Category Archives: Review

Berserk 2016: To Love in a Time of CG

Hello kids, welcome to Kentarou Miura's wild ride.

Hello kids, and welcome to Kentarou Miura’s wild ride.

First impressions are a bitch, aren’t they? You can spend forever and a day planning out every detail of how you present a product, an idea or shit, even yourself, only for it to blow up in your face because of that one patch of dirt you missed on your lapel, or that one glitch in the machine you didn’t iron out, or maybe the chef working at that new restaurant got some slightly-expired onions or even something as subtle as that one corpse stinking up the back of your car as you drive your hot little date to the movie theater and suddenly she’s all like “Hey, what’s that smell?” and before you know it you’re cleaning chunks of sternum out of your back seat because some people just like asking too many questions RIGHT, AGATHA?

Tangents aside, our first exposure to anything, person or media, can irreparably color how we perceive it from that moment forward. Even if it goes on to prove itself a thousand fold, we still find ourselves leery because of the festering taint of negativity that was birthed from that botched first impression. But if we’re strong, really strong, and can work past our initial revulsion, then sometimes, when the stars align and the wind is right, we might be rewarded for our open-mindedness. And in this authors opinion, that is exactly what happens if one is to delve in to Berserk 2016: a stumbling, drunken monstrosity of a show  at first blush that almost dares you to love it, before exposing its golden core to those who resisted the urge to turn away in discomfort or disgust.

Author’s Note: This will be less a “review” and more a “stream of consciousness rambling about the virtues and failings of Berserk 2016,” so bear with me if this gets a little long winded at points. Also, let it be noted that I have been a fan of the series for over ten years now, having read the manga (so far as it exists), owning the anime and the Golden Age movies, and even having beat the Dreamcast game, despite the fact that it has aged like corpse tits. So I have a pretty solid base from which to discuss the series proper. That said, on with the show!

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The Breakdown: Senran Kagura Burst

Senran Kagura BurstSystem: Nintendo 3DS/Publisher: XSEED Games/Developer: Tamsoft/Players: 1/Release Date: 11-14-13

There’s a steady pattern when it comes to 2D brawlers. You walk forward, some dudes show up, you bust some heads, and then told “GO”. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s been like this since the beginning, and almost unchanging. Sure you got the occasional extra move, super power, or RPG elements, but the core gameplay remains the same. Enter Senran Kagura Burst, a game that aims to deliver with fast-paced action and and bountiful plot. Does the game deliver a well-rounded experience, or does it deflate from the genre it is? Hit the jump to find out!

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Kung Fu Theater: Shaolin vs. Lama

This year’s pride parade got a little…out of hand.

  • Title: Shaolin dou La Ma
  • Year: 1983
  • Availability: There is a commonly available, English-dub only DVD on the market.

As a Kung Fu fan, I have a truly tremendous pool of material that lies before me. The modern form of the industry has gone through no less than EIGHT distinct “periods” in the 50-odd years it has existed, and as mentioned, some of the studios and directors were remarkably, terrifyingly prolific, putting out near to a dozen films per year for decades. And this is compounded by the immensity of the “Shovel-ware” subdivision, as I like to call it: the quick, made-on-a-buck schlockfests that were put out in the industry’s prime to make a quick profit with as little effort as possible.

Although entertaining in a sense, you generally want to avoid these. You’ve seen them; terrible actors, awful martial arts featuring men flailing at each other stiffly in some sad facsimile of combat, and occasionally whipping out plastic “weapons” to assault the air with. Pretty much, the quintessential “chop socky” flicks that, to this very day, relegate the Kung Fu flick to niche status in the eyes of the general public.

There are telling signs: improper use of a camera, leading to everyone being slightly off-center. Terrible, repetitious dialogue in both English AND Chinese. Bad sets, costuming, fighting, it all just looks terrible. And look out also for a generic (well, more generic) title: any combinations of “Master”, “Shaolin”, “Temple”, “Monk”, “Killer”, “Vs.”, “Fighter”, “Deadly”, “Bloody” and “Bruce Lee” are all big red flags. The best of these tend to be hilarious in their way, and the worst are awful, boring affairs that will just hurt to look at.

“Bruce Lee: Big Red Flag” ironically also the name of an energy drink, coming to you this fall…

But, what happens when those red flags are wrong? What happens when, despite all the signs saying the piece should be terrible, it in fact turns out amazing? It still has all those terrible pieces, sure, but it manages to be amazing in that one, all-important way, and pulls itself up to where its flaws become charm points, and it’s strengths colossal victories? Oh, it can happen, dear readers. It can happen… Continue reading

Anime Theater: Hajime no Ippo pt. 2 (New Challenger)

This image is obviously symbolic of Ippo's desire to see the true face of God...and punch him in the friggin' head.

This image is obviously symbolic of Ippo’s desire to see the true face of God…and punch him in the friggin’ head.

  • Title: Hajime no Ippo: New Challenger
  • Year: 2009
  • American Distributor: None to date, due to the underwhelming performance of the first season here in the states. A release seems unlikely, so get thee to Google…

They say that there’s nowhere to go but down when you reach the top. Having hit the apex of your intention, gotten everything your sick little heart desires, there’s really nothing left for you but the crashing low of disappointment and eventual loss. I don’t believe in that, I actually believe that one simply need sit in their top position, and if that’s not possible, find another ladder to climb. Apparently, that latter proposition gives me a lot in common with Makunouchi Ippo.

Yup, that clumsy-ass lead in was all to get us back into the world of professional boxing and the Japanese athletes, goofballs and general eccentrics that occupy it. After Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting ended in 2002, we had to wait a full SEVEN YEARS for the sequel series. Although the TV movie and the OVA in between provided substantial morsels to snack upon, a true series was what we wanted. And we got it with gusto, with 2009’s Hajime no Ippo: New Challenger, a show that although lacking some important pieces of the perfection of its predecessor, is still a top-notch, non-stop hit parade of humor, heart and hardcore boxing shenanigans.

Also, more Aoki, such as this scene where he appears to be cosplaying as Elliot Gould...

Also, more Aoki antics, such as this scene where he appears to be cosplaying as Elliot Gould…

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Gamer Review: Thomas Was Alone

But not for long...

But not for long…

  • Title: Thomas Was Alone
  • Developer: Mike Bithell
  • Publisher: Mike Bithell
  • Console: PC, Mac, PS3 and PSVita

Profound. That’s not a word that I, or anyone, should ever use lightly. To ascribe something any level of profundity is to register it as a higher form of something. To say that something has ellicited a level of feeling and thought in us that deserves not only special attention, but praise. It is a difficult task to be profound, that it is.

And especially in videogames, it is hard to believe that anything can be a “profound” experience. Most lack that certain something, maybe due to rigidity of form, or an intent that they just can’t shake in the name of deeper meaning. Or maybe some try too hard. Or, in other cases, try too little and the only “profound” nature they have is to be profoundly dumb, or profoundly disappointing.

Or both.

Or both.

And yet, now and then, they do make their way to us. Shadow of the Colossus, a masterwork of isolation and stark beauty. Journey, a short but painfully gorgeous adventure that acts as one big allegory for the paths we all must take in life. And now, I can honestly say that Thomas Was Alone has joined those ranks because, although it might not have their beauty or depth, it manages to do the almost impossible; to tackle what it means to exist, to understand our place in the universe and alongside our peers, and it tackles it with a sharp wit and a deeply compelling heart. Continue reading

FSW: Anime Theater: Hajime no Ippo pt. 1

Ippo will punch your expectations in the FACE...and then apologize profusely. He's THAT kind of guy...

Ippo will punch your expectations in the FACE…and then apologize profusely. He’s THAT kind of guy…

  • Title: Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting (aka “Fighting Spirit” in its US release)
  • Year: 2000
  • American Distribution: Geneon put out the entire series under the “Fighting Spirit” title, dubbed and all, and most volumes are easily found on Amazon or similar sites. Prices range from 10-20 bucks per 4-episode volume.

Anime is wonderful for a variety of reasons. It’s fun, challenging, surprising, silly, deep, creative, horrifying, mind blowing and very, very varied. Animation here in the US is wonderful and varied as well, this is true, but in Japan, the art form is used to tell stories not just aimed at kids or adults, but of all genres and depths. The anime industry is as wide as the film industry, at the very least, and twice as creative.

So sometimes, when you’re watching the cosmic beast being fought by the young warrior with daddy issues, or the metaphysically challenging ending of a space opera-style show, or seeing a buff dude get punched through a mountain, you forget anime, and by extension, manga’s, talent for simply telling a story. For like all media, any show or story is only as good as the people making it.

And nowhere is this more exemplified than in Hajime no Ippo, George Morikawa’s masterclass in well-rounded, yet accessible and fun storytelling, set to the very terrestrial sport of boxing. A masterclass in great character design, interesting plots and how one uses such a broad, creative artform to tell a constrained, character-based story. Continue reading

Anime-Kung Fu Theater: Rurouni Kenshin

Watch our hero, watch him stand, ANGRILY, in front of stairs...

Watch our hero, watch him stand, ANGRILY, in front of stairs…

  • Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji kenkaku roman tan (according to IMDB)
  • Year: 2012
  • Availability: Not yet “officially” available here, but DVD acquisition is easy, and a localization is absolutely inevitable.

The art of the live-action adaptation is a most difficult and unforgiving field. Anime, almost without exception, is an art form that takes advantage of its unreality to tell stories that would otherwise be impossible to tell in another format. Maybe they’d require unrealistic staging or locations. Maybe the characters need to go through some shit that no real person could feasibly go through. Or maybe someone needs to get punched through several miles of earth, and well, with the exception of Hong Kong legend Lo Meng, I can’t think of anyone in the real world who could handle THAT particular stunt.

I heart him. I heart him so FUCKING much...

I heart him. I heart him so FUCKING much…

Because of this, most anime adaptations tend to run the gamut from “decent” to “holy shit, my brain eyes are on fire, summon the lord for the end-times have come” Some of them are uproariously bad/good times, like the old Fist of the North Star movie with Gary Daniels and Malcolm McDowell. Others are just depressingly bad, like the horrific Blood Plus movie made a few years back. And still others are just, well, BORING, like Mushishi (based off one of my absolute faves, no less). So imagine my shock when, after watching the Rurouni Kenshin live-action film, I sat back and said to myself that it was…good. Damn good. Really damn good. Miracles happen, that they do. Pretty Asian miracles in red hakama… Continue reading

Gamer Review: Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon

*Insert Pink Floyd reference here*

Not every kiss begins with K…

  • Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon
  • Release Date: March 20th, 2013 (24th in America)
  • Developer: Next Level Games
  • Publisher: Nintendo

Ahhhh, remember the early 2000’s? Gods, those were heady times. The Dreamcast went under with the arrival of the PS2, Microsoft was throwing its hat into the world of console gaming with this nifty thing of theirs called “The Xbox”, and games were poised to explode into mainstream culture as never before.

And here comes Nintendo, with their little purple Picnic Basket of a console. But in a break with tradition, they launched, not with a new Mario game (that would come a bit later, with the…divisive, Super Mario Sunshine), but with a Luigi game. A Luigi game featuring him sucking up ghosts with a vacuum cleaner. Huh. Regardless, Luigi’s Mansion is a fondly remembered part of the Gamecube’s launch window, and has lain dormant as a franchise for a number of years.

Until now. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon features the return of ol’ Mr. Green to the world of Ghostbusting, with all the flashlight shining, specter catching and treasure seeking you can want. Almost more than you can want, actually. But his return also heralds the arrival of one of the 3DS’ most unique little gems, one that evolves its predecessor, and yet still feels nostalgic at heart…

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Anime Theater: Basilisk

Like kunai in the throats of our hearts, these are the days of our...apparently very misty photo shoots.

Like kunai in the throats of our hearts, these are the days of our…intergalactic photo shoots.

  • Basilisk: Kouga Ninpo Cho (just Basilisk in its English distribution)
  • Year: 2005
  • American Distributor: Funimation

When I say “love story”, what comes to mind? If you’re a literary sort of any kind, or if you ever attended a New York school like myself, then whether you like it or not, the first thing that pops into your head is, of course, Romeo and Juliet. The tale of a true, deep love unfulfilled due to the cruel auspices of fate, and the warring passions of two families, R&J has been captivating audiences for almost half a millennium now. On the other side of the coin, we have the world of Anime, where everything, even the most staid premise can be made anew by the creative madness of the men and women who make these things. So what does this have to do with today’s subject? Well, if I was to describe Basilisk in a sentence, it would be to say that someone looked at that old tale of love and loss, and said “You know what would make this story AMAZING? Ninjas.”

In fairness though, despite that rather silly description, Basilisk is a mighty enjoyable, occasionally heartrending and endlessly creative (yes, creative) little gem for anyone who’s in the mood for some high romance, but feels that there should be a body-count. Just like any true-to-life love story…

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The Breakdown – Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the ColossusSystem: Ps2,PS3/Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment/Developer: Team ICO/Players: 1/Initial Release Date: 10-18-05

Over time, you see something in videogame development that turns the tide. Suddenly everyone wants to ride that wave. Then we get used to it, almost to the point of conditioning. Everyone expects a game to have a feature. Think two genres, the Hack n Slash, and the Platformer. In the hack n slash, you expect huge waves of enemies, crazy combos, and some riddles you might solve. Now think about platformers. You expect crazy level design, tricky jumps, and a spin attack. These have become essentials to their respective genres. And then Shadow of the Colossus comes in and dares us to change our perception of these genres. Defying the usual conventions of game design, it dared to do away with a few essentials to drive forth its minimalist approach and to engage the player in a way that hasn’t been since in a long time. How did it work out?

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Kung Fu Theater: Odd Couple

Why does Sammo look like he wants to kill me, while Lau looks like he's about to break into "The Circle of Life"? Photoshop is weird sometimes...

It looks like a poster for “The Lion King” Except with…you know, weapons…and Chinese people.

  • Bo Ming Chan Dao Duo Ming Qiang (Sweet Jesus) AKA “Odd Couple” AKA “Shaolin Saber vs. Wutang Spear”
  • Year: 1979
  • Availability: Available in several compilations, and a few individual releases if you’re willing to look. Generally subbed, although a terrible dub exists.

In the 70’s and 80’s, you couldn’t throw a javelin without hitting some Kung Fu “superteam”. Be it the “Little Fortunes” of the 80’s, featuring Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and friends. Or how about any number of the teams assembled by Chang Cheh in his time (seriously, pick one)? Regardless, it seems like almost every actor or director worth a damn had a stable of recurring people they worked with, for maximum synergy for the production and maximum enjoyment for the fans.

This is not a practice I am condemning. No, far from it. The more comfortable performers got with eachother, the smoother and more intense their fights. The more aware of the actors’ strengths and weaknesses a director became, the more effectively he could cast them. It was nothing but good. The reason for this lead in is that one of the most consistently good, and sadly shortest lived, of these teams was the duo of Sammo Hung and Lau Kar-wing.

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PC Engine Discussion/Review : Bonk’s Adventure

While I’m still writing an article lamenting my childhood ignorance of the Turbografx16 partially because of the shitty marketing and naming that went into its American console, let’s talk about one of the first games I was able to experience thanks to the wii’s virtual console, Bonk’s Adventure!

vlcsnap-2013-01-07-16h14m26s6

Heellllp, I’m falling off the title screen!!!

The first in a trilogy, a spinoff and some ports here and there, Bonk was brought back into the spotlight recently with news of his revival.  We’ll probably never see that revival because Hudson went under soon after the news broke, but considering their half-assed multiplayer in the revival of Dungeon Explorer it might be for the better (More on that game in a future post). Continue reading

Anime Theater: Shigofumi: Letters From the Departed

See, if mail carriers were ALL this adorable, it would solve so many problems...

See, if mail carriers were ALL this adorable, it would solve so many problems…

  • Shigofumi: Letters From the Departed
  • Year: 2008
  • American Distributor: Sentai Filmworks

When the time comes for you to die, what will your last thought be? As the darkness closes in around us, as we shut our eyes for the final time, a veritable cavalcade of thoughts will sweep over us. “Is this really the end?”, or “What happens to me now?”, or “Was it really wise to choose Pop Tarts over pancakes this morning, because I gotta say, even as a lover of Pop Tarts  one should never lightheartedly pass off pancakes, I mean, they’ve been the premier breakfast food for years for a reason and-“

…Anyway, back on topic. But most of all, we will think of those who we’re leaving behind. And by extension, of any last words we would want to say to them. Perhaps words of encouragement or of regret. Or rage, or of love. Or even simply some truth we couldn’t bear to say in life. It is this concept that lies at the heart of “Shigofumi: Letters from the Departed“, a little gem from a few years back that uses the concept of one’s final wishes as a fulcrum through which to show how we relate to each other in both life AND death…

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The Breakdown: Fairy Bloom Freesia


System: PC/Publisher: Nyu Media/Developer: Edelweiss/Players: 1/Release Date:10-17-12

I’ve grown up with an average fascination for beat-’em-ups. My fascination only went as far the amount of games I’ve played, and unfortunately it never hit double-digits. But my knowledge of the genre is certainly larger than my actual playing of it. Edelweiss, the guys who made Ether Vapor, would dip their toes into this brawler genre, and with it take some inspiration from games like Smash Bros., Tales of, and Odin Sphere. The game: Fairy Bloom Freesia. Does fighting as a fairy sound like an awesome idea? Or is she better off hiding in a tree? Hit the jump to see how this game fares.

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The Breakdown: Giana Sisters DS

System: Nintendo DS/Publisher: Destineer/Developer: Spellbound Entertainment/Players: 1/Release Date:11/2/2011

In the 80s, there was a new beginning in the videogame industry. The NES was selling like hotcakes, and Super Mario Bros. went on to become a household name. This was only happening on the NES however. On the more computer oriented side of things, most only went as far as Point-and-Click adventure games and RPGs. There weren’t many, if at all, platform games like Super Mario Bros. (or at least ones that scrolled smoothly). So Time Warp saw this as a chance to grab a market that had yet to be tapped into in the computer game space. They created The Great Giana Sisters. The name of the game, the gameplay, and the look of it smacked of Mario Bros. Even the ad campaign for the game took a shot at the Bros. But the fun was over when Nintendo shot back with a cease and desist. And so the Giana Sisters series was left to wallow in obscurity… until now. Nintendo is a different company now and are more open to other games replicating their style. In comes Spellbound who were willing to make a new Giana Sisters game, and this time not make it a straight up clone. Is the game different enough from the game that inspired it, or is it just another uninspired clone? Today I breakdown Giana Sisters DS.

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