Category: Review


tumblr_lq0299qE851qamhydI spend a lot of time reading manga. I would say that it’s one of my favorite things to read. There are some unique and inventive stories being put out there in the graphic form. It’s amazing the variety of things to read. From slice of life to Sci-Fi, from boys-oriented (shōnen) to girls-oriented (shoujo) and porn, there’s something out there for everybody.

In, I believe it was 2008 or 2009, Craig and I were going through the Kinokuniya book store in Japantown. We often will walk through the manga section to see if there was anything new that we would be interested in. While we were walking around we found a new series that sounded quite interesting. That series was “Ooku: the Inner Chambers”.

So, what is this Ooku you speak of? What is it about?

ooku_01It’s a what-if version of history. It takes place during the Tokugawa shogunate (which is the beginning of the Edo period). An illness has swept through Japan. It only affects the male population. It decimated the male population leaving women to pick up the traditional male roles from farming to being heads of state. They take on mens’ names in addition to their roles. Ooku is the tale of what the Tokugawa shogunate would be like were they run by women.

Since the male population has been greatly decreased men then take on the traditional female roles in the court including being concubines, cooks, doing all the sewing. All the political machinations are done by women. They take on male names to keep up appearances to the world at large, which is still largely male dominated.

So, what do I think?

I really enjoy this story, but there is a lot of middle English in it. You don’t need to be fully conversant in Ooku-Volume-6Shakespearean English to understand it. It’s pretty easy to follow. The art is really good and I find that Fumi Yoshinaga is capable of creating some wonderful characters that you can easily become emotionally invested in. The story is unique and interesting. It also teaches you a bit of what it was like to be in a daimyo’s house. From the maze of halls and chambers to navigating which retainer keeps which alliances, I think that I’ve gained a real understanding for how complicated that household can be.

It’s a well-drawn manga. The art is nice to look at. It’s consistent. You can see that care went in to the illustration. The art also lives up to the quality of the story. I don’t feel like I’m conversant enough with this artist/writer to be able to really give an in-depth talk about her art style.

The only downside to the story is that it can drag in parts. Some stories are less engaging than others. That being said, it’s no different than any other long story. There are lulls in-between the more interesting parts. After all, a story can’t be all action. Each story needs a time of rest.

Ooku_Eien2_zps7eb574d2

Image from the live-action drama

I am more surprised that there is not only a movie based on the series, but there’s a live-action drama. I’m curious enough to seek them out and watch them.

Is it worth reading?

Yes! I have no idea how much more emphatically I can say that. I highly recommend this series. It’s been consistently been among the top manga at the Comic Con panel. It won an Eisner in 2008. It won the Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize in 2009 and the Shogakukan Manga Award. The story is interesting. The concept is also interesting. What would the world be like if it had to be run by women? Would it be any different? Would it be the same? How would it be different? I love that Ooku asks these questions boldly. Unafraid of the answers.

I think the story can have a more universal appeal. Many of the characters are relatable. The writerOokue makes it easy to share their triumphs as well as their sadness. While the language can be a bit of a challenge, it isn’t so much of one that makes it unreadable to people who may not know Shakespearean English.

It’s a series I enjoy. It’s one that I would highly recommend to pretty much anybody. While the situation and setting are extraordinary, the characters aren’t. They’re relatable. They’re well fleshed out.

I don’t think I could gush about this series more. I highly recommend it. Go and pick it up, order it on Amazon. If you can find it, pick it up. There are 9 volumes now available. Volume 10 should be available soon.

Go, pick up, read, enjoy! That’s my recommendation.

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The entire cast of Attack on Titan

The entire cast of Attack on Titan

Adult Swim has a new addition to its Toonami line-up. It’s a series that I’ve been told by a lot of people that I should see. It’s quite possibly still one of the most popular cosplays for the past 2 years. That series is “Attack On Titan”.

This series has a serious fan base. Even at an event like Comic Con where you’re more likely to see cosplay for western comics and a small smattering of anime cosplay, it was still popular. When I went to the Best and Worst Manga of 2012-2013, it took both best and worst mangas (best for story, worst for drawing).

attack-on-titan-spoof-post-01

Eren Jaeger

And honestly, I was resistant to watch and read it. I was curious. But for the longest time, I just hadn’t gotten around to watching it. It was one of many new series that was on my list to watch (along with K and Gundam Unicorn). However, it’s something that had slipped by the side repeatedly. I was repeatedly told that I should watch the anime and read the manga. So, I finally sat down to watch it a couple of months ago.

Attack On Titan is about a walled city. People once again lived in walled cities because of the appearance of creatures known as Titans, creatures akin to giants. The exception is that they have no real intelligence and like to eat humans… not just human flesh, but people. So, they’re like what happens when you have zombie giants. The walled cities help ensure the survival of what’s left of the human race after the appearance of titans.

The military insignias from left to right: general military (boot camp graduates), Stationary Guard, Military Police and Scouts

The military insignias from left to right: general military (boot camp graduates), Stationary Guard, Military Police and Scouts

That is the setting for Attack on Titan. The story revolves largely around three characters: Mikasa, Armin and the main protagonist, Eren. Armin and Mikasa are childhood friends of Eren. Mikasa has lived with Eren since she was little and Armin is a kid that Eren befriends.

The series starts with the outer ring of the walled city known as Maria. A new type of titan has appeared that acts a lot like a tank. Maria is razed and Eren’s mother is eaten by a titan. This fuels Eren to join the military and his wish to destroy titans.

The series follows them through military training and then onward as they continue in to the military.

I don’t want to give too much detail because I would like to keep this spoiler free. So, I won’t go on too much longer about the plot. I believe you have a good idea about how the story progresses.

Eren and the armored titan

Eren and the colossal titan

So, what did I think of the story?

Honestly, I thought the pacing was really slow considering the amount of episodes in the first series. For me, it took ten episodes for me to really start getting into the series. As I said, some of the big reveals were already told to me, so it made the first big reveal not such a big deal to me. The pacing is a bit slower than I would like. Once they finally start getting to the heart of the story, the series becomes engrossing. I finally wanted to know how things got to where they were. I just wish that the story got there a lot sooner than 10 episodes. I will say this, it took me some time to get a feel for the main characters. I still am more interested in many of the supporting characters more than I do for Eren.

What’s the animation like?

A few panels from the manga

A few panels from the manga

This is something that did start to get to me. The backgrounds are gorgeous and well-detailed. There’s one thing that I couldn’t understand… all the humanoid characters had a thick, bold outline around, well, everyone. It’s something that I was having a hard time getting past. I wonder why they all the people were outlined in such a manner. Some times, that bold outline started to distract me from the anime itself.

Would I recommend the series?

The short way for me to say this is yes with a but. Once the story finally gets going, it’s great. It draws you in and keeps your attention. It takes some time before we get to see some good character development. I wish the pacing was slightly better than it is. I didn’t feel as engaged at the beginning of the series. This is actually due to the story. I started reading the manga and the plot was incredibly slow to start there as well.

Mikasa Ackerman, Eren Jaeger and Armin Arlert

Mikasa Ackerman, Eren Jaeger and Armin Arlert

Once the story finally gets rolling, it goes like a steamroller. You start to learn more about the world they’re in. It’s the backing story that starts to become the star of the series.

It’s certainly worth the watching. Just keep in mind that the pacing might not be what you were looking for. If you hang in there, you’ll find your patience rewarded.

Sakura Kumanoko 01_19_2014 12_42_36

Cid the garlean and a mini-Magitek

So, I’m going to be candidly honest here. I don’t like MMO’s. I don’t. I have a hard time getting motivated to play something with no real story to speak of. I don’t care how rich the background may be. If the game itself doesn’t really have a story, I check out quickly. I admit that I love stories in my game.

My first experience with an MMO-type of game was Elder Scrolls 2: Morrowind. It wasn’t online as video game systems weren’t there yet. All my Everquest playing friends would tell me how much this reminds them of Everquest.

Moogles in the Shroud

Moogles in the Shroud

As I started to play the game, there really wasn’t much of a story to speak of. I played the game for five minutes including character creation. Nothing about it grabbed me. I’ve tried playing various MMO’s and each time they would bore me fairly easily. I even played Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online. I love the Shin Megami Tensei universe and their games generally have good stories. Not even that game could get me to play for more than an hour or two before giving up.

That’s pretty much history with MMO’s. So, you kind of get an idea of what the tenure of this review would be… an MMO review written by someone who doesn’t like MMOs.

We were walking around the dealer’s room at Comic Con last year. We decided to out the game demos

An Elezen lancer fighting. The cross-bar set-up is for the PS3, all in-game images are from the PS3.

My Elezen lancer fighting. The cross-bar set-up is for the PS3, All in-game images are from the PS3.

at the Square Enix booth. While we were there, they asked if we would like to try the beta test for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. I hadn’t realized that Final Fantasy XIV had been out in the first place, with good reason. Since MMO’s aren’t my thing, it wouldn’t have mattered to me if had come out or not. We both debated it because neither of us are MMO players. Since it was a free demo, we figured that it wouldn’t hurt to check it out. If we didn’t like it, we didn’t lose anything by playing for free.

So, we signed up and started playing during the beta test.

When we started playing, I didn’t think that I would like the game. After all, I have yet to find an MMO that spoke to me. That kept my attention for long periods of time. I didn’t expect much from this game.

The character window

The character window

When I had started creating my character, I had no idea how to feel about it. It looked like fairly standard MMO character creation. You get to choose from 5 different races: Hyur, Elezen, Miqo’te, Roegadyn and Lalafell. While there are plenty of choices to choose from, there are only a certain amount per race. Part of the character creation will also let you know what natural elemental resistance you will have (my character has a natural resistance to water). This is fairly in-depth, but not nearly as much as some other games that look like they gave you the character designer to play with.

That being said, I was pleased to see that the story wasn’t just going on in this world that I happened to be a part of. I wasn’t just there to help move a story that I felt no connection to or even really didn’t care about. Instead of that, you are instantly engaged in a story that makes it’s clear that you are integral to the world, very similar to every other Final Fantasy game.

What crafting looks like.

What crafting looks like.

The story is engaging and interesting. It managed to keep me interested the entire time. Like most Final Fantasies (with the exception of XII, which was more political intrigue and not about how some megalomaniac that’s trying to destroy the world) it’s about a possible end of the world scenario. So, how do you make it work it a world that is actively being played by thousands of people? You alter it to create a party scenario that can incorporate an unnamed amount of people.

And it works… Or rather, it works for me. It’s everything that I expect and enjoy in a Final Fantasy game.

Square Enix is known for constantly working to enhance their battle mechanics. That’s something that happened between Final Fantasy XIV and A Realm Reborn. Whether it’s a good or bad change, I can’t say fortunately. I didn’t play Final Fantasy XIV. So, all my perspectives are solely from A Realm Reborn.

Seasonal event quest window (New Year's)

Seasonal event quest window (New Year’s)

So, how playable is it to MMO players?

While I am not a fan of MMOs and admit to having not really played any for any length of time beyond an hour, because of the social aspect of the game, I have talked to others who have played MMOs. The response is mixed. Some people really like the game others, not so much. Most of those who dislike the game make sure to talk about it on the game’s forum. The forum is a fairly active one. It’s also been beneficial to the game as the developers read the forum and do use input from the gamers about what they would like to see.

So, do I like the game?

While there are many aspects to MMOs that I generally don’t like; I feel that A Realm Reborn does a

Fighting in a fate (mini boss fights that happen outside of dungeons)

My scholar fighting in a fate (mini boss fights that happen outside of dungeons)

pretty good job of engaging all players. It does it so well, that it was called the most accessible game for people with disabilities in 2013. That’s not something to sneeze at. They have attempted to make the game so anyone can play. In many ways I think that they’ve succeeded.

There are so many things that I like about this game. It’s not a free MMO. You have to pay for the game and there is a monthly subscription fee (you can opt to pay in chunks as well as month to month). The fee is nominal. And other than additional retainers beyond the 2 you’re given in-game, nothing is hidden behind a pay wall. Everyone has equal access to all content in-game.

The aesthetician

The aesthetician

While there was bonus content for people who bought the collector’s edition, it’s something you can buy later if you want it. It is also stuff that isn’t a major loss. They were small items that don’t affect game play. It wasn’t like Bethesda locking an entire race behind a pay wall. It’s not clear whether Imperials will be unlockable for a nominal fee later on.

I like that Square didn’t make a whole race that isn’t playable unless you pay an extra fee. The extras, while nice, aren’t huge deal.

The patches continue to morph both gameplay and story as they add both new content and improve upon mechanics that pre-exist in the game. Now, I’m sure that this is true with MMOs across the board, I enjoy some of the little touches that have been added like seasonal quests.

Merlwyb, the Admiral of La Noscea

Merlwyb, the Admiral of La Noscea

I also enjoy both the crafting and gathering classes. I can spend hours weaving. I have spent hours fishing as well. It’s fun. It also doesn’t detract from gameplay. If you just want to dungeon crawl, you don’t need to do the crafting or gathering classes. I do think that you do need to forward the story at least to be able to easily travel between city-states to get more crafting skills and gathering items can only be found in certain areas, so in that sense, you can’t just go in to craft and gather.

How do I feel about this game overall?

A sleeping chocobo

A sleeping chocobo

I enjoy it immensely. I enjoy it so much, I still actively play it to this day… largely with the same character that I created back in beta. I highly recommend it, especially if you’re not a huge fan of MMOs. It’s an MMO that doesn’t feel like one. The game play is fun and interesting. The story is equally interesting and as content expands, so does more history about the world you’re playing in. It’s a game that is accessible to those with disabilities making it a more inclusive world.

I can’t say whether I think everybody should go buy this game yesterday because it really depends on the player. But it is a fun game that continues to engage its players in an interesting way. They continue to add story and history to explain where and how we find out how we got here.There are plans to add new jobs and new races. And it was recently released to the PS4, so it looks that the player base will

A dark summoner summoning

A dark summoner summoning

continue to expand.

I’m going to create another post giving more specific detail. I realized as I was writing this that there was so much I wanted to write about that I couldn’t easily fit into one post. The first is my impressions of the game. The next one will be getting in to more specifics, game mechanics, more information about the plot and other sundry information… and yes, there will be more screenshots.

Dandy and the Boobies girls

Dandy and the Boobies girls

It was a matter of time that we would all be happy to be space cowboys again. Shinichiro Watanabe (director of Cowboy Bebop) comes back with an all new series that feel Cowboy Bebop-esque. It is also brought to us by Studio Bones. This studio is known for some pretty awesome anime… like Eureka Seven, Scrapped Princess, Wolf’s Rain, Darker Than Black, Ouran High School Host Club, both anime adaptations of Fullmetal Alchemist and Soul Eater to name a few.

Another shot of Dandy

Another shot of Dandy

The series is Space Dandy. This series is interesting for so many reasons.

1) It’s actually a comedy. It starts out like most shōnen series tend to do. They always start kind of goofy and becomes series as the series goes a long. Everything about Space Dandy feels like it’s a comedy. Definitely worth watching. If anything, it gives you an idea of what Japanese humor is about.

2) Space Dandy debuted in the US before it debuted in Japan. That’s right. It broadcast the day before its Japanese début. This is a new thing.

3) I just wanted to add a three… there’s not a lot of interesting factoids to be had about this anime at this point. Only one episode has aired anywhere in the world.
So, really… this is a write-up of an entire episode… and that should tell you how awesome I think this

The Aloha Hoy, Dandy's ship... It reminds me an awful lot of the Bebop.

The Aloha Hoy, Dandy’s ship… It reminds me an awful lot of the Bebop.

series is.

I’ve never reviewed a series after one episode (though I’m not beyond doing a whole season).

Space Dandy is seriously funny. The explanation of Dandy at the opening is beyond worth it.

Dandy is… well, precisely that. He’s a dandy. The style he’s drawn in is a stereotypical gangster look, pompadour and all.

Dandy does occasionally feel like Spike. He simultaneously feels like a unique character. I’m curious to see where this series goes.

There isn’t much to review from the first episode.

I loved the jokes. I loved that at the opening Dandy is singing his love for shapely booty. Just after finishing this monologue he talks about visiting a restaurant called Boobies (an obvious rip-off of Hooters).

Just enjoy this gif.

Just enjoy this gif.

In many ways, Dandy feels like Spike. He’s a devil-may-care man.

I don’t want to give away too much about the first episode, because I’m kind of curious how they’re going to work with how the first episode ended.

I must say… I was kind of looking forward to Space Dandy when I heard that it was airing on Adult Swim a month ago. After watching the first episode I can’t wait for the next episode (intergalactic centipedes be damned). There’s a lot of the Cowboy Bebop feel to this series. And yet, it certainly has the legs to run on its own.

Haven’t heard of Space Dandy yet? Here’s the handy-dandy trailer for Space Dandy:

And really this doesn’t even come close to covering the humor in the series. This show is definitely a great funny series that I can see going far and picking up a lot of fans (a lot like Cowboy Bebop).

And any of you who happen to have cable, the show airs on Cartoon Network’s Toonami at 11:30 PM. You know, if you wanna check it out.

And here are the webpages:
Japan- http://www.space-dandy.com/top.html
America- http://www.funimation.com/shows/space-dandy

I’ll admit, I’m not good at fighting games. Whenever there’s an arcade fighting game cabinet, I would be the person watching people play for hours. I love that I can get a fighting game a playing at home. Even though I’m not great at fighting games, I do love playing them. There’s something about being able to take out all aggressions on someone digitally. It helps me feel less angry and I can unleash my anger in a way that is certainly more productive and less destructive to the outside world.

DOA5I’m also a huge fan of DOA. I grew up largely with Street Fighter. Then there was Mortal Kombat and their usage of copious amounts of blood. And while that was fun at first, it was the constant evolution of fighting games that was more interesting. While Mortal Kombat will always have a nostalgia place in my heart, the movement doesn’t quite look natural either. It looks blocky. Then I started playing DOA. The movement looked fluid. It looked like you would expect to see people doing. There was a marked difference in movement.

So, when I heard that DOA 5 was coming out on the PS3, I was all over that. It originally came out in September of last year. I was interested in some of the new aspects of the game. Something that was completely new. They added action buttons to certain events as you’re knocking someone off from one platform. It added a certain degree of greater interactivity to the game. I was super excited to get it.

In December of last year, I finally got a copy in my hot, little hands.

I loved it. I did. I still do. When my stuff was stolen the night before last, I went right to playing DOA 5.

The biggest change I noticed was in the story mode. The story mode in DOA 3 wasn’t as in-depth. I wish I could comment on DOA 4, but unfortunately I don’t have an Xbox 360.

I liked that you really got a better idea of what was going on. There was a sense of what was going on and that there was a greater plot outside of the actual DOA tournament. That’s something I really enjoyed. I almost want to play through the story mode again because I enjoyed it so much. You also got a chance to explore each character as you were going through the story mode.

DOA5 Ayane HitomiI won’t go into the game play dynamics because I would really have to have played DOA 4 to be able to speak in greater length about it. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what all the changes are between DOA 3 to DOA 4 and DOA 4 to DOA 5.

I will talk about characters though. They took out two old characters and replaced them with new ones. They got rid of Ein and Leon. They were replaced with Rig a Canadian Taekwondo fighter who also the boss of the oil rig that Bass works on. They also added Mila, a MMA fighter. I liked Ein and I was sorry to see him go. I’m not sure how I feel about Rig and Mila. I think I would need to play them more (and probably will) to see if I like they’re fighting dynamics.

They also added characters that were in Virtua Fighter, namely Akira Yuki, Sarah Bryant and Pai Chan. All three of which are playable in other portions of the game, but not in the story mode.

The same old fighting modes are available outside of the story mode. And completing them unlock different outfits for the characters. I enjoy that there is a lot more flexibility to the costuming of the game. I’m still holding out for Helena’s costume from DOA 3, but I’ll have to wait and see.DOA5 Lei Fang JannLee

There are, of course, unlockable characters. The Virtua Fighter characters I named above are all unlockable (and I have managed to unlock all but Pai Chan). Gen Fu and Alpha-152 are also unlockable characters as well. Out of all of those unlockables all that I have left are Pai Chan and Alpha-152. I hope to have them unlocked sometime soon.

Then there’s the one thing that I wanted to see changed after DOA Extreme Volleyball 2, Team Ninja’s breast physics. The boobs that seem to move like magnets of opposite poles. It looked uncomfortable, especially as a woman with larger breasts. I can’t say that even when I ran that my boobs moved up and down independently. They don’t. Even without a bra, they still move mostly together.

Thankfully, in DOA 5, they seem to have largely fixed their breast dynamics. There are certain instances that make me go WTF. Tina wearing a bustier shouldn’t have breasts moving up and down independently. But they still do. Not as crazy as they did in Extreme Volleyball 2, but it’s still there. I’m glad that they did manage to ratchet it down a level or two. I would like to see more organic breast movement, and I’m sure that Team Ninja will spend even more time working on their breast physics. As far as I’m concerned, as long as it doesn’t harm the fighting dynamics and moves, than have at it.

For me, DOA 5 was a great fighting game experience. I enjoyed playing it. I loved playing the story. More importantly, I enjoyed playing a majority of the characters that I have loved playing in the past. It’s still one of the few games that has a great drunken boxing characters. I highly recommend this fighting game.

I had forgotten about doing a write-up this year. It wasn’t until I saw a write-up on Wednesday by a blog I follow (the write-up is here), it reminded me that maybe I should do a write-up.

Much like every year for… well… as long as I can remember I have watched the Oscars. I watch them every year, reveling the in the fantasy that I will be up there one day, accepting an award of my own. Each year that passes, it feels like that this goal becomes more and more attainable. Sure, the show’s pretty long in the tooth. The Academy Awards started in 1929. They’ve been around for some time.

As the ceremony is starting to feel a bit more… well aged, and less geared to the younger generation (OK, my generation) the more they strive to feel more relevant. Previously they attempted to use two young Hollywood actors James Franco and Anne Hathaway. The result was not funny. They just didn’t have the comedic timing that a comedian or comedic actor should. I actually think they were the worst hosts… in the history of me watching the Oscars.

This year, in their attempt to make the award show appeal to the younger generation, they got Seth MacFarlane to MC this year. He’s gotten mixed reviews from being completely offensive to being hilarious. He seems to have polarized the viewers as the ones who thought he was hilarious claim that those who found him offensive have no sense of humor.Seth MacFarlane Oscars

I see his hosting this way, his hosting was a lot like watching Family Guy… which has ceased to be funny for some time. It’s not because I don’t appreciate edgy humor, I do. There are plenty of comedians who say completely offensive things manage to do it in an intelligent way. I like thinkers comedy. That’s my taste and I’m aware of it. I’m also aware that most people don’t share that interest. There were times where the comedy was misogynistic, there were times where the comedy was anti-Semitic or even racist. If there’s one thing that can be said about Seth MacFarlane’s jokes it’s that he was willing to be an equal opportunity offender. There’s a certain amount of commitment to try to offend everyone.

The best show of this song was the song at the opening of the show “We Saw Your Boobs”. There’s been a bit of controversy about this song. Here’s an article about it here. Unfortunately, some of the scenes mentioned are from scenes about rape… either directly or the aftermath of sexual violence. I understand that he was trying to poke fun at Hollywood for using showing boobs to make a movie “edgy”. Maybe if a little more research into other movies, it might have lost the ire of quite a few women (especially those who have been raped or otherwise have been sexually exploited). I can think of quite a few boobs that have been shown that had nothing to do with sexual assault. Of course, you can’t undo what has already been done. So, as much as one can “shoulda, coulda woulda”, it doesn’t change that it was done.

Of course, this actually galvanise the viewership (and the people who were at the award show). Seth MacFarlane has certainly made this year’s award show controversial… and not because of their choices.

Sally Field Mary ToddNow, I can’t talk too much about the movies this year. I didn’t really see many of them. So, I can’t speak as to whether I thought something was more deserving than any other. It’s something that I feel that I should make more of an effort to do, but have yet to do so… largely because of lack of funds on my behalf.
There is one point that I would like to actually talk about, Anne Hathaway winning best supporting actress. Now, I’m sure she might have done a great job as Fontaine. That being said, I think that Sally Field was excellent as Mary Todd Lincoln. I don’t think Sally Fields needs another Oscar. I do think that she did an excellent job portraying the psychologically troubled Mary Todd. She did an excellent job of portraying a woman with bi-polar. As someone who lived with someone who had bi-polar (both off and on meds for it), she hit it spot on. It reminded me of some of the behaviors I remember from when I was a kid. For that reason, I think that she deserves the award.

The other issue that I might take up with this award show is how they would try to cut people short. Now we know that the Academy Awards likes to keep thank you speeches short but sweet for most awards except for Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture. It’s been common knowledge for years. Whoopie Goldberg made a joke about it the year after Martin Landau was cut short giving his thank you speech when he won Best Supporting Actor for Ed Wood. Usually they play music. This year they decided to employ the Jaws theme. The music in and of itself is pretty nerve-wracking.

There was a controversy that wasn’t acknowledged by the Academy. That was the controversy that surrounds the award for Best Visual Effects. Life of Pi took that award (though I would argue that Weta definitely deserved it for the Hobbit). While the people involved was going to address Rhythm & Hues bankruptcy and the plight of visual effects artists. There is more information here, here and here. This is becoming a real problem. The visual effects artists on Life of Pi were going to discuss the outsourcing of visual effects. This is something that’s important to talk about in an open film forum. The one chance that it did have was cut short by Jaws.VFX Protest

If there’s anything that one can be said about this Oscars, it’s controversy. Some things that can’t be sussed out simply others that can be. It certainly makes an interesting backdrop for awards.

There is one thing that I will admit to, I don’t see movies as much as I used to anymore. I love going out to see a good movie. I actually like the theater experience (as long as there isn’t the loud conversations like you’re at home or people texting on their phones right next to you). There’s something about seeing a movie on the big screen.

I actually saw a movie that way this weekend. I went to see “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”.

When I was 5-years-old, I had read “The Hobbit”. I remember liking the book then (liking it so much, it made me want to read other Fantasy classics like “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”), Of course, a great many years have passed since I read it. I haven’t picked it up since.

Seeing the movie made me want to find my copy and re-read it.

For those of you who have not read it but are curious about what it is about, I’ll fill you in on the plot a bit.

Bilbo Baggins is tricked into holding a meeting for dwarves by Gandalf. He is asked to join the party, which he decides to do. He then goes off on an adventure that will take him out of Hobbiton and into a mountain to help slay the dragon and help give the dwarves their keep back. That’s the plot, in a nutshell.martin-freeman-the-hobbit

Of course, there is much more to this story. Most of the story talks about the journey itself.

The movie does a wonderful job of taking you along on this journey. The writing is like “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy as it uses the same writers as before (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens). However, the Hobbit also ads in writer and directing powerhouse, Guillermo del Toro. This addition makes me incredibly happy as I have a lot of respect and admiration for Guillermo del Toro both as a writer and a director.

The movie has the same feel as the previous trilogy did. Hobbiton is shot as a happy and innocent place. Once you leave there, things become darker and a bit more sinister. It’s a stylistic choice that I appreciate. If you think about it as the human journey of life, Hobbiton is childhood. Once you leave your childhood behind, you enter the darker years of adolescence.

The acting was wonderful. I think the actors did a wonderful job in their given roles. Ian McKellen was brilliant returning as Gandalf. Ian Holm and Elijah Wood also make a brief appearance in this movie. Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee and Hugo Weaving all reprise their roles from the Lord of the Rings. There are 2 actors that I feel like I need to make particular note of: Richard Armitage and Sylvester McCoy.

Now, I’m not going to lie. I knew who Sylvester McCoy was prior to the Hobbit. I watched him in his turn as the seventh Doctor in Doctor Who. He was my first Doctor (though not my favorite, to this day that honor goes to Christopher Eccleston). I was thrilled to see him get a role in a movie of this caliber. It made me smile when he was on the screen as Radagast.

Richard Armitage, I must say I wasn’t too familiar with him prior to this movie. I have seen an episode or two of “The Vicar of Dibley”, but I haven’t really seen anything else with him in it. He did an amazing job of playing Thorin. I’m not sure if I can put my finger on why exactly, but every time he was on the screen (even with a large crowd of people), he still stood out in the crowd. My eyes would be drawn to him.

The scenery was beautiful and the movie was well shot, as one has come to expect from Jackson’s earlier work. The special effects were good-looking, and managed to keep you in the moment. These are things that we have come to expect of Peter Jackson’s movies (even prior to Lord of the Rings). If you look at his work from Dead Alive to the Frighteners, you can see a general trend to create an impeccable looking movie.Hobbit Japanese poster

In the end, I must say, I quite enjoyed this movie. It was a tribute to good film making and managed to be a fun ride. I’m anticipating the other two parts of the movie (coming out in 2013 and 2014, respectively). It also managed to bring back bits and pieces of the book that I read 28 years ago. That is no small feat. That being said, this is a movie I highly recommend and did truly enjoy.

The Hobbit movie website: http://www.thehobbit.com/

I’m pretty sure that I mentioned before that I was a Civil War nerd. I get all excited about most things Civil War. I certainly got an opportunity that I never thought I was going to have last year when I visited Gettysburg. One of the few battles that have been called the turning point of the Civil War. I also love seeing Civil War movies. I saw “Glory” when it came out. My dad and I made the trip to see it in the pouring rain. I love those movies.

Lincoln statue outside of the visitors’ center in Gettysburg, PA.

So, when I saw that there was a bio pic coming out about Abraham Lincoln, I was thrilled. I was all over it. And Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead role… yeah, I had to go and see it.

So, of course I’ve already seen it.

Wow. Seriously, wow.

The movie takes place after the Gettysburg Address and through the passing of the thirteenth amendment to the US Constitution, the amendment that effectively ended slavery.

I truly appreciated this movie. It didn’t glamorize or deify Lincoln. He was portrayed like a man who was determined to end the war and end slavery. Some of his actions wouldn’t be surprising, even by today’s standards. It played like politics as usual.

One of the things I did appreciate was something that I learned while I was taking film classes. That movies can have more impact without a soundtrack. Most of the movie’s dialogue didn’t have a soundtrack behind it. It gave the gravity of what was being said to the words alone. There was no music behind to help set the tone. It helped give the dialogue the proper gravity it should. There was no music to help manipulate the emotions to get people to feel that way.

Image from ropeofsilicon.com

The movie also made me think. Lincoln was the first Republican president. I wonder, if Lincoln was alive today, would he even recognize the Republican party that stands today?

It’s an interesting thought to look at what the Republican party was at its inception and how much it’s changed. How far they’ve come from their original ideals to what exits now.

Of course, my fear for this movie is that it will be overshadowed by a lot of what Hollywood is putting out. Lincoln’s general release was the same weekend as “Twilight: New Moon pt. 2”. Of course, Twilight dominated the box office. That makes me sad. “Lincoln” is a movie of substance and importance. The fact that movies like “Skyfall” and “Twilight” easily tromp on it is saddening.

Perhaps there is something that can be said for advertising. Both “Twilight” and “Skyfall” have had so many more ads than “Lincoln” did. I only remember seeing on ad for “Lincoln” on television while we are still bombarded with ads for both “Skyfall” and “Twilight”. Jenn from Reappropriate also had an interesting discussion on her blog about Lincoln in the time of vampires. It is an interesting write-up… and seems that it might also be the case.

Honestly, I can’t say this enough. Go see “Lincoln”. There are so few movies that remind you how wonderful the movie craft can be. There are so few movies that have acting that’s so amazing and refined. It’s a beautiful movie that is superbly acted. I would be disappointed if it didn’t receive at least a few nominations. It is a movie of high-caliber and reminded me of the reason that I wanted to get in to the film industry. Yes, it’s really that good.

Website for Lincoln: http://www.thelincolnmovie.com/

Gunnerkrigg Court

This is a bonus review. I just found this web comic recently. I didn’t even know Archaia has published the collected volumes. I only noticed it when looking at their website while writing these reviews.

I love this web comic. Chapter 39 is currently in progress. I caught up in a week.

I can’t say it is deep or epic. It definitely seems aimed at a YA audience. Most of the intra-character development is around friendship, parents, and first relationships. Other topics are finding your place in the world and generally dealing with growing up and responsibilities.

I like the world. There is mystery about what is going on and how things got to where they are. The world is caught between rival sides and tries to precariously balance in-between. One side of this struggle is the ‘science’ side. Science is in quotes because it includes the ‘etheric sciences’ .. meaning magic. The other side is the ‘magic’ side. The Court versus the Forest. Really it is about the conflict between categorizing and studying everything versus categorizing nothing. Order (strict, studied order) versus Chaos. Coyote leads the chaos side. The lead character is nominally on the order side but really walks the bridge between the two (spoiler!).

The characters have multiple dimensions and personality. They grow in realistic ways as the story goes on. The “sidekick” character is actually one of my favorites. Even the shadows have personality (spoiler!).

I feel bad listing this as an Archaia review since I haven’t picked up the collected editions myself and all the pages are available for free at the web comic page.

So, if you want to support Archaia or the comic creator, picking up the collected volumes of Gunnerkrigg Court is a great way to do it.

Otherwise go and read the comics online.

Okko: Cycles of Water and Earth

To start, these are volumes 1 and 2 of a planned 5 volume series. They were originally published in French (in France!) and Archaia is republishing them in English. The end of volume 5 hasn’t been released in French yet, so it will be a bit before the series concludes in English. Each volume is self-contained, so don’t worry about cliff hangers, but there is character continuity.

The books take place in the mystical kingdom of Japan. I mean Pajan. Sorry, I switched a couple of letters there. So we have the mystical kingdom of Pajan which is eerily similar to Japan but with magic. And power armor.

The artwork is good with a slight woodblock print feel. The character personalities are clear and consistent. Maybe just a bit too consistent – they all act according to their type no matter the situation. The stories are told from the perspective of the “new kid”. He is picked up at the beginning of the first book and he then narrates. This could be used to explain away some of the way the older characters are presented if we were to analyze the psychology of the characters. The rest of the group are experienced soldiers/adventurers.

Overall I like these books. Part of it may be because the attempted perspective of an Asian culture makes it a little different from the “standard” in the US. Part of it may because I have a fondness for Asian cultures myself. The world of these stories has obvious similarities to Japan (besides the name..) but it is “fantasized” enough that I can ignore the inaccuracies. I am curious to see how someone from Japan would react, however.

I was amused when I realized that all the names could actually be written with Japanese kana. I’m curious how much they were changed in the translation from French, if at all.

I’ll pick up the other books in the series eventually (sale or not) but I’m not running out to grab them immediately.

 

Critical Millennium: The Dark Frontier

I’m going to quote the book cover here. “Decadence and overindulgence has led to the extermination of most animal and plant species, as well as Earth’s ability to support human life. The only solution is to find a new home for mankind, one that the government is too self-absorbed to contemplate. Critical Millennium is an epic sci-fi romp, rife with brutally realistic and sober portrayals of humanity – not in blacks and whites, but in all its various shades of gray.”

This is one of the bleakest books I have ever read.

The story of this first book is about a dying Earth and some “revolutionaries” who believe that the only hope for humanity lies in FTL travel and making it to another planet. The book ends with their ship finally taking off. It should be a story of hope.

The beginning of the book, however, seems to show that same ship and everyone on board it coming apart in hyperspace. So you know from the beginning that the hope the story is trying to build up is false – you have already seen them fail.

The artwork is well done but not a style I like. Some of the scenes have very fine details but I the general ‘watery’ look is difficult for me. I end up not seeing or looking for the details.

In terms of humanity being shown in shades of gray .. well, I agree with that. There were no heroes in this book. This plays into the story being one of false hope set in a dying world. The very concept of a hero is corrupt and decayed.

The story is primarily about the general debauchery of the world and the social/political intrigue surrounding the “heroes” trying to build and launch their new ship. I know this type of story appeals to a lot of readers but, again, it is not for me. I don’t need SF/F for intrigue, debauchery, and politics. I can just open the newspaper.

I can understand why other people like this book. The graphics, as I said, are well done and there are many scenes with fine details. The characters are distinct and have plenty of “character”. The plot has several twists and turns. It just isn’t for me.

There is one aspect that gives me pause beyond my personal preferences. In this future dystopia the unquestioned world ruler is an Indian woman and Caucasians (Ghosts) are an oppressed underclass. I would applaud the creators for creating a world with such a different social structure that what we have now. But other aspects of the story make these differences seem like they are supposed to be indicative of the corruption in the world – they are negatives. The prime minister is first presented slaughtering one of the few remaining dolphin pods as part of a supposed Japanese ritual. The “heroes” are Caucasian males who inherited their fortunes and spend all their time partying. It all comes across as a white male power fantasy.

Overall this is the antithesis of Miranda Mercury for me. I would be curious to talk to someone who likes both books, as to me they could not be more different.

(The final part to be posted on Monday)