An Ode to Vinesauce

vinesauce 1

For those unaware: no, that is not the 1-Up Mushroom.

This is the Vinesauce mushroom, the icon for a team of video game streamers since somewhere back in 2012. Founded by a lone jabroni by the name of Vinny, it eventually took off with the rise of Twitch as a collective online pastime. Of course, Vinesauce isn’t just a team of video game streamers. The group is most notable for their variety of game-breaking shenanigans, corruptions, and highlighting of fan-made games which, inadvertent or not, capitalized on the meme-y nature of online interactions. Vinesauce, as a whole, is more of a collection of normal people trying to make ends meet, surrounded by fans wanting to see shit hit the ceiling.

While some members have come and gone, the current team consists of its founder, Vinny; Joel, Mentaljen, Rev, KY, Limes, Imakuni, Direboar, Potato (or Darren), Hootey, and Fred. Some are more popular with viewers than others (some garner three to six-thousand viewers a night while most others barely top a thousand), but all play a part in making the Vinesauce community what it is—a friendly, albeit obnoxiously chaotic collection of dedicated fans. This becomes more prominent once a year, during the annual Vinesauce Charity Stream.

vinesauce 2

Depending on the individual streamer, the selection of games vary dramatically, as every streamer is interested in different things and have their own schedules to adhere to. Vinny, Fred, Direboar, and Limes tend to stream most days in the week, while the rest are prone to sporadic absences. Aside from Vinny, who tries to keep a balance of serious and non-serious games, the rest of the aforementioned named are pretty apt to sticking with one game, usually serious, from beginning to end. Debatably, this type of streaming is likely why they aren’t as prominently known, but their dedication to their schedules and their personalities are the tools which help them succeed. Those who have yet to be mentioned in this paragraph are those who stream only semi-often (or rarely), with Joel being the one singled out for his tendency to create new memes with every stream (some of which are featured on channels such as SiIvaGunner).

Description overload out of the way, my personal experience with Vinesauce dates back to early 2014(?) when my brother introduced me to a certain video. Marathoning a number of related videos later, I was officially “onboard” the Vinesauce hype train. At that time, I was only aware of Vinny and Joel, completely unaware of the collection of other streamers which stream under the Vinesauce name. When I finally found out that it was more than just two people, and that they had their own functioning website dedicated to them, I was quick to peruse the merchandise.

I have experience with every single streamer on the site, but to absurdly different degrees. Vinny is far and away the streamer I watch most often, even now when my schedule is much tighter than before, while I’ve only spent a single stream with MentalJen, Rev, and KY; none of those lasted more than ten minutes or so. This isn’t to say I don’t like the streamers themselves, but their selection of games and infrequent streaming isn’t of huge interest to invest my time into. Some streamers can carry through an uninteresting game through character alone (Joel, Hootey, Imakuni), although the perfect blend of interesting games and enthusiasm is what makes for an effective and immersive streaming experience. Vinny is normally very good at this, as well as Joel and Limes. Frequency is the issue at hand for every streamer, too, as like any aspect of life, people can have off days.

vinesauce 3

Vinesauce is also to thank for a variety of different purchases—and to some extent, revival of interest—of video games in my lifetime. I first learned of Axiom Verge during a Vinny stream. I bought Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 on a whim after seeing Joel fuck it up on-stream. Similarly with Fred and Megaman & Bass (except he was just losing a lot). These are but a few examples after years of watching the Vinesauce team. Who would have thought that all one needed to regain their interest in video games was to see one having fun with video games? And the creativity (and memeness) that goes into a variety of fan-made projects is so tempting to do for myself (except I have no motivation or time). It would make sense that my favorite streams of all time were both from Vinny, playing Sonic Dreams Collection and the Super Mario Bros. X Contest.

Yet the memeness of the team isn’t necessarily the only enjoyable aspect. The manner at which streamers continue through a game one at a time can be gratifying in and of itself, to be able to experience the journey with them. I recall being bored one night sometime in 2015, when I saw Darren streaming Dragon Quest VIII(?). I popped in there and spent the next few hours talking with members of the chat, with the occasional comment to Darren, and watching as he ground for experience and struggled with some casino game. To this day, it was one of the most enjoyable streams I’ve ever been a part of, simply because the chat was quiet (which is a rare feat, let me tell you!), the content was interesting, Darren was charming, and I felt I was part of the collective experience. That sort of ultimate immersiveness is what I live for when watching someone stream. It’s always fun to watch someone react wildly to crazy things onscreen, but it’s the little things, like a streamer acknowledging your question/comment, the passive lethargy of video game intake, and being able to be a part of the streaming process without being lost in the sea of “LOL’s” after a funny incident that lead to truly memorable pastimes. I really enjoyed Vinny’s recent playthrough of Final Fantasy VII and Darren’s playthrough of Final Fantasy IX because of this.

vinesauce 4

Due to my former job requiring me to turn in early, I didn’t end up watching many streams during the latter part of 2016 and early parts of 2017. For a time, I thought my interest in watching the members stream live had passed, that was until just a couple weeks ago, when Vinny and Imakuni joined forces to play Sonic 3 & Knuckles, which was such a wonderful stream that I’m kicking myself for not being able to watch the entire thing. Their chemistry was fantastic, and Imakuni’s knowledge of the franchise compared to Vinny’s complete ignorance was such a treat to watch play out as the stages continued. Once again, my interest in the Vinesauce brand was reignited with the aid of a single stream; how mystifying that it can happen that way. As a side note, I would absolutely recommend one watch the highlight video of their collaboration.

I don’t watch many people stream, at least not anymore, but Vinesauce has been a constant in the last three to four years of my life. Should I be privileged with riches beyond my imagination, I would gladly support every member without a second thought. The team has brought such a wide array of fond memories that I feel almost indebted to them, yet I do not have the means to compensate them. All I can do is continue to watch, share, and write giant “Ode” posts such as this one, singing praise and sharing personal stories. Vinesauce means a lot to me, not just because it pertains to a major interest of mine, but because the people who inhabit it seem like good people capable of good things. For that alone, I would recommend it to any fan of video games in general.

Top 10 Most Nostalgic Newgrounds Animations

there she is 1

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)

sonic uncut 2

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)

rokemon

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)

flash_335261_largest_crop

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)

sonic riders 3 minutes

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)

4 swords misadventures

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)

maxresdefault1

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)

maxresdefault2

(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)

don keyote

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)

there she is 2

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)

maxresdefault3

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

iron giant 1

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.

iron giant 3

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.

iron giant 4

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.

iron giant 2

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.

An Ode to Chester Bennington

bennington 1

On July 20th, 2017, lead singer Chester Bennington of Linkin Park was found in a private location with a noose around his neck. The news hit the internet immediately, and it didn’t take long before Twitter was abuzz. I recall browsing the world wide web when my sister ran down, phone in hand, simply saying, “Y’see this? This is not okay.” Chester Bennington; Born: March 20th, 1976. Died: July 20th, 2017. It took me a moment to register what I was seeing, then took another moment to remember that Google isn’t Wikipedia, where anyone can edit it. After hearing my brother utter a “Holy shit,” it finally hit me that the voice that had been embedded into my soul since childhood was gone.

I won’t pretend like I knew Bennington personally, or knew him outside of his music. I didn’t follow him through interviews, on social media, or make any effort to humanize the voice that sang the songs that gave me constant entertainment. He was simply Chester Bennington, lead vocalist of Linkin Park and abundant internet meme. Still, knowing how large a part Linkin Park was to me as a child, I couldn’t help but be saddened not just for him and his family, but for myself and my family and anyone else who was impacted by their music. It also inspired me to write this post, though this is the least I could do.

bennington 3

Linkin Park was the first band I ever really “got into.” The first band whose albums I would blast on repeat and want to know more about outside of individual singles. I recall as a kid only being interested in what played on the radio, never making any effort to explore more of an individual person or group’s work, but Linkin Park was a different scenario. The moment Minutes to Midnight released, I was begging my mother for it. I hadn’t asked my mother for anything but video games up to that point… possibly ever. Well, candy perhaps, but that’s a short-term luxury. While a so-called musical renaissance for me didn’t really flourish until my addiction to Guitar Hero years later, Linkin Park remains a testament to my first musical crush of sorts.

The love wouldn’t last, as upon hearing the first single from A Thousand SunsThe Catalyst, I found myself coming down to Earth. What was this? It’s so… electronic.So artificial. Where was the “rock”? Where was the traditional instrumentation? The band was heading in a direction I wasn’t fond of, and after getting the album and listening to its entirety, I was disappointed. Linkin Park was no longer the band I loved. It changed. I didn’t. I didn’t want to accept change and I didn’t for years. I’ve made peace with it since then, and while I’m not huge on that particular album, there are a few songs (sure enough, that don’t feature a lot of electronica) that not only sound good, but take advantage of Bennington’s voice. Still, it set the precedent for my eventual indifference to Linkin Park’s newer music. I’ve only heard one track from The Hunting Party.

In hindsight, accepting Linkin Park’s desire to experiment with new sound was something I wasn’t mature enough to handle. Now, I find that desire respectable, even if their output no longer interested me. I’m sure Bennington had a hand in some of that creative direction, though perhaps it caused some dismay seeing as he had a side-band and filled in for Stone Temple Pilots for a couple years.

bennington 2

I recall the day Bennington hung himself, I read in a Yahoo! article that he dealt with drug/alcohol addiction and was sexually abused as a child. It made me recall Vincent Van Gogh and his perilous life of having to balance his desire to paint and the tragedy of supporting himself through it. It’s almost a sad truth to accept that tragedy and creativity make an emotionally-riveting pair. To know and understand the lyrics that typically accompany Linkin Park tracks, it almost comes as no surprise that Bennington was carrying a lot of emotional baggage. He likely put his soul into his work, and not to speculate, but that may have mounted even more pressure on him to establish himself. It rings eerily familiar of another popular lead vocalist that committed suicide twenty-three-years before, and I’m sure many others.

And so I say to thee, cherish what life you have and make the best of any situation. If you ever have the darkness that clouds your judgment, please go and talk to someone about it. Get help. There is certainly much that life has to offer (even if it doesn’t seem like it) and the experiences that follow. And to any who would be affected by this, know that I feel the same. A great mind and voice was lost, and a part of my childhood died, as well. I’ve been listening to Linkin Park nearly non-stop since it happened.

Rest in peace.

Quick Updated Thoughts on Ano Natsu de Matteru

ano natsu

A rather hard rewatch, this was for me. As a title that holds something of an emotional attachment to my younger self, I can’t help but think fondly of the time this anime almost made me cry. This, out of all anime I watched in late 2012, was the one that got me closest to actually shedding tears. Since then, only rewatching Katanagatari has gotten me to reach for a tissue. OCD in full effect, I figured I’d keep the rewatch train rolling and see if Ano Natsu de Matteru held up after nearly five years.

It didn’t.

One can almost feel how hard this anime tried to be its own AnoHana, from the interactions between characters to the love octagon that takes effect as time goes on. Both series also deal with an inevitable fact that the characters try to ignore, but are destined to face. The difference between the two is through execution, which Ano Natsu de Matteru does well only in very specific measures.

What is immediately apparent about halfway through the series is that the writing is very, very dumb. The entire purpose of a single character, Lemon, is to push the plot forward and manipulate the cast to her whim for the sake of fucking with them. And because she has a “more than she knows” background, she knows everything that’s going to happen and how to prepare for it. Don’t you love having a character that can destroy all the tension and seriousness of an otherwise tensile and serious plot by making everything feel a-ok through their Godly knowledge and dexterity? Even more so, she more often than not forces the characters to change, instead of the story giving them the opportunity to either do it themselves or slip into situations of genuine, awkward conflict. It’s a shame that she’s so hamfisted in, because the general character roster is… tolerable, with Mio, and to some extent Tetsurou, being the saving graces of the anime.

Without Lemon, the writing still deals with things that have already been done in plenty of other anime, to a lesser extent. Lots of angst, lots of surprised faces, lots of dramatic outbursts and emotional spurs. While not on the same level as a soap opera, some episodes give a little more heart than necessary. Some don’t even feel like normal characters, rather pieces set up to provide controversy.

Animation is pretty nice, which is one thing about this anime that’s fairly praiseworthy. Not always the most smooth of physical activity, but its bright and distinctive in its approach. I wish Ichika was more like an actual alien than a human being (a lot about her alien persona doesn’t make sense), though that’s more of a nitpick.

In the end, it’s not nearly the anime I used to see it as, with a lot of issues in its writing and how it incorporates its characters. Strange as it might seem, the final episode still left me with a good emotional impression, something that even surprised me considering how cynical I was of it up to that point. I really wish the audience was treated to more of Mio and her active and understandable change halfway through the series, something only a few characters get a snippet of. Lost potential and all that; Ano Natsu de Matteru leaves viewers waiting for the translation of AnoHana: Alien Edition.

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

Updated Thoughts on Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai (1st Season)

haganai 4

In a strange turn of events, instead of going by the usual style of rewatching something and then updating my thoughts on it via blog post, I decided to leave poor Haganai alone. I find this even more curious because this is the only case of it happening, at least within the years where I took my blog seriously enough to update it semi-often. Noting my penchant for waxing nostalgic, it’s an even more confusing sentiment that this anime, which was among the first five anime I ever watched in its entirety, didn’t receive any special treatment. To drive the point home, I even finished a knock-off manga version and read up until the second-to-last volume of the light novel before it was taken off Baka-Tsuki for copyright reasons. Why did I feel the need to let this rewatch wither and die within my MAL archives? Regardless, I’m correcting it here and now after a two-year wait.

“Wow,” you may be thinking. It took me two years to write this post? My only excuse is that it simply slipped my mind again and again, until finally realizing it about a year ago… and then forgetting again until a few days ago. The rewatch took place in early August of 2015, so another thing you may be thinking is, “Are you confident enough to remember what you liked and disliked about it after so long?” Fear not, as fate hath given me future perception, and I wrote myself a very detailed post explaining exactly that back in 2015, so for what I cannot recall now, I will simply resort back to my crude notes.

haganai 3

The strongest argument I have toward this series’s good worth is the main duo of female leads: Sena and Yozora. Each character is blunt, stuck in their own ideals, and offer a helping of development as the series goes on. Not to mention, their chemistry with each other, and flaccid male lead Kodaka, makes for a thoroughly entertaining watch, especially within the first three episodes or so. Even while at each other’s throats, one can see the distance between the two supposed opposites begin to close with each passing day.

With this trait, Haganai becomes immediately recommendable; not just due to characters bickering with each other in a humorous way, but the set-up that justifies their behavior. Execution aside, this anime is fairly unique in its approach to popularity, hierarchy within the school system, and the concept of friendship. It’s almost like Oregairu before Oregairu, but without the cynical Hikigaya. Unfortunately, a lot of what could’ve been achieved with these themes and the characters that make up the cast are undermined as the series continues to bring in more characters. With these new characters comes more and more of what makes the high school rom-com setting so predictably bland (and popular): implied harem vibes, an aimless pursuit of having fun and nothing more, and one-dimensional personalities for the sake of humor.

haganai 2

A sequence of bliss and charm surrounded the series as it began, introducing the slightly off-kilter characters and their motivations. The trio of Kodaka, Sena, and Yozora made a wonderful ensemble of fun as each played off of each other in a colorful manner, with Kodaka being the middle-man through it all. Once the series began to attract other specimens, that charm became buried under the weight of outside interference, muddying its core themes and underlying potential for the sake of appealing to the masses. There is a lot of moe present in Haganai, and much of that didn’t start until the trio became a quad, and then a quint, and so on. And these new characters, if not for some subtle growth in the following season, are completely useless. Maria and Kobato should be scrapped altogether or rewritten, while Rika and Yukimura need more than one quirk to move along with—so much so that they all nearly ruined the series for me, at least for this season.

With the mess that was made during the mid-section of this anime, I’m glad I can say that the final episodes make up for it… slightly. Again, the presence of heart and character growth are pursued with full enthusiasm, along with resolving a (horribly executed) secret that loomed in the background throughout the series. It allows some figment of closure before carrying on with the same shenanigans that the series spoils itself with time after time. Not only is it appreciated as a viewer, but the characters (or one of them) become a lot more than what her usual persona portrays.

haganai 1

At one point, the art style for Haganai was a serious turn-off. Their eyes too vivid and large, with their lips protruding and their heads more like tomatoes than apples. Its expressiveness through character design is fairly strange compared to most, with even minor changes to the perspective of where things are, how they’re shaped, and what’s most highlighted making such an impact on the final product. It was weird, to say the least, but I eventually warmed up to it, and now find it one of the anime’s stronger points. With little twitches of movement better humanizing the characters on-screen and only occasional fidgets of inconsistency, it’s worth praising not just for its effectiveness, but its desire to stay true to the original light novel’s art. The only other anime I can think of with a similar style is Denpa Onna.

It’s a fascinating series to go over, seeing as it holds such nostalgic value to me, as well as having a lot of good underneath a mountain of bad. Cut the cast down to the main three, continue what they did for the first three episodes, and incorporate some more perspective on what they feel friendship should be and how they feel the general mass exploits it, and Haganai could’ve been a really fascinating piece of work. Dealing in “what if’s” does nothing here, as the way it stands, it needs to hold onto the crutch of popular exploits to steady itself in relevancy. With things such as lolis, incest, harems, cross-dressing, poop, and pre-teen angst being thrown around like it’s candy, I can only step back and ponder why I gave the series such high regard in the first place.

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

An Ode to Super Mario World

super mario world 1

It’s intriguing to me that it’s taken me this long to look at one of the games that made up my very early childhood. Comprised of this, each Donkey Kong CountryMega Man 7, and Super Ghouls & Ghosts (with various others), my first experience with the world of video games came in the form of the Super Nintendo, with Super Mario World heading the charge.

One of the first questions that comes to mind when looking back at this game is how it’s held up, if the game has become dated with time, seeing as it was released over twenty-five years ago. The most dated thing that can be applied to the game is its presentation, which all things considered, is excusable due to limited hardware. I don’t mean its spritework, by the way, which is fantastic to this day. I’m referring to narrative presentation, the sort of linear perspective of level-to-level, world-to-world process that would be somewhat dull to new age players. Looking at gameplay alone, the game is polished, innovative, and a shining example of Nintendo in their prime.

super mario world 3

Nostalgic gauges pumping their pistons within my inner mind go into a systematic overload whenever the colorful images or catchy tunes of Super Mario World invade my imagination. A wave of happiness overtakes my usual resolve and reminds me of a time when video games were my reason to get up everyday, looking forward to getting further and further into the colorful crusade. It was my first taste of the Italian plumber and his Goomba-stomping adventures through the worlds that embody or surround the Mushroom Kingdom. Better this than Mario Is Missing!, I’d say.

As a kid, I would never get past the third area in the game, the Vanilla Dome, as I would lose the motivation to trudge through the rising difficulty with the game. Something about the levels involving flying Cheep-Cheeps always got to me. I’ve beaten this game before as a small child, I know I have. The brazen image of Bowser flying off and Princess Peach floating gently to the roof below her is a moment I will never forget. Remembering the joy I felt as I screamed to whoever would listen that I finally beat the game. Thinking about it logically, I likely hopped onto my father’s file and just went through the final castle until I could figure out how to beat Bowser. That, or I used the Star World to my advantage and warped all the way to the final world. Nice of the game to let the player exploit it like that.

super mario world 2

Something that wasn’t as noticeable to me as a kid when playing it now is how slippery Mario handles as a character. Controls are tight to some extent, but Mario is human, and he needs time to steady himself. The biggest difference between this and the original Super Mario Bros. is that Mario looks like a normal human being. The butter underneath his signature brown shoes is just as prevalent here as in games prior. While annoying, it’s nice that a player has to take his somewhat wobbly movement into consideration when timing jumps, running, and platforming. The emphasis of making the game a tad more challenging makes the platforming all the more rewarding for elite players, who dedicate themselves to things such as speedrunning. Extra stipulations to various levels also give a nice spin to the variety of possibilities within.

For me, Super Mario World was an excellent platform into the world of Nintendo’s flagship franchise. I would absolutely recommend anyone (roughly six people on Earth) who hasn’t played any Mario games to start with this title, as its the perfect creation of accessibility and challenge that Nintendo used to master effortlessly with their games. It still looks great, it still plays great, and if one can overlook the incredibly limited fashion of linearity, it can provide a lasting impression, one that’s touched millions of people worldwide. Regarded as a timeless classic by many gaming veterans, Super Mario World is one of many games from Nintendo’s heyday that made them the gaming empire they are today.

(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of SaikyoMog.)