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A Trickster in Time | Loki Episode 1

Loki’s character arc had always been defined by his quest for one thing above all else: glorious purpose. This first episode of Disney Plus’ Loki makes it clear what that glorious purpose ultimately was: that being to help unite The Avengers and set them on their path to eventually save the universe from Thanos. As Loki watches his entire life play out in the final moments of the episode, the reality sets in that that glorious purpose was achieved, but this version of Loki now stands purposeless.

The series picks up where we last saw Loki in Avengers: Endgame as he teleported away from the Battle of New York using the Tesseract. He is quickly picked up by Minutemen of the TVA (a.k.a. The Time Variance Authority). The TVA is an organisation that exist outside of time and space and monitor and maintain the “Sacred Timeline” as determined by the three great Time Keepers. Loki has become a variant and, as such, the TVA have now put him to trial for his crime against the Sacred Timeline.

We learn that there is a variant that is causing dramas throughout time, and we are introduced to Mobius as played (by Owen Wilson) who is tasked with investigating the case. The chemistry between Owen Wilson and Tom Hiddleston is absolutely fantastic here, and the scenes between their characters, Mobius and Loki, were a joy to watch. Mobius sees that Loki isn’t simply a villain and concocts a plan to use Loki to assist with his rogue variant problem.

One thing that stood out to me about Loki is that the show doesn’t make the same mistakes that WandaVision and, to a lesser extent, Falcon and the Winter Soldier made. It makes it pretty evident from the get go what this series is about and what you can expect. WandaVision took a few episodes to get going and it did ultimately turn off some viewers. Loki bursts out of the gate and hooks you in immediately.

The big twist reveal at the end of the episode has certainly got me excited for what is to come and, I must say, Tom Hiddleston really did an incredible job selling his range of emotions as he watched the various moments of the life that this Loki will never get to live. It was very poignant, and the tragedy behind the characters is understated in Hiddleston’s brilliant performance. I am very keen to see how this variant of Loki finds his own glorious purpose, and I think this may be an absolute home run for Marvel if they manage to stick the landing here.

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Here Be Dragon Clan | Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection

Of course I want to bloody continue!

In the list of things that everybody thinks are cool, ninja rank pretty high. I mean, they probably definitely committed a lot of murder, but fiction seems to really enjoy a lot of murder. And, ethics aside, it usually makes for some pretty compelling stories. Case in point: Ninja Gaiden. If you’ve ever wanted to experience what it’s like to be a legendary assassin who commits legendary amounts of carnage, then have I got a collection of games for you. More specifically speaking: Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection.

Full disclaimer: I have never played a Ninja Gaiden game before; so, any element present in this re-release collection is new to me. So, while it might be well known or nostalgic to you, I had no idea that Hayabusa Village is the most flammable collection of buildings in either hemisphere. Seriously, better construction and a more thorough fire-prevention plan would’ve cut Ryu’s need for adventures dramatically. Also, Ryu is the main character: I assume you know that, but maybe you’ve never played these games either. Long story short: bad guys burn down his village, steal some object and/or person, Ryu goes out and murders everybody for the sake of revenge and/or justice. That’s the story. That’s all of the stories. Not the most original premise, but Ninja Gaiden certainly makes up for that by throwing everything it thinks is cool into the mix. I was not expecting these elements.

Ironically, the dragon’s name means “human”.

The prologue of the first game would have you believe that this is a series rooted in the world of ninjas, of honour, tradition, and ancient techniques. Then you finish the prologue and wind up on a blimp fighting a guy straight out of Warhammer. It’s quite a shift; one for the better. The unexpected pivot immediately grabbed my interest, interest that was kept and tested throughout the trilogy. I don’t want to give everything away, but the second game may or may not feature a demon who uses lighting to animate the Statue of Liberty…it does…it does have that. Does the third game have a one-on-one fight between Ryu and a futuristic jet? It does. It does have that. Why? I have no idea, but it’s awesome. The games consistently ramp up the spectacle, and I’m kinda down for that. The increased focus on drama and spectacle also lead to the franchise providing Ryu with slightly more personality, transforming him from a faceless vessel of fury and murder into a vessel of fury and murder who occasionally takes his mask off. The third game also has him question his penchant for murder somewhat, though it does this in between missions where Ryu carves his way through an entire mercenary force; so, that message gets a little garbled.

Speaking of murder…the gameplay is mostly murder. As a skilled ninja, Ryu has access to a tremendous amount of tools that aid in his quests for revenge/justice/world safety. More than skins for the thematically important Dragon Sword, Ryu can utilise nunchaku, tonfa, a staff, a scythe, a kusarigama, a bow, a cannon, and various forms of swords to slaughter his foes. In addition to being awesome, these weapons alter the combos you can perform, granting some variation to the combat. Though these weapons likely perform better against certain enemies, chances are that you’ll just find your favourite and roll with that. The second game makes this element of the franchise even cooler by staggering weapon upgrades throughout the story. Certain shopfronts in the game allow you to upgrade on weapon a single time, leading to a more vested interest in your gear. The third game relegates this, and all upgrades, to a point system which, while more convenient, takes some of the charm out of things. Also, the fact that the weapons change design as they level is fun, though said change in design generally means adding excessive amounts of spikes and blades to an already spiky and blade-y weapon.

Everybody needs a little time off…from murder.

In addition to weapons, Ryu also has the ability to use ninpo: a series of magical(?) skills to aid in murder. Usually elemental in nature, these skills can be used in conjunction with weaponry to truly decimate foes. Basically, put up a whirling vortex of fire and smack guys with a staff while they burn. Brutal, but effective. Outside of this, Ryu’s ninja skills allow for dramatic traversal in designated locations. This basically boils down to plot progressing wall runs, wall climbs, and sky dives (Though that last one is an addition of the third game). The mechanics behind these movements also generally improve as the games progress, as controlling Ryu’s direction in the first game can be…frustrating. Also, Ryu can run on water, which is neat.

Now, not trying to bury the lede or anything, the playthrough of this collection may or may not have involved use of Hero Mode…although it definitely did. For those unaware, Hero Mode grants Ryu a period of unlimited ninpo when his health is low, whilst also auto-blocking for a period of time. This mode saves the game for people like me: people who aren’t very skilled at video games and would prefer to not ram my head through a concrete wall in frustration over how often I’m seeing a game-over screen. Though the soul-crushing difficulty somewhat eases over the trilogy, there is no way I would’ve made it through the first game without Hero Mode. The combination of difficulty and dated controls is a real roadblock to enjoyment. Those damn sewer worms are a prime example of how frustrating this game certain;y is on higher difficulties. A one-hit kill move? Why do they even exist in games at all? Also, don’t have a multi-phase boss fight in a franchise known for difficult boss fights. I mean, you can, some people enjoy that kind of torture, but gee whizz. So, yeah…Hero Mode is good.

Ryu, where are my pants?

So, Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection, should you play it? I don’t know, I’m not you. Do you have nostalgia for the franchise? Then give this a go. Have you always wanted to give Ninja Gaiden a go but have been afraid about the difficulty? Then give this a go and proudly play Hero Mode. Sure this is a franchise known for highly skilled play and an unforgiving difficulty curve/spike, but it’s also a franchise where a ninja avenges the (first) burning of his village by killing the flame-headed fiend/ghost samurai who commits said burning…after having already been killed himself. Also, that’s the tamest storyline. You know, /cause the lightning demon who brings the Statue of Liberty to life is the second game’s first boss. The first boss. Yeah, this collection is utter bedlam…and that’s pretty darn cool. Oh, and Ryu definitely improves on his heroic timing after the first game’s prologue. Because, wow, that guy was not good at arriving just before a woman he knew succumbed to her injuries. Yikes.

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An Unknowable Enemy | To Your Eternity Episode 9

After what has been a period of relative downtime for the series, it looks like we are well and truly about to see things kick into gear once again. While this week’s episode largely revolves around the developing relationships between Gugu, Fushi, and Rean, it’s the climactic return of the “unknowable enemy” that truly shakes up the status quo the show has been building.

Through a bit of backstory, we see that Rean and Gugu had lead complete polar opposite lives. Rean was always doted on by hired help in her family’s mansion estate, whereas Gugu spent his years as an orphan working as hired help for the rich never truly knowing a family of his own.

There are some sweet moments where the two bond over their respective wounds. Things quickly get out of control, however, as Rean’s family have finally come to find her—after we learn she had run away from home to live with Gugu and Fushi at the brewery. Just as it seems our heroes may have avoided capture, an onslaught of danger suddenly sends this episode into a darker terrain.

The Maker suddenly appears before Fushi and criticises him for having learned nothing in his time here—warning him to proceed with caution from here. Fushi fails to do so and the “unknowable enemy” returns, leaving Fushi bloody and laying in a precarious position. The situation becomes more dire as Gugu runs to Fushi’s aid, unaware of the otherworldly being that has just slain his perhaps not-so-immortal brother.

The episode concludes in this shocking fashion with The Maker watching on as Fushi and Gugu must somehow survive an attack from this relentless foe. Waiting for the next episode of this show always feels like an eternity and with things heating up like this it is even more so.

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Thread and Thrum | My Hero Academia Episode 99

And he thought using this Quirk was a pipe dream.

And so, the battle continues. Confident that that the students’ determination will carry them past the hurdle of Midoriya seemingly exploding with darkness, Aizawa allows the fifth match of the 1-A–1-B struggle to continue. Is that the most responsible choice? Probably not, but nothing about this entire school is responsible. Remember the entry exam? There were robots the size of buildings. Things have been shady since day one. Regardless, the continuation allows us to see the characters we care/know about to do their thing. Midoriya wills his way through yet another One-For-All-based hurdle, Shinso resolves himself to show the results of his training, Mineta pervs all over both teams, and Uraraka beats the crap out of people…also Monoma acts like an annoying jerk. Also also, isn’t it against the rules for a captured student to interfere with the battle? Did I imagine that, or is Monoma a cheater in addition to being insufferable. Sure, the guy had a rough go with accepting his Quirk only lets him copy people, but man does he suck. If a positive could be taken from him being around, it’s that he makes Shinso seem even nicer and stronger willed. That’s it. God, I dislike Monoma.

That aside, this episode serves to tease us a little in regards to Blackwhip. Amped up by One For All, Midoriya himself notes that he won’t be using it for quite some time. It’s like when a video game starts you with all of a character’s powers, only to flashback to before that point in time. We know where we’re heading; we’re just not sure how long it’ll be until we get there. Also, One For All has six more Quirks bumping around in there; so, things are going to get pretty wild. Speaking of, I was surprised that Mineta had a pretty decent moment to show of his skills. I mean, he obviously ruined it by being a creep, but it’s always fun to see how joke characters can be formidable. He certainly doesn’t stand up to Uraraka’s ability to judo chop people into unconsciousness, but it’s something. Also, why doesn’t everybody learn Gunhead Martial Arts? That stuff is dangerous. Seriously, is Uraraka the one person who learnt to fight in a way that doesn’t rely on her Quirk? It’s a good idea. I mean, everybody expects Iida to run and kick; imagine if he just strolled up and used karate or something. Throw everyone for a loop it would. Okay, let’s meet in the middle and say muay Thai: immediate spike in threat level. Think about it…or don’t, I’m not the boss of you.

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To Be a Monster | To Your Eternity Episode 8

What makes us human and what makes us monsters? Perhaps both are intrinsically linked as if two sides of the same coin, only a flip away from one becoming the other. This week’s episode of To Your Eternity explores this thought in great detail, as we see Gugu continue to come to terms with his new existence as the monster beneath the helmet.

Things kick off with a rather strange turn of events with Rean, the wealthy girl that Gugu had saved from the falling log randomly, asking to move in and work at the brewery they are all living in. The old man who runs the brewery quickly accepts her request. Why she has asked to move in and work there remains a mystery throughout the episode.

Gugu and Fushi later have somewhat of a fight when Gugu is testing the extent of Fushi’s abilities, which causes him pain. However, things take a turn when Gugu realises the extent of which the old man had altered his body when he saved him. Other than Gugu now having some kind of monstrosity of a face (which we haven’t yet seen), the old man had also implanted some kind of alcohol distillery device inside of him as some sort of twisted experiment. Gugu, upon learning this, decides to leave the brewery and return to his tent he once shared with his brother.

Fushi having had the fight with Gugu earlier on refuses to look for him and tries to take on Gugu’s duties and tasks at the brewery, to disastrous results, and without Gugu he begins to fall into a depressive state. Meanwhile, Gugu has returned to his old life and tries to continue his farm work and selling vegetables in the local marketplace. However, the young boy who was once welcome in these places is now treated as a monster by the townsfolk. The only person who, after seeing his true face, doesn’t push him away is the farmer who employs him. However, due to the bullying and hostility of his fellow workers and the farmer’s son, Gugu is run off from the job as well.

Stranded with no job and no money, Gugu is stuck on the streets of the town begging for work of any kind. In desperation, he tries to sell the ring that Rean had given him in the previous episode but ultimately decides against it. After some more wandering, he finds his brother that had abandoned him drunk and passed out in an alley way looking like he is on death’s door. Gugu gives him the ring in hopes that he can sell it and become a better man. He reflects that selling that ring won’t do any good for a “monster” like himself. This is a moment of kindness that Gugu extends to his brother who had shown him nothing but pain; who left him alone to fend for himself. It shows that Gugu, despite his appearance, isn’t the real monster, it is the people who judge him and treat him cruelly that are the true monsters.

The episode reached its climax with Gugu being kidnapped by some of the guys who bullied him earlier in the episode. They are planning to sell him to some kind of “monster” collector, that is until Fushi appears and saves Gugu. Fushi admits that he can’t grow up and learn without Gugu, and the two brothers make amends with Gugu remarking that they are both monsters and that shared trait is what bonds them.

Overall, this was a nice episode exploring the tragedy of Gugu’s existence that did a great job at portraying how crucial he is, and will be, to Fushi’s development. Where the plot goes from here is anyone’s guess, as there wasn’t much hint at a direction following that final reunion moment. I am still concerned that Gugu may not be long for this world considering the series’ history; but, regardless of that, it’s clear that this monster boy has made his mark on Fushi.

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A War of Lords | Samurai Warriors 5

This will be on the test.

If history class has taught us anything…it’s history. More specifically, and less obviously, it expresses how people have pretty much been the same throughout the ages. You’ve got mean people, nice people, people who flip-flop between the two, innocent people, guilty people, cool people, weird people, people who are really loud and obnoxious, people who give stern looks to the obnoxious people, and at least a handful of people who think their era could really use some tidying up. Samurai Warriors 5 gives us all of these people…and, like, a really high body count.

Delving once more into the much-explored Sengoku (Warring States) period of Japan’s history, this latest instalment in the Samurai Warriors spin-off franchise is set to explore the rise of a fairly prominent figure: one Oda Nobunaga. Having never played a Samurai Warriors title before, I was rather intrigued by this, as my only experience with this tumultuous historical period had Oda pegged as a villain. To be fair, said experience came from other video games and anime, so take my knowledge with a grain of salt. Still, it’s always interesting to see how history is utilised, tweaked, and romanticised to make an entertaining property; so, the question then becomes: is this an entertaining property?

…this isn’t going to end well for you.

Short answer: yes. Samurai Warriors 5 is a fun experience if you are looking for some mindless chaos. In my brief preview of the game—being the first two chapters of I don’t know how many—I tore through roughly ten thousand samurai…a chapter. There is, just, so much wanton destruction…and I kinda dig it. This isn’t a game devoted to realistic violence, or blood, or gore; instead, swinging a sword can create a shockwave that quite literally decimates an opposing force. There’s a sense of catharsis in actually being as powerful as video games claim a protagonist is: knowing that you can stroll into a literal war, claim that thousands of opponents against you makes it a fair fight, and mean it. The game also knows that this power fantasy is what people want, as immediately after starting it up an option appeared asking if I wanted to activate Easy mode. I can’t think of many games that don’t use that option as a punishment/insult after you fail enough times, let alone ones that proudly display it as an option. Personally, I’m a fan of Easy. Let me frolic with reckless abandon; don’t tell me that my aversion of hair-tearing challenge is a weakness.

Pivoting to the specifics of the aforementioned slaughter, Samurai Warriors 5 provides you a handful of characters and weapons to cause it. Your primary vessel into battle is, of course, Nobunaga: the man of the hour and the one around whom the story revolves. He rocks a sizable sword—an odachi, to be specific—allowing for sweeping swings that tear through enemies. That being said, the sword is not king in this world; at least, not gameplay-wise. Provided through the opportunity to play as Nobunaga’s various allies, you will also be able to fight using spears, naginata (which is, like, not quite a spear), bows, katana (like an odachi, only smaller), ninja blades (smaller still, plus a shuriken side-arm), hammers, kusarigama, and talismans/shikigami. Though the wide-swathing destruction they cause is all pretty similar, their combos vary enough that you’ll find a favourite. Personally, I found that the ninja sword provides a fun blend of melee and ranged combos and lends itself to a feeling of speed over power. Still, no weapon or character will play well if you skimp on the upgrades.

I’m on a horse.

Oh yeah, there’s levelling…like, a lot of levelling. And frankly, it’s a double-edged sword. There will always be a joy to seeing your character’s numbers and stat bars increase, but it’s also a necessity in this game. Increasing a character’s level, their skills, their mastery with a type of weapon, and the skills on said weapon are what stand between this game being mindless fun and a chore. Unfortunately, the story’s tendency to make you play as characters before you have a chance to upgrade them put a limiter on your freedom from level to level. New characters also enter your roster at a decent enough level, but chances are you just spent your accrued experience on the characters you already played; so, tough luck. And I’m not even talking about the lack of skills or upgrades to speed and defence: it’s attack power. Not upgrading that will leave you hacking at a nobody for way too long to fell them. Your Oda could tear through a map with the gear you’ve built up, but you have to play as Akechi and you’ve never used katana before: good luck. I mean, it’s not game breaking or anything, but playing as Momochi for the first time in chapter two left me with an average impression of what kusarigama can do. Also, that was an escort mission: which leads me to my biggest complaint about this game…

Everyone who isn’t you is terrible. Every NPC ally, ever playable character you’re not currently playing as, they all just stand around and get beat up by regular foot-soldiers…on Easy. For this reason, missions can devolve into you simply running around to keep your allies alive, lest you fail the mission. Multiple times I would see an ally stationary on the map, only to discover that they were stuck behind a barrel or running into a wall. That’s not even mentioning the mini-map littered with red and blue dots, meaning you may not even know where an ally is being attacked, or that there was even an ally there in the first place. Yes, important characters provide you with information mid-battle, but I can’t speak Japanese and the text boxes can become a little lost in the chaos of slaying five-hundred men with one sword swing. I guess this all definitely makes you replay maps at a later point, since you’ll need late-game upgrades to compensate for the AI and achieve that coveted S-rank in every objective, but that’s putting a very positive spin on my grievances.

How’s that for a combo, Devil May Cry?

All that being said, I enjoyed playing the early chapters of Samurai Warriors 5. Yes, it has its issues which can gnaw at you—especially when you’re tasked with protecting an NPC who seems programmed to run into harm’s way and then escape by running away from the objective—but that was only overtly prevalent in one level. For the most part, I simply enjoyed being an overpowered combatant in a world of possibly accurate historical war. Again, my knowledge of the period is sparse, but everyone probably wasn’t actually that in-shape and attractive. Although, good for them if they were.

Do battle.

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Legacy Weapon | My Hero Academia Episode 98

Cool whip.

And so, we now return you to your regularly scheduled Midoriya drama. Yep, not five minutes back in focus and Midoriya is already busting up the 1-A–1-B matches with some new, decidedly interesting lore. Remember how Midoriya is the ninth wielder of One For All? Well, turns out the previous eight weren’t all Quikless…who’da thunk? I mean, the idea probably should have crossed our minds (congrats if it did for you), but it’s a pretty neat twist on what has already been established. Thisis what I love about this series: none of the twists and revelations seem tacked on, like they’re new ideas that forcible retcon everything. Each discovery feels like…a discovery. A piece of information that we didn’t know but was always true. Our data was based solely on All Might and the first wielder: they were Quirkless, just like Midoriya. It was an assumption that One For All was a torch passed on to those who were born without the power to fight the Villains that plagued it. We were wrong.

And so, it turns out that Jack from Madworld was a previous holder of One For All, with his Quirk, Blackwhip, explosively manifesting and kicking this whole legacy shake-up off. As rough-and-tumble as the guy looks, his lingering spirit seems genuinely supportive of Midoriya, giving him advice on how to begin wielding his new power. I’m personally a fan of how he tells Midoriya that anger isn’t an innate evil that he should avoid, but a source of strength he should learn to control. I’ve just never been a big fan of anime that insist that characters should never, ever fight angry: half of the time their friends and family are in mortal peril, characters are going to be a touch irked. Anyway, it’s also interesting to see how One For All is far deeper than we assumed; not only in its multi-Quirk nature, but in the strengthening presence of the previous holders within it. These spirits span back to the dawn of the Quirk; throughout the history of All For One: that’s gotta be useful. Also, probably pretty terrifying, given that All For One was able to sense One For All’s awakening. That…that’s probably going to come back in a big way.

P.S. I still don’t like Monoma. Though the match wasn’t cancelled after Midoriya’s outburst, the dude still leapt at the chance to attack an obviously rattled, possibly injured person. Also, his “bonding” with Shinso over their perceived-as-evil Quirks cam across as a much less likable reflection of when Aoyama did the same to Midoriya.

P.P.S. I just…I just really don’t like Monoma.

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Brotherhood and Family | To Your Eternity Episode 7

It looks like Fushi may be entering into a period of peacetime following his dangerous encounter with the monster in the woods in the previous episode. We learned a lot about the Maker of Fushi and the behind the scenes omnipotent beings pulling the strings, but things slow down a bit now as Fushi meets the curious young boy named Gugu.

Gugu is a poor boy living in a small tent on a hill with his elder brother. He makes money by working the fields and selling fruit and vegetables in the town marketplace. It’s a small yet simple existence. Both Gugu and his elder brother watch out at a mansion beyond the hills and dream of a different life. Despite their struggles, Gugu admires his older brother, and as long as they have each other they will be alright. Then he returns one day to find his elder brother has taken all of their money and hit the bricks. Gugu is devastated.

What unfolds next is a moment that could only be described as the wheels of fate turning. Gugu saves a young wealthy maiden who had shown him kindness at the marketplace earlier; as a massive log has begun rolling down hill, he pushes her out of the way but winds up having the log crush his head. He is discovered and saved by a quirky old man who repairs his face, but Gugu—horrified by his “ugly” appearance—decides to permanently don a mask.

Eventually, Fushi and the old woman rock up and Gugu and Fushi quickly build a brotherly relationship, with Gugu taking on the elder brother role and teaching Fushi about life and the world around them. You can see that Gugu wants to be the elder brother his own blood brother wasn’t able to be for him. This is somewhat reminiscent of March taking on the mother role with Fushi—a role she would not live to fulfil otherwise.

The episode ends with the young maiden appearing and encountering Gugu and Fushi; however, she has no recollection of Gugu, likely because he now obscures his face with a mask/helmet. It’s evident this is the beginning of the next story arc and, judging by the pattern that seems to be forming, I’m somewhat concerned for the well-being of Gugu, since he may as well be wearing a red shirt at this point. I’d like to be surprised though, so let’s see what direction they take.

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Existential Crisis of a Rodent’s Mind | Biomutant

The premise of Biomutant is interesting to say the least, and with it being Experiment 101’s biggest (and only) title yet, there is a lot of promise to live up to. If you consider the amount of RPG’s out these days, especially those with open worlds to explore, there is an abundance of competition that Biomutant is going up against. The real question is: what sets this game apart from the rest, and is it enjoyable enough to recommend?

As I entered into the menus and was prompted to create my own character, I was delighted. Apart from being the most adorable fox-like persona my heart could wish for, I really appreciated the character creator. You see, when creating my character, the system provided to you dictates that the body type of your character is dictated simply by the attributes you have chosen. Simply put, if you choose to play a tanky, highly-damaging character, your body shape will mutate into a broad-shouldered, buff type. If you choose to be ninja-like and quick on your feet, your character will appear more lanky and nimble. Most would say this is a negative, and would say that they would want to dictate how their character appears down to every miniscule detail; I for one am glad that I do not have to go through a list of finicky sliders to choose every little aspect of how my character should look. I can appreciate that “mutating” your character against some chosen attributes makes the choice at the beginning easier and quicker, and allows you to get into the game a lot faster. No matter which class you end up choosing, you will still be adorable after it all…and isn’t that what really matters?

The game really impresses with its environment and aesthetic. The UI is simplistic and clear, which makes things easy to navigate. The world itself is super vibrant, almost like someone cranked up a saturation filter over the entire game—but this is a good thing in this case. The environment is one of the game’s strengths, in terms of its visual appeal and vibrancy. Although being pretty, the environment itself leaves a bit to be desired, in terms of feeling a bit empty. With such a large map, there is often many places to go but nothing to be found. When you enter buildings, items within the environment that you can collect are highlighted for you to see. This is nice, as opposed to searching any and every environmental item which may or may not have something to pick up—which is something a lot of games do. The thing is, some location feel empty; apart from having a couple collectable items strewn about, there is not much to see or do. Building sometimes are quite empty, and travelling between points of interest can sometimes be a bit boring. Luckily, there is fast travel, so that becomes less of an issue with time.

Now to the nitty gritty: the game’s message and overall tone. Within the first five hours, the game absolutely charmed me. With its adorable designs, different approach to character creation, and what looked to be a promising start to what could be an interesting journey. The narration, performed by David Shaw Parker, is performed excellently. Everything is eloquently said and in such a reassuring manner. Unfortunately, after the five-hour mark, I began to notice the narration would kick in at times and would state something generic and almost “preachy” in a way, as if to say we should be searching for enlightenment at all times, even in the most of mundane moments like walking down a dirt path. Simply travelling between two points of interest, when nothing substantial was occurring, the narrator would talk at me. Without any context, this narration encouraging me to live “in the moment”, which was trying to be profound, really just became annoying and exhausting. Luckily, I discovered that this impromptu narration can be disabled in the settings. 

Further to this, the narration was reflective of the agenda or storyline within the game which, in my Humble Opinion, was a struggle to find an interest in. The story focuses on the need to save the Earth from the corruption that has befallen the Tree of Life. You do this by visiting all the roots of the tree, and endeavouring to take out the World Eaters which are causing this corruption to spread. As the protagonist, it was hard to connect with the story and take the mission seriously, as the game exudes silliness on almost every level. Don’t get me wrong, some of it is well-placed and appreciated; however, the game is reminiscent of Ratchet and Clank in the fact that due to the tone being set; the humour being used; the silly names given to characters, objects, and locations; and the cartoon aesthetic crossed with the comic-book style; the game exudes a juvenile feel. Maybe this would be more impactful on a younger audience, but I struggled the see the importance in the story, and it did not encourage me to be engaged by the story or be impacted by what was going on around me. Much like a Ratchet and Clank game, my approach was to have fun; kill stuff; get better gear. I did not expect an intriguing story, nor did I get one, which I think is to be expected by a game which presents itself in the way I have outlined.

Something that was counterintuitive to my immersion within the game and having the opportunity to form a connection with the protagonist and his objectives to “cleanse” the world of this corruption were the dialogue trees within conversation. The game provides dialogue trees when interacting with others, often giving you the chance to learn something about someone or a piece of history. Once you select one option, the other option is bypassed and disappears completely. This makes sense in terms of having the player decide to be “good” over being “bad” by selecting a sole response; but, if the game is simply providing context and information in the form of dialogue to the player, why not let me hear both options? This would have helped strengthen the connection between the player and the world, as what is provided to the player in terms of the story itself could use some bolstering.

Something I did enjoy was the chopping and changing of armour and weapon types. It was really enjoyable to have the ability to customise both the ranged and melee weapons to perform to how I preferred. This was done through finding weapon and armour parts, which are strewn across most locations and are quite easy to find. The starting weapons were quite bland and slow, and it took about five to eight hours to start finding interesting attachments that would turn some boring weaponry into something worthwhile to use. The game, like most, suffers from the trope where a lot of the “high-end” armour and gear don’t make any sense if all equipped at once, nor do they form a cohesive look. I ended up choosing gear that fit a “ninja” aesthetic, instead of min-maxing our gear. Priorities, right?

This is Experiment 101’s first big title, and it is a promising start. Unfortunately, the hype has been building for this title for a long time, but that is a risk developers and publishers take by announcing something they are working on years before release. I think there was an expectation that this game would be unique, and immersive, and polished. It is some of those aspects in small ways. The character designs are unique, the crafting system is immersive and really enjoyable. The polish is not quite there, but I did not encounter any noticeable bugs or glitches: the game was playable. The title did not quite live up to the expectations, but that also is in due part to the AAA price tag. The game is not a “bad game” at all; it needs more work; it needs refinement. There is a lot of potential here, and as an introductory game from Experiment 101, it’s a commendable attempt at an open-world RPG. There are some wins to take from the development in this game to whatever they choose to produce next. Oh, and thanks for having the hindsight to let players turn of the narrator: my sanity has been redeemed.

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Explosive Gel | My Hero Academia Episode 97

And boom goes the dynamite.

Extra! Extra! This just in: Bakugo can work well with others! Yep, it’s the shock of the century, folks. Well, everybody certainly acts like it is. Now, to be fair, Bakugo is a bit of a loud jerk…who acts selfishly and uses the force of his personality to draw others into working to support him. You know what? Everybody is kinda right: this is breaking news. We’ve seen Bakugo mature slightly in his relationship with Midoriya—coming to accept him as a legitimate “friendly” rival—but this is the first time we’ve seen his heroic impulses so openly displayed. I mean, he’s still a bit of a jerk about it, but his notion of a “total victory” now includes the safety of his teammates; that’s a big change. Enough of a change that Class 1-B was entirely flummoxed. Bakugo’s exploits also showed how, with a little tempering, his unyielding bravado can serve as quite the morale boost for his allies. We all know that Bakugo is dangerous and confident to a fault; imagine how good you’d feel knowing that all of that was pointed at your opponent.

I also want to give a shout out to Jiro and Sero—two of my personal favourite characters. They’re not the flashiest of 1-A, but their Quirks are fun and can have a real impact when used cleverly. Specifically, Sero restraining the separated pieces of Lizardy was a cool as it was funny and gross, and Jiro shattering a shield with sound was dope as heck. I still feel pretty bad for Sato, not just because I always have to look up what his name is, because his Quirk is probably the least unique in 1-A and 1-B. The dude is strong: that’s cool…so is Midoriya. I know that’s not the fairest comparison, but most other characters can also use their Quirks to perform insane feats of strength. Case in point, Iida literally tore up the ground with his jet-powered legs. True, super-speed isn’t the freshest idea, but the manner in which Iida achieves it makes it quirky. Sato powers up with sugar, that’s fun, but we’ve never really seen any quirk to his Quirk. Still, it managed to get me way off point; so, maybe that counts for something…but probably not.

P.S. I rescind some of my previous negativity towards Class 1-B, solely due to the existence of the Hero name Jack Mantis.

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A Grand Purpose | To Your Eternity Episode 6

Well this certainly turned out to be a truly eventful episode of To Your Eternity. Not only do we see Fushi make major progression as he learns to speak and communicate with the aid of the old woman he had previously encountered in the Yanome prison, but we also meet Fushi’s creator: the mysterious “Maker”. There was a lot to sink our teeth into with this week’s episode, and we get our first glimpse at the deeper plot at play with the Maker hinting at a grand purpose for Fushi.

The episode picks up with Fushi fleeing the Yanome and heading into the forest and meeting back up with Pioran, the old lady they saved from the prison in the prior episodes. After a bit of back and forth, Pioran begins teaching Fushi language. We then see a bit of a montage of their travels as Fushi learns more and more words and, ultimately, we see he becomes capable of conversation. This gives us a look into Fushi’s mind for the first time, with Fushi recounting his journey up until now and the impact of meeting the boy in the first episode and his desire to fulfil March’s dream to grow up.

The two travel across the sea at Pioran’s request, in order to return to her home village. However, upon landing they are confronted by a dangerous monster that seems to be the antithesis of Fushi. The monster appears to be made out of plant roots and violently stabs Fushi, absorbing some of the vessels and memories from within him. In the thick of the fight, a mysterious hooded figure appears before Fushi, guiding him to victory against the monster and to regain the different forms he had. After the battle, the hooded man informs Fushi that he is in fact the one who created him, and the monster he fought against was sent by another being whose goal is to prevent Fushi and the Maker from achieving their grand purpose.

The Maker vaguely explains that Fushi was created by him to, in a way, record the events of the world before “the end” arrives. It is very ominous to say the least, but it gives us an idea of the greater spiritual workings at play here. The Maker bids Fushi farewell for now and promises to meet him again. The episode ends with Fushi and Pioran returning to her hometown and meeting a strange boy with a bizarre helmet. It looks like we will get to know a bit more about him next week. As for this week, it was an awesome episode, to say the very least—with a great fight scene between Fushi and the monster—and we finally got some answers as to what exactly is going on with this immortal being that we know as Fushi. The thing that is lingering with me, however, is the Maker’s foreboding warning about “the end”. For now, let’s put a pin in that until future episodes.

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I’ve Got to Hand It to You | Resident Evil Village

Resident Evil Village has returned, with some first-person survival horror intertwined with the expected puzzles and out-there characters we have seen previously within the series. Reminiscent of Resident Evil 7 playstyle, this new iteration continues the story of Ethan Winters and his wife Mia. The game introduces some twists and turns, and some extremely imposing and interesting character designs.

To give a brief understanding of the plot as it continues from Resident Evil 7: you play as Ethan Winters, who is trying to live a somewhat normal life with his wife Mia. The beginning of the narrative sets the scene in the family home, where Ethan and Mia are discussing life and going through the rigmarole of the evening. We are introduced to Rose, the couple’s baby, who will become the centre of the story and the motivating force that drives Ethan to going through absolute hell to get her back. Thus begins Ethan’s bloody and stressful trek throughout what can only be described as European vampiric castles crossed with horrific dollhouse tropes, eventually turning into a Half Life–inspired factory of horrors. Ethan traverses through these horror-set environments, constantly being poked, prodded, stabbed, and amputated by everything around him. His hands take most of the beating, and may make you flinch out of the pure gory obliteration of his digits along the way. There is a lot of blood in this game, but you would expect this to be so if you are familiar with the series. I don’t want to give too much away; the story is interesting and best experienced throughout the gameplay.

The gameplay reflects what the general experience was in RE7, but the highlight of the game is definitely the wacky characters and the setting. Although teased the most in gameplay releases, Lady Dimitrescu only appears within the first quarter of the game. The first time I witnessed her walking swiftly after me, and then ducking to fit through the doorways within her own castle, that’s when her height was realised; and boy, was it super imposing and terrifying. The way she does not even flinch, even with a bullet to the head, proves her to be an unstoppable force. Even more so, the fact that she chases after you in such a calm manner is somehow more unsettling than if she was running at you with full speed. Her confidence and sheer size make her imposing and threatening, and it is clear why she was featured heavily within early promotional content. Her part of the story, including the setting within the castle, feels very reminiscent of old school Resident Evil.

There are a slew of other interesting characters, such as Heisenberg and Mother Miranda—two of the five antagonists which you will go up against. Lady Dimitrescu and Heisenberg are quite heavily focused upon, and the sections featuring them are well developed. The environments are truly unique to each of their character archetypes, and there were puzzles and small attention to detail given to these areas to make them engaging to play through. There are smaller sections strewn in between for some of the other antagonists, but they felt short and somewhat undercooked. I was excited about the prospect of facing up against Donna Beneviento, the puppet master. It seemed there was so much potential, based upon her creepy residence filled with shaking and talking dolls. Taking her down was anti-climactic at best, as Ethan simply chased her possessed doll around the house and attacked it simply with the press of a button; it seemed like what could have been a cool boss fight was turned into a press-one-button cinematic, and that was the end of that. We moved on.

A distant cry from uniquely designed main characters are the basic enemies within the game. There isn’t much variation within the basic enemies, with Lycans being one of the consistent enemies you will see throughout the game. Later on, when you experience Heisenberg’s chapters, you will encounter more variation—with some enemies having weak spots you’ll need to target, armed with drills for hands. Generally, the combat entails shooting enemies, with the most effective hits to take them down being headshots. The combat and gameplay has not really changed from the known Resident Evil formula, but it did not really have to. The highlight here is the experience as a package, and most notably the continuation of the story in a well-designed environment. If you take a look around, there is a lot of environmental story-telling, and it is done well. Chunks taken out of houses indicating that some monster has smashed through, pots of soup exuding steam and still on the stove top. The village itself feels like life was once there, but was recently chased out.

I was super impressed by Village on the PS5. The visuals were stunning, and I was constantly stopping to admire the textures on walls and the beams of light streaming through windows and cracks. There was no sense that I was missing out on any visual fidelity for picking the PS5 version over PC. HDR enabled, raytracing enabled, and 4K textures made this game a pleasure to look at. And it ran smooth, with not even a stutter during the whole experience. In fact, the experience itself was smooth—there were no bugs, glitches, obvious clipping, or freezes. Our playthrough took us 9 hours and 48 minutes, and that was at a relaxed (not rushed) pace.

Overall, the experience was enjoyable and what we were expecting from the franchise. The game, even though very similar in mechanics to RE7, brought the next part of the story to fans tied in with some new and interesting characters and settings. The game introduces some twists and turns in the plot and keeps the player engaged with some really good pacing and storytelling, intertwined with puzzles which were never too difficult to figure out—after a couple of minutes at most. As a highly polished product, it’s hard not to recommend the game, especially for fans of the series.

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Dash and Burn | My Hero Academia Episode 96

Striking while the steel is hot.

It’s that time again, Academia nuts, when the environment explodes into cubes and characters blur into smears. And it’s just as awesome as ever. I’ve always been a fan of super speed, so watching Iida cut loose is quite a sight to behold. Plus, he’s got that whole too-fast-to-turn thing going on, which is neat. Sure, sure, being able to control his Quirk would be top, but seeing him dash and ricochet around the battlefield is just so…exciting. Also, it counters Mudman’s ability to soften the ground, which has literally bogged down the fight for two episodes. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cool Quirk, but boy does it overshadow everything else. Every single second is spent wondering when the ground will melt and interrupt a cool moment—which it almost always does. Also, Pony straight up stabs Ojiro. Yeah it’s in his tail, but still: this inter-class class has consistently made me question U.A. High. This is possibly also due to the fact that I don’t really care about 1-B, and their overpowering of 1-A seems to undermine the fact that the main cast have actually fought real Villains. That being said…

Todoroki, dude, you gotta get some therapy. Every time we delve into his head, Todoroki is reliving some beating that Endeavour laid down. Also, Endeavour, you should probably be in gaol or something, because you beat up your kid. I mean, this is a society where students are constantly put in life-or-death situations, so…that might be more like a finable offence. Damn, Hero society might actually be pretty messed up… Anyway, shelving that for another day, ol’ Todoroki is back to testing/pushing his firepower, burning hot enough to set Tetsutetsu on fire. Does this mean Todoroki can definitely kill a person who isn’t composed of steel strong enough to survive an oven? Yes. Definitely. Endeavour killed a High-End Nomu and, by his own flashback admission, Todoroki is an upgrade of him. These kids are, just, so damn powerful. Todoroki set an industrial area (and a guy) on fire, Iida knocked a guy out with one punch, Mudman can melt the earth and swim in it…Ojiro has a tail. One can only dream of what will happen when they all learn to control their Quirks to the fullest… Pain. It’ll probably be pain to whoever they fight. Pain and burns. Pain and burns and pebbles in their shirts from softened debris that re-solidified.

P.S. The match was a draw. I mean, that’s kinda important; but, let’s be honest, we’re all just waiting until Midoriya’s match—maybe Bakugo’s. This is all just the warm up.

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For March | To Your Eternity Episode 5

This was an utterly heartbreaking episode, to say the very least. It was an emotionally devastating turn of events that has completely reshaped the trajectory of To Your Eternity going forward. Such was the importance of March, the rambunctious little girl who had become the heart of the show.

Picking up immediately where we left off last week—with Parona staging a prison break—it isn’t long before the Yanome soldiers have caught up with them, and things quickly take a turn for the worse. As Parona is fighting off the onslaught of soldiers and arrows flying her way, March, noticing a stray arrow about to hit Parona, jumps in the arrow’s path—sacrificing herself in the process.

As she lay dying, she asks Parona to become a mother in her stead, to fulfill the dream she never could. As she departs this mortal coil, Fushi becomes incensed and transforms into the big Oniguma bear and absolutely unleashes on the soldiers. As Fushi rages, Parona breaks down as she is confronted with the reality that she could not save March from her fate. March will never get to grow up. March has died.

At this point, we see a gut-wrenching vision of the life March will never live. We see her as an adult with children, and then we see her as a spirit watching on with the spirit of Oniguma, coming to realise her life is over.

Grief stricken, Parona takes up a blade and is going to kill herself so that she can “join March”. Until March, as a spirit begging her not to, acts through the body of Fushi—grabbing the blade and preventing her from taking her life. March doesn’t want her to die: she wants her to live the life she never will.

From here, Fushi and Parona return to the Ninnanah village and recount the events to March’s distraught parents. Try as she might, Parona couldn’t save March and it weighs heavily on her. Things don’t stay quiet for long, as the villagers report that the Yanome soldiers are coming. Parona tells Fushi to run; he appears to understand. We see that Fushi can understand and will remember March as his mother. The episode ends with Fushi transforming into March as the narrator tells us that the rambunctious little girl had became a mother to Fushi, and thanks to her he learned a lot about what it means to be human. Taking on March’s form, she lives on through Fushi.

Ultimately, this was a beautiful yet sorrowful episode of To Your Eternity. March was such a lovable character, and with her now exiting the series stage right, what happens next is anyone’s guess. But if I were to guess, it seems the series will continue following Fushi through different locations and times as he slowly but surely gains more knowledge and understanding of the world around him. Perhaps Fushi’s ultimate goal will be to remember these people who have so profoundly impacted him. We shall see.

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Full Throttle | My Hero Academia Episode 95

Well, that’s one way to break the ice.

Another week, another match. This time around, it’s Todoroki and Iida’s time to shine and show us all what they’re made of. I mean, there are other participants in this match but, let’s be honest, those are the only two the series really cares about. Even then, Iida hasn’t had much play since he went after Stain, and that was an annoyingly long time ago (given that it makes you realise how fast time has passed since then). Regardless, it’s nice to see Iida in the spotlight again, given that he is, ostensibly, the third member of the main-cast trio. It’s also nice to see that he has made progress with his Quirk, ripping the mufflers from his own legs in order to perform a “tune-up” of his engine. Is it as horrifying as it sounds? Pretty much. Especially since it’s a technique handed down through the generations of the Iida family. How exactly did his grandfather discover that self-mutilation led to a speed boost? I mean, the mufflers grow back, but still…

As much as this match is also about Todoroki, it won’t be until the next episode that anything pays of. So far, Todoroki has frozen half of the battlefield and mulled over his ever-tumultuous memories of his father’s “training” regimen. The seeds have also been planted regarding a new move Todoroki will unleash—the particular topic of this batch of childhood memories. And in case that wasn’t enough, we even briefly cut over to see Endeavour Hero-ing all over the place, before wondering—aloud—why Todoroki hasn’t text him back, since he wants to pass on “that move”. Long story short: Todoroki is going to burn some stuff next episode. Probably other students, most definitely an industrial battlefield, hopefully not himself…hopefully not the other students as well, I suppose. I thought the in-airway mushrooms from last episode were bad—which they were; gross too—but fire that burns hot enough to maim is probably worse. No, it’s definitely worse. It’s fire. U.A. is a seriously dangerous place.

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Locked Away | To Your Eternity Episode 4

The being now has a name. After determining herself to be the being’s surrogate mother, March has named the being “Fushi”, which is derived from the Japanese word for Immortal. It is a pretty fitting title, and one that was put to the test this week.

After earning their freedom last week when Fushi defeated the giant bear, also known as Oniguma-sama, we see that freedom was short lived, as the Yanome folk ultimately lock up March, Parona, and Fushi—despite promising to free them.

We learn that the Yanome people have been intentionally manipulating and controlling the information flow and educational growth of the people of Ninnanah, in order to keep them subservient and under the thumb of the Yanome. How long this has been going on for is implied to be for generations.

While locked up by the Yanome, Fushi is experiemented on as countless prisoners are sent in to attempt to kill him—to no avail, of course. Throughout all this, Fushi is slowly learning more and more. Parona had pondered earlier in the episode: what is the meaning and purpose of life if one can never die? Perhaps we will come to see as the series progresses.

The episode comes to its climax with Parona staging a breakout; looking to be about to free March and Fushi from the castle. It seems there will be some back and forth between both sides in the coming weeks as our heroes seek their freedom.

I found this to be a bit of a cool-down episode, but one that posed interesting scenarios and ideas worth contemplating on. Next week seems to be following the group as they evade the Yanome folk, which is sure to be interesting. Overall, I am enjoying the slow and deliberate pacing of the series and eagerly await the next instalment.

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Breathing ‘Shroom | My Hero Academia Episode 94

Oh shiitake…

Okay, full disclosure, I’m a little biased towards Class 1-A. I mean, they’re our crew, our buddies, our chums; I don’t really care about Class 1-B. Whilst I don’t despise the characters, it is easier for me to note their flaws and question their actions. Why am I telling you this? Because I feel like I’ve been ranting a lot about 1-B, and I think it’s best to be honest…and because I’m probably not going to stop the ranting. Case in point: Mushroom Girl grew a mushroom in Tokoyami’s windpipe. Let that sink in. I know this series is about teenagers frequently engaging in perilous activities, but that’s just…wrong. Again, cards on the table, organic/biological combat has always squicked me out, but I can’t be the only one who was really thrown off by this. Kendo also punched Yaoyorozu with enough force to crush tungsten; so, these kids aren’t messing around. To be fair, Class 1-A also doesn’t hold back in combat—what with the last match’s lightning and mind control—but I stand by my convictions that that mushroom thing was gross…and that Mushroom Girl may need a talking to.

Fungi-based horror aside, this episode amounts to a mental tug-of-war between Kendo and Yaoyorozu: who is the better tactician? Victory teeters between both sides a few times, before falling on the side of “Class 1-A can’t win all of the matches because, like, that wouldn’t be fair”. Invisible Girl doesn’t really add much to either 1-A’s chance to win or lose, as her invisibility is initially nullified by the fungus sprouting on her body and then—once the fungus is cleared via Yaoyorozu’s ability creating disinfectant—she simply punches one of her opponents a few times. I mean, she’s not as useless as Aoyama, but her contribution isn’t great. Essentially, Kendo’s team beat Yaoyorozu and Tokoyami; the other two didn’t really add anything. So, fairy play 1-B, chalk up your victory and let’s all see who whiffs it next.

P.S. I enjoy that Sato has the forethought to question how Manga’s ability to make comic sound effects manifest will play out in countries that don’t speak Japanese. It’s a solid question.

P.P.S. I still don’t understand why anime creates characters who finish sentences with a word relating to their physicality and/or ability. Is it funny that the girl what makes mushrooms says the word mushroom a lot?

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Arigatou | To Your Eternity Episode 3

Through the countless connections we make in our lives, we learn and we grow. Connection is one of our core instincts and desires. This week’s episode of To Your Eternity explored the way the connections that the immortal being has made has influenced its growth and evolution. In particular, we see how the connection it had made with the rambunctious little girl March had impacted it.

After fleeing from her ritual sacrifice and encountering the being, March is eventually found by the soldiers tasked with carrying out the ritual and—resigning herself to her fate—she farewells the being which had, in a way, become her surrogate child: the child she will never get to have. Her dream of becoming a grown up and, one day, a mother are dashed as she is soon to be sacrificed.

As it turns out, the beast that she is to be sacrificed to is, in fact, the bear that had repeatedly attacked and killed the being in the prior episode. Once March had been taken and placed upon the sacrificial stage, the bear once again appears. Parona (the woman who had desperately tried to save March) appears once again, only to be launched into the distance by the bear’s colossal paw. Things look truly bleak for March until the being rocks up and protects her from the bear.

The being jumps in and is torn to shreds, but is instantly regenerating now. It continues to fight and fight for March and even transforms back into its wolf form from the first episode. It fights over and over, refusing to let March be harmed, and ultimately manages to take the bear down.

The soldiers are in a state of shock and consider this all to be some kind of divine intervention from God and choose to let March and Parona be free, with the caveat that they will inform the villagers of March’s death via the sacrifice and the two will never return there. Thankful to the being, March once again gives it a pear to eat as she had done earlier when it was near death due to starvation. The being eats the pear and, still in the form of a wolf, turns to March and says, “Arigatou.”

The connection formed between the being and March is a truly sweet one, and I’m curious what happens next from here. I presume the being will continue to connect with other people and learn more and more, little by little. The way the being defended March here was a true sight to behold and reminds us that kindness and compassion may be the purest form of sincere connection there is.

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Under the Shadow | My Hero Academia Episode 93

In the arms of a Dark Fallen Angel.

Tweet, tweet, y’all: it’s time to focus on Class 1-A’s most avian student. Normally I’d feel bad about jokingly referencing a character’s physicality, but neither Hawks or Tokoyami are above it; so, let’s see how well our resident edge lord can flock shit up. Case in point: dude can sorta fly now. That’s dope. Well, it isn’t so much flying as it is floating with style, but the effect is realistically the same. The technique isn’t quite as dramatic as the name Dark Fallen Angel would lead you to believe, but I’m always keen to see the U.A. lot utilise every detail of their Quirks. As Midoriya points out, Dark Shadow is capable of floating under his own power; always has been. Why not think of a way to use that? Heck, one of the series’ biggest turning points came from Midoriya remembering that kicks were a thing. I’m not entirely sure how well Tokoyami’s new ability will serve him in this battle, though, as his opponents seem rather well prepared for various contingencies. Speaking of…

…can 1-B get some more characterisation please? I know these episodes can’t entirely be devoted to learning about 1-B, but I wouldn’t mind a little more depth. As it stands, eighty percent of their motivation is wanting to beat Class 1-A. I get it, 1-A are the spoilt class…but I also don’t really care. Shinso rocked up and wanted to better himself to achieve his own dreams; 1-B won’t shut-up about 1-A for more than two seconds. Even the damn teacher has a chip on his shoulder, commentating the matches with a heavy bias for 1-B. I know most of it is played for humour, I get that, but I really don’t want 1-B to win. And that’s not just bias for the main cast: I just don’t care about 1-B in the slightest. I mean, Kendo’s cool and I like Tetsutetsu, but—if you can believe it—it’s because we’ve gotten something more out of them than “I don’t like 1-A ’cause they’re all, like, popular and stuff”. Also, why do 1-A keep falling for obvious traps? These kids have fought actual Villains who wanted to kill them: are they really so naïve as to be lead into an obvious trap/ambush? Evidently…yes, yes they are. I’m just not sure what we’re supposed to be seeing here. One would imagine that this test would show us how these two classes differ; how they have evolved down different paths (you know, ’cause All Might thought-spoke that exact sentiment). All I’ve seen so far is that 1-B are conniving and 1-A are gullible. That being said, this is a Shonen series; so, stuff doesn’t really count until Midoriya or Bakugo are involved. Such it is ordained.

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Answering The Call | The Falcon and The Winter Soldier Episode 6

After spending its first five episodes exploring both sides ideologies and philosophies, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier comes to a decisively centrist view point in the end. It’s not about left wing or right wing, both wings together are what makes things fly. The series had been critiqued as being “too woke” by some in its early episodes; however, this finale takes an ultimately anti-woke agenda in the end. Sam rejects the ideology of the Flag Smashers, but he also rejects the uber-nationalism of John Walker and the United States Government. Instead, he realises that both points of view are valid and—while he understands where people like Karli and Isaiah Bradley are coming from—he also believes that America is still a great country that is worth fighting for, despite its flaws.

The finale sees Sam Wilson finally taking up the shield and mantle of Captain America while rejecting the idea of being defined by his race. In an earlier episode, when he is referred to as Black Falcon he says, “No, I am just the Falcon.” He doesn’t believe that race should matter and that, much like the great Martin Luther King had once said, a person should be judged by the content of their character not the colour of their skin—and this is clearly a creed that Sam lives by. While people like Karli and Isaiah Bradley would have him believe that the “white man” is bad, Sam doesn’t believe it. He loved his friend Steve Rogers and knows that the colour of one’s skin is irrelevant in comparison to whether they are good person or not. This is something that Karli, for instance, has no concept of, as she devolves here into comically evil. A bit of a disappointing direction for the character but there is only so much time that we have here.

It’s clear that Marvel was wanting to say something with this series, and having John Walker ultimately redeemed in this final episode was a surprising choice to say the very least. Ultimately, Karli and the Flag Smashers served as the series stand-in for real world activism and violent riot movements like Antifa and some extreme sects of BLM. The idea of open borders in the world and the overthrowing of the government and rule of law is one that matches up in striking parallel to the real world counterparts and, much like the many who have lost their lives in the wake of these movements, the Flag Smashers ultimately resort to violence and killing in order to get their message out into the world. It makes it all the more curious that the uber-nationalist that is John Walker is portrayed in a heroic light in the end here, choosing to save innocents rather than get his revenge on Karli.

Ultimately, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is a show about accepting who you are. Just like Sam had to accept that he is Captain America now, Bucky had to accept that he was the Winter Soldier, and we have to accept that our world and our countries aren’t perfect places—there are countless issues that people of all walks of life face each and every day. These are complicated issues, but these problems and flaws aren’t what define us. There is still so much good in us and focusing on the good and using that to resolve what’s wrong: that is how we move forward united, rather than divided. It’s all about accepting our faults, our differences, yet choosing to rise above them, instead of simply choosing to be a victim. All in all, I found this to be a fantastic show despite the underdeveloped Flag Smashers characters, it was a great character study for Sam and Bucky and even John Walker. I, for one, look forward to what comes next for these characters as they continue to try to right the wrongs of the world one day at a time.

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Not Ready to Die | To Your Eternity Episode 2

After spending the past week eagerly awaiting episode two of To Your Eternity to be released on Crunchyroll, I was pleased to see the series continue on strong as it edges slowly forward. There is no doubt about it that this show is intended to be a slow burn, but I am all for it—especially when it is this good.

Picking up where things left off last week, the mysterious immortal being has taken on the form of the boy from episode one. The being has been wandering slowly but surely for an indeterminate amount of time, and we learn that they had died several times—each time regenerating faster than the last. Eventually, the being makes its way into a forest area before being killed yet again, somewhat unceremoniously.

Things shift focus from there to a small tribal village, where we meet a rather rambunctious girl by the name of March. She really wants to grow up and be a mum, but unfortunately, as fate would have it, she is selected to be sacrificed as part of some ritual that the town, for reasons unknown, must follow. March, of course, isn’t too fond of the whole being-ritual-sacrificed-and-killed business and decides to flee.

She eventually runs into the immortal being who has died countless times for a variety of reasons. The being learns how to eat after March teaches them and she comes to take on a motherly relationship with the being, who still is unable to speak.

The episode ended on a bit of a curious note, as we are left hanging with March on the run with the being and some agents of the village out to find her and carry of the ritual. It was, overall, a slow-paced episode that is laying the groundwork for things to come. I am quite curious to see what will happen to March and the being; hopefully, for her sake, it doesn’t end up like the boy in episode one, but we shall see.

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Building Upon the First | Dragon Quest Builders 2

We’re currently in the midst of a Minecraft-terrain generation overhaul—where developers are coding away to create the “Caves and Cliffs” update—which has caused me, an avid player of the game, to cease playing until the full update is released. This, we have been told, won’t be complete until late this year. So, what’s a girl to do to satiate the desire for crafting and building games? Well, I decided to take a look at Dragon Quest Builders 2 on the PlayStation, as I came across a bargain-bin copy at my local brick-and-mortar store. Prior to this, I had minimal experience with Dragon Quest Builders, the first game released in the series by Square Enix. I recall playing it on the Switch during my commutes to work, but as I no longer commute, I defaulted to playing more games on PC and PS5—so that went neglected. Let’s get stuck into what I think of the game, already at forty hours in.

Similarly to the first iteration, there is minimal character customisation, which did not bother me and was to be expected. The game begins with what is clearly a tutorial, as you find yourself on a ship following instructions in order to keep it afloat. Things devolve into madness, and you eventually find yourself ship wrecked, ready to start your life alongside your companion Malroth,—who was also on the ship and has a penchant for fighting everything he sees, apparently. If you thought the tutorial ended with the ship, oh, you are so, so wrong. The game itself is almost all a tutorial, but not in a monotonous way. You see, the game works tutorials into the gameplay; so, while you are aware that some of the tasks you are completing are tutorials, they also serve a purpose of actually progressing you through the game. Quests assigned to you are usually in the vein of collecting certain types of items or blocks in order complete builds and progress the settlement. There are a lot of fetch quests; but, for the most part, they are made quick and easy with the use of fast travel points. In regards to story, if you are not a fan of reading through dialogue, you may find yourself skipping a lot of text. There is no voice acting; in my humble opinion, I would still gladly play the game without the story element present. The story is not the game’s strength, and it simply pads it out with the huge amount of settler dialogue, which can get monotonous.

One of the first major mechanics you’ll learn: how to grow those tasty, tasty cabbages!

The game takes you through many varying environments as you progress through the campaign: plains, deserts, caves, mountains, ruins, and more. The overall goal is to build up your settlements. Quests guide you through this naturally, and you’ll find on completion of these that the people living within your settlements will drop little hearts on the floor for you to pick up. Think of this almost as a satisfaction rating: the more you collect, the more the settlers are enjoying the structures you have built. Once you have collected enough, you can level up your settlement, which gets you further into the story but also makes the town more susceptible to enemy attacks, which typically come in waves. Combat is similar to the first game: highly simplistic. The game allows you a basic attack: a slashing attack. Further into the game, you unlock moves that you can combo, on occasion, with your fighting partner Malroth and a heavier swipe attack—but don’t expect much variation or a complex system. I found myself going into battles with a plethora of cooked food, ready to spam the “eat” button for heals. The combat is simplistic, but that was okay, as that’s not where this game shines. 

Basic sword slash is all we need…and mostly all we get.

What more could you really want out of a game like this than a good building experience? This game provides that. There are hundreds of stylistic blocks and items, so you can build to your heart’s content. The game explains early on that everything you build can have a purpose if you place the correct items within the room that you construct. For example, creating a small room (say, 4×4 blocks) and placing a pot and towel in there will create a toilet room that your settlers can actually use (and create a useful by-product: nightsoil). The game has many purpose-built rooms, which it allows you to discover through experimentation of furniture placement. This can be a lot of fun: figuring out what items belong together to create useful sets. The game provides lots of blueprints for unique buildings, too, that you end up creating during the campaign, one example being the Silver Bar you construct in the settlement in Khrumbul-Dun. Once you build the structure outlined on a blueprint, it remains with you to build anywhere else you’d like to in the future. You can really take each settlement as far as you wish outside of quest progression. You can simply just complete the quests to progress in each settlement before moving on to the next, or you can take your time and build extra-functional buildings in every town—improving the infrastructure and making the town to your aesthetic before moving on.

Don’t know what to build? Put down a blueprint: problem solved!

Dragon Quest Builders 2 provides a lot of value within the price you pay to own it. For fans of sandbox games where building is the key to providing the bulk of your entertainment, this game is a no-brainer. It was built for creativity, and is the type of game to sit back and play at a relaxed pace. The game definitely satiates the need to build and create but is accompanied by some other things to do. Notably, across each terrain, you’ll find puzzles to complete and difficult monsters to defeat. There are always new blocks to be found out in the wild to collect for your builds, and monsters to come across which drop items for you to cook up in new recipes. I recommend picking this up on Switch, especially for commuters (just make sure to not miss your stop…) and on PlayStation for those who want a laid-back couch-gaming experience.

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Weighing Words | My Hero Academia Episode 92

Sticks and stones…

What did the potential transfer student say to the Hero-in-training? Whatever he wanted, because he had a device that allowed him to alter the pitch of his voice and trick them into falling for his Brainwashing Quirk. Man, that joke is a classic; it’s also cool to watch. Shinso has always been an interesting tilt on the respect and fear that Quirks can impose all on their own. Brainwashing is a frightening power—there’s no getting around that—but to think that Shinso was almost denied even an attempt at his dream because of this: MHA society has a lot to answer for…like, seriously…some messed up stuff goes on in this world. Still, it’s nice that our blue-haired boy gets his time in the spotlight. I want him to stick around and blaze his way to the status of Hero. Also, he’s way cooler and more likable than, like, half of Class 1-B. I mean, I don’t want to step on any spiritual landmines, but shouldn’t someone have a chat with Vine? The girl thinks it’s her God-given duty to punish evil; she threatened to whip her classmate for the sin of using her as bait. Though, I suppose Bakugo yells that he’s going to kill every opponent he faces… U.A. needs to have a long talk with their entire student body: there’s some issues that need to be sorted out.

Anywho, this episode featured the conclusion of the first inter-class battle. Since Class 1-B has been largely unexplored for a long while (or at all), this fight was mostly about how Class 1-A could adapt to opponents with drive and teamwork. Case in point, destabilising teamwork works wonders in beating a team. In addition to showcasing how unnerving Shinso can be in combat, 1-A’s plan revealed just how Tsuyu and Kaminari have learnt from their previous losses and mistakes. It was nice seeing these characters get their own moments to shine, whilst also showing how much further they can go. Kirishima, for example, was considered the largest threat in the battle. Remember, the guy who lamented his simplistic Quirk? Yeah. That guy worked hard enough to be more intimidating than a guy who can expel lightning. So, work hard, kids, and one day you too can be…a substantial threat in a combat situation? …what’s the moral of this series? Does it need one? Did I even talk about the plot of this episode enough? If I didn’t can I distract from that fact by asking enough questions? …that Shinso guy is cool, right?

P.S. I guess Koda was also in this fight.

P.P.S. Somebody finally pointed out how confronting it is that Tsuyu constantly wraps people up in her tongue. Also, does that means she’s constantly tasting, like, rocks and people and stuff?

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I Am The Captain Now | Falcon and The Winter Soldier Episode 5

Picking up immediately after where we left off last week—with John Walker straight up killing a man with the shield—we open the episode with an intense bit of an altercation between Sam, Bucky, and John, which is reminiscent of the two-on-one beat down that concludes the Civil War film. It is quite clear that John Walker has lost the plot here, and Bucky and Sam need to get that shield out of his hands before more damage can be done.

After that rad opening fight sequence, the episode loses a lot of steam as we return to the worst storyline in the show—that being whether Sam’s sister can fix the family boat. These scenes were hard not to just treat as filler, they did little to add to the events, and they also bring a lot of the story to a screeching halt.

Outside of the boat repairs, we also see John Walker’s trial, where is he discharged from the military and basically named and shamed—alongside being stripped of the title of Captain America. John doesn’t take this well, but then he meets Elaine from Seinfeld who basically says he is a good boy and she wants to work with him. John seems to like this.

On the other side of things, it looks like Karli and the other Flag Smashers are more resolute than ever in their goals, and we get a bit of a hint at their ultimate plan: which is set to unfold in the finale episode. I still feel like there was a lot of missed opportunities with these characters and, overall, they just don’t feel like that much of a threat. I feel like they would have been better served as a film antagonist instead of having their barely concocted plot dragged out slowly over the course of a series.

Ultimately, I do question if there was enough substantial story here that this had to be a Disney Plus series. I feel it could have been movie length and accomplished the same things overall. Anyways, with Sam spending a good portion of the episode training with the shield in preparation of the final confrontation with the Flag Smashers and Walker—as well as Bucky and Zemo putting a nice bow on their storyline—it certainly seems we are heading quickly into the series’ conclusion, for better or for worse. I’ve found this series to have a lot of great moments but the connective tissue between them has been lacking, to say the least. One more week to go; take up your shields, everybody. We may be in for a bumpy ride.

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Remember Me | To Your Eternity Episode 1

I’ve contemplated a lot about what I’m going to write for this article. After watching the first episode of To Your Eternity, I felt that I had watched something truly special. Over the course of a single episode, I had experienced the highs and lows of the entire emotional spectrum. This is an anime that has something to say, and in an ever growing anime industry which rewards series that don’t, To Your Eternity feels all the more precious.

This first episode was a thoughtful and meditative experience, the likes of which has become rare in the medium. Without spoiling the first episode, because I do truly encourage you who is reading this to watch it if you have not yet done so, To Your Eternity looks to be a series that will ponder the questions of life, death, and the pursuit of meaning.

This first episode is a largely enclosed story but there is the makings of an overarching plot, to be sure. Some higher power sent an orb down to Earth and that orb began to take various forms over time when stimulated, and with each new form this being is discovering about life on this planet. This episode explores the orb taking the form of a snow wolf as it accompanies a young man trying to find his people, who had set out to find a supposed “paradise” beyond the mountains.

What unfolds is both beautiful and heart-wrenching: the tragedy that is life itself and the endless endeavour to find purpose and meaning within it. As we learn more about the young man and his relationship with both his people and his wolf friend, Joaan, it is hard not to be swept up in the emotion of it all. Through the beautiful animation and incredible soundtrack, I was completely transported into the world of the series and absorbed in the tale it was telling.

After the tragic yet solemnly beautiful conclusion to this episode, I was left with many questions. I am very intrigued by where this series is going. It has a similar feeling to series like Mushishi and Casshern Sins, albeit very different in setting. The episode explored the idea of how we can keep people alive as long as we remember them; I for one won’t be forgetting this first episode any time soon. I think it may, in fact, go down as one of the all-time best first episodes of an anime series—in this writer’s humble opinion. Next week feels like an eternity away right now.

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Back in Action | My Hero Academia Episodes 89–91

Class 1-A, assemble!

MHA is back, baby. So excited by this fact was I, that I neglected to write about it for three weeks. Chalk it up to pure, unadulterated excitement…or the fact that I was busy. Regardless, I’m talking about it now. So…let’s skip the first episode. Not the most heartening of opening statements, but the kick-off for this season was essentially a re-introduction to the main cast. We’re closing in on triple-digit episodes, we know who they are. Who we don’t know are the previous holders of One For All. It would seem that Midoriya has surpassed expectations once more, as he has now developed connection with his Quirk beyond what even All Might had achieved. Via a dream/vision, Midoriya learns that the original holder of One For All was actually All For One’s younger brother: a frail man who vehemently rejected his older brother’s worldview. Though we’ve always know these two prominent Quirks are destined to clash, it’s pretty interesting to see just how linked they are. Heck, All For One is seen giving his brother the Quirk, as he was born without one of his own. Fraternal rivalry aside, what interested me the most was seeing how a younger All For One used charisma to acquire allies: using his own Quirk to empower those who desired strength and free those from Quirks they didn’t want. It’s a damn fine way to show how this Villain has walked his way through history, whilst also expressing how the tumultuous society created from the appearance of Quirks facilitated him. I mean, the only thing that really impacted AFO’s presence is All Might punching his face off…

Cranial obliteration aside, our third episode deals with the return of Class 1-B. Like, all of them. As is MHA‘s wont, it seems we’re delving into another training arc, with 1-A and 1-B clashing directly. Although, as it so often is, attention is directed away from 1-B and towards an unexpected competitor: Shinso. Remember, the kid what has Brainwashing? Well, he wants to switch to the Hero course and joining the fray is his ticket in. What interests me the most about this development is that Aizawa seems to have taken a mentor role with Shinso. Though we only saw them together briefly, the fact that the Shinso/Aizawa duo met the Midoriya/All Might duo seems intentional. Also, Shinso has some of Aizawa’s Binding Cloth—implying a more involved mentor/mentee relationship. From my own supposition, I figure that Aizawa relates to a kid whose Quirk seems to possess an inherent darkness. That’s part of what I love about this series: flipping expectations and also exploring why expectations needed to be flipped. Shinso isn’t a bad guy, people just assumed he would use his Quirk for mischief and evil. Heck, it’s this societal pressure that All For One manipulated in his youth, gaining power by appealing to the mistreated and abandoned—as we learn from Midoriya’s dream/vision/history lesson. Though a dark aspect of this series’ world, it is one that I fear will only become more prevalent as the story unfolds. You know, to supplement the punching…because there will probably be a lot of punching…maybe even a few kicks.

P.S. Without trying to sound sociopathic, watching the…complicated family dynamic of the Todorokis was rather interesting. The fact that each member has a unique manner of coping with what has happened in their lives shows a true sense of character and a strong sense of writing for the series. I hope it all works out, but it’s nice to see different perspectives are being presented. Endeavour messed up bad; he doesn’t get to will that away with a heel–face turn.

P.P.S. It feels a little weird to reveal the truth of Hawks phony double-cross so quickly. Unless…is the series faking us out? Are you, Hawks, merely pretending to be pretending to be evil? How deep does this rabbit hole go? How deep do normal rabbit holes go? Deep enough to warrant an idiom, I would assume, but I don’t actually know. Do you know, Hawks? Am I talking directly to an anime character? When did that happen? How deep does this rabbit hole go?

P.P.P.S. Togata’s acting in the first episode is the high point of perhaps all anime ever. Just look at him float down that river “in peril”. He’s just the most lovable marshmallow.

P.P.P.P.S. Shinso’s Persona Cords are awesome, in both design and funtion.

P.P.P.P.P.S. …I don’t have anything else to say, I just wanted to see how many postscripts I could put on this thing.

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To Infinity and Beyond – SK8 the Infinity (Episode Twelve) – Season’s Writings

After some ups and downs throughout the course of its run, SK8 the Infinity reaches its climax, and what better way for things to conclude than in a skateboarding deathmatch? Yes, you read that right. Langa and Adam take to a new course for their tournament final, and it is a deadly track designed by Adam himself where one wrong move could mean certain death.

The race itself takes up the majority of the focus in this final episode, with very little time for other things, but it may very well be the most exciting race in the series—only the Reki vs Adam match rivals it.

There isn’t too much to say about the race itself. It is basically a dangerous new stage where you can fall off a cliff and die, and of course Adam is repeatedly trying to assault Langa and kill him with his skateboard—which is okay, I guess? I never really understood why this is allowed and why no one has pressed charges against Adam for the grievous bodily harm he is so frequently inflicting in skateboarding races.

Of course, Langa ultimately overcomes Adam here and shows him “the light”. He reminds Adam that skating is fun and why he fell in love with it to begin with. We see a vision of Langa’s dad, who asks him if he is having fun, which Langa replies that of course he is—which was a sweet moment. Things all wrap up nicely as Langa wins and Adam, I guess, stops being a piece of shit kind of guy, maybe?

After the race concludes, we get a montage showing what everyone is up to. It seems Adam is now friends with everyone since he now sees the fun in skating. I guess we can all forgive him for brutally assaulting and hospitalising half of the main cast and attempting murder on Langa merely five minutes prior to this.

In case you were wondering about the government corruption storyline that has existed in the background of things for the longest time; well, it all is wrapped up in a brief scene showing that Adam has bribed someone in the police to get them off his case about being a corrupt businessman and what not. The woman who was investigating him is basically told to bugger off, and that is that—Adam gets off without any consequences by chucking money at his problems.

The episode finally wraps up showing Langa and Reki skating around town, about to have a race amongst themselves. It is a nice way to put a cap on the series, with Langa narrating over the montage about finding your happiness and what not, a sweet bit of thought that sums up what SK8 has been all about from the very beginning: finding happiness and meaning through the pursuit of what’s fun.

All in all, SK8 the Infinity has been a fun show. It has had some absolutely incredible moments—and some pretty damn shitty ones as well—but even at its worst it never forgot to be fun, and I think that’s what I’ll remember most about this show: it was truly a fun watch each and every week, without fail. That’s more than I can say for a lot of other series. Here’s to hoping we get a second season because I have come to really love these characters and I’m not quite ready to stop having fun with them. Keep on skating, boys.

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Blood, Serum, and Tears – The Falcon and The Winter Soldier (Episodes Three and Four) – Season’s Writings

Well, after a brief break we are back with yet another Season’s Writings article for The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. For the sake of brevity, we will be covering both episode three and four in this week’s write up—and there is quite a bit to get through, to be sure.

Episode three picked up on the cliffhanger ending of episode two, with Bucky and Sam confronting Baron Zemo in gaol, to get more information from him regarding the Flag Smashers. Without Sam’s approval, Bucky aids Zemo in busting out of prison and we are off to the races. Zemo makes a fantastic foil for our heroes and it is hard not to like the guy—despite his being a bad guy and what not.

Zemo guides Sam and Bucky to Madripoor, which in the Marvel comics has a lot of significance in relation to the X-Men, but that isn’t of importance in this show. Instead, Madripoor is the location of the mysterious Power Broker, a shadowy figure who had ordered the manufacturing of a new super-soldier serum. After things go awry, our heroes reunite with Sharon Carter, who aids them in finding the scientist making the serum. Which is great and all, until Zemo decides to straight up kill the man.

We learn a bit more about the Flag Smashers and their motivations, but I still can’t help but feel like they are a relatively underwhelming group of antagonists for Sam and Bucky. I also find it strange that these Flag Smashers are considered a big enough threat that Sam and Bucky can’t help themselves but try to get involved. We know that the Flag Smashers want things to return as they were during the Blip, but why? There is a lot of vagueness in regards to the Flag Smashers, and it is hard to empathise with them—especially when their actions lack logic.

Episode four is where the series really kicks things into high gear. John Walker is back on the scene with his buddy Battlestar and is growing increasingly frustrated by the lack of respect and reverence he is being shown from Sam and Bucky. Both men don’t think John is up for the job of Captain America and the bloody finale of this episode paints that picture pretty clearly.

The bulk of the episode revolved around the gang trying to get information on the whereabouts of Flag Smashers’ leader, Karli. Zemo proves to be excellent in this regard, whereas Bucky just seems cold to those he tries to extract information from. This all leads to Sam meeting with Karli; however, just as he is making progress with her, John busts in and completely blows the entire mission.

One thing leads to another, and Zemo winds up destroying pretty much all of the serum vials, except for one—which John quietly pockets. I must say that Wyatt Russel is doing a fantastic job portraying John Walker as a sincere man with an inner turmoil he is barely containing.

The episode reaches its shocking climax with John Walker—having injected himself with the serum off screen—losing his shit and decapitating one of the Flag Smashers, after his mate Lemar is killed by one of them. This all happens in full view of the public, with many filming the incident on their cameras. With blood splattered all over the shield, one can’t help but wonder what fate awaits John Walker from here.

All in all, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is really starting to hit its stride. While I feel the Flag Smashers are relatively weak antagonists with poorly defined motivations, the character arc of John Walker is proving to be must watch TV. Wyatt Russel is doing a fantastic job in the role, and I eagerly await our final two episodes. Let’s see how things play out now that this new Cap has been exposed as a bit more of a bad boy than initially thought.

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A Real Nail-Fighter – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Twenty-Four) – Season’s Writings

She doesn’t even need the hammer…

Well, this episode just kicks all kinds of ass, doesn’t it? I’m pretty sure you could count how many times the audience blinks on one hand…you can count zero on one hand, right? The action kicks in immediately and it really never stops until that metaphorical bell rings. Even the villain’s gloating is swiftly ignored for a flurry of blows to the face: it’s awesome. What’s doubly awesome is that Kugisaki gets a chance to go all out and also make it to the end of a fight. Seriously, I feel like she always gets taken out before victory is assured. This time, however, she pulls some seriously metal moves and damn near intimidates her opponent into giving up. Okay, maybe the pain feedback loop had something to do with it, but ol’ Face-Back (the elder, though not oldest, of the curse brothers) wouldn’t have undone his technique had he not been convinced Kugisaki and Itadori could live up to their threats. Oh, Kugisaki uses her technique to ricochet Back-Face’s decomposition, causing all involved a tremendous amount of pain. Not sure if people weren’t aware what happened; figured I should explain just to be safe. Also, why are you reading this without having seen the episode? That’s not a slight against you, I just think you should watch it…because it’s awesome. Like how Itadori pulls off another Black Flash; you know, that super-duper rare move that most sorcerers never achieve? Yeah, that one. Damn this episode was cool.

…I’m going to keep talking about the fight. Normally I switch things up in the second paragraph, but whatever. Sukuna eats another finger and Gojo is planning a party and/or mission: that’s what happens after the fight. Anyway, back to the fight. Though I know animation isn’t a one-to-one indication of a series quality, Jujutsu Kaisen looks bonkers good. The sheer speed of the battle in this episode is insane, as is the fact that you never feel lost in the action: you know who’s doing what and why. This is also supported by the handy reminder that Sukuna, being the King of Curses and Deadly Poisons, gives Itadori a resistance to all forms of poison (which is what his opponent’s technique just happens to entail). On top of that, Kugisaki acknowledges that if a technique only bestows pain, Itadori will always power through: which is, like, metal as hell. It’s also a nice reminder that Kugisaki also respects Itadori as a sorcerer and acknowledges his strength, separate to that of Sukuna’s. Itadori returns this favour by trusting in Kugisaki to turn the battle in their favour with Resonance (her technique) and checking up with how she feels after their trying ordeal. It’s just cool to see characters who aren’t one-note caricatures of what Shonen posits “strong” means. I like them. And this series is dope as heck.

P.S. Itadori and Kugisaki’s definitive strikes on their opponents are synced to the soundtrack of the fight. I mean, do I have to say anything else? Because I will, if I haven’t made it clear just how awesome that is to watch….because it’s awesome to watch…you should watch it…have you watched it yet? If so, why did you stop reading this sentence, watch it, and then come back to finish reading this sentence? That’s weird…but it was awesome, right? I’m glad we agree…what was I writing about? Oh yeah, this series is cool.

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Feeling Infinite – SK8 the Infinity (Episodes Ten and Eleven) – Season’s Writings

After taking a break last week, we are back with a double-header write-up for SK8 the Infinity—covering episodes ten and eleven. Thankfully, episode ten put a cap on one of the most frustrating storylines in the series, that being the discord in the friendship between Reki and Langa. After several episodes of miscommunication and bouts of jealousy, the boys put that all aside and—instead of having a big apology between the two—decide to just shut up and skate together. I thought this was actually a really poignant and satisfying way to conclude the storyline here and reaffirm our leads as best buds heading into the series climax. Sometimes moments like this, of simple character connection, speaks more than any monologue ever could.

There were also a few strange moments in the episode. Not only was Cherry hospitalised after Adam’s assault in the previous week, but Shadow is also randomly assaulted by some dude with a bat, saying that his girlfriend broke up with him because of Shadow. Did I miss something? For the life of me I could not recall who this guy was or what this was in reference to, but it opens things up for someone to replace Shadow in the tournament: that someone being none other than Reki.

Which leads us to episode eleven, which features the aforementioned tournament race with Reki taking on the sinister Adam. I must say, for a show that in its middle portion was losing the plot, it really brought it back in a major way here. The race between Reki and Adam is hands down the best the series has produced thus far. Reki having to use his intelligence to overcome Adam’s brutality and evil ways was a sight to behold. When Adam fails with his skateboard-to-the-face technique and falls face first into the mud, it was a truly cathartic sequence that made it all the more worth it having to deal with this piece of shit character for the past however many episodes. Although he beats Reki by only a mere centimetre, Reki has completely humiliated Adam and won the admiration of his fellow skaters in doing so.

While the ongoing business fraud and political corruption storyline remains the worst part of the show, the backstory scenes showing Adam and Tadashi as children was quite nice, although I find it to be a hard stretch to believe that his dad chucking his skateboard in the bonfire was the one moment that made Adam into such an awful guy. It just seems ludicrous. That said, the Adam and Reki race was the ultimate pay off for this villainous character, and we have one final race between Adam and Langa to look forward to for next week. I feel the series has, for the most part, redeemed itself now, but we will have to wait and see if it sticks the landing.

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Keep on Walking, John – The Falcon and The Winter Soldier (Episode Two) – Season’s Writings

I have to give it to Marvel here: they really pulled a fast one here. While it would have been easy to make John Walker an awful human being and completely undeserving of the shield, they did the complete opposite—presenting him not only as a man trying to do his best and fulfil the role of Captain America, but one who genuinely seems to be a good man, not so different from Steve Rogers.

This flipping of the script places our heroes in an interesting predicament. While it’s clear that John Walker is not a bad man implicitly, and he is simply trying to fulfil his responsibilities and do his best to follow in Steve’s footsteps, Sam and Bucky can’t help but not like the guy. After all, Steve chose Sam, and not this John Walker bloke.

There were a lot of interesting elements on show in this episode, but the crux of the episode is the reunion and newfound partnership of Sam and Bucky—who both decide to team up together to investigate the Flag Smashers. We see a bit of a skirmish with the Flag Smashers and meet their leader, a girl named Karli, all while getting a bit more of an understanding into their ideology.

What Bucky and Sam come to realise is that the Flag Smashers have some how been “enhanced” like super-soldiers; this leads them down the path of investigating other people who had been made into super-soldiers in the past. This is where we meet Isaiah Bradley, who had scuffled with Bucky (as the Winter Soldier) during the Korean War. Isaiah was ultimately screwed over by the very same people who made him and is not too pleased to see Bucky again. The interesting thing, however, is that it appears the super-soldier program never really stopped, putting into question how many other super-soldiers are out there.

Throughout the episode, John Walker and his good buddy Battlestar try repeatedly to get on the good side of Sam and Bucky, to no avail. John seems to be a man who is driven by duty, and he is a true agent of the United States government. He wants to do things by the book and follow his orders, as the good soldier that he is. This just doesn’t jive with Sam and Bucky, who prefer to skip the red tape and bureaucracy—much like how Steve had handled things in the past. Their final rejection of John seems to have an ominous air to it: John warns them not to get in his way. Something tells me that things won’t end well when that inevitably happens.

Running out of clues, Bucky and Sam decide they need to turn to someone who knows the history and inner workings of Hydra better than anyone. This leads them to the cliffhanger ending of the episode, as it seems to imply they will be seeking the help of none other than Baron Zemo—who remains, in this writer’s opinion, the best villain ever in the MCU (sorry, not sorry, Thanos).

Overall, this was an awesome episode—with the show fully kicking into gear here. There are many moving pieces to this story, and I’m sure they are bound to collide in the coming weeks in glorious fashion.

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Indulge the Snyder – Zack Snyder’s Justice League – Humble Opinions

After years of fan campaigns and hashtags aplenty, Zack Snyder’s Justice League—also known colloquially as The Snyder Cut—has finally been released in all of its 3 hours and 52 minutes of indulgent glory. Was it worth the wait? Yes and no.

Anyone who has ever watched a Zack Snyder film would note that he has a very particular style and directorial vision for his films. That vision and style come to its natural endpoint here, in what is both Snyder’s magnum opus and a love letter to himself. This is without a doubt one of the most self-indulgent films perhaps ever released. With the shackles of Warner Bros. executive oversight removed, Snyder makes the most Snyder-esque film he possibly could have. There are slow motion shots in excess, very few (if any) moments of levity, and a dark colour palette that is ultimately personified in the film through a Superman costume change.

If you are a fan of Snyder and his work, this may be the greatest film you’ve ever seen. However, if you found his previous work to be not to your particular tastes, you may actually find the Joss Whedon cut of Justice League to be a bit more palatable. While the Whedon cut undoubtedly left a lot of Snyder’s vision on the cutting-room floor, it basically serves as an abridged version of Snyder’s cut—with added Marvel-style humour and some brightened tones. That said, it cannot be understated that this is a much more cohesive and coherent film with Snyder at the helm.

The movie simply makes more sense in Snyder’s version: the characters get room to breathe, in particular Cyborg and The Flash—both of whom have fully realized characters and arcs in the film. However, there is still many of the same issues that plagued Snyder’s previous instalments in the DC universe. The Justice League here have no qualms with killing and gratuitous violence. Wonder Woman in Snyder’s version completely vaporises a terrorist, which is rather unnerving when you consider the fact that this all occurred within the view of children.

Without spoiling the twists and new footage in the Snyder cut, one of the major differences is the way in which Snyder presents these heroes. There is very little humanity to them; very little relatable qualities. That’s not to say you can’t understand them or their motivations, it’s just that Snyder views these characters as gods walking among men; they are above the small issues of humankind; they deal in the grandiose, and that’s exactly how Snyder likes it.

Ultimately, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a creator’s vision fully realised. It may be painfully long at times, but it is truly an epic film. It may be self indulgent on Snyder’s part; but, unlike the Joss Whedon chop-job that was the theatrical release of Justice League in 2017, this feels like a complete movie with one true vision. Fans of Snyder will love it, but it may prove to be a difficult length to overcome for the casual audience. Where the DC film universe goes from here is anyone’s guess, but I, for one, am happy that Snyder and his fans got to have their moment in the sun.

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One Little Push – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Twenty-Three) – Season’s Writings

It was at this moment the special-grade realised he had made a mistake.

With the usual explosion of energy and animation that makes Jujutsu so damn cool, this episode throws us into the whack-a-mole battle of the century. Apparently, that curse what done killed all those people at their doorways pops up in a multitude of bodies (though all the same doofy/scary shape). Fushiguro even notes how this curse is far weaker than they expected, tearing through its forms with the help of Kugisaki. All’s well that en—and Kugisaki’s being pulled through a portal. And Itadori jumped in too. And one of Sukuna’s fingers is here. And one of those creepy special-grades…this situation is wack. Still, this cavalcade of chaos does give Fushiguro the push he needs to become stronger. Sure dire-moment power-ups can be a tad cliché, but this one makes thematic sense…and is really cool. With unexpected confirmation (for us) that his ultimate technique is a sacrificial one, Fushiguro realises that he never truly pushes the limits of his skill and imagination. If his skills don’t work, he always has a trump card that’ll take him and his opponent out—even Sukuna took note of whatever this technique is. So, for the first time, Fushiguro fights to live…and it rocks.

Chimera. Shadow. Garden. That’s it. That’s all you need to know to understand how cool Fushiguro’s Domain Expansion is. It’s got monsters; they’re made of darkness…there’s possibly some hedging involved. It’s just cool. The victory this technique seizes him also allows us a glimpse into Fushiguro’s past—like when he beat up a literal pile of bullies. We learn that his brand of justice involves hating both bad and good people, as the bad people infringe upon the rights of others and the good people forgive the bad out of a false sense of nobility. It’s…it’s not the worst philosophy I’ve ever heard, though Fushiguro can be a right jerk about the whole thing. Still, it’s nice to learn a little more about the quietest member of our main cast. I mean, he’s even quieter now, with the over-dramatic status pop-up informing us that he fell asleep. Here’s hoping nobody sneaks up and pilfers that finger of Sukuna’s he’s holding. It’d probably have to be yet another character, as the two special-grades who have appeared so far look like they’re going to be busy with Itadori and Kugisaki. I imagine the curse with the face on his back might prove the bigger threat, considering that the first few minutes of this episode revolved around Itadori pummelling the ever-loving crap out of the two-faced one. Like, he punched him a lot. Like, a lot. I’d almost feel bad for the guy, you know, if he wasn’t a violent abomination hell bent on destroying our main cast and stealing an item that could help destabilise the continued existence of humanity. Bit of a jerk move if you ask me.

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Not Quite Captain Falcon – The Falcon and The Winter Soldier (Episode One) – Season’s Writings

We didn’t have to wait too long for our next dose of Marvel, as The Falcon and The Winter Soldier launched on Disney Plus after only a week’s break since WandaVision ended in climactic fashion. Immediately, it becomes clear that The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is more in line with the MCU’s expected style than WandaVision was. It is action, intrigue, witty banter, and some authentic emotional beats throughout—all staples of what makes the MCU so successful.

The episode takes place several months after the events of Avengers: Endgame and, after a heroic mission that felt very Top Gun-esque, we see that The Falcon has refused Captain America’s wish for him to take up his mantle and shield. Instead, he opts to hand the shield over to the government—who put it into the Captain America museum we saw back in Captain America: Winter Soldier. This decision feels like the furthest thing from what Cap would have wanted, considering his entire story arc was about not trusting in the government and believing that the “safest hands are still our own”. More on this later though.

Without recapping events beat-for-beat, we learn about Falcon’s family who are having financial troubles; furthermore, we get the interesting tid-bit that he isn’t being paid as an Avenger. I have seen many people discussing online, thinking that this is some kind of a race issue; but, to me, the implication seemed more to be that—considering the storyline events of the MCU—Falcon had gone rogue with Team Cap back in Civil War; so of course he is no longer on the payroll. On top of that, the guy was Snapped for five years, which implicates him as having no income for that period of time. Obviously it’s bullshit, but I can understand it being one of those stupid bank policies. I don’t believe the show was implying that Tony Stark and the Avengers were just not paying Falcon because of his race like some seem to think, but maybe I’m wrong. We will see.

On the other side of the series title is the Winter Soldier, who we discover is trying to right the wrongs of his past and is undergoing therapy to try to deal with these matters. I particularly liked Bucky’s storyline in this episode—much more than the Falcon family’s boat dramas. The kicker that Bucky has befriended an old man because, in the past, he had killed his son actually did surprise me, and it felt like one of those hopelessly tragic moments that the MCU likes to pull out every so often.

While we didn’t see our two leads meet up with each other just yet, we did learn a bit about the conflicts they may face in the coming weeks. Namely, the super powered Flag Smashers and the newly government appointed Captain America who rocks up in the episode’s climax.

It is hard to tell whether this new Captain America is going to be some kind of super-powered nemesis or merely a comedic foil for our heroes. I had a thought that perhaps he would be used similarly to how Cap was used at first for propaganda purposes during WW2, but something tells me, considering this character’s comic book origins, there may be more to this guy than meets the eye. This reveal, of course, stings for Falcon because his trust was broken by the government,—something that Steve Rogers also had happen to him. Perhaps getting screwed by the government is the first step towards becoming a true Captain of America?

Other than that, I think the Flag Smashers is an interesting idea because I imagine there would be people who actually did think Thanos was right and the world was better during the Blip. I’m curious to see what they will do and what their deal is in future episodes.

All in all, this was ultimately a bit of a setting-the-stage kind of episode, but a fine one at that. Now that the foundation is laid, let’s see where this adventure into the wild world of Marvel will take us.

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Tales Out of Middle School – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Twenty-Two) – Season’s Writings

Just what every embarrassing moment needs: an audience.

If ever there was an anime episode for fans of both extreme sports and haunted locations, this would most certainly be one…also, what a very niche Venn diagram to be a part of. Regardless, this episode sees our lovable trio off to investigate a series of grisly murders, wherein victims were found brutalised at their own front doors. We do actually get to see one such murder in action, as a man loudly yells over the phone that his automatic door is on the fritz—a sign that the murderous curse is drawing near—before threatening to kill the inspector for not having already fixed the issue. He dies (the yelling guy, not the inspector). It’s not that sad. Did he deserve to be violently rent asunder? Probably not. But he did seem rather unpleasant, so I didn’t feel that bad. Also, we eventually learn that the curse targets people who underwent a “trial of courage” by venturing under a bridge in the dead of night. I don’t think that warrant his death either, but it definitely shows a capacity for bad decisions. Anyway, this paragraph is more attention than he even got in the episode…so let’s move on.

…to something else? I’ll be honest, not a lot happened in this episode. We learn that Fushiguro beat up an entire district of ne’er-do-wells back in the day, we learn that he has a bedridden sister who is also at risk from this episode’s curse and we see Mahito implanting one of the special-grades he stole from Jujutsu Tech into some guy he was torturing. Important little tid-bits, to be sure, but all setting up for events to come. I did enjoy the return of the Kugisaki/Itadori duo of jovial idiocy, and seeing Fushiguro turn his head almost entirely backwards to avoid explaining his past was pretty funny. I’m also a fan of the sorcerers that pop up to ferry our main cast around. This particular sorcerer seems to follow in the Gojo school of things: abrupt outbursts of childishness that are usually to conceal a more serious motive. Also, her stunned shock/frustration when she learns that the group’s primary witness/suspect is also dead is rather funny…in a macabre sort of way. But hey, if you weren’t into that sort of thing then how have you made it this far into the series? They sort of talk about death a lot. Like, a lot, a lot.

P.S. This week’s “Jujutsu Stroll” told the heart-warming tale of a woman who has kept her family’s restaurant running out of sheer kindness and a desire to see its flavour live on…and that flavour is bland. It’s a touch mean, but seeing Itadori and Kugisaki immediately drop their content expressions when Fushiguro mentions the meatless gyoza was pretty dang funny. Is that a mean thing to say? Am I mean?

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Out of Left Field – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Twenty-One) – Season’s Writings

Tokyo need a witch err.

Oh my, it’s a baseball! Yep, for reasons known only to Gojo—and us once Gojo himself reveals he did it for the sake of mixing up tradition, as is his wont—the second day of the Kyoto–Tokyo Exchange Event is not a series of individual battle: it’s a baseball match. That being said, the match is ultimately a collection of small skits that happen to take place on a baseball field. Arrow Guy strikes out after musing too long on Itadori’s reasons for becoming a sorcerer (undermining the sombre backstory playing out on screen), “Mechamaru” rocks up in his baseball-pitching-machine backup body, Broom Girl flies around to catch fly balls, and Todo gets walloped in the face by a pitch from Maki—which she did on purpose and literally every student praises her for. It’s a definite hard turn from the high stakes of last episode, but it’s a much needed situation: if things kept unfolding at the pace they had been then we’d all have exploded from the sheer outpouring of awesomeness. Not that this episode doesn’t maintain the same level of energy and animation as previous—a great amount of effort was put into showing Todo get beaned in the dome. It was totally worth it, by the way: that *bleep* was funny.

On the less…baseball side of things, the plot progresses with the Jujutsu Tech faculty discussing the full extent of the recent attack. They know the special-grades made off with some serious cursed materials, they know a bunch of sorcerers were killed, and they know this isn’t the end of things. Their hostage, Crazy Furniture Guy, made mention of an androgynous monk with a bob cut, making us all question just how many humans are helping the special-grades destroy all of the humans. Seems pretty counter-intuitive if you ask me, but I don’t think all of these people are in the category of rational thinkers—what with the lack of interest in the survival of their own species and all. The special-grades do, however, continue their stalwart focus on keeping Gojo contained when their plans fully unfold: Ol’ Blindfold is just that powerful (case in point, he blew Hanami’s arm off with one attack). The principals of both Jujutsu branches also have an issue with Gojo, though that’s just because he’s a pretty annoying guy. Still, it’s nice to know the principals do have some manner of common ground between them. Oh, they also seemingly agreed to watch Itadori without murdering him for being the vessel of an apocalyptically strong curse…so that’s nice.

P.S. The lower-third factoids about each student that popped up during the baseball match were as funny as they were nonsensical. Panda wants to punch a zebra, Mai recentley got over her dislike of mangoes, and the mango that Miwa was saving mysteriously went missing recently: how peculiar. Also, I wonder if they’ll pay off the storyline of Kugisaki awaiting approval for a credit card?

P.P.S. It seems Todo legitimately believes he has a past with Itadori, with even his baseball factoid claiming they won the middle school nationals together (though it also makes not of Itadori’s denial of this). Even Itadori is weirded out by his “brother’s” behaviour, claiming he wasn’t in his right mind during their fight/bonding. I wonder if it had anything to do with all those blows to the face?

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With the Subtlety of a Skateboard to the Face – SK8 the Infinity (Episode Nine) – Season’s Writings

This was not an episode filled with subtlety and nuance; I’m beginning to see some troubling trends in SK8 the Infinity as it powers through its second half. While the first half of the series focused on falling in love with skating and the wonder of it, the second half seems to be more focused on melodrama and ridiculous skateboarding stunts that are as dumb as they are unbelievable. While it’s fair to say that sports anime often have somewhat of a fantastical take on things, SK8 the Infinity began as a very grounded show that focused on skateboarding in a realistic and authentic manner, but that seems to have gone out the window as time has rolled on.

This episode sees two of the tournament matches take place. First off is Joe versus Langa, which was fine for the most part and despite some ridiculous moments—like Joe removing his feet off the board and riding it from his hands in a Superman-like position. This manoeuvre could not possibly be performed in reality. That said, it is anime, so it’s fair to give it a pass. The race is a bit back-and-forth, before Langa ultimately wins after some sideline cheering-on from Reki.

The Reki and Langa drama is still going on but is largely put to the background of this episode, as it explores the history between Adam, Joe, and Cherry. It seems that they were all skating buddies back in their high school days, but somewhere along the way Adam became the awful piece of shit that we now know him to be for reasons yet to be explained.

We also get the main event match of the episode, with Adam and Cherry going head-to-head. Adam attempts his stupid Love Hug move, and when that fails Adam literally hops off his board, runs full force at Cherry, and beats him over the head with his skateboard—which somehow means he wins the race. Cherry is hospitalised and Adam faces no repercussions for hopping off his board mid-race and physically assaulting his opponent. This was, for me, the jump the shark moment for SK8 the Infinity. It just makes no sense that this would happen, nor that it would be an acceptable thing to do in an S race. We knew that Adam had injured other skaters by “out skating” them and causing them to crash or fall off the boards, but to see him just swing his board at Cherry’s face like a baseball bat was beyond my suspension of disbelief.

All in all, I thought that this was not a great episode for the series and one that ultimately just lost the plot completely and devolved into a moment of utter nonsensical violence. I hope that SK8 the Infinity can get back on track again after this episode, but I am feeling more and more that the series is skating away from what made it so great in its early episodes, and my enthusiasm for it is starting to grind to a halt.

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Until Next Time – WandaVision (Episode Nine) – Season’s Writings

A part of me left the final episode of WandaVision feeling underwhelmed; but, after some thought and contemplation, I realise that a lot of the reason I had felt that way was due to unreasonable, great expectations that I had ultimately conceived in my own mind. Not unlike Wanda conceived the reality of the Hex in her mind, I had conceived several notions about what and who I thought should appear in this series. However, this was never meant to be a show about Reed Richards, Mephisto, and the X-Men universe’s Quicksilver, this was always meant to be a show about Wanda Maximoff and The Vision, and it is only fitting that this final episode gives them the spotlight—no surprise cameos or shocking twists to steal their thunder.

Ultimately, most everything is wrapped up neatly as the episode concludes, leaving the major plot lines of the series resolved. Wanda defeats Agatha at her own game, Vision and White Vision have a big CGI fight (and then a philosophical debate), Fake Pietro was just a dude named Ralph Bohner, Director Haywood fails in his plans and is put to jail, Monica is no longer “grounded” by S.W.O.R.D., and tragically Wanda must say goodbye to her family in order to free all the people she has held captive.

I found it rather interesting that the show chose not to shy away from the fact that what Wanda had done was nothing short of villainous. In many ways she was the “bad guy” of this series. But not unlike Thanos, Marvel’s greatest villain, we can understand and to some extent sympathise with their feelings and motivations. Wanda was stricken by grief and didn’t mean to do what she did; but, at the same time, even after becoming aware of the situation she was reluctant to undo matters. She has to bare the consequences of her actions now. Can she be a member of the Avengers going forward? One could argue that she doesn’t deserve the title of Avenger anymore.

While the episode was largely made up of CGI battles, it was in the final moments—which saw Wanda saying goodbye to her children and to her husband—that the episode really shined. The final conversation between Wanda and Vision is some of the most beautiful dialogue ever shared in the MCU, and it’s hard not to feel your heart break with them.

Now that Vision and the kids are gone, Wanda has isolated herself in some unspecified cabin in some unspecified mountain location, and we see her astral projecting similarly to what we had seen Doctor Strange do in the past. We see her in her full Scarlet Witch garb learning from the Dark Hold book. We hear her children screaming out for help and we cut to black. This seems to imply that she may be able to some how retrieve her children. How exactly that would happen is anyone’s guess at this point, but I got a feeling that we might get more of an idea in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.

Overall, I thought that WandaVision was a beautifully heartfelt show with some incredible characterisation for our two leads that many could argue was much needed. There were countless memorable moments and there are some serious ramifications for the MCU’s future. With the now-reprogrammed White Vision out in the wild and Wanda potentially finding a way to bring back her children, could we possibly see a reunion of the Scarlet Witch’s family in the future? Time will tell. But for now we can look forward to the next stop in the MCU which is Falcon and the Winter Soldier—stay tuned for our weekly Writings of that series. Until then, I will leave you all with a quote from our favourite Marvel couple:

Vision: I have been a voice with no body. A body, but not human. And now a memory made real. Who knows what I might be next? We have said goodbye before, so it stands to reason-

Wanda: We’ll say hello again.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

-30-

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 attemp