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Thursday, 31 March 2016

Star Wars: Rebels S2


Star Wars Rebels
Series 2



You know, while I do enjoy Star Wars, I've always enjoyed it as a fairly distant, fairly casual fan. I very nearly didn't watch The Force Awakens in cinemas, I never watched The Clone Wars, my exposure to the books was almost entirely composed of about three Aaron Allston books, and I can count the Star Wars video games I've played on the fingers of one hand (and they overwhelmingly come from two series). Rebels kind of skimmed the bottom of my radar for a while: I was aware of it, but I had no particular interest in watching it, and it was really only boredom that prompted me to start watching.

Set in the early days of the Rebellion, years before the Battle of Yavin, Star Wars Rebels follows Ezra Bridger, a young Jedi, and the crew of the Ghost, a Rebel ship currently searching for a place for the Rebellion to set up a base. To make things more difficult, Ezra and his master, Kanan, are being pursued by two of the Empire's Inquisitors, Dark Jedi who are set on killing or capturing them.

We'll start with a technical angle first, because Rebels excels from a technical standpoint. 

Recurring character Rex was apparently a character in Clone Wars.

The 3D animation is fluid, interesting to look at, and has a unique art style to boot, and does an excellent job at rendering faces with a wide variety of emotions - and, happily, every character is animated with their own unique mannerisms, with none of them reacting to anything quite like anybody else. The fight scenes are gorgeous (and the dogfights in space often heartstoppingly beautiful), and the character designs are simple but visually interesting. 

The only place the animation ever falls down is on landscapes, and even then, only on episodes with an obviously lower budget, as those are the episodes that tend to dump the cast in a flat wasteland or in some blandly designed space station - but the animators definitely aren't incapable of rendering beautiful landscapes, as evidenced by the one hour finale, which brought back Malachor in its second visual medium appearance, and animated it beautifully, as a dark, scorched, dreadful place that oozed malevolence and dread from every rock.

The voice acting is strong, with some relatively new faces (such as Taylor Grey as lead character Ezra) joining a handful of well-established actors, including Freddie Prinze Jr as Kanan, Vanessa Marshall as Ezra, and Steve Blum as Zeb. We also get some really big names joining the cast from time to time in brief roles, not least of which is James Earl Jones returning to voice Vader in the handful of episodes he appears in. All of the voice actors do a superb job, and there's nobody whose acting can really be faulted in the show. 

Vader is never more intimidating than he is in Rebels.

The music direction is solid as well, with a soundtrack heavily loaded with classic Star Wars melodies.

In terms of plot, the series is heavily episodic, and while that works great for showcasing each of the individual characters, in a twenty-two episode series it can make it feel like they're never really making any progress. It isn't until almost the end of the series that the crew actually finds a base, making most of the series a recurring instance of 'we thought we had a base, but it didn't pan out,' and the early part of the series especially has the Inquisitors showing up almost constantly, fighting the group to a standstill, and then being escaped from. It's tiring, after a while, as it increasingly starts to seem like nothing really happens, with villains and heroes both failing to make any ground against their enemies.

(The show even seems to recognise this, especially in regard to the Inquisitors, as they don't end up being the villains of the end of their own storyline - instead, Maul and Vader take that role, as if the showrunners had realised that the Inquisitors had lost any scare factor by this point.)

See, the landscapes here are lovely.

That's not to say that those episodic plots aren't enjoyable, though: Each episode is nicely paced and well plotted, with a perfect mix of action to humour to, on occasion, tragedy. They're enjoyable romps, even if there could have done with being a few more arc episodes thrown into the mix. When the show is able to  make big changes, however, it does astoundingly: The hour-long finale is some of the best television I've seen in a while, as the writers let themselves go crazy with making massive sea changes to the show's status quo, allowing them to ramp up the drama to nail-biting levels.

I personally can't wait for the third series, due to start airing later this year. I'm fascinated to see where this series will go - and if I'm being entirely honest, I'm a little bit worried, given that the end of series two seems to have marked the show's inevitable descent into tragedy. With luck, it'll all pan out into at least a happy-ish ending.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The Flash S2E17: Flash Back


The Flash
Series 2, Episode 17
Flash Back.



So it turns out the guy I thought might be Tim Hunter, on account of the dark hair, glasses, Harry Potter reference and relentless pursuit by a shadowy figure, was actually Hartley Rathaway. Remember Rathaway? I didn't until the 'previously on' segment of the episode, because with the exception of one or two I'd be hard pressed to remember any of the episodic villains from the first series. I do recall now that Rathaway was the vibrations guy and that the episode he was in saw Cisco break out some wrestling moves against him for reasons which were never clearly explained.

The more you know.

In this week's episode, Barry struggles with figuring out how to increase his speed, as Zoom's abuse of Velocity 9 gives him an edge over Barry that he can't seem to make up. After a conversation with Wally, he decides to travel back in time to when Eobard Thawne was still alive, reasoning that Thawne knew the science of manipulating the Speed Force to make himself faster. When he does so, however, he finds himself pursued by the Time Wraith, a guardian of the timelines who would like nothing more than to kill Barry. To make things worse, Barry's presence in the past quickly derails established events involving the capture of the Pied Piper, Hartley Rathaway, and before long Thawne has figured out that he's from the future.

Delicate cinnamon roll Eddie Thawne.

All told, this is a slightly odd episode - not a bad one, not at all, but we'll get to that in a moment - primarily because of its premise. Traveling back in time has always been treated as a huge deal on The Flash (even if the writers can never quite get a handle on what their rules are for it), and traveling back in time intentionally even moreso - here, however, the premise of 'going to hop back in time quickly to get some information' and the consequences only being 'Hartley's now a good guy' makes it seem almost throwaway, and it's difficult to imagine the writers doing that unless there was some specific point that they wanted to hammer in.

Which, if I'm being honest, immediately made me think that this episode exists to remind us of Eddie's existence. We know that Jay (or Not-Jay) has a man in an iron mask with blond hair in his prison, and that could very easily be Eddie, who was dragged into the singularity at the end of the first series, but if Eddie just showed up out of the blue in, I dunno, episode twenty, it would feel like it came totally out of the left field.

Cisco, and gloves.

The other thing the episode seems to want to hammer in is the existence of the Time Wraith who, despite the name, is fairly clearly actually the Black Flash of the comics, a 'death of speedsters' of sorts. I mean, it's wearing a Flash mask, for god's sake, and it can move fast enough to keep up with Barry. While I have no idea whether it'll tie into future series or if it will be some element of Zoom's backstory, part of the function of this episode was clearly to set it up as a part of this universe.

The problem is that it feels like there were maybe better ways to do that than with a time travel episode (if that's even why the writers penned this episode - I mean, they might have just decided they wanted to do a time travel episode), which just feels like it kind of cheapens the whole thing. It sits especially poorly with me that apparently the only change to the timeline is that Hartley's now a good guy.

But I did like this episode, not least because seeing Thawne!Wells back was a joy and a delight, and the immediate contrast between him and Earth-2!Wells really hammered in just how brilliant an actor Tom Cavanaugh is. The scene with Thawne and Barry in the time vault was some of the most tense, well written, and well acted television I've seen in a while.

Ya-a-ay, gloves.

There was a nice emotional core to the episode as well, not just in terms of seeing Eddie back and him getting to record a final message for Iris, but also in terms of Barry coming face to face with his mentor and father figure, and Wells essentially providing him with one final lesson. It also hammers in one of the key differences between Wells and Jay (or Not-Jay) in an episode very much about their similarities: That Wells knew Barry well, and in his own odd way did actually care about him, and had his own particular moral and ethical code - whereas Jay is, in essence, a mob boss with superspeed.

All in all, a very strange episode, but not a bad one, as such. Judging by the promo for the next episode, we're going to find out that 'Jay' never existed at all (it was always Hunter Zolomon), and that he's a serial killer! And also that something's possessing him, maybe.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Kamen Rider Ghost E23+E24


Kamen Rider Ghost
Episode 23 + Episode 24



So, we're finally at the end of the second act of this show. With Alain now on the side of good, I have a sneaking suspicion that for at least a few episodes after this, we'll have a brainwashed Makoto fulfilling the 'evil Rider' role as Deep Spectre, but that might not be the case - I am, however, starting to wonder if both Drive and Ghost have suffered from a desire to reproduce Gaim. Gaim, after all, was very well-made, very enjoyable, and, from what I've heard, very popular in Japan and very profitable for Toei, and it heavily revolved around Rider vs Rider battles, with the monsters of the week often more like afterthoughts. 

Since then, we've had Drive, which spent pretty much its entire run having constant Rider battles, despite only having a total of four Riders, and Ghost, which in its first twenty-four episodes has always had at least one antagonistic Rider (and that's not even counting Javert, who is at least Rider-esque). It feels a little like they're trying to reproduce what people liked about Gaim, without quite realising what that was.

In this fortnight's episodes, Takeru finds himself conflicted about Alain, having been shaken by what he saw of the Ganma World. Javert travels to the human world to assassinate Alain on Adel's orders, utilising Adel's Ultima Eyecon. Meanwhile, in the Ganma World, Adel suspects Magistrate Eadith of plotting against him, while Aria tries to convince him that she's on his side.

Adel, in his capacity as 'Angry Nose Fellow'.

So, my earnest wish that Grateful Soul would debut fighting Javert came to pass, and now we just need every other upgrade in the series to debut against him. I mean, they've already had, what, three of them debut against him, killing him in the process? They might as well continue the trend.

Grateful Soul also actually has a really nice design. It reminds me a lot of Kuuga's Ultimate Form if it was crossed with either Decade's Complete Form or Blade's King Form or possibly Den-O's Climax Form (any one of the 'all your forms combined' forms), and that's no bad thing. It's sleek, coherent, visually interesting and pretty striking to look at. 

Also, unlike Toucon Boost, which didn't really seem to provide any kind of new abilities or advantages other than a slightly different weapon and the power to ceremoniously explode upon command, we actually get to see some interesting new powers for Grateful Soul, most notably the power to summon the black bodysuit versions of the fifteen heroes. It's very much the same kind of deal as Decade's aforementioned Complete Form, but that's hardly a problem.

Nice.

Apart from that, these two episodes felt oddly light on plot, especially in comparison to the two that came before them. Part of that is that the second episode of the bunch was the yearly crossover episode (and also the 'let's promote a film' episode) and all of the plot developments in it (and there were a few) were kind of pushed to the sidelines a bit by that. 

We got a few major plot beats in the form of finding out Adonis is still alive (which makes sense, since when Alain's Eyecon was destroyed he just woke up in his pod), discovering that those stone tablets in his prayer chamber are actually some manner of elemental themed robot counterparts to the fifteen heroes, and - shock horror - seeing Makoto 'die', even though the show only bothered to pretend for about six seconds that he was actually dead before just reminding everyone that since he was just an Eyecon anyway, he's still alive in the Ganma World - but with the exception of Makoto's not-death, those were all only briefly touched upon, leaving the rest of the two episodes feeling kind of bare.

The crossover element of episode twenty-four made about as much sense as it ever does, but benefited from the fact that it was really only a very minor crossover, with Yamato from Zyuohger (also, yes, Toei, I noticed the 'Yamato Takeru' joke there, referencing the legendary prince whose soul turned into a massive white bird after he died, very clever. It's not the first time you've made that joke, is it, Toei?) showing up for one fight before frolicking off into the distance. It was an amusing enough crossover moment, and it didn't really detract from the episode at all.

There's a lot to take in here.

(The 'film promotion' aspect of the episode definitely did, however, even though it too wasn't all that big a part of the episode - instead of Ganma, we just had Shocker agents instead, but for some reason their presence felt jarring and offputting in a way that Yamato's didn't.)

All in all, certainly not my favourite pair of episodes, but they end the second act well, and set us up nicely for a third act which will probably see the situation escalating dramatically. They also kind of answer what's going to replace the 'find the fifteen Eyecons' gimmick - it's presumably going to be 'stab the fifteen evil robot tablets to death,' so that's nice.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans S1


Mobile Suit Gundam:
Iron-Blooded Orphans
Series 1.



So here's a confession: I haven't watched a Gundam series since Gundam Wing. I've tried - I tried watching Gundam Unicorn, and tried watching Gundam 00, and I didn't get very far in either of them, broadly on account of being extremely bored. It's not a franchise that has ever massively appealed to me, because god knows that if I'm going to watch a giant robot show, I'd prefer it to be something that takes the inherent silliness of the premise and just pushes it to the most absurd levels possible, like Aldnoah.Zero (which I do still adore).

But I watched Iron-Blooded Orphans, largely on the strength of its trailer and because I knew several people who were very excited for it, and because it dealt with themes that interested me, like the psychology of child soldiers.

Set 300 years after the 'Calamity War' between Earth and its colonies, the show follows a mercenary company, Tekkadan, formed almost entirely out of child soldiers and based off a terraformed Mars. Taking a job to protect a young aristocrat, Kudelia Aina Bernstein, as she travels to Earth to appeal against a cap on the prices of Martian industrial and agricultural products, and to push for Martian independence, the company swiftly draws the attention of Gjallarhorn, an independent military organisation that acts as a peacekeeping force on Earth and among its colonies. Within Gjallarhorn, however, a young officer, McGillis Fareed, has his own plans, involving the reform of Gjallarhorn.

Ein, who, excepting all of the terrible things he did wrong, did nothing wrong.

The show gets off to a really slow start, with a significant amount of its first third feeling almost glacial in terms of pacing, with long scenes involving people pontificating on philosophy and psychology, slightly shorter scenes talking about economics, and a few giant robot battles thrown in for good measure, which is - broadly how I remember Gundam Wing, actually. While the fight scenes were generally pretty strong, and I did kind of like the characters, my continued watching of the series at that point was at least somewhat out of a sense of obligation as much as anything.

The series picks up around a third of the way through, with the introduction of the Turbines and the conflict surrounding the Dort Colonies doing a lot to make it more interesting to watch, as the cast of character expands and the series moves away from the relatively bland environs of Mars and into the also bland but somewhat less so environs of space, and later on, Earth. The addition of the Turbines helps particularly (even if I do find their whole dynamic more than a little bit creepy), since it allows for a more in-depth exploration of the psychology of Tekkadan's members, as they're examined not just from Kudelia's viewpoint (which is always kind of framed, not really justifiably, as being the viewpoint of someone sheltered and naive), but also through the viewpoints of characters who are framed as more worldly.

Centaur Gundam.

Which is where the series excels, really: The political stuff is fine, but it's very much par for the course, and ultimately it never gets so complicated that it can't be boiled down to 'Kudelia needs to get where she's going and then things will be fine probably', and even the more intricate machinations with Gjallarhorn are painted with a broad brush - but the psychology of the characters, and the effect that being a child soldier has on someone, is a theme that the writers invest a lot of time and effort into, and which runs throughout the series.

(A lot of what the writers are trying to convey seems to skim straight over fans' heads, as I remember seeing people criticise Merribit for her totally normal reaction to young children eagerly going off to kill and die.)

Mika always looks like he was animated by an entirely different team to
everybody else.

Coincidentally, 'about a third of the way through' is also the point in the series where the show starts to vary its formula a little. Fight scenes become more interesting with a variety of factions getting involved, with the addition of spaceships to the mix, and with both Gjallarhorn and Tekkadan updating their mechs and roster of regular combatants. 

Space.

Technically, the series is pretty strong as well, with good animation, good voice acting, and an excellent soundtrack. It definitely needs some work as far as its pacing goes, however, and could definitely do with cutting down on its pontificating time.

Overall, I actually enjoyed this series a surprising amount, although I admit that the announcement of a second series - scheduled for later this year, no less - caught me off guard, seeing as how it came at the end of a relatively self-contained story (and also after a significant amount of the main cast had been killed off). I'll be looking forward to that, and possibly pondering an editorial on this show's gender politics just as soon as I can figure out what I think about them.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Daredevil S2


Daredevil
Series 2



My relationship with the first series of Daredevil was a little complicated. While I liked the characters and I thought it did a great job of ramping up tension, I often found myself feeling a little bit lost while watching it, not least because, with its terrible night-time lighting (all harsh yellows, just like actual street lighting, which isn't hugely conducive to being able to see) meaning that I could often hardly keep track of what was going on, especially since ninety percent of the show took place at night.

Well, one good thing about the second series: More daytime scenes. Many, many more daytime scenes. It's at least sixty percent daylight scenes now.

Set some time after the first series and a little bit after Jessica Jones, the second series of Daredevil sees Matt, Foggy, and Karen's lives thrown into chaos when a one man army, nicknamed the Punisher, starts gunning down gangs. As Matt and the team attempt to stop the Punisher and unravel the web of conspiracy surrounding him and his family, a woman from Matt's past, Elektra Natchios, shows up in New York - with every intention of dragging him into a secret war between two ancient orders.

The gang's all here.

It's fair to say that I enjoyed this series a lot more than the first one, and it wasn't just because the series has more daytime scenes, although that is definitely a considerable part of it. It's also because this series feels like it balances the various disparate elements it has going for it a lot better: While the first series seemed to often forget that Matt was a lawyer on top of being a vigilante, this series has the law, legal system, and legal proceedings play an important part in the developing plot, with one arc even having a trial as one of its central conflicts. Critically, this gives Foggy a whole lot more to do in the plot other than 'be Matt's friend', and it acts as a jumping off point for Karen to have her own storyline, one which by the end of the series doesn't involve Foggy and Matt at all, which is great because Karen was horribly underused in the first series, often falling into a tired damsel-in-distress type role.

(Foggy's storyline also involves us seeing Jeri Hogarth for a short scene, which delighted me because Hogarth was one of my favourite Jessica Jones characters.)

It also gives Matt a conflict that was sadly missing in the first series, that being him struggling to balance two equally demanding lives. It's a conflict that was a long time coming, and we see it reach its natural conclusion in this series, in a way that's both satisfying and quite painful.

Shopping.

The increased focus on the law can have the show feeling like a gritty legal drama at times, but since I really like legal dramas, that didn't exactly bother me at all - and the show handles it very well, with the legal drama side of the show feeling as fraught and tense as the action drama side, even if the stakes are slightly different. Reyes, the local district attorney, makes for an excellent villain for these parts too, played by Michelle Hurd as equal parts smug and icy.

Our big name new introductions to the series, Frank Castle and Elektra, also fit into the show startlingly well. Both are charismatic in their own ways, and they both have interesting relationships with Matt (and in Frank's case, with Karen - to the point where I actually wish that Elektra had had interactions with Foggy and Karen, because I'd be intrigued to see how they would react to her), with each representing a different facet and end point to what he does: Frank as the Punisher, a vigilante who takes his cues from Matt's Daredevil work and forces it to its logical and horrifying conclusion, and who sees Matt as a coward because he won't; and Elektra as someone tied up in Matt's past, and in the mechanisms, institutions, and conspiracies that saw him become the Daredevil, whose work predates Matt's and who effectively sees his work as Daredevil as a corruption of what he should be doing.

They make an interesting contrast to each other, representing the future and past, modernity and traditionalism, open brutality and secrecy, and all the other forces that pull on Matt's Daredevil persona. It's a shame, actually, that Frank and Elektra never met.

Daredevil.

(It's also a terrible shame, by which I mean I'm quite annoyed, that Elektra got fridged. Yes, I know she'll be back, because she'll almost certainly be resurrected, but it still counts.)

Where the plot falls down is in its final arc, which sees our main villain take the stage - and it's Nobu, apparently, that guy who didn't make much of an impression in the first series and died about nine episodes in. While he's a big name in the comics, in-series he never came across as that remarkable, and he doesn't really come across as any more remarkable here. Instead, he just comes across as some guy, and lacks the charisma and menace that Fisk had in the first series. Thus, when he dies, it doesn't really have any impact - in fact, nothing he does has any impact. He's a non-entity in the series in which he is the main villain.

So, a definite improvement over the first series, but still not on the same level as Jessica Jones, which remains the best of the Defenders shows so far. Maybe she'll be knocked off her throne by Luke Cage! Heaven knows that Iron Fist isn't going to manage it. 


Friday, 25 March 2016

Editorial: 5 Things We'd Like To See in Pokemon Sun and Moon.


Editorial: 5 Things We'd Like To See
in Pokemon Sun and Moon.



After a long period of hearing almost nothing about a new gen Pokemon game, Nintendo announced Pokemon Sun and Moon in late February, sparking the usual flurry of speculation and theorising on what the games, due to be released late this year, will involve.

While I have no idea what will end up in the game, there are certain features I'd like to see in it. Here are five of them.


Different starter types.



I should note that I'm not advocating a permanent change from the Fire-Water-Grass holy trinity, or even a change that lasts more than a single game. But variation is the spice of life, and it isn't as if there aren't other type trinities that could fulfill basically the same role. 

Rock-Steel-Ice, for instance. Fighting-Ice-Dark. 

While some advantages of that would be that it'd be interesting, would surely draw in increased publicity (as if Pokemon needs it) and that it'd allow them to do a Pokemon ORAS-esque thing of putting in a previous gen's starters (while also avoiding any possibility of type overlap), there are more than a few disadvantages.

The biggest one is that the Fire-Water-Grass circle is so recognisable, not just because Nintendo's used it for two decades at this point, but also because it's three classic elements, and it means that each starter can look strikingly different to the others.

There are rumours floating around that Nintendo's planning on deviating from the norm as far as starter types go, but I wouldn't put too much stock in them.


Two new Eeveelutions.



Eeveelutions are like crack to Pokemon players, and we need our fix.

The last Eeveelution to show up was Sylveon, back in X and Y, and while most people did kind of adore Sylveon's design (well, it grew on them, at least), its announcement had us waiting for a counterpart to be announced - a counterpart that ultimately never materialised.

I'm not going to say that it's a hard and fast rule that there needs to be two Eeveelutions released every generation, I'm just going to say that it's nice when it is - apart from often being some of the most powerful regular Pokemon in the game, they also tend to act as great showcases of the Pokemon designers' abilities, being clearly related to each other while also strikingly different.

Also, there are so many types without Eeveelutions yet. Give us a Ghost-type Eeveelution. Or a Fighting-type. Or a Dragon-type.


More character customisation.



Pokemon X and Y introduced some very basic character customisation (in that you could basically choose between three different versions of each gender, with different skin tones and hair colours), and it was almost universally adored - even more so when we discovered that you could also buy different outfits.

So, it'd be nice to see a slight expansion of that. Not a tremendous one, because ultimately more time spent on character customisation is less time spent on everything else, but maybe the option of a few different hair styles, a few different eye colours, and maybe some slightly different facial features.

Also, I mean, more outfits for us to buy. All of the outfits for us to buy.


An expanded post-game.



One of the things that Pokemon Gold and Silver did really well was a post-game that actually had some substance to it, opening up the previous generation's region of Kanto for you to explore. While the Kanto of Gold and Silver was a drastically cut down, limited version, that didn't stop it from being a genuine delight for everybody playing, as they reached the end of the game only to find an entire new region to explore, with another hundred and fifty Pokemon to catch.

Pokemon's never really had anything quite like that again (and I recall that one of the big disappointments of Ruby and Sapphire was that we didn't get to go back to Johto), despite the fact that everybody wants it to.

It's had post-game stuff, sure - Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire had an entire episode involving the potential end of the world - but nothing nearly as meaty as an entire region, and I for one would be ecstatic to see Sun and Moon send us back to Johto or Kalos or Hoenn after we're done with whatever new region we're in.


A larger region.



This one is a bit of a no-brainer, because the regions have been getting steadily larger over time any way, their growth really only slowed by the fact that Nintendo quite rightly doesn't want players to spend hours trudging through the wilderness just to reach the next city.

So I'm not advocating a massively larger region, but instead, maybe just some more small towns that maybe don't hold gyms, and some more places off the beaten track that players can go to, explore, fulfill little side storylines, and get some training in.

Pokemon's always been very good about having those, so out of everything on this list, this is the wish I'm most likely to see come true.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Editorial: 5 Great Villains (From Video Games)


Editorial: 5 Great Villains
(From Video Games)


So about a week ago, we looked at five great villains in television, but, as it turns out, other forms of entertainment have villains too! 

Like video games.

I was shocked as well.


Majora's Mask, Legend of Zelda.



Majora's Mask (who may also be Majora, who knows) of the Legend of Zelda game of the same name stands out for really having no discernable end goal or motivation. He wants to bring the Moon crashing down onto Termina, sure, and he seems to have some connection with the Moon and the mysterious creatures on it, but we have no idea how any of this actually serves his purpose.

(Nor, for that matter, do we have any idea how this helps its host, the Skull Kid, actually.)

Majora's Mask inspires a lot of fan speculation and theorising for a whole heap of reasons, not least being who Majora is, what his or her mask is, and what it actually wants. We don't even know how much of what the Skull Kid does is his own idea and how much is the mask. For all we're shown in the game, Majora's Mask seems like an unknowable force of chaos who might not even know its own goals itself (and if it does, it's definitely not sharing).


Darth Nihilus, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.



Probably the most underused villain on this list, given that he pretty much dies like a punk when you do meet him, Nihilus is, for most of the game, and truly terrifying villain. 

An eldritch abomination in a mask and a nice cloak, you spend most of the game being told about his terrible hunger, about how he destroyed all life on the Miraluka planet of Katarr, about how he's 'more presence than flesh.' He talks in a weird language that's actually just regular speech played backwards, he roams the galaxy in a fleet of shipwrecks, and he's just generally quite scary.

While all of that never really amounts to much in the game itself, Nihilus obviously made an impression on people, as he's continued to be referenced in the expanded universe since. On the bright side, though, the game now has a full restoration mod available, meaning that you too can play the game as it was meant to be, where hopefully Nihilus isn't such a let-down.


Flowey, Undertale.



Flowey has a special place in the part of my heart which is reserved for hating flowers.

Like a few other examples on the list, Flowey is absent for most of the game, although characters will reference him from time to time, usually unknowingly (such as with Sans remarking that Papyrus has been talking to a flower) - unlike most of the examples on this list, however, before his long absence, Flowey takes the time to be the first character you meet in the game, introducing you to its bullet hell mechanics by cheerfully tricking you, and then showing up again a little later to taunt you over your choices.

In an interesting turn, Flowey combines being deeply sinister with being insufferable, making him exceptionally easy to hate while also being more than a little bit creepy. He's like a Saturday morning cartoon character gone horribly wrong.


Blue, Pokemon.



"But Blue's not really a villain!" I hear you cry. "He's a perfectly pleasant young man who just happens to be your rival, that doesn't make him a villain."

Well, I mean, he kind of is, in the same way that the stereotypical locker-slamming jerk dude is a villain in those 80s films where the main villain is some evil sorcerer or something - he might not be the biggest villain, but he represents the more mundane conflicts that the protagonist must overcome.

I say 'mundane', but Blue is seemingly defined by his ability to do everything quicker and better than you, almost to a supernatural degree. He'll always beat the gym leaders before you. If you hack the game somehow and go to Saffron City's gym first, he'll still have beaten you there despite going the wrong way around. He's first to beat all the gym leaders, first to beat the Elite Four, first to become champion, and until the very end, you're always one step behind him.


The Mad Hatter, American McGee's Alice.



The Mad Hatter isn't the final villain of American McGee's Alice, not anywhere close: While he's the Queen's right hand man and court scientist, after him you end up fighting the Queen's sentinel, the Jabberwock, twice, and then the Queen herself.

He is, however, the most terrifying. His levels comprise one of the largest and most varied areas of the game, as he stalks you through a hall of mirrors, a strange mirrored asylum, and finally (after fighting his own underlings, the Tweedles) his laboratory, a strange clockwork affair where you are periodically treated to views of him wandering around places where you'd either just been or were just about to go.

What makes the Hatter really terrifying, though, is finding the nauseating experiments he's inflicted on the Dormouse and March Hare. The two are drugged, practically vivisected, and as they talk to you in an eerily relaxed fashion, machines regular do things like randomly dump them in water, adding an edge of the totally absurd to the grotesquery of it all. The experiments don't even seem to have any clear purpose, as the Hatter's goal is nebulous and strange at best, with everyone's best guess being that it has to do with rewinding time to before the fire at the Liddell household.

Also, he's terrifying when you actually do fight him.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Flash S2E16: Trajectory.


The Flash
Series 2, Episode 16
Trajectory.



You know, you can never say that the writers of The Flash don't make clever visual design choices. Ever since Zoom's first appearance, it's been clear that there's something wrong with his Speed Force, with lightning crackling wildly around him even when he's standing still - enough so that when the same thing started happening to Trajectory in this episode, I immediately recognised it as being akin to Zoom's own condition.

(The lightning changing colours was also nice, because I do always like it when The Flash acknowledges its different lightning colours and works it into the plot.)

In this week's episode, a speedster with yellow lightning begins stealing from people, and while Barry tries to catch her, she's noticeably faster than him. It soon becomes clear that whoever this speedster is, she's using Velocity-9, leading to Barry discovering the drug and wanting to take it himself to defeat Zoom. Iris struggles to convince her boss not to launch a smear campaign against the Flash. Meanwhile, Wells and Jesse's relationship becomes strained when Jesse discovers a recording of Wells saying that he'd kill a man if it meant saving Jesse. Also, Cisco begins vibing visions of Zoom every time he touches the pedestal with Jay's helmet on.

What a nice room.

Okay, so the Wells and Jesse plotline is clearly meant to trim down on an already large cast by having Jesse go off and rediscover herself, but the manner it was done in - repeatedly drawing attention to Jesse's scientific ability - and the slightly ship teasing with Wally makes me think even more that the writers are planning on having Wally replace Barry at some point a series or two into the future, and that they're possibly planning for Jesse to become part of his Team Flash. I might well be wrong about that, especially given how TV series often aren't planned out that far in advance, but it's definitely the impression I got.

I do really like Jesse as a character, incidentally. This episode was the first time we got to really see her, and she was fun, lively, and generally a joy to watch. While I'm kind of sad to see her go, it's pretty obvious that she'll be back sooner or later.

Trajectory was a bit of a lacklustre villain of the week, especially since we barely got time to know her - she showed up in a grand total of six scenes throughout the episode, one of which didn't involve her speaking at all, one of which lasted about four seconds, and one of which was primarily about her good alter-ego, Eliza Harman. And then she dissolves, in a villain fate that is probably meant to be dramatic, but kind of isn't.

Panic ducklings.

Of course, Trajectory is really there to demonstrate the effects of V9, allowing the team to deduce that Jay is actually Zoom, which at this point makes me certain that Jay is not actually Zoom. Because if he is, then that revelation comes at a very odd time and in a very odd way. Instead of a dramatic reveal, his identity comes out in what is basically an afterthought in, of all places, episode sixteen? That would be a very strange choice indeed.

Which puts me at a total loss right now, especially since it's very clearly Jay's face under that mask, and I think going 'lol it's Hunter Zolomon' would be a terrible plot twist at this point.

I admit, Iris grated on me in this episode, too. The return of the Iris/Barry romance subplot was kind of nice, but the fact that instead of just going "It would be poor journalism to write an article saying that the Flash is the thief, when actually all we know is that it's someone with superspeed, and the city's seen no less than four of those and counting. It'd essentially be an op-ed piece, and as the editor, it's your job to write any editorials like that," she instead rambled about heroes and feelings. You're a journalist, West, make journalist-y arguments.

Nice costume, though.

The romance subplot with her editor, meanwhile, is - fine, I guess? I like him just fine, but he's a bit of a non-entity, and since their romance is doomed to end by the end of the series, it's not as if I can get particularly invested in them.

The next episode looks really interesting, involving Barry going back to the first series (and, obviously, the return of Thawne!Wells and Eddie because of that), along with a wraith monster and someone who really, really looks like they might be Tim Hunter. In fact, given that they reference Harry Potter, and the 'is Harry Potter a rip-off of Tim Hunter' debacle was a thing at one point (much to the chagrin of Neil Gaiman), I'd warrant that he probably is. A hint at the CW's next DC series, perhaps?


Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Scheduling Stuff.


Scheduling Stuff.

So there's no post today, and to be honest, I don't know what's going to happen with the schedule in future. Something fairly terrible (and unrelated to this blog) has happened and at least for a while the stress of trying to deal with that might not make posting here entirely viable.

That said, I will be trying to post as much as I can, and moreover I will be trying to keep up with any ongoings - currently The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Kamen Rider Ghost - and to keep a Let's Play schedule of at least four a week.

Hopefully, after today's lapse I'll feel up to getting back onto my regular posting schedule immediately, but we'll see.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Editorial: 5 Excellent Fan-Made Undertale Boss Battles.


While we're talking about Undertale, this is an excellent chance for me to plug my Undertale Let's Play, which will have its tenth part going up later today. If you have a moment and are interested, do check it out.


Editorial: 5 Excellent Fan-Made
Undertale Boss Battles.



So over the weekend, I was introduced to the joy and wonder that are Undertale fan-made boss battles, and now I'm slightly addicted, and in the spirit of spreading that addiction onto others, I thought I'd share with you five of the ones I've really enjoyed.

Some of them are made with Unitale and are downloadable, some are animations, but all of them offer something that made me come back for more, whether it was interesting use of form and medium, drama value, comedy, or something else altogether.

I've deliberately avoided a 'five best' here, both because I've only seen a fraction of all the fan-made bosses up on Youtube and because it feels like it would be not entirely in the spirit of fun to be ranking fanworks like that. 

(This is also the first time we've done an editorial about fanworks on here, I think, but if people like it then I might do more from time to time. We'll see.)

Anyway, let's crack on with the list. If there's one you didn't see here that you think I'd really enjoy, please leave a comment with a link to it, because I will literally never get tired of watching these things.

A lot of these are heavy on the flashing and the patterns, so here's a general epilepsy warning for all of them.


Chara (Dreemurr Reborn Arc), Dreemurr Reborn.




It's fair to say that the Dreemurr Reborn Chara fight, which depicts (since I'm fairly sure this isn't a playable battle like some of the ones on this list, just an animation) a merged Asriel and Frisk fighting Chara, is kind of a marvel, with Chara utilising attacks that are unique and interesting but still feel true to the source material, intercut with flashbacks of Chara and Asriel's friendship.

The whole thing is about fifteen minutes long and it ramps up the tension wonderfully, with Chara burning through more and more SOULs, more and more desperately, combining blasts of red energy with attacks from giant hands, ballet shoes, and guns (referencing the other children who fell quite nicely), before the battle eventually winds its way towards a somewhat tragic end.

While I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the story - I'm not wholly convinced that Chara is redeemable, and the thousands of SOULs, while very dramatic, did make me tilt my head a little - as a both a fanfiction piece, an animation piece, and a just a story told in an interesting medium, it's kind of astounding.

The full story, primarily a webcomic with some videos, can be found at A Dreamer Reborn on tumblr, and I recommend checking it out.


Gaster & Deprived Gaster, A Huge Pancake.



Located here. The epilepsy warning goes doubly for this one.

Seriously, a gigantic extra epilepsy warning for this one. I cannot stress this enough.

It took a while for this one to win me over when I started watching it - it's a bit of a slow build, but once it gets going, it does some impressive things. 

This boss fight, centered around everyone's favourite character-who-conspicuously-doesn't-exist-in-the-actual-game Dr. WD Gaster and predicated on the idea that he and the River Person are one and the same, actually manages to capture a feeling of helplessly slipping into insanity quite well. 

As the fight goes on the text becomes increasingly garbled, with words altered and eventually replaced with unreadable Wingdings; the screen becomes distorted; the music gradually interrupted with an array of sounds, including a dial-up modem in what might be my favourite touch of the video.

When it eventually ends, it ends with Eternal Darkness esque fourth wall breakage, with perfectly realistic computer crash and restart to a desktop empty of everything except 'Gastertale', with the chilling implication being that Gaster has now taken over Frisk, the player's computer, and possibly the player themselves.


Alphys Neo, Blazephlozard.




Out of all of the ones on this list, this one and the Small White Dog are the ones which feel most like they could fit seamlessly into canon. This one is also one of the few playable fights on this list, so you can download it and play it yourself if you're so inclined.

Alphys' gameplay is, at first, an interesting combination of elements from across Undertale, combining elements of Sans' battle with Mettaton's, and throwing in, for good measure, some of the laser encounters as well. That'd be interesting enough, with all of the disparate elements interacting in fun and unique ways, but in later stages the boss makes you go through those absurd colour grids, with a time limit.

The result is something that feels unique and original, while still able to fit in seamlessly with the boss battles of the source material.


Ultra-Sans, A Huge Pancake & Pacifist Route Sans, Xyz.




I'm not actually sure how I feel about Sans assuming a giant monster form, which is pretty much the defining point of this entire video, but it deserves a mention for the very intimidating and very Undertale way that Sans messes about with your interface.

Reminiscent of Asgore's destruction of the Mercy box but taken to its logical extreme, the video sees Sans smashing every one of your commands, starting with your attack box, and then mercy, then items. It also has a hilarious twist ending, and the whole video - not that it's very long at all - is worth watching just for that.

For the exact opposite of this battle, the first part of this video is a Pacifist Route Sans battle that is everything I could hope and dream that would be.


A Small White Dog V1, Roggentrolla.




Like Alphys Neo, A Small White Dog is another one that feels like it could easily fit in the main game. Unlike Alphys Neo, however, this one is a fun, comical battle against an angry dog that ends on a surprising and heartwarming twist, rather than on a horrible, tragic note.

Made using Unitale, A Small White Dog is funny, looks to be surprisingly difficult, and apparently has, in later versions, Dog Cannons that fire endless streams of dog. It's not as plot-heavy as any of the other entries on this list, and nowhere near as fanficcy, but it's clearly not meant to be, either: It's a fun fight playing around with one of the game's jokes.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

100000 Views!


100000 Views!
(It's a sort of milestone.)


If this post is a little incoherent, then that's probably broadly because I slept for about four hours last night, on account of being a paragon of healthy lifestyle choices.

So, yesterday we passed 100000 views, which is a sort of milestone, one supposes, in that it's a round number and we've kind of collectively decided as a society that certain round numbers are important milestones.

(Over a tenth of those views, of course, are for Why Big Hero 6 is Kinda Racist, which will presumably be listed in my obituary as my crowning achievement in the field of Getting People To Look At Some Words I Wrote, and yet oddly still isn't the post I've got the most hate over, because that's still Man of Steel.)

Obviously there are a lot of people I need to thank for this, chief among them of course being the people who read this blog, who really are, like, ninety-eight percent responsible for all of those views on account of being the people doing the viewing. So thank you! 

I'm not kidding when I say that it has literally been a lifelong dream to write things down and then have people read those things that I've written down, so while I'm admittedly being kind of flippant over this, I am genuinely filled with gratitude to everyone who has read this blog, everyone who has promoted it, and everyone who's commented. 

So I look forward to another two and a bit years of doing this, and then hopefully more time after that as well, and I hope you all keep reading any reviews and editorials that interest you. 

(For more stuff that might interest you, I also have a Let's Play channel, if you like hearing people mumble about Undertale, which some people apparently do.)

So, yeah, thanks, guys.

I'll, er, probably make another one of these whenever we hit 200000.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Editorial: Four More Marvel Comics That Would Make Excellent Films


Editorial: Four More Marvel Comics
That Would Make Excellent Films.


You are correct, we have done an editorial very similar to this before, but given how long Marvel has been around and how many excellent properties it has (not to mention how many sub-par and in dire need of a reimagining properties it has), is it really any surprise?

There's another more serious Marvel editorial I'm meant to be working on, but life has not exactly been conducive to that, so instead here's a happy fun editorial that did not remotely spin out from wanting to include Spider-Gwen in an editorial.

Not even slightly. How dare you even suggest that. I'm not sure if she's even on this list at all.


Spider-Gwen.



Spider-Gwen, a series that ran for five issues prior to the absolutely terrible Secret Wars, before being picked up again later, looked at an elseworld in which the established order of the Marvel Universe was turned on its head. In this version of New York, Frank Castle was an NYPD officer, Matt Murdock was the Kingpin, and Gwen Stacy was bitten by a radioactive spider and became Spider-Woman, a New York superhero tangling with various villains.

With a compelling visual style, superb writing, and a concept that really seemed to catch people's interest, Spider-Gwen was phenomenally popular, with its first issue selling over two-hundred-and-fifty thousand issues, outpacing many of Marvel's flagship titles and becoming the third best selling comic - Marvel or DC - of February 2015. While the Secret Wars event put a kibosh on the title, Spider-Gwen would later show up as a central character in the Spider-Verse event, and the series would be renewed following that.

For Marvel, Spider-Gwen would be both the perfect opportunity to introduce other universes, since her world involves several prominent MCU characters in entirely different roles, and an opportunity for them to launch a film series that both had a female lead (and a very recognisable one, at that, given Gwen Stacy's recent showing in the Amazing Spiderman films) and could operate relatively independently of the increasingly tangled skein of MCU shows, films, miniseries, etc.


Nova.



Luckily, there's an easy way that the MCU could introduce this one, since the Nova Corps have actually showed up - they featured prominently in Guardians of the Galaxy as the military police of the Nova Empire, and the eponymous team's allies in stopping Ronan.

That particular corner of the MCU is looking a little bit bare right now, with the Guardians of the Galaxy essentially operating entirely on their own there, with Thanos floating about nearby, and adding Nova - and I'm imagining a kind of reworked Sam Alexander version here where he's some dude on one of the Nova Empire's planets instead of being from Earth - could increase the potential for crossovers there massively, and give us more films spent in what might be the most interesting part of the shared universe.

The result would be something that combines Farscape, Green Lantern, Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars, Superman, and just about every 80s film ever written in which a plucky young thing ascends to unexpected greatness. Could be fun.

Also, the character has already shown up on Ultimate Spiderman and Marvel Disk Wars, so he's had at least some exposure.


Young Avengers.



I mentioned the Runaways in the last editorial I did on this, but I totally failed to mention their law-abiding counterparts, the Young Avengers. The two groups really are mirror images of each other, incidentally, to the point of having several dedicated crossovers and at least one alternate universe story where the Runaways were the Young Avengers and vice versa.

The Young Avengers were, as the title implies, young (about late teenage) superheroes with identities based off the Avengers, with members variously based on Iron Man, Captain America, Hawkeye, Thor (and later Scarlet Witch), the Hulk, Quicksilver, and Ant-Man. Now that all of those heroes have been introduced into the MCU, the way is open for a full Young Avengers roster. 

Much like several of the other entries on this list, the Young Avengers were incredibly popular - popular enough that after their title was stopped, Hawkgirl, Wiccan, Hulkling and Patriot all remained major supporting characters in the Marvel universe, and a second run of the series (taking out Stature, Patriot, Speed and Iron Land, and replacing them with Loki, Miss America, Marvel Boy and Prodigy) was produced and ran last series to critical acclaim.

They're kind of a no-brainer, to be honest.


Journey Into Mystery / Loki, Agent of Asgard.



MCU's Loki has arguably always been a little more of an antivillain than comic books Loki anyway, so this one should be a fairly easy sell for an audience. 

Usually known for focusing on Thor as a main character, Journey Into Mystery gained critical acclaim and a massive expansion of its audience when it switched focus to Loki, reincarnated as a child and trying to reconcile people's expectations that he'll surely turn out evil, his own desire to be good, and his nature as a good of deception and tricks. Ending on a truly gutwrenching twist, the story then continued on in Young Avengers before spinning off into its own title, Loki, Agent of Asgard, depicting a young adult Loki working as what amounts to a supernatural secret agent for Frigg. 

Much like Spider-Gwen, this Loki's story was cut off abruptly by the start of Secret Wars, and much like Spider-Gwen, his popularity saw him sort of come back afterwards, in the form of - actually, is the Loki in The Mighty Thor right now an alternate version? Or the same version aged up? I think it's an alternate version, but he shares a lot of traits with Agent of Asgard!Loki.

Either way, the whole storyline was critically adored and beloved by fans, and written by Marvel's darlings Kieron Gillen and Al Ewing. It's an obvious choice for an adaptation, to the extent that during the big bundle of rumours a while back (several of which turned out to be true, such as Black Panther, Luke Cage, and Captain Marvel), Journey Into Mystery with Loki as the main character was amongst them. It was, sadly, one of the rumours that wasn't true, but the fact that it was a rumour at all shows how interested fans are in the idea.