Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Kingstone Flash Gets Railgunned into Space: A Look at Mass Effect

 I've always been behind on video games.  I get busy with school, and I stop playing for a while.  Then, when I finally get free time, I struggle to catch up, and discover the uthaads of games that have come out.  Hell, I'm STILL buying PSX RPGs in an attempt to catch up on some of the ones I missed.  Anyway, a month or two ago, I finally purchased an Xbox 360.  One of my first games was Mass Effect.  Long story short, after blowing through the first one, I quickly grabbed the second one, and destroyed it as well.  Here are my thoughts on this fantastic video game series.

It had been a long time since I played and really took to liking a Western RPG.  The last few times I toyed with a WRPJ, it failed to catch my interest.  For instance, when I played Oblivion, it didn't take long before I got insanely bored with it.  The novelty of being able to break into people's homes and kill them got old after a couple of times.  I felt that the story and the player character's involvement in it were a bit weak.  There was no real motivation for me to keep going.  I tried Fallout, and liked it a bit better, probably for the post-apocalyptic setting, but I still wasn't completely satisfied.

What was it about Mass Effect that kept me interested, then?  I think that I had probably burned out on fantasy settings and stories.  Also, the meshing of third person shoot-outs, the allocation of skill points, and other RPG elements proved to be a satisfying combination.  Above all, I think it was Shepard, his interaction with characters, and his involvement with the plot that kept me glued to the whole thing.

Epic stuff.

I was amazed at how invested I became in the whole thing.  I made my ideal Shepard.  He was kind of rugged and tad bit ugly, physically scarred from his lone survival of Akuze and emotionally scarred from the violent death of his parents.  See?  Before I even began gameplay, I was developing my Shepard.  The option of being kind of a dick or a good guy in all dialog options was neat, and the NPCs had fairly interesting or relevant things to say.  I'm pretty sure I spent hours running around the Citadel, talking to everybody and doing the silly little assignments. 

The whole experience was epic.  The death of a squad member on Virmire, the Mako getting rail-gunned into the Citadel (the mass relays look like giant rail guns to me), the ending of ME1 (with amazing credits music by Faunts), the opening sequence and death of Shepard in ME2, and the intense suicide mission were just a few highlights for me.  The romance was fun as well.  Sorry if there are any spoilers.  I assume I'm the last person to play.  One of my favorite aspects of Mass Effect is importing your completed characters into the next game.  It is cool to see your previous actions affect the course of the next game, sometimes in very large ways.

What happened when I romanced Tali in ME2.

Of course, Mass Effect isn't without its flaws.  As much as I loved the various alien races and their representative characters, I noticed that these various cultures were still a bit underdeveloped.  For instance, we don't see much of any species' language or writing, at least not consistently.  Everybody just speaks English (or Common or whatever they call it in ME), and they all speak rather well.  Tali has somewhat of an accent and uses some Quarian words every once in a while, but when I visited the Flotilla in ME2, I found it interesting that the other Quarians spoke with a completely flat accent.  In ME's defense, it isn't like Star Trek, which has had decades to develop its cultures.

The battles in ME1 could be a little clunky at times, with Shepard getting caught up on obstacles, though they fixed this in ME2.  ME1 also had an excessive amount of gameplay devoted to bombing around in the Mako, which they also fixed in 2.  The skills in 2 were also streamlined a bit.  Most of the flaws are very minor, and got improved in the second entry.  I'm thinking that ME3 will develop things further and really polish things up.


In addition, I'm very glad they let players customize Shepard.  Default John Shepard is much like his name: very generic.  In many ways, he looks a lot like most of the popular male video game characters as of late.  The customization, different classes, and game-affecting choices all really add a lot of replay value.

To sum things up, I had such a blast playing Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, and I eagerly await the third entry in the series.  It is interactive storytelling at its finest, a truly great series of games.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Kamen Rider Agito Review

It's been a while since I've posted anything.  This is mostly because my monitor decided to eat itself, and seeing as I am a poor college student, it took me a few weeks to save up for a new one.

Anywho, aside from work, I have spent my summer indulging in gratuitous amounts of anime, toku, and video games.  I blew through Kamen Rider Agito in a fairly short span of time.  Before I begin, I must admit that it is hard for me to talk about Agito without comparing it to Kuuga, since Kuuga is still a bit fresh in my mind and came right before Agito.  Here are my thoughts.

Agito had me engaged right from the opening.  Energetic, pulsing, and with Shinichi Ishihara's intensity, you'll find yourself READY TO GO, too.  Early on, the show hints at connections to Kuuga, with the police mentioning No. 4 and the Unidentified Lifeforms in response to a new series of unnatural deaths cause by strange creatures.

One of the Unknown.  U JELLY?

Our hero, Tsugami Shouichi (at least that's what he thinks his name is), is an amnesiac who finds himself compelled to fight creatures (dubbed Unknown by the police) that attempt to kill certain targets and their families.  These victims (and Shouichi as well) are actually tied to a ferryboat incident, the true nature of which is revealed as the story progresses.

Our goofy hero

Shouichi is a likeable and comical character.  He is strangely good at most things he tries to do, and is a bit of a housewife.  He lives with Professor Misugi, who took him in after he was found, Misugi's niece, Mana, and his son, Taichi.  Mana and the death of her father prove to be essential pieces of the plot as it unravels.  It's always great to watch this makeshift family unit interact, from the serious times to the lighthearted.  Unlike Godai from Kuuga, Shouichi isn't always levelheaded.  He is fairly gullible, and is prone to the occasional emo moment.  To be fair, he has good reasons.  Shouichi can also be a bit obnoxious at times, but he's an overall cool guy.

Sorry gents, Mana's a bit young for you.

Agito is the first Kamen Rider show that I have seen to feature multiple main riders.  Besides Agito, we also have Ryou Ashihara, who becomes Kamen Rider Gills, a fearsome and vicious fighter that seems like a throwback to Kamen Rider Amazon.  Ryou is one of my favorite characters.  He goes through so much hardship that it's hard not to sympathize with him.  Throughout the entire series, I always found myself rooting for him.  His serious nature serves as a nice contrast to Shouichi's silliness.

This guy's life sucks donkey butt.
But don't make him angry.  Please.  Don't.

Our other main Rider is Makoto Hikawa, a police officer who dons the mechanical G3 armor.  He is extremely brave and determined, but also clumsy.  Sporting guns and rockets, he provides good mid-range assaults against the Unknown.  The G3 system isn't without its flaws, however, and sees several upgrades throughout the series.  Hikawa constantly runs into red tape and drama due to police politics, which provides a good source of drama on his end of the story.  One of the best parts of Agito is seeing these three main characters interact, fight, and eventually cooperate. 

New motivational pic

The drama in Agito is top-notch compared to the toku shows I have seen already.  In my opinion, Agito has the edge on Kuuga in this department.  The characters in Kuuga had their problems, but you didn't see it affect them and bleed into their interactions as deeply as you do in Agito.  Every character is caught up in an apparent struggle with something.  Agito manages to be interesting and gripping throughout.

Have some tasty and fiery Operator Ozawa.
Officer Hojo: One smug prick.

As for action, Agito provides a steady supply.  Some early fights had some jarring CG effects, but they either improved or I got used to it.  I can never tell with toku shows.  Agito has a number of forms, thought not quite as many as Kuuga.  Agito evolves and gets powered up throughout the course of the show, eventually resulting in powered-up fiery red shiny form that kicks a lot of ass.  Gills and G3 also get their power-ups.

One of Agito's several forms.

There are numerous other characters that are interesting, though I feel I should just cover basics for the review.  I will also say that the nature of Agito and how it relates to mankind is intriguing and refreshing for a Rider show.  I try to keep my reviews spoiler-free, so I won't delve into it too much at this point.  I will say that Kamen Rider Agito was one hell of a ride, and has cemented itself as one of my favorite toku shows.  I think I enjoyed it even better than Kuuga, and that's saying a lot.  You can probably already tell that if I were to rate this out of five, it would be a definite 5/5.  So far, I have been pleased and amazed at the Heisei Rider shows.  I wonder what's in store for me next.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Summer '11 Anime Mini-Reviews Part 1

Now that I'm taking a break from classes for the summer, I have much more time to catch up on the huge queue of anime that has built up.  I have already viewed a number of titles and will give some brief thoughts.  I don't feel like going on and on and giving in-depth reviews, but that doesn't reflect the quality of these titles by any means.  Here's what I've got so far this summer.

NOTE: This is stuff that I just happen to be watching this summer.  These shows aren't necessarily new.  Sorry if "Summer '11 Anime" may have lead you astray.

Pretty much what last semester was like.


Sekirei is pretty much what would happen if you bred a harem anime with Pokemon.  The result is something that is oddly enjoyable.  There's really nothing deep here, but people picking this up won't exactly be expecting that.  Silly harem stuff is here:  Guy finds himself living under the same roof as a number of females, most of whom have exceedingly large breasts and insist on fighting over him in one way or another.

The twist is that most of them are/become his sekirei, battlers created for some strange, grand game that pits sekirei against sekirei.  My roommate summed it up concisely: "So...it's like Pokemon...with tits!".  Yes, yes it is.  There's some surprisingly decent drama at some points, and things do start to get particularly interesting toward the end.  It shouldn't work, but it somehow does.  There is a second season that I assume will be released over here eventually.  Recommended summer viewing?  Maybe, provided this is your kind of thing.  Want a rating? 3/5.   Moving on.

The main character's Pokemon.  He's got a grass, a fighting, a water, and uhh...nerd type.

Spice and Wolf Season 1

Netflix added this one to its instant queue not too long ago, and the cover art certainly catches the eye, so I figured, why not?  I do not regret that decision in the least. 

Not sure why this caught my eye.

Spice and Wolf is a tale that revolves around Lawrence, a merchant, who happens upon Holo, a wolf goddess in human form.  They embark on a trip to Holo's home in the north, complete with trading, drama, and conflict.  The dialogue is loaded with merchant and trading lingo, and it can seem a bit excessive at times, even if it is important to the plot.

It's pretty refreshing to have conflict revolve around such simple things.  The life of a merchant is tough.  Delivering goods is dangerous, negotiating prices takes skill, and travelling with a cute wolf goddess just adds complications to the whole thing, especially with the Church purging the area of pagan stuff.

Where this anime really shines, in my opinion, is the interaction between Lawrence and Holo.  I found myself become pretty engrossed, from their arguments to their more intimate and playful moments, as they cleverly veil and joke around their feelings for each other.  I deem Spice and Wolf as an interesting and refreshing show for summer viewing.  Highly recommended.  My rating: 5/5

Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne

I don't know why this caught my eye either.
Next up is Rin, a six episode OVA that deals with the exploits of an immortal woman throughout the course of numerous decades.  Steeped in mythology, the cases she deals with as the show progresses all tie in to an overarching plot that is revealed bit by bit.  Plenty of violence, blood, nudity, sexual situations (lots of lesbian stuff), and the like pervade the show.  The extra-mature stuff doesn't detract from the viewing experience like ridiculous fan service or anything.  You probably shouldn't let your kid brother watch it, though.

The episodes are around 45 minutes a piece, and they are well-paced.  Each aroused my attention, kept me interested, and left me satisfied after finishing up.  There were plenty of "oh god" or "OH SNAP" moments to be had.  Don't want to reveal too much for potential viewers.  It was certainly a worthwhile experience.  I'd give it a solid 4/5.


Anime brain splosion.

I had been meaning to watch this one for quite some time, and I recently managed to get a fantastic deal on it at my place of employment.  Familiar with some of Satoshi Kon's work, I expected to get my brain raped a bit.  What happened turned out to be no rape.  It was amazing and consensual.

The movie's plot revolves around an invention that allows users to enter and record dreams.  The ramifications of the device's use are central to the conflict.  Things begin to go awry when two of the devices are stolen, and the collective dreams of its users begin to encroach on reality.

Indeed, there are times when transitions from reality to dreams are so fast and indistinguishable that it provides for quite the ride.  Things get so crazy that there were moments while watching Paprika when I began to wonder if I was high or something.  If you pay close enough attention, the plot isn't too hard to figure out as it unravels, even if it insane to watch it happen.

The visuals are outstanding and captivating, with a surreal mixture of hand-drawn and CG effects.  In addition, the music is strange and wonderful.  Viewers of other Kon works such as Paranoia Agent will likely recognise Susumu Hirasawa's interesting, electropop style.  The combo of music and artwork can be charming, wondrous, and menacing at the same time.

When the whole thing came to a close, I just had to sit there for a moment.  I was awestruck at what I had just experienced.  I couldn't really find anything to gripe about.  Nothing is perfect, but I enjoyed Paprika so much that I can't recognise or recall any of its flaws at the moment.  It's one of my new favorite movies and an absolute recommended viewing.  6/5

Well, that wraps up Part 1 of my summer anime viewings.  Pretty solid stuff so far.  Until next time, I will continue watching anime and trying to survive.

Where I see myself in a few years.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Why SaGa Rocks My Heart (and Boxers)

Sa...Ga?  The hell is that?

Few Americans are familiar with the SaGa series of games.  I love SaGa, but in an age where FPSes and western RPGs rule the popularity charts, it is rare to see somebody in the US who knows what I am talking about when I mention this underrated series.  However, if I mention Final Fantasy Legend, that may ring a bell in some individuals.  For those who don't know, we saw the first three games of the SaGa series over here under the Final Fantasy Legend name.  I assume the renaming was to tie the games to an already-popular series in attempt to boost its exposure and success. 

Makai Toushi SaGa (Final Fantasy Legend) was a spectacular Game Boy RPG in its time.  I can't readily recall too many other RPGs for the old, blocky handheld to be honest (Seiken Densetsu comes to mind).  SaGa featured a generalized template of characters with which the player could form a party.  Players could choose from Humans, Mutants, and Monsters, each of which have their own unique attributes and strengths.

The story is simple.  There's a tower to Paradise, and you are going to go on a journey to climb it, facing lots of obstacles and enemies along the way.  The characters don't develop on their own, but since they are the player's to customize, you may find yourself coming up with their backgrounds and backstories anyway.  (That's what I did)  The graphics are also simple, almost -too- simple, but they get the job done.  It's also hard to go wrong with music by Uematsu, though there aren't too many tracks.  Presentation-wise, it's a simple affair, but don't let that fool you.

Even with its first entry, SaGa manages to set itself apart from its sister series, Final Fantasy. Fans of other RPGs probably scratched their heads a bit at their Humans' lack of natural growth, their weapons losing durability and breaking, Mutant abilities coming and going, and Monsters eating meat to change forms.  It's so different from the other RPGs of its time.  It also pretty much has the party climbing up a tower and punching God in the face.  SaGa has you confronting "God" nearly a decade before games like Xenogears were making this idea popular.  Seriously, when you stop and think about it, this game really ROCKS.

SaGa gives you wings.

SaGa 2: Hihou Densetsu (Final Fantasy Legend II) takes its predecessor's basic mechanics and improves on them in every way.  The story is more solid, the music is great (with Kenji Ito combining his talents with Uematsu's), and the experience is more rewarding, epic, and memorable.  We even get the really cool option of Robot characters!  Maybe I'm biased, since SaGa 2 was actually my first exposure to the series.  (Some guy gave my brother his FFLII cartridge and I got hooked.)  From what I've read, however, most that have played the first three SaGa games would agree with me that 2 is the best of the GB SaGas.  It even ups the ante on god-killing, with the party trashing several mythological figures such as Venus and Apollo.  A shiny remake came out not too long ago for DS, but I bet we won't see it stateside. 

More badassery

Jiku no Hasha: SaGa 3 (Final Fantasy Legend III) was almost a step backward.  It's a pretty good game in its own right, but the game mechanics are simplified and resemble something closer to Final Fantasy.  The characters are all fixed, so party customization is largely limited this time around.  However, one of its major innovations was...TIME TRAVEL.  Yup, SaGa did it before Chrono Trigger, though the time travel in SaGa 3 is admittedly simple and limited in comparison.  I must say that flying around in the Talon is a pretty cool experience, though.  People turned off by some of the mechanics and feel of the other SaGa games may like this one a bit better.  This one was also remade for DS in Japan.

Then, things really start to get interesting.  SaGa came to the Super Famicom in full force with Romancing SaGa.  Romancing SaGa returns to many aspects and mechanics of previous SaGa titles, while adding more depth.  In a way, the series begins to parallel Final Fantasy a bit as far as production goes, using the same basic sprite sets, synth music and whatnot.  This time around, players get to choose from several main characters and experience their version of the story.

RS is also extremely non-linear.  Players get to pretty much roam the world as they please, finding quests and adventures along the way in whatever order.  This greatly adds to its replay value, as different playthroughs can provide very different experiences.  You also get to trash an evil god in epic fashion.  Kenji Ito tackles the score by himself this time, with amazing results.  That man is a genius when it comes to battle music in particular, even better than Uematsu in my opinion. 

Most of my experience with Romancing SaGa has come through the PS2 remake, which adds some more mechanics that SaGa had developed since then.  The character designs were revamped, with mixed reaction.  I don't mind them so much, though I have to say the original artwork is amazing.  The music also saw a bit of a facelift, and it rocks. 

Romancing SaGa 2 and 3 keep the ball rolling.  I haven't really experienced them myself, so I feel I can't say too much.  It's kind of tough since we didn't see them stateside, though emulation makes that a bit easier to get around, provided there's a translation patch (pretty sure a translation of 3 is out there).  I do know that RS2 spans a number of generations, which is kinda interesting.  RS3 is reputed to be a very good game, and it's graphics look much like FF6's.  I'd certainly like to experience them if I can find the resources and time.

SaGa moved to the next generation of consoles with SaGa Frontier for the Playstation.  It continued the trend of providing the player with a number of characters to choose and following their version of the story in a rather non-linear manner.  The graphics are quite colorful, with chibi characters parading around on pre-rendered backgrounds.

Some of the characters' stories are pretty interesting.  When I started a game as Blue, within a minute or two, I was being told about my brother Rouge and that I need to go out and "KILL HIM".  I have also played a bit as Red, whose story is reminiscent of tokusatsu heroes like Kamen Rider.  His story is infused with JUSTICE, and you can transform into his more powerful alter ego Alkaiser (provided a few conditions are right).  I'm actually playing through it right now, and despite the reputation SaGa Frontier has for being a mediocre game, I'm having quite a bit of fun with it.  Haters gonna hate.  Going to pick up SaGa Frontier 2 when I'm done with this one.

Unlimited SaGa was the latest in the series to be released.  I haven't played it yet, but my understanding is that it is regarded as a terrible game that tries way too hard to be different and complex.  If I ever find a copy, I'll probably pick it up so that I can develop my own opinion.

Anyway, maybe by taking a look at the SaGa series as a whole, I haven't directly addressed the topic of my blog.  Now that everybody has some background, let me summarize why SaGa rocks my heart and my boxers:

  • Climbing a tower and punching the creator in the face
  • Time travel
  • Beautiful artwork
  • Epic music from Uematsu and Ito
  • Unique and interesting mechanics
  • Options, non-linearity, replayability
  • General awesomeness/kickassery

Claudia from RS.  Hnnnng!

I always end up being fond of stuff that nobody else likes or knows about.  My love for SaGa is no exception.  I suggest that any RPG fan tries it out, and I hope that my experiences with SaGa continue to be wondrous and epic.  *Crosses fingers for a new SaGa game*

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cool Guy: Kamen Rider Kuuga

Ever since I began watching Kamen Rider (which wasn't all that long ago, really), I have mostly exposed myself to Showa era shows such as Black, Stronger, and V3.  I'm not sure I have any particular reason, but I've always been fond of old shows, whether live-action or animated.  I decided to switch things up a little bit and watch a Heisei show, and I had seen an almost-unanimous thumbs up for Kuuga on the web, so it seemed like a natural choice.

A new hero.  A new legend.

As stated in a previous entry, my first viewing or two was a little bit jarring, seeing as I had only really been previously exposed to Showa Rider shows.  Kuuga is a very different animal in regard to both story and production, so I admit that it took some getting used to.  The main character, Godai, is very different from most Showa protagonists.  He's cheery and goofy most of the time, rarely getting down in the dumps about anything.  He's a plucky hero, and despite not emanating JUSTICE from every pore in his body and every word that he utters, he is always fiercely determined and dependable.  Godai is the kind of person from which the other characters draw inspiration and encouragement.  Nothing keeps him down for long, not even death.

Our plucky hero.

In addition, Kuuga sports a very likable, colorful cast of characters, many of whom have their own personal problems to deal with throughout the course of the show.  I don't particularly feel like dwelling on any of them in particular, but they are all interesting to watch as they develop and interact.

Kuuga's got some eye candy. (Sorry about my crappy screenshots)

Jean:  Making every scene he's in awkward as hell.

In contrast to the cyborg riders of the Showa era, Kuuga appears to be more mystical in nature, drawing power from an ancient artifact known as the Amadam.  He is exceedingly versatile, with a number of forms suited for various situations.  He is also amazingly powerful.  The Showa riders I've seen are able to pull of some of the most insane stuff, but as far as raw power goes, Kuuga is definitely top-tier.  The fiery aftermath of his rider kick is powerful enough to prompt the police to move his fights to secluded areas. 

Kuuga's Rider Kick

This brings me to a very interesting aspect of this show.  Kuuga actually actively cooperates with police, and his level of cooperation increases as the show progresses.  One of the most important side characters, Ichijou, is a police officer that becomes Godai's close partner and confidant.  Also, the police aren't useless by any means in Kuuga.  They are especially useful later in the series when the lab develops special bullets and stuff.

Brodai and Ichibro:  Bros

Now for the enemies.  The baddies in Kuuga are a tribe of beings known as the Grongi (or Gurongi).  They're an interesting bunch, participating in Gegeru, which are game-like hunts with human prey.  They engage in these hunts one at a time, keeping track of their kill counts.  The purpose is to eventually lead to a Final Gegeru and ultimately bring about the "Ultimate Darkness".  The Grongi aren't immune to infighting and drama, as some of them get butthurt over who gets chosen for a Gegeru and things like that.  Also, their Gegeru are usually governed/guided by some sort of pattern.  All in all, they make for interesting enemies, and their designs and concepts are pretty cool as well.

Cool-looking Grongi dude.

Battles in Kuuga can be quite brutal.  The death toll from Grongi attacks are frequently specified, and they are very high.  Violence is also a bit more graphic than some of the older Rider shows.  People get decapitated, slashed across the face, necks snapped, and all sorts of cool stuff like that.  Even Godai isn't immune to Grongi attacks and is hospitalized several times throughout the course of the series.  Seeing Godai get injured can be almost wince-inducing at times, like during the battle where Godai is rather painfully poisoned and another one where he gets shot through the arm. It definitely helps that the man who becomes Godai's physician is an important character and confidant as well, so secrets are safe and whatnot.

Kuuga takes death pretty seriously.

As for the production values, Kuuga has this interesting camera-work that I found to be a bit cheap at times.  There were moments when it seemed too obvious that somebody was just kind of toting a camera around and filming some people.  Either it got better as the series progressed or I just kind of got used to it.  I haven't really decided.  There's also some cheap CG, but it didn't last long enough to bother me much.  The music is decent, often a reworking of the opening theme.  The opening and closing themes are both nicely done and suit the show very well.

Overall, Kamen Rider Kuuga was a fantastic experience.  As a former Showa guy, I can say that even though it is a bit different, it is still a good watch.  In fact, I was so hooked that I blew through episode after episode in a rather short amount of time.  Despite any flaws, if I were to give Kuuga some type of rating, I would go ahead and give it a 5/5.  I was that entertained.  Every toku fan should try Kuuga out and see if he's enough of a cool guy for you. (and he likely will be)

A very cool guy.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Reeking of Awesome: Streets of Fire

Whew, it's been a while since I had a chance to sit and write about anything.  I have a number of entries brewing in my head, including Why SaGa Rocks My Heart.  I'm almost done watching Kamen Rider Kuuga, so expect a review soon.  In addition, I have been re-watching Yu Yu Hakusho, so expect a review to follow its completion.

Anyway, last night, I recovered from a horrendous and sleepless week of school and work by watching Streets of Fire with a friend.  Over the years, I had heard songs from the soundtrack and learned of potential influences on other works, including anime.  My interest had been piqued for a while, and I finally got around to watching it.  Here are some thoughts about the movie itself:

The Movie

The setting for Streets of Fire is pretty interesting.  The movie has some pretty heavy 1950's retro influence, but at the same time, it's got that distinct 80's vibe.  I fancied that it might be a strange retro-inspired future setting or alternate 50's timeline or something.  My imagination was probably just getting carried away, though those ideas would be pretty cool.  It was probably just the 50's.

The plot itself is pretty simple.  Soldier guy Tom comes home to big city, hot singer ex-girlfriend Ellen (played by a young, steamy Diane Lane) gets kidnapped by biker guy (A creepy-as-usual Willem Dafoe) and his gang.  Motley crew of Tom, hot singer's manager (a really douchey Rick Moranis), and tag-along sarcastic ex-solder lady McCoy go to the rescue.  Tom and crew rescue Ellen, Tom gets laid, Tom kicks Raven's ass, and Tom leaves all soldier-of-fortune style as Ellen sings the final song.

This man never ceases to be creepy.

I admit that it's a bit shoddy in places.  The pacing is noticeably off, especially toward the beginning.  It kicks off so quickly without providing much time to linger on any of the characters' thoughts or feelings.  It reminded me of a role-playing session in that sometimes, when I play a tabletop role-playing game, the story is a little rushed and stretched in the beginning to get the characters together to form a party (if they aren't together when the thing starts).  Yeah, getting to the action is nice, but taking time to focus more on what makes these characters tick would have made the story much stronger.

The Awesome

Despite its flaws, Streets of Fire reeks of awesome.  Why?  The soundtrack for one.  The standout songs on the soundtrack, "Nowhere Fast" and "Tonight is What it Means to be Young", are both Jim Steinman songs.  Whenever Steinman is involved, you know things are going to get epic.  For those who don't know who he is, think Bat out of Hell, Total Eclipse of the Heart, and other over-the-top songs.  I'm a fan of his stuff, so the soundtrack was a treat for me in places.

Also, the movie has had a surprising influence on awesome things.  Take, for instance, The Protomen's Act II album.  You can tell just by comparing covers that there's some influence.  Also, some of the synthesized retro sounds on the album hearken back to the 80's.  Motorcycles, badassery, etc.

After watching Gundam 0080, I had become rather fond of Megumi Shiina's comforting voice, so I ended up with her greatest hits album.  Coincidentally, one of her biggest hits over in Japan was Konya wa Angel, the Japanese version of "Tonight is What it Means to be Young."  Her version is a bit sweeter, but they are both good.

I'm also pretty sure that Bubblegum Crisis has some Streets of Fire in it.  Just compare Priss Asagiri with Diane Lane:

Maybe I'm just imagining these connections.  Maybe there are more out there.  I could be looking at this whole thing the wrong way.  Maybe Streets of Fire isn't that awesome in and of itself.  Maybe it's just that it reminds me of things I find awesome, thus becoming awesome by proxy.  Either way, Streets of Fire reeks of awesome.  Go check it out and see what you think.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Dai-Guard Review

Make the coffee!
File the paperwork!
Save the world!

Every once and a while, I watch something that completely catches me off guard.  Dai-Guard did just that.  As soon as I watched the opening, I found myself being filled with the spirit of JUSTICE.  The opening song invaded my head for at least a week, playing especially loud while at work, and I would find myself humming along to it in public.  Needless to say, the show grabbed my attention.  I had previously looked at the boxed set a view times and had seen some screen shots, but I had no idea what I was in for.

Anyway, for those who don't know, Dai-Guard is a mecha show centered around the members of 21st Century Defense Corporation's Public Relations Division, three of whom become the pilots of Dai-Guard, a giant robot built for battling strange, multidimensional invaders known as the Heterodyne.  Out of any mecha show you watch, this one is likely going to be the only one that will take into account things such as paperwork, damage claims, red tape, public relations and so on.  I'm sure this doesn't sound exciting, but the results are often quite funny.

Office workers saving the world!

The Heterodyne themselves are somewhat reminiscent of the now-typical mecha anime monsters such as the Angels from Eva.  The designs are strange, ranging from a giant ball of dirt to a giant mushroom to a huge floating pyramid to a vase-like shape with thin, flailing arms, etc.  You get the picture...weird and almost random designs.  Their purpose is eventually revealed to be something disappointingly simple.  I won't spoil it, but I suppose in a way it was nice that the show didn't try too hard to be deep.

The main character, Shunsuke Akagi, is fun and almost child-like for an office worker.  He usually leads the way into battle as Dai-Guard's main pilot, uttering often-humorous justice-infused lines.  My favorite is, "You Hetero bastard!  Take this fist of justice!" simply for the possibly-unintentional homosexual connotation.  What bothers me about Akagi, though, is that he is fairly static throughout the whole series.  The other two Dai-Guard pilots get quite a bit of development, but by the end of the series, all we really know about Akagi is that he grew up watching giant robot anime and that he's pretty much fulfilling his childhood dreams by piloting Dai-Guard.

There's also not much resolution in the end.  After the nature of the Heterodyne is revealed, things just kind of boil down to Heterodyne conflict will keep on happening intermittently and indefinitely.  The End.  It has its own appeal, I suppose, in that Dai-Guard and crew will continue having crazy and silly adventures for a long time to come, but I'm not sure it's quite the way I would have liked it to end.

Baa ba ba baa, ba ba baa....

When I watch anime, I typically watch the dub if it is available, and this was no exception.  I was very pleased with the overall quality.  My favorite dub voice is Shirota, hands down.  Everything he says is so deliberate, so official.  Those who watch it will see exactly what I'm talking about.  Also, Kokubogar is one of the most awesomely silly names for a robot I have ever heard.  I love saying it.

Overall, Dai-Guard is just plain fun.  It never stopped being a blast to watch.  The show isn't perfect by any means, but it should prove to be refreshing to most mecha anime freaks such as myself.  If I were to give Dai-Guard a rating, I'd give it a solid 4/5.  It isn't as easy to snag a copy of it on DVD since ADV went under, but there should still be some floating around out there.  Do yourself a favor and watch it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Weird Stuff I'm Watching/Playing

I've built up quite the queue of stuff to watch/play, and it's only getting bigger.  Here's what's playing at Kingstone Flash and some associated thoughts.


Juukou B-Fighter - Hi No Tori ended up posting the first episode of B-Fighter some time ago, and I was very curious to see how it compared to that Beetleborgs thing we got over here.  Even as a kid, I thought Beetleborgs was pretty dumb.  B-Fighter proved its overwhelming superiority within the first 30 seconds with that awesome opening.  The action was awesome, the suits are cool, and the characters aren't dumb (Though Takuya initially seemed kind of silly and awkward to me in his own way.  Might just be corny acting.  Can't decide).  When extra-dimensional invaders arrive to mess up your shit, remember that the insects have your back, along with Guru, who appears to be a cross between a rhinoceros beetle, a Furby, and Yoda.  Overall, a pleasant surprise.  This is my first Metal Heroes show, and now I'm starting to go back and look into the others.


Kamen Rider V3 - Started the supposed epic troll-fest that is V3.  V3 has always gotten a lot of attention from Kamen Rider fans, though many claim that the show itself is actually standard Rider fare.  So far, it's been a very entertaining experience.  The action is, of course, wonderfully old-school Showa.  Seeing Kamen Riders 1 and 2 was extra cool.  I haven't watched the original Kamen Rider, but it was awesome to see them in action in the first couple of episodes.  Pretty sure they come back later.  I can't wait.  Subs here.

LOL I troll u.

Kamen Rider Stronger - Midnight Crew Subs has slowed on releases, so I'll be taking a break from Stronger for now.  I am still loving it, though.

Kamen Rider Black - Still waiting on episode 47 from Century Kings.  It's okay, I am patient about it.  The guys that make fansubs for these shows have lives.  This is a hobby for them, and I understand getting caught up in other things and not having time for hobbies.

Kamen Rider Kuuga - I finally broke down and decided to watch a Heisei series.  Kuuga is quite the different critter from the Showa series that I've been exposed to.  Godai, the main character, is a goofy, yet plucky hero.  His manner and personality don't exactly scream JUSTICE, but he's very likable.  I can see why fans affectionately refer to Kuuga as Cool Guy.  The tone of the show is a bit darker and mysterious than what I'm used to with Showa.  So far, it's less formulaic and more story-driven.  We don't know what the exact nature and purpose of Kuuga at the beginning, and we get to discover that along with the characters.

It's just so different from what I'm used to that it was a little jarring.  Kuuga seems more mystical in nature, as opposed to the tech-driven powers of the cyborg Riders of past shows.  I was pleased to see some extra violence, though.  It showed one of the Gurongi actually snapping police officers' necks, slashing them across the face, and whatnot.  Death tolls from attacks are frequently reported, and blood is shown.  I'm pretty much hooked. This one is also available from Midnight Crew Subs.

This guy.  He's cool.

Mazinger Z - I have been interested in watching some classic super robot shows for some time.  From what I can gather, Getter Robo or Mazinger are probably the best places to start.  It's a fun show, though I can't say I'm hooked.  Then again, I've only seen two episodes.  I might have to watch another episode or two before getting a feel for what I think of it.  Deserves Subs is working on this one.

Shinzou Ningen Casshan - I've become fairly familiar with Casshan/Casshern over the years.  I saw the live-action flick a few years ago, and I thought it was pretty cool.  I have seen some places selling the OVA, though I heard to avoid it like the plague.  I have also been playing Tatsunoko vs Capcom when I have friends over, and Casshan is one of my favorite characters to use.   It was only a matter of time before I decided to give the original anime a look.  I like the feel of the show.  It's a bit bleak, yet maintains some of the feel of a superhero show.

However, the writing seems a bit lazy or silly.  It kills me how easy it was for Tetsuya to convince his father to turn him into a Neo-Human, like it was the only possible option.  I would have expected for Dr. Azuma to flat out refuse, just to give in when Tetsuya is mortally injured or something.  Oh wait, that happened in Kamen Rider V3.  Also, in the second episode, Dr. Azuma inexplicably transfers his wife's consciousness into Swanee while being confined by Braiking Boss.  How he did it is beyond me, considering he didn't appear to have any tools.  His reasoning was that Braiking Boss was going to kill her, which he could have prevented by going along with BB's plans.  I figure that after building BB some more awesome robots, Dr. Azuma could secretly program them to screw him over, all the while biding time for Casshan to save them.  But no, sending his wife's mind over to a robotic swan body was the ONLY WAY.  I'm interested in seeing where the show goes.  Take a look at the Skaro Hunting Society for subs.

Ahhh, the sun.

Choujuu Sentai Liveman - Taking a break to let GUIS get some more episodes in.


To be honest, the only music I've really been listening to lately has been Toku music.  My latest favs are Metal Heroes stuff, mainly the themes for Jiban, Winspector, and B-Fighter.  I've also been listening heavily to Kamen Rider Black RX songs.  I'm a pretty big fan of Takayuki Miyauchi now.  I enjoy every song he does.  Listening to this stuff probably seems like a childish/weeaboo thing to do, but it really gets me pumped before work and keeps me inspired to trudge through all-night homework sessions.  Haters gonna hate.

Takayuki Miyauchi.  Also a cool guy.

Video Games

Rune Factory Frontier - Essentially a cross between Harvest Moon and a light dungeon crawler.  For me, this game pretty much takes the best Harvest Moon has to offer, streamlines it a bit, and then adds in some cool dungeons and battles.  You can even make friends with monsters and have them work on the farm or accompany you to a dungeon.  There a whopping total of twelve maidens to woo, and I admit I'm having trouble picking one.  Not only do you grow crops, you forge weapons, craft accessories, brew potions, cook, and fish.  Time doesn't pass when you are indoors, so you don't have to worry about not having enough time to do some things.  So far, the game does a good job of keeping things interesting with new things to do, new characters, and hints about the main character's past.  I used to be a Harvest Moon fan, though the last one I played (A Wonderful Life) got tedious and repetitive.  After playing Rune Factory, I'm not looking back.

Hell yeah, farming.
Skies of Arcadia Legends - I've been interested in playing this one for a long time.  I had always heard good things, and when I finally snagged a copy (for free, no less), I was excited to delve into it.  It's one of those JRPGs that is a fun, whimsical romp.  You get to fly through the skies with friends and go on an adventure to collect a bunch of crystals and save the world from a power-hungry empire.  Yeah, not the most original concept, but it is well-executed.  The game looks pretty good for its age, and the music is good enough to not mute the TV after hearing it for several hours.  Battles are pretty standard JRPG stuff, involving your usual turn-based rounds, with a special focus meter that charges so you can perform special attacks.  Elements can be equipped to the characters' weapons, which allows them to learn spells.  Overall, a solid experience so far.

Oh the pirate's life...