A Casual End of Year Update

School is back in session. I’ve recently started a new job. These two things combined have taken quite a bit out of me, so my normal schedule of posting may seem a tad lax in the future, at least until I can get myself comfortable with my now semi-busy schedule.

This serves as both an update and filler, for those who care to know the circumstances behind the rapidity of my posting. And with the now slower-than-normal frequency in which I watch anime, many posts will likely concern outside topics such as video games or films, but I will try to squeeze in some weeb culture here and there, for the sake of the majority of my “audience.”

Thank you for reading and for staying with me.

Updated Thoughts on Bakemonogatari

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Katanagatari is one of my favorite anime of all time. I was so enthralled by it upon first watch—in the far distant past of December of 2012—that only a day later, I started a journey with Nisio Isin’s most notable work of his career: The Monogatari Series. Fun fact: Bakemonogatari was almost something I watched during the first Summer of Anime, but put it off due to the episode length and rather vague synopsis (on the site I used to watch anime). Turns out I really should’ve watched it then, as the series ended up being more than an agreeable watch. Of course, I was also still on the “Isin high,” so it’s possible my enjoyment of Bake may have been leftover sunlight from the alternative energy source that is, to this day, Nisio Isin’s greatest piece of literature.*

* Statement not up for debate.

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For lack of a desire to build upon the obviously looming question of Bake’s quality, fortune appears to be on my side, as my enjoyment of the series remained almost entirely intact. Though the difference between late December of 2012 and late August of 2017 is that I can now acutely articulate what makes the series so popular. That is, of course, aside from the number of attractive young women and plentiful amounts of sexual fan service.

Something of a difficult quality to ascertain in Bake, and the rest of the series for that matter, is the importance of the sexuality it presents throughout. For humor, for stimulation, absolutely, but is there more to it than what it lets on? It acts as somewhat of a characterization for the male lead, Arararagi, as he’s far more open (occasionally) with his fetishes and sexual curiosity than others in his position. Other female characters either display themselves due to basis of the plot at hand, which makes it harder to defend from the label of indulgent harassment, or to gain a response from the male lead, all of whom are implied to be infatuated with. With Hitagi, who acts as Aragi’s girlfriend about halfway through the series, her sexual antics are an indication of obvious attraction, as is fair in her position to be so promiscuous. Everyone else seems to do so at their own discretion… perhaps as a test or a subtle jab at their own desires.

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In terms of believability, the gauge is cozily settled onto “E.” Characters, plot, manner of events; every piece of the pie is made of acrylic titanium and tastes of a ladybug’s wing. Completely artificial with a sort of atmosphere that reeks of man spitting on the pages of media norms. That ends up being half the fun. Issues that revolve around the characters are completely human, told in the form of supernatural phenomena, yet the downtime between such serious circumstances don’t reflect the normality of everyday life. It’s a planned show, a circus of obscene entertainers who awe the audience with exuberant quirks of unholiness. Hard to take entirely seriously, yet sharp in its ability to keep the viewer’s focus. I think the thing I learned most upon rewatching this is that I can now understand why some people can’t get into this franchise.

Smoothly it integrates this complexity with each passing chapter, and although its pompousness remains ever present, there are signs of its desire to appeal to everyone. Some of this is shown through its entirely human conflicts, such as being unable to relinquish hidden stress or finding peace with a traumatic incident of the past. More so, however, is Bake’s affinity for long, emotionally-draining monologues explaining entirely what’s been going on as the plot builds up. Somewhat on the vein of Shounen anime, except with better presentation and less screaming. With this, it hopes to escape the picture of elitism that tends to follow series that stray from industry standards. Whether or not it truly does is dependent on the viewer’s priorities. I adore it for its absurdity; others may not.

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Among the more common examples of Bake’s distancing from the norm is its style of presentation. This aspect is also likely what most would consider its most snooty trait. Constant close-ups of eyes, faces, hands, feet, tits, what have you; still-shots of blank images with text written all over them, strange mannerisms from characters (head-tilting, sexually-stimulating positions), different interpretations of character design. Should one be in the mood for both well-drawn characters in standard form and symbolic gobbledygook, Bake is sure to suit their fancy tenfold. Even strangeness outside the realm of animation, including pictures of real-life people and objects intermingled with quick cutaways of fast-paced mental strain, are whimsical entertainment coated in tryhard cringe. I didn’t see much in terms of animated flaws (though I did come across some), leaving me to believe that Shaft not only did a wonderful job of meeting the basics, but setting itself apart with extracurricular activity. It improves as it goes along.

Almost by virtue of its desire to be different, Bakemonogatari passes in spite of its somewhat overindulgent story. That’s not to say the story isn’t good or the characters aren’t interesting enough to compensate for Isin essentially putting himself in the story to look at a lot of naked preteen girls… I think I elaborated on that enough, yes? A matter of personal taste and moral boundaries are what will stray those away from giving the series justification. For those who stay, indifferent to the potentially problematic subtext, enjoy a story whose furthermost goal is to entertain and perplex. I know I did.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Top 10 Most Nostalgic Newgrounds Animations

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Who needs Youtube when you have Newgrounds?

Introduced to the animation-based site back in the mid 2000’s by my cousin showing me the infamous Numa Numa Dance (not on this list), it provided years of humorous comfort for my pre-teen-esque brain to indulge in whatever video game parody animation I wanted. A lot of time and a lot of videos I saw back in those days, by creators who have long left the Newgrounds life for the boring reality, encouraged me to pursue my own horridly embarrassing OC series. They are all gone now, so don’t look for them.

This list is dedicated to the particular videos on the site that exuded the most memorable and endearing qualities that I, as a child, found captivating. Said videos don’t necessarily have to be Newgrounds-exclusive to make the list, only that I first watched them on the site. And with all lists I plan to incorporate nostalgia with, only a specific timeframe is allowed; in this case, anywhere from before I was first shown the site, roughly around 2006, to 2010.

A quick clarification: this list is not dedicated to quality. Only the impact of nostalgia.

#10: Sonic: Uncut 2 – HyperactiveYouth (2004)

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If you asked yourself why I felt the need to put that little disclaimer up there, this is the reason.

Sonic: Uncut 2 is the second “episode” of a three-episode series that takes the Sonic series of characters and puts them in real life situations (kind of). Put frankly, the animation is incredibly stiff, the voice acting is questionable, the comedic timing is atrocious, and the humor overall is somewhat juvenile. What lands it on this list is the fact that it is Sonic in a way I never would’ve imagined him at the age of 13. And for that almost alone, I adored it.

To give it credit, there are a few memorable lines and situations, most notably with the entire chaotic process of going on vacation to (a very stereotypical) Mexico. I find myself quoting Pablo’s “Sometimes I dream of free-dom!” line from time to time. It’s possible that the entire series was enough to get me to remember many of the moments from this particular episode, it being my favorite of the three, that it found itself in my brain only because it out-muscled the others. Whatever the case, it didn’t stop me from watching it a million times, so I have to live with knowing it essentially like the back of my hand.

#9: Rokémon! – DragoonFenix15 (2004)

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Pokémon combined with Mega Man? Nice.

A little bit of animated flare, a little bit of crossover madness, and a lot of creativity in what should probably not be sanctioned in a traditional Pokémon battle, Rokémon! is a one-off animation (though a sequel was supposedly planned) showcasing the fun of pure turn-based battling with no limits. Some harmless fan service never hurt anyone.

I remember this animation specifically motivating my desire to create my own Pokémon (Again, gone. Don’t look for it), rather than take copyrighted characters/enemies and give them evolutions and such. It would have been nice to see this turn into a full-fledged series, as while I wouldn’t trust their narrative chops, they’re more than capable of making individual attacks look, in internet slang speak, “epic af.” I don’t have nearly as much experience with this as the one listed above, but rewatching it brought a wave of unexpected nostalgia that made me warm and fuzzy.

#8: Dumbass Luigi – Bigfoot3290 (2006)

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The first creator on this list that had another project that very well could’ve made this list. Bigfoot3290 was also responsible for Mario’s Castle Calamity, which was also something I enjoyed during my younger days. What took the cake was an earlier work: Dumbass Luigi, and how it’s basically three-hundred times better than the original work, Dumbass Mario.

While not necessarily all that funny, the one thing Dumbass Luigi has going for it is tone and memorability. Remember Weird Al’s Alternative Polka? I first heard it here. Another scene showcases a lone boo following Luigi around, only to have Luigi lift up a container of salsa to his mouth like a crane. He stops midway, as an automated voice tells the boo the “insert one coin to continue.” The boo then shits out the coin. This process repeats until the boo spins around Luigi and shits out a barrage of coins at him like a machine gun. How the fuck do you think of things like that?

This was an easy choice for this list, though I’m somewhat surprised by how low it is. I remember it being bigger and better than what it really is, but alas, it’s only enjoyable on merit of originality. It’s not nearly as funny as it once was.

#7: Sonic Riders in 3 Minutes – RogerregoRRoger (2006)

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Oh, another Sonic video? Gee, it’s almost like I loved Sonic as a kid or something. Huh.

Let not the scary-bad design strike fear unto thine heart. It’s an intentional quirk to a series that just wants to go fast—much like the series it parodies. Complete with sped-up, chipmunk-like voices and hyper-fast vocal quips, it’s almost like Teekyuu! before Teekyuu!. I thought the video was hilarious as a child, and it still holds up quite a bit today! Well, except the fart joke.

The creator of this video is one of the rare Newgrounds artists to still be going with a signature series. One is more likely to find him on Youtube than Newgrounds, but his “[Sonic title] in [number quantity] minutes” series is still ongoing to this day—a series he started over ten years ago on a humble animation site.

#6: 4 Swords Misadventures (Eps. 1-3) – HadoukenDude (2004-2006)

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This one’s actually more popular outside of Newgrounds, but the site is its home, and that’s where it gained its following. The reason for specifying the episodes on this list is that the series is still ongoing, and I remember the first three episodes the most fondly.

Much like Sonic: Uncut 2 (though not as significantly), 4 Swords Misadventures is, at times, not very good. The first episode specifically is a giant bore, and sequences in both the second and third episode are largely so, as well. What makes this series charming is the level of ambition HadoukenDude has taken to make his parody series more than just another one-off project. Fully voiced, a somewhat original plotline, and over a decade of dedication to the project, 4 Swords Misadventures is almost like The Simpsons of Newgrounds classics.

What makes the series so memorable to me is, without repeating myself, seeing a different interpretation of an established classic. Each Link has a different personality dependent on their color, and their dialogue with others and each other have a charm that makes up for the sacrifice of consistent entertainment. It has that “homegrown” appeal, almost like being proud of something simply because you did it and you had fun with it. Such can be said for many of the videos on this list, but 4 Swords exemplifies this perhaps the most of any of them.

#5: Almost Anything by Egoraptor (2006-2010)

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Have you ever heard of Game Grumps? Y’know, that insanely popular Let’s Play group on Youtube? One of the creators of that is a man named Arin Hanson, also known as Egoraptor. You may not know this, but before playing video games for a living, he used to be an animator.

And he was fucking great at it.

Should I pick any particular video of his, it’d probably be closer to sniffing #1, but I decided to sacrifice a high spot on this list to expand his library for the world to see. It still ended up #5, anyway. It all started with Metal Gear Awesome 2, which is, to this day, still one of my favorite videos on Newgrounds. But it didn’t end there. Awesome Center Redux, Awesome Cracks Down, Awesome Crossing, Awesome Reach, and 3rd Grade Transformers are all great pieces of animation. He really had a knack for it. It’s only unfortunate he doesn’t have the ambition to continue doing so.

Should I not have any integrity, many places on this list would have an Egoraptor animation. For the sake of variety, however, his works are all jumbled together in one spot. Don’t let that be an indication that none of his works are good separately, but that all of his works are so good that I can’t leave them all off. Egoraptor himself basically holds this spot.

#4: $00pah NiN10Doh! – Kirbopher (2009)

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(WARNING: Link is NSFW.)

Another quick clarification: The author is Kirbopher, but the video is a collaboration between many different creators and artists. Listing them all would make the number line awfully long.

As with many collaborations, there are highs and lows, but with this particular collab, the highs are tremendously high. You ask me to point you in the direction of one of the most quotable animations on the internet and I’ll show you this video. There is a lot, a lot, of passion for the “art” of animating and the world of Nintendo present. Many franchises are represented, as well: Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Wario, Kirby, Earthbound, Excitebike, Pokémon, Game & Watch, and more. Originally presented, at least to some extent, in celebration of the latest Super Smash Bros., the collab took on a life of its own that spanned a number of sequels; this being the first sequel.

There’s simply too much here for me to describe in full, as many of the skits are between five and thirty-seconds long. Notable favorites include the Star Fox sequences, the Warioware skit, the Kirby vs. Meta Knight skits, and the Tetris scene. Nostalgia included, it’s an entertaining, if not stimulating, watch.

#3: ‘Zelda: Don Keyote’ Series – TX2 (2005-2006)

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Not technically an animation, not technically any good. Don Keyote nevertheless tells you all to fuck off and let it live.

Forget what I said about 4 Swords Misadventuresthis is the most “homegrown” video (series) on this list. It’s literally just a guy with a capture card recording gameplay and voicing over it, making up a story as he goes. But by the good grace of God, he’s actually funny. Such memorable lines as “A disturbing need to roll around in the dirt,” “Ma’am, are you aware that crime is a criminal offense in this area,” and “Taaaaax exemptioooooons!” are some of many quotable lines in this Kung Pow-esque parody series. It was also one of the very first parody series I had ever seen on the site, too, so that helps.

Don Keyote stands as one of those very rare cases where one really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. The quality is garbage, the technical aspect is laughable, it’s one guy voicing every character, and the entire project feels inherently embarrassing. Dialogue and an infinitely oozing amount of charm is what makes this series so dear to me, despite its off-putting ineptitude. Even now, this is what I think of when someone mentions Don Quixote. Every time.

#2: There She Is!! Step 2 – SamBakZa (2005)

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Hello, inner weeb of my former self that refused to acknowledge your existence. This gave you all sorts of urges, didn’t it?

While the classification of this video and its parent series as anime is debatable, what one can’t deny is that this series is cute, cuddly, and harmless. Until Step 3, but that’s for another time. I remember watching this again after several years around Christmas of 2015, and the flood of nostalgia hit me at full force. My heart shivered, my skin crawled, my eyes blinking incessantly. My own body was reacting in defense to my emotional splurging! Needless to say, it was a feeling I wasn’t accustomed to; that feeling in and of itself, in response to this short, makes it special to me.

The opening statement is directed towards the style of animation, one that I found myself charmed by, and still do. While it may or may not be anime depending on who you ask, it was absolutely inspired by anime, seeing as the creator is based in South Korea. I was a little too drawn to the, as I felt at the time, feminine design that I only enjoyed it at a base level. What I didn’t deny, however, was the song that accompanied the video, which I adored then and adore now. A little tame, but it matches the mood of the animation wonderfully and holds up even without it. The combination of good music, decent animation that appealed to my inner interests, and cutesy romance that has become a guilty pleasure of mine, There She Is!! Step 2 becomes a treat with every viewing.

There She Is!! was only hampered by having a slightly worse song. It’s nearly as good. Watch that, too. Watch the whole series.

#1: The Ultimate Showdown – altffour (2005)

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Aside from porn, this is the most viewed video in Newgrounds history. For good reason.

This is Newgrounds. This is everything that Newgrounds hopes to achieve with its site, its creators, and the fun of the internet. Everything about this video is absolutely perfect in that context. Almost like the “Crazy Frog Dance video” on Youtube, this is the kind of perfect creative absurdity that a normal ol’ bloke from wherever, who cares could achieve with a little thing called “passion.”

The Numa Numa Dance was the first video I saw on Newgrounds. The Ultimate Showdown was the second.

It is also my favorite video on the entire site.

Honorable Mentions: ‘Final Fantasy Day Care’ SeriesDad’s HomeShao Kahn Party.

The Iron Giant Review

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The first (and last) time I watched The Iron Giant in full was somewhere in the early 2000’s. It held the distinction of being special due to peculiar origin—being that I watched it with my cousin at my Aunt’s house one solitary day, joining the likes of Kung Pow, Spaceballs, and a number of Godzilla movies. At the time, it left such an impact on me that I imagined myself with my own giant robot, yet never felt the desire to ask for the movie myself or any toys of it. Various scenes stuck with me throughout the years, and watching it over again, I’m surprised at how much I really remember about the film. What surprised me more was how much of the film I didn’t remember.

This film takes place in 1957? Was there always this much pro-gun control symbolism? Oh, my God! The emphasis on the American government’s paranoia in the height of the Cold War era is spot-on! Hogarth’s mother is a hard-working, upstanding woman who doesn’t play a significant role in the film but speaks wonders with the scenes that she’s given? Wow, were all the scenes this short?

The Iron Giant delivers in a way most animated films only dream of doing. Clear dedication and love to the craft of traditional animation and storytelling, despite its formulaic approach, it’s its execution that leaves a substantial bite. Not a single scene feels truly wasted, complete with animation that only rarely falters and characters uplifted by fantastic vocal performances that only occasionally spout stupid lines.

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I could only think back on E.T. prior to rewatching this film. A young boy finds an “alien creature” that quickly becomes attached to the boy as he tries to assimilate his life to playing with the creature and hiding it from the public eye. My cynical sensations assumed that that was the build-up I would receive and the payoff would be something of an overproduced yawn. It was, indeed, the build-up I received, yet there were little touches—almost tender pinches reminding the audience to pay close attention—that added a complexity to the film’s entertainment value. A classroom scene showing school kids watching a bomb threat awareness video, with kids around the male lead commenting on how any unidentified “creature” should be blown to smithereens. The “antagonist” screaming at the male lead in a diner about how anything unknown should be eliminated because it “isn’t ours.” The Giant looking at a comic book displaying an evil, robotic menace that’s eerily striking to the Giant’s design. Look, Ma! Layers!

Never did I ever think to consider the time and place of the events that shape this story. As a kids’ film, there’s so much that their ignorant minds will miss within the lines that inhabit the narrative. I certainly missed them when I was eight or nine-years-old. This allows the film to take on a course that prevents it from being a straightforward, point A to point B film, as I expected it to be. Flourishing within the identity of anti-war, there are many allusions to the capabilities of man and the fear of the unknown. The Giant, in some capacity, is almost a manifestation of mankind—gentle and docile, yet absolutely destructive when provoked. There’s a lot to be made of the film’s subtle subtext, including the decision to base this in the height of the Cold War, but that’s for a more organized platform.

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Production values seem to be well-allotted for the time. While not perfect, the animation is, at times, brilliantly fluid and awesome. I particularly like the opening scene where The Giant flies down to Earth in a flaming heap of mass. However, The Giant itself (or “himself”) is the primary cause of uneasy animation. Stiff in some scenes, endearing in others. He has more noticeable chinks than any other character—the insinuation that others characters are indeed stiff is present. Voice actors do their work splendidly, with the honors of “Best in Show” being awarded to Christopher McDonald as Kent Mansley, the “antagonist.” Eli Marienthal does splendidly as Hogarth, the male lead, as well, giving him a spunk and wit that many young male leads don’t tend to carry anymore. And though the film is nothing compared to the numerous works of animation in other fields, it carries a traditional charm and, on occasion, humor that gives it its own aesthetic appeal.

To balance the level of praise, know that the film is not perfect, with its weakest link spawning from two key issues: the ending and the length of the film. Length in full, excluding the ending credits, The Iron Giant is roughly 79 minutes. Even for an animated film, that’s on the verge of being criminally short, especially for the things they wanted to develop behind the scenes. This may have contributed to each scene feeling so short, so fast, and so packed with a number of important lines and events. There’s cutting the fat, and then there’s fasting the remains. Each moment feels important and weighted, but at the same time rushed and, wrapped up in the inevitable final conflict, half-hearted. The ending is likely my least favorite part of the entire film. Not for the content it shows, but for how fast everything goes by, how easily all the pieces come together to form the most predictable of final scenarios. Some alleviation comes in the form of emotional payoff, which bodes well enough (as in I actually felt something), though it doesn’t compare to the poignant potential that led up to it.

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Even so, the emotional foundation behind The Giant and his role within the scope of the film is on par with the film that likely inspired it. As with the gentle, caring E.T., The Giant has a charisma through family-friendly, child-like creativity. He is “like a little kid;” curious, empathetic, and wishes not to be alone or afraid. The bond between human boy and giant metal boy is one that is as charming as one would expect a film to feature a male lead as open-minded (which is important to more than just this aspect) and good-natured as Hogarth. Fast as the pacing may be at times, the beginning few scenes where Hogarth is introduced to The Giant are brilliantly contained and almost blissfully timeless. Timing, mood, and character quirks all blend into a beautiful blend that lathers itself through the more slow and quiet moments between man and machine. Also noteworthy: this film knows how to efficiently use THE POWER OF EMOTIONS!!!

My safe rating for this film would be an 8/10, as I knew in my mind from past experience that the film was a great one. I was skeptical, of course, that it could be worse than expected, but I never expected it to be better. In such instances, I can think fondly of the things that make a film so wonderful, while also rummage through the fickle matter of emotional attachment that somehow overlaps the logical capacity. The Iron Giant is not just one of the greatest animated films of all time, it is a film that can hold its own against even the most cherished films within cinematic history, even if its most intriguing themes are moderately safe and close to the chest.

Final Score: 9/10

The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.

Adhering to the Value of Narratives in Video Games

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Do not let the “Plan to Play” section of MyVideoGameList fool you; I have played a number of games throughout my life. Video games were, without a shred of exaggeration, my first love in life—the thing that I would most look forward to waking up to in the morning. It would make sense that throughout my time experiencing a wide variety of different games that I’ve come to develop a certain “fetish” for specific game types that appeal to me more than anything else. Pondering this for years, I always had an affinity for Nintendo games, games with colorful and cartoon-ish art direction, and games involving a lot of puzzle-solving. However, there is a specific aspect to games that has not only become more popular in recent years, but has evolved the state of video games into something that’s been debated on ever since. I am speaking of narratives, games with grandiose stories and moral messaging within its compact code.

For some time, I never realized how prevalent the impact of narratives in video games had on me as a gamer. In recent years, it’s become almost necessary for a game to have some sort of contextual motivation in order for me to care to try a game at all. Games such as Splatoon, Overwatch, and Sonic Mania are all titles that have fun features to their credit that make them enjoyable experiences, but none give me a lasting impression because there simply isn’t enough there for me to really care. And this isn’t to say the mentioned games don’t have narratives to them, they’re just not explored to the point where they become interesting on their own—whether because all further information is found through other sources or the game focuses more prominently on gameplay than story. This doesn’t bode so well for my standards, however, as my preferences have become more tailor-made to the manner in which a video game can immerse me within its world, something that is done best through world-building via characters and story. This leads me to uphold a likely unpopular opinion:

Narratives in video games usually make them better.

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There is no denying that a video game’s mechanics are what come first in a successful game. If gameplay is boring, then why bother? Gameplay, despite the message of this post, is the most important factor of a video game. With that in mind, the typical ratio for the critical player is usually 80/10/10 in accordance to gameplay/story and characters/art and sound. My own ratio is closer to 50/40/10, leaving games with stories/characters that utterly bore me and gameplay/art/sound direction that astounds me at best a 6/10.

Picking on Sonic Mania yet again (due to it being the inspiration behind this post), it follows this train of personal analysis. Gameplay is solid, smooth, and inspired. Art is perfect for what it’s trying to convey and adds even more pizzazz to the spirit of the Sonic series. Sound follows the same path as art style. Despite all of this, the story is bare-boned, and the characters’ personalities are only shown through very meager actions. I bought the game when it released ten days ago and I have yet to finish it, despite the game’s short-ish length. Why? Because I’m bored with it. Its gameplay and design aren’t enough to compensate for the lack of empathy I have to continue forth with the game, which is directly attributed to its simplistic story, and to some extent, its fan service. If I had to give it a rating at this moment, it would be a 6/10, verging on a 5.5/10. And I know that would make a lot of people upset.

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Alternatively, a video game like Undertale is capable of being rewarded a 7/10 from me, despite having gameplay that barely passes off for a typical bullet-hell/Earthbound type of gamestyle. From a gameplay standpoint, Undertale is a pretty dull game that doesn’t have much to offer. The most challenge one faces is trying to identify how to pacify a particular enemy while dodging their attacks in the meantime. Very typical RPG mechanics. Where it lacks in gameplay, it more than makes up for in story and (especially) characters. While the narrative plays a little too much into THE POWER OF EMOTIONS!!!, its characters are a wonderful variety of fun that makes the game far more entertaining than its gameplay would imply. This succeeds in pulling the player in with assisting (or playing along with) the trials that face the people around them, giving them more motivation to explore the world and find information about said characters or about the major goal.

Of course, there are times when a game gets too ahead of itself and focuses far too much on one aspect, most notably narrative, to compensate for the lack of anything else. Games such as Gone Home or Depression Quest are examples of the narrative > gameplay argument that people rattle over to this day. With the technology present to humanity today, in which we can create games that allow these narrative-driven wholes, are games that focus more on story than gameplay really video games? Such is a debate that rages on among the levels of “The Console Wars,” but in the end, more games are more games, and I’m all the happier for the people who dedicate their time to doing what they love.

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As I continued pondering, I began to understand that narratives in video games have always been the most prevalent and notably nostalgic games of my childhood. Hell, thinking about all the games on my Top 10 List of Nostalgic Games has more than half the list contain titles with heavy doses of dialogue/text or detailed story progression. It took me twenty-something years to realize that the difference between Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Sunshine was the fact that Sunshine had more charm through its ridiculously idiotic story and character roster. Such is why I hold the latter to be a better experience, and a better game altogether.

So, with this in mind, the next time you come across a video game review from me, know that there are types of games I enjoy and those I don’t, but I try to critique a game to the nature of its parts and what I feel it tries to exude most notably from them. Still, I’m not perfect, and games like Sonic Mania will end up getting somewhat low ratings because my mind is accustomed to games with a lot more narrative-focus. It’s something I’ve had to learn to get over, though these internal stipulations do have their share of exceptions, hence why I said games are “usually” better with narratives. My fondness of storytelling is something that happened to cross over into my gaming preferences, leaving me to feel encouraged by the future of video games and what they can offer. Such a path will not always be straight and narrow, unfortunately.

Logan Lucky Review

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Wanting to make my birthday special, I clamored for something—anything—remotely interesting playing at my local cinema. Watching Kubo and the Two Strings last year for my twenty-third birthday, I harbored the desire to turn this, as I do with many other personal events, into a bonafide tradition. Yet, in response to my child-like enthusiasm, the cinema cruelly gave me choices ranging from Superhero movies #435-437The Emoji MovieThe Nut Job 2, and The Hitman’s Bodyguard. Only two choices stood out: Logan Lucky and Detroit, however Detroit had only one showing at 9:20 P.M. Thinking with my wallet and my convenience, Logan Lucky had the “honor” of being this year’s birthday movie. Was the money and coziness well spent? Yes and no.

What director Steven Soderbergh is most known for in his career is the Ocean’s series of heist films—his bread and butter, so to speak. Logan Lucky is by all accounts a heist film, and does little to seclude itself from the meticulous preparation and motivation needed to make such a film work (and not work). While I have little experience with the Ocean’s series or heist films in general, I’ve seen the niche genre parodied in other visual media. Though the manner in which I criticize this film is based almost entirely on logic, there are things present that those familiar with Soderbergh’s fingerprints are sure to either tip their hats to or throw their hats at.

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With the blueprints firmly imprinted, the name of the game is characters. How do these characters involve themselves in something as grand as a heist and why? Watching a plan unfold is nice enough, but the characters and what they’re “fighting for” makes the syrup for the cakes. Channing Tatum plays Jimmy Logan, a good ol’ boy from West Virginia who’s down on his luck in life. Divorced, trying to raise a single daughter while also instilling the good morals of society unto her, and isn’t well off financially. Things finally boil over when he’s fired from his blue collar construction job and his ex-wife announces the family is moving away to expand her current husband’s business, taking Jimmy’s daughter with her. With nothing left to hope for, he hatches the idea to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway with his brother, played by Adam Driver, and a hometown havoc-maker named Joe Bang, played by Daniel Craig.

Throughout the film, characters repeatedly state that they’re “done with” their days of immoral mischief. Jimmy, his brother, Joe, Joe’s brothers; every cast member seems to have a mean streak to them that they’re willing to cast aside to start anew. Some seem more likely to abide to it than others, yet this creates a situation where the audience can empathize and cheer for these characters and their heist, as they’re under the impression they’re doing it for some “greater good.” Again, some feel more loaded with their ambitions than others, but the mother hen of the group, Jimmy, is constantly shown to be the “better” of the people around him, even if his situation doesn’t show it. If all of these characters were simply robbing speedways for the sake of it, there wouldn’t be any emotional attachment achieved through their struggles, and would likely become flatter as characters because of it. With the inclusion of the film’s almost bloated amount of set-up, the payoff feels like a win for not just the mission, but for the humanity of the characters involved.

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Somewhat bittersweet of a strength to this film is the symbolism it presents through its cast of characters and their situations. Bitter because there isn’t much weight to it by the end, as well as how forced it feels at times, but sweet that it allowed for some snark to the writing and humor of the film. Them country folk layin’ ’round the yard, fixin’ them trucks and spittin’ e’ry minute end up being the most intelligent of their peers. As said before, Jimmy is constantly shown in a better light than his peers, especially Seth MacFarlane’s character and his ex-wife’s current husband. Reversing expectations is a common method of intrigue and humor that Logan Lucky plays with throughout, most notably through trivial interaction. Jimmy’s ex-wife’s current husband, Moody, is a city slicker disguised as a hometown boy, with his wealth, and ignorance of morality and common “Country” knowledge on display in contrast to Jimmy’s persona. His children are spoiled rotten and crass, and he is often teased for not fitting in with the crowd. This persistence creates a noticeable divide between old and new, diligence and convenience, that paints the image of who these characters are and what they mean to the film’s whole. One thing it is not is subtle, but better for comedy than a serious think piece.

Logan Lucky’s major drawback is that its writing is not as clever as it thinks it is. Parading as smart when it’s really only passable; hilarious when it’s really only humorous. When one really begins to think about the heist and the steps taken to ensure the entire thing works step-by-step is probably more hilarious than any joke the film attempts to make. Many will argue the value of “coincidences” in visual media in terms of progression of a particular aspect, whether it be romance, friendship, or master plans, in this case. One or two are likely to be shrugged off, depending on how major or minor, for the sake of the illusion of reality presented in cinematography. This piece, this heist, however, is so clamored with coincidences and “How would anyone know it would turn out this exact way?” that it comes across as overindulgent in its specificity. Leaving the viewer in the dark as to what the plan entails allows each answer to come through naturally, yet also allows whatever mishap to seem like just another part of the plan. There’s also a joke about how Jimmy is kind of a genius, yet can only secure jobs at places like Lowe’s. Such is life’s unforgiving grip.

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Of the characters, very few of them end up being entirely endearing. In fact, close to every character only seems to be along for the ride, with a few only showing up for the sake of becoming important(-ish) later on. It’s what I like to refer to as “Marking the checklist,” where a story introduces various elements for the sake of seeming as though it actually cares, when it doesn’t. For example, Jimmy’s high school sweetheart randomly comes into town and rekindles the spark between them. She is never brought up before this and is shown in two instances afterwards, both near the very end. Her character is a throwaway character that only showed up for the sake of giving Jimmy a romantic interest in the end. Such is the case for many other characters, like Jimmy’s ex-wife, and to some extent even his daughter. There is a touch of artificiality that hampers the empathetic response of the film’s core messages and realism. The two characters that escape from this are the characters who feel the most real and receive a bulk of the development: Jimmy and Joe. Though, it helps when Tatum and Craig were both spectacular in their roles.

Dumb fun, with a pinch of symbolic intrigue. Not something I would willingly recommend as a lasting experience, but something that knows what it’s doing and knows how to entertain, at the cost of its realistic virtues. I gained a lot of respect for Channing Tatum and Daniel Craig as actors from this picture—standalone as they were compared to the rest of the cast. As a birthday film, I’m not disappointed. As a film in general, it’s something of a mixed bag. Fortunately, containing more gems than stones.

Final Score: 6.5/10

The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.

Pokémon: The Origin Review

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(Originally posted October 5th, 2013 on MyAnimeList. Minimally edited.)

It’s important to remember that when reviewing any topic, one should keep their personal bias to a very low minimum. This is especially difficult when dealing with a monster type franchise such as the Pokémon series, as most—if not all—people have been exposed to either the Pokémon series or games at some point in their lives. To the degree that this affects their opinion of the franchise is what ultimately will decide the fate of the future of the series. Keeping this point in mind, when it was announced that a new anime would be produced that would follow the storyline of the original Pokémon games, it was safe to say that a few people were excited. They were promised a look back at what revolutionized a franchise in the form of a four-episode special. What it was willing to accomplish in those four episodes is the most debatable topic of all.

Once again, when reviewing, one is recommended that they put their personal bias to a very low minimum. Keeping this in mind, I viewed this four-episode special through the mind of someone who has no prior knowledge of the Pokémon series or games. I watched Pokémon: The Origin as if I was playing the first game for the first time through the perspective of the main character. From what was gathered, the story begins with a character named Red, who is passionate about catching and training creatures known as Pokémon. He, along with his rival, Green, is tasked with collecting every species of Pokémon known to that world by the town’s local Pokémon professor: Professor Oak. With his goal set in stone, Red sets out to catch ’em all.

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With only four episodes to work with, there is a guarantee that not everything from the game will be shown in the series. To someone who has no prior knowledge of the game, these time skips do more justice as a form of confusion than anything else. Along with this, the special only chooses to show certain scenes from the game, with some scenes being obvious to the hardcore fan, while random to about everyone else. Due to this, each episode not completely focused on the goal of collecting every pokémon possible or advancing that plot accordingly is viewed more as a filler episode. To those not aware of the Pokémon games, they will also notice a variety of plotholes within the special that don’t make sense unless you’ve played the game. One such thing is the absence of police or the logic behind sending a child out to collect potentially dangerous creatures in order to satisfy the wish of a man no one knows anything about. Without these security blankets, viewers won’t know how to interpret the impact of certain scenes and their importance to the series. These gaping plotholes and the lack of any character development is prevalent and noticeable throughout the entirety of this special.

Speaking of character development, it wouldn’t seem too far fetched to think that the special would focus a little time on developing the main character, Red, as he’s on screen roughly 85% of the time, whether in recaps or otherwise. With the entire series being based on this one character, it’s hard to really enjoy any other character that’s introduced during the time span, that is, unless you’re a fan of the series. I’m sensing a pattern here. The only other character that gets any amount of focus in more than one episode is Green, and even he doesn’t develop into anything more than the rival character. The issue with the lack of depth can be solely attributed to the lack of time and the length of the individual pokémon battles. Whether in recaps or actual battle, Red is shown fighting other characters’ pokémon a big chunk of the time that this special has to offer. It does take the liberty to offer some insight on how Red develops as a trainer through his struggles with certain opponents, and the views he shares when facing someone with far different beliefs. Unfortunately, this is the most that the special is willing to offer.

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What would be an appropriate way to animate a series trying to showcase nostalgic elements? Why, with save screens and in-game text, of course. At the beginning and end of each episode, the viewer is shown a small snippet of animation that plays to the feelings of those who played the original games. Before each episode, one has to load up the save file in order to continue their adventure, and when they’re finished, they have to save their progress. These in-game pop-ups serve as a reminder of how important it is to save the game, what it matters to the quality of the animation is not exceedingly accurate. The recaps that I’ve mentioned before are also reminiscent of the original games as a small text box will appear at the bottom of the screen, explaining the situation that is being spoken of to us by Red. In terms of the animation in general, it’s appropriate, to say the least. It’s not the most spectacular animation one will see from animators of the 21st century, but it’s enough to satisfy both fans and newcomers alike. The battles are vivid and well-detailed, granted the viewer isn’t stricken with how dull the humans look in comparison to the pokémon. Such is only expected from those who know the series.

Taking everything into consideration, if one is a fan of the Pokémon series, this special will probably hold a special place in their heart. It’s respectful to its source material (until the end) and the character Ash Ketchum, who plays the main role of the original Pokémon series, is nowhere in sight. Seeing as I am a fan of the Pokémon series of games, it was enjoyable to view from a fan’s perspective, but that doesn’t erase the numerous problems that are hidden behind the spontaneous animation. Some of these problems are excusable due to the time restraints that a series has with only four episodes, but there have been series that have done more with less, and to excuse something as enormous as Pokémon from doing anything less than possible puts it in hot water with those unfamiliar with the series. Everything else considered, this is the perfect treat for fans of the original games, but its purely restricted to that group in particular.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.