with colourful, bright, and stylish animation that manages to convey a distinct character.

Oddly, Morgana has a code name, despite being literally a cat who doesn't need a secret

A lot of that is probably down to the fact that this is only thirty minutes, and some of that is probably down to budget, but it's probably mostly down to the fact that Persona 5 already has a very strong and distinctive art style, and a heavy focus on a particular aesthetic. It's a lot easier to create something that looks sharp, visually interesting, and stylish if you have clear direction on exactly how you're meant to do that, and if there's one thing we can definitely say about the nigh-endless dripfeed of Persona 5 trailers, teasers, and screenshots we've gotten over the past I'm-not-even-sure-how-long, it's that they could practically function as a manual on Persona 5's artistic direction.

As far as the voice acting goes, it's all fine, in that it's all basically what you would expect from the voice actors involved. You've got Jun Fukuyama as Joker, doing his Lelouch voice (as opposed to his Shinra voice); Tomokazu Sugita as Yusuke, doing the same voice he does for basically every role; Mamoru Miyano, easily the voice actor on cast with the biggest range, playing Ryuuji with a fairly standard hot-blooded idiot turn; and Ikue Otani as Morgana, being Ikue Otani in every role she's ever done that isn't Pikachu; and so on, and so forth.

(I thought I heard Yoshimasa Hosoya at one point, but no, no, he's not in this, it's just that the past year of him showing up in everything has left me hearing him even when he's not around.)

The thieves. Well, the ones that appear in this OVA, at least.

All of which is to say that the voice acting is all pretty good, but not exactly daring -- every voice actor is well and truly in their comfort zone, which is, you know, fine. I'm perfectly content with those comfort zones. Not every product has to push its voice actors' boundaries.

Musical direction is fine, but as with Brotherhood, it's from the game's soundtrack, so that's not really the anime's achievement.

The plot, meanwhile, progresses in pretty predictable fashion. There's a twist at the end, but that was hardly a surprise, since it's practically mandated by law now that every piece of fiction revolving around a gang of master thieves should end with a twist that frames everything prior to it in a new and triumphant light. The whole thing is really meant to build to the big fight scene at the end, and all the drama, flair, and theatricality associated with it -- and in that regard, it does a pretty good job, with an actually pretty stunningly good fight scene to cap it all off.

Arsene, the most stylish Persona.

Ultimately, much like Brotherhood, this is a thirty minute commercial. I don't think anyone was ever pretending it wasn't, so that's probably a fairly uncontroversial view on my part. It was a fun enough commercial, though: I can't say it really made me any more excited for Persona 5 (although I'm pretty excited already), but I still enjoyed myself watching it.

Persona 5 was released in Japan last month, and will be released in Europe, Australia, and North America on the 14th of February 2017, so keep an eye out for that.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

The Flash S3E4: The New Rogues

The Flash
Series 3, Episode 4
The New Rogues.

Usually episode four is our first foray into crossover territory, with Felicity making her first appearance on the show in the fourth episode of the first series, and Stein and Jax taking center stage in the fourth episode of the second series, setting us up for Legends of Tomorrow. That doesn't seem to be the case this time around, bar a short reference to Legends of Tomorrow, but if that monster in the preview for episode five is what I think it is, then we might be seeing a crossover next week. Maybe. Possibly.

In this week's episode, a new metahuman, with the power to travel through and trap other people within mirrors appears, and quickly teams up with a former associate, now a metahuman with the power to induce vertigo in people. As Barry and Jesse attempt to stop them, Wells expresses his plans to return to Earth-2, and suggests that the team find another universe's Harrison Wells to take his place. Meanwhile, Wally and Jesse strike up a romance, while Barry and Iris struggle with Joe's awkwardness about their relationship.

So, this episode finally introduces Mirror Master, who might be the Flash's best known rogue after the Reverse-Flash -- and to be honest, he's a little underwhelming. The show seems to be pushing the idea that Mirror Master is a replacement for Snart, as the most prominent member of the show's rogues gallery who isn't a diabolical evil mastermind, and it doesn't really work. Grey Damon -- who I actually didn't recognise at all, despite having seen him in a metric ton of things -- doesn't really have the same flair and charisma as Wentworth Miller, and 'various mirror powers' is a bit more of a boring elevator pitch than 'has an ice gun.'

He has an ice gun.

(Incidentally, man, Damon, you're looking old these days.)

The episode does its best to up the stakes by having Mirror Master team up with Top, a villain with the power to induce vertigo (so, a cut-price Count Vertigo, then), but she's not especially threatening or memorable either, and the show has so many running subplots (Jesse's training, finding a new Wells, Barry and Iris' awkwardness with Joe, Jesse and Wally's relationship) that basically the entirety of the main plot feels like an afterthought.

I've talked a significant amount about how Wells, as a character, is kind of the linchpin that ties the show together, and this episode seems to acknowledge that, while also positing a bizarre and hilarious possibility: That the team could just grab different Wells from different versions of Earth and have them on its team.

Having introduced that concept, which I actually quite liked, the show immediately started doing its best to make me hate it, by making it blindingly obvious that every possible Earth numbered three or higher was a cartoon world where strange, baffling caricatures lived. It's a scene played very much for comedy, and I've said before that Cavanagh's brand of comedy often doesn't mesh all that well with the rest of the show.

Grey Damon has apparently aged ten years since I last saw him.

By the end of the episode, I had gone from 'enthusiastic about this new direction' to 'dreading it and hoping that it was just leading into Earth-2 Wells staying,' and yet, and yet, the episode did indeed end on a new Harrison Wells arriving. He was cloying and overly comedic and generally actually quite grating.

The next episode seems set to reveal Earth-19 Wells as being pure evil and quite possibly a massive alien monster (in fact, he looks like a White Martian, but that's probably a coincidence), which will be an incredible relief for me, to say the least.

The Barry and Iris subplot, meanwhile, feels completely inane. Look, yes, interpersonal conflict is good, but I should not be forced to watch two grown adults demur over whether it's appropriate to kiss in front of the woman's dad (and -- the dude's dad, too, let's ... let's just not get into that right now) and the fact that I did is making me hate these two.

I like Jesse's costume. The red and gold works.

Critically, not every episode needs relationship drama. Sometimes, it's okay to just have two people being happy in a relationship, while monsters and/or super-criminals rampage through the city. That's fine.

Wally and Jesse's romance is much more tolerable, largely because of their respective actors' charisma, but I could never really get all that invested, since I know it's not going to go anywhere. Predictably, Jesse leaves at the end of the episode, so that's that subplot fairly thoroughly wrapped up.

This episode was entertaining enough, but that's probably the best thing I can say about it, especially since it doesn't advance the plot at all -- in fact, Doctor Alchemy doesn't even show up in this episode, and I think he's only mentioned once, and Julian doesn't make an appearance either. It looks like the next episode will give us more of Tom Cavanagh acting evil, and I'm always fond of him doing villain acting, so that should be fun, at least.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Supergirl S2E3: Welcome to Earth

Series 2, Episode 3
Welcome to Earth.

So, with Clark now back in Metropolis, Cat having left (well, sort of) the show, and Mon-El now awake, this is the first episode in the new status quo, and it was always going to be interesting to see if it concretely felt any different from either the first two episodes of this series or most of series one. The answer is that it doesn't, really: In terms of tone, themes, and structure, the only really big change is that we don't have the element of Cat acting as simultaneous antagonist and mentor -- but even then, we have Snapper performing a similar, albeit reduced, role.

As the president arrives in National City to sign the Alien Amnesty Act, a piece of legislation that would give citizenship rights to any alien refugees living in the US, she comes under attack from a mysterious assailant using heat vision. Suspicion quickly falls on Mon-El, recently escaped from the DEO, and is only compounded when Kara discovers that he's from Daxom, a planet with a long and mutual enmity with Krypton. Meanwhile, Alex finds herself working with NCPD detective Maggie Sawyer, whose views on aliens are startlingly different to her own. At Catco, both Jimmy and Kara struggle with how to deal with Snapper.

It's interesting, and doubtless not at all a coincidence, that we should get an episode about politics, and particularly the politics of immigration, so close to a presidential election in which immigration is such a major theme -- it's equally probably not a coincidence that this episode involves much discussion about refugees, and airs at around the same time that the Calais Jungle camp is getting deconstructed. 

Americans are weird.

Supergirl isn't often overtly political, although it has certainly had its moments in the past, so to make an entire episode that is essentially about a real world political issue is a pretty daring and new move for it.

It's also pretty clear and unambiguous about being a political episode. The show is always very careful to couch the idea of aliens in the same terms that would be used to talk about immigration from other countries (with only Lena really touching on the idea that most of these aliens have special powers, and that alone makes it not really the same), and the president is very clearly meant to a kind of combination of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, with shades of Battlestar Galactica's Laura Roslin.

Beyond that, though, the basic plotline of this episode doesn't have a whole lot going for it. It's a pretty basic plotline: Everyone thinks that Mon-El is the assassin (but it obviously isn't), they capture him, the real assassin (who is never named and gets only the thinnest motivation) shows up, Kara learns a lesson in not judging people.

In this case 'don't judge the white American dude.' Make of that what you will.

Instead, the main draws of the episode are its aforementioned political nature, and Kara and Alex's interactions with our two new cast members, Mon-El and Maggie. While I was a little cautious about both of them, they both grew on me pretty quickly. Mon-El is warm and engaging, and Chris Wood plays off Melissa Benoist pretty well in their brief scenes together. Maggie, meanwhile, is certainly the more interesting of the two, with a flirtatious rivalry-slash-friendship dynamic with Alex, and Floriana plays her with a sharpness and nonchalance that makes her pretty engaging to watch.

Maggie and Alex are clearly getting a romance subplot, and I look forward to seeing more of that. The jury is still out on Mon-El and Kara, but while I'm not necessarily opposed to them having a romantic subplot, I will be a little bit annoyed if the writers hurriedly wrote out Kara and Jimmy's romance solely so that she'd be freed up for Kara and Mon-El to get together. That would be some incredibly lazy writing, and I do expect better from Berlanti and Kreisberg by now.

Honestly, the scenes between Kara and Lena came off as pretty romantic as well, so having Kara and Lena have a romantic subplot would, at this point, make just as much sense.

Kara fangirling the president.

The episode ends with a few big shockers -- the president is some kind of red-skinned alien, and J'onn discovers another Martian, specifically M'Gann, a member of the Teen Titans in the comics. If we're super lucky, this will eventually lead into a Teen Titans television show with M'Gann, Wally, and maybe a few others, but it's doubtful.

It looks like the next episode will have a heavy focus on M'Gann, however, as she becomes involved in an underground alien fight club headed by Roulette, played by Dichen Lachman. I'm honestly astounded that this is Lachmann's first Arrowverse role. Like this week's episode, that looks to be another episode focusing on how human society pushes aliens to the fringes, which given that that idea ties into the Cadmus plotline as well, looks like it might be this series' theme.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans S2E4

Mobile Suit Gundam:
Iron-Blooded Orphans
Series 2, Episode 4
The Trigger of Success.

It's odd to think that we're a fifth of the way through the series, because it looks like we won't actually be getting down to the meat of the plot until the next episode: Instead, these first four episodes seem to have been committed to establishing the new state of play, giving Tekkadan a disposable enemy they can combat to show how they operate now, and what kind of scale they operate at, while also establishing the rivalry between Rustall's Arianrhod fleet (and his various other supporters, including Vidar/Gali-Gali) and McGillis' faction.

(Interestingly, the next episode looks to have a heavier focus on the Earth Faction, so that'll be fun.)

In this week's episode, Tekkadan contend with Julietta and Iok to try to capture Sandoval, the leader of the Dawn Horizon Corps, first and secure victory for themselves and their faction of Gjallarhorn. In the aftermath, Hash approaches Mika with a request, and Orga pays a visit to Allium, the man who hired the Dawn Horizon Corps. As McGillis arrives at Mars, he invites Orga up to Gjallarhorn's Ares Station.

The battle in this episode was over and done with a lot quicker than I expected. I kind of assumed the whole episode, or at least the vast majority of it, would be taken up with it, and instead it ended up finished pretty rapidly, with a fast-paced, high tension game of 'who can get to Sandoval first' between Julietta in her Reginlaze and Mika in the Barbatos Lupus.

D'aww, Hash and his Saitama eyes.

(Incidentally, I get the impression that the Reginlaze is meant to be almost Gundam-like, with one character noting that Julietta and Mika are both similarly strong -- as in, possessing much physical strength -- and Julietta directly linking that to her Reginlaze.)

Most of the rest of the episode is devoted to people talking politics and/or emotions: We get Naze talking about the mining industry with some other Teiwaz bigwigs; Tekkadan talking about the mining industry; Kudelia and Atra talking about Mika and also farming and, in all likelihood, the mining industry; and McGillis talking about reforming Gjallarhorn.

(I'm not saying that Iron-Blooded Orphans is sponsored by the Miners' Union, I'm just implying it.)

I tuned most of that stuff out, but I did manage to catch the basics: Kudelia is sad that Mika's always busy, Atra still wants a polyamorous relationship, Naze thinks Orga isn't good at politics, Tekkadan owns a mine now. Also, they've found the Flauros in said mine, along with something that's like a mobile suit but, we're told, far too big to be one.

I've been asking when the Flauros will show up for a few weeks now, so I'm pretty happy to see it appear, even if it'll probably take at least several episodes for it to go from 'decrepit relic' to 'functional Gundam.'

Starring Shino and Eugene as 'those two sitcom guys.'

We also get a scene of Orga and Mika attempting to shake Allium down for money and, when he can't pay off, killing him. While there has been a -- kind off odd reaction from fanboys who seem to have not really got why this scene is meant to be disturbing, it does hammer in that the two of them (and especially Orga) are antiheroes, which is something we've known for a while. The entire scene is framed to place them squarely as the bad guys, having Orga act less like a man who is genuinely out for justice and more like a mobster capitalising on an opportunity while also sending a message to anybody who might defy him.

(Which, of course, Orga is -- he's a member of Teiwaz, after all, a mafia/yakuza hybrid group. It's not much of a surprise that he's acting like a mobster when he's been a mobster since halfway through the first series.)

It's an interesting, morally grey situation, as the show pushes up to empathise with (if, perhaps, not sympathise with) a character who has always been presented to us as double-dealing, underhanded, and murderous, while also asking us to see the show's two leads as dark, violent people whose motives are less about justice, or even revenge, and more about a predatory desire to shake a man down for cash.

Mika seen here as Orga's eyeless enforcer.

The ability to present those kinds of situations in an honest and thoughtful way has always been one of the areas where Iron-Blooded Orphans has really shone, so I quite enjoyed the scene, even if there was something deeply disturbing about it at the same time.

Incidentally, harking back to that scene between Kudelia and Atra again, we get some hint of where Mika could take his life if he didn't want to live out the rest of his days in Tekkadan, as Atra and Kudelia discuss how he's been researching different farming techniques. That, at least, gives me some hope he might survive the series.

Anyway, it looks like next episode is going to have a heavy focus on the Earth Faction, as they're inaugurated as defense contractors (or something?) for the Arbrau region. I'm sure there's no way that could go wrong, and I'm definitely sure that Gjallarhorn won't try to sabotage it in any way in an attempt to get themselves back on top. It looks like we'll also get some stuff with Mars and the Arianrhod fleet, including maybe a conversation between Julietta and Vidar?

Saturday, 22 October 2016

What We're Watching 22/10/16

What We're Watching

Another Saturday, another What We're Watching. I did almost watch Yuri! On Ice this week, but that'll probably have to wait until next week.

Bungou Stray Dogs S2.

We had two episodes this week (courtesy of the show's timeslot being changed from Wednesdays to Fridays), taking us to the end of the Osamu Dazai in the Dark Era arc. It ended in predictably tragic fashion, but with what is probably the best episode of Bungou Stray Dogs so far.

That leaves us with eight or nine episodes to cover the Guild arc, and it wouldn't surprise me if that arc ends up either very heavily condensed, or sprawling out into another series. Either way, I do think that the four episodes spent on this arc were worth it: It gave us possibly the most interesting storyline of the series so far, after all.

I did like Oda. I'm pretty sad that he's dead. But I also think we all knew that was how this story was going to end, so there's that.

All Out!

I figured I'd give this one a try. Sports anime aren't really my thing, but it and Yuri!!!(!!!!) On Ice have been getting a lot of buzz lately, so I thought I'd take a look.

It took about ten minutes for me to decide that there was absolutely no way I was even getting through an entire episode, let alone an entire series. There's something oddly nineties-ish about the animation, but more than that, it's just boring. 

In the first ten minutes, basically the only thing that happened was a prolonged joke about one character being tall but gentle, and another character being short but violent, and honestly, that joke was old when Fullmetal Alchemist started fifteen years ago, and it hasn't become any fresher since.

I skipped forward a little, and it seems to just be more of the same -- height jokes and occasionally people whispering about rugby.

Kamen Rider Ex-Aid.

I have no idea whether I'm enjoying Ex-Aid or not.

In fairness, I may have a better idea of my thoughts on it if I had actually watched any of it subbed, but as it is, I've only watched raws, which means I'm missing out on a metric ton of nuance and such -- although I kind of doubt there's all that much nuance to pick up on. 

As it is, it's entertaining? I think? I definitely don't hate watching it, but neither am I on tenterhooks waiting to see what'll happen. The themes (medicine and video games) don't seem to mesh well at all, and that bothers me a little.

Once Upon A Time.

I'm not -- actually entirely sure why I'm still watching Once Upon A Time. I think it's just because, as with Supernatural, I feel like I have to, so that I can then review it. In fairness, though, Once Upon A Time is at least slightly entertaining, which puts it head and shoulders above Supernatural.

(Please be cancelled soon, Supernatural. Please release me from this living hell.)

This series, which focuses on the return of the Evil Queen (in split-off from Regina as a separate entity form) and on Emma coming to terms with her destiny being to die at the hands of a great enemy like all Saviours before her, seems like it should be the show's final series -- but I've thought that before, and yet this show has still not ended.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Scream: The TV Series Halloween Special

Scream: The TV Series
Halloween Special.

(Contains heavy spoilers.)

In truth, I had completely forgotten that Scream was meant to have a Halloween Special. It is, however, interesting to look at how the series handles a smaller, more self-contained story: Much of its writing, and its development as a serial over time, has been about stretching a self-contained story to fill a series of television, while also leaving things open for future series, after all. Can the writers, having already stretched out a subject matter intended for short form fiction, compress their series conceit back down into a short form?

Set eight months after the end of the second series, the one-hour-twenty-minute special sees Emma, Noah, Audrey, Brooke, and Stavo spend their Halloween at Shallow Grove Island (trip courtesy of Noah and Stavo's book editor, Jeremy, because now those two are apparently a bestselling author duo), home to a century-old murder case in which a young girl killed her family and a local landowner before committing suicide. As people on the island start dying and Emma is taunted by a new killer who combines elements of the Brandon James murders with elements of Shallow Grove's own Anna Hobbs murders, they take shelter in the old mansion where Hobbs committed her last murder, now owned by Alex, the descendant of her last victim.

His murderer name is 'the Suspense.'

First off, it's kind of jarring just how quickly we're meant to accept the changes to the characters' lives, and I feel like there's an entire series missing here. The special starts on Kieran being sentenced, but wouldn't it have been much more interesting to see the characters have to go through Kieran's trial, to cope with being called as witnesses, and to see how a cunning attorney might try to clear Kieran of charges -- all the while dealing with another murderer in town? It would have changed the format of the show, sure, but I've said before that this is a show that needs to reinvent itself if it's going to survive.

Instead, we start off with Kieran being sentenced and then immediately murdered, and then pick up with the rest of the kids, who are now considering university applications and/or are bestselling authors and/or are moving to New York. It's a lot of changes, and we're never really given time to get used to any of those changes, because we're immediately thrown into another murder plot -- and not, in all truth, a particularly compelling one.

Which leads me onto the question I asked at the start of the review.

So, the answer to 'how do the writers cope with compressing their basic series conceit down into a form roughly equivalent to its source material' is 'not terribly well.' A lot of this is down to needing to keep their core cast alive for the six episode third series airing in 2017: Instead of any of the main characters actually ever truly being in danger, we instead have a small parade of new characters introduced, most of whom eventually die in gruesome circumstances.

I was about to make a hair gel in prison joke and then I realised he'd just left his trial.
The one place a convict might wear hair gel.

Sometimes this becomes a little bit silly: Two of the victims appear for all of about two minutes before they're violently murdered, and after the first three bodies drop it becomes very apparent that this special is only going to kill off new characters -- thus leaving only the question of 'will Audrey's cute new girlfriend Gina die' as the only thread of suspense in the plot.

(Gina does not, in fact, die, and that's nice because honestly, we've had so many fictional LGBT women dying this year. So, so many.)

There's also basically no suspense around who the killer is: It's obvious from very early on in the story that it's Alex, the mansion's owner and Emma's new love interest. Quite apart from the fact that he's written identically to Kieran, he's also one of only two new characters who doesn't swiftly get killed off, and the only one of the new characters to neither die nor come under suspicion for murder, despite having no alibis for any of them.

By the time he starts evilly pouring wine and menacingly talking about strawberries, it's already blisteringly clear that he's the killer -- and the story still has thirty-five minutes left in it.

Everyone is very upset.

It's clear also that this will all never be brought up again. By the end of the episode, everyone has moved on with their lives, with Emma applying for pre-med (oh, sure, go and study a course that involves a lot of blood and dead people, that seems wise) at Lakewood University (oh, sure, stay in the murder town where murderers keep appearing); Noah getting over his survivor's guilt; and Brooke and Stavo electing to move to New York together, which I suppose means they'll be absent for the third series.

That third series is scheduled for an undisclosed date in 2017, and will apparently be six episodes -- the shortest series yet, by quite a long shot, which might be a hint that it'll be the last one.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV

Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV.

A few weeks ago, we watched the other Final Fantasy XV anime offering, the Kingsglaive film -- a considerably more high-effort project than this one for a few reasons, and one that clearly had a lot more passion put into it. Like as not, while Kingsglaive felt like a genuine part of the franchise, Brotherhood is very obviously a marketing pitch. That doesn't necessarily mean it's bad, though.

A series of five ten minute episodes, Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV follows, through flashbacks, three defining moments in Noctis' relationships with his retainers, Prompto, Gladiolus, and Ignis, while also telling the story of his re-encounter with Marilith, the daemon who gravely injured him in his youth. 

In the first episode, Noctis and his retainers deal with a band of imperial soldiers and encounter Marilith once more; in the second episode, a flashback tells the story of Prompto's attempts to lose weight; while the third episode tells the story of Noctis' encounter with Gladio's sister; and the fourth episode tells the story of a falling out between Noctis and Ignis. The final episode concludes the story began in the first episode, as Noctis faces Marilith with a view to defeating her, and has flashbacks to his first encounter with her.

Okay, we'll start with the technical rundown, which is pretty important when discussing a Square-Enix production, since they prize themselves on beauty (arguably placing it before anything else). A-1 Pictures is the studio animating this, which is always a little bit of a cause for concern, since A-1 Pictures productions tend to be low effort with very little thought put into them, and superficially pretty without having much of a mind towards things like shot composition, cinematography, and so on, so forth.

Noctis and one of his many disposable weapons.

Well, they're -- slightly better here? Slightly. I'd still say this falls squarely into the 'superficially pretty but without a lot of thought put into it' category, but you can tell that A-1 Pictures has put a little bit more effort than they usually do into giving it interesting shot composition, and into making the animation colourful and engaging to look at. It's not brilliant, but it stands somewhat above A-1 Pictures' usual fare, at the very least.

The music is all lovely, but then, I'm ninety-nine percent sure it all comes from the game (as opposed to Kingsglaive, which had its own soundtrack with a few game songs dropped in here and there). There's nothing wrong with that, necessarily, but it does mean that nobody's winning any points for effort.

The voice-acting is fine, and about at the level that you'd expect a cast of relatively veteran voice actors to be. There's not much else that's really worth saying about it: It's good. Definitely functional.

Gladio, put on a shirt, you're making Noctis look out of shape.

As far as the episodes themselves go, they're not, in all honesty, that interesting. They're short character development moments, but since we don't know any of these characters, and don't have a good grasp on their characters beyond the archetypes they embody, it completely lacks any impact. Why do I care if Prompto was overweight and spent years getting his svelte figure? Why do I care if Ignis is trying to recreate a dessert Noctis tried in his youth? Why does any of this mean anything to me, when I don't know and aren't attached to these characters?

The series kind of starts off on the assumption that the audience will already be invested in these characters, but how can we be when we've only seen them in demos and trailers? So it ultimately all falls flat, and it doesn't help that the stories themselves aren't all that interesting. For the most part, they are devoid of conflict, absent of anything that would hook an audience, with only the last two episodes really having anything resembling any kind of conflict-driven plot.

D'aww, Prompto.

It's a shame, somewhat, because the result is something that has the seeds of something good, and isn't exactly terrible to watch, but just comes off as the bland oatmeal of anime -- not offensively bad, but just unremarkable.

Apparently, however, it's gotten a positive reaction in terms of views, which is potentially a positive sign for the future, as between it and Kingsglaive we may well see Square-Enix trying their hand at anime a little more in the future. I feel like that potentially could be a sector they're a little more comfortable in than video games, so honestly, I don't see much of a downside to that.

As it is, Final Fantasy XV is still due to come out this December, and trailers and demos make it look like a pretty good game, and if you're dying for a fix in the meantime, Final Fantasy XIV is still going strong and is due to have an expansion pack pretty soon. We also have Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, a HD remaster of one of the franchise's most interesting games, coming out pretty soon as well, so there's a lot to look forward to.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Flash S3E3: Magenta.

The Flash
Series 3, Episode 3

It's odd, given how enthusiastically I have praised Tom Cavanagh's performance on The Flash in the past -- and, in point of fact, literally yesterday -- I actually wasn't all that excited to see him back in this week's episode. In fact, just in general, I've not been all that hyped for this episode. Perhaps that's because, traditionally, the third episode of ealch Flash series tends to be one of the weaker ones: The first series gave us the episode about the poisonous gas man, which was fine but not exactly memorable; while the second series gave us 'Family of Rogues,' an episode which basically existed purely to hype up Legends of Tomorrow.

Generally speaking, there is a good reason for this: The first two episodes of each series tend to be quite exposition and plot heavy and are often capped off with a significant plot twist at the end, while the fourth episode of each series tends to press some crossover elements and thus ends up being a little inaccessible for new viewers. The third episode, then, usually acts as a breather, vaguely continuing the plot arc of each show but being, overall, fairly plot-light and fluffy.

In this week's episode, Wells and Jesse arrive on Earth-1, seeking to test Jesse for the Speed Force, as she has exhibited super speed following her and Wally's encounter with the second dark matter explosion. As Wells attempts to convince Jesse not to become a superhero, the team goes up against a metahuman with a split personality and the power of telekinesis, who calls herself Magenta, and is seemingly another victim of Doctor Alchemy. Meanwhile, Barry and Iris' relationship gets off to a slow start, and Barry and Julian's working partnership becomes more and more strained.

Wally is so pretty.

We'll touch briefly on Cavanagh's acting in this episode, because it's actually kind of bizarre. Cavanagh is, by trade, a comedic actor, and he's best known for his roles on shows like Love Monkey, Scrubs, and Eli Stone, all of which fall very squarely into being sitcom-ish comedy dramas -- but his roles on The Flash have generally not been comedic at all, in fact they've generally been the most serious and straight-faced roles in the show, with Thawne being characterised by a combination of soft-spoken geniality and quiet, understated menace, and Wells being characterised by being gruff, tormented, and enigmatic.

In this episode, he is playing comedy, at least in the first half of the episode. He's playing comedy very adeptly, as you would expect from an actor with a fairly long comedic background, and it is utterly at odds both with the tone of his characters in the previous two series, and, actually, the tone of the show itself, since the style of humour Cavanagh has experience in is a lot more pronounced and dramatic than the style of humour the rest of the show uses. He's as charismatic as ever, but every scene he's in in that first half fits uncomfortably against the rest of the show.

Moving on from that, this is a pretty fun episode, if not exactly one I think anybody will be remembering. A few subplots get dropped: Julian recklessly endangering an entire police station is never brought up again after it happens, even though it really should have earned him a pretty stern reprimand. Similarly, Wells' distaste for Barry changing the timeline is noted, but never really goes anywhere. 

Wells and Jesse.

(Speaking of Julian, my gut says that he can't be Doctor Alchemy because it would be too obvious, which in all likelihood means that he is definitely Doctor Alchemy -- I thought Wells Mk. 1 actually being Thawne was too obvious, and that happened, and I thought Jay being Zoom was too obvious, and that happened. So, there you go. That's that mystery solved courtesy of my gut instinct always being wrong with this show.)

The other big subplot is Wally trying to awaken his speed, with the heavy implication being that just like other people who were metahumans during Flashpoint, he somewhat remembers having powers. Again, that plot doesn't really lead anywhere, but unlike the other dropped plots, it's pretty clearly just set-up for a future run-in with Doctor Alchemy.

Caitlin, in a really nicely lit shot.

The main plot of this episode, meanwhile, is -- there? It's nice to see a metahuman dealt with by being talked down, and I respect that they managed to make that a scene with a fair amount of dramatic tension, since that's not always easy to do. Other than that, it pans out in a fairly usual way, with all the plot beats you'd expect from a metahuman-of-the-week plotline. If it seems like I'm kind of skimming over the main plot, it's because there isn't really a whole lot to say about it. It was enjoyable, certainly, but as I said before, I don't think anybody's going to particular remember it.

Next episode looks to have Cavanagh and Beane appearing again as Wells and Jesse, although I doubt they'll be staying in the show long. Much like Tyler Hoechlin's appearance on Supergirl, they seem to be recurring characters appearing for a few episodes and then leaving again, and I have a sneaking suspicion that next week we'll also see a recurring cast member show up on Arrow, only to then leave the week after.

Apart from that, we've got the Mirror Master, one of the Flash's most well-known enemies showing up. That should be interesting to see, at least.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Supergirl S2E2: The Last Children of Krypton.

Series 2, Episode 2
The Last Children of Krypton.

In the back of my head, somewhere, there's an editorial brewing about how comic book adaptations for television have changed over the years. Because it almost beggars belief that in such a short span of time, we could get from 'no tights, no flight' Smallville, an adaptation that did its best to distance itself from the comics it was adapting at every opportunity, to shows like Supergirl and The Flash, which eagerly embrace their comic book routes and do their best to hew fairly closely to the spirit of the comics.

It also serves as a pretty harsh rebuke to the people who claim that all comic book adaptations should be straight, unaltered, panel-to-screen adaptations of comic book storylines, and anything else is unfaithful -- because every panel-to-screen adaptation we've had in the past has been awful, and just hasn't worked, but then you have these two series, which forge new storylines for themselves while feeling fundamentally and essentially like comics storylines.

But that's a post for another time. This week, I continue to be excited about Tyler Hoechlin's Superman, and nervous about the changing state of affairs for this series, as this episode pushes a few more stark changes.

Clark and Hank, getting their argument rudely interrupted.

In this week's episode, Cadmus releases Corbin, now a kryptonite-powered cyborg called Metallo, onto the streets. As tensions between Clark and J'onn rise, Clark tells Kara he'll be returning to Metropolis, prompting Kara to consider whether she should go with him. Meanwhile, Kara meets her new boss, who refuses to acknowledge that she's been hired as a reporter, and learns that Cat will be taking a leave of absence. Things get worse when Cadmus releases a statement announcing their intention to destroy Supergirl and Superman, and create a second Metallo, sending him to terrorise Metropolis. 

One nice thing about this episode was that it acknowledged each character's flawed behaviour in a pretty honest and up-front way, with characters talking about how Clark effectively abandoned Kara by giving her the Danvers family, Winn calling Alex out on her 'you should be grateful and never leave me' antics, and Alex calling Kara out on being kind of flighty (heh) and changeable.

Change is actually the main theme of this episode, with Clark and Cat both leaving (although not permanently -- Tyler Hoechlin and Calista Flockhart are both still recurring cast members), Jimmy getting a promotion, and Kara taking a new job in a new office. 

Out of all of those, the change I'm most worried about is Cat leaving -- Flockhart and Cat are kind of this show's equivalent of The Flash's Cavanaugh and Wells, an actor and character who kind of made the show what it is and who capture the audience's attention every time they're in a scene. It's difficult to imagine Supergirl without Cat in it, and only time will tell if her sort-of-replacement (in that he seems to be taking the mentor role), grumpy news editor Snapper Carr, will be up to the task of filling her shoes.

And here's Kara and Alex watching said argument.

The change is a necessary one, however, partly due to the reduced budget -- Flockhart was by far the highest paid actor on the show, and the highest paid actor on any of DC's television shows, in fact -- and partly because production had moved from the relatively more expensive Los Angeles to the relatively cheaper Vancouver, where Arrow and The Flash are both also filmed, and Flockhart preferred to take on projects that were a bit closer to her home.

The episode's plot is a pretty solid one, seeing Kara and Clark come under attack from Metallo, while Cadmus announces their intention to repel the 'invaders' and prove humanity's worth. It was a less warm and affectionate episode than last time, instead more often focusing on the trials Kara and Clark were facing, and on Clark's enmity towards J'onn for having kryptonite. The storyline even has some impressively vicious scenes in it, like one of the Metallos attacking a park full of civilians, and a couple of pretty up close and personal beatdowns of Clark.

Byeee Cat.

The Metallos aren't that compelling as villains, so much as they are just obstacles and punchy-shooty-people, but they don't need to be, because the real villain of this episode is the scientist who created them, who maintains a constant presence in this episode and gets a chance to give Alex her own villain monologue. As an antagonist, I really like her, and there is a certain sinister element to her that was lacking from Astra and Non. Brenda Strong puts in an excellent performance which, for some reason, reminds me of Amanda Tapping.

Anyway, this is a fun, well put together episode, and while I'm kind of sad that Clark's going so soon (although it was pretty obvious he wasn't sticking around for long), and a little concerned that Cat is leaving, I'm interested to see where the series goes -- especially as Mon-El has apparently now woken up, so we'll get to see what's going on with him. That, at least, should be pretty interesting to watch.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans S2E3

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
Series 2, Episode 3
Battle Before Dawn.

It has come to my attention that there are some people who -- disagree that Hash is the best character on this show, and who see him as a whiny upstart who doesn't understand what he's asking for. To those people, I say that that's perfectly all right. It's not necessary to always agree with me. Some people have to be wrong so that my being right can shine that much brighter.


In this week's episode, Tekkadan and McGillis' Gjallarhorn fleet, under the command of Ishidou, engage the Dawn Horizon Corps in battle. When Dawn Horizon initiates a daring gambit to outnumber Tekkadan and Gjallarhorn, however, they are thrown into a pitched battle they couldn't expect -- one which is only further complicated when Gjallarhorn's Arianrhod fleet, under Iok's command, arrives at the battle. Meanwhile, Rustall and the masked man hear of Tekkadan's involvement in McGillis' plans.

Most of this episode is taken up by the battle, and to be perfectly honest, I found said battle really difficult to follow. It's very fast-paced, frenetic, and dramatic, and usually I'd be praising those features, except it was so fast-paced that I struggled to figure out what was going on at any given time. It was pretty easy to get Dawn Horizon's Garm Rodis, Gjallarhorn's Graze's, and Tekkadan's Shiden's mixed up when they were all quickly whizzing by (not even getting started on how there was also the Barbatos Lupus, the Gusion Rebake Full City, and later the Hugo, and two custom suits I don't even know the name of), and the confusion was only magnified when the Arianrhod fleet arrived, adding a bunch of different coloured Grazes to the mix. There's also at least four major ships and a handful of less major ones.

Norba's so pretty.

There's also a lot of named characters at play. There's Mika, obviously, Akihiro, Orga, Eugene, and Norba, and I'll grant that those are ones you'd basically expect to find in an Iron-Blooded Orphans battle. But there's also Ride, Dante, Lafter, Azee (I think), Ishidou, Sandoval, and later Julietta. That's eleven or twelve characters to keep track of, which just adds an extra layer of bewilderment to an already bewildering battle.

It was, however, pretty nice to see some tricks from the first series turn up again. Eugene controlling multiple ships with the Alaya-Vijnana System was a nice callback (although it is clearly bad for his health and he needs to stop doing it), as was using the Big Pink Sensor-Blocking Cloud. It was also pretty nice to see them actually refueling and repairing the mobile suits mid-battle and doing other logistical stuff.

It was also pretty fun to see some use of tactics before the battle started, with Tekkadan and Gjallarhorn plotting to pick the ships off one by one, and Sandoval and the Dawn Horizon Corps tricking them by towing nine ships behind the first one, meaning they'd have no Ahab wave to detect. I'm always a sucker for clever strategies in fiction, and Iron-Blooded Orphans is pretty good for delivering on them.

Barbatos is also so pretty.

The battle scene is beautifully animated, has some great music to go along with it, and even manages to throw in a few emotional moments, like when we get a brief shot of someone crying as Mika kills them. As ever, Iron-Blooded Orphans is pretty keen on hammering in the inherent inhumanity of war, and the injustice and barbarism of child soldiers. From a technical standpoint, it's a really well-done episode, and it would be a great example of how to make up an episode predominantly from a single battle if it wasn't so confusing.

We also got a very brief scene of the masked man, and got to hear his voice, making it pretty clear that he's Gaelio. From the looks of it, he has a new Gundam (the Vidar, I think?) and I'm guessing he survived via a combination of cybernetics and Alaya-Vijnana surgery. We're probably going to get a dramatic reveal moment where we get to see his horribly scarred, maskless face.

Lookin' good, Gali-Gali.

Regrettably, this episode was kind of short on some of the more interesting characters. We basically didn't see McGillis at all, or anyone from the Earth Branch, or Kudelia. Hash shows up in a single scene for about two seconds, working on the Barbatos Lupus' repair and commenting that Mika hardly used any fuel.

It looks like the battle will continue in the next episode, with Julietta taking the field in her super-special Graze, Iok showing up in his Reginlaze, and Sandoval showing off his Hugo. It should be pretty fun, and with the battle probably ending up squarely focusing on Mika, Akihiro, and Norba vs Julietta, Iok, and Sandoval. Possibly with Lafter and Ishidou involved somewhere, who knows. Either way, it should be interesting, especially as it will be functionally a three-way battle.