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Infinity on High – Demon Slayer: Mugen Train Movie – Humble Opinions

It goes without saying that Demon Slayer has proven to be quite the phenomenon, both in Japan and around the world. The fact that a Shonen Jump adaptation film wound up being the highest grossing Japanese film of all time, surpassing the likes of such cinematic greats as Your Name and Spirited Away, is an impressive feat to say the very least. So, does the film live up to the ridiculous level of hype that has surrounded it? Yes. Yes it does.

A big part of what sets Demon Slayer: Mugen Train apart from other Shonen Jump anime films is that it actually adapts source material and is canon to the ongoing story of Demon Slayer. Often these anime film takes on anime series either go the abridged format, adapting a popular story from the anime in abbreviated form, or they go for a completely original story that takes place outside of the canon of the main series. Perhaps the crucial element that led to the success of this film is that it is compulsory viewing for fans of the series, as this film will bridge the gap between the first and upcoming second season of the anime series.

Considering that the film is canon and adapting directly from the source material, the events of Mugen Train have a true sense of weight to them. What happens in this film genuinely matters and will have serious repercussions and consequences on the plot of the anime series going forward. Beyond that, it proves to be an absolute spectacle of a film, highlighting all of the great aspects of the Demon Slayer series whilst telling a focused and pointed story throughout.

The film picks up right where the first season ended, with Tanjiro and company boarding the mysterious Mugen Train. From there on, our heroes must team up with a member of the Hashira (named Rengoku) and solve the mystery of the disappearances occurring on the train. I will keep plot details light, as it is canon content and will ultimately be spoilers as we head into the second season of the anime. What I can say, however, is that the story takes many twists and turns and there is plenty of signature Demon Slayer action to satisfy fans’ need for swords clashing and demon heads rolling.

Beyond just being a fantastic Shonen Jump anime adaptation, the film has some truly powerful themes and messages it explores, and the philosophy of the character Rengoku proves to be a powerful part of the film. Ultimately, it is a truly moving and affecting piece of cinema, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house at my screening.

Overall, Demon Slayer: Mugen Train more than lives up to the unprecedented hype that has surrounded it. The hype train for Mugen Train was well deserved. If you are a Demon Slayer fan and eagerly anticipating the second season later this year, don’t miss out on seeing this film because it is a critical part of the story of Demon Slayer—and mandatory viewing. If you have never watched anything to do with Demon Slayer, you’ll still no doubt find yourself enjoying this film as it actually doubles as great entry point for the uninitiated. To put it simply, no matter who you may be, go and watch this brilliant film.

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Pound of Applause – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Twenty) – Season’s Writings

A standing decimation.

Boom! Clap! The sound of a punch: the fight goes on and on and on and on and. Boom! Clap! Beset by petals and wood: switch out with me, switch out with them. And now that you’ve got that tune stuck in your head, let’s ruminate on the sheer spectacle of this episode (which is just pompous talk for, “Holy crap. Holy crap. Did you see how sweet this episode was?”) Not content with being a figurative brick wall made of literal muscle, Todo busts out his cursed technique: Boogie Woogie. But don’t let the name fool you, it is as awesome as it sounds. Long story short, this skill lets Todo swap places with a target—a fact he quickly lets Hanami know. He then uses this ability to rapidly switch places with Itadori, throwing Hanami off balance and allowing the best friend duo to pummel the special-grade into the dirt. The episode maintains this furious energy by slowly revealing the hidden depths of Boogie Woogie. Not only can Todo switch places with an opponent or ally, he can also cause two targets to swap with each other—allowing him to throw Hanami into danger whilst simultaneously saving Itadori. On top of that, Todo can also swap beings with inanimate objects, allowing him to trade Itadori for Maki’s three-sectioned staff and slap Hanami right good across the face. It’s such a simply explained ability, and yet it is used with such fluidity and creativity that an episode-long fight scene never lulls. It’s quite awesome.

The episode does bust out of fight city central every now and again, showing that Shrine Maiden Teacher comes across a bad guy with a real creepy sword (the hilt is a hand that holds his hand and was made by the other bad guy who turns people into furniture and, apparently, tools), Old Guy Jerk plays his guitar real loud at Crazy Furniture Guy, and Gojo straight up busted the dome designed to specifically keep only one being on the planet outside of it (that person being him). These asides are over rather quickly, however, Creep the Swordmaster legs it, Crazy furniture Guy has all of his limbs instantly destroyed by Gojo, and then Gojo carves a trail of destruction and possibly obliterates Hanami (via a technique known awesomely as Hollow Purple). It really makes you understand why the villains are so scared of this blindfolded bozo: he wrecks shop. Seriously, the guy turns up and everybody’s instinct is to run. Hanami murdered nature—hypocritically—to power an ultimate attack and then just stopped, immediately vying to leave. Even Itadori using Black Flash four times in a row—tying the record set by Nanami (though he claims his own success a fluke)—is completely overshadowed by Gojo simply existing. I do not want to see what could push him to use his full power…except that I do. Because that would be awesome to watch.

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The Tournament Begins – SK8 the Infinity (Episode Eight) – Season’s Writings

And so the tournament has begun. Reki and Langa are still painfully “broken up”, but we are starting to see the beginnings of some kind of reconciliation for the pair. I, personally, am not the biggest fan of relationship dramas between characters in anime, other than a few exceptions (see Luffy versus Usopp in One Piece), because most of the time it just feels like drama for the sake of drama rather than a genuine emotional reasoning to cause their conflict—and SK8 the Infinity is straddling that line somewhat dangerously at the moment.

This week’s episode largely focuses on the beginning of the tournament being held by Adam, and we see a few of the races along the way. Frustratingly, Reki chooses not to enter the tournament and continues to wallow in his misery. I feel we are starting to lose sight of the Reki we know and love, and it is starting to border on being out of character here. I understand that Reki feels jealous and hurt, but it honestly feels like the happy-go-lucky Reki we met at the series outset wouldn’t be doing this. I feel like that Reki was more focused on the joy of skating than he is on being the best at it.

With all that said, the tournament races were pretty fun, albeit brief, thus far. Notably, Tadashi (the character who was randomly introduced last week as the assistant of Adam in his business) decided to enter the tournament and says he will defeat Adam and make him renounce skating and never skate again. This feels completely out of nowhere and this whole side story regarding Adam’s dodgy business dealings and supposed past with Tadashi really isn’t doing anything for me, personally. It just isn’t very interesting, to put it simply.

Ultimately, I for one hope that the Reki and Langa break-up storyline wraps up soon because these two characters are at their best when they are together. I’ve had enough of the melodrama, and I want to see these boys carving it up on the streets of Okinawa together again. Let’s hope things resolve sooner rather than later.

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A Trip Down Memory Lane – WandaVision (Episode Eight) – Season’s Writings

“What is grief, if not love persevering?”—poetic words from Vision that tell us everything we need to know about WandaVision. At its core, this is a series about grief, what it means, and how it can affect us all.

This week’s episode is focused in on giving the answers we have been looking for. As we saw last week, Agatha Harkness has been manipulating things in the background in WandaVision and we learn here that although she has been pulling some strings, she is not the one who created the Hex, nor does she have control over it. Instead, she is a curious witch; an ancient one indeed, as we see her during Salem in 1693. Agatha is simply curious about how Wanda has done this spell-to-end-all-spells, and so she forces Wanda to take a trip through her memories in order to get to the bottom of it.

We see Wanda’s childhood and come to understand why the reality of the Hex is in the form of sitcoms; it is honestly the most simple answer, really, and the one that makes the most sense. Wanda grew up learning English watching sitcoms with her family in Sokovia. Sitcoms are intrinsically linked with her life through both joy and sorrow. In the darkest of times they were a comforting escape and it makes all the more sense why her fantasy life is manifesting in this way.

More curious to note is that we learn that Wanda’s interaction with the Infinity Stone during the Hydra experimentation wasn’t exactly what gave her her abilities. In fact, we learn here that she had latent abilities that were amplified by the Stone. Just as she unconsciously cast a probability hex which prevented the bomb from going off in her childhood, saving herself and Pietro, we learn that Wanda has always had magical powers. The question now is why and how?

After a few different stops in memory lane, we have a tender moment between Wanda and Vision at the Avengers compound—not long after her brother’s passing during Age of Ultron—and it’s a moment that really makes you understand why these people love one another; it’s an important scene. Vision delivers the aforementioned line and Wanda knows that he implicitly understands her in a way few others do. It makes it all the more tragic when we see the memory of Wanda storming S.W.O.R.D. HQ to acquire Vision’s body. We learn here that Director Haywood actually lied about Wanda stealing Vision’s body: she did nothing of the sort. She came to the facility and saw Vision had been dismantled, and she was unable to feel his life any more. She accepted this reality and left.

From here we see that Vision had, prior to Infinity War, purchased a plot of land in Westview for Wanda and himself to settle down in and hopefully grow old together. Wanda treks out to this location and, upon seeing the grounds where their home would of and should have been, utterly breaks down and, in her grief, loses control of her powers and, in an explosion of sorrow, manifests the reality that is the Hex—and most notably recreates Vision from nothing.

All of this information has made things clear for Agatha, who has now determined Wanda as too dangerous to live. Holding her children hostage, Agatha declares Wanda has been using chaos magic as the mythical “Scarlet Witch”, and we cut to credits. There was, however, a very important post-credits scene which shows us that Director Haywood, using energy from the Hex, has managed to switch his now-reassembled Vision back online; however, this one doesn’t look too friendly.

There are still so many questions to be answered and only one episode left. I have no idea how they are going to possibly resolve all the hanging plot threads with only one episode remaining, but I am hoping they can pull this off. WandaVision has caused me to rethink a lot about what the MCU can and will be, going forward, and I am very excited to see things come to a climax next week.

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Tree Slugger – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Nineteen) – Season’s Writings

Black Flash! A-ah!

Damn, nature, you are indeed scary. In case that previous statement wasn’t eminently know, Hanami (formerly referred to, by me, as Branch Eyes) continues to absolutely decimate the forces of Jujutsu Tech. They smack Fushiguro and Arrow Guy (still don’t remember his name) around like it was nothing, and the sheer power gap between them and Inumaki (that guy what talks magic) is enough for the rebound of the latter’s technique to take him out of commission. Oh, and did I mention that even Maki gets beaten up swiftly? Remember, she’s that sorcerer who bested two powerful opponents with ease. Plus, just for good measure, Hanami also stabbed Fushiguro with a cursed branch that threatens to destroy his body. So…yeah. I’m pretty sure this all counts as dire straights. But, what’s that? On the horizon. Why, yes, it’s those lovable best friends: Itadori and Toudou!

Yep, it’s finally time to see our protagonist jump back into the fray and put his intensive, albeit brief, training to the test. Inspired by the encouragement of his best friend (and the threat that Toudou will let him die if cannot utilise a specific technique), Itadori begins his punch-offensive. Long story short, Itadori manages to almost immediately perform the Black Flash, a technique that involves imbuing cursed energy within a trillionth of a second of a strike’s impact. It sounds awesome. It looks awesome. It’s apparently something many sorcerers have never even accomplished. Of course Itadori nails it: he’s got that Shonen power. Still, a technique that bends the very fabric of space and time through sheer power is undeniably awesome. What’s also awesome is the speed and choreography that permeate the fight when Toudou jumps into the fray. The two zip around like nobody’s business, visibly impacting an opponent who trounced all previous contenders. Seriously, y’all should watch it. It looks dope.

P.S. Fushiguro’s shikigami straight up die if they’re killed: that’s sad. But their powers merge together: that’s good. And is dogs have now combined into one super predator: that’s cool.

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The Break Up – SK8 the Infinity (Episode Seven) – Season’s Writings

Well, it had been teased in the previous episodes, and everything comes to an ugly head here: Reki and Langa have officially broken up. What does this mean for our favourite skater-boy duo? I, for one, hope this is only a temporary separation because I love seeing these two skating the streets of Okinawa together. It just doesn’t seem right for them to skate alone.

This week’s episode was rather significant in its goings-on compared to last week’s breather beach episode. A lot the focus here is on the slow but sure divide growing between our two leads, as Langa improves and surpasses Reki as a skater. Reki feels jealous and like Langa is leaving him behind. Langa, of course, is just having fun and loving skateboarding, blissfully unaware that the more he improves the more distance he is creating between himself and Reki.

Reki goes into a bit of a depression spiral over the course of the episode trying to replicate tricks Langa had done and even chooses to not attend the reopening of the S race. He misses out on the announcement that Adam will be hosting a skateboarding tournament to determine the King of S.

There is a side plot here regarding Adam’s real life business dealings which, personally, just did nothing for me and I couldn’t have cared less about if I tried. We are also introduced to Adam’s assistant Tadashi, who I can’t remember being in any prior episodes, who is suddenly an important character in this side story—where Adam may be charged with perjury due to his illegal dealings with some politician. It seems Adam is going to pin it on Tadashi, which he strangely accepts. We see a very brief flashback of Adam and Tadashi at a younger age with some old man having burned their skateboard in a fire pit. I don’t know what was going on there. All I could think while these scenes were happening was how much I wanted the show to get back to the skateboarding.

The episode comes to an emotional climax with Reki and Langa meeting up in the rain, where Reki loses his shit at Langa who confirms he is entering the tournament with hopes of defeating Adam. Reki is incensed because Langa had promised he would not skate against Adam again. Langa says it’s just exciting to skate with other good skaters, to which Reki replies that he is scared of doing that. He then officially ends his friendship with Langa, brutally, stating that they aren’t a good match anymore, leaving Langa to shed tears in the rain.

Overall, I thought this was one of the better episodes of the series so far. The emotion surrounding the Langa and Reki relationship is a highlight and there is a lot of intrigue there as to where it is going. However, this episode was bogged down by the unnecessary and completely random Adam side plot regarding the political corruption. I couldn’t have cared less about that. At the very least, it looks like next week the tournament will begin, so we can look forward to some skating action.

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Agatha All Along – WandaVision (Episode Seven) – Season’s Writings

Well, it looks like the theories were right. Agnes is Agatha Harkness and—as we learn in the chilling musical number that concludes this episode—when it comes to many of the series questions and mysteries, well, it is was Agatha all along.

Fans of the Scarlet Witch comics would be familiar with the character of Agatha Harkness, a super-powered witch who has both served as a mentor and antagonist to Wanda in the comics. Many had theorised that Agnes was an abbreviation of Agatha Harkness and we learn here that that was correct.

The episode opens in what is now a 2010s-style mockumentary sitcom, in the same vein as Modern Family or The Office. We discover that Wanda is slowly losing control of the world around her, as items are changing appearance without her say so, and things generally just seem to be falling apart. Lucky for Wanda, Agnes rocks up just in time to take care of the kids and give her some “me time”.

On the other side of town is Vision, who is back to life and retains his memories of his journey through the Hex barrier. He meets Darcy Lewis, who was trapped in the Hex, and the two have some incredible comedic banter—with Darcy rejecting the unintentional come on from Vision. Soon enough, Vision uses his powers to awaken her to reality and the two decide they need to get to Wanda and try to stop her. The comedic moments between these two are honestly a highlight of this episode. If you had told me five years ago that Vision and Darcy Lewis would commit grand theft auto after punching out a clown, I would have thought you were out of your mind—but hey, it happened.

Along the road back, Darcy gives Vision a bit of a run down on his life prior to Westview which he had forgotten. He comes to understand why Wanda is doing this and Darcy remarks that, despite all of this, she knows that they both really do love each other. Anywho, despite their attempts to get back into town, it seems that Wanda is putting up countless roadblocks that are preventing them.

Back outside of the Hex, we see that Haywood is planning to go full frontal assault on the Hex and retrieve his asset. It seems that during that five year time skip, S.W.O.R.D. had been trying to reactivate Vision and potentially turn him into a weapon for them. Their attempts all appeared to have failed, but seeing that Wanda has brought him back to life seems to spark the curiosity of Haywood.

The episode doesn’t give us the “aerospace engineer” reveal, but instead we see Monica Rambeau gain super powers. She receives a space rover from her “aerospace engineer” friend—who we don’t see in this episode—but it fails to break through the Hex, which has now become more dense and hard to traverse through. Monica, however, decides that she will make her way in herself. Having already went through the Hex twice, going through the third time completely scrambles her DNA make-up, seemingly giving her some kind of energy manipulation abilities.

Monica makes her way to Wanda’s house and confronts her. Wanda loses her shit, of course, and tries to attack Monica. However, Monica is able to reverse her powers with her own, which shocks Wanda and sees Agnes suddenly come to Wanda’s aid. Agnes takes Wanda to her house and demands Monica to leave. This is where the big reveal comes.

As everything seems to be falling apart, Agnes lures Wanda into her basement to find her kids—who are nowhere to be seen. The basement looks like something straight out of Salem, and there is some kind of demonic book that is glowing, and the whole place is just generally spooky. Agnes introduces herself as Agatha Harkness and magics a musical number into Wanda’s head, revealing that she was behind everything in the series up until now.

I am left with so many questions after this episode. What does Agatha want? Who is the fake Pietro? Who is the “aerospace engineer”? What in the world is going on? Will Vision make it in time before shit hits the fan even further than it already has? WandaVision has just taken things to another level of insanity, and we still have some more surprises ahead according to some of the actors from the show. My guess is that the fake Pietro is actually Mephisto and he is working alongside Agatha. The only problem I have is, I have no idea what Agatha wants here—and what is her endgame? Is it all just to fuck with Wanda or is there some deeper motivation that we can’t yet comprehend?

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An Unexpected, Lasting Cultural Impact – The O.C. – In Retrospect

It was August 5th, 2003 when 7.5 million people tuned in to the first episode of The O.C.—a series which would unexpectedly go on to have a lasting and wide-reaching impact on pop culture in the West. But you wouldn’t have known that at the time. The marketing and advertisements put out by the Fox Network would have you believe you were signing up for a 90210-style teen drama about rich kids and their rich-kid problems. While that is a part of what The O.C. explored, it wasn’t really what The O.C. was all about. The O.C. took the glitz and glam of rich white life and put it through the lens of the social outcasts. A line from series’ lead Ryan Atwood sums up The O.C.‘s perspective on that world: “You know what I love about rich kids? Nothing.” It was a defiant flipping of the bird to every rich-kid teen drama on television and one that would become the series’ mantra throughout.

The series was an instant smash hit on television, raking in tens of millions of views on average each week. With such a massive audience, The O.C. proved to be truly influential on the landscape of popular culture. While the series focused primarily on our lead Ryan Atwood, a kid from the wrong side of the tracks adopted into the Cohen family, it was through Ryan’s adoptive brother Seth Cohen that the series made its arguable greatest impact—it made nerd culture cool.

Seth Cohen was presented as your typical geek who loved comic books, video games, obscure indie bands, skateboarding, and movies. Unlike typical geek characters, however, Seth was presented as having good taste—he was into the good shit. This geek got the girl. Heck, he even gets the girl into reading comics! The presentation of this character was completely unlike what had been seen before in TV and Josh Schwartz, the series creator, would go on to replicate the cool geek archetype with his show Chuck.

The show was witty, referential, and smart. It presented the world of nerd culture in a positive light and lead the revolution of legitimising and popularising geek culture in the mainstream. Seth Cohen was a nerd through and through, but he was also cool and able to interact and engage in meaningful relationships with women and other people. He wasn’t some nerd who didn’t know how to live life because he read too many comic books. Instead, the comic books helped shape him as both a good person and someone who is passionate about the things he loves and the things he pursues. He was presented as every bit as much of a desirable guy as the brooding and more typically attractive Ryan.

The popular movement of nerd culture becoming mainstream undoubtedly has its roots here in The O.C., and there would be countless other programs that would come along to try and tap into this emerging mainstream movement, to varying levels of success. There would arguably be no Big Bang Theory without Seth Cohen. Take that as you will.

One of the other major impacts The O.C. had was on the music industry. Creator Josh Schwartz has remarked in interviews in the past that he would often hear a song, and then write a scene for the show to be backed by that song. It was an integral part of his writing process. This is something that is evident in all of his shows, including Gossip Girl and Chuck. The inclusion of a band’s music on The O.C. actually had skyrocketed multiple artists to fame and even lead to some bands getting record deals, such as in the case of the band Rooney.

The influential nature of the show on the music industry did not go unnoticed. By the second season of the show, record labels were approaching the showrunners to have their music featured. One little known fact was that the global premiere of Coldplay’s iconic song “Fix You” was actually in an episode of The O.C. Yes, a song which has gone on to be touted as one of the greatest songs ever written was launched as part of an episode of this show.

Countless musical acts had guest appearances on the show, including bands that would go on to massive acclaim, such as The Killers. The sonic landscape of The O.C. was one that simply could not be understated. Every musical choice had a purpose and point. Schwartz would view stories and moments through song and would go out of his way to secure the music rights to tracks, all in order to score the scene with the perfect song. There may be no better example of this than the now-iconic second season finale which features Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek”.

I could probably write an entire article just on that second season finale and the ramifications it had on both television, music, and even the modern comedy landscape. But I’ll touch on the importance of the moment as best I can here. The second season finale begins with a funeral, where we hear the first part of the “Hide and Seek” track, but it ends before we hear the familiar strains of “Mmm Whatcha Say”. That is saved for the closing moments of the episode, where the use of the song at the funeral serves as a perfect parallel to the deadly shooting that concludes the episode and season. The gunshot rings out and suddenly, after being left hanging for an entire episode, “Hide and Seek” kicks back in like a punch to the heart. “Mmm Whatcha Say” indeed.

This moment would become one of the most well known and iconic moments of the series as a whole. This moment would even unexpectedly go on to launch The Lonely Island to comedy stardom. Many of you have probably seen the SNL digital short “Dear Sister” which parodies this scene and uses the “Hide and Seek” song as well. Before making this short, Andy Samberg would, as part of Lonely Island, make a web series parody of The O.C. called The Bu. This would get him noticed and hired to SNL, where he would go on to appear in “Dear Sister”. It has been argued that “Dear Sister” was, in fact, the origin of modern comedy and Gen-Z humour. The strange, wonderful, and bizarre TikTok comedy you see of today likely had its roots in the “Dear Sister” short, but that is a topic for another article.

To put it lightly, The O.C. was far more than just a sappy teen drama. It was that, but it was also unexpectedly ground-breaking. It lead a far-reaching movement of empowering geek culture and bringing it to the forefront. It revolutionised the marketing and presentation of music through television and popularised the indie genre. Furthermore, it may have indirectly shaped the very face of modern comedy. But more so than all of that, it’s just a great show that, even nearing twenty years since its debut episode, is every bit as relevant as it was then. The O.C. was a truly monumental television series and one that’s impact has endured the test of time.

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Hurt Not the Trees – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Eighteen) – Season’s Writings

Violent things can happen in the woods.

In this stage of our weekly roundup of what Jujutsu Tech students done fight who, Fushiguro and Arrow Guy rock the scene (and no, I’m still not very good with remembering these people’s names). Surprising absolutely no one, Arrow Guy uses a bow and his namesake to fight. However, he also infuses them with his own blood, a medium which he is able to manipulate due to his bloodline curse technique—an irony he himself notes. This technique allows him to kick physics to the wayside and have his arrows bend it like barbarian Beckham and hone in on his target. It’s pretty cool. On top of that, the dude’s strong. Like, punch-a-tonfa-in-half strong. It’s pretty scary. That being said, the reason behind his raw power is a tremendously creative utilisation of his technique: doping. By controlling his blood while it’s still in his body, he can manufacture the effect that is a no go in the world of sports. Simply put: the dude makes his blood carry more oxygen to his muscles, and this boosts his muscles. Sure, Fushiguro learnt how to summon an elephant that fires torrents of water that’s style makes Demon Slayer‘s legal team twitchy, but the creative application of an ability always impresses me more. So, good on you, Arrow Guy, dope away.

Moving away from that morally dubious statement, this episode also contains the slightly dramatic plot element of derailing the entire inter-school competition. Yes, those loathable special-grades are back and boy do that want to kill everybody. Mahito, as always, seems to be the instigator of conflict, enlisting the help of a sorcerer who is most probably definitely a serial killer. Seriously, all the dude talks about is turning Gojou into a coat rack…that’s messed up. On the flip side, the manifestation of nature (a.k.a. the special-grade what’s missing an arm and has branches for eyes) simply wants nature to heal…by giving it some time where humanity is dead. It’s a valid motivation, humans aren’t exactly the nicest to nature; still, they’re probably not going to take too kindly to being genocided. To their credit, Branch Eyes does acknowledge that some humans are kind to nature, though they also note how there aren’t enough of them to offset the damage and pain already inflicted. It’s a small detail, but it goes a ways to showing that not all of these special-grades are evil for the sake of evil; some have decently thought out motivations…that all involve murder. Still, the arrival of these villains means that what’s left of Jujutsu Tech can now band together and kick some serious butt. Which is nice. Also, the jerkbag principal has an electric guitar…and it annoys me how cool that is.

P.S. I love that Gojou’s ego is one-hundred percent founded, seeing as the villains devised a barrier that focuses solely on keeping him out, whilst having no effect on literally anybody else. In addition to showing off the mechanics of cursed techniques further (increasing power based on specificity, jack-of-one-trade and master-of-that-one style), it also shows us that, yes, Gojou really is that damn cool. Maybe the special-grades just get all distracted by those baby blues of his. I think he may legally have to wear that blindfold, to keep all of Japan from swooning.

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A Beach Episode – SK8 the Infinity (Episode Six) – Season’s Writings

I must say, it has been quite a while since I’ve seen the classic “beach episode” anime trope pulled out by a series. SK8 the Infinity does just that here in its latest episode, which (despite feeling like a bit of a filler episode) did manage to include a few moments of importance and progression.

The premise behind this week’s episode is that after the S race had been discovered by the cops, no one has been able to hit the trail since. This leads our crew to decide to go on a bit of a vacation while, hopefully, the heat on the S race and its participants dies down. They decide to head to an island off the coast of Okinawa and, as expected, some beachy shenanigans unfold. There isn’t too much remarkable to comment on here. The guys try to pick up chicks and fail spectacularly, they play beach games, mess around in the water, and just have some fun in general.

However, there was a really pivotal moment in this episode. Reki examines Langa’s board and remarks upon how quickly Langa has progressed as a skater, and it becomes clear that Reki is perhaps feeling a sense of jealousy. He had, of course, failed to defeat Adam whereas, before the police intervention, it appeared Langa had Adam’s number on the S race.

Reki later confides in Joe that he is worried about being left behind and enlists Joe’s help to train him and help him learn some more tricks. Of course, Reki is still injured from his S race with Adam, which is contributing to him feeling this way. After this moment, there are some more island shenanigans and some hot-springs time, but it’s all ultimately just some filler fluff before the episode’s big ending: now that the S race is no more, Adam announces that he is going to launch a skateboarding tournament.

With this episode, we officially have passed the half-way point for the series, and it looks like we will be barrelling ahead into a tournament arc—which may very well be the main focus of the series going forward. At times, the series can appear to be more flash-and-style than substance and this episode definitely felt like that. That said, now that we know these characters and their motivations, I am keen to see some substantial storytelling kicking in here going forward.

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Spooky Scary Scarlet Witch – WandaVision (Episode Six) – Season’s Writings

Shit has well and truly hit the fan on WandaVision. Following last week’s shocking cliffhanger ending, where we were introduced to the recast Pietro (as portrayed by Evan Peters), we are now in a Malcolm in the Middle–style sitcom, and it is Halloween in Westview.

The episode makes great use of the unique style of Malcolm in the Middle and gives some great material for Tommy and Billy to work with, as we see them breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience, much like Malcolm would do. While Malcolm in the Middle was an overall positive-vibe show, this episode is utterly fuelled by an undercurrent of dread. This reality that Wanda has been happily living in is falling apart at the seems and it seems to have devastating implications ahead.

Wanda had planned for the family to go trick-or-treating together but Vision decides to go off script, claiming he is going to be part of the neighbourhood watch. Wanda knows this isn’t the plan but she loves Vision and doesn’t want to fight with him; so she leaves him to his own devices. This, of course, does not go to plan, as Vision discovers that the closer to the outskirts of town he goes. He finds that all the residents are frozen in place as if, when they are not part of the story, they are simply waiting until it is their turn to be part of the show.

Vision gets to the outskirts of town and finds Agnes frozen behind the wheel of her car. This seems to throw into question whether there is more to Agnes than we had thought, as this seems to imply she is another victim of Wanda’s and not some greater being at play. She asks Vision if she is dead because he is. This all throws everything into question for him and he defiantly decides to make his way out of Westview.

Meanwhile, the S.W.O.R.D. agents outside have decided it’s time to go the nuclear option and enact a full frontal assault on the Westview anomaly and take Wanda out. This doesn’t sit well with Monica Rambeau, Jimmy Woo, and Darcy Lewis, who have become quite the rad trio. Haywood orders them removed from the location when Rambeau declares, “If Wanda is the problem then she needs to be our solution,” which is an idea Haywood doesn’t quite like. He says to Monica that she doesn’t know the struggle of those who had to live through the five years of the Blip—and the apparent resentment many of them now bare towards “super-powered individuals”.

Monica and company manage to escape from the S.W.O.R.D. agents, and we learn, through some keen hacking by Darcy, that Haywood is tracking Vision with hopes of “reacquiring his asset”. This certainly makes things interesting, and one has to wonder what experiments had been done (by S.W.O.R.D.) on Vision during the five-year time skip. We also learn that having been in the Hex is causing Monica’s DNA and cells to change. Something that she brushes off. This leaves me to wonder if we might be seeing the introduction of Mutants into the MCU here. Could Wanda’s Hex be causing the DNA of these humans to mutate? What if we have a reverse–“House of M” situation where instead of removing all Mutants, Wanda actually creates them—possibly extending her Hex across the entire planet, even? Regardless, Monica and Jimmy decide they need to bring in her “aerospace engineer” friend to help with this situation. Could this be Reed Richards?

Back inside the Hex, Pietro and Wanda are having an interesting conversation—with Pietro clearly knowing a lot about what is going on here. He does not appear to be under Wanda’s influence and even compliments her work on the Hex and the town of Westview. I am pretty much convinced that this Evan Peters–version of the character is none other than Mephisto. He has made countless remarks that seem to indicate as such. For example, in this episode alone he calls the kids “demon spawn”, says Westview is “as charming as hell”, and describes himself as “devilish”.

While they are having this conversation (with Pietro just generally saying a bunch of weird shit), Vision breaks out of the Hex and it becomes very clear that he cannot survive outside of it—as he is slowly dying the minute he walks out of it. Vision begs the S.W.O.R.D. agents to help the people inside of Westview. It’s at this moment that one of Wanda’s children, I can’t remember which one, telepathically hears Vision’s painful pleas and informs Wanda. Acting immediately, she begins to expand the Hex to massive proportions. Haywood and the other S.W.O.R.D. agents begin to flee, but many are caught in the Hex and immediately transformed into clowns at a circus. Vision is safely back inside the Hex, but he now knows the truth of the situation. It’s also worth mentioning that Darcy was also trapped in the Hex during this expansion, along with presumably thousands of others nearby.

Overall, this has got to be the most insane episode of WandaVision yet and there are many curious questions left here. Who is Pietro really? Is Agnes really just a normal citizen of Westview? Who is the “aerospace engineer” friend of Monica Rambeau, and who is the supposed person that Jimmy Woo had in witness protection in Westview? There are so many questions here and, as we barrel ahead into the final three episodes of the series, I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.

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A Fall Indeed – Gods Will Fall – Humble Opinions

Another dungeon-crawler is among us; with so many to choose from, what exactly makes this the choice over the plethora of others available? Well, in my humble opinion, you’d be hard-pressed to choose this over many similar games out there. The game does some things nicely, but, for the most part, what it does do well is dampened greatly by some of its downfalls. And in a genre like this, where there are so many strong contenders, you pretty much have to make an exceptional title to really stand out. Unfortunately, there are some issues present within the game which prevent it being part of those iconic dungeon-crawlers we know and love.

The basic premise of the game is of a methodical dungeon-crawler. Enter the game and you will see a randomly generated group of eight fighters, each wielding a certain weapon type (maces, swords, spears…).; though, this ragtag bunch is barebones to begin with—no special armour, equipment, or weapons. As you begin, your quest is to track down and destroy the ten Gods, and you’ll have to enter and trudge through dungeons throughout the map to do so. When entering dungeons, you’ll be able to select one character; with this choice, you’ll have to make your way through it, fighting enemies and working your way towards the boss. These dungeons often house items you can find along the way to upgrade your basic gear into something more likely to take down a powerful foe. If you die within the dungeon, that character disappears from your party and you are left with the remainder to continue on with. It feels a bit rogue-like, as the characters and attempts you have at making it through different dungeons are limited, but this makes for more of a challenge. It also should become less and less of an issue once you are able to gear your fighters up a lot more. I did find loot drops within dungeons to be quite a rare find at the beginning, so perhaps take it slowly and tactically once you begin.

Now, the thing with this game is—even though it is a hack ‘n’ slash of sorts—it is a slow paced game. The strikes and movements you will complete with your character are very much methodical and timed. You need to dodge enemy strikes constantly. It’s almost Souls-like in its approach: you don’t want to just run in and attack blindly, especially when you begin the game, as you are quite weak and the enemies blows will take you out quickly.

The issue that I found with the playstyle has nothing to do with the fact that I don’t particularly care for the slow, methodical Souls-like experience. The problem is that the combat that does exist is what I would describe as “clunky”. With a game like Dark Souls, it is slow and methodical but it controls precisely—typically any movement made by the player translates promptly and smoothly within the game. Here, there is a level of latency between the controls and the time it takes to prompt an action within the game, which is a weakness in its enjoyability. For a game based on dungeon-crawling, the combat needs to be refined much more, as, at the moment, it feels disjointed and clunky. Even jumping up onto other platforms and walking along thin planks can prove to be annoying to control, with constant slip up likely to happen. For a game centred around combat and progression, the controls need to be tighter. I found them to be a little frustrating through my playthrough and a bit of a deterrent to playing long term.

The art style is a positive. It’s quite endearing, and the game can be pretty at times. Its graphical aesthetics look to be almost a painted texture, and there are some lovely details within the environment. The characters move with almost a clunky wobble, but this just adds to their cuteness. I really enjoy the way the group of warriors all raise their hands and cheer once you exit the dungeon: it was unexpected the first time and it was super cute to see. The game provides story in the form of voiced-over cinematics when you first boot up the game. It provides enough context for you to understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and I have no gripe with this method of storytelling. In dungeon-crawling games, I enjoy and typically focus on gameplay, replayability, and loot mechanics above the narrative. Unfortunately, Gods Will Fall really does struggle when it comes to the gameplay itself, although the game has charming aspects and definitely has potential to improve the gameplay. In its current state, I would be able to recommend the game if it was perhaps on sale or at a cheaper price. On Steam, the game is currently priced at A$37.95 for the standard edition, but that feels a tad too much for something that I feel does not play as well as many other dungeon crawlers.

I would say that the game is something that you should keep an eye on—with further developments, it could definitely transform itself into a more palatable experience. Take what I say with a grain of salt if you wish though because, admittedly, I have never really enjoyed games with Souls-like combat. This could be the reason why the combat is not gelling with me. But, I will say, I also have played games like Bloodborne, and while I did not see them through to the end (due to the insane difficulty and my lack of patience), I was able to recognise the polish on the movement controls and the combat systems in place—which made the game feel like a rewarding and enjoyable experience (until you died, that is).

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Sister Attacked – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Seventeen) – Season’s Writings

Revolver Cross-a-lot.

So, in case it wasn’t clear, sorcerers are some seriously strong folk. Like, tear-down-forests strong. Also, the voracity with which they use said strength is turned up to eleven when traumatic backstories come to the surface—even if they’re not their own stories. Admittedly, this is a touch weird, but let’s call Broom Girl’s defence of Mai “character development by omission”. Sure, we still know nothing intensely personal about the flying lass, but her vehement respect for Mai shows an intense loyalty—for better or worse. Broom Girl also expressed a belief that female sorcerers are worse off than their male counterparts, as they are also required to maintain appearance in addition to strength. Kugisaki soundly doesn’t give a crap about this opinion, but I can’t say I doubt its truth. The (literally) old guard maintaining the world of sorcery are traditional to the core, which is code for saying offensively exclusionary…which is code for sexist, probably racist, and narrow-mindedly violent. So, if them wanting to kill Itadori wasn’t enough, there are some more reasons to want Gojou’s coup to succeed.

If second-hand exploration into Mai’s past wasn’t enough for you, the latter half of the episode is devoted to the troubled upbringing of both her and her sister, Maki. Remember what I said about the old guard and their ways? Yeah, Maki and Mai’s family do be like that. Worse even. Not only does the Zenin family disregard females, they completely reject children who do not happen to inherit the sorcery technique of their bloodline. Simply put: they suck and I hate them. Still, it was interesting for this episode (through Kugisaki) to note that Mai’s trauma is not a free pass to treat people like trash. Sure, her childhood sucked, but it seems like every sorcerer’s did; that probably has something to do with why teenagers risk their lives to fight curses. That isn’t a normal thing. Regardless, this episode does give us some insight on—and perhaps understanding of—Mai, and that’s nice. She’s still kinda mean, though. Although, she can apparently create matter from her cursed energy. And that’s cool as heck.

P.S. Apparently Maki’s lack of cursed energy is due to a birth pact—like what Mechamaru has—that traded it away for raw strength. Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it? You know, minus the whole possessed-by-an-unstoppable-curse-who-dreams-of-unbridled-destruction thing.

P.P.S. The animation in this episode was dope as heck.

P.P.P.S. Maki caught a bullet with her bare hands. What? How awesome is that?

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Love Thugs – SK8 the Infinity (Episode Five) – Season’s Writings

Last week’s episode of SK8 the Infinity ended with Reki being hit by Adam’s brutal Love Hug technique and being seriously injured. We open up this week’s episode with the aftermath of that chaotic S-race beef: Reki has been hospitalised and suffered head trauma and an apparent broken arm. He won’t be able to skate for the foreseeable future and, after witnessing the Love Hug firsthand, he is begging Langa to not skate against Adam.

While Langa acknowledges the danger presented by Adam, there is a part of him that feels an inescapable desire to skate with him. Reki recounts that his best friend in the past was seriously injured while skateboarding and gave up skating forever, leaving behind his friendship with Reki in the process. Langa promises that, even if he falls victim to Adam, he will not stop skating.

The majority of the episode from here was really about Langa training for his S race against Adam. Cherry, Joe, and Miya all chip in to advise Langa on how to potentially survive the Love Hug and possibly defeat Adam.

After a period of training, it’s time for the big S race, and it is clear that Langa has learned from what happened during the race between Reki and Adam. He performs the Casper slide, which both shocks and impresses Adam, and he counters the matador dance lock by embracing Adam closer, rather than instinctively pushing him away. Adam is stunned, and so he pulls out the final stop with the Love Hug’ It looks like Langa is done for, but he suddenly pulls out a front-flipping pop shove it—perfectly countering the Love Hug. Adam has been stopped dead in his tracks.

It looks like Langa is about to win the race when, mysteriously, the police rock up and begin chasing off all the skaters and putting an end to the S race. With the S race location now privy to the police, does this mean the end of S? Hard to say just now, and judging by the preview for next week—which indicates a beach episode—we might have to wait a bit longer to find out.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this week’s episode; that said, I am concerned that Langa is being written as somewhat unbelievably good. He has dominated in his S races so far, and despite being new to skating he is mastering techniques far beyond rookie level. It remains the hardest part of the series to suspend your disbelief with, but I am still enjoying it nonetheless.

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Recasting Was All the Rage – WandaVision (Episode Five) – Season’s Writings

Marvel have really left us on a tantalising cliffhanger this week on WandaVision. Despite the longer episode run time, I was left begging for more, with the episode ending in shocking fashion with the appearance of a certain character who, you could say, you may not have seen coming.

This week’s episode expands upon the series’ formula thus far, after last week’s break from the sitcom style to give us a look at the world outside of Westview. This week, we get pretty much an even split as the sitcom world continues in a 1980s style—reminiscent of Family Ties or Rosanne—alongside the ongoing events outside of the anomaly, as both begin to truly intersect.

The events in the sitcom world largely revolve around Wanda and Vision now having to be parents to young Tommy and Billy. However, unlike previous episodes where things were slightly off-kilter, the wheels are well and truly off the wagon now. Agnes in an odd moment asks Wanda if she would like her to “take it from the top” and redo her lines, Wanda and the kids are just using magic in front of Agnes without any regard for keeping their secret, and Vision comes to realise the dire situation everyone in the town is truly in.

Outside of Westview, we see Monica coming to her senses and admitting she was under some kind of mind control from Wanda while inside the “Hex”—as they have come to call it. She describes being under Wanda’s control as painful and a violation of sorts. From here we learn from Commander Haywood that they have just learned that Wanda had infiltrated a secret S.W.O.R.D. base nine days prior and had “stolen” Vision’s body from the facility, before presumably taking it to Westview and somehow reanimating him.

The S.W.O.R.D. agents come up with a plan to send in a 1980s style drone to try to communicate with Wanda, in order to trick the system which reimages things to the style of that era. However, Commander Haywood had other plans and had armed the drone, which does not go well with Wanda when he decides to fire on her. She immediately walks through the barrier of the Hex and—with thick Sokovian accent fully returned—tells them to leave her alone or else, before mind controlling all of the armed soldiers to aim at Haywood. Wanda has never been more frightening a character.

Everything comes to an ugly head when Vision returns home from work after accidentally discovering that all the residents are under Wanda’s mind control from his colleague Norm. He asks Wanda why there are no children in Westview. He asks her why she keeps changing their world around them. He painfully exclaims that he can’t remember his life before Westview, and that scares him. Both look like they are about to come to physical blows when Wanda admits that although she has control she has no recollection of how this all started. But before they can converse any further down that line of thought, the door bell rings.

Wanda opens the door and it is none other than her long dead brother Pietro Maximoff, except he isn’t the Pietro we know from the MCU; instead it is the Quicksilver from the X-Men films, as portrayed by Evan Peters. The episode ends with Darcy Lewis, who is watching from outside, exclaiming, “She recast Pietro!” Which hilariously reflects the common practice of recasting characters in sitcoms. Roseanne, for example, had two Beckys.

It was a crazy cliffhanger to leave us on and raises a lot of questions about what exactly is going on here. Is that just some random town member who has been cast as Pietro or is it the Quicksilver from the X-Men films’ universe who has been plucked and placed in this reality? We will have to wait until next week to find out, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this Pietro isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. Could he really be Mephisto playing one of his sick jokes at Wanda’s expense? Curiouser and curiouser.

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Grandfather Problems – Lupin III: The First – Humble Opinions

The legend of Arsene Lupin is not one to be understated. The classic gentlemen thief has long been a public domain character, so there has been countless takes on Lupin, but perhaps none have proven to transcend the original more than Monkey Punch’s iconic Lupin III. The purported grandson of Maurice Leblanc’s Arsene Lupin, Lupin III is likewise a master of disguise and an expert thief who—along with his frequent collaborators Jigen, Goemon, and Fujiko—travels across the globe seeking his next great heist.

The fully CG animated film Lupin III: The First explores the relationship between Lupin and his grandfather in a way the Lupin the Third anime series and manga never has. The film parallels Lupin’s own journey in the footsteps of his legendary grandfather with the emotional discovery of the character of Laetitia.

The film’s title, The First, is of course in reference to the original Arsene Lupin, who our hero Lupin III has stylised his life and career as a thief around. We have never seen the impact his grandfather had had on him until now, and it’s clear that our hero views his grandfather as somewhat of his own personal hero.

Over the course of the film, we see Laetitia and Lupin’s relationship grow as both uncover the truth of their respective grandparents and the fated connection both have to one another. It all comes to a climactic conclusion when the film takes a left turn into high-fantasy territory with the introduction of what is ultimately an ancient, magical black-hole energy generator.

Unlike typical Lupin the Third stories, the heist is not the focus here. In fact, the heist and theft elements are rather quickly resolved in the first act, and the rest of the film becomes somewhat of an Indiana Jones–style adventure with Nazis and an appearance from Adolf Hitler himself to boot. This break from the usual Lupin the Third format works in some ways and in other ways it doesn’t. Some parts of the film felt as though it was spinning its wheels; this was particularly prevalent during the somewhat repetitive sequences on the Nazis’ secret plane headquarters. However, it was really refreshing to see Lupin working alongside Inspector Zenigata for the greater good. I don’t recall a time they have worked together to this extent before, but it was a nice surprise to see.

Overall, the film is a fun Lupin the Third caper that explores his connection to his grandfather in a way that has yet to be done before, exploring some new ground for a series that has been around for more than half a century at this point. I really enjoyed the emotional core of the film, with Lupin’s relationship with Laetitia, and I wouldn’t mind seeing her return in some kind of sequel in the same CG animated style as this. All in all, the film looks gorgeous and really brings the Lupin the Third characters we know and love into a new era of animation.

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Gorilla Warfare – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Sixteen) – Season’s Writings

Stronger than the av-er-age bear.

Panda isn’t a panda. Just thought you should know that, you know, in case you paid no attention to the dialogue in this episode. On account of it reiterating that point. A lot. Also, Panda transforms into a gorilla/panda hybrid—which is a pretty big clue that he isn’t a regular panda. Well, that and the whole able-to-speak thing. Regardless, Panda ain’t no joke; pummelling Mechamaru up and down the forest, before finishing the bout on some (now busted up) rooftops. In addition to learning just how powerful Panda is, this fight also grants us insight into him as a character. Born through sorcery, Panda houses three cores within himself—“siblings” who lend him power and the ability to alter his form—unlike the singular core found within other cursed corpses (that being the blanket term for all beings constructed through sorcery). Panda is also unique in that he has emotions and the ability to to act on them, such as when he shielded Kugisaki from Mechamaru’s attack and also got sad when Mechamaru likened him to a puppet. Speaking of Mechamaru…

That guy has…complex issues surrounding his person. Apparently beset by a pact forced upon him at birth, Mechamaru (which is the only name we know him by) is blessed with tremendous cursed energy and the ability to control false bodies over tremendous distances. However, said power came at the cost of his right arm, all feeling below his waist, and skin so frail that it burns in moonlight and constantly feels as if needles are piercing it. So…yeah. A bit of a darker turn than “being a panda”, but still a rather interesting story beat. It was also rather nice to see Panda befriend his opponent and attempt to open Mechamaru’s eyes to the better aspects of his life—namely his comrades who treat him just as they do each other. I mean, I totally get why the guy in constant pain isn’t the happiest guy on the planet, but I hope Panda’s words help the guy. I also hope that the irony of Panda trying to help Mechamaru’s true self whilst simultaneously tearing his false body into pieces doesn’t negatively effect anything. ‘Cause, like, Mechamaru did all that explaining about his ravaged body…then Panda ripped his arm off…then slapped him out of commission. Though, Mechamaru did shoot Panda’s siblings in their souls; maybe they’re even? Regardless, I know two things for sure: Panda isn’t a panda, and anime is weird as heck.

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Skating Uphill – SK8 the Infinity (Episode Four) – Season’s Writings

Let me begin by saying, fuck you Adam. Not in recent memory have I felt such immediate disdain for a bad guy in anime as I do for Adam. That just makes the events of episode four of SK8 the Infinity hurt all the more.

Last week’s episode ended with Reki challenging pro-skater Adam to a beef on the S race to avenge Miya, whom Adam merciless mocked. We pick up right where we left off, as both skaters agree to the terms of their S race. If Reki wins, Adam must apologize to Miya; if Adam wins, then Langa must skate with Adam. Since Langa defeated Miya in the previous episode, Adam was immediately interested in the prospects of Langa. Langa agrees to the terms, showing his confidence and faith in Reki.

We learn, over the course of the episode, a few things about Adam. He is the founder of the S race and is infamous for hospitalising any skater who dares to challenge him. How does he hospitalise them, you ask? Well, he has apparently mastered the ability to switch from downhill skating to uphill without losing any momentum or speed—a move Adam calls “Love Hug”.

After training with Miya and Shadow, the night of the big S race arrives. As Adam rocks up so, too, do Cherry and Joe—who both seem to want to challenge Adam to a beef as well. Reki puts them in their place and says this is his beef with Adam right now, and they can wait. The siren sounds and Reki takes off; however, Adam doesn’t seem to care whatsoever. Instead, he simply lights up a cigarette and casually smokes while talking some nonsense about keeping his cigarettes in an airtight case in order to preserve the taste of the tobacco. The dude is just a straight up piece of shit, in case that wasn’t clear.

As Reki makes it to the halfway mark of the S race, Adam suddenly decides to enter the race, kickstarting at insane speeds and quickly catching up to Reki. He does a bunch of insane tricks and even locks his board with Reki’s in order to intimidate him. However, Reki remembers what he is fighting for here and refuses to lose. Using a rail slide to make the sharp corner, Reki overtakes Adam and is seemingly about to win. Until Adam performs the seemingly impossible Love Hug move, overtaking Reki before reversing and skating back up the mountain—about to collide with him. Reki instinctively bails out and crashes and burns at insane speeds, busting himself open with blood pouring down his face. Reki is completely destroyed and potentially injured by Adam here. Some of the blood landed on Adam’s face and he gleefully licked it.

The episode ends with the Reki apologising to his friends before passing out as the reality sets in that Langa must now skate with Adam. Judging from the preview, it looks like we won’t have to wait to see it, as it shows Adam and Langa will hit the S race next week.

This was yet another awesome episode of SK8 the Infinity and with the arrival of the big bad in Adam, we now understand that there is an imminent threat to our heroes with this skater who only cares about brutally destroying any skater he deems weaker than himself.

I must mention that the soundtrack is especially rad in this episode; in particular, I loved the song that played as Reki made his comeback in the S race with Adam. In general, the show has an amazing soundtrack but this episode was especially brilliant in that regard. All in all, another great episode of SK8 the Infinity. I’m gutted for Reki but I hope to see him get back up on that board again because he needs to avenge this loss against that bastard.

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We Interrupt This Program – WandaVision (Episode Four) – Season’s Writings

It seems that the villain of WandaVision has been hiding in plain sight all along. Who’d have thunk it? Certainly not this humble viewer. However, episode four of WandaVision goes to great lengths to confirm what we had hoped wouldn’t be true: Wanda is seemingly the one behind this strange new reality and has potentially enslaved an entire town of people to play a part in her elaborate sitcom fantasy.

Episode four begins in a truly intense fashion as we flashback to the events of Avengers: Endgame, when The Hulk had used the Infinity Gauntlet to bring back everyone who was snapped out of existence during “The Blip”. We see Monica Rambeau materialise in a hospital, as dozens begin materialising all around her. She learns that she has been missing for five years and, during that time, her mother and best mate of Captain Marvel, Maria “Photon” Rambeau, has lost her battle with cancer.

We see the world slowly begin to adjust to half the universe’s population returning and see that a new organization has replaced the defunct S.H.I.E.L.D. As was first revealed in Spider-Man: Far From Home, the S.W.O.R.D. organization is now taking over the duties that S.H.I.E.L.D. once performed, but they are no longer on the defence—S.W.O.R.D. is on the offence.

Monica wants to return to work at S.W.O.R.D. and is, unfortunately, informed that she is grounded,—meaning she cannot partake in any space missions. But, this instead leads her to take on a task of investigating a strange anomaly in New Jersey. Here we see Monica meet FBI agent Jimmy Choo, who had previously appeared in Ant Man and the Wasp. They soon discover that the entire town of Westview has become encapsulated in some kind of reality-warping force field. Monica, at first, sends a helicopter drone in to investigate, but it loses signal fast. She then begins to touch the force field and finds herself then sucked into the world of Westview.

We then come to see the events of the first few episodes of WandaVision from the outsiders’ perspective. The person watching the WandaVision show in the end of the first episode was none other than Darcy Lewis, who we last saw in Thor: The Dark World. Darcy is back and manages to crack the signal sequence the force field is putting out, which is bizarrely transmitting the events inside of Westview as a sitcom.

The episode goes on to explain that the voice heard of the radio in episode two was an attempt by Jimmy Choo to ask Wanda who was doing this to her, and the Beekeeper that came out of the sewer was one of S.W.O.R.D.’s agents who tried to infiltrate the town.

Things all come together in an epic climax where we see the full encounter between Monica and Wanda. After being sent flying out of the town of Westview and having the damage magically repaired by Wanda, Vision walks in to check on her; however, in a shocking moment, we see Vision’s true form: a reanimated corpse. It was a truly disturbing vision, no pun intended.

Outside of Westview, the S.W.O.R.D. agents descend upon Monica who tells them, “It’s Wanda,” revealing that Wanda is the one behind the anomaly. Why she has done this is still a mystery; but, judging by next week’s trailer, it seems the reality in which she lives is about to come crumbling down.

I thought last week’s episode was the best of the series so far, but I think this series just keeps on topping itself. I thought it was amazing seeing the events of the series so far from an outside perspective, and seeing more of the moments during which everyone returned was just awesome stuff to see. I also was delighted by the chemistry between Jimmy and Darcy. I could watch those two banter back and forth for a full episode any day.

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Gremlin’s Gonna Grem – Shadow in the Cloud – Humble Opinions

In 1963, Rod Serling introduced us to an episode of the Twilight Zone that would become rather ubiquitous to the pop culture zeitgeist. Nightmare at 20,000 Feet has been parodied, retold, and reimagined so much so that the very concept of a gremlin on the wing of a plane feels like an idea that has always existed and permeated pop culture. The New Zealand flick Shadow in the Cloud has taken a while to get off the ground for a number of reasons; but, after at long last taking flight into cinemas, does the latest spin on the Twilight Zone classic soar to heights its predecessors couldn’t or does it crash and burn?

I want to start by saying that Shadow in the Cloud was a rather enjoyable film overall. After the 2017 sexual assault allegations were made against screenwriter Max Landis, the film had to undergo several rewrites—which becomes very evident as the film rolls on. There are a lot of ideas and different concepts at play here in Shadow in the Cloud, which is part creature flick, part war film, part bottle movie, and part female-empowerment film.

The movie follows Chloe Grace Moretz as Flight Officer Maude Garret during the height of World War II, as she embarks on a confidential delivery mission aboard a cargo flight from Auckland to Samoa on a plane named The Fool’s Errand. Upon boarding the plane, she is met with hostility from the men aboard who are all pretty much terrible human beings—except one by the name of Quaid who agrees to take care of her parcel—and demand she stay in the Sperry turret of the plane for the duration of the flight.

From here on out, the majority of the film takes place in the claustrophobic confines of the Sperry. Moretz is left alone down there as the camera stays with her, only allowing us to hear the rest of the crew over the comms line. It creates a claustrophobic feel, and matters only become worse when she realises there is a gremlin aboard the plane.

The film bounces around different styles and, seemingly, genres over the course of the next hour or so, as Moretz’s Maude Garrett must deal with the countless mishaps occurring on board the plane and around it—be it the gremlin or the sudden appearance of Japanese fighter planes. There are definitely some moments where the rewrites show because the film’s message and overall trajectory seems to change on a moment’s notice, before ultimately ending on a theme of the strength of motherhood and empowerment of women, whilst celebrating women in the military.

There are some major twists that take place during the film—which I won’t spoil—but I found myself really drawn into the suspense of the situations unfolding here, and felt that Shadow in the Cloud did genuinely separate itself from the Nightmare at 20,000 Feet original with all of its additional elements. However, at times, it does feel as though the gremlin takes a back seat to whatever else the film suddenly decides to focus on, which left me wondering what exactly the gremlin was doing right and why wasn’t it continuing its attack. That said, the climactic fight at the end between Moretz and the gremlin was more than worth the price of admission alone.

All in all, Shadow in the Cloud is a film that was clearly reworked and, at times, feels like several entirely different films stitched together. That said, it didn’t stop it from being a hell of a good time and a really entertaining action flick to watch during a time where there isn’t much point in heading into the cinemas. It may not live up to the classics that it pays homage to, but it is an enjoyable enough ride that it is still more than worth your time.

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Asking for a Friend – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Fifteen) – Season’s Writings

From now until the end of time.

You know, I have to wonder how much of this interaction was planned. Was Itadori’s entrance exam revelation about his fondness for Jennifer Lawrence the origin, or was Toudou created as an afterthought to bring that statement home? Either way, it’s pretty funny. The fact that Toudou immediately forges a deep (and fictional) bond with anyone who shares his taste in women completely derails the entire “kill Itadori” subplot and sends us…somewhere. Is it strange? Yes. But it is an unexpected payoff to a seemingly random character trait—that being Toudou’s need to ask men what their type is—that actually matters. I’d say it could be seen as a weakness of Toudou’s, shifting his allegiance at the drop of a hat, but something tells me he can sense if his opponent truly means what he says…somehow. Regardless, Itadori passed Toudou’s test and is seemingly set to receive some manner of training from his new best friend. I’m also curious to see said training, by the way, since Toudou’s declaration that Divergent Fist is a “wrong” technique directly contradicts Gojou’s assessment. Although, taking lessons from Toudou might work well for Itadori, seeing as they share a similar style of fighting; something tells me Itadori isn’t really the Gojou-skill-using type.

Apart from the will-they-won’t-they-kill-each-other fight between Itadori and Toudou, this episode shows us glimpses of the other Kyoto students. It’s not much, but it’s something…okay, it’s really nothing. Most of this episode was the Itadori and Toudou show, with the supporting cast either trying to kill or protect the latter. We know that the girl with the broom can fly around like a witch; we know that Miwa uses sword techniques and definitely doesn’t want to kill Itadori; we know that Toudou can clap and cause two people to instantaneously switch places with each other. That’s about it. But hey, I’m sure these folks will do something soon enough; so, cut ’em some slack. Except for the archery dude who immediately went 110% in on killing Itadori. Screw that guy.

P.S. The joke segment at the end of the episode revealed that Gojou was kinda into Miwa who, in turn, fangirls every time she sees him. Let this be real. They’re adorable, and I want them to be happy.

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Skating for Fun – SK8 the Infinity (Episode Three) – Season’s Writings

Skating should be fun. That is the message that is drilled home by the latest episode of SK8 the Infinity and, as a skater myself, there is no greater truth than that.

Picking up where we left off last week, Langa has accepted the challenge of Chinen, the National Championship hopeful. Chinen is immediately presented as on another level, as he easily out skates Reki and Langa in a freestyle skating session. Chinen tells Langa to get his board sorted because he doesn’t want any excuses when he defeats him in the S race.

After some training at a local parking garage—which I can attest is just a great spot to skate in general—Langa and Reki are chased away by local security before Reki trips over some garbage, which included a broken piece of an office chair, and he is struck with some inspiration. Reki decides to redesign the trucks on Langa’s board to have full rotational spin like the office chair wheels do.

We see that Chinen is a bit stuck up and considers life in a style of a Dragon Quest RPG. Everyone who isn’t as good as him he refers to as Slimes and considers himself as the Hero. However, we learn through a series of flashbacks that Chinen came to be this way as the more he advanced in skill in skating, the greater the divide that formed between himself and his supposed friends. His childhood friends who got into skating with him all abandoned him as they started to believe that Chinen viewed them as nothing but Slimes and looked down on them. This was not the case, yet jealousy grew in them and they all turned their backs on him. This became the moment that would send him on the path he has gone on, as he continues to skate at a pro level despite having no friends and seemingly being sad when skating.

During their S race, Langa—with his new board made by Reki—gives Chinen a run for his money and ultimately defeats him by a matter of a few centimetres in difference. Chinen is completely dejected at this loss, but Reki and Langa tell him that skating should be fun and that they will always be by his side from this moment on—which brings Chinen nearly to tears. This interaction brings out the mysterious, legendary pro-skater Adam. Adam completely, verbally destroys Chinen and essentially declares his National Championship hopes as dead. Adam seems to have some sway in the world of skating and he mocks Reki’s idea of skating being fun. He seems to try begin grooming Langa as his next apprentice before Reki demands that he take back his insults to Chinen. Adam asks, “What if [he] doesn’t?” To which Reki declares, “Then I will make you,” as he brandishes his skateboard—indicating a challenge to Adam.

The episode ends here in an epic cliffhanger fashion. Reki has laid down the challenge to pro-skater Adam and I, for one, am very excited to see how this match up will unfold. Adam definitely appears to be an asshole, and his view of skating is one that I personally don’t agree with. But, that said, I can’t help but feel like Reki is out of his depth here in challenging a pro skater like Adam. Next week can’t come soon enough!

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Double Trouble – WandaVision (Episode Three) – Season’s Writings

After the world of WandaVision entered into the age of colour television at the end of last weeks episode, we join Wanda and Vision in a Brady Bunch–style sitcom setting as they come to grips with the reality that Wanda is now pregnant—and it is progressing remarkably fast.

The episode continues the general plot of Wanda and Vision trying to keep their super abilities a secret from the other inhabitants of Westview, but the reality in which they live has well and truly begun to crumble. The surprise being that Wanda is seemingly aware of the false reality she is living in and able to manipulate it, should it venture too far from her ideal fantasy life.

There is a crucial moment midway through the episode where Vision appears to begin questioning things, telling Wanda that “Something isn’t quite right here.” With a brief look of sadness on Wanda’s face, the episode suddenly appears to glitch or skip back a few moments and Vision no longer seems to be questioning the insanity around him and lovingly quips “We’re in uncharted waters Wanda,” before giving her a kiss.

There are multiple curious moments littered throughout the episode, with the citizens of Westview behaving in more and more peculiar ways. Wanda’s neighbour Agnes makes repeated mention of her husband Ralph, and the continued implications that this as-far-yet-unseen character could possibly be Mephisto, Marvel’s version of the Devil.

As things progress and Wanda goes into labour, she is aided by neighbour Geraldine. Wanda gives birth to twin boys, Tommy and Billy, and in a moment of vulnerability remarks that she had a twin brother named Pietro. Suddenly, she reverts to her Sokovian accent; her learnt American accent fades in an instant and she begins to sing to her children a Sokovian lullaby. Geraldine asks, “Didn’t Pietro get killed by Ultron?” Suddenly, the show isn’t a sitcom anymore. Wanda demands Geraldine to explain who she is and what she is doing here. Wanda switches on a dime and, in this moment, is truly scary as she stalks Geraldine across the living room. We cut outside to Vision who is overhearing the neighbours Agnes and Herb having a rather odd conversation, seemingly implying they are all trapped in this strange reality.

Vision rushes inside to find Wanda alone with the children. He asks where Geraldine is and Wanda informs him that she had to rush home. The screen suddenly switches from 4:3 old-school frame to modern-cinema framing as we see Geraldine violently ejected from Westview and into what looks to be the outside world. It becomes immediately clear that Wanda has somehow created a fantasy reality for herself inside of this little town, and every one inside of it may very well be trapped. How did Wanda achieve this? Is she fully aware of the situation? She most certainly has control over the reality to some extent, but it is clear that the lid has well and truly blown off here now.

Overall, I thought this was the best episode of WandaVision yet, as it provided both the classic sitcom format that I enjoyed so much of the first two episodes while also pulling back some of the layers on the deeper mystery at hand here. My current going theory is that Wanda has made some kind of deal with Mephisto; but, as is often the case in the Marvel comics, those deals with the devil often have a significant price to be paid. What price has Wanda paid? Time will tell.

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It’s Outer This World! – The Outer Worlds – Humble Opinions

After recently finishing Cyberpunk, the game left me craving more story-heavy games. Cyberpunk, although having many faults, did keep me entertained when it came to world-building, story, and its characters. I decided to do some research and, after looking in my backlog, I came across The Outer Worlds. An interesting proposition: I do love the Fallout series, and this looks quite similar. The Outer Worlds was developed by Obsidian, the makers of Fallout: New Vegas; you’ll discover just how much of a spiritual successor of the Fallout series this game is, as it plays very much the same.

Upon starting the catalogue of quests available, it was quickly apparent that there was a clear emphasis on “you need to make a decision, and therefore this will affect which faction will hate you and which will tolerate you”. There is very much a cause and effect to your actions, which can take you down some alternative paths to achieve a different ending. You’ll choose whether to help each faction or go against them, and, in the same sense, you can also choose to assist your companions—each which have their own ambitions in the forms of quests. The story-writing and dialogue is intriguing for the most part, and there are some subtle quips and humorous bits of dialogue which come through your conversations with NPCs. There are a wide variety of characters, everything from the stubborn, evil, and menacing archetypes; to the shy, mild-tempered, and oblivious ones. The variety makes progression through the quests interesting, and what type of character you are trying to play will affect how you converse with each character. The writers have done a good job with making quests interesting: for example, you stumble across a family while searching for a missing person, they invite you in for dinner, and you accept—seeing as the missing person was last seen with them. As you question the family, and explore their house (yes, even the locked rooms ’cause I’m cheeky and sneaky like that), you discover some pretty disturbing information about where the missing person is. Without too many spoilers, the quest takes an unforeseen, disturbing turn and is one of the most memorable in the game.

One of the appeals of the game were the companions. I found myself wanting to find all of the possible companions in the game (six total) and assist them all on their own quests. I found the prospect of building up a team to commandeer the ship to be cool and an objective outside of one the game actually gives you. Each companion is different in their morals and goals, and have distinct personalities. Your companions will change their opinions and question some of the things you do, which they will voice directly to you. I quickly found my favourites to be Parvati (the shy-but-intelligent ship engineer) and Nyoka (a reckless renegade hunter with a snappy attitude). I knew I was invested in the companions when I attempted to complete the game in Supernova difficulty (the hardest setting)—this made it so that companions could die in combat, and they would then disappear from the game altogether. When I discovered this, I bumped down the difficulty setting, simply because I did not want to miss out on the companion quests due to blundering up in combat. Obsidian has done a good job with making these companions interactive: when I took Nyoka out on some quests with me, she would often interject my conversations with NPCs to provide her opinion or stance on what we were doing. This makes the companions feel more involved in the story, and less an afterthought to the whole thing.

The visual design is also beautiful, despite having smaller, enclosed instanced maps. While the game does not seem to take of the breadth of a Fallout world in size, there is depth to the design and visual appeal. The design team definitely pulled off some awesome scenes. Upon landing on planet Scylla and walking up to the crest of a hill, what came into view was a huge spaceship settled in the near distance, surrounded by floating debris and enemies. From memory, there were a bunch of enemies sitting at the base of this thing—and some good loot to be found—but I believe it was simply placed on the map for visual impact and to create interest. There are many beautiful scenes to behold during the duration of the game like this, and it’s a pleasure to look at—especially because the game’s colour palette is so bright and vivid.

Do these skill points look familiar? I’m sure they do, as they are very much modelled after the S.P.E.C.I.A.L attributes within the Fallout universe, or any RPG you’ve played which allowed you to enhance any number of particular skills. If you choose, you can opt to build characters with different specialties, such as making one proficient with Science-based weapons, or perhaps the typical “sneak-and-snipe” type where you take out things from a distance before they are ever aware of your existence. There is quite a bit of flexibility here, but I felt that there were definitely some outstanding options. For example, I preferred ranged to melee skill-ups, and the subskills under the Stealth tree were not quite as strong/effective as the perks you can elect to take in Fallout 4.

The gameplay is satisfying, to an extent. It feels solid and there is some impact when the bullet leaves the chamber. While I typically play a stealthy character, the stealth mechanics did not achieve the feeling I was anticipating. I found the stealth to be a bit clunky, if anything (maybe I expected the more Fallout-esque mechanics where the caution meter allows you some time to correct your actions if you are close to being spotted), so I opted to specialise in handguns and elected to skill up in dialogue as well. Fans of the Fallout games will be pleased to see that there is somewhat of a VATS mode in this game—going by the name of Tactical Time Dilation. When used, the game slows down the whole surrounding environment and enemies and allows the user to take manual aim to perform criticals, which are much easier due to the enemies’ extremely slow movement.

After clocking in about 20–22 hours, I was able to complete the game—including all side quests, companion quests, and the main storyline. I feel this was a good length for the campaign; if it was longer (maybe, 30+ hours), it would have perhaps felt a bit extraneous. The game is now available on Steam to purchase, after being held exclusively for one year on the Epic Games store. I do recommend the game, highly, especially if you can pick it up on sale. It has those Fallout-but-not-quite vibes, and if you’re itching for that, this will satiate.

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Alive and, Well… – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Fourteen) – Season’s Writings

He’s getting good at the whole “playing dead” thing.

And so, just like that, Jujutsu Kaisen turns what would normally be an emotional, heartfelt reunion into a cavalcade of jokes…and I dig it. Poor Itadori wanted his friends to cry tears of happiness when he revealed that he was, in fact, not dead (you know, from when Sukuna ripped his/Itadori’s heart out?). Unfortunately, Gojo’s attempt at ramping up the surprise to a capital “s” turns Itadori’s return into…an embarrassment. Itadori was embarrassed. His friends were embarrassed. Everyone was embarrassed. It was right embarrassing. Still, Kugisaki did well up slightly; so, they do actually care that he’s not dead. Which is nice. Playing of this reunion as a joke also allowed the series to kick right into it’s next arc with minimal delay—minus the obligatory introduction of new characters. Even that flies by pretty fast, with some simple sentences and splash screens giving us the rundown of the students from Kyoto—one of whom is a robot. I don’t know what impact that has on the lore of the series, but one of them is some sort of robot. And that’s cool. Oh, the Kyoto students are also jerks. Like, mondo jerks. Two seconds after learning Sukuna’s vessel is back, they’re already taking orders from Old Guy Grumpy (I don’t remember his name) to kill Itadori. Only Toudou and Suit Girl (don’t remember her name either) seem to protest these orders: the former out of some sense of pride, and the latter because she just doesn’t want to. Not the deepest motivations, but we’re still getting to know these new characters; still exploring how much we’ll dislike them. My money’s on not liking that Kamo guy: dude had no hesitation in wanting to kill Itadori, and he believes himself to be superior due to the family he’s from…also, him saying his name made me remember it faster than Suit Girl (and she seems the least least likeable out of the bunch).

This episode also sees us check in on the special-grades that are our major antagonists. Ol’ Volcano Head has apparently regrown his body and, with it, some minute sense of humility. There isn’t even a disagreement when Mahito suggests simply giving Sukuna his fingers back, as per Goutou’s plan. It’s still played off as a fairly joke-y moment, but seeing these powerhouses realise how outclassed they are—by Gojo and Sukuna both—is an interesting development. It’s also a dangerous development: these curses can learn lessons. I know they’re intelligent, but that doesn’t always connect to character development. I’m not saying we’ll find an inherent depth in every manifestation of evil, but the humility was a surprise. As was the fact that I keep forgetting how awesome this series’ soundtrack is. That has nothing to do with the curses I’ve been talking about, I just wanted to segue into mentioning how dope the music is. So…yeah. The music is cool. And fun. That’s all; do with that information what you will.

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Ollie Revolution – SK8 the Infinity (Episode Two) – Season’s Writings

Word travels fast in the skateboarding scene, and after the complete unknown rookie Langa defeated the champion Shadow, social media has been set abuzz about the mysterious, blue-haired skater who conquered the downhill jam of the S race. All of the skaters across Okinawa now know about Langa and, as we come to find out, that has now put a target of sorts on his back in the skateboarding world.

This weeks episode focused primarily on the growing friendship between Reki and Langa, as Reki aims to teach him how to properly ride a skateboard—without having to tape his feet to the deck like he did during the S race. Langa struggles due to a number of reasons: for one, he rides goofy style, and he is mentally still set in his ways with his snowboarding background. As the episode progresses, though, we see Langa improve slowly but surely—after suffering more than his fair share of bumps and bruises. When he finally hits an ollie near the end of the episode, it was a truly feel-good moment that anyone who has skated and had to learn the ollie can relate to.

We also get introduced to a lot of the other skaters in town as we see the S racers going about their normal lives, which exist almost in extreme juxtaposition to their underground-skateboarding personality (especially when it comes to Shadow, who seems to be florist in his daily life).

I loved the little things in the episode and the way it details certain aspects of skateboarding culture and life. When Reki talks about the revolution of the ollie and how it completely changed the game for skateboarding—and what was thought to be possible—it was a truly awesome scene. I also found it funny how they were constantly having to run from the authorities as they tried to skate, something that is rather true to life in Japan—where skateboarding is still a taboo pastime, despite its rise in popularity in the country in recent years.

The episode concluded with the appearance of a National Skateboarding Pro, who has abruptly challenged Langa to “beef” with him on the S race. Langa, of course, looks flabbergasted, but it seems next week we will see that race happen (judging by the preview). It seems the world of SK8 the Infinity is only starting to unfold; I’m excited to see what lies ahead.

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Oh So Bewitching! – WandaVision (Episodes One and Two) – Season’s Writings

After an eighteen-month-long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic—which felt like an infinity, to be sure—the Marvel Cinematic Universe is back with the Disney+ series WandaVision. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and that was definitely the case when it came to the MCU. I watched the debut of WandaVision with the biggest, goofiest of smiles etched across my face. It was good to be back in the world of Marvel again, although things aren’t quite as they seem in WandaVision.

The first episode opens in the style of golden-age sitcoms and television of a bygone era. The entire episode is in black and white, and we are introduced to the familiar faces of Wanda Maximoff and Vision, albeit styled as husband and housewife of the 1950s.

It is immediately clear that things are not as they seem, with countless curious moments that highlight the surreal reality that Wanda and Vision now inhabit, but the series does not yet stray too far from it’s sitcom genre framing. Rather brilliantly, the show actually plays rather well as a sitcom—the setup being much like Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie. What’s more is that it actually is genuinely funny and has many great moments throughout. However, that is abruptly brought to a halt when we zoom out to see a mysterious figure watching the program on a television monitor in a strange operation room. We don’t learn anything else on that just yet, though.

The second episode continues on the same structure as the first, but we see more hints that this reality isn’t all it appears to be. Wanda discovers a toy helicopter which is presented in full colour, contrasting the black-and-white world she and Vision have found themselves within. Another moment sees a radio suddenly break transmission and a voice is heard calling out to Wanda. The episode reinforces the idea that Wanda and Vision are potentially trapped in some alternate or false reality and so, too, may be all the people around them.

Now for a bit of speculation. I can’t help but ponder if this is going to be a Truman Show–style twist and some villain is manipulating Wanda and her Reality Stone–gifted powers to create a television program out of her life. Who that villain could be is beyond me, but I am at a loss otherwise as to what is causing Wanda and Vision to be experiencing reality in the form of a classic sitcom format.

I’m sure episode three will provide us with some more answers or hints as to what is actually going on. But, for now, I am just overjoyed that the MCU is back, and I am even more excited to see it exploring and playing with different genre types such as this. WandaVision is a pure delight and, for next week, I say bring on the 70s!

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In Erdrick’s Footsteps – Dragon Quest (Switch) – Humble Opinions

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the original release of Dragon Quest in Japan—on the Famicom. There have been eleven main-series instalments and countless spin-off games released since then. With the entire main-line series (bar the MMO instalment, Dragon Quest X) now having had an official English-language release, I figured it was time I explored some of those older Dragon Quest titles I never had a chance to experience. With the Nintendo Switch remastered releases of the Erdrick Trilogy (Dragon Quest I–III), I figured there was no better place to start than with the game that started it all. So, please join me as I endeavour to take on the quest that is the Erdrick Trilogy.

Dragon Quest on the Nintendo Switch is a remastered version of the original 1986 genre-defining classic, ported across from the mobile version and rescaled. The game feels immediately familiar, as a long-time JRPG fan, because this game was the innovator that started it all. Every JRPG that you’ve likely ever played features some element of gameplay that was first envisioned here in Dragon Quest.

The game itself has aged remarkably well. The gameplay is simple and an utter delight to play. By JRPG standards, the game is very simple: you are the hero, you must save the princess and defeat the evil Dragonlord. It is in the games simplicity, though, that it proves to be fun. Grinding in this game never feels a chore—and there are definitely a number of times that require you to grind and level up—but the combat is so straight forward and can be experienced both casually or intensively. If you want to just grind mindlessly while watching TV or something, you’ll find this to be the perfect handheld companion game. However, if you want to really focus in and play it in a hardcore way you can definitely do that as well.

There are no party members in this game; you simply play solo—as the hero—and build you character up as you journey through the open landscape, following clues from NPCs to discover pathways and, ultimately, to secure the legendary items of Erdrick before you can challenge the Dragonlord. Worth noting is that this remastered edition adds in a lot of quality-of-life improvements, which make the overall experience feel more modernised, removes unnecessary menus, and expedites processes such as talking to NPCs (being a simple click rather than selecting “Talk” from a pop up menu).

One of the major sticking points some Dragon Quest fans have had with these remastered versions are the redrawn monster sprites. They are not pixelated and look more like clean graphical artwork. I personally had no issue with seeing the iconic monster art of Akira Toriyama presented in this way. That said, it is a matter of preference. There is undoubtedly a group out there that would much prefer the game to present the enemies in their traditional pixel-art forms. Similarly, the game implements full orchestrated music rather than the original chiptune versions of the soundtrack. Again, I considered this to be a good thing; but, again, it is really a matter of perspective and what you are wanting out of these remastered editions.

All in all, Dragon Quest remastered for the Nintendo Switch is a glorious throwback to the classic age of turn-based JRPGs; one that has aged like fine wine and is truly a timeless experience. If you are new to the Dragon Quest series or have only played the more recent entries, Dragon Quest is a great game to dive right into; especially if you plan to quest your way through the remastered Erdrick Trilogy, which are all available at great prices on the Nintendo Switch eShop now.

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Downhill Jam – SK8 the Infinity (Episode One) – Season’s Writings

As a skateboarder myself, I have been eagerly awaiting the premiere of SK8 the Infinity, a full-fledged skateboarding anime series. Lucky for me, SK8 the Infinity turned out to be every bit as great as I had hoped it would be. The animation, the music, the attention to detail regarding the skateboards themselves, and the way the show captures the feeling of skating so authentically were truly remarkable and noteworthy achievements to me.

SK8 the Infinity follows skateboarder Reki, a young lad who works at the local skate shop Dope Sketch. Reki participates often in the local underground skateboarding race known simply and mysteriously as S, which is not unlike the Downhill Jam level in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. The champion, Shadow, who looks like a rejected member of KISS, decided to completely and utterly humiliate Reki after defeating him in the S race by burning his skateboard in front of the entire crowd. So yes, Shadow is a bit of a dick.

After the failure and loss, Reki comes to meet an exchange student from Canada by the name of Langa. Langa is immediately enamoured in the world of skating after Reki abruptly decides to pop an ollie right over the top of him. Langa looks like he just fell in love. Maybe he did? I’m not really sure whether this series is going to be more in the style of Free! Iwatobi Swim Club or more in the vein of Haikyu!! for example. That said, skateboarding is not your typical sport and SK8 the Infinity fully embraces that.

Over the course of the episode, we see Reki and Langa become good mates and, ultimately, Langa winds up challenging the champ on the S race—in order to help a guy who had tried to get his board upgraded at Dope Sketch, but Reki had bungled his order and brought a wrecked board instead by mistake.

We see Langa hilariously tape his feet to the wrecked board and slowly push off with his hands as the entire crowd bursts out laughing. We learn that Langa was, in the past, involved in snowboarding to some extent but we don’t get the full picture on that just yet. The episode ultimately reaches its climax with Shadow losing his shit and setting off fireworks at Langa in an absolutely astonishing animated sequence, leaving us hanging for more for next week. It really looked so damn cool.

Overall, I though this was a great way to kick-start the series. I loved the animation of the skateboarding and the attention to detail that shows the people working on the series really care about the skateboarding medium. Now, I’m not quite sure what’s next for SK8 the Infinity but strap me in for the ride ’cause I’m eager to find out.

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Bing Bang Boom – XIII – Humble Opinions

The original XIII released back in 2003 and has gone on to become a cult classic. When it was announced that XIII would be getting a remake for modern audiences, naturally, fans were quite excited to see such a beloved game with a new coat of paint—reborn on current day technology. In a rather strange turn of fate, the original game would see a resurgence in sales upon the release of the remake because, quite frankly, the remake is a mess. So much of a mess that even the developers issued a public apology for the state of the game on release. Now, for the sake of this review, I’m going to try and find the silver lining here with the XIII remake; but, bare well in mind that, they are few and far between.

One of the major issues fans of XIII had with the remake was its decision to completely overhaul the game’s iconic cel-shaded art style. Now, while this change in art direction really subtracts a lot of the original games charm, the game doesn’t exactly look bad. In fact, it actually looks quite good for the most part—if a little uninspired. It doesn’t retain the comic book aesthetic that the original was famous for, but it does a good enough job being a visually appealing game, and it still has some of the comic book cues (such as the sound effects appearing as words on screen). I know this art change has proved to be contentious with fans, but I, for one, felt that the new art style was just fine. What wasn’t fine, however, was the gameplay and optimisation of this game.

To put it simply, the game is terribly optimised. It doesn’t run very well and controls very poorly, to boot. The core gameplay mechanics of the original are still here but are tweaked for reasons unknown. For some reason, your weapon carrying is limited here where in the original it was not. Furthermore, there were many times throughout playing that the controls simply didn’t work: I couldn’t get the grappling hook to lower, or the game kept switching me to melee fists instead of my gun. These were truly frustrating glitches that were made all the more worse by the endless foray of graphical glitches and frame-rate and screen-tearing issues.

On top of all of that, the game’s audio is also awful. Sound effects are out of sync; some instances there is simply no audio at all, even when a gun is firing. That said, the voice work is decent; although, I believe it was just lifted from the original game. I just don’t understand how so much can go wrong here.

Ultimately, the XIII remake is a rather lazy attempt at remaking a beloved game. While it may be true that COVID-19 played a role in this game’s lack of polish, it can’t be disputed that this game simply should not have been released in the state it was in—and definitely not for the price tag it was launched with. If you want to experience XIII, maybe just go purchase the original game; otherwise, it’s best to wait for this game to get patched and—hopefully—fixed at some point.

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Evolution and Empathy – Fall Anime 2020 (Week Thirteen) – Season’s Writings

-Kane-

The Devil’s Plaything – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Thirteen)

Hell in a hand.

As far as body-horror beatdowns go, this is definitely one of them. I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s just that, after writing that first sentence, I realised that I have not seen enough body-horror beatdowns to codify them. So yeah, Mahito is one messed up curse, and he goes bunches of bananas on our two sorcerers. Dude’s got blade arms, urchin body, eye hands, and even a child form. It’s all pretty disturbing. The continued glee on Mahito’s face is also less-than-pleasing, showing that even in life-or-death situations he has no real concern or compassion for anything but himself: he is, by all accounts, a sociopath. Worse still, he has yet to reach his full potential, as being pushed to the edge by a brilliant onslaught from Itadori and Nanami allowed him to develop and employ Domain Expansion. Creepy hand motif aside, Mahito’s Domain means that his Idle Transfiguration is a guaranteed hit: guy can just straight up alter anybody’s soul against their will. That. Is. Horrifying. The only reason Nanami isn’t a contorted mass of flesh is because Itadori is dumb/heroic enough to break into the Domain. Which, in addition to being completely in line with Itadori’s character, provides some nice information regarding Domains. The more powerful and deadly they are on the inside, the easier they are to break into. Why? Because they don’t need to be. After all, what moron would break into a realm of pain? Also, the rules of some Domains can be used against them, such as Mahito’s realm of touch—the medium through which he enacts his Idle Transfiguration—forcing him to impose on Sukuna’s soul when Itadori enters. Which was a very bad move on Mahito’s part.

Awesome fight aside, this episode also lays pretty damn heavily into the emotional spectrum. Itadori was forced to kill transfigured humans, throwing his entire perception of his ideals into disarray. Nanami almost died, making him think back on why he decided to re-enter the world of sorcery and curses. Yoshino “moving away” forces his school to crack down on bullying, causing everyone who turned a blind eye to it to realise their own cowardice. It’s some pretty heavy stuff…but that’s what makes this series so good. As outlandish as the world of sorcery and curses is, Jujutsu Kaisen deals with the reality of it. Sure, Itadori is a powerhouse with an even greater powerhouse housed within him, but he’s still just a kid; kids don’t normally have to ponder the moral quandary of taking a life for the greater good. I mean, I sure hope they don’t. Still, it makes everything that has happened in this series so far feel important. Yoshino wasn’t around for that long, but his impact was serious, is serious; heck, the guy even made it into the intro sequence. So, I remain ever curious to see where this series will go, especially now that Itadori has crossed a line he vowed never to cross and has his sights set on ending Mahito once and for all. It’s gonna be good.

-Luke-

The Greatest Strash – Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai (Episode Thirteen)

Let me start by saying this: thank you, Hyunckel.

What an incredible arc we have just witnessed. I thought the series had peaked early with the Crocodine Arc, but here we see the series surpass that with the Hyunckel Arc. The twists and turns the story has taken along the way to this final confrontation between our heroes and Hyunckel has been a sight to behold, to say the very least, and with the climactic battle here we get true catharsis and some answers to the concepts of justice the arc has pondered.

We learn—thanks to Maam’s discovery of a soul shell—that Hyunckel’s father was not actually killed by Avan; instead, Avan had recognised him as a father and came to realise that monsters are not purely evil beings, as he had once thought. This was a monumental moment for Avan, who spares Bartos’ life and goes on to defeat Hadlar. Unfortunately for Bartos, Hadlar was later revived by the Dark King Vearn and, in a fit of rage at his own defeat, brutally kills Bartos before he is found by Hyunckel.

With the last of his energy, Bartos sends his spirit’s message into the soul shell which contains the truth of the situation. Hyunckel cannot handle the truth and, realising he has gone too far now in having tried to kill Avan in the past and even joining the Dark Army, he considers himself damned.

The battle continues to rage on with Dai losing consciousness after suffering a direct hit from Hyunckel’s Bloody Scryde manoeuvre. Dai’s body continues fighting on instinct, something that Popp was informed about from Avan is something that can happen to great martial artists. Despite his unconscious state, Dai does the impossible and imbues his sword with spells, unleashing fire and lightning attacks on Hyunckel—in an incredibly animated fight sequence that may be the series best yet. After suffering a Zapple Strash, Hyunckel is defeated.

As Hyunckel is reconciling his mistakes and the ways in which perspective can affect the paths we choose to walk, Flazzard, the Fire-Ice General, rocks up and causes the dormant volcano upon which they had been fighting to erupt. In his final moments, Hyunckel redeems himself by sacrificing his life to save our heroes—the “true students of Avan”.

I really thought this episode was pretty much amazing, and I am really intrigued where the series goes from here. It is a shame to lose Hyunckel because I would have loved him to continue with our heroes.

It looks like Flazzard may be the next villain on the chopping block for Dai and company and, after his stunt he pulled at the end of the episode here, I can’t wait to see this bloke cop an Avan Strash to the face as soon as possible.

I’m not sure if I will be continuing with the weekly Writings for Dragon Quest: Adventure of Dai beyond this cour. Stay tuned for next week to see what happens, I suppose. But you can trust that I will definitely be continuing to watch this series weekly. As we head onward into 2021 and the winter anime season, I, for one, am excited what the future holds. I’m grateful to have been able to take this adventure with Dai and write about it each week. It’s a great show and, if you haven’t yet got the memo on that, you should do yourself a favour and watch this thing. Until next time: don’t touch any forbidden chests.

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Fury and Fulmination – Fall Anime 2020 (Week Twelve) – Season’s Writings

-Kane-

The Anger of a Gentle Man – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Twelve)

Blanched with hatred.

That Mahito’s a real jerk, isn’t he? Like, the kind of jerk you want to punch so hard in the face that his nose becomes an innie. Well, good news: Itadori hits him a lot. Like, a lot. Dude is pissed. Rightfully so, might I add, because Mahito up and idly transfigured Yoshino into a grotesquery, forcing him to fight Itadori. Oh, also Yoshino dies: not because of Itadori, but because Mahito was “a little rough” when forcibly altering the shape of the poor kid’s soul. So yeah, Itadori hits Mahito. And kicks Mahito. And headbutts Mahito. And throws him. And vows to kill him…which is a pretty big deal. Itadori’s own narration of the moment he snaps notes how his rage is so powerful, so primal that it makes his entire being up until that point feel like a lie: that’s some serious fury. I know we’re meant to understand that Itadori is in a rather dark place at the moment, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t satisfying to watch Mahito bleed. The dude straight up giggles after betraying and contorting Yoshino—and that’s terrible. Fun fact: Itadori can make Mahito bleed. Something about understanding the shape of his own soul due to housing Sukuna’s in addition to his own. I’m sure it’ll be very relevant as the series progresses; for now, it means Itadori can punch Mahito—and that’s wonderful.

Speaking of Sukuna…he sucks. Like, a lot. Jerk straight up laughed when Itadori asked for his help in saving Yoshino: yucked it up with Mahito. It’s definitely a move that makes you want to also punch Sukuna in the face, but it’s currently Itadori’s face; so, we’ll put a pin in that one. Brutally confirming that he isn’t a trump card Itadori can play also probably had something to do with the aforementioned existential fury of our protagonist, whilst also reminding us of the secret pact Sukuna has in play to assume direct control. Sukuna doesn’t really need Itadori at this point: it just remains to be seen what Sukuna will do with his minute of control when he claims it. Still, jerkness aside, it was pretty sweet to see Sukuna completely no sell Mahito’s Idle Transfiguration. I know Mahito has the “innocence” of a child, but seeing him chastised like one was pretty funny. The fact that Sukuna didn’t outright kill Mahito because they both made fun of Itadori is also delightfully petty, in a twisted sort of way. Regardless, Nanami rocks up right in the nick of time to back Itadori up—promising us quite the fight for next episode. His appearance also gives us a nice reminder that he is quite the professional—immediately noticing that Mahito was bleeding, whilst also thinking to question when the injury occurred—and gives him a reminder that Itadori is a selfless dude—having immediately explained the state of the dead and unconscious students on the premises, without even mentioning his own injuries. It’s a nice moment, and I’ll take any nice moment I can get in this series: they’re few and far between…because of all the brutality and wanton murder.

-Luke-

Ride the Lightning – Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai (Episode Twelve)

As we rapidly approach the end of the 2020 fall anime season, Dragon Quest: Adventure of Dai is barrelling ahead to the climax of the Hyunckel Arc. We begin with Dai and Popp being treated by the old man that saved them at the end of last week’s episode; as it turns out, he is a swordsman in the employ of Princess Leona—who we learn is safe and has been waiting for Dai to come and save the day.

Dai and Popp reflect on what we had just learnt about Hyunckel in the last episode—in regards to his father’s murder at the hands of Avan—with Dai again showing he is more thoughtful and contemplative than your standard Shonen protagonist, remarking that he completely understands Hyunckel’s feelings and, being raised by monsters himself, would have followed the same path as Hyunckel had somebody killed Grandpa Brass (his adoptive father).

Popp, however, isn’t as sympathetic to Hyunckel as Dai, commenting that no matter how much of a sob story he had, it doesn’t excuse decimating and destroying the entire Papnica Kingdom at the behest of the Dark King Vearn. Which is a fair point and raises the question: where exactly does this lust for vengeance end for Hyunckel? With Avan dead, he is directionless, having been robbed of the revenge he so seriously desired. Instead, he has lost the little boy he once was in his quest to avenge his father’s death.

After finally agreeing that Hyunckel is too far gone with his vengeance, Dai works with Popp on a plan to defeat him. Popp remarks that most of their magic spells failed on him due to his armour, but if they could collaborate together and combine their magic abilities they may be able to perform a high-level thunder spell called Zapple—which should be able to deliver quite a shock to the metal armoured Hyunckel.

They train all day before finally mastering the technique, and decide to set out to save Maam and defeat Hyunckel. Curiously, the fate of Crocodine is left a mystery. Dark Lord Hadlar rocks up at Hyunckel’s castle questioning if he has seen Crocodine, as he has gone missing from his medical pod. Rather than reveal Crocodine’s sacrifice last week, Hyunckel plays dumb about the whereabouts of Crocodine, and we learn that Hadlar has been against the inclusion of Hyunckel into the legionary generals since the beginning.

Eventually, Hadlar leaves and Dai and Popp storm the castle and engage in battle with Hyunckel. It is an intense skirmish to be sure, with Hyunckel giving little room to breathe for our heroes. In the meantime, Maam—being the badass chick that she is—manages to free herself and, whilst escaping the castle, finds a mystery treasure chest. What is inside, however, is something we will find out next week.

The episode concludes with Hyunckel drawing his sword after being unable to finish Dai off, which is the perfect opening for our heroes to perform their collaborative Zapple spell—which sends a monstrous thunder bolt crashing down onto Hyunckel, who falls to his knees. The episode cuts to credits right there. Something tells me it won’t be that easy and, with one more episode left for this cour, I think we are yet to see the final battle between Dai and Hyunckel.

All in all, this was yet another strong episode from Adventure of Dai, and one that really set the stage well for the climactic ending to the series’ first cour.

-30-

Living the Electric Dream – Cyberpunk 2077 – Humble Opinions

Time to practice emotions, as all humans do.

Okay, first things first: I don’t give a flip about the graphical glitches that have been the topic of conversation wherever this game is concerned. The models take a hot second to load sometimes: big whoop. I know that might not be the most professional-sounding opinion, but whatever. I feel like talking about Cyberpunk; let the rest of the internet worry about optimisation. Like, did you know that you can wield a katana? Well you can, and that’s the sort of stuff I plan on talking about (technically “writing” about, but you know what I mean). Anywho, let’s dive into Night City, shall we?

So…Night City is a little bit the worst. As a technological/societal beacon of a dystopian-like, futuristic hellscape, ol’ Night City is a melting pot of chaos, carnage, and crappy people. The game literally begins with you being blackmailed, betrayed, and almost killed—at least if you’re a Corpo. Oh, Corpo is one of the backgrounds you can pick for your version of V (the protagonist). The other two options are Street Kid and Nomad, but I didn’t pick those; I don’t know too much else about them. On the flip side, Night City is a place where legends are born, where penniless nobodies carve out their place in history and leave their mark on the world…the carving is usually literal and the mark is a bloodstain, but people still seem jazzed about making history all the same. V is no different, and her/his/their jaunt through the streets of 2077’s primo metropolis is just as violent as you might expect—perhaps more so, depending on how you play. Speaking of…

A paradise of neon, smoke, and violence.

Being an RPG, V’s fighting style is somewhat of a personal preference. That being said, everything essentially boils down to head-on conflict, stealthy takedowns, and hacking. You’re free to mix and match these as you please, but the more potent abilities of these styles are locked behind experience points: meaning that you can’t excel at everything. I personally opted for a stealthier V, though those damn security cameras meant that situations often required the use of a katana. Fun fact: katanas can slice off enemy’s heads and/or limbs. Still, managing to sneak into an enemy base and assassinate a particular target before anyone is the wiser is rather satisfying; also, such skill will net you praise from your fixer (a.k.a. the person who gives you side missions). Of course, it’s also pretty fun to hear their resigned acceptance when you complete a mission with guns blazing. Regardless, finding the multiple ways to tackle a mission—and learning whether or not you are capable of using each—is an interesting endeavour that only occasionally becomes frustrating…stupid doors telling me I’m not strong enough to force them open.

It’s…ummm…a hover car?

Bouncing back to skills, because I got distracted, V is capable of a wide range of specialisations—many of which I never even delved into. Divided into Body, Reflexes, Technical Ability, Intelligence, and Cool, V’s attributes grant general boosts stats—such as health, evasion, and hacking cooldown—and are the categories in which more specific skills reside. Stealth, for example, gives access to Cold Blood—a skill that temporarily adds various buffs for defeating enemies—allowing V to gain strength and resistance to damage from felling foes. It’s pretty sweet. Body allows V to tank damage and regenerate health, whilst also granting access to empowered melee strikes. Reflexes help with blades, Technical ability helps with hacking, Intelligence lets V craft more powerful gear…there’s a lot. So, pick what interest you and blaze a path through Night City…or mix and match and craft a V with a little bit of everything: you do you. Honestly, what kept my upgrades the most focused was the dialogue options that open up once you cross certain attribute thresholds: I’ll be damned if my V isn’t going to be Cool enough to say something.

Speaking of Cool…my V’s clothes aren’t. Well, they are individually, but equipping all of the best gear tends to make V look a tad mismatched. It’s note a major gripe with the game, but it’s perhaps more noticeable given the game’s promotional focus on style. Personally, my V was and is Corpo, which means dope suits that demand respect and inspire jealousy; but, that bandanna and gas mask provide way more armour…so, yeah. This has been an issue in RPGs since Gs were RPed, but Cyberpunk revolves on style: let V look fine without trading protection. Please? I think crafting and upgrading may help some items remain relevant longer, but my skill investment didn’t lean that way. Also, I know the game is first-person, but I know: I know V is rocking a mismatched outfit. And that don’t fly in Night City.

It’s clothes-pulled-off-of-victims chic.

So: Cyberpunk 2077. It is, indeed, a game; it is, indeed, a fun one. There isn’t really much more to say. I know the world has been clamouring for this since the sun was just getting the hang of that whole fusion thing, but Cyberpunk isn’t the revolution it was touted to be; it never could be. Does it suck that the game doesn’t work for everybody? Sure, but plenty of games have flaws and don’t cause the masses to rise up. Cyberpunk is a game. That’s it. It’s a game where you design the coolest character you can think of, blaze a trail through the craziest city this side of the singularity, and embark on a journey that features gosh-dang Keanu Reeves. That’s all; that’s enough; that’s awesome. So, wait for the patches if texture pops are holding you back, but try to jack in at some point if techno RPGs tickle your fancy. If not, that’s fine. Again, it’s a game; it’s meant to be enjoyed. So, enjoy it, and try to look dope while you do it.

-30-

Vitriol and Vengeance – Fall Anime 2020 (Week Eleven) – Season’s Writings

-Kane-

Skin Game – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Eleven)

Twisted around Sukuna’s little finger.

You know what type of villain is scary? A child. Seriously scary stuff. You know what’s even worse than that? An eminently powerful being with the mentality of a child. Some villains bluster about what led them down the path of evil, what event twisted their psyche until it snapped. But those with an eerie innocence? They just don’t know the difference between sanity and chaos. Whatever shiny idea floats through their mind: they latch onto it. What would happen if I ate this chocolate? Why do people like this movie so much? How far can I push a person before they do something crazy? It’s all valid; it’s all a game. Somebody standing in the way of your fun? Push them down. They get back up? Make them stay down. It’s all very frightening; it’s all very much Mahito (the villain in question, and the guy I usually refer to as Stitches…because of his stitches). See, Nanami (previously referred to, by me, as Salaryman) deduces that Mahito has only recently attained sapience, and is essentially just seeing what he is capable of. Unfortunately, Mahito doesn’t give two flips about humanity and basically sees them as something to play with. Also: Mahito plays rough. I mean, we technically knew all of this last week, but it all hits a little different knowing that Mahito is still a growing boy.

Speaking of…something entirely different, Itadori spent his time this week making buddies—specifically, Yoshino. It’s all rather sweet; Yoshino’s mother even happens by the two and invites Itadori over for dinner—having taken a liking to the boy who understands that she is not a woman who suits holding a green onion…which is a thing? Anywho, the three have a lovely dinner involving prop comedy and Itadori confirms his reluctance to kill anybody (after being questioned by Yoshino), not wanting the option of murder to enter his toolbox for solving problems. Everything is good. Everything is happy. Everything is borked up royal when one of Sukuna’s fingers winds up in Yoshino’s house and lures in a curse that kills his mother. Straight up eats her legs off. Yep. This show’s dark. You know what’s not dark? Yoshino’s wardrobe. Yep, dude had to borrow one of his dead mother’s black jackets to wear when he went to kill some of his classmates… Nope. Show’s dark. Let’s just hope Itadori can stop his new friend from committing some murders. I mean, Yoshino already poisoned a guy and kicked him around a bit; but, maybe stopping before the murder thing would be enough to make this a happy ending? No? Maybe a happy ending by this series’ standards? Not that that’s saying a lot…because…because of the whole brutally murdered mother thing. Well, at least Yoshino’s other new friend, Mahito, didn’t help orchestrate the murder…

-Luke-

The Man Named Hyunckel – Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai (Episode Eleven)

Just when I thought Adventure of Dai couldn’t top the incredible finale to the Crocodine Arc, it pulls out an incredible episode like this—that is equal parts action packed and thought provoking. When we met Hyunckel last week, I figured he was going to be an intriguing opponent for Dai and his party; I didn’t anticipate how much I would come to really care about this guy in the course of a single episode.

This was really an episode in two parts: the first half focused on the backstory of Hyunckel, where we learn his reason for his hatred of Avan. As it turns out, this isn’t a simple world; there are complex moral shades to it that begs the question of who is right and who is wrong. We come to learn that Hyunckel was adopted as a child by a skeleton monster of the Dark Army named Bartos, during the time of Avan’s war against Dark Lord Hadlar. Bartos had taken in Hyunckel as his son despite him being a human, and raised him as his own in the Undead castle among other monsters of the Dark Army. That was until Avan arrived and decimated every single monster in the castle—including Hyunckel’s father, the skeleton Bartos.

It was truly interesting to see the parallels between Dai and Hyunckel, both who were found orphaned as newborns and were each raised among monsters. It really throws into question whether monsters are inherently evil, as the general populace presumes. Clearly, they are every bit as capable of compassion and love as humans are as we have seen through Brass and now with Bartos.

Among the wreckage of the castle, Avan discovers the young Hyunckel and takes him in as his student, believing him to have been a prisoner of the monsters. However, it was all part of Hyunckel’s plan to avenge his father’s death by killing Avan with the very same move he had killed Bartos with: the Avan Strash.

However, Hyunckel failed to kill Avan and was taken back in by the Dark Army under the tutelage of Mystvearn, the still mysterious general. Through this backstory, I really came to care about Hyunckel and thought a lot about what exactly constitutes justice in the world of Dragon Quest. This is something that Dai also struggles to come to grips with as well, unable to strike Hyunckel (as he hesitates). Dai knows that he very easily could have become just like Hyunckel, and that shared experience is something that he relates with.

The second half of the episode sees our heroes in truly dire straits, as Hyunckel is about to land the final blow using his newly developed Bloody Scryde attack—the anti-Avan Strash in many ways—when out of nowhere comes Crocodine, who jumps in front of the attack and takes Hyunckel’s sword straight to the gut. Crocodine uses his garuda eagle to help Popp and Dai escape, but ultimately falls to Hyunckel—still having been injured from his prior battle with Dai. Crocodine tells Hyunckel that humans can be good, a thought that causes Hyunckel to spare his life as a mercy, of sorts, choosing to imprison Crocodine and Maam, who wasn’t able to escape, for use as hostages to lure Dai and Popp back.

The episode ends with Dai and Popp being confronted by an old man who somehow knows who they are. Who exactly is this old man? We will have to wait until next week to find out. Here is to hoping that he can help our heroes with their Hyunckel problem.

-30-

Live, Die, Repeat – Palm Springs – Humble Opinions

After several months of anticipation, Palm Springs, the latest Andy Samberg vehicle from Hulu, made it’s way to the Prime Video streaming platform in Australia—meaning I was able to finally watch the darn thing after watching the trailer ad nauseum. As someone who loves the film Groundhog Day, I was naturally drawn to what looked to be a modern take on the infinite time-loop scenario. So was Palm Springs worth the wait? Yes, very much yes it was.

Starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, Palm Springs takes the infinite time-loop concept of Groundhog Day and flips it on its head. Unlike Groundhog Day which sees Bill Murray repeat the titular day over and over, Palm Springs explores what it would be like to share that experience with someone else.

Set at a wedding in Palm Springs, we learn that Samberg’s character, Niles, has been stuck in the loop for an immeasurable amount of time and has completely given up on trying to escape the loop—just embracing the fact that he is in this situation nothing really matters anymore. One thing leads to another and Milioti’s character, Sarah, finds herself stuck in the loop alongside Niles. From here, the film hits the ground running in a flurry of attempted suicide, all out chaos, a killer plot twist featuring JK Simmons, and montage of the two ultimately just doing whatever the hell they want since, as Niles says, nothing really matters.

Over the course of the film, we see Niles and Sarah bond over their shared predicament before ultimately coming to conflict over whether to figure out a way out of this loop or just live together infinitely in it. There are plenty of twists and surprises throughout the film, which has some truly laugh out loud moments. This may very well be Samberg’s finest comedic effort in film and Milioti proves she can match him well with her own comedic chops.

Despite its ridiculousness and comedy, at its heart, Palm Springs is a film about finding purpose and meaning. Before they were stuck in the loop, both our protagonists struggled with that, and we see them discover those things with each other’s help throughout the course of their shared time in the loop.

All in all, Palm Springs is a fantastic film that is cleverly written and superbly acted by our two leads. It isn’t just a Groundhog Day knock off, it truly reinvents the wheel and stands on its own as one of 2020’s best films. If you’re looking for a good time, you’d be hard pressed to find a better way to spend an hour and a half of your time. Palm Springs was worth the wait and, like the infinite loop in the film, I am sure I’ll find myself rewatching this film over and over.

-30-

Torment and Treachery – Fall Anime 2020 (Week Ten) – Season’s Writings

-Kane-

Working the Soul Case – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Ten)

As clear as human emotion.

If there’s one thing villains love, besides evil, it’s philosophising and touting the inherent truth of their personal ideals. That being said, such conversations usually don’t occur so early into meeting a villain; so, seeing the embodiment of humanity’s fear of humans having a relaxing chat with a student is interesting, to say the least. Naturally, a being whose entire existence is owed to fear and hatred has a less-than-positive opinion on humans. The clinical manner in which this being discusses distorting people’s bodies is unnerving, as is the overall jovial tone of its voice. Salaryman (whose name I still don’t remember) even compares the curse with Gojo, noting their childlike simplicity and the tremendous power said personality conceals. Also, the state of the humans this being (who I’ll call Stitches from now on) contorts continues to horrify: not content with the ability to twist and stretch, Stitches has taken it upon themselves to test the limits of their power. You know, seeing how big or small they can make a human body; so, just the worst kinds of stuff. Oh, sometimes the misshapen bodies even ask for help and cry. So…I hope you didn’t want to sleep anytime soon. Still, this horrific aspect of the warped humans shows that Salaryman does legitimately care about protecting humans—even those twisted beyond saving by Stitches—so that’s nice. Salaryman’s ability also comes into play quite nicely in this episode, allowing him to injure Stitches, a being who seems to view this episode’s fight as nothing more than a game. It also begs the question of just how impossibly strong Gojo is, as Stitches voices that a fight with him would be problematic. I mean, we’ve seen Gojo fight, but literally everyone is afraid of the guy: it’s pretty cool. Also, thinking about it now, Gojo’s abilities would nullify Stitches completely: if Stitches can’t touch his opponent, he can’t contort their form. I guess it’ll be interesting to see how the series keeps Gojo away from Stitches then, seeing as it would be a curb-stomp.

This episode also presents a reminder of Fringe’s (again, haven’t learnt his name) backstory. His school life just…it straight up sucked. I understand why the dude didn’t go to school: he was beaten, burnt, forced to eat bugs, and generally tormented. Also, his school seemingly had zero notion that any of this was happening; hell, one teacher even thought he was friends with the people who essentially tortured him. So, while I don’t condone wanton murder and mayhem, I definitely understand Fringe’s malicious intent towards the teacher who called him out for not attending the funeral of his “friends”. Fringe’s musings that teachers are inept because they live their lives in school and never experience the adult world is also a fairly solid combination of interesting and humorous, although a tremendous amount of schoolyard politics/crap is persistent throughout life—hate to break it to you, Fringe. Still, I’m curious to see Fringe’s dynamic with Itadori in future episodes. So far, it seems like Itadori may be the counterpoint Fringe needs to balance out the nihilistic worldview Stitches is peddling—he already stopped the dude from killing his teacher, after all. Itadori also notes that Fringe can see curses, so I’m also curious as to what powers this confused kid might possess. Not to lean into meta too hard, but Fringe is in the intro sequence, so I feel like he’ll be important regardless of the answers to any of these ponderings. Who knows, in a few more episodes, I might even remember his name.

-Luke-

Dai-saster Awaits – Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai (Episode Ten)

After defeating Crocodine and his furfang legion in an all-out war last week, we rejoin our heroes as they receive a reward from the King of Romos. Dai, Maam, and Popp each receive an armour upgrade thanks to Romos Kingdom, and Dai is even crowned as the new hero by the King—a title which he declines, citing himself unworthy of the title at the moment as he wasn’t able to defeat Crocodine alone.

The party celebrates with the folks at the kingdom, and after taking Brass back to Dermline Island it is back to our main quest of taking down the Dark Lord’s army. Dai decides that their next stop should be the Papnica Kingdom, which is, of course, home to Princess Leona—who we met way back in episode two of the series. Popp and Maam give Dai a bit of a hard time over his crush on Leona, but all agree that it is where they need to go next. Unfortunately for our heroes, the place looks like a complete write off when they rock up, as the Undead legion has utterly decimated the kingdom.

In a cutaway, we meet the other commanders of the Dark King’s army. One is a half-flame, half-ice man named Flazzard; one is a moustachioed man with some interesting dragon-style armour; and there is also another one who is an apparent decades-long mute who can turn invisible. All of them meet with Haldar to discuss the threat that is posed by Dai, who after defeating Crocodine is seemingly now being taken seriously by the Dark King’s army.

Back with our heroes, we meet a mysterious white-haired man who saves them from a gang of undead skeletons. Popp, however, is suss on the guy—despite his claims that he is the original student of Avan. The dude quickly gives up his ruse and reveals himself to be Hyunckel, one of the commanders of the Dark King’s army (and the Anakin Skywalker of the series). It seems he was meant to be the chosen one to replace Avan as the new hero, but for reasons currently unknown he turned to the dark side.

The episode concluded on a bit of a cliffhanger, as Dai and company start to battle Hyunckel—a battle which looks to be the primary focus of next week’s episode. I must say, I did not expect there to be an “evil” student of Avan, but I am definitely interested to see why he turned heel on Avan.

On a bit of a downer note, I felt the animation in this episode was a little bit basic and clunky compared to the series’ usual brilliance. It wasn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination, it just was a noticeable step down compared to the incredible quality we had been treated to each week so far.

I’m looking forward to next week’s episode, which looks like it will try to deliver on the promise that this episode teased. I just have one question: Why Hyunckel? Why?

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Marbles With Attitude – Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia – Humble Opinions

Disturb not the harmony of Pyrus, Darkus, or Haos.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from Bakugan, it’s the intro to the anime series…and that’s about it. Oh, I also know that the Bakugan are spheres that open up into little monster figures. I know that isn’t a tremendous knowledge base to start from, but we’re all here to learn. So, with that in mind, let’s see what Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia has to teach us.

Lesson one: Bakugan are from Vestroia. See, what a great start we’re off to. More game specifically, Bakugan are capable of crashing to Earth in a meteor-like form—a method through which our protagonist finds their very first Bakugan. Now, I’m not sure if every child in the game’s universe stumbled upon a glowing crater containing a Bakugan, but our protagonist did; so…yeah. I’m also being rather vague about our protagonist, as this is one of those affairs where you, the player, design them. Though a fun gimmick—as character creation always is—the same assets are also used to build most other NPCs, leading to a world where slight variations on a singular base design are constantly chatting. This also extends to the clothing options in the game, robbing the protagonist of a little of that classic main-character uniqueness. There is an afro, though, so that’s cool.

Where’s Ascalon when you need it?

Pulling our view back a little, the world of Vestroia is…slow. Though the game is split into rather manageable sections—such as the school, the suburbs, and downtown—they can feel a touch too spacious given the speed at which the protagonist moves. It isn’t a snail’s pace, but it still feels slower than you’d like. It’s also a hard factor to avoid, since most quests involve running from one side of an area to the other in order to talk to and/or battle somebody. This is further exacerbated by the longer-than-you’d-expect load times—present whenever you enter a shop or change map areas—making the overworld experience feel like you’re moving through honey, or molasses, or some other thick liquid. However, the most frustrating element of manoeuvring through the overworld is the map: I have no idea why, but it never pops up immediately. I know this might sound like a minute complaint, but having to wait a second or two every time you want to check where you’re headed—which is often because there’s no mini map—just wears you down. It wore me down, at least.

Quite the Cerberus-and-centipede show.

Continuing this point, combat also suffers from a frustrating sense of slowness. When commencing a battle, Bakugan face off in the background (of a space separate from the overworld in traditional RPG style) and brawlers stand in the foreground—brawlers being the owners of the aforementioned Bakugan. Here’s where things get legitimately interesting: though Bakugan possess four options of attack that play out in a turn-based manner, they may only do so when the brawler collects enough energy. As such, you control the brawler in real time, running around the battlefield in order to pick up hexagons of light; it’s actually pretty cool. The active control of the brawler adds a race element to every fight, as the hexagons (which spawn and respawn randomly in the designated area) can only be claimed by one brawler—who then picks it up and throws it at/into their Bakugan. Certain hexagons also possess more energy than others, adding an element of strategy. Do you collect close hexagons? Do you make a break for a further but more beneficial hexagon? Do you just try to cut off your opponent so their Bakugan never receives enough energy to attack? All viable strategies. You are also able to upgrade your brawler with gear that alters how you collect hexagons. Some gear provides a speed boost, some allows you to automatically pick up hexagons (as opposed to having to press the A button), and others grant an ability with a recharge—like the one that lets you stun your opponent for longer than you’d expect, the one that a rich antagonist totally didn’t drive me insane with by spamming it every time I got anywhere near him…the jerk.

Oh, but I began the previous paragraph by stating that combat felt slow, didn’t I? Well, it does, and there is one major reason for this: cut-in animations. Every single time a Bakugan attacks, the name of the move appears on screen and an animation plays. I mean, animations are par for the course in these types of game; so, why is it so frustrating here? Because of the active element of controlling the brawler. Any sense of flow or real-time control is robbed from you every ten seconds when a Bakugan attacks. Your character is simply forced to stop every time you or your opponent strikes. It just makes playing this game feel like you have a spotty internet connection, like you’re watching a video that’s buffering every few moments. Which is unfortunate, because if attacks simply played out in the background without cutting away, the game would be great: running around and fuelling a battle between monsters would feel…important. There are so many series that revolve around children collecting and battling monsters, but seeing brawlers have an active role in their Bakugan’s fights would make this game stand out from all of them in a unique way. As it stands, the idea is sound but the execution is lacking.

Five heads are better than one.

So, Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia is a game with some interesting concepts that are just a few tweaks away from being truly fun; the entire experience is just…slow. I know I’ve repeated that a few times, but it’s true. Every action felt like a chore; like there was a moment of regret if you ever hit the map button without meaning to. It may sound petty to whine about a simple second or two here and there, but that time adds up…and it adds up fast. It’s just frustrating. Frustrating because the pacing wears on your patience, and frustrating because I can see the game Vestroia could be; it just fell short of the mark. I did get to befriend a Bakugan alicorn named Pegatrix that wields the attribute of Haos/Light, though. That was pretty dope.

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Bane and Bravery – Fall Anime 2020 (Week Nine) – Season’s Writings

-Kane-

All Work and No Play – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Nine)

Business as (un)usual.

And so Jujutsu Kaisen finally deals with one of the most horrific subjects: going to the movies (*lightning crash sound effect*). Okay, so it maybe isn’t for the same reasons that people are avoiding the movies (an other public gatherings) in the year 2020, but my point stands. Although, global situations would be on the back of anybody’s mind if they saw three high school students who had their heads contorted much in the same way a three-year-old child plays with Play-Doh. It’s…not a pretty sight. I mean, the students in question were jerks who beat up a kid and made him eat a cigarette butt—in the hopes of letting them “bang” an equally cruel classmate of theirs—but they still probably didn’t deserve to have their skulls crushed like an empty can. The fact that we know anything about these jerks is due to our insight into Fringe (that isn’t his name, I just haven’t remembered it yet…and he has a fringe). As the one being bullied in the aforementioned scenario, Fringe has mixed feelings about the mysterious curse who murdered the bullies. Though Fringe doesn’t seem to be an inherently evil character, it’s interesting to see how his trauma leads him to strike up a conversation with the curse—even asking if he could injure in the same manner. A big part of establishing Fringe (whose name I will eventually learn) as a complex character is his own somewhat-twisted philosophy: “If there was a button that would make everyone I hate die, I probably wouldn’t push it. But if there was a button that would make everyone who hated me die, I’d push it without hesitation.” Though definitely a dark thought, it shows that his anger is decidedly born from fear and frustration; he doesn’t care about vengeance, only retribution. Although, that’s a fine line to walk when people are being stretched like Blu Tack.

Outside of school drama, this episode also gives Itadori a little time back in the spotlight; although, not as much as his new mentor, Salaryman (again, not his name, but I’ll learn it eventually). I was honestly surprised with how much time we spent inside Salaryman’s head, learning about his personality and the unique way in which he sees the business of sorcery. Though he definitely exists as a foil to Gojo, he is quirky in his own specific way and plays well amongst the cast. Also, his ability to land a critical hit on any opponent as long as he strikes the seven-to-three ratio point is an awesomely interesting one. Salaryman himself states how this allows him to injure opponents above his own power level, showcasing just how impressive cursed techniques in this series can be—especially since he uses a blunt blade to slice an opponent in two. Itadori also get the chance to show off his personal technique, which is an odd combination of both his strengths and weaknesses. Apparently, Itadori’s cursed energy can’t keep up with his raw power, resulting in a lag that cause his strikes to impact twice (once with physical power; once with cursed energy). The concept that Itadori’s flaws make him a sorcerer to be reckoned with is pretty in tune with the series—as is the case with his empathetic nature. That being said, it’s nice to see that the more stern characters still show compassion to Itadori’s mindset, such as when the doctor made sure he knew that his technically-human opponents were dead before Itadori even fought them. Oh, did I not mention that Itadori fought humans? Well, he kinda did. See, apparently the curse who killed those students can warp humans into an approximation of a curse, complete with cursed energy. It’s messed up, no two ways about it. Oh, he’s also a special-grade apparition—a curse born from a collective fear held by humanity. Remember Volcano Head? Yeah, him and his crew were born from humanity’s primal fear of the planet’s environments. And the guy who killed those kids? He was born from humanity’s fear of humans. That’s some deep, twisted stuff right there, and whatever those guys are planning can’t be good…though I still want to see it. You know, because it’s fiction and can’t actually hurt me…right?

-Luke-

To Dai With Pride – Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai (Episode Nine)

Dragon Quest just pulled off its best episode yet. The final battle with Crocodine was absolutely insane, and we finally got the pay off with Popp refusing to be a coward any longer—stepping into the fray in epic fashion.

With our heroes being left in some truly dire straits suffering the energy blast attack from Crocodine in the previous episode, things looked almost entirely hopeless. However, having witnessed the blast from across town in his hiding spot, Popp realizes that Dai and Maam are well and truly in danger. After receiving some advice from the fake-hero party’s mage, Popp realizes his shame and cowardice and decides to finally become a true student of Avan and charges into battle.

This is where the weeks of frustration I had with Popp finally paid off big time. After seeing him run from battle after battle and leave Dai to die, we had little reason to like or care about Popp. He just didn’t seem to be cut from the same cloth as Dai or even Maam, and it begged the question: what did Avan see in him to begin with? But here we see Popp finally understand Avan’s teachings of what it means to be a hero. Popp says that living as a coward who let his own friends die is more humiliating than dying to Crocodine and is willing to sacrifice himself for both his pride and his friends. He just straight up challenges Crocodine to battle him one-on-one, which he accepts.

Crocodine quite quickly overpowers Popp, but he had a plan. Using what he calls the greatest spell invented by Avan, the Glimmer spell, he frees Brass from the influence and control of the Dark Lord and evens the playing field for Dai, who once again transforms into his Dragon Knight form after seeing Popp’s sacrifice and now knowing that Brass is safe. Popp and Maam are both on death’s door now, but Dai finds himself rejuvenated by his transformed state and, as Popp notes, this form is fuelled by his anger—and Dai is undoubtedly well and truly pissed off right now.

Crocodine ruminates on throwing away his pride and using dirty tactics against Dai and realises he has no choice but to fight on to the bitter end now. In what may be the series’ best sequence yet: Maam casts a heal spell on Popp, which allows him to throw a sword to Dai, who catches it and answers Popp’s cry to use their master’s special move. Dai unleashes the ultimate Avan Strash, defeating Crocodine in glorious style.

After the battle has ended and the dust has settled, Crocodine voices his regret and apologises to Dai. He knows he has shamed himself and his pride as a warrior; he is glad to die by the hands of Dai. Stumbling in pain, Crocodine falls from the balcony of the castle, seemingly to his death. However, we later see the Furfang legion monsters recovering his near-dead body and retreating from the Kingdom, seeming to indicate it may not be the last we have seen of old mate Crocodine. I still hope that Crocodine can return and join Dai. I just like him too much as a character to see his story end here.

As for what lies ahead, well, next week’s preview seems to hint that we will be meeting another student of Avan as Dai and party continue their quest onwards. The series is really hitting its stride now, and I am well and truly on board with these characters and their quest. Popp really earned his stripes here. Good job Adventure of Dai, you made me like the previously utterly unlikeable Popp. I like that.

-30-

Driving Dirty – Dirt 5 – Humble Opinions

It has been thirteen years since the first instalment in the Dirt franchise and, over the course of that period of time, Codemasters have refined and polished the series into what has become one of the most enjoyable racing properties on the market. Dirt 5 continues that trend, providing what may very well be the most complete off-road rally-racing video game experience to date.

Upon loading up Dirt 5 for the first time, I was immediately blown away by the plethora of gameplay options available to me; the deep customisation options only add to that. There are countless gameplay modes and a rather incredible career mode with its own narrative—that features the voice work of iconic voice actors Nolan North and Troy Baker.

The career mode will have you running the gauntlet in a variety of different styles of racing, be it rally, stadium super trucks, and even ice-road racing. You never get a chance to get bored, as the game switches things up frequently enough that you are always taking on new challenges and race types. As you progress, you earn points and level up your racer—unlocking different customisation options along the way.

Something that really stood out to me in the game was the dynamic weather and the day/night system. This gives each track and location an unpredictable feel and offers some challenging moments, especially when you are flogging it up a mountain range in the near pitch black of night or having to traverse a dangerous ice road in the middle of a storm. It just adds a level of variety to the game that really sets it apart from other racers.

In terms of multiplayer options, there is plenty to do and see here in both online and offline play. The game even features the option of four-player split screen, keeping couch multiplayer alive in a nice throwback to old school racers—that implemented split screen play to great effect.

Other than the vibrant and exciting visual aesthetics of the game, what really stands out is the fantastic soundtrack and voice work. North and Baker do an amazing job bringing the world of Dirt 5 to life with their witty lines that often feel improvised and truly natural. You won’t want to skip the banter, as you’ll be sure to get a good laugh. On top of that, the game may have arguably one of the best compiled soundtracks since Forza Horizon—which is high praise to say the least.

Overall, Dirt 5 is a superb new instalment in the long-running racing franchise; one that takes the elements of the series to another level. For a game with a title like Dirt, this game truly shines. I definitely recommend racing-game fans get their hands on this game: you’ll no doubt get a lot of play out of this one and find yourself hitting the dirt roads again and again.

-30-

 

Desire and Dishonour – Fall Anime 2020 (Week Eight) – Season’s Writings

-Kane-

Beat and Greet – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Eight)

The strong, violent type.

Pop quiz, hotshot: what’s the best way to show that a new character is powerful? Have them beat up a character who is already established as powerful. What’s the best way to establish that a new character isn’t the friendliest tool in the crayon box? Have them beat up a character who is already established as (mostly) likeable. Enter Toudou: a big, buff badass from the only other jujutsu school in Japan, and the kind of person who pummels somebody half to death because he disagrees in their preferences in women. So…a strange guy. Also, what is it with Jujutsu Kaisen and characters proclaiming their type of woman? I know it’s only happened twice, but it happened very aggressively both times. S’weird. Regardless, Toudou’s absolute walloping of Fushiguro clearly shows that he is one tough customer—some added exposition explaining that he is already capable of taking down a special-grade. Moreover, it is only when versing a special-grade that Toudou even bothers to use cursed techniques, seemingly relying on brute strength when combatting lesser foes. Toudou’s classmate Mai is also shown to be quite a formidable foe, straight up just shooting Kugisaki with some sort of curse revolver. Though no permanent damage is done to either member of our main cast, this episode does set up some manner of rivalry between the members of the jujutsu schools. In fact, both Fushiguro and Kugisaki manages to prove their mettle somewhat, with Kugisaki grappling Mai—despite the latter’s insistence that the former’s wounds took her out of commission—and Fushiguro’s fleeting moment of legitimate fighting intent taking Toudou by surprise. Nothing too crazy, but enough to whet our appetites for whatever fights will take place during the exchange event—which may be happening sooner than we thought because…

One-month time skip. Yeah, the episode just throws up a title card partway through explaining to us that one month has passed. Also, three high school boys are brutally murdered. Also also, Itadori is apparently back on active duty and in the company of a new character. Though not a complete shock, the jump in time was quite abrupt and did leave me momentarily quizzical. The final scene before the skip isn’t particularly dramatic, nor does it flow into the events of the future-now-present; in fact, it’s a joke. Toudou, living up to his proclamations of type, is a big fan of a tall idol; so, he goes to a handshake event…then we jump into the future. It’s not a bad gag necessarily, it’s just a very strange point to leap from. There’s also a definite sense of mood whiplash, shifting from an idol striking a pose—complete with animated love heart—to the mutilated corpses of three high schoolers. Also, due to the Jujutsu Stroll, a surprising amount of time in this episode is devoted to this aforementioned idol. Again, not necessarily bad—given that seeing the harsh Mai surprised by her own response to the idol is pretty funny—just odd. This episode also includes some expository confirmation via Gojo, who explains how both curses and sorcerers have grown exponentially in power through the generations, but that definitely leans harder into foreshadowing of things to come—all of which I’m excited for. Also, the visiting principal’s assistant excitedly chasing after Gojo for a photo was pretty funny; the same with her outwardly berating Gojo’s attitude whilst secretly fawning over him. Now that I think about it, this episode was a weird combination of violence and attraction…and I’m not sure how to quantify that.

-Luke-

Never Say Dai – Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai (Episode Eight)

If the Dark Lord’s sudden appearance back in episode four was a shock to the system, episode eight is where shit hits the proverbial fan. We barely get a moment to breathe as we arrive at Romos Kingdom before Crocodine and the entire Furfang monster army decide to immediately wage an all-out assault on the kingdom. We knew Crocodine wasn’t going to forgive Dai for what happened in their previous encounter, but now that he has been manipulated by Zeboera he is more dangerous than he was then.

Crocodine has given up all pretence of being an honourable and proud warrior, implementing lowly tactics such as deploying a mind-controlled Brass to fight against his own adoptive son, Dai. This makes for a truly emotional battle as Dai does not want to fight his grandpa, but Brass relentlessly attacks due to the aforementioned mind control.

Fortunately for Dai, Maam rocks up to assist in the fight—after verbally trashing Popp for being a coward and refusing to help Dai, yet again. I am starting to get very frustrated by Popp; but, if the preview for next week is anything to go by, it looks like he might finally man up and earn his keep as a part of Dai’s party.

The episode ends with a pretty substantial cliffhanger with Crocodine unleashing his ultimate attack, which sees his arm get massively jacked and let off an insane Dragon Ball-esque wave beam. Dai and Maam are left face down in the wreckage as Crocodine screams as we cut to credits. It looks like our heroes are well and truly on the ropes here, but I for one hope to see them mount a comeback in this fight in the next episode—hopefully with the help of the thus far useless Popp.

All in all, I am really digging this Crocodine arc. He is a great antagonist for Dai and party to combat against, and his moral code and warrior’s pride seem to conflict with the ways of the Dark Lord. I have a hunch that, by the time this battle is over, Crocodine may be in line for a face turn. I personally think he’d make a great addition to Dai’s party, and the dude is just badass. Come on Dragon Quest, you got to give the people what they want!

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The Not-Too-Distant Future – Cyberpunk 2077 – Coming Attractions

Light up Night City.

The future is…soon. I mean, that’s pretty obvious; but, the more specific future of 2077 is set to roll around slightly before the calendar indicates. So, what the heck am I talking about? Why, Cyberpunk 2077, of course. You know, that game that’s been driving people into a tizzy since 2012. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then have I got some news and/or trailers for you; also, what is the address of the rock you’ve been living under for the past eight years? So I know where to send the information.

To cut a long story short, Cyberpunk 2077 is a game set in one of those dystopian futures that humans so often find themselves creating. Lawlessness reigns, and therein lies but one hope of a more glorious life: Night City. A megalopolis—fancy talk for “really big place with a freakin’ bunch of buildings”—Night City is overcrowded, technologically advanced, and home to every vice and sin you could imagine (plus a few you couldn’t). Think of it like reality with the sliders turned way up; you live the high life or you die in the gutter. It sounds scary, I know, but it is still a video game, so we can experience the full gamut of future livin’ without the mortal peril of reality. Unless the game is so revolutionary that it somehow transcends fiction, in which case…run. Or outfit yourself with a dope arm cannon that lets you blaze a trail of freedom into whatever desert happens to be nearest you—there’s a desert in the game, that’s why I brought it up, but feel free to escape to your preferred biome of choice.

Wyld.

Speaking of transcending, did y’all know that Keanu Reeves is a tech-ghost in this game? I sort of knew, but the recent trailer focusing on his character—Johnny Silverhand—really shows to what extent his presence is felt. Spoiler: his presence is felt a lot. According to what we know (and can see in the trailer), ol’ Silverhand’s spirit/echo lives in V’s head after a bungled robbery—V being the protagonist. Said echo wishes to continue his life’s work of dismantling the status quo and teaching the corporations of the world a lesson—lesson being a polite way of saying murder. He wants to show them a murder. He wants to show them their murder…he wants to kill them. Oh, he also wants to take over V’s body? I mean, he definitely tried, and he doesn’t really seem like the kind of guy to give up after one attempt, you know, because of the whole thing where he persists after death. That’s some pretty hardcore tenacity. He can play the guitar though…I have no idea what point that proves, but it is pretty cool. Maybe if you agree to help him destabilise the corrupt society established after the nuclear devastation of the planet he’ll teach you how to play: that could be cool.

All the bass and whistles.

On the topic of music—a segue I legitimately didn’t mean to set up, but yay serendipity—another recent trailer showcases the tunes that go into fleshing out Night City. I mean, people in this dystopian technoscape gotta jam out to somethin’, right? That being said, I am admittedly one of those people to whom music skirts right by. I appreciate a game’s sound, but it is an element that rarely sticks with me to the degree that elements like dialogue or art style do. Luckily, companies make games with more than one person in mind and CD Projekt Red are cramming a tonne of music into Cyberpunk 2077. Between populating the airwaves with real-world musicians spinning fictional tracks and a score built from both traditional instruments and devices that have more dials and cables than a mortal could ever comprehend, it’s looking (sounding?) to be quite an audio endeavour. Something that specifically caught my attention was the decision of the audio team to shift the era of inspiration from the 80s—the period more frequently attributed to the cyberpunk genre—to the 90s, altering the overall vibe. It sounds such a simple choice, but one that inordinately impacted the final product…which will release eventually.

Consequently…I don’t have a segue set up for this, so…face mapping, am I right? We all know what it’s like to see vocals that don’t match facial expressions—be it from a dub/localisation of a video game or anime, or one of those times when your scratched DVD threw the audio off just enough to notice. It’s distracting, and it can ruin immersion. Somewhat unfortunately, this means that developers have to put tremendous amounts of work into crafting something that you won’t think twice about. That being said, technology is apparently marching ever onward and there are some cool-looking programs that automatically sync up audio and facial performance. I know this isn’t a topic that seems directly related to your personal experience of Cyberpunk 2077, but it’s still pretty cool to see how much effort goes into something your brain simply expects to exist. What stood out to me was the ability for this program—JALI—to match character’s facial performance to whatever vocal performance was funnelled into the program, meaning that everything syncs up no matter what language the game is localised for. That’s awesome. Again, it’s something nobody will notice if done correctly, but I’ve played enough Japanese games dubbed in English to know how distracting lip sync (or lack thereof) can be. Does it completely break an experience? No, but every bit of effort and realism helps, and I’m at least going to praise the efforts of this team and program in this moment…before I get distracted by all of the lights and sounds of Night City and completely forget the work that went into making it look like Johnny Silverhand is actually saying all of those curse words directed at V. Apologies in advance, team behind all of this work.

Putting words in their mouths.

So, there you have it: a look into the upcoming world of Cyberpunk 2077. If I may say so myself, it’s looks pretty cool. Though I most certainly wish the game was already out and I was playing it, I am still somewhat enjoying the expectant fervour that allows me to focus on individual elements that will eventually merge into a singular experience. It sounds sort of mean to note how the efforts of so many teams will eventually fade away behind each other, but I think that’s the point. Each of these production elements is a facet of Cyberpunk 2007; each has an impact on the world they are creating, but none of them are, themselves, Cyberpunk. Everything is supposed to blend, combine, and merge into a believable fiction: a world with a past and a purpose for existing. Is such a grandiose idea something we’ll actively think about? Of course not. I mean, have we ever? Yes, but not in these flowery terms. We feel when we believe a game’s world. Every nostalgic experience that you know all to well, all of the lore that you have acquired and love to discuss with others of similar passion: that is the sign of a complete world. Will Cyberpunk be that? I can’t say. Nobody can. But for all of the effort and time that has gone into this game long expected and delayed, I hope to heck that it’s as cool as we all want it to be. I mean, worst-case scenario it’s a game that lets you jump around a neon city punching cyborgs with your arm blades whilst Keanu Reeves hovers around like a Force ghost with attitude. And that sounds awesome. So, the future’s looking pretty bright…and violent.

Tomorrow’s news.

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Endlessness and Exclusion – Fall Anime 2020 (Week Seven) – Season’s Writings

-Kane-

The Space Between – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Seven)

There’s a metaphor here…

Well, job done, we know what Gojo looks like under his blindfold: pretty. I’m not to proud to admit it, dude’s got eyes you can literally get lost in; he can make the world around you fade away. It sounds like a fan fiction; however, it’s actually terrifying. Apparently, Gojo can control the infinity that exists between objects—or something to that effect—making it so that attacks never actually make contact with him. Certainly a boon in battle, it also makes it so that Gojo can stand on water, block enemy blood from sullying his form (like a magic windshield), and possibly warp (though that may be a separate power). Oh, Gojo is also really tough, like, he no sells every attack that Volcano Head throws his way. Though we certainly knew that Gojo was tough, seeing him effortlessly combat an opponent we expected to be powerful is…awesome. It’s also more than a little cathartic, considering that Volcano Head is an arrogant jerk and also immolated an entire restaurant of innocent people. If anything, the fight between Gojo and Volcano Head acts like a primer for the more intense fights of this universe; namely, Domain Expansion. Though we did see a Domain in action with the special-grade a few episodes back, now we get an explanation as to what the heck they are. Basically, curses can give themselves a homefield advantage, constructing a dimension in which their own techniques are guaranteed to strike their foe—which seems a little bit insanely powerful. Luckily, Gojo is so inconceivably strong that he simply overpowers Volcano Head’s Domain with his own Domain—which is a thing he can apparently do. Still, it shows us the variety of forms a Domain can take, from an understandable volcanic field, to an incomprehensible reality wherein every action of the universe is repeated and compounded until the psyche of those held within crumble under the sheer amount of information and leave them unable to anything but ponder their inability to act in the face of infinity…but, you know, the volcano thing is also kind of scary.

Though certainly a Gojo-heavy episode, the man in question does drag Itadori into the fold: literally. With a brief mention of how Itadori’s cured energy training is proceeding well—shown via his ability to maintain focus whilst watching a movie that totally isn’t The Lord of the Rings—Gojo decides that a practical example of battle will do him the world of good. While this essentially amounts to Gojo having a reason to explain what Domains are, it also allows us (and Itadori) to witness the levels to which this series will escalate. Gojo can easily exorcise Sukuna—he even mentions that Volcano head is tougher than Sukuna currently—and yet every sorcerer and curse is terrified of him. So, just how powerful can Sukuna get? How powerful are the curses that boss Volcano Head around? How powerful is the guy whose apartment is an Innate Domain? Why is his Innate Domain a peaceful beach? Who is the guy whose Innate Domain is a beach? There are just so many questions, and not in a bad way. Jujutsu Kaisen is intriguing; I am intrigued. Also, this was the first episode where I found the humorous after-credits sequence humorous, because it showed the villains playing soccer with Volcano Head’s head—which Gojo ripped off in the episode proper. Which he totally deserved, you know, because of the whole immolating innocents thing.

-Luke-

Another Way to Dai – Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai (Episode Seven)

Adventure of Dai slows things down this week and, after the intense conflict of last week’s battle with Crocodine, I was okay with a bit more introspection and character development. Last week’s cliffhanger is resolved pretty quickly, as we learn that Maam’s gun is able to shoot spells; she was actually shooting Dai with a healing spell not trying to harm him, as Popp thought she was for some reason. This renewed energy allows Dai to hit a devastating strike on Crocodine, which causes him to retreat not unlike how his master the Dark Lord Hadlar had done earlier in the series.

From here, we return with the crew to Maam’s village where we learn that Maam’s mother and father were actually members of Avan’s party during his battles with the Dark Lord in the past. As such, Avan had trained Maam to follow in their footsteps—combining both of their classes to become a Warrior Priestess. We see her backstory and come to see and understand her great appreciation and admiration of Avan. When shes asks about Master Avan, Dai makes a curious decision to keep Avan’s death as a secret. At first, I felt this was out of character for our plucky, forthright hero, but Dai isn’t like Goku or Luffy who will just blurt out information regardless of the situation just because he is honest—Dai has a complexity to him that is starting to show. Dai doesn’t want to reveal the truth for a number of reasons: he doesn’t want to panic the people of the village who view Avan as their hero and protector; he doesn’t want to hurt Maam, who has such deep admiration for Avan; and he doesn’t want to reveal that his training with Avan was tragically cut short—at only three days—due to his passing, which would put into question Dai’s own ability to follow in Avan’s path and become the next hero.

I really liked seeing this different side of Dai. It showed him as a more complex character than he initially appeared to be. The fact that he keeps this lie up until the episode’s end was unexpected, but it shows that Dai is willing to hide painful realities from people if he thinks it protects them from that pain. It makes for an interesting parallel for when the town Mage consults with Maam about her own weakness, saying that kindness and love isn’t enough to protect the ones you care about. It begs the question: is Dai doing them a kindness by lying or is his decision to keep Avan’s passing from them an error of judgement?

I enjoyed the ending of the episode quite a lot—which sees Maam overhear Dai expose the truth of Avan’s death—which ultimately spurs her on to join his party because, like Dai, she also wants to avenge Avan and fulfil his will. I thought it was refreshing to see the way the ending played out, with her simply telling Dai that she knows what’s up and asking him to fill her in on the details as they head to their next destination. I thought this was much better than if they had done some expository conversation where she gets upset at Dai for lying. It felt like the more mature path to take, which fits Maam quite nicely. It also was nice to show that Dai is an imperfect hero in many ways: he may not be doing the right thing all the time and may make the wrong choices, but, in his heart of hearts, he is trying to do the right thing—at the very least. He is far from perfect, but that makes him all the more compelling a protagonist to follow. Popp on the other hand remains a problematic character who I am hoping gets some development, sooner rather than later.

Next week looks to see Dai confronted with Crocodine—back for round two—in what looks to be a rad fight. This episode proved to be a nice stop gap between battles, but I am ready to see Dai and Crocodine come to blows once again.

-30-

Conditions, Crocodiles, and Cats – Fall Anime 2020 (Week Six) – Season’s Writings

-Kane-

The Bear Minimum – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Six)

Trial by television.

So, Itadori isn’t dead. Spoilers. Surprise. Fooled you. Well, maybe; chances are you thought he was coming back. Regardless, he’s alive and now secretly contracted to allow Sukuna one minute of freedom at the utterance of a specific word; however, Itadori has no memory of said deal—as per Sukuna’s additional condition. Still, as frightening as this sounds, Sukuna promised not to use his minute of freedom to harm or kill another being—the obvious lack of trust being mitigated by the apparent punishments that arise from breaking an agreed-upon pact. What a nice guy. Still, potentially dangerous or not, this development is largely pushed aside for Itadori’s real-world mission: learning how to used cursed energy. Though played mostly for goofs—and as an opportunity to throw in a few Shonen references—the intricacies of utilising cursed energy are actually pretty interesting. With cursed energy relying on negative emotions, jujutsu sorcerers must learn to utilise the faintest traces of these feelings to power their techniques, whilst also maintaining emotional stability in the face of peril—to prevent burning through their energy too quickly. It’s a relatively simple concept to understand, but one that is also immediately recognisable as difficult to master. Also, mastering this concept involves watching movies and trying not to get punched by a stuffed bear. Yeah: it’s legit. Gojo, the one whom organised Itadori’s training, also mumbles how Sukuna’s energy will slowly empower Itadori and grant him access to more techniques. Way to seed power progression, teach.

The episode also delves briefly into Fushiguro’s thought process and where he plans to focus his training. With a sequence that shows he grabbed the name tag off the victim of the special-grade—the one he and Itadori butted heads over, in regards of how to handle his remains—we see that Itadori’s convictions have really left a mark on Fushiguro. Combined with Sukuna’s taunting that he is wasting his talent, Fushiguro resolves to improve and ponders that he may be able to defeat a special-grade one day—if Sukuna’s words can be trusted. In fact, Fushiguro’s potential is seemingly a driving factor in Sukuna even attempting to revive Itadori: whatever technique Fushiguro almost used in his battle with Sukuna has the guy’s curiosity piqued. Mine too, if I’m being honest. So, as much as this episode was a set up for training—and therefore a set up to future events—it was still an intriguing one. Oh, and also a curse immolated an entire restaurant of people. It was…it was truly horrifying to watch. This series is nuts.

The Eyes Have It – Iwakakeru -Sport Climbing Girls- (Episode Six)

It’s her eyes: she’s got wall-eye vision.

Okay, I relent: Iwakakeru is a series about rock climbing. I know that sounds obvious, but hear me out. I spent the first few episodes of this series mulling over how characters seem flat and their personalities are entirely dependent on their love of climbing…and I was right. In this episode, however, we get to see that mentality actually used somewhat well. When pitted against each other in rapid succession, the singular aspects of the characters help make them stand out; help make them memorable…kind of. I couldn’t tell you their names, but I could explain how Ballerina got psyched out by Konomi and how Panther needs to beat Spider to keep her team in the competition. It’s a very rough approximation of character connections, but it’s what this series gives us. And I’ll admit, seeing Konomi one-shot every wall was pretty cool—especially when it bugged Ballerina. Why? Because Ballerina begins this episode by reminding us of this series’ weakness: exposition. Did you know Konomi was a prima ballerina? Well, Ballerina just out and says it. We know so little about the surrounding cast, and they spend their time just explaining things instead of introducing themselves through their actions. It’s frustrating. Also, how is Konomi the best at everything? Not only was she a pro gamer and prima ballerina, she also aces challenges that make seasoned climbers balk. I understand giving her a natural gift for climbing, it’s what this series is about, but why the backstory of perfection? For all we know, Konomi could ditch climbing a be an amazing swimmer. How long until she dives wholeheartedly into some other passion?

So, yeah…that’s about it. This episode is basically just Konomi rocking up and styling all over the more experienced climbers. Which is cool…and kind of sad. This is mostly because every climber who isn’t a part of the main team is a jerk. Everyone is just so antagonistic, spending whatever time they’re not climbing to rag on their opponents. The closest we get to seeing a positive side of any competitor is when Panther reminisces about a loss in hurdling that caused her grief. So yeah, the only time a character isn’t a jerk is when a flashback shows that they’ve dealt with even bigger jerks. So…let’s all keep cheering for the least mean person, I guess?

Tilting at Blockers – Haikyu!! To the Top (Episode Nineteen)

Giving Tsukishima the side-eye.

With our brief jaunt over to Nekoma behind us, it’s time to see how our regularly scheduled main characters are doing. The answer? Okay. With Inarizaki landing two service aces off Nishinoya, things aren’t looking so hot. At least until Nishinoya powers through his doubts—by doing finger push ups—and then…things stay about the same. Really, this is a fairly give-and-take sort of episode. When one team makes a smart play, the other counters, and so on and so forth. In fact, most of the episode revolves around both teams trying to tire out or emotionally shake key players on the other side of the court; the score is surprisingly out of focus. Sure, the points matter, but events are mostly focused on how the players are reacting; some plays even occur in almost real time, with less slow-motion focus than the more dramatic moments this series prides itself on. Honestly, the whole affair just seems…messy, and I think that’s the point. This is a tough match, one neither team wants to drag on for longer than it has to. Both sides are tired, desperate to win, and dejected by every mistake. Well-executed plays are shut down, serves land out, and receives are sloppy: this is a real match. Still, it is a little weird. Haikyu!! loves to show the finer details of volleyball, to focus on specific moments to the point that time slows to better express them. Now, this episode isn’t devoid of those moments, but points of understandable focus are left a little vague. For example, the Inarizaki player who can spike at weird angles: some random old guy in the crowd explains what’s going on. Combined with the odd visual of the spiker tilting ninety degrees, this whole development plays out in an almost unsettling way. Perhaps obfuscation was the goal here, but something just didn’t sit right with me.

I’m really not sure what it was, but nothing in this episode really stood out to me. Plenty of things happened, but nothing that seemed ultimately consequential. Seeing Calm Kageyama—as Hinata has dubbed the phenomenon—obliterate Inarizaki with his serves was cool. Being reminded that Nishinoya is one of Karasuno’s emotional bedrocks was nice. Things were fine…just oddly underwhelming. Still, this episode was nice enough to remind us that Inarizaki’s cheering section is the absolute worst: it’s understood that they’ll boo their own side if they think a play was weak. Why is that a thing people let slide? Booing is bad enough when directed at an opposing side, trust Inarizaki to somehow make that seem tame. Jerks.

-Luke-

Croco-Dai-le Rock – Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai (Episode Six)

Finally, Dai’s titular adventure has begun and, just like any goofy Shonen hero, he immediately finds himself getting lost.

With both Dai and Popp lost in the Dark Forest on their way to the Romos Kingdom, they encounter a mysterious girl named Maam from a nearby village. Popp doesn’t exactly hit it off with her, so he and Dai don’t take her offer for help passing through the Dark Forest. Soon enough, Dark Lord Hadlar has discovered Dai’s location and ordered one of his six dark generals to eliminate him: that general being the fearsome Beast King Crocodine.

Crocodine is your typical villain who simply loves to fight. We first meet him having a sleep instead of taking over the kingdom, as the Dark Lord had ordered him, because he is bored as there are no warriors strong enough to give him a challenge—that is until he encounters Dai.

The majority of this episode revolves around the battle between Dai and Crocodine from here, as Dai surprises Crocodine with his strength and skill. The battle is awesomely animated, and we get to see a bit more of the spoils of Dai’s training with Avan—as he goes all out against Crocodine here.

The only criticism I have is that the character of Popp is really quite annoying so far. He comes across as a coward somewhat along the lines of Usopp from One Piece; however, he doesn’t yet seem to have the redeeming qualities and character depth that Usopp has. Instead, he simply runs—leaving Dai to die—screaming and crying like a little bitch for the majority of the episode. Maam, on the other hand, seems to be quite an interesting character, and we learn that she also has an insignia of Avan—hinting that she may also have been a student of his. We will probably find out more on that in the next episode.

This episode, however, ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, with Dai against the ropes in his fight with Crocodine and Maam seemingly shooting him with a spell. What are Maam’s true intentions? We will find out next week on Dragon Quest Z.

Cat-Scratch Fever – Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon (Episode Six)

This episode was about ghost demon cats. It wasn’t very good, just like the five episodes that came before it. I am quite tired of this anime. I don’t know what else to say. I just feel sad.

So, It’s War Then? – Ikebukuro West Gate Park (Episode Six)

Ikebukuro West Gate Park has just entered into its first major story arc: the G-Boys Winter War has begun.

After spending its first five episodes establishing the underworld of Ikebukuro and its many factions that Makoto must keep the balance of peace between, episode six sees that balance completely disrupted, as a mysterious figure named Shadow begins calculated assaults on members of the G-Boys—inciting a war between “King” Takashi and one of his roundtable faction leaders “Knight” Hiroto.

Hiroto has long had aspirations to take Takashi’s place as King and believes Takashi to be behind the mysterious Shadow attacks which have left many of his men hospitalised. Makoto tries to maintain the peace between Hiroto and Takashi; but, as things continue to escalate and more of Hiroto’s men get taken out, things come to a fiery climax with Hiroto declaring his faction’s defection from the G-Boys and issuing a declaration of war against Takashi and his gang.

However, there are quite a few pieces to this puzzle that remain in question. The Red Angels claim to have no involvement; however, they have arguably the most to gain from the self-destruction of the G-Boys. In fact, the Red Angels become even more suspect after the twist ending sees the Donglong Chinese faction, that we explored in the previous episode, also falling victim to one of Shadow’s attacks.

The mystery is left hanging, as it seems that Ikebukuro is about to erupt into all out warfare in the G-Boys Winter War. IWGP is really taking things to another gear here, and I am fully on board with where things go from here with the Winter War story arc. If I was to hazard a guess as to who is behind the Shadow attacks, I think that the Red Angels do seem the most suspicious; however, I feel that may be a red herring. Either way, I am keen to see what happens next week.

-30-

Gloom, Guts, and Generosity – Fall Anime 2020 (Week Five) – Season’s Writings

-Kane-

Heart Attack – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Five)

And Sukuna’s to blame.

Well, we were promised a death. Who would’ve thought it was (stop reading if you haven’t watched the episode yet) Itadori. Okay, there is a chance that he isn’t dead—a very large chance—but let’s just play this out like his death is permanent. And what a way to go it was: having your heart torn out of your chest. Yikes. You know, I’m starting to think Sukuna is a bad guy. Unfortunately, he is also clever. As heinous an act as it is, removing Itadori’s heart to prevent him regaining control of his body is genius. We know Itadori can freely subdue Sukuna’s control, so artificial boundaries needed to be established. Sukuna’s actions also showcase just how powerful his will to persist is. We don’t know why or how Sukuna was split apart and imprisoned, but I expect that is an experience he is not too keen to return to…which probably means he wasn’t happy when Itadori killed them both. Sure, Sukuna said he could revive using his other fingers, but Itadori had three of them already; it’d take some work to get back to that point, even assuming another compatible vessel surfaced. Which is why I’m curious about Sukuna as a character. What are his true goals? What happened to him in the past? Why is he so powerful? Why does he seem to understand curses at a deeper level than even jujutsu sorcerers? During his fight with Fushiguro—if that beatdown could even be called a fight—Sukuna seems to be coaching his opponent. Sukuna even seems impressed by the manner in which Fushiguro summons his shikigami and actually uses Fushiguro’s full name in conversation. Though this could all certainly be Sukuna messing with Fushiguro, the fact that he doesn’t immediately vanquish his foes leads me to believe that Sukuna is…bored. Sure, he’s evil as heck, but why? The fact that he brought up the concept of a “pact”, which implies Itadori could borrow power from Sukuna whilst still remaining in control, also seems odd. Why even put that idea out there? Unless, he wants to see how far Itadori can go?

Speaking of odd, some new curses pop up this episode—chatting away with some guy on his way to lunch. The guy in question is also seemingly unbothered by conversing with curses, immediately putting him in the shady category. Even more suspicious, the guy in question answers a curses question about shifting the balance of the world; setting up curses as the dominant species on the planet. From his answer, we learn not only that Itadori/Sukuna is a key factor in any major conflict—duh—but also that Gojo (whom I previously referred to as Blindfold) is the strongest jujutsu sorcerer. Also, from the question, we learn that there are curses capable of cohesive conversation, emotion, and tactical planning…which is kind of a big deal. Yeah, Sukuna can do it, but we’ve never seen curses not possessing a host show anything close to this level of intelligence. It’s crazy. And who is this guy who knows about curses but isn’t even phased by them trying to kill humans? Also, why did the higher ups think it was a good idea to trick Itadori into dying (which they did by sending him to the curse womb)? Also also, why is one of the second-year students a talking panda named Panda? Also also also, why can one second-year only speak in ingredients to rice balls? I just have so many questions…and I’m excited to learn the answers to all of them.

Falling Short – Iwakakeru -Sport Climbing Girls- (Episode Five)

The height of the issue.

Since this series began, I have noticed a rather singular focus on Konomi. Sure, she’s the protagonist, but she is also part of a team. So, I was rather interested when this episode actually pivoted to focus on Nono somewhat, and it is through this focus that we see her happy persona falter. Reminiscing about previous failures, Nono expresses to Konomi her doubts about succeeding in the competition, before immediately playing her vulnerability off as a joke. Her doubts are, however, proven true when she is unable to send a route she thought she had in the bag. Now, here’s where Iwakakeru tries a little too hard. Nono is short; we know this; she knows this. It is due to her stature that she cannot reach the hold she needs to complete her climb. However, there is a moment where Nono’s internal monologue simply questions why she can’t reach the hold. We know the answer, but the reason I bring up the weirdness of her seeming uncertainty is that the episode doesn’t discuss height in climbing until after this occurs. For some reason, the episode plays this incident off like a mystery we’re supposed to solve—in the same way Konomi was unsure why her arms gave out early when she first began. I understand explaining the finer details of climbing—I myself know nothing of the sport—but it seems odd to even try and make us wonder why Nono couldn’t reach a far-off hold. Still, I’ll take whatever character development I can get at this point, as the series is still rather flat when it comes to characterisation. With that in mind, it is sad that the deepest we’ve gotten in learning about a character comes from seeing them curse their own body. Poor Nono.

As for the rest of the episode, we are given the chance to see other prominent climbers, well, climb. If their character designs weren’t enough to let you know they were important, their epithets will. We’ve got Black panther, who is fast and nimble; Muscle Maxima’am, who is buff; Ballerina of Rock, who is graceful; Princess of Lead, who is the captain of our protagonistic team; Climbing Spider, who is tall (and creepy); Lackey Data Climber, who uses collected data to plot her moves; and Crimson Stormtrooper, who persists with simple manoeuvres. Though these characters personalities are pretty one note, I at least appreciated the variety in their styles. After all, I’m fairly certain at this point that climbing is going to receive far more attention than those doing the climbing; although, I’m happy to be proven wrong. Also, that routesetter character was a jerk. I know his incredulity with people beating problems in ways he didn’t foresee was to show us how cool all the climbers were, but it did leave me confused as to if he knows what his job is. He’s not competing with the climbers; his job isn’t to beat them. Also, his hair is dumb and I don’t like him.

Cat-Tired – Haikyu!! To the Top (Episode Eighteen)

*Sigh*

Once again, we find ourselves focused on Nekoma and, more specifically, their setter, Kenma. Having been driven to the point of exhaustion, Kenma presents a facet of volleyball that Haikyu!! somehow manages to avoid for the most part: being driven to the point of exhaustion. Sure, matches have dragged on before and characters have gotten tired, but this is the first instance I can recall of tiredness being the focal point of an episode. This might sound weird, but it does make a certain kind of sense when you think about it; namely, that Karasuno and their most dangerous opponents are full of over-the-top talents. Normally, episodes—and therefore we—focus on the dramatic plays and emotional moments; this time around, the plays are basic. Avoiding quick, dramatic scoring is the point this time around. Heck, even bad plays are a deciding factor in this match. As part of his strategy, Kenma asks his team to receive the ball poorly a few times, to throw their opponents off. Though I claim no knowledge of volleyball—beyond watching Haikyu!!—I have never considered that intentionally sloppy plays could be a viable strategy, which I think is the point. Playing badly on purpose isn’t something that would enter into most teams minds, making it a surprisingly effective strategy. This decision also adds some surprise into the episode, since both teams are/were aware of the “tire out Kenma” strategy. It also makes it satisfying when Nekoma pulls one over on the team whose entire game plan was to gang up on a single player they perceived as weak. Which might be a valid strategy, but they were still jerks about it.

Honing in on Kenma, our glimpse into his thought process shows us why he is the “brain” of Nekoma. Believing himself incapable of using “guts” to persevere, Kenma relies on his more logical approach and the fortitude of others to secure victory. Of course, the irony this episode wishes to convey is that Kenma is showing guts by refusing to give up, despite his constant cries of wanting to give up. Though he never realises the extent of his own fortitude, Kenma does have something of a breakthrough when he refers to his teammates as “friends” and wonders why it’s strange he would make an effort for them. It’s a cute moment. Still, this divergence from Karasuno was seemingly a preamble to an upcoming match; a way to remind us who Nekoma is. Sure, we’ll still want Karasuno to win, but we won’t necessarily want them to destroy Nekoma. It’ll be a nice change of pace from Inarizaki and Sarukawa, who are jerk teams filled with jerks.

-Luke-

Dai Hard With a Vengeance – Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai (Episode Five)

Adventure of Dai just went all in, and boy oh boy was it something special. I thought the shocking turn of events in episode four was something to behold, but episode five really turns things up to eleven in an epic confrontation with Dark Lord Hadlar that has set the tone for the series, going forward—as we have now reached the climax of the series first story arc.

We left off last week with Master Avan, who we learned was the hero of legend, jumping in front of the spell cast by Hadlar to save his students, Dai and Popp. From here, Avan casts a protective spell on Dai, Popp, and Brass, which turns them into a magic repelling metal; however, they cannot move in this state. He gifts Dai and Popp each an insignia of Avan—the sign that he considers them to have graduated from his training—and bids them farewell. Avan knows he has to go all out to defeat Hadlar, and what happens next is a battle of epic proportions. Hadlar and Avan go absolutely mental in what ultimately feels like a very Dragon Ball-style fight here. Knowing that there is no other way to defeat Hadlar, Avan makes a final request of his students: defeat the Dark King Vearn. With that, he casts the ultimate self-destruction spell Megante—sacrificing himself to defeat Hadlar. Or so we think.

After the commercial break, we learn that somehow Hadlar has survived the Megante spell; Avan’s sacrifice seemingly was in vain. That is until once again Dai suddenly transforms, as we had seen him do earlier in the series, to which Hadlar begins to effectively freak out at the sight of the symbol appearing on Dai’s forehead: the fabled Dragon Crest. Hadlar realises immediately that Dai must be a Dragon Knight and cannot be allowed to live. Dai and Hadlar unleash on each other in what is reminiscent of the Gohan and Cell fight from Dragon Ball Z, with Dai ultimately ending things with an ode to his fallen mentor: hitting a colossal Avan Strash attack, almost killing Hadlar—who has no choice but to teleport away with a Chimaera Wing to safety.

The episode ends with our heroes holding a funeral for Master Avan, with Dai resolutely declaring he will fulfil his master’s dying wish: he will seek out the Dark King Vearn and end him. With that, it looks like the “Dermlite Island Arc” has concluded; Dai will truly begin his adventure with the next episode, as he will set out with Popp on his quest to slay the Dark King and his army.

The battles in this episode—with Avan against Hadlar, then Dai against Hadlar—were a sight to behold, and a great look at what we can expect in the future from this series. We are now well and truly in the thick of things, and I can’t wait to see Dai finally begin his titular adventure.

Them Bones – Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon (Episode Five)

I think it is safe to say, at this point, that Yashahime has been nothing short of an absolute disaster of a sequel to what many consider to be one of the most beloved anime series of all time: Inuyasha. Yashahime has been an utter mess since its baffling first episode and now, five episodes in, the series has abruptly decided to become a “monster of the week” show and just about completely abandons its serialised plotlines—that it has haphazardly carved out in the preceding four episodes. Every week, I open up the latest episode of Yashahime and find myself shocked that it somehow manages to mess things up more.

This weeks episode picks up where we left off last time, with our trio of leads awakening at the Tree of Ages. Lucky for them, a cavalcade of familiar characters and friends rock up at just that very moment to greet them. We skip ahead to see Towa and Setsuna reading from some books and learn that the butterfly that cursed her resides on a particular mountain. I thought to myself, “Okay, so the story will focus on them going after this butterfly now.” No. That was not the case at all, because—as mentioned in my previous weeks Writings—this sleep curse that Setsuna has is of absolutely no concern to her. Despite the girls discovering where the butterfly is, Setsuna essentially says who cares about that and asks for some demon bounty for her to hunt. So, that is what the girls do. On top of that, Setsuna has now accepted Towa as her sister, despite not believing her for the preceding episodes and nothing really happening to ease her scepticism.

On top of that, the girls just kind of go on their merry way, with Moroha going to tackle her own bounty and Towa tagging along with Setsuna because, well, she doesn’t really have anything else to do and, come to think of it, only came to the past to help her lift the butterfly curse—but no one seems to care about that, so why is anything happening? Why am I trying to make sense of this narrative mess?

Basically, one thing leads to another and they find this demon that essentially rips your skeleton straight out from your skin. It is pretty messed up, but Yashahime barely pays it any mind—even treating it for comedy in some moments which felt very tonally off. Eventually, the girls confront the demon and, coincidentally, it turns out that Moroha was given the same bounty and, even more coincidentally, it turns out that the demon has a grudge against Moroha. A fight breaks out and, if I’m honest, the animation quality fell through the absolute floor here. It’s a shame because this battle was seemingly meant to be important, given the fact that Moroha makes her grand “transformation” into her “Beniyasha” demon form. The fight is over pretty quickly, and the girls comment that this demon was a minion of the Beast King that the Tree of Ages had asked them to kill. They seemingly decide that they will find the Beast King despite refusing the request of the Tree of Ages in the last episode for no reason whatsoever. The episode ends with them concerned, remarking that if they kill the Beast King they will then have to kill their father Sesshomaru. This seems to concern them and I don’t quite know why, considering they both made point to mention in the previous episode they have never met him, have no idea who he is, and have no attachment to him at all.

The preview for next week seems to indicate there will be more “monster of the week” shenanigans before we can get onto some kind of main plotline. It really is hard to see what the through point for this series is. We still don’t know the fate of Kagome or Inuyasha after inexplicably seeing them in the first episode for reasons unknown. Sometimes, having no idea where a show is going is a good thing because it means the show is keeping you guessing with its narrative twists and turns; with Yashahime it is only a bad thing because I quite honestly have no idea what is even going on half the time in this series, and I have no idea who any of these characters really are, what motivates them, what their goals are, or why should I even give a damn. Yashahime, please do better.

Count Your Blessings – Ikebukuro West Gate Park (Episode Five)

Continuing off the back of last week’s fantastic episode, IWGP hits back with yet another incredible episode—tackling some serious real-world issues in the process.

This week’s episode’s overall theme is outlined well by Makoto in the cold open, when he ponders that—even for all its problems—he may have been blessed to grow up and live in a country like Japan. While we have seen the darker side of Japan in the episodes preceding this one, this episode argues that youth gangs, corrupt businesses, social media scams, and drug dealers are issues that pale in comparison to the truly horrific crimes against humanity that occur daily around the world. This is where IWGP zeroes in and focuses on the human rights breaches of modern day China and it’s corrupt government that enables such an environment of abuse.

We learn that the city of Ikebukuro is potentially being targeted by the Tokyo Metro Government to become a new Chinatown district, re-establishing the city and hopefully erasing its troubled reputation. Through this, we discover the severe human rights violations taking place with the Chinese organisations who essentially hold poor Chinese workers as indentured servants, dangling the hope of Japanese citizenship over their heads—all the while forcing them into insane labour work for miniscule pay.

It is revealed that the businesses in China target rural-area civilians for these jobs and ship them around the world into this kind of work; we also learn that one of these workers has done a runner and Makoto is tasked with finding her, else the rest of the Chinese workers will be deported back to China—where a rather grim fate likely awaits them.

Makoto eventually discovers—with the help of newfound Chinese friend Lin—that the girl, who is named Guo, is working at a hostess bar in town. Eventually, they track her down and Makoto explains the circumstances to her. She decides to return to indentured servitude to prevent everyone from being deported back to China. Before that can happen, though, Makoto takes Guo on a day out, to show her all the amazing things of life she has never been able to see. It’s a nice moment of kindness from Makoto, one that is compounded by Makoto’s mother making another act of kindness: hearing Guo’s story and situation—and with the help of Lin—Makoto’s mother decides to adopt Guo as her daughter, which would gain her Japanese citizenship. As she has become a citizen, the organization can’t threaten or manipulate her any longer. While the other workers remain in servitude, the episode ends with Makoto pondering that there may still be hope yet and reflecting on his blessing for being born in Japan.

Overall, this was a really well done episode that has left some thread to be picked up again in future episodes. I loved the way it explored this idea with nuance and subtlety, and treated the situation with the appropriate level of seriousness it demands. I really have been enjoying these past few episodes of IWGP; I hope the show continues this hot streak because these are proving to be some truly thought-provoking episodes to say the very least.

-30-

The Beast Offence – Zoids Wild: Blast Unleashed – Humble Opinions

You ever fight with Hunter Wolf in the pale moonlight?

Everybody likes robots: it’s just one of those inescapable facts. People also tend to be rather fond of animals. So, why not combine the two? Also, why not throw some combat into the mix? Also also, make it an anime. I know it may sound crazy, but this particular formula culminates in Zoids. I mean, you probably already knew that given the title of this collection of words, but it’s more dramatic to pretend otherwise. Regardless, let us delve into a new game from a franchise reinvented…because they stopped making series/games in the original style a while ago and mad me sad.

Zoids Wild: Blast Unleashed is a fighting game based around, surprise surprise, Zoids Wild. Now, I myself am quite the fan of Zoids, but I will admit to knowing nothing of Wild. So, Blast Unleashed is my first foray into this new world…and it is wild. The first thing you’ll probably notice is just how “anime” the cast appears. I know, I know, “anime” is a wide-ranging medium, but you know what I mean. The main character has a giant swoop of hair and character’s eyes burn with a green flame when they get serious. That’s anime as heck. Also, it’s pretty cool. It definitely helps characters stick in your mind, I went from zero to knowing who Gigaboss was in about forty minutes: not a bad time. This sense of character also helps to learn/memorise the Zoids themselves, with their varied animal motifs and simple colour palettes. The characters also shout the name of their Zoid roughly once every second sentence; that helps too.

“You ride raptors?”

Speaking of Zoids and their presence, this game leans rather hard into the plot point of “sub-species”. Simply put, sub-species are alternate colours of the Zoids present in the game. Factoring heavily into the game’s story mode (which I will discuss shortly), sub-species also exist to effectively double the roster of playable Zoids. This is the facet of the game that I can see losing people. Palette swaps are nothing new, but they are also nothing beloved. Simply changing a model’s colours does not a new character make. Still, I will give Blast Unleashed credit for at least slightly altering the stats of each sub-species. It may not be much, but it’s something. I will also further dole out credit by praising the naming conventions of these sub-species. Take, for example, Liger. As Liger’s sub-species is black in colour, characters designate it Black Liger. Apt, albeit uncreative. The game, however, opts for a much cooler name: Nightfall Liger. I don’t care who you are, that’s an awesome name. Other Zoids are given similarly nifty adjectives—Toxic, Chaos, Vulture, Genesis—that help  the palette swaps sound a little more unique. Also, the names sound cool. Did I mention that already?

Bug off!

Though the game houses a few modes, the one deserving the most discussion is Story: mainly because, well, it has a story. Having no knowledge of the series, I can’t say if said story is true to the source material, but it is cohesive enough for me to believe it is. Taking the form of a visual novel, scenes play out to set up each battle and give some manner of context. Nothing new when it comes to video games, but worth knowing if you’re curious about this title. Despite the simplicity of this presentation, the number of sequences and battles is…immense. For every character introduced, there is a story thread to follow—allowing you the chance to play as each character in the game. There is also no guarantee that characters will appear in each other’s stories—or even be mentioned. Though blasting through every single story node can become repetitive after a while, the segmented nature of each story path lends well to a more staggered approach—perhaps clearing out a character or two each time you play. Of course, beating each path is necessitous to unlocking every playable character, but that’s sort of to be expected in a fighting game. Which this is.

As far as fighting games go, Blast Unleashed is a relatively simple one. Each Zoid is capable of basic melee strikes at will, while more powerful, unique strikes exist under a cooldown limitation. That being said, cooldowns are rather swift; each battle wrapping up well under the ninety-nine second time limit—at least in Story. Each character pair (Zoid and Rider) is also able to employ a temporary power up known as a Wild Blast. The gauge for this ability, known as Best Bond, fills through both dealing and receiving damage; its activation bestowing a boost to one particular stat and access to a finishing move. The stat raised by Wild Blast—such as attack power, speed, or health—is specific to each Zoid in Story, but may be freely changed in Battle (the free-battle mode). The finishing move, known as Final Blast, varies between each Zoid and manifests as a brief animation that deals a sizeable amount of damage—unless your opponent blocks it…like a jerk. Again, Blast Unleashed doesn’t house a very complicated combat system, but it is quite fun in its simplicity.

Settling the scorpion.

So, where do I stand on Blast Unleashed? Well, I think it’s fun. It isn’t a revolutionary title, nor does it particularly excel in any one aspect, but it stands well as a whole. I’d say the game also benefits from being on the Switch, allowing for small increments of play on a more portable basis. I know this might not sound like the most glowing praise, but I do mean this all in a positive way. Blast Unleashed is that game you can turn to in comfort, at least for a little while. Not your sole focus, but a title to slowly complete in your free moments—chipping away until you’ve seen every sub-species and learnt their dope names. Also, you can take some time to really sit and think about the fact that somebody named themselves Gigaboss. I mean, if he didn’t ride a tyrannosaurus made of destruction then nobody would take him seriously. Luckily, he does ride a tyrannosaurus made of destruction. Well, lucky for him at least. Also, Analog is a precious chestnut and to be protected from all harm.

-30-

Terror, Trees, and Truth – Fall Anime 2020 (Week Four) – Season’s Writings

-Kane-

A Face of Evil – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Four)

Hello.

Have you ever thought a situation was going to be bad, only to be proven wrong because everything was actually worse? That’s this episode in a nutshell. After being summoned to rescue five people unable to evacuate in time from something pleasantly known as a “curse womb”, our trio de protagonists find themselves way out of their depth. To be fair, such a scenario is fairly common in this world, apparently, and sorcerers are often forced to deal with curses far stronger than themselves. But hey, nobody said the logistics of fighting creatures beyond the ken of mortals would be easy…not that that reality is comforting in anyway. Still, pitting three first-year students against a special-grade curse is apparently an occurrence as rare as it is dangerous—and it is very dangerous. Yet, despite the intensity of the situation, this is a solid element of world building. Sure our leads can be thrown into terrifying situations, but knowing it is not an entirely unique scenario makes it seem less contrived. This is further aided when the main trio actually do find themselves in danger. There’s no preferential treatment: they run in fear. Sure, Sukuna mops the floor with the special-grade once Itadori switches with him, but it never feels as if any of the cast is truly safe. Kugisaki almost gets eaten, Fushiguro’s summoned spirits are defeated with frightening ease, and Itadori loses his left hand and four fingers from his right. It’s…it’s not a great scenario. When the focus cuts back to Kugisaki—having pivoted to show the horrors beset upon her classmates—she has even seemingly accepted her death, simply vowing to curse the curse trying to consume her. As messed up as it may sound, these moments are what have set Jujutsu Kaisen apart in its early episodes. Though it carries the traditional Shonen tropes of barrelling through adversity with positivity and faith in a dream, along with a tremendous power lurking within, the series balances this with a brutal reality. Sure Itadori wants to save people, but people can be many things. One of the survivors—and I use that term loosely—in this episode killed a young girl during his second offence of driving without a licence, but even he had a mother who wept for him. It makes me curious to see how Itadori will develop as the series progresses, as his naïve ideals have been consistently and subtlety altered since we were first introduced to him.

Speaking of introductions, Sukuna shows off his power in a big way. The guy barely exerts any effort, regrowing extremities and then fending off explosive attacks with them. Still, the series continues to show that Sukuna does not have the interests of Itadori in mind, as healing any injuries their shared body sustained was seemingly accidental and/or reflexive. Sukuna even attempts to goad the special-grade curse into teaming up with him to kill the jujutsu sorcerers, before becoming fed up with herding the now-terrified creature. The series also robs us of any sense of stability when it becomes clear that Sukuna doesn’t care if Itadori dies. Sure, he’ll lose a conscious form, but he can’t willingly control it anyway; additionally, he has eighteen other fingers out there in the world with the potential to resurrect him. It’s a simple fact, but it certainly changes the game. Despite housing a curse that can seemingly dispose of any threat with a flick of the wrist, it doesn’t look like Itadori will be able to play his trump card without the very real possibility that it will kill him…and, like, a whole bunch of other people. Still, Itadori managed to punch the special-grade with a cursed-energy punch; so, that counts for something. Right?

Head to Foot – Iwakakeru -Sport Climbing Girls- (Episode Four)

Shoe-Lady, don’t bother me!

The day has finally arrived; after one whole week of waiting, Konami is ready to tackle Anti-Monkey Rock. So…she does…and she climbs it. That’s about it, to be honest. This episode just opens with Konami beating the one real challenge presented since the series started, which—in case my sarcasm isn’t coming through—sort of robs the moment of any drama. Sure, she’d have to beat the rock eventually, but there was no real lead up. In fact, due to an off-hand line of dialogue, we learn that a month or so has passed since the last episode, rendering any sense of build up moot. Konami is just better at climbing now: deal with it. In fact, we’re already at another climbing competition…I still don’t know most of the main cast. Apart from a passion for climbing, barely any character possesses anything beyond a singular identifying trait. Actually, I was going to begin my list of traits with the protagonists but I’m now realising that they have the least identifiable traits. Sure, creepy Spider-Woman is a shallow character, but at least I know that. I still can’t remember the name of the captain of the protagonists’ team, nor the name of the school they attend; I only remember Nono because she literally has her name written on her shirt sometimes. This episode also cements the concept that notable climbers are given an epithet by somebody, leading me to label upcoming characters Panther-Lady and Ballerina. Speaking of, why is Ballerina being introduced at this point in the story? After outright explaining her backstory and motivation, Ballerina declares herself a rival of Konomi. See, Ballerina attended the same ballet school as Konomi—a school which Konomi excelled at. Did anybody else remember that Konomi took ballet? I sure as heck didn’t. Also, how many things is Konomi supposed to be good at? The series begins by seemingly throwing her out of her comfort zone, but she has an almost prodigious knack for climbing. How are we supposed to buy Konomi as the underdog when we have seen her succeed in literally everything she attempts?

Oh, and if you thought this episode didn’t have some weird moment completely out of left field, fear not. After deciding to help Konomi buy proper climbing gear—a few months into her training—the protagonists visit a local seller…who really likes fitting shoes. Through an insistent use of the word “naked” instead of “bare” when describing feet, we are presented a sequence where it seems the lady who sells climbing gear has felt up each of the main cast…not that the truth is too far off. Just because, Shop-Lady determines which climbing shoes would be the best fit by touch alone…before using her cheek to confirm. Now, I know this entire scenario is just a dumb gag, but it’s also indicative of a pattern in this series: the only actual character interactions are creepy ones. In presenting every character with a single gimmick, beyond a shared love of climbing, everybody seems isolated from one another. I don’t buy that any of these people are friends or teammates; I have no real insight into their relationship with anything except the wall they happen to be climbing. Characters discuss each other via their climbing skills, their techniques, their gear: nobody just wants to hang out and talk. It feels like the characters never share the same space as one another, like a congratulatory high-five would reveal somebody was actually a ghost that nobody could actually see. Now that I think about it, I hope somebody is a ghost: that’d be cool. Oh, everybody in the series also has the hots for Kiku’s dad. So, I guess they are into something other than climbing walls. How about that?

Like Cat and Cat – Haikyu!! To the Top (Episode Seventeen)

Understanding through aggression.

With last week’s venture into the psyche of Tanaka fresh in our minds, Haikyu!! spends yet another week putting volleyball on the back burner. This time around, we’re taking a peek at Nekoma’s match…before immediately being launched into a flashback about Kenma (the team’s setter) and Tora (the team’s hothead). Though a shift from a climactic match, it is certainly refreshing to see how some other fan-favourite characters are doing—and how they were doing long ago. Though always presented as the lazy genius of Nekoma, the Kenma of the past was even more of the former than he is now. This leads to the major conflict of the episode, as Kenma’s lack of effort once clashed with Tora’s intensity in a major way. Now, while the notion of an energetic character taking umbrage with a lazy one is a pretty standard basis for character’s to fight, Haikyu!! does what it always does and provides a more rounded exploration of both sides. Kenma is lazy, but he is also logical and actually does house a desire to win; Tora is energetic, but uses that energy to cover up insecurity. This all comes to a head when Kenma, of all people, calls out Tora for blaming his flawed plays on something as vague as “guts” (and not having enough of them to secure victory). Now, Haikyu!! itself often touts the importance of a fighting spirit, but it also builds its characters to understand that a foundation of skill is needed to support that concept. This episode simply splits those two aspects into their own characters for the purposes of representation. On the surface, the episode’s moral arises when we leave the flashback and see that Kenma and Tora express (within their own mind) that they are clad the other is not on the other team. It’s a nice moment. However, the episode also presents another moral, one that arises when you think about Kenma and Tora’s evolution as individuals. True, one’s still lazy and one’s still energetic, but they have learnt to temper their predominate traits with those they originally maligned: Kenma now leans into his desire to win and Tora places a larger importance on strategy. They’re the same as they ever were, but they’re also not.

This episode also uses Kenma as a vessel to explore a rather rare viewpoint on volleyball: it’s pretty fun. I know that might not sound like a wild idea, but it sort of is when you think about how subdued it is. Haikyu!! is a series about volleyball, and everybody in the series possesses a passion for the sport that burns with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. Kenma just thinks it’s fine. Though he doesn’t hold any particular reason to play the sport, he doesn’t hold any particular reason to not; so, he keeps playing. I mean, why the heck not? This is a series about a high school volleyball team; some people just want to play sport when they’re at school. No grandiose motivation, no lofty dreams or ideals, just an interest in playing. Sure, even a passing interest houses a desire to win, but why does everything have to be so darn intense all the time? Sometimes passion can lead to a darker path, a path where, say, a coach’s strategy revolves entirely around driving one player to exhaustion in order to destabilise a team. A valid strategy? Yes. A mean strategy that makes said coach seem like a jerk? Also yes. Perhaps the true moral of this episode is to moderate your passion with a concern for others, because there’s a difference between winning and making the other team lose. Either that or beware anybody carrying a bucket; they may splash you.

-Luke-

No Time to Dai – Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai (Episode Four)

And just like that, the switch has been flicked: Adventure of Dai just turned things up to eleven. After spending the past three episodes getting to know Dai and a bit of the backstory behind the world at large, episode four has turned everything on its head. We ended last episode with Master Avan transforming into the iconic Dragon Quest dragon monster: the ultimate task in Dai’s training. It seemed that this episode would largely be dealing with that situation; however, things quickly take a shocking turn when The Dark Lord himself rocks up out of nowhere—immediately throwing everything into utter chaos and raising the danger level to unprecedented heights for our lovable hero Dai.

The Dark Lord, we learn, is named Hadlar and had been revived by an even mightier demon, the enigmatic Dark King of the Underworld. Furthermore, we discover that Master Avan was in fact the Hero of Legend that had defeated the Dark Lord all those years ago. It is a twist that I personally did not see coming, yet it is one that makes sense and adds an interesting layer to his connection with Dai.

The episode is largely a battle between Master Avan and Dark Lord Hadlar; however, after entering the fray and managing the draw blood from Hadlar, Dai becomes a target of the Dark Lord as well. Hadlar realises he can’t let any of Avan’s students live, elsewise they may become strong enough to defeat him some day. Hadlar decides to unleash a kill shot on Dai; however, we end on a shocking cliffhanger, with Avan taking the hit himself blocking the blast to save Dai’s life…

All in all, this was probably the best episode of Adventure of Dai yet. The story has well and truly kicked into gear and, with the revelations of this episode, I for one can’t wait to see where the series goes from here. Hadlar is proving to be a truly despicable villain that I can’t wait to see get his ass handed to him in the future by Dai. The ball is absolutely rolling now, and this series has got me hook, line, and sinker.

The Root of the Problem – Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon (Episode Four)

Another week, another episode of Yashahime. Just when I thought that this series couldn’t possibly plunge any further into the realm of nonsense, episode four takes us on a psychedelic trip through a rainbow time vortex that I won’t be forgetting any time soon—for all the wrong reasons.

Episode four opens up with our three leads having lived a period of time in modern-day Japan and having become accustomed to the joys of modern living (Moroha most of all). Things kind of plod along with no real direction until Moroha discovers, somehow, that the demon that Inuyasha and Kagome fought in episode one (named Root-Head) is actually embedded into the root of a tree and is capable of time travelling back to the feudal era. Why is this root demon capable of this ability? Well, it has attached to what is known as the Tree of Ages, I guess? Anyways, Moroha convinces the other two that she can make a deal with Root-Head to time travel them back to the feudal era so they can capture the butterfly that had cursed Setsuna to be unable to sleep, despite the fact that Setsuna repeatedly admits that it actually doesn’t bother her at all and she has become used to not sleeping and doesn’t have any real desire to reverse the curse. But that doesn’t stop Towa and Moroha, who have decided this will be their mission and make a deal with Root-Head to send them back in time.

They all begin travelling through the aforementioned psychedelic rainbow time vortex when they are stopped by the spirit of the Tree of Ages who has taken the form of Kikyo (a character from the original Inuyasha series), because she had shot the tree with her arrow in the original series. The Tree of Ages informs the girls who their parents are—a reveal that has no impact because it was offhandedly revealed in the last episode in expository dialogue for no reason at all. The tree spirit then requests them to kill the Beast King and also for Towa and Setsuna to kill their father Sesshomaru at the same time. This comes entirely out of nowhere. The spirit informs them that the Beast King and Sesshomaru plan to destroy time and the world itself through some plan that isn’t really made clear. Setsuna and Towa refuse to kill their own father, despite having never met him or know anything about him. This causes the tree spirit to unleash Root-Head to attack the girls. They then defeat him in about one minute flat and they awaken outside of the tree in the feudal era.

I don’t understand what this series is trying to accomplish. Why should I, as a viewer, care about lifting the butterfly curse on Setsuna if she herself doesn’t care about it? Why should I have an investment or interest in this tree spirit’s request to kill Sesshomaru and the Beast King—a plot thread that was just offloaded out of nowhere, with little explanation, by a character who literally came out of nowhere—a plot line that seems like it will exist in counter to the girl’s main quest to lift this butterfly curse? It’s like the series can’t decide what story it exactly wants to tell and has little idea of how it wants to tell these stories anyways.

At this point, I am well and truly on board for the ride, but it remains truly frustrating how little we know about our leads or what exactly the narrative being told here is. Time will tell if Yashahime can course correct itself. Hopefully, now that the girls are in the Feudal era, the story can gain some focus. But, as I said in last week’s Writings, I have no reason to have any faith in the series based off what they have delivered thus far. That said, I have come this far; I may as well ride this train to the end of the line, for better or for worse.

I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues – Ikebukuro West Gate Park (Episode Four)

Now that is what I’ve been waiting for! Finally, IWGP has delivered its first truly great episode. This episode was just simply fantastic, both the layers to the plot and the complex mystery that isn’t so black and white. This was a genuinely emotional episode that explored the nature of parenthood and the consequences of an absent parent; the kind of story that made the original IWGP such an instant classic.

We begin our episode with Makoto on a stroll through the back streets of Ikebukuro, when he encounters some flowers placed by an old man at a staircase. It turns out that the old man’s son had been killed five years prior under mysterious circumstances; Makoto promises the old man that he will solve this case and find the truth of who was behind the death of his son. As the episode progresses, we come to see that things aren’t so simple. We learn that the son was actually a gang leader from Ueno, and we come to discover he was far from a perfect person—or even a good person really. The deeper Makoto digs, the more troubling a matter it becomes. He could reveal the truth of who is behind the murder, but in doing so he would unveil the dark life the son had lead and hurt the father who still, five years on, sheds tears for his precious son’s death. It is an interesting moral quandary to say the least: that even a criminal wife beater can still have a parent shed tears for them. It makes Makoto’s decision so much more difficult, as we see Makoto having to reconcile with his own past and absence of a father which has likewise lead to him being entangled in the ganglands of Tokyo.

The episode ultimately reaches a truly emotional climax as the truth eventually comes out. Some truths, as ugly as they may be, have a way of finding their way to the surface eventually, as the tragic spider web of pain that surrounded the final moments of the old man’s son’s life does. He wasn’t a good man, but he was still somebody’s son. It is a tough pill to swallow, and it is one that IWGP doesn’t shy away from. The father assesses that he was too absent a parent and had failed his son, he promises to meet him again soon and apologise for not being there for him. You can’t help but feel in this moment that Makoto wishes that his own father would speak those words to him. It is a truly understated final moment, as the old man’s beloved jazz music plays us out into the ending theme.

All in all, this was without a doubt the best episode of IWGP yet, and I for one hope to see more episodes like it in the future for this series. This was a special episode in every regard: a must watch, to say the very least.

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An Endless-Fates Escape – Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning – Humble Opinions

Back when the original Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning came out, I simply fell in love with the massive open world, the fluid hack and slash mechanics, well-thought-out story, fantastical lore, and decent crafting and looting system. It was a game that felt way ahead of its time and while I never actually finished the game—because I got lost in the seemingly endless side quests—I was truly excited to get back into the game on PC with the new remaster: Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning.

Now, I want to get something out of the way, there are a vocal few disappointed by the remaster, as there wasn’t any tangible texture improvements, but to that I say: there really didn’t need to be. With the newly included super-sampling, the game’s textures look cleaner and crisper—while still maintaining the same art style and feel.

Another addition are the camera features which allow for adjustments to camera height, field of view, and camera distance. This small change is a big quality-of-life addition, as in the original I found the game’s camera to be way too close and restricting. These new changes make the game feel a lot more open and makes combat flow a lot better—due to not having to fight with the camera.

Another feature added was the Very Hard difficulty, which I found, for the most part, to be too difficult and time consuming to progress through and switched back to the Normal. I found that combat was a decent bit challenging; however, half way through the game—at Klurikon—I hit a bit of a wall with my Finesse\Sorcery build, where I was too weak to take down the regular enemies. I basically spent all of my money and items to switch to a full Might build, which got me back on track.

Near the last quarter of the game, however, I found myself struggling against ranged enemies like the Tuatha Priests. I was quickly overwhelmed by the constant barrage of enemy attacks that brought me into stun lock through nearly impossible to dodge magic attacks and overwhelming melee attacks, one after the other. This made me prioritise attacking the ranged characters, so I could then focus on the rest. I feel that the game wasn’t designed with this excess mix of ranged and melee and could have been tweaked through attack-cancelling dodges and a limitation on how many enemies can attack in timed order. Playing the game in Very Hard would have only expanded that issue, especially due to the difficulty only being scaled artificially through health, damage, and durability.

Regardless of the small issues that have always been present in the game and the minor quality-of-life improvements added in, I think the game definitely stands the test of time. The real question is: is it worth getting? If you’ve never played Kingdoms of Amalur before and you enjoy games such as Witcher 3 or Skyrim, this remaster is a must buy. If you’ve played it before and would like to relive the game again with some slight upgrades, definitely consider it. If, however, you’re looking for a new or fresh experience, I’d say wait until the new DLC comes out.

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Burning Rubber – Ride 4 – Humble Opinions

Since the series’ inception back in 2015, the Ride series has proven with each instalment to be staking its claim as the best motorcycle racing game on the market. Now, with Ride 4, we get the most complete and polished iteration of developer Milestone S.r.l’s vision for the motorcycle racing video game genre. If Forza Motorsport was a revolutionary take on the motorsport gaming experience, Ride 4 is the same kind of revolution for motorcycle racers. It is, simply put, the game that motorcycle racing fans have been waiting for.

Ride 4 builds upon the incredible game design of the previous Ride instalments, with a plethora of new features and modes that are sure to delight motorcycle enthusiasts and Ride fans alike. There are immersive, advanced customisation options new to Ride 4, as well as the very interesting new AI system developed by Milestone S.r.l—which will adapt to the way you play, changing as the game goes on.

The new Career Mode will, however, likely be the bulk of the experience for those who want to sink their teeth into the core Ride 4 experience, as you participate in races and progress by completing different challenges and achieving different goals. The Career Mode is truly a deep experience, and you’ll likely find yourself sinking hours upon hours into this mode alone. There is a lot to see and do here, and it definitely takes some cues from the Forza Motorsport series; that is only a good thing, to say the very least.

Visually and aesthetically, the game is utterly gorgeous. With the new dynamic lighting and weather system implemented for Ride 4, it looks rather close to photorealism at times. This may very well be the best looking racer on the market at the moment and is truly an astonishing accomplishment from Milestone S.r.l. It is, honestly, just a very impressive looking game.

All in all, there is so much content in this game that Ride fans and motorcycle racing fans alike will be more than excited to dive into. The gameplay is smooth and easy to jump right into for first time players, but as you progress you’ll come to discover the nuance and layered gameplay that is on show here in Ride 4.

This is really a game that was made with passion, detail, and care from a developer that has largely spent its entire lifespan working to craft the ultimate motorcycle racing video game, and, with Ride 4, it looks like they may be closer to achieving that goal than ever before. This is an absolute must get for motorcycle lovers.

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Salutations, Shame, and Subscribers – Fall Anime 2020 (Week Three) – Season’s Writings

-Kane-

Meeting Is Such Bitter Joy – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Three)

First impressions are the most concerning.

In this episode, our duo (trio if you count Blindfold) becomes a trio (quartet if you count Blindfold). Side note: I still don’t know Blindfold’s name off the top of my head. Regardless, our lead characters are joined by a girl from the countryside who just makes the most charming first impression. Side note: I am being very sarcastic. From the second she is introduced, Nobara (I looked up her name) makes all manner of assumptions based solely on how Yuji and Fushiguro introduce themselves. Though abrasive, people aren’t generally chummy with everybody they’ve met for all of ten seconds; so, realistically, it tracks. What confuses me, however, is the fact that Nobara’s entire backstory revolves around her hatred for the people of her hometown, whose judgemental nature drove her friend to move away. Again, human nature is fickle, but boy does it set up a contradictory meeting. Nobara does show moments of joviality, geeking out with Yuji about the highlights of the big city, but she quickly returns to her prickly self. Still, Nobara knows how to weaponise nails, and that’s cool. The aura surrounding her nails—the construction kind, by the way, not her fingernails—looks cool and their unearthly, precise movements add to the mystery of her manner of exorcism. This episode also establishes that she has much more room to grow, having only dealt with countryside Curses—who are canonically stupider than those from the city. It’s an interesting mechanic of the universe, as it allows Nobara to enter the story with inherent skill, but still be on the same playing field as her classmates. This also somewhat contrasts Yuji, whose raw power and confidence make up for his lack of knowledge and allow him to stand on said playing field. I’m not sure how Fushiguro fits into this metaphor yet, but I’m sure we’ll learn in time.

All in all, this episode existed to show where our characters are starting from. Nobara seems to have knowledge, but needs to work on her emotional fortitude; Yuji has the fortitude, but needs to work on his knowledge. And speaking of fortitude and knowledge: what the heck was up with that kid they saved? First of all, why was he in an abandoned building? Second, how did he not absolutely lose his mind when he was held hostage by a monster? And third, how did they just let him go home afterwards? Are they just banking on the fact his parents won’t believe him? Did they wipe his memory with magic? Are they going to pay for his therapy? I know it isn’t the point of the episode, but gee whiz. Oh, and on the topic of things that are slightly off topic: what was up with Fushiguro agreeing with Nobara that eating Sukuna’s finger was a gross thing for Yuji to do? I mean, they’re not wrong, but Yuji did that to save Fushiguro; the guy could have a little respect. So, anyway…Nobara turned up this episode; I guess that’s the main takeaway. Oh, and she also has voodoo magic that makes Curses explode. It’s both cool and gross.

Body Blow – Iwakakeru -Sport Climbing Girls- (Episode Three)

Nono, don’t phunk with her heart.

In this episode, we learn that climbing requires a tremendous amount of physical fortitude. I mean, we already knew this—on account of climbing being a sport that makes you tired by watching it—but this episode really drives this point home. One rather callous example of this learning process comes when Nono calls Konomi “chubby”…and nobody even slightly disagrees. Now, I understand that athletes possess a more honed physical form than the average person, but in what world is Konomi chubby? It’s not even that Nono makes a point that Konomi needs to build muscle and stamina—which is the purported reasoning behind the training—she just tells her that she should lose weight. What’s weird to me is that it seemed like this was going to play out as a joke, with somebody bonking Nono on the head for being mean…but that never happens. Instead, Konomi just spends a portion of the episode repeating the word “chubby” over and over. It’s all just kinda mean. And even ignoring the concept of body types, the reality is that each character in this series looks pretty much the same: art-wise, there’s not much variation. I think the furthest the shows delves into that territory is giving Jun visible abs. Even when getting emotional, the character’s faces don’t stray too far from their resting position; it all just makes the characters feel…samey. I’m not sure if that’s why characters tend to verbalise every thought they have, at least to themselves, but it certain helps clarify what emotion they’re feeling at any given time. Of course, the visuals could also do that, but beggars can’t be choosers.

As far as actual plot goes, the team is really throwing Konomi into the deep end. Though she is fresh to the sport, part of her acclimatisation comes in the form of Anti-Monkey Rock—aptly named for being a boulder that even creatures notorious for climbing cannot traverse. Also, how are a group of fifteen-year-old girls allowed to just travel Japan to climb a dangerous rock? Is there no supervision in this world? Well, we know the answer to that last one, on account of us meeting one of Japan’s greatest climbers…who has been letting his daughter climb since before she was in middle school. Also, his daughter is currently in middle school. Still, Kiku—said daughter—is a pretty fun addition to the cast. With a relative monotone, she dubs Konomi her Master (in gaming), sends the hardest path on Anti-Monkey Rock, and posits that she wouldn’t even mind Konomi becoming her mother (based on her extrapolating Konomi’s comment about it being good that Kiku loves her father). Honestly, I feel like we know more about Kiku than we do about Nono or…the blonde girl who leads the team. You know, the captain-y one? Also, how old is Kiku’s father supposed to be? Dude’s got long white hair, but he’s drawn like a twenty-year-old. S’weird.

Strength of Character – Haikyu!! To the Top (Episode Sixteen)

Tanaka’s always relentless.

Okay, who was the person that decided to call back to the most heart wrenching episode of Haikyu!!? Because I will find them, and I will give them a stern talking to. That’s right, we’re once again shown elements of when Tanaka mistakes his childhood friend’s brother for her boyfriend, giving up on any chances for romance. This, of course, is made worse by the fact that Kanoka—the childhood friend—actually has feelings for Tanaka…and is also adorable. Needless to say, this less-than-ideal romantic scenario has left Tanaka little off his game, a fact that Inarizaki is quick to exploit. Though exploiting an opponents weakness is a fairly standard strategy, Haikyu!! once again uses this facet of sport to villainise Karasuno’s current rival. We care about Tanaka, we understand his emotions; hell, we were there when it all happened. All we know about Inarizaki is that they’re trying to exploit the conflicted mental state of Tanaka. The jerks. That being said, this situation does give us some insight into one of the more overlook members of Karasuno and how others perceive him. Simply put, a lot of people respect Tanaka’s forthright nature and marvel at his ability to remain so stalwart in his beliefs. It’s honestly an interesting and rather heart-warming viewpoint on a character who is normally just relegated to being “the loud one”. That being said, our glimpse into Tanaka’s thoughts during this match show that his will is not unflappable. Being surrounded by such amazing players, Tanaka occasionally finds himself depressed by his relative averageness—once every six months or so, if we’re to believe him. However, these bouts of melancholy are rather swiftly quashed by Tanaka’s simple desire to not give up. Heck, Tsukishima doesn’t even notice that Tanaka was ever mentally out of sorts at all. Sure that point is played as a joke, but it does show how each player perceives the match in their own way.

So yeah, this episode is mostly about Tanaka showing how powerful optimism can be. Maybe not even optimism, maybe just a desire to progress. That’s what everybody respects Tanaka for, after all: his ability to persevere. Heck, the dude even has the crowd cheering specifically for him. I mean, Karasuno even takes the first set in this episode and that’s almost a backdrop to Tanaka’s story. Think about that: the volleyball takes a backseat. The volleyball in Haikyu!! That’s an impressive feat. Also, mad props to Yu Hayashi—Tanaka’s voice actor—for his performance in this episode. It takes a certain skill to make a full-volume scream sound subtly forced and insincere. Also, I never thought the word “left” would ever carry such emotional and thematic resonance. Admit it, you didn’t either. Right?

-Luke-

Dark Lord Rising – Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai (Episode Three)

And just like that, we get an answer to the question we were left with last week. The Dark Lord is indeed back, and his dark influence is beginning to affect the monsters on Dai’s island as well. Lucky for Dai, Master Avan and his apprentice Popp rock up at just the right time to put a protection spell over the island and the monsters impacted. From here, the episode focuses on Dai as he begins to train under the tutelage of Master Avan.

The majority of this episode is made up of training segments, such as Avan tasking Dai to run with boulders and rocks tied to his back or having Dai attempt to slice a boulder in half. Dai appears to show great talent in sword play, something that Avan takes note of. Furthermore, while it appeared last week that Dai had now mastered casting magic, it is back to square one with Dai unable to cast even the most basic of spells.

This was overall a bit of a breeze of an episode, it went by very fast and yet, unlike prior episodes, it didn’t feel like as much happened. That said, we are left with quite a doozy of a cliffhanger with the appearance of the iconic Dragon Quest dragon monster—which looks to put Dai’s newfound abilities to the test next week. For now, this ultimately felt like a bit of a pit-stop episode, despite it finally kicking the series plot into gear with the Dark Lord rearing his ugly head. I’m excited to see where things go as the series ramps up into more serialised story telling, going forward, rather than “enemy of the week” affairs that we have been subjected to thus far. All in all, this was a slower—yet necessary—reset episode that is laying the groundwork for the battles to come with the Dark Lord and his minions.

Nonsense Neverland – Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon (Episode Three)

Let me begin by saying: what in the hell did I just watch? Seriously, that has to be one of the most schizophrenic anime episodes I have ever watched in my life. It begins where we left off last week, with Towa saving the others from the centipede demon and breaking her sword in the process. We see her finish off the centipede demon pretty quickly here and then try to reconcile with her sister Setsuna—only Setsuna doesn’t remember having a sister at all. Setsuna challenges Towa to a fight to prove she is her sister. How a fight would prove someone is your sibling, I have no idea. Towa naturally doesn’t want to fight, but coincidentally a parasitic tree-root demon appears suddenly out of nowhere, takes control of Towa, and decides to fight Setsuna. Next thing we know, Towa summons a light sabre out of nowhere and brings the fight hard to Setsuna. Demon-Possessed Towa is absolutely dominating this fight until, for no explicable reason, the demon decides to switch vessels and take control of Towa’s present-day adoptive sister, Mei (a little girl with no spiritual powers at all). It is at this point Setsuna reveals she has a spell that puts everyone to sleep and also has a potion that immediately kills the demon, removing it from Mei’s body. The episode ends with all the girls at Towa’s house where we learn that due to a curse placed on her by a butterfly, Setsuna has never in her life been able to sleep. The episode ends there.

None of that episode made any logical sense; it seemed like we were going from one random scenario to the next without any rhyme or reason. There was a brief scene in the past where characters just straight up announce that Towa and Setsuna are actually the daughters of Sesshomaru, not Inuyasha and Kagome as thought. However, Moroha the bounty hunter may actually be the daughter of Kagome and Inuyasha according to present-day grandma, who is certain of her parentage simply by looking at her eyes. This series is about as subtle as a brick to the jaw when it comes to its narrative delivery and about as nuanced as a sledgehammer to the groin when it comes to its dialogue. Characters just say things because the plot needs them to, not because it makes sense for them to say that.

This was a massive step backwards for Yashahime, which continues to struggle finding its footing. It’s now been three episodes and this series still seems to have trouble getting going. This is not a good sign for things to come. I don’t know how many episodes this anime is supposed to be, but it doesn’t appear to be trying to get anywhere in a hurry. This was an absolute mind-boggling disaster of an episode that made less sense with each passing second. I hope that the series can course correct, going forward, but these first three episodes have done little to inspire much hope from me that the team behind the series have any clue what they are doing with this anime.

Going Viral – Ikebukuro West Gate Park (Episode Three)

This week on IWGP, we follow Makoto as he investigates a popular YouTuber in Ikebukuro at the behest of G-Boys leader, King. The YouTuber has gone viral for his bizarre videos, which feature him eating raw onions in a variety of strange locations around Ikebukuro. Things take a turn when a rival YouTube channel begins to make violent threats against the onion eater. Makoto organizes for the G-Boys to watch over the viral star and protect him from the gorilla-masked YouTubers who seek to prevent his fifth-anniversary special video.

As Makoto digs deeper into the matter, several members of the G-Boys are jumped—which does not sit well with their leader “King” Takashi. Ultimately, it turns out that things aren’t quite what they seem with the viral star. We see the lengths at which these social media “celebrities” are willing to go in order to maintain their status. It is an interesting social commentary and the first episode of IWGP thus far that feels like it is stepping out of the shadow of the live-action drama that preceded it, making its own path with a unique, modern take on the Ikebukuro cultural landscape.

I was pleased to see that this episode injected some much needed comedic relief into the series, and I think this case may be the most focused and well conceived one yet. It is worth noting that the Red Angels that we were introduced to somewhat last episode, have essentially taken a backseat. I hope that we will get to see more of them, going forward, as the gangland warfare is a big part of what made the live-action dramas.

Overall, this episode was a nice return to form for IWGP that shows the series can really hit the sweet spot by not simply trying to recreate the live-action drama, but by adapting it for modern audiences; understanding what works and what doesn’t in this format.

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FIFA for Anime Fans – Captain Tsubasa: Rise of Champions – Humble Opinions

Football video games are trotted out by the year with little more than a face lift. Yet football fanatics, loyal as they are, purchase the latest FIFA or PES game each year without fail—mostly because the franchises have earned the trust of the players. The games play very well and are simple yet complex, meaning they can be enjoyed by both casual and hardcore players alike; it is undoubted that these football video games are very fun. Enter Captain Tsubasa: Rise of Champions—an anime fan’s FIFA game.

Whether you are in the know about the legendary Captain Tsubasa football anime series or not, there are all the hallmarks of both a great football game and a great anime game here. Not unlike Captain Tsubasa‘s modern equivalent Inazuma Eleven, the players in the game are able to use supernatural abilities to spice up the play with some wild and explosive shots and manoeuvres.

Gameplay-wise, the core foundation of the game is in the football matches themselves. If you have ever played a FIFA game, the football mechanics here won’t come as any surprise. The developers have taken their inspiration from FIFA and PES undoubtedly for the basic football mechanics, with a top down overview of the field. However, things are shaken up with the inclusion of power moves; each player has a variety of moves that can be employed. These special moves range between awesome looking and absolutely ludicrous, but they do enough to give Captain Tsubasa‘s gameplay that anime touch that would likely entice anime fans into giving the game a go.

In terms of career modes, the game offers two possible options. There is the Episode Tsubasa mode which follows the story of the anime and has you following the journey of Tsubasa Ozora himself. The second career mode is Episode New Hero, which allows you to create your own character and play through an original story mode—somewhat similar to the Player Career mode in the FIFA series. Both modes are excellent in their own rights, giving you the option to revisit the story of the anime series, for the hardcore Tsubasa fans, or engage in your own journey and carve out your own football legacy.

Visually, the game is superb and it features a very well composed soundtrack, to boot. The aesthetic style of the Captain Tsubasa anime is perfectly captured here and truly comes alive during the vibrant and exciting power move sequences. There isn’t much more you could ask for in terms of graphics, as the game faithfully recreates some of the anime series’ greatest moments in upscaled visuals for a modern era.

All in all, Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions is a game that is sure to please the most hardcore of Captain Tsubasa fans, while also proving to be an exciting football game for fans of the FIFA or PES video games. Its play style is both familiar yet fresh, and it is sure to please almost anyone who is looking for a fun football game—regardless if they are an anime fan or not.

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Competition, Coups, and Chronology – Fall Anime 2020 (Week Two) – Season’s Writings

-Kane-

 A Reason to Die – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Two)

Bad end.

If there was one thing I would not expect to come after chowing down on a demonic finger, it would be seconds. Yep, it looks like Yuji’s decision to ingest Sukuna’s finger is set to take him on a demonically gourmet quest: to eat the other nineteen fingers. Oh, Sukuna had four arms, by the by, hence the twenty digits. Double oh, Yuji already ate a second one to prove his resolve—and his ability to actually serve as a vessel. Essentially, Blindfold convinced the Council of Scared Old-Fashioned Guys to hold off on executing Yuji until he has eaten all of Sukuna’s fingers, as killing a vessel kills the curse within them. It’s not the worst plan, and it’ll definitely make the series last longer than if they killed him right now. I’m certain we’ll eventually learn why Yuji is so special, and it’ll probably have to do with the parents that his grandfather kept attempting to discuss, but that’s a chat for a later date. As for now, Yuji has been transferred to a school in which he can learn jujutsu…which I’m assuming is what Fushiguro used to fight curses. I mean, it has to be important: it’s in the name of the series. Either way, Yuji managed to transfer by proving himself to the principal; figuring out his true motivation for choosing to consume the pieces of Sukuna, rather than vying for a quicker death. Rather than relying on the emotionality of his grandfather’s dying wish, Yuji is immediately forced to forgo said wish as his source of motivation. The principal notes how following this path based on the words of another will lead to Yuji cursing them in moments of strife; that his lack of personal responsibility will do more harm than good. By the way, this comes hot off the heels of a scene where Yuji places his recently-cremated grandfather’s bones into an urn. I don’t claim to understand the funeral practices of Japan, nor am I in any position to denounce them, but I did not expect that to be a apart of the process. It’s just, why make the grieving family pick up bone fragments with chopsticks? It just, it just all took me by surprise.

Regardless, and assuming this is an actual practice in the real world, Jujutsu Kaisen continues to build an interesting relationship with death. Though it at times plays out like a typical Shonen, this series is surprisingly blunt when it comes to serious issues. Yuji’s grandfather died. He got to pass on a wish, but there was no pomp to it: he just stopped being alive. Even then, his final wish is not a force unto itself and is immediately undermined. Nothing is inherently special in this series, and that’s cool. Sure, Yuji is the only one who can contain Sukuna—apart from that mouth Sukuna likes to sprout on Yuji’s body, for the purposes of smack-talking—but even then the council in charge wanted to kill him…the jerks. Still, I hope Jujutsu Kaisen continues to treat its characters and world with this level of maturity and respect: it’ll make for a good time if it does. Also, eating Sukuna’s fingers will never not be gross.

The Cat That Ate Crow – Iwakakeru -Sport Climbing Girls- (Episode Two)

Mew Mew attitude in your face!

And, just like that, we’re already in a competition story. Sure, it wraps up by the end of the episode, but these things usually take some time to build up to. Regardless, we are introduced to a few more key players in the world of climbing, and they are all…annoying…or creepy. Between the girl who speaks entirely in cat puns (good job, subtitling team), the girl who adds “-kurusu” to the end of every sentence, and the spider-woman who may or may not have violated the cat-pun girl in the dressing room—just another example of some light-hearted anime groping—I’m not sure who I want to see less of. Oh, and that whole “light-hearted anime groping” thing was heavily laced with sarcasm—Japan is weird sometimes…like, borderline criminally. Anyway, since literally every character is defined by their obsession with climbing, the series seems to be walking the path of making the opponents of our main cast, just, the worst. Cat-Puns, for example, employs a beautiful usage of “tell, don’t show” and explains, to herself, that she despises anybody new to the sport of climbing because they might be better than her—as Jun had once previously done. Spider-Woman seemingly delights in watching girls’ faces contort in any manner of emotion, be it sadness or joy, and just has her creep-smile on lock. Kurusu—yes, she just adds her own name to the end of every sentence—is essentially an idol in the climbing world, with “cute” being her brand. Fun fact: cute can also be annoying. The episode also lists off a few more future-important characters, each with their own climbing epithet—which I’m assuming will also be their only defining trait. Okay, maybe I’m being a bit mean, but it just seems like every character is a vessel to tout the awesomeness of climbing; nothing more.

As far as the actual events of this episode, it was nice that Konomi failed at her attempts to send (climb). Sure, that definitely sounds mean, but having her immediately succeed would have made no sense. Jun herself notes that Konomi is in a competition before she even knows the basics of climbing. As it stands, Konomi is potential; with correct training she will be able to utilise her analytical mind to the fullest. Still, she did achieve a moral victory by besting Cat-Puns—which is nice. Regardless, Konomi has been bitten by the climbing bug, and it looks like her previous successes in gaming have given her a taste for victory, sorry, a taste for “chicken dinner”. It’s a gamer thing, you wouldn’t understand.

Passed Experiences – Haikyu!! To the Top (Episode Fifteen)

Block memories.

As the match with Inarizaki continues, we see Karasuno run through some of their tried and true plays: Yamaguchi is called in as a pinch server, Tsukishima uses read blocking to shut down spikes, and the synchronised attack makes a return. Now, that might not make a whole bunch of sense on its own, but I’m assuming anybody reading this has watched Haikyu!! before (this being the fourth season and all). Hinata even brings in some classic manoeuvres of other teams, using his memories of “annoying blockers” to halt Inarizaki’s attacks. Though a facet of Hinata’s seemingly simplistic style, it’s actually a pretty genius move: he knows what has blocked his quick in the past, so why not use that knowledge to stop those mimicking his move? Still, having Hinata stumble upon this idea in an attempt to be a more imposing blocker is pretty funny. This evolution of playstyle is also noted in some of the usual sideline chatter that comprises a fair portion of this series. Though one person notes how dejected Hinata must feel at having his signature move stolen, another counters by musing how freeing it must feel knowing that there are setters beyond Kageyama capable of enacting the quick. It’s not the most dramatically presented aspect of the episode, but it may be the most important. Sure the series has seen Hinata develop as an individual player, but there’s always an overhanging notion that he is only half of a powerhouse; it’s nice that the series is even floating the idea that he can be strong by himself…you know, but still in a team. Anyway, speaking of floating, it’s always nice to be reminded that Yamaguchi is a powerful force for Karasuno. Though his panic over not being able to see the exit sign—his method of focusing in a chaotic game—seemed to be setting him up as the reason for Inarizaki winning the first set, it instead led to a nice moment where his coach in serving helped him focus and ace a point. That’s really all I wanted to say about that moment: it was nice.

Though on paper this episode was a showcase of Karasuno’s trusted plays, and similarly series’ favourite moments, it all just felt…flat. After a brief investigation (by which I mean searching on the internet), my thoughts were confirmed by learning that this particular episode was outsourced to another animation studio. Now, I don’t claim to understand the process of producing an anime, nor do I deride anybody for the creation of this episode…but the animation change showed. I mean, the models were generally fine, but character’s movements lacked the impact that make this series so fun to watch. Every play in this episode just seemed to blend together into one long stretch that felt like, like mouthing along to a song: everything should match up in theory, but people can sense a lack of force, a lack of power. Here’s hoping everything is back to normal—or better—next week: I want to feel this match, not just watch it.

-Luke-

Dai Another Day – Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai (Episode Two)

There appears to be a theme here: since the fall of the Dark Lord, monsters are no longer under his influence; however, the worst aspects of humans appears to be heightened. Now, it would be a rather interesting idea for Adventure of Dai to explore, if it is the case, that without having to unite against a common enemy in the Dark Lord, humans would turn against one another. However, with the ending of the episode indicating that the Dark Lord may somehow have returned, I’d be willing to bet that the Dark Lord is somehow influencing these humans to “be bad”. We will see as the series continues I’m sure.

As for this episode, it was another fun, enclosed story where Dai is tasked with aiding a princess by the name of Leona to traverse a particular cave on his home island. However, things quickly go awry when its revealed that Leona’s men are enacting a coup, planning to kill her in the cave and steal her place on the throne. Of course, our ever plucky hero Dai has something to say about this and we get a pretty good fight between Dai and the Killer Machine mecha, with fantastic animation to boot. This episode, like the first, is plentiful when it comes to references to the video games.

Over the course of the episode, we learn that despite being able to bind with spells, Dai is simply incapable of pulling one of them off. That is until he awakens some kind of special form, and he finds himself able to hit spells like Sizzle and Kaswoosh. We don’t really get an explanation yet of what this mysterious special form of Dai is, but no doubt we will see more it the episodes to come. Speaking of which, it looks like the series will finally kick into full gear with it’s main plot looking to take off in the next episode, judging by the preview. I for one am really enjoying the pacing of The Adventure of Dai and the superb animation, which mixes old-school style with modern technique to brilliant effect. Adventure of Dai is easily the most straight-up fun anime series airing at the moment. It’s simple fun Shonen goodness that we need in this day and age. It remains my favourite of the season thus far.

The Second First Episode – Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon (Episode Two)

After the baffling first episode of Yashahime that aired last week, which felt more like a lost episode of Inuyasha, Yashahime asks for a mulligan—for a second go around at its first episode, to admittedly better results. This episode opens up by giving us a look at the backstory of our two leads, Towa and Setsuna, and, in doing so, seemingly acts as if the previous episode never happened. We learn that Towa and Setsuna both grew up in the forest in ancient times and were separated when Towa was sucked into a time vortex and flung into modern day Japan. So, the two sisters had been separated across time. However, due to the last episode seemingly being set chronologically after this episode we already know that the sister reunite and appear to be working together, which makes the choice of airing last weeks episode as the first episode of the series all the more confusing.

After seeing the sisters separated, both time-skip ten years ahead and we are reintroduced to them in their respective time periods, now in their teens. Towa struggles to stay in school as due to her inherent super strength she often finds herself the target of local gang members, which has caused her to have to be transferred to other schools. Setsuna, however, has been training in ancient times and is now a demon hunter. By episodes end, the same time vortex that opened ten years earlier conveniently opens once again and transports Setsuna, a weird centipede demon, and a demon bounty hunter by the name of Moroha, into the current day. Somehow, Towa is able to immediately recognize Setsuna by sight and smell, jumps into battle to help her, and our episode basically ends there.

This was a much better introductory episode than the first was, but there is still a lot left to be desired here. I feel the pacing is all over the shop, and it feels rushed. I definitely would have positioned this as the first episode of the series, as it establishes our leads and gives us a general idea what the show is all about. It’s a shame we had to wait until week two to get it, because, honestly, the first episode is just a write off at this point. I’m not sure what to think of this series so far: I want to like it, but its not making it easy for me. That said, this is a markedly better outing than the first episode, and hopefully the series will continue to build on the foundations that this episode has laid.

One last thing worth noting is that the episode raised several points regarding gender fluidity in regards to Towa. Several characters complain or question her decision to dress like a boy in a rather tactless manner to be sure. There is a moment where Towa ruminates on the idea that women must be feminine and men must be masculine; however, we don’t get any elaboration on that just yet. I’d be curious to see if this is a topic the series chooses to explore more, going forward.

Dirty Dancing – Ikebukuro West Gate Park (Episode Two)

Picking up where last episode let off, we are informed that a mysterious new figure has rocked up at Ikebukuro: a mysterious red-haired dancer. After performing for an astonished audience at the titular West Gate Park, the dancer begins to build a following of sorts that winds up taking the form of the gang known as the Red Angels. The episode mostly diverts from the topic of the Red Angels from here and explores a corrupt Curry restaurant chain, but as Makoto and King dive deeper into the corrupt chain they realize that the Red Angels may actually be involved with the matter.

Unlike last episode, I felt this episode was lacking the same narrative focus. It was trying to introduce us to the Red Angels as a rival gang to King’s G-Boys, while also having Makoto and King have to solve the “case” of the corrupt Curry restaurant and the shady back-alley beatings of employees of the business. It does an alright job at it, but it still felt like a bit of a lop-sided episode, pacing-wise.

One thing that is becoming clearer to me, now that we are two episodes in, is that this anime version of IWGP is somewhat lacking in the comedic department. One of the things that I loved about the live-action drama was that it had somewhat of a wicked sense of humour. That sense of humour has yet to make an appearance in the anime, which has thus far focused primarily on being “cool” and “serious”. Which I suppose is fine and if that’s more in line with the original source material I understand; however, I would like the absurdity of this Ikebukuro world to be addressed with some comedy from time to time.

Overall, I thought this was a bit of a step backwards from the first episode, but I understand that this episode is all about laying the groundwork for things to come: what with the introduction of the Red Angels as a rival to the G-Boys giving us a taste of what can happen when a new force enters the city of Ikebukuro and how they can disturb the balance that Makoto works so hard to maintain.

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Claire de Lune – Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition – Humble Opinions

After an eleven-year break, the spin-off series of the Final Fantasy franchise returns with the remastered edition of the game that started it all way back in 2003: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition. Given new life on the Switch, PS4, and mobile devices—with online cross play between the platforms—the remastered edition is an ambitious effort from Square Enix, to say the very least. Unfortunately, its own ambition may have ultimately proved to be its defining flaw.

Generally speaking, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition plays relatively identically to the original GameCube title—more a dungeon-crawling action RPG than the typical Final Fantasy formula. The crux of the original game was its multiplayer mode, which was truly where the game shined. Rather disappointingly, the remastered edition launched with a plethora of issues that plagued the online multiplayer mode, making it impossible to play the multiplayer mode for the first several weeks after launch (a problem that plagued Oceania region more so than other regions). That said, after ultimately patching the issues and correcting things, the game plays generally fine online; however, when doing cross-play there can be some hiccups here and there. Making this game a cross-playable multiplayer extravaganza was an ambitious undertaking for Square Enix, one that they ultimately failed to pull off.

Putting aside the multiplayer mode, the game’s single-player dungeon-crawling gameplay is every bit as superb as it was back in 2003. Fans of the original game will no doubt feel a sense of nostalgia as they make their way through the single-player campaign, encountering iconic characters such as Stiltzkin the moogle. Those new to the game will surely find Crystal Chronicles an easy game to jump into and get a good grasp of. The game is simple yet addictive. You are tasked with making your way through a variety of dungeons, defeating bosses, and acquiring some crystal for your chalice.

Crystal Chronicles feels like a game that was meant to be on the Nintendo Switch. One can’t help but the wonder if it may have been a better idea to focus on the Switch rather than have the game on multiple platforms. The game plays wonderfully on the Switch; however, when attempting cross-play, you are more than likely to encounter a variety of issues that will prevent enjoying the game to the fullest. However, playing between two Switch consoles, you are able to enjoy dungeon-crawling together as a party without much disruption.

Visually, the game looks a lot crisper and smoother than the original 2003 title. That said, there hasn’t been much of an overhaul here visually. The game for the most part looks like it did when it was originally released, just with a nice coat of polish to tidy things up.

Ultimately, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is not the incredible remaster we had hoped it would be (based on our preview of the title). However, the game is a fine dungeon crawler that will surely please fans of the original game as well as newcomers. It is just a shame that the game couldn’t live up to the idea of the cross-platform dungeon-crawling wonderland that we had hoped it could be. Sometimes, there is such a thing as being too ambitious.

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Drums, Dragons, and Demons – Fall Anime 2020 (Week One) – Season’s Writings

-Kane-

Finger Food – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode One)

You are what you eat: cursed…not…not a finger.

On the long list of things I would never do with the severed body part of an ancient being, eating it would be pretty dang high up there. Though I suppose that’s why I’m not the one imbued with the power of a curse powerful enough to be labelled a “special threat” even when correctly stored. So yes, much like Blue DragonJujutsu Kaisen seems like it will follow the story of somebody who decided that consumption is nine-tenths the law of the jungle. Though definitely an unexpected turn in the grand scheme of things, the series sort of tipped its hand when Yuji asked why anything would try to eat a cursed object—in this case a severed finger—only to be told that doing so would grant the consumer tremendous power. Still, it was decidedly cool to see somebody oblivious of the potential dangers turn the opponents strategy against them—the “opponents” in this case being horrific abominations known as Curses. There is also certainly a greater reason for Yuji’s one-in-a-million reaction to eating the finger—allowing the spirit to whom the finger belongs to reincarnate, rather than simply dying from the influx of power—but those are questions for another day. Okay…I might ask just one of those questions today: how is Yuji so strong? The guy destroys world records in sprinting and shotput by a country mile, and people are simply shocked. I mean, anyone would be shocked, but how is this guy not a way bigger deal?

Regardless, this episode did a fairly solid job at inviting us into this twisted world and even managed to create a fairly poignant moment between two characters we barely know. Yuji’s interpretation of his grandfather’s dying message is also fairly interesting: everyone deserves a proper death. Yuji knows that he can’t stop death from claiming people, he just wants it to hold back until a fairer moment. Though this ultimately amounts to Yuji fighting Curses all the same, it’s a more complete mentality than one usually sees in these action-packed series. Which I suppose feeds into my biggest takeaway from this episode: it’s interesting. I’m interested to see what comes next…assuming it isn’t actually Yuji’s immediate execution. You know…because he ate a finger.

Up Is the Game – Iwakakeru -Sport Climbing Girls- (Episode One)

The solution’s on the wall.

If there is one thing that anime has taught me, it’s that screaming is a tremendous way to tap into one’s hidden potential. Also, on a more relevant note, school clubs are super-duper important. So much so that Iwakakeru doesn’t even bother introducing us the regular school life, it just blazes straight into our protagonist, Konomi, on the hunt for a club. Luckily for her, and the premise of this series, her school is loaded and has its own rock-climbing wall. Honestly, the fact that the school has such a thing is treated with so little reaction that it made me wonder if that’s just normal in Japan. Are kids climbing all over the place? Either way, this school has one and our lead wants to climb it. So she does. Not too surprising given the conceit of this series; neither is the fact that the threat of her not joining the club never comes to pass. Still, after claiming that climbing is fun, Konami is challenged by the far more serious Jun to a climbing race. It is in this race that we see the most characterisation of our cast. Jun has been obsessed with climbing since see was a child and reacts with anger to anybody who doesn’t take the sport seriously. Konami was a hardcore gamer in her past and is now looking for a passion to fill the void created when she stepped away from video games…which is where this series lost me a little. Perhaps I am a touch biased, given my personal gaming habits, but the series is sort of pointlessly mean to the hobby. Though Konami did play to an extreme, Iwakakeru does not even attempt to create a parallel to Jun’s obsession. Konami even saw success in her hobby—winning some gaming tournaments—but it is still treated as a detriment to her future. Why was Jun’s obsession with climbing not a hinderance to her school grades? I know this series is about climbing, it just didn’t have to dunk on other hobbies to prove that it was cool: it’s a major jerk move.

Though we saw a solid amount of climbing in this episode, the series has yet to fully round out its characters. I know that takes time, but there’s only so far that a desire to solve puzzles and a passion for climbing can take this series. Two of the main cast are also barely present in the episode, literally appearing to facilitate the race between Konami and Jun. Again, I know there’s only so much that can fit into one episode; I’m just hoping the characterisation becomes a strength of this series. It’s either that or powerhouse animation that will make rock climbing consistently enjoyable to watch.

Play to a Different Drummer – Haikyu!! To the Top (Episode Fourteen)

“Shall I play for you?”

Jumping right back into where the last half of the series left off, Haikyu!! presents us with Karasuno versus Inazaki…and the Inazaki cheering squad. Now, I know that fans are wont to express their joy at sporting events, but intentionally trying to throw off an opposing team is just scummy. It’s not even a few members of the cheering squad either, Inazaki has taught their school’s band how to intentionally throw teams off their game. Shouldn’t there be rules against that sort of behaviour? Even them loudly booing every time Karasuno serves is enough to be classified as terrible sportsmanship, but to then add a whole band? What a bunch of jerks. Still, it is interesting to see the different ways Haikyu!! goes about vilifying Karasuno’s competition. I mean, at the end of the day these characters are high schoolers playing volleyball; they’re not actually heroes and villains. Regardless, I do wish the brass section would can it. Oh, there was also volleyball in this episode. Though most of the drama actually was related to musical accompaniment, there were some developments on the court: namely that Inazaki’s setter, Atsumu, is crazy good. Multiple points of the episode see Kageyama pondering how perfect Atsumu’s movements are…before being immediately scored on. Though Karasuno gets a few good shots in, it’s still curious to see Kageyama so enamoured with an opponents technique. He’s always accepted other player’s skills, but he almost immediately uses that knowledge to counter in some way. I’m sure that will happen, but his recent attitude seems to have a touch more awe to it. This is probably furthered when Atsumu and his twin brother, Osamu, mimic Hinata and Kageyama’s freak quick. Which is a big deal. Plenty of teams have held their own against Karasuno, but never with their own techniques. It’s…it’s pretty cool turn of events.

With how little of the actual volleyball match played out, I have a feeling that we’ll be watching Karasuno versus Inazaki for a decent chunk of time. Still, it’s off to a pretty solid start. Inazaki has done their best to lay down the law—both through their skills and their jerk-bag cheer section—so we’ll have to wait and see how Karasuno responds. I’m putting money on Hinata’s new “boom jump” coming into play, you know, if the series is done focusing on the drum section…bunch of drumming jerks. Oh, and it’s also canon now that Saeko can kill people with her awesomeness. Deal with it.

Reverse London Calling – Burn the Witch (Episodes One, Two, and Three)

The Attention of Dragons.

As almost anybody with a passing interest in fiction can attest to: dragons are cool. They’re big, they breathe fire, and…they’re cool. Plus, it’s interesting to see how they’re interpreted throughout different media: in this particular case, they’re terrorising London…well, Reverse London. According to Burn the Witch, a majority of fatalities in London involve dragons—which is a lot. Also, only certain people can see dragons and they live in Reverse London, which is different to Front London. I’m not entirely sure how, because the series is a little vague on that front. Some people are apparently able to travel between the two, but dragon attacks only affect Reverse London, but dragons can also appear in Front London, but Wing Bind—the group who protect the populace from dragons—were aware of an unreported dragon in Front London: it’s all very confusing. Which is not a good sign for world building. It probably doesn’t help that there is a whole prequel manga of content not covered in these episodes—namely the introduction of Balgo. See, Burn the Witch keeps offhandedly mentioning how Balgo is important—culminating in him summoning a sword for two seconds in the third episode—but he really adds nothing to the story. Honestly, it wasn’t until the fight with Cinderella—a legendary dragon known as a Märchen—that the series seemed to find its stride. The concept of a group protecting a secret world from dragons is cool on its own, as was Bangnyfe’s fighting style that involved spray-painting sigils to summon otherworldly powers…also, the dude’s name is Bangnyfe. And he’s not even one of the main characters…I think. I mean, Ninny and Noel are presumably the leads of the series, but these three episodes keep pulling focus in a thousand other directions. If a series’ world need explaining, then an audience needs a character to tether themselves to; if a character needs explaining, then an audience needs a world it can understands. Burn the Witch attempts to do both at once, leaving everybody slightly interested but mostly confused.

Oh, and can we talk about the reveal at the end of episode three? If Reverse London is Soul Society West Branch, does that mean everybody there is dead? Where are the Hollows? I’m all for references and combined universes, but I also like said things to make sense. Now, if Japan’s spirits took the form of yokai and Europe’s took the form of dragons, that’d be neat; I’m just not sure that’s how things work. I’m just not sure how anything in this world works…and that kinda sucks.

-Luke-

Live and Let Dai – Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai (Episode One)

As a long-time Dragon Quest fan, I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t have the faintest clue who Dai was until I first saw him in the game Jump Force. After a bit of research, I soon learned that at one point Shonen Jump serialized a Dragon Quest manga by the title of Dragon Quest: Adventure of Dai. I thoroughly enjoyed playing as Dai in the Jump Force game and had begun to build a curiosity regarding the character and his story. To my pleasant surprise, an anime adaptation was announced and here we are now with episode one having hit screens across the world. I, like many, eagerly loaded up and streamed the episode on Crunchyroll with a big goofy smile across my face throughout its entire twenty-four-minute-and-two-second run.

Dragon Quest: Adventure of Dai‘s first episode is decidedly old school. It’s the sort of anime you’d watch in the late 90s or early 00s and I mean that as the greatest of compliments. The upbeat and energetic yet focused pacing of this first episode is refreshing in an age of anime that are obsessed with rushing to the “good bits”; forgetting the age-old story-telling concept of laying the groundwork for what is to come. Adventure of Dai gives us a hint at things to come without really giving much away at all. We learn that after the defeat of the Dark Lord, monsters that were once under his influence are now living peacefully and don’t seek to threaten humans; however, there are humans out there that seek to profit off the capture of rare monsters. Much like the Dragon Quest video games, Adventure of Dai treats the colourful ensemble of monsters with reverence; it is a big part of what makes this first episode have such a special feeling. Seeing each monster appear and battle is treated with a sense of wonder, reaching a glorious climax in the episodes second half with the appearance of one of the most iconic Dragon Quest monsters.

Overall, this was a fantastic first episode and a true love letter to Dragon Quest fans. That said, the series does not expect its audience to be knowledgeable about the Dragon Quest series or its lore: it only asks that you give it the chance to make you smile and enjoy yourself. I, for one, am certainly excited to see where things go for our hero Dai from here. The series looks to be mixing elements of the Dragon Quest Monsters video-games—with Dai being able to capture and summon monsters not unlike Pokémon—so that should make for some fun viewing: to see how Dai progresses on his personal goal to become a fabled hero in the Dragon Quest world.

Inuyasha: The Lost Episode – Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon (Episode One)

Let’s get this out of the way from the start: if you have never watched Inuyasha, this episode will feel like a fever dream. Iconic characters of the Inuyasha series appear in rapid succession in this episode, with little more than a name card appearing to guide viewers as to who is who. Immediately from the outset, Yashahime has put itself two steps backwards without taking a single step forwards. The trust that viewers will have a working knowledge of the Inuyasha series is strong here, as the episode diverts from present day a few minutes in to explore an almost episode-long flashback of Inuyasha and friends fighting a monster called Root Head. What this has to do with the plot going forward is not made clear in this episode, nor is it even remotely hinted at. Even as a person who has watched the Inuyasha series, I was left baffled as to why a series which is meant to be about the new generation of characters spends so long on a seemingly innocuous side mission with the old-generation cast.

Ultimately, the episode was a fine reminder of the great qualities of the original Inuyasha anime series, which is undoubtedly beloved—and for good reason. But this was just not a great way to establish the new characters and story that this series seems to be wanting to tell. I am left absolutely clueless about who these new characters are or their connection to the characters of the past. This was simply a terrible way to begin a sequel series that is intended to focus on new characters. It was really just another Inuyasha episode, bookended by very short segments of some new characters—of which we learn nothing about. Judging by the preview for next week, we may get to learn about the new cast and who they are, but as it stands now all I am left wondering is this: why did we watch what felt like a filler episode of Inuyasha when all marketing material for the series promoted it as a Boruto: Naruto Next Generations for the Inuyasha series? This episode will no doubt prove to be a huge barrier to entry for new viewers without knowledge of the original Inuyasha series. That said, fans of Inuyasha will likely be happy to see these characters again after so many years. In spite of that, I still believe its a rather rotten way to start this series.

Smoking Kills – Ikebukuro West Gate Park (Episode One)

Ikebukuro West Gate Park may very well be my most anticipated anime of the season. Based upon the series of urban mystery novels, which had previously been adapted into the fantastic live action J-Drama series of the same name, Ikebukuro West Gate Park (or IWGP for short) is an iconic franchise in Japan. Anime fans may be interested to know that the IWGP series actually served as the inspiration for the anime Durarara!!—which shares the setting of the bustling urban locale of Ikebukuro.

IWGP‘s first episode proves to be a superb one, to say the very least. It does a great job establishing the setting of Ikebukuro and the ecosystem of characters and groups that maintain the status quo of “peace and love” in the city. Our lead, Makoto, is some what of a problem solver and works alongside the various sides of the Ikebukuro underworld in order to maintain order. In this episode, we see him tasked by King, the leader of the G-Boys gang, to assist in getting a dangerous drug off the streets of Ikebukuro. It looks that, much like the live action J-Drama, the series will see Makoto taking on a different task each week as he encounters and interacts with a slew of interesting and potentially dangerous characters.

All in all, I thought this was an incredibly solid first episode that really did a great job establishing the world of IWGP and its urban-underworld mythos. The animation was great throughout, with some rather fine visuals, and the soundtrack was simply brilliant. I particularly enjoyed the rap song that served as the ending theme for the episode—it gave me Tokyo Tribe vibes. While this was a bit of a simple case for Makoto to deal with, I look forward to seeing matters complicate and more difficult challenges surface as the troubleshooter of Ikebukuro tries to keep the balance of “peace and love” in the youthful urban jungle that is Ikebukuro.

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A Seriously Dated Disappointment – Serious Sam 4 – Humble Opinions

Serious Sam 4 was the first real iteration of its franchise that I played long enough to be worn out by—which took almost no time at all. It’s extremely hard to have something positive to say about this title, because it does nothing well and a lot of things poorly. Having previously tried Serious Sam 2 & 3, I expected a simplistic arena shooter. I don’t believe my expectations were super high—I didn’t expect anything particularly revolutionary and interesting—so I went in to the game only expecting a fun time at the very least. Instead, what we got in Serious Sam 4 was serious disappointment, requiring some serious questioning. Where do I begin?

The enemies: seriously?

The sophistication of the AI in this game is abysmal—it’s non-existent. You can cheese nearly every battle, and it is so easy to do. Countless times, enemies found themselves stuck on environmental objects, even without my intervention. They sit there, struggling to free themselves, while you unload clip after clip to take them down. Where is the fun in that? Intelligent AI is a prime factor in games like the Halo series, where enemies will dodge and weave to avoid your fire, even taking cover and running around the map in a tactical manner. In SS4, none of these engaging enemy types truly exist. Most of the enemies just act as meat shields, and the ones that do have some interesting mechanic to them—like the vampires, with their vanishing movement—can be destroyed with a single shot (using double shotguns). This makes their disappearing/reappearing movement really negligible in terms of actually being effective and providing a different challenge.

What a challenge! This enemy just stopped right in front of Sam.

The graphics & level design: seriously?

I’m not a stickler for beautiful games—it doesn’t have to be pretty for me to have a great time—hence my love for games like Minecraft, which offers up a plethora of things to do and does not have its enjoyability dampened by simplistic graphics. The disappointment behind SS4‘s graphics lies in the fact that there is so much wrong with it: bad textures, severe pop-in of textures, severe clipping, lack of effective anti-aliasing, and overall very boring design choices and environments. Being lacklustre in the gameplay department, I was hoping for the visuals of SS4 to be a redeeming factor, one shining detail visible in the erroneous amount of mediocrity that was jammed into the product; it was not to be. Then there is the issue of the levels themselves: uninspired, repetitive, and not much to look at.

Glitches galore! What are those magical orbs hovering over my gun?

The gunplay & the gameplay: seriously?

In a lot of ways, SS4 doesn’t improve upon Serious Sam 3 at all. Most facets of the game are either on par with what 3 presented to its audience or, in some matters, a lesser shell of what was. The gunplay felt no different. Did it have to be improved? Not really. But when you have games out there like DOOM—which, granted, are probably being developed on higher budgets and with more care—there is little motivation to play a game like SS4. The mechanics are also very much like Serious Sam 3 and there is very minimal impact when you actually fire each weapon, assuming you are even wielding the guns you want. While I understand the use of the skill tree in games in general—a staple mechanic in video games, placed there to make the player feel like they are gradually growing stronger to meet more challenging opponents—I would have enjoyed having features like dual wielding larger weapons from the start of the game. Obliterating the enemy with two double-barrelled shotguns was enjoyable and satisfying; it’s just a shame I had to “skill-up” to get there later on.

It was a struggle for me to play Serious Sam 4, to be honest. After three hours of the repetition, I simply wanted to give up. The collection of problems hindered any fun experience that may have been there, buried way too far beneath for me to find. Some pockets of the game were interesting or enjoyable, but only for a fleeting moment at most. The erupting-volcano level was an interesting setting, and the dual wielding of weapons provided a more impactful experience. I do appreciate that the game allows you to skip the cutscenes if you prefer: I wasn’t sold on the need for a story in what simply presents itself as a mindless arena shooter, and a subpar one at that.

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The Fight is Won – The God of High School (Episode Thirteen) – Season’s Writings

The once and present King.

When a villain begins their diatribe against the very notion of existence, you know you’ve reached the final act. If, for some reason, said monologue does not convince you, the spontaneous arrival of a hero’s true power should assuage any doubts. Now, as to whether you actually care about any of these events…well, that depends on every moment prior; on how much you’ve come to care for each character through their adventures; on how much the world was built out around them. Without that care, well, even a spectacle can be boring.

So…The God of High School didn’t make me care. Harsh, but, if anyone has been reading my ramblings, not unexpected. I’ll say it again: I don’t like dunking on a series, I really don’t. But man, I just never connected to this series on any decent level. Sure, the fights were cool, but I just didn’t care beyond the visuals. Take this episode for example—because that’s the one we’re talking about—it featured a transcended human fighting a physical god…and it meant nothing. It’s almost impressive how an event of such scale carries so little weight. Taek has been such a hollow villain that there’s no purpose to his descent into omnicidal madness, and Mori is so blank a slate that he may as well be subsumed by the memories of a former godly life. I mean, the episode claims that Mori’s memories are all a jumble, but he didn’t seem any different to his normal self—unless you count his stylish headband/wrist guard combo, manifested by holy might. Even falling into a three month coma does nothing to alter his character. A three month coma. Even Daewi and Mira seem only mildly concerned when he wakes up. Seoul was blown up! God tried to kill millions of people! Every citizen of Seoul was teleported by actual magic, and a handful of teenagers killed an abomination that was literally an affront to the heavens! Why does nobody seem to care? Why does everybody react with the same intensity to all of this as they would to a two-for-one sale? The fact that even one of these is a valid question speaks volumes for the series, and not in a good way…in case that wasn’t clear.

Thunderstruck!

So, after absorbing The Key, Taek sprouts wings and decides that everything needs to die. Was this his plan all along? I don’t know. Was this the influence of the fox that died cursing the gods? Maybe; it certainly would’ve been a cool explanation. Regardless, it’s really of no consequence. Which sucks. Taek has always been a nebulous villain, only appearing to add a little abject evil into a situation. Thus, his ultimate turn into a literal monster does nothing except make him a harder target to punch. All we ever learnt was that Taek has a rough childhood and that Ilpyo beat him up once—as he damn well should have. If anything, Taek’s transformation robbed him of what little personality he had. Not that Mori fared any better. See, it turns out that our protagonist is actually The Monkey King. Yep. Big reveal. Definitely…definitely impactful and…interesting? I mean, it should be interesting. In a series where people borrow their powers from gods, having a character turn out to actually be a god is a clever way to explain a gap in power; to explain why Mori has shown no inkling of a charyeok despite his innate strength. And yet…it barely matters. His awakening even comes right after does some pressure point stuff—which he apparently spent a long time learning—to push past the limits of a human body. Why? Why bother showing how far he was willing to take the strength of a human, only to undermine it with some deus ex machina nonsense? Even Ilpyo is pushed out of the spotlight, and he apparently borrows the power of a being that God is afraid of. Which actually leads me into a realisation I had…

Make a little dark void in your soul.

Ilpyo should be the main character of this series. Think about it. He has a personal history with the villain, he has a connection to an inherently powerful force in the universe, and he is the guardian of a relic that can shake apart the very foundations of the heavens…Mori is a guy who likes to fight. Okay, Mori is actually a god himself, but that’s what would make him such a good part of Ilpyo’s crew. Mori’s knowledge should provide insight into the realm of the gods, into how they think, into what drives them. He should teach Ilpyo what he knows, decide where he wants to stand in the inevitable battle between humanity and the divine. He should wrestle with the notion of betraying his kind to side with the fox who was betrayed by a fearful God. Or hell, give Mori a chance to be an actual protagonist; show some signs of his true nature. Best I can recall, Mori ate a magic peach part way through the series and that’s as close as we got to any hints of a mystic nature. Well, that and all of the intro and flashback images that were obviously Mori’s outline. Seriously, The Monkey King, mix up your style a little. Joking aside, Mori’s placement as the central figure in this series just never seemed earnt. His motivations were always weaker than his allies, his personal struggles were either absent or inconsequential, and his grandfather seems to be important to the plot with or without his connection to Mori. Compare that to Ilpyo and…well, it’s not too often you see a side character and think, “That dude’s story would be way more interesting.”

Though my explanation of this episode’s plot has been sparse at best, I feel like I’ve established that it is really not the key element here. Hell, plot isn’t really the key element of the entire series: the action is. So, because my negative thoughts about this series—valid as I may see them—are bumming me out, I’m going to round of my Writings by focusing on what this series does well: show people kicking ass. Even if the combat is hollow, it still looks cool. After Mori acquires Nyoibo (The Monkey King’s extending bo staff), we are treated to a flowing beatdown of Taek and those weird mummy things he can summon. The staff shifting size as needed adds an interesting sense of convenience to Mori’s combat, but not in a bad way. It’s almost an interpretation of what otherworldly fighting could be. Not entirely focused on super-strong punches and kicks, but and elegance born from cleverly applying magic. Sure it’s cool when Nyoibo extends to allow Mori to run into the sky—chasing after Taek, whom he’d punched there—but the more subtle extensions just caught my eye more. Maybe because it reminded me of when this series began, when my hopes were higher. Mori stood out then because of his ingenious use of Renewal Taekwondo, a term that hasn’t even been said in quite some time. He struck when he could and read his opponents. Charyeok muddied the waters a little with its alteration of what a fight was, but there was always a glimmer of that same flowing combat. And, at the very least, I’m glad The God of High School never lost that completely.

Four of the best friends that ever…did Daewi and Mira ever meet Ilpyo?

So, there you have it: The God of high School. It was…it was a trip. I started out genuinely excited by this series. The first episode showed promise of a frenetic roller coaster that would show us beautifully animated combat and maybe something to do with gods—it wasn’t entirely clear back then. But, as the story blew through plot point after plot point, there was no way for us to keep up. Characters claimed to forge bonds we never felt, organisations began plans we were unclear on, characters we thought were important meant nothing, and even the entire premise of the series seemed to be immaterial. The tournament changed to suit the whims of the plot, the characters followed suit, and everything surrounding both was too convenient. It’s almost as if…as if this series was fashioned to meet a quota. An oblivious protagonist whose defining trait is liking food and fighting, allies forged in the fires of battle, a villain evil enough to justify rivals banding together, elements of a much grander plot lurking in the shadows, a hero’s powers awakened by strife and friendship. Don’t get me wrong, I know any series can be boiled down to its tropes, but not all of them make it so easy. Creativity isn’t necessarily presenting something entirely unique. It can also be the process of taking something that we know, something that we’ve seen before, and making us care all over again. Making us want to see more. And unfortunately, despite my best efforts and intentions, The God of High School made me do neither. Also, it never answered my questions about those masseuses from the first episode.

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A New Legend Begins – Ary and the Secret of Seasons – Humble Opinions

There have been an incalculable number of games that have tried to emulate the magic of The Legend of Zelda games—very few have ever come close. Ary and the Secret of Seasons undoubtedly owes a lot to The Legend of Zelda as well; the more and more you play it, the more you come to find that Ary has undeniably and indisputably carved out her own legend.

Ary and the Secret of Seasons is a vast game that just begs to be explored. The world of Valdi and its colourful cast of characters are bursting with life, in ways that games of the same genre often fail to accomplish. The expansive world is rich with detail and you will no doubt find yourself wanting to inspect every nook and cranny. The main hook of the game is Ary’s season-changing abilities, which adds an even deeper layer to the world—as each season can open different paths and place a different perspective on each location.

Speaking of the season-altering abilities of our heroine, Ary, it hearkens back to Game Boy Color’s The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons. Much like that game, the player must alter the seasons in order to solve puzzles and manipulate the environment to progress further in the game. For those who played Oracle of Seasons, you will no doubt feel as though you are playing a fully 3D realisation of the concepts and ideas of that game, and the fact that Ary and the Secret of Seasons pulls off these mechanics so well is a testament to developers Exiin and Fishing Cactus.

The plot of the game is very Disney-esque to say the least—exploring similar themes to that of the film Mulan—what with Ary having to disguise as her brother in order to set out on her quest. Ary’s missing brother, Flynn, proves to be the main mystery that drives the plot forward. While Ary is ultimately tasked with restoring the seasons to Valdi in the right manner, it is her personal quest to find out what happened to her brother that gives the story its emotional crux. As you progress through the game, you will no doubt grow to love Ary and be truly invested in her journey. She may very well be one of the best new characters in gaming, in this writer’s estimation.

Overall, Ary and the Secret of Seasons takes The Legend of Zelda formula that we know and love and reinvents the wheel just enough to make it one of the best entries into the long line of Zelda-esque titles. Unlike Link in The Legend of Zelda, Ary is a fully fleshed out character with dialogue and purpose. While in the Zelda series you effectively are Link, Secret of Seasons lets you follow the journey of a fully realized character in Ary. If that is something that you are looking for, then Ary and the Secret of Seasons is for you.

I had a lot of fun playing this game and I really think just about anyone will if they give it the chance. I have no doubt that Ary and the vibrant world of Valdi will charm you every bit as much as it did to me.

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The Devil, You Know? – The God of High School (Episode Twelve) – Season’s Writings

Dear God…

They say that all good things must come to an end. What they don’t say is how cataclysmic said end may be. Now, I’m all about reducing human experiences into easy-to-understand phrases, but maybe add an addendum or two: all good things must come to an end, but be sure to stand outside of the blast radius of the incoming ballistic missiles that are going to do the ending. Something like that.

So, it would seem we have hit the endgame of this series. Well, the part just before the endgame, since I believe there is still one episode left. I kind of hope there’s one episode left. Not because I’m champing at the bit for more God of High School, but because this particular segment of story is woefully underdeveloped—even by this series’ standards. I feel like such a jerk for constantly railing on this series, but it encapsulates my thoughts after walking away from every episode. And since that has been my experience every episode, even the apocalyptic stakes of this latest fight mean nothing to me; I have no idea who half of the characters are and even the ones I know something about seem entirely inconsequential. Would it even surprise anybody at this point that the day was saved by an almost brand-new character? Because apparently the grandfather of the guy Taek ate—whom we saw very briefly once (as he was telling his grandson to enter GOH)—is, like, the strongest dude ever. He transmutates hundreds of nuclear missiles into a giant, ornate spear (which is stronger?), and then summons a meteor to drive said spear into the back of God. Also, this blows up Seoul. So…good job?

Hey, they made it into another episode. Good for them.

Oh, and where did those nuclear missiles I mentioned come from? Remember that president guy from, like, the second episode? The one who looks like Robert Downey Jr.? Yeah, he dissolves his allegiance with Mujin and decides to kill God with missiles. Also, he had an allegiance with Mujin? Also, everybody was cool with him destroying Seoul? Also, he had that many missiles on standby? Also, what the hell? Honestly, when a series makes you say, “Sure, why not?” you know it’s jumped the shark. Wait. Taek is a shark. Is the bad guy of this series a metaphor for how bonkers everything is? Is this series actually self-aware? I doubt it, but it’s a fun thought experiment. Also, Taek isn’t a shark anymore. Yeah, his power is not called The Impoverished and looks like a bunch of creepy zombies…and he has a bunch of eyes on his actual body…and an extra mouth. Because why the hell not? Anyway, this all leaves us with a multi-sided war: Taek vs Mujin vs Nox. I guess we’re supposed to rally behind Mujin, but really only because being a jerk who willingly pits teenagers against each other in blood sport is a little less evil than trying to kill the world. Hooray for there being a lesser evil.

Meteor Impact!

I suppose I should mention what our main characters are doing during all of this chaos, but, honestly, a great deal of it happens off screen. Daewi apparently has full control of his charyeok, which he uses to stabilise Ilpyo’s friends, and Mira can summon her charyeok at will as well. It doesn’t stop them from being pummelled by Taek off screen, but I guess it’s nice that they can do that. Also, there are so many cuts where these two are involved that it took me a second to adjust. After being warped to a new location/pocket dimension by Mujin—which I don’t even care to figure out—Daewi and Mira see and explosion; then, the episode cuts away; then, it cuts back to them preparing an attack; then, it cuts away again; then, Daewi and Mira are lying on the ground: defeated. Remember when Daewi almost fought Mori to a stand still? Because the series doesn’t. We’re firmly in only-the-protagonist-can-win territory now, folks. Also, Mori loses to Taek. Also also, Taek eats The Key—which he punched out of Ilpyo somehow—and becomes a baby; then an angel; then a demon; then basically Taek but with wings and horns. I think we’re supposed to be scared of what’s coming next, but when God was held at bay by a tournament organiser and a guy in a bucket hat—then killed by a magician with an actual wand and top hat—I really don’t have it in me to care.

It’s probably also worth mentioning that this episode gives us some backstory on Taek. Essentially, his mother was a scumbag who sold him off for money, and his “adoptive” father was a scumbag who taught him that failing at anything would make him a piece of irredeemable trash. Now, whilst that is a horrific upbringing that I would not wish on anybody, I find it hard to care about the guy who, at every possible opportunity, summons a spirit shark to rip people apart. And remember when he shattered that girl’s leg (while the tournament staff sat around and let him do it for some reason)? Honestly, the closest to compassion I can manage is hoping that Mori takes him out quickly; kicks his angel/demon head off or something. Still, my utter disdain for Taek is the closest to an emotional connection I have with any character in this series…which kind of sucks. I want to enjoy this series; I wanted it to be as cool as its fight scenes. But boy does this series make it hard to try.

Have Key, will destroy.

One episode left…I think. I honestly have no idea, and I honestly don’t know where this story is going to end. Though I haven’t read the source material, I know it carries on beyond where the anime will end. How this will affect the final episode I have no idea. Is Taek to be defeated? Shall his reign of violence wash over the land like a scummy plague? Will Mori wake up and realise this was all a dream he was having from the coma he has been in since the first episode, when he pedalled his bike off an actual cliff? Probably not that last one, but why not at this point? To reiterate: this series showed God being killed by a spear made of faces and ballistic missiles that was driven into His spine by a meteor…and there was no emotional impact behind any of it. I honestly think I cared more about the grandmother who had her purse stolen in the first episode, and Mori made up the backstory behind that. I just…I guess we’ll just see how it all shakes out in the final episode, right? I mean, we’ve come this far; what’s one more?

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