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Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Doctor Who S35E2: The Witch's Familiar.


Doctor Who
Series 35, Episode 2
The Witch's Familiar



You know, there were points in this episode where I almost managed to forget that Steven Moffat was writing it. That's really the highest praise I can give a Moffat-penned episode, when you think about it: 'It was so okay, I actually sometimes managed to fool myself into thinking a competent writer had worked on it.' 

It's also a considerable achievement when you consider how many staples of Moffat-era Who this two-parter has had: The Doctor is going to die but is putting on a brave face, check. Ominous Doctor-related happenings across time and space to hammer in how Very Important the Doctor is, check. Series lore adjusted and built upon in a way that doesn't really add anything but does just make things more convoluted, because Moffat is snivelingly desperate to leave his mark on the franchise, check. Excellent Murray Gold soundtrack, check, quite glad about that one, not that it wasn't also a feature of Davies-era Who. Other characters rambling about how great the Doctor is, at interminable length, check. 

It's all there, nearly the whole gang, all we need is a monster against whom you must suppress a natural impulse and a monster with a recurring catchphra - oh. Oh. Well, to be fair, that one, at least, was out of Moffat's hands.

But it's a competently written episode. An episode that, dare I jinx my luck with this series by saying it about two episodes in a row, I actually quite enjoyed. I had fun. I liked it. It's a very liberating feeling: I don't foresee it lasting.

Oh, hey, the Special Weapons Dalek, one of my favourite Dalek designs, absolutely wasted here.

In this week's episode, the conclusion of the two-parter started with The Magician's Apprentice, the Doctor, believing Clara to be dead, is tempted by Davros towards committing genocide against the Daleks. Meanwhile, Missy and Clara infiltrate the Dalek city to reach the Doctor - a journey which will take them deep into the sewers beneath the city, where old Daleks go to rot away, and force Clara to occupy one of the Dalek's own mechanical frames.

Much of what makes this episode good is the interaction between Missy and Clara. Missy's probably the funnest character to come out of Moffat's writing, and nearly every line she says, especially when she's working with a protagonist instead of being actively antagonistic, is a joy. While Jenna Coleman was able to hold her own pretty well with Michelle Gomez in the first episode of this two-parter, she starts to fade a bit into the background, as Gomez chews on the scenery (in delightful fashion, I love some scenery chewing) with more gumption and vim with every scene. 

Paralleling Missy and Clara's interactions are those of the Doctor and Davros, and to be honest, those are pretty good. Moffat loves to play the 'the Doctor is an old man' card for pathos wherever possible, but in the scenes between these two, it actually works pretty well: They genuinely feel like two old men, who in their warring have sort of become friends, reminiscing and talking as one of them dies. It's actually pretty touching, and in a way, the episode might have worked better if it hadn't all been a cunning ruse on Davros' part, if it had all been genuine and he'd either actually died or had been dragged back from death and forced to continue living by the Supreme Dalek.

It's a very nice shot, I'll give it that.

Not least because 'Davros actually betrays the Doctor' would have been pretty easy to see coming - 'Davros is actually entirely genuine and gets betrayed by his own wayward children, shattering the peace between him and the Doctor and forcing them back into being enemies' is more compelling, gives the character more depth (which I think works better if you're going to end it on a 'and the Doctor goes back and saves tiny!Davros' note), and is quite sad, rather than totally expected.

Which isn't to say I hated the plot we were given. I didn't - predictable as it was, I quite liked it, it had more than a few nice moments, and it was generally handled quite deftly. It's also one that hammers in how lucky Moffat is to have good actors: In less skilled hands, the lines he's written would feel corny, fake, and droll - Gomez, Bleach, Capaldi and Coleman are what make those lines work.

Here's a better shot of the Special Weapons Dalek going utterly to waste.

On a technical level, this episode also does well. Skaro feels sufficiently alien, and lord knows that we don't have enough alien worlds on Doctor Who. The soundtrack is astounding, as Gold's soundtracks always are. The cinematography is good, the special effects are - pretty much standard for Doctor Who. All the boxes ticked there.

So, bizarrely, bafflingly, I enjoyed not just this episode but both parts of the series opener. I know, I'm shocked as well, it's a shocking thing. I would love it if this is a trend that continues for the entire series, but I'm not willing to hold out hope just yet. One interesting change is that this series seems to be composed entirely of two-parters, which I'm a little nervous about, but could turn out quite well! Or terribly. We'll see. 

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Kamen Rider Drive Act 4 Masterpost.


Kamen Rider Drive
Act 4 Masterpost













































Gangsta.


Gangsta.



I only picked up two anime this season, and to be honest, I was not expecting Gangsta. to be one of them - partly because I didn't even know that it existed until it was about four episodes in, and partly because even if I had known, I would have probably said it wasn't my cup of tea. It was the buzz about it on social media that both informed me of it and convinced me to take a look.

Set in the crime-riddled and mob-controlled city of Ergastulum, Gangsta. follows two 'handymen', mercenaries who do odd jobs (some violent, some not) for anyone who can pay, and a local prostitute who they recruit as their secretary. Life in Ergastulum swiftly starts to get more complicated after someone starts targeting and murdering 'Twilights', people with enhanced physical abilities, thus threatening the peace in the city.

Let's start with the big elephant in the room and talk about the ending. I have expressed deep irritation over anime which just stop rather than really end, and Gangsta. might be the worst example of that, with a final episode that doesn't wrap up a single plotline and which lacks any indication that it's even the end of the series - most anime have something, whether it be a shortened opening, a different ending, or even just a card at the end thanking people for watching, but Gangsta.'s final episode had none of those things and, much more importantly, didn't conclude any of its storylines or subplots or even really anything.

I actually had to check multiple times to see that this actually was the ending. It is, and no second series has been announced.

N'aww, so smiley.

So, with that out of the way, let's talk about the series itself. It actually caught my attention surprisingly quickly when I started watching, boasting very smooth and high quality animation, a great soundtrack, and a great voice cast. Perhaps more striking, it has two disabled protagonists whose disabilities aren't magically cured: Nicolas, one of the two handymen, is deaf, and usually communicates through (and is communicated with through) sign language (JSL, to be specific); while Worick, the other handyman, is missing an eye, with all the problems that that suggests.

Which really hammers in how few disabled protagonists there are in television, as they are the only disabled protagonists I've seen in anime in - well, probably several years, and one of only a handful of disabled protagonists I've seen in television this year. So that's nice.

As far as the writing goes, it's all very strong - the large cast of characters (which spans a range of ethnicities and includes a good seven or so strong female characters who are active agents in the plot) are all distinct, engaging, and sympathetic; the plot is intriguing and well thought out; and we're fed exposition about the setting in a way that keeps us informed without dumping twenty minutes of expository monologues onto us.

I like that Ergastulum bank notes just have 'ERGASTULUM COMMON CURRENCY'
written on them.

It falls down, as so many shows do, on the pacing - when it's good, the pacing is sharp and quick, but too often it slows to a leisurely, ambling pace, with important events looming ominously in the distance but taking their sweet time actually arriving. This isn't helped by the inclusion of flashbacks in several episodes: While the flashbacks have some of the best writing of the show, and build on the characters and their backstories in interesting ways, it feels like it would have been better if they'd all been crammed into one episode-long flashback, rather than spread out over several episodes. Flashbacks, after all, are the death of pacing if done wrong, and while they never quite manage to kill the tension of the episodes they're in, they come pretty close a few times.

The large cast of characters (large enough that one episode manages to function perfectly well without either of the handymen in it, although Alex is much in evidence in her role as audience surrogate), while wholly necessary for the plot, doesn't do much for the pacing either, since as the plot progresses they all become more and more integral to it, forcing the writers to split their attentions between more and more disparate groups.

This is less indicative of a romance and more of both of them being in terrible
emotional places at this point.

(I admit, I actually never learned most of the characters' names - I know Worick, Nicolas, Alex, Doug (because of course), and everyone else I would probably just describe with their most prominent characteristics.)

Overall, Gangsta. surprised me with how good it was, and I do hope that a second series of it makes its way to air. Its frankly abysmal ending rules it out from getting Anime of the Year at the next annual Fission Mailure awards, but had it ended on a stronger note, it would definitely have been a contender. I do recommend it, though, and it remains not only the standout anime of this season for me (not that many of the anime this season managed to keep my interest for very long), but one of the standout anime of this year.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Durarara!!x2 Ten


Durarara!!x2 Ten



Good news! I actually managed to watch this cour of Durarara!! more or less as it aired, instead of mainlining it all about a week before it finished, which was rather emphatically not the case with the first series and with Durarara!!x2 Shou, and which almost certainly coloured my opinions of both of those series.

Picking up shortly after Shou, the second cour of Durarara!!x2 sees Izaya recovering in hospital after having been stabbed by mysterious entertainment mogul/crime boss/monster trafficker Yodogiri Jinnai. Meanwhile, Mikado has become the leader of the Blue Squares, and is using them to purge the Dollars of any undesirable elements; Ruri is being stalked, prompting Kasuka to approach his brother and Celty for help; and the Awakusu Group starts taking a more active interest in the going-ons in Ikebukuro.

As far as starts go, this cour gets off to quite possibly a slower start than the one before, which is odd, in a way - while Shou had to establish new characters and a new status quo after the events of the first series, Ten had all of the groundwork laid by the twelve episodes previous to it with which to get off at a running start, and somewhat squandered it.

The wholesome ultraviolence gang.

It does pick up before too long, with the introduction of Ruri's stalker and Masaomi's return to Ikebukuro kicking the plot into high gear by giving the cast a concrete threat, and by providing a catalyst with which to throw Masaomi and Mikado against each other. The stalker plot gets dropped not long after it shows up, but by that point it's already served its purpose, and the tension remains high (and the pacing quick) until the end of the cour.

It's from that point that we also start to see the conflicts set up in Shou really start to pay off. While the gang war at the end of the first series felt like a genuine threat to both the town and its inhabitants, the gang war brewing by the end of Ten feels like that same threat magnified, as the story introduces more and more malevolent parties while putting any stabilising figures out of commission.

Mikado, shown to be well and truly off his rocker by the end of Shou, is terrifyingly unhinged, an effect only enhanced by the cheerful, happy, polite way that he explains to other characters what he's doing (there's a particularly chilling conversation to this effect with Celty in the final episode, where Mikado chirps that he's sent the Blue Squares off to beat up Masaomi's Yellow Scarves) - and the contrast between how he is now, an active participant directing the violence, compared to how he was at the end of the first series, a fairly passive character who continually disavowed any control over the Dollars, is pretty stark.

(He's not the only dangerously unstable character, either, as this cour has seen Aoba's brother Ran, previously only seen briefly in flashbacks in the first series, introduced - and to nobody who remembers what the Blue Squares were doing in those flashback's surprise, he's violent, omni-malevolent, and wants to kill or injure half of the cast.)

You remember Ran, right? He broke Saki's legs. That Ran.

Similarly, by having Kadota get caught in a hit and run, Shizuo arrested, and Shinra injured, the series has ensured that, going into the final cour of the series, three out of five of the people who can usually be counted on to keep Ikebukuro safe and stable are out of the action - and their stabilising influence has been established well enough up to this point to make that quite striking for a viewer. 

Happily, this cour has also minimised the impact of some of the less interesting characters in the show. The Orihara sisters barely show up at all; Kadota and his gang have a significantly reduced role until the final arc; and Seiji and Mika are mostly absent apart from short appearances to, one supposes, let the audience know that they're still alive. These were always the least interesting characters in the series, so having their involvement scaled back (and the involvement of more interesting characters, such as Masaomi, scaled up) is a definite improvement.

(Less of an improvement is that Anri, as of this point in the series, has been somewhat detached from the main plot for a while, and I do hope she'll get involved in it more in the next cour. That's not to say that she's been absent, though - she's been around in the show plenty, even if it does feel like she's more of an observer than a participant right now.)

Scary-ish tiny Shinra.

The cour ends a little abruptly, especially in regards to the Yellow Scarves and Blue Squares storyline, which is just kind of left hanging (as opposed to having some kind of dramatic cliffhanger or somesuch), but the finale does give us some fairly unexpected plot twists regarding the nature of Yodogiri Jinnai and the group he's involved in, and it'll be interesting to see where the show goes with that in its third cour.

All in all, these twelve episodes are much improved over Shou, and I look forward to seeing how everything gets resolved in Durarara!!x2 Ketsu. 

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Saint Seiya: Soul of Gold


Saint Seiya: 
Soul of Gold



When Sailor Moon Crystal started airing, many people saw its low production values, bizarre fortnightly schedule, and mangling of everything the original series had in its favour and quite rightly wondered: Is this misogyny? Would Toei have treated an anniversary series for a shounen anime with the same disrespect, or is the fact that they put so little effort in to Sailor Moon Crystal to do with it having a predominantly female audience?

Well, wonder no more! Saint Seiya: Soul of Gold is here to set the record straight, showing that Toei is not (on this one occasion, at least) guilty of misogyny, just of being cheap, cynical cash-grabbers.

Set shortly after the deaths of all twelve Gold Saints, Soul of Gold sees the twelve return to life in Asgard. Leo Aiolia is soon approached by Lyfia, handmaiden to Odin's representative on earth, who tells him that Asgard has come under the rule of a prophet called Andreas, who is growing something evil in the heart of Yggdrassil. The Gold Saints set out to destroy Yggdrassil and stop Andreas, and in so doing come into conflict with Odin's seven God Warriors.

Good god, this series is terrible. Also, much like Sailor Moon Crystal, it's airing on an odd fortnightly schedule instead of weekly, meaning that it gives you just enough time to lose interest between every episode. So well done there, I guess.

I think this is a hallucination, but I don't actually recall what happened in that episode.

The animation in the last Saint Seiya series, Saint Seiya Omega, often came under fire for being low quality, but compared to Soul of Gold it's beautiful. Lazy at best and jarringly awkward at worst, Soul of Gold looks like it was made in the late nineties by three underpaid, exhausted animators and one monkey. Occasionally, Toei ekes out a little bit more budget for showing each Saint's God Cloth, a super mode that increases their power and makes them briefly much better animated - and which they can conveniently only maintain for a couple of seconds, because Toei has to keep those costs down somehow.

The writing isn't any better, combining a tired and prosaic plot ('We have to journey to x place to stop y villain, facing z smaller villains along the way') with utterly boring characters. Most of the Gold Saints don't get more than a few minutes worth of screentime - and even main protagonist Aiolia gets markedly little time to shine - but the ones that do aren't very good at actually holding an audience's attention, since they're all so flat and lifeless. With the exception of a couple, every one of them has the same stock personality, making every episode essentially just twenty minutes of watching roughly the same characters do roughly the same things in quick succession.

(It doesn't help that about a third of them have long blue hair, meaning that not only is it difficult to tell their personalities apart, quite often it's difficult to tell them apart by appearance.)

Aiolia appears to be wearing armoured pyjamas.

This makes it all the more laughably hilarious when the show tries, in the most cynical and hack-handed way possible, to make you care. Two characters have an ongoing subplot in which one is working for the villains because of a terrible torment in his past, and the other is trying to persuade him to rejoin the good guys, and I felt nothing. This winning combination of five minutes per episode spent on two stoic, two-dimensional characters going through the motions of a tired, rehashed plotline in a way that suggests that nobody - from characters to writers to animators - actually cared about it produced nothing but apathy and boredom in me.

Nor is it just those two characters that suffer from this. Aiolia and Lyfia, ostensibly our two main characters, have what's meant to be a sad moment of having to part at the end, maybe even with some romantic undertones to it - but since they'd barely interacted before this, and since both of them had the personalities of planks of wood, it wasn't sad at all.

Ah, ye olde tavern.

While the series does try to throw a few 'what a twist' moments at you, they are all (well, both, there's only two) pretty goshdarn predictable, and almost any viewer will see them coming about five episodes before either of said twists get their shocking reveal.

I'm not sure if there's anything good I can say about this series. The opening theme is very nice? I guess? Aiolia has nice hair? 

It's rare to see a series that's as much as an unmitigated mess as this one, but at least we now know for sure that Toei really doesn't give two hoots about the anniversaries of its big name shows. That bodes well for Digimon Adventure Tri! (It does not bode well for Digimon Adventure Tri). Even if you're a massive fan of Saint Seiya, give this series a miss.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Editorial: Five Wishes for Dragon Age 4


Editorial: Five Wishes for Dragon Age 4

We're all waiting for the announcement for Dragon Age 4 with baited breath, and everybody has their own idea of what they'd like to see in it. There are even some people who want to see the Inquisitor return as a protagonist, because apparently we're playing Mass Effect now.

In our infinite wisdom, we at Fission Mailure have decided to bestow upon you all our highly important views on what Dragon Age 4 should feature, in this handy and short wishlist.


1. Krem as a companion.

It's all but confirmed at this point (unless the Inquisitor is just stabbing a map of Tevinter for fun) that Dragon Age 4 will be set in the Tevinter Imperium, much to the delight of fans who have spent three games hearing about it without ever getting the chance to see it. Dorian, who returns to Tevinter at the end of Trespasser, will almost certainly be a prominent character in the game, either as an adviser or as a party member, but you know who else is from Tevinter?

Krem, the most prominent member of Iron Bull's mercenary company, the Bull's Chargers. A non-magical commoner from the magicratic (what is the term for 'ruled by mages'?) Imperium, Krem would give us a viewpoint that's entirely different from that of nobleman Dorian.

It's not as if it would be difficult to get him back either: The biggest barrier would be the choice to let the Chargers die during Iron Bull's companion quest, but the player never actually sees them die, and never sees the bodies either - and while other people do, the Chargers were killed by Venatori, making it entirely possible for the bodies to have been burned, frozen, mangled, or all of the above beyond recognition.

Jennifer Hale has an excellent working relationship with Bioware too, so having her return to play Krem would be no problem - but even if she couldn't, it wouldn't be the first time that Bioware has recast a role.


2. More influence over the world.

Despite playing as a massive behemoth organisation, it often feels like the decisions you make in Inquisition aren't having any actual impact on the world. 

You can help out the refugees of the Hinterlands and funnel as many resources as you can get into Redcliffe, but the areas will still be exactly the same when you return; no matter who you side with in the Orlesian Civil War, Val Royeaux and the Exalted Plains will remain the same as they ever were; keeping or banishing the Grey Wardens will have approximately zero effect on gameplay. No matter whether you side with the mages or the templars, Corypheus' army will remain about roughly half mages and half red templars. The world is oddly static.

Give me decisions that will have changes on gameplay. Let me be able to see a concrete effect on the world around me, for good or for ill. Give me semi-random encounters that become more likely the more certain conditions are fulfilled. Have my foes change their behaviour and the make-up of their forces in response to what I do.

In brief: If you're going to give me influence over Thedas, make it influence that I can see in motion. While Fable III is a terrible game, this is at least one thing it did right, having the decisions you make as king cause stark differences to the environments around you, along with affecting how the random people you encounter think of you and interact with you. And that's a six year old Peter Molyneux game. 


3. More massive battles.

You know one surprising thing that was lacking from Inquisition? Massive set-piece battles. We had a few in the form of Haven, Adamant, and the Arbor Wilds, but they always felt weirdly lacklustre, less like pitched battles between the forces of good and evil and more like background noise to the Inquisitor's own struggle.

It is possible to do battles - hectic, frenetic, vast-feeling battles - well, and good examples of such can be found in the oddest places (the video game version of The Return of the King does it especially well, bizarrely).

Give us large numbers of units clashing on screen, and a constantly changing list of objectives to achieve to turn the tide of the battle in our favour. Give us battles with multiple stages, where we're besieging a gate, storming a castle, and then holding and defending it from reinforcements as we wait for our own forces to come and back us up. 

A pitched battle is fertile ground to be clever with gameplay, working in elements of capture-the-flag, survive-for-x-amount-of-time, escort quests, and combat, and if so inclined, Bioware could produce something really special.


4. Some answers about Weisshaupt.

Weisshaupt, and the turmoil going down there, was one of the mysteries left at the end of Inquisition, with Hawke (assuming they survive) heading off to the Grey Warden fortress and with all news coming out of it stopping shortly thereafter.

Trespasser doesn't give us any answers as to what happened there, and it's entirely likely that we'll never know - letting plot threads go forgotten is something that Bioware has done before in this series (remember that Blight potentially brewing in the Anderfels that was never mentioned again?), after all.

But if there's a chance, I'd like to see the Weisshaupt question answered - as exposition or, for preference, as a story quest in Dragon Age 4. 

If it means we get to visit the fortress itself, all the better, although as I recall it isn't anywhere near the Tevinter Imperium.


5. Better political intrigue. 

Oh, Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts, I was so looking forward to you and you were everything I hoped you wouldn't be. It sounds amazing on paper: Political intrigue, the Great Game, court manipulations, backstabbing, a masked ball - but the quest is widely regarded as the worst one in Inquisition.

Dragon Age 4 will be a chance to rectify that, giving us some political intrigue with some actual bite to it, and it'd be lovely if we could see that worked into the plot more, instead of being limited to one story quest.

Give us political alliances that meaningfully impact the rest of the game, give us treachery within our own ranks, give us real differences between using diplomacy or force or espionage that influence gameplay, bring back the judgement mechanic and have it have a real impact  - and yes, give us a party we can attend where everyone is hiding knives in their petticoats and betrayal behind their smiles. 

More political intrigue. Better political intrigue.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Editorial: The 5 Worst Marvel Villains.


Editorial: The 5 Worst Marvel Villains.

We looked at the worst Marvel heroes last week, but it's important to remember that while Reed Richards is concretely worse than any of the villains on this list, he's technically counted as a 'hero' for reasons that are surely a mystery to us all.

But Marvel has its fair share of terrible villains too, and it's only fair to give them a fair shake, so here's the five worst Marvel villains.


5. Turner D. Century.



Turner D. Century is a man with an extremely punny name who wears a business suit, rides around on a flying bicycle, and wants to kill everyone under sixty-five because he's angry that the world is changing - so he was basically a baby boomer before it became mainstream, which must be nice for him.

His primary weapon is a magical horn that will kill any young'uns (or middle aged'uns) that hear its terrible sound - except it doesn't work, and it's not clear whether it ever worked or if this is just an elaborate delusion on Century's part. I mean, his magical flying bike works, it'd be a little bit weird if he had an actual magical flying bike, but an entirely regular, non-magical horn that he'd just fooled himself into thinking was magical.

For some bizarre reason, Turner D. Century was a recurring villain for a while, showing up in several Marvel titles and - not so much battling as cycling sinisterly past Daredevil and Captain America and Spider-Woman.

He'd come higher on this list, but the flying bicycle is actually quite creepy, in a reverse Mary Poppins sort of way, especially since in some of his appearances he is accompanied by a faceless woman.


4. Fin Fang Foom.



Fin Fang Foom is a recurring foe of Iron Man's and also an alien dragon who wears jean shorts, and if that last sentence doesn't make it entirely clear why you'll never see him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then you've probably never encountered someone wearing jean shorts.

It's odd, in a way, that despite being a space dragon and ergo not a racist caricature of any particular place (unlike about half of Iron Man's rogues gallery), Fin Fang Foom really does sound like one, enough to actually be quite uncomfortable.

After years of serious usage, he was eventually shrunk down to human size, became Reed Richard's personal Chinese chef (are we absolutely sure this guy isn't a racist caricature?), and has in recent years been used solely as a giant mind-controlled monster for when other villains have wanted to wreak havoc.


3. Kraven the Hunter.



You know, I've read comics with Kraven the Hunter in, and played video games with him in, and vaguely noticed his absence in the endless parade of Spiderman adaptations, but I'm still not actually sure who he is.

It doesn't seem like anyone else is certain, either. He's apparently a Russian big game hunter, but instead of using guns, snares, a bow and arrow, or any of the other tools that big game hunters use, he prefers to - take a potion made of various jungle herbs and beat his prey to death with his bare hands? And instead of hunting big game, he hunts a costumed teenager?

So what I'm getting at here is that he's a big game hunter who doesn't hunt big game and doesn't use any of the tools or skills associated with hunting. Oh, and he was originally introduced as the brother of another member of Spidey's rogue gallery, the Chameleon, whose superpower is 'being a really good make-up artist', so that's - that's something. I guess.

Like most of Marvel's worst villains, Kraven has been reinvented a lot, and is currently a telepathic zombie, because why wouldn't he be.


2. Professor Monster.



He counts, okay?

Professor Monster is the main villain of Toei's Spider-Man television show, which recently got dredged up into the light again during the massive Spiderman crossover series that brought every disparate version of Spiderman together (Toei Spider-Man's role is small and mainly consists of arriving suddenly with a giant robot), an immortal scientist of some variety who leads the evil Iron Cross Army and who's become immortal by drinking the blood of other species.

As is always the case with villains with 'professor' in their name, I am distracted from any of his evil deeds by wondering who on earth gave the lad tenure, and what kind of peer scrutiny his academic works (which in Professor Monster's case are probably broadly to do with technology for growing huge, like an angry reverse Hank Pym) have come under.

Which might be for the best, as he was eventually defeated in a couple of seconds of stock footage, which might make him one of the more realistic depictions of a scientist in the last fifty years.


1. Hate-Monger.



The original Hate-Monger is a clone of Hitler - or possibly just Hitler himself, nobody can seem to decide - wearing a purple Ku Klux Klan costume and wielding a gun that causes people to hate other people. Other media outlets have described this gun as a 'racism gun', and while that it is indeed probably its intended purpose, in practice it tends to be used to cause the Fantastic Four or the Avengers to disband for a few issues because they can't stand the sight of each other.

He's one of the few characters in the Marvel universe to die and stay dead, after he attempted to turn Captain America, Namor, and Nick Fury (who aren't exactly keen on each other on the best of days) upon each other, and instead blew himself up when his own weapon exploded.

Marvel's tried to reinvent him as a darker, edgier, more relevant character by having various right-wing nutjobs take on the identity to go on killing rampages of immigrants, which given that actual white Americans in actual real life keep actually going on actual killing rampages against actual immigrants is some pretty on-the-nose social commentary.

That said, those reinventions are very short lived, with one version getting murdered to death by the Punisher, and with another getting beaten by Black Panther and never seen again.


Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Kamen Rider Drive E47: Who Will You Entrust The Future To, My Friend?


Kamen Rider Drive
Episode 47
Who Will You Entrust The Future To, My Friend?



So, here we are at the end of Drive's story. Not the end of the series, as such, there's still one more episode, a Kamen Rider Ghost crossover to get us prepped for the next series, but the end of the actual plotline. 

With Banno defeated and Medic dead, Heart and Shinnosuke fight Sigma once more. Defeating it, Shinnosuke is saved from a brush with death by the intervention of a mysterious Rider, and awakens to find that Heart has saved him, with the intention of fighting him and putting an end to their rivalry.

Like almost every Kamen Rider finale I can think of, this episode is low on action and high on what is essentially an epilogue. The battle with Sigma, while very dramatic, is done and dusted in about three minutes, and the battle with Heart (which is more of an emotional scene than an action one - there's fighting, but it's Kuuga-oid punching in the rain rather than flashy toy advertisement combat) is done and dusted by about the ten minute arc. 

We get a brief fight scene involving Ghost facing off against Gold Freeze, Sword, and Thief, as well, and I have to say that is one of the smoothest crossovers I've seen in Kamen Rider. It fits into the plot, makes at least some sense, doesn't outstay its welcome and has a surprising amount of emotional weight to it, as Shinnosuke is essentially escaping the ghost of people he's - he's ... wait a second, why is Thief there? That's Nira's monster form. Nira's still alive.

In other continuity error news, in literally the shot before this he was twelve feet
away from the edge.

The big moment of this episode, then, is not the action, but rather Krim's teary goodbye scene, as he seals himself and all the Drive technology underground so that humanity can't use the Core Driviars for evil. Usually at this point I'd be saying that this wasn't set up nearly well enough, because lack of set-up is one of those recurring problems that seems to dog Drive at every step, but actually it was: The danger inherent in the Drive tech has been mentioned repeatedly throughout the series, and is after all responsible for not one but two Global Freezes.

It's a sad scene, too, with Krim appearing as a projection of his human form and thanking everybody - and even remembering Kiriko, which is more than can usually be said for the show's own writing staff. While he'll almost certainly be back for the next crossover film, it wouldn't surprise me if we see him seal himself away at the end of that, too.

We got a slightly more uplifting moment later as Shinnosuke and Kiriko encounter the human that Chase copied, a serious and no-nonsense traffic cop, with the slightly strange implication being that now their friendship with Chase can kind of sort of continue in the form of a friendship with his human counterpart? It's a little odd, but lord knows that this is not the first time a series has pulled that particular trope (usually with reincarnation as the go-to-identical-character-creating-tool of choice). 

Spooky.

I must say, for a series that is nowhere near as dark as it thinks it is, Drive has had one of the more tragic endings of any Neo-Heisei series, with possibly only Gaim beating it on that count: Chase, Heart, Brain, and Medic are all dead, Krim is locked away underground, the Special Crimes Unit is disbanded and Gou has departed for destinations unknown. It's all quite emotional, and I did almost feel the beginnings of tears while watching. Almost.

All of it - from Heart's tearful death, to Krim's sealing himself away, to the 'where are they now' segment in the end credits - is cheesy as all get out, but it's a nice kind of cheesy, less cliche and more slightly overdone trope. While it will probably never go down in history, it's a solid capping off point to a solid final act of what has, on the whole, been a pretty poor series.

Going full Kuuga.

That's a shame: While this final act of Drive has been pretty good, bar some obvious problems (everything involving Kiriko and that godawful romance, for a start), it feels like it's too little, too late at the end of a series that has been absolutely riddled with problems. I've seen some people saying that Drive is the best Kamen Rider series to ever air, and that's definitely an opinion, if not, I think, one that's especially easy to defend. For my part, I would have liked it if all or most of the series had been at the level of quality shown in the last dozen or so episodes.

So, bring on Ghost! Could be amazing, could be mediocre, could be absolutely terrible, it is always impossible to tell at this point. I'm perhaps not as excited for it as I could be, but then some of my favourite series of Kamen Rider have turned out to be ones that I didn't think I'd much enjoy. 


Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Garo: Goldstorm Sho


Garo: Goldstorm Sho.

It feels like there's no pause for breath between Garo series lately. Goldstorm Sho began not long after Honoo no Kokuin ended, and within a few weeks Crimson Moon will be starting. When you add into that the films (there's a Goldstorm Sho film that I believe isn't out on DVD yet, and a film about Raiga in the works), you have a more or less endless stream of media set in this one universe. Which, to be honest, I'm completely okay with.

Following Ryuga and Rian from Yami wo Terasu Mono, Goldstorm Sho sees the two working as a dynamic Makai Knight and Makai Priestess pair in Line City. When Jinga and Amily, a pair of Horrors who used to be a dynamic Makai pair themselves, show up in town in search of the sealed Horror Radan, Ryuga and Rian are sent to hunt them - a hunt that will bring them into contact with stern older knight Daigo and young, mysterious priest Gald.

I think a lot of people were quite nervous about this series, since Yami wo Terasu Mono was not without its fair share of gaping flaws, such as the incredible laziness of the Horror designs (with most of them looking identical to each other), the often terrible CGI, the relative lack of focus on anybody other than Ryuga, and how the plot just kind of crumbled in on itself towards the end. While I did enjoy it, until Zero: Black Blood and Makai no Hana came along I would have probably called it the worst Garo series of all.

He's just a Horror passing through.

Goldstorm Sho gratifyingly sets itself up to rectify the mistakes of its predecessor right off the bat, giving us physical suits (which always look better than CGI) and unique Horror designs for every monster of the week, and trimming down the cast so that instead of a five-man band of three knights and two priests facing off against a four-man band of villains, we have a laser focus on just Ryuga and Rian as a pair, and a very deliberately parallel pair of Horrors. While the cast expands a little as time goes on, adding another knight and two more priests into the bargain, Ryuga and Rian remain the core of the show, and there's never a sense either that their supporting cast are taking attention away from them or that said supporting cast isn't getting sufficient focus. Gald, Daigo, and Ryume always get to do stuff, and it always makes a difference, even if saving the day ultimately comes down to the Dynamic R Duo.

Our villains are much more compelling this time around too. Jinga and Amily are always very much in evidence - they are active villains who pursue their plans personally, and do not spend a tremendous amount of time sitting around being ominous at each other. Sometimes, especially towards the end, this can feel like a bit too much, like we're getting a bit over-saturated with the two, but it's mitigated by the fact that there feels like there's a genuine back-and-forth between them and the protagonists. The protagonists gain ground, Jinga and Amily counter them with a winning combination of dark magic and good teamwork, and the protagonists have to scramble to regroup and counter them. It's a pleasant change to the often very static villains of the franchise, who have their plan and who by jove are going to stick slavishly to it whatever happens.

Pretty.

The show has an excellent cast, too, with Masahiro Inoue, who is apparently a big Garo fan and whose enthusiasm may be partly responsible for this series existing, taking the cake as Jinga, a role he plays with the maximum amount of ham and cheese possible. Every scene he's in, he's gnawing on the scenery, and it's glorious. Miyavi Matsunoi (who plays Amily), not to be left behind, takes the prize for second most hammy actor on the show, and the two's scenes are wonderful to watch if only for how over-the-top they are.

Wataru Kuriyama and Miki Nanri are as good as they were in Yami wo Terasu Mono, but this time the script actually gives them something decent to work with, and they get their fair share of dramatic, comedic, romantic, and sorrowful scenes, allowing them to stretch their acting muscles a bit and show what they can really do. Their supporting cast tend towards being a lot more one-note - Daigo is angry, Ryume is solemn, Gald has a silly hat - but the acting's fine.

Headwear worthy of a queen of Naboo.

All in all, this is one of the strongest live-action Garo series we've had for a while, and probably a good starting point for anyone wanting to get into the franchise as a whole. The plot may be a bit prosaic (oh, some people want to unseal a powerful Horror to rule or destroy the world? Well, we've definitely not seen that plot in every single Garo series), but it's executed well in a very fun, well put-together series.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Doctor Who S35E1: The Magician's Apprentice


Doctor Who
Series 35, Episode 1
The Magician's Apprentice.



You know, I was running out of things to review, so despite how unremittingly terrible the last series of Doctor Who, I was very glad to see it returning. But I'm not afraid to admit that I was not - and still aren't, all told - expecting anything particularly great from this series. Moffat has always been a great ball of disappointment, and it's difficult to foresee any scenario where that changes, short of him announcing that he's stepping down from Doctor Who.

But I'll admit, this episode is an improvement over more or less anything we were given last series. A pretty stark improvement, actually.

Set an undisclosed time after the Christmas Special, the Doctor encounters a young boy in the middle of a war, and discovers that he's Davros, future creator of the Daleks. Cut forward a little, and the Doctor is summoned to meet Davros, who is dying and wishes to meet the Doctor one final time. On Earth, meanwhile, every plane stops dead in the sky, leading Clara to a meeting with Missy, who claims that the Doctor is in grave danger and that she needs Clara to help her find him.

Let me start by saying how very, very old it is to have Moffat constantly use 'the Doctor is dying/going to die' as his go-to plot device of choice. Let's count how many times he's used it since he became showrunner, shall we? It was the principle conflict of the last two episodes of series thirty-one, with the TARDIS exploding and such; it was the big conflict for the entirety of series thirty-two, with The Impossible Astronaut showing him dying and then the rest of the series building up to it; it was a big part of series thirty-three, with the idea of the Doctor dying at Trenzalore being the basis of the plot; and it was the entirety of the focus of the two specials that came between thirty-three and thirty-four.

"Steve, the Doctor doesn't like guns." "WHAT'S THAT? I CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER
MY GUN FETISH."

Moffat constantly uses 'the Doctor is going to die for realsies' as a cheap way of building up tension, and it always plays out exactly the same way: The Doctor knows he's going to die, he parties in a vaguely melancholic fashion before dramatically going to face his death, and then it's revealed that it was all a trick and he wasn't really going to die after all. One has to wonder, with how often Moffat uses this trope, whether he doesn't wish that the BBC would let him kill the Doctor off, so that no other writer would ever be able to use him.

So, this episode was already off to a terrible start, and every scene with the Doctor in dug that grave a little bit deeper, as he goes through exactly the same motions that he goes through every single other time Moffat uses this plot which, as we know, is in every single series he's ever written bar one. It's tired and it's boring and I want it to stop.

But the episode does manage to redeem itself a bit with the scenes between Missy and Clara. Michelle Gomez is a fantastic actor with brilliant comic timing and just the right edge of sinister to her performance, and while I would usually chafe at a character being brought back literally two episodes after they died (not that I think any of us believed the Master was gone forever, I mean, c'mon), she is basically eighty percent of the reason that this episode is tolerable, so I will let it pass.

Yes, very creepy, moving on.

Every scene she's in crackles, her chemistry with Jenna Coleman (who is the remaining twenty percent of the reason that this episode is tolerable) is superb, and all in all the whole thing made me wish that we could just get an entire series of Missy and Clara travelling through space and fighting crime. Like regular Doctor Who, but with a slightly greater concentration of evil and hopefully a lower concentration of 'ooh the Doctor's gonna die' plotlines.

The Daleks show up again, and actually manage to be just barely intimidating this time. Please, BBC, I'm begging you, put the Daleks on ice for a couple of series. Let some anticipation build up for them. Give us some Dalek foreplay, in the name of everything most holy, please. But I did not, at least, hate the Daleks in this appearance, not least because they take a back seat as far as villainy goes: Davros, who in this appearance is not allied with them (as he so often isn't), instead takes the reins as this episode's villain, with the Daleks as a kind of ominous background threat.

Oh, Michelle Gomez, you're the one bright spot in this bloody quagmire.

(The episode tries to ramp up tension by showing them killing Missy and Clara, but we all know that it's the old 'they seem to be dead but they actually got teleported away' trick, so who really cares.)

They'll probably be more in evidence next episode. So that's a thing.

All in all, this was a tolerable series opener, and one which may lead on to good things in the next episode, as this is a two-parter and they are quite often a bit slow to start. I'm looking forward to the next episode, although I do rather imagine that that excitement will quickly fade about six minutes into it.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Editorial: The Top 5 Doctor Who Monsters


Editorial: The Top 5 Doctor Who Monsters.


Doctor Who will soon be starting its thirty-fifth series, and over the years it's had some astounding monsters, often made on a shoestring and a prayer and occasionally looking like something you would dispense spices out of during dinner.

So let's look at the top five Doctor Who monsters, the ones who really got our attention. Warnings for occasional complaints about Steven Moffat, and a wistful desire for a head writer who actually has any talent.


5. The Daleks.



Ah, the Daleks. Who doesn't love the Daleks? Everyone who's sick of them being constantly over-used in New Who? Well, yes, there is that.

Used well - and I fully admit that they have not been used well since, er ... well, since Nine, to be honest - the Daleks are utterly terrifying. Wholly inhuman, totally hostile, deadly individually and almost always in endless supply, the Daleks are not so much sinister as they are the in-your-face screaming stuff of nightmares.

While attempts have been made many times in the past to humanise them as a species, giving them elaborate backstories and power structures and their own complicated mythology, the Daleks work best when used as they classically always were: As an unreasonable and indefatigable force of hatred.


4. The 456.



Say what you will about Children of Earth - no, really, say whatever you like, I hated it as well - but the 456, the mysterious three-headed monsters who were never fully seen during the course of the show, embodied a whole host of deep-rooted societal fears, chief among them being the fear of danger to one's children.

And they only really became worse as time went on: Never seen clearly, the 456's opening gambit was to take control of every small child on earth, using them to send ominous messages to every nation's government, before later descending in a nigh-on heavenly pillar of fire and imparting their desire that a tenth of the world's children be given to them as tribute. That is actually quite terrifying, not least because demanding children as tribute is absolutely within the realms of what actual governments in actual human history have actually done actually.

The 456 might not be the most memorable villains in the franchise - in fact, they weren't even the most memorable villains in that serial, that prize would go to the government officials who took all of about six seconds to sell the disenfranchised and marginalised up the river (for the UK, they offered the children of asylum seekers, and a glance at the news right now will tell you how apt Russell T. Davies' social commentary was there) - and they may have met with a fairly bland and stale end, but they had the kernels of several good ideas behind them.

Good job, Russell.


3. The Beast.



Another creation from the Davies era of Doctor Who, although one that very much had its route in episodes from the seventies and eighties, is the Beast, the mysterious-as-all-get-out Satan-thing in two-parter The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit, written by Matt Jones.

Showing a kind of subtlety that you will be hard pressed to find anywhere in Moffat's era of the show (because, yes, it is a competition, and yes, Davies is winning), the Beast - who is much talked about but never seen until near the very end of the two-parter - has a wholly mysterious nature, being an impossibly ancient and powerful being whose principle claim that he existed before the universe.

He was a striking villain, a towering monster of CGI who baffled even the Doctor and enacted some of the most brutal deaths in two of the best episodes of the franchise, and since that two-parter we've not really seen anything like him since. Well, not unless you count the 'son of the Beast', an equally mysterious being sealed in the Cardiff Rift who showed up for all of about six seconds at the end of Torchwood's opening series.

I don't. I don't count that.


2. The Cybermen.



The Cybermen are very nearly as iconic as the Daleks, but only about a quarter as over-used, even though they're easily just as terrifying. Like the Daleks, the Cybermen are formidable individually and always, always, come in numbers. Like the Daleks, the Cybermen have their goal - usually taking others and forcibly changing them into other Cybermen in a painful and torturous process - and pursue it with little regard for anything else.

What makes them more scary than the Daleks is that while the Daleks run hot, being perpetually furious and screaming and unreasonable, the Cybermen run cold - they don't hate the people they're going after, they don't have any feelings on them at all, and thus there's no room for them to make emotional mistakes.

That sing-song voice with the EMphasis put ON odd sylLABles doesn't HELP one bit eiTHER.


1. The Great Intelligence.



Not the Moffat era Great Intelligence, I should note, much as I did enjoy hearing the voice of Sir Ian McKellen (who was sorely underused in that episode, but there you go). No, the Great Intelligence of The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear, who would approximately never demean itself into using faux-scary Victorian slendermen who talk in rhyme, and if that phrase doesn't just sum up the dearth of creativity that Steven Moffat has, I don't know what would.

Primarily using yetis as his henchmen, the Great Intelligence was an interdimensional (and, er, extradimensional?) intelligence that sought to create a body for itself, relying on possessing others and animating dead bodies to influence the physical world. With a sharp intellect that easily rivaled the Doctor's, the Great Intelligence acted as a kind of godlike chessmaster in most of its appearances, only occasionally condescending to intervene directly.

While it never really took off in television, not least because its main henchmen, the yetis, were considered to be quite boring (and they were, they really were), it caught the imagination of writers working on the New Adventures novel, identifying it as an imprint of a being that existed across many universes, with one iteration of that entity being Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and another one being the Great Old One Yog-Sothoth.

It's an interesting idea, at least, and one which I personally would love to see expanded upon. Preferably by a writer of some talent.