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Yeah, Genchu! Where the heck were you??

Do you like scifi police procedurals? Well, Blade Runner 2049 is pretty rad. Although it’ s hard film to recommend because its oppressive sound design, slow pace, and exceedingly long run time of 2:49 hrs could be a major turn off to many.

But it’s so darn beautiful. I honestly enjoyed it more than the original Blade Runner, which is a movie I’ve always appreciated for the visuals  and atmosphere but felt otherwise lukewarm on because I find it to be Harrison Ford’s worst acting to date (seriously, he’s so hard to watch in it), and there’s just not enough of the more interesting characters on screen, namely the replicants. 2049 could be seen as derivative, as it’s admirably mimicking the original film’s visual style, but also expanding on it and the world. A LOT of the narrative details are left abstract in the sequel, but the same is true in the original, probably even more so. What 2049 seems to do much better than the original is give us some empathy for the main character, as well as a more cohesive narrative overall (one that didn’t require seven different edits post theatrical release).  I do want to bring up the controversial ambiguity of the first film and how it affects the sequel, so SPOILERS.

In the original film, Ford’s character, Deckard, is either a replicant or a human depending on if you ask the director or the screen writer. The sequel does not give a definitive answer to the question of his biological makeup, but does make it clear that Rick Deckard and his love interest Rachael, from the first movie, had a child. This is a big deal in the sequel as there is a replicant revolutionary movement brewing. The whole crux of the planned revolution is that replicants can have children, and therefore do not need to rely on humans for survival and can break free of enslavement.

The thing is, if Deckard IS a human, that means we still don’t know if replicants definitely can reproduce without humans. All we know is that female replicants, or maybe just Rachael specifically, can carry a pregnancy to term, but we don’t know if it requires a human male. If it does, the replicant revolution could potentially run into some problems. Since the replicant uprising is a major world building story thread, I wish 2049 had given us a specific answer on Deckard. Another solution would simply have a second example of two known replicants creating a child, although that might have made the significance of Deckard’s child less narratively important.

Personally, I’ve always thought Deckard was human, and the idea that he had attributes of replicants or could fall in love with one showed that the perceived difference between humans and replicants was more self imposed than a societal necessity.

Also, the manga Pluto is, like, incredible. I recently finished it, and was consequently filled with real human emotion. It’s basically an alternate universe Astroboy story with heavy themes and a bit of serial murder. I admittedly know little to nothing about Astroboy, but that did not stop me from enjoying Pluto.  The premise is that humans have created advanced robotic lifeforms that now live alongside humanity. The more advanced robots look just like humans, but that hasn’t stopped good old prejudice from creating a bit of social strife. Among all this, a mysterious figure starts serial killing all of the world’s most advanced robots, one of whom is Astroboy (or Atom, as is his original Japanese name). The artwork is incredible and the story is gut punching. It’s like a mix of Bladerunner and Silence of the Lambs, with some classic shonen heroics thrown in for good measure at the end. I can’t recommend it enough! And if you hate reading manga, there’s an anime scheduled for 2020.

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718

Come on Yori, all the guy’s asking for is a little beheading, is that so much?

So Joe caved in and subscribed to CBS All Access to watch his precious Star Trek, allowing me to reap the benefits of his lack of willpower! We watched the first three episodes of STD (that’s Star Trek Discovery‘s unfortunate acronym), and my feelings are decidedly mixed. On the positive side, it looks great, with plenty of slick, high budget effects that feel right in line with the new Abram films.

Thankfully, STD is a bit more smartly written than those films, but it’s also not THAT smartly written. The acting is strong, the directing and cinematography are top notch, but the plot is all over the place and is working overtime to be ‘not just another Star Trek show’. It’s the Stargate Universe of Star Treks, trying to be darker and edgier in an attempt to appeal to a larger potential fanbase; the kind that love raw, violent dramas like Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad. Certainly STD isn’t that level of grim, but you’ll see far more explicit gore in its first three episodes than you’d ever expect in Star Trek. The contradiction here is that CBS has made it far more difficult for those potential new viewers to watch the show by locking it behind its subscription streaming service. Likely the only people ready to fork over money to see STD are hardcore Trek fans, who will then be dismayed to find that the show is not a true return to form but a major formula mix up.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

In terms of how it fits into the canon, well, it really doesn’t. The technology seems significantly more advanced than what we’ve seen in any of the Prime Universe shows and yet it takes place 15 (?) years prior to The Original Series. It’s really more of a Star Trek soft reboot than any sort of continuation. The main character is Sarek’s adopted daughter (geez, Spock, how many siblings did you have??), and her apparent struggle to control her emotions in the face of almost certain death at the hands of a monster-like Klingon Empire.

The Klingons in STD are less cultured and individually diverse than what we’ve seen in the TNG era. The old shows had Klingon characters with many different personalities, grappling with a warrior culture that expected them to fill a roll. They felt nuanced. Not that I expected to get that same nuance from STD’s two episode premiere, but this new version of Klingons definitely come off more animalistic and bloodthirsty, with relatively simplistic internal politics (someone shined a bright light and they all went to war). I’m hoping/guessing that will change as the show goes on, but right I’m willing to give the new Klingons a pass. I honestly don’t care much about canon as long as the story is well structured with satisfying character arcs, and I do have some issues with those aspects of STD.

Specifically, the first two episodes are bloated with a massive amount of drama and action, and yet only have two characters, maybe three, we’re supposed to care for (the science officer has some endearingly quirky dialog but is mostly observing the conflict between the captain and first officer). By the end of the two part opener, the captain is dead, and the first officer is labeled a mutineer and sentenced to space prison. The lead up to that outcome is a confusing mess involving an away mission of ONLY the captain and first officer. They beam over to a Klingon flagship to capture their leader in the hopes of turning him into a symbol of failure, as opposed to killing him and turning him into a martyr for the Klingons to rally around. Why only these two go on this mission is a big fat mystery, the only reasonable answer being that they’re kind dumb. The captain gets stabbed by the klingon leader and then the first officer kills him with her phaser. I don’t know why she didn’t use stun and complete her mission, maybe she couldn’t control her anger. Either way, it seems to be the catalyst to the show’s main ‘redemption’ plotline for first officer Michael (her first name is Micheal, they acknowledge that’s an odd name for a woman so maybe we’ll get an explanation for it).

I almost wish the first two episodes had been completely skipped in favor of revealing those backstory elements in flashbacks. It might have been a more clever way to dramatically reveal Michael’s story while jumping straight into the show’s actual premise. The third episode sees Michael transferred from prison detention to the advanced science ship Discovery, where she’s put to work assisting with some very shady science projects to potentially help win the war against the Klingons. This leads me to believe the show’s structure will be episodic ‘science projects of the week’ where Michael works to figure out how whatever she’s working on will be used in war, and then grapples with the shady morality of the crew and their ultimate goals, and whether she should sabotage Discovery’s efforts in the name of moral principle, or work toward a fast end to the war they she feels personally responsible for starting (which, honestly, would’ve started even without her).

Many of the old Trek shows have had some very weak pilot episodes, if not all of them, and  I don’t even think STD’s is the worst of the lot. The setup has a lot of potential for great television. I’m specifically reminded of Fringe, which also had an episodic ‘science project gone horribly wrong’ structure to it for the first couple of seasons, and they were great.

So STD has potential, and yet I can’t help but feel this is not what Star Trek’s themes have always been about. The Trek Universe has always favored political allegory, and asked us to question the normalcy of our modern world when compared with the idealism on display in its vision of the future. From the originals series’ commentary on race with “ Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” to TNG’s questioning of gender norms in “The Outcast”, this has always been Star Trek’s greatest strength. And, considering the world we live in today, where injustices have become so nakedly visible that they’re no longer shocking, don’t we need that Star Trek commentary more than ever? But who knows, maybe STD is revving up to blow us away with insight.

PS. I also saw Blade Runner 2049 and loved it, but maybe I’ll talk about that next time.

 

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717

Lesson…learned?

I just finished Samus Returns, and it’s so great. It’s the Metroid I’ve been waiting for, THE FULL PACKAGE! I was on such a high, I immediately started a new game in Fusion mode (somehow I managed to acquire the new Metroid amiibo from my local Toys R Us, even though their site said they had no stock)!

I feel like Samus Returns does for Metroid 2 what Zero Mission did for classic Metroid, a great re-imagining which re-enforces and builds on existing canon, making a continued narrative between the games more palatable. The ending of Samus Returns adds a lot more visual narrative that links it to Super Metroid, and I love that! Heck, it even throws a bone to Metroid Fusion, which I also love. Not that the Metroid franchise NEEDS a coherent canon, but that sort of light world building wired into all the games has always appealed to me.

One thing that is really silly, though, is that the entire Galactic Federation council had a unanimous vote to send one for-hire bounty hunter on a mission to wipe out the most powerful genetically engineered race of sentient weapons in the galaxy. Like, they didn’t think it’d be a good idea to send at least an armada as backup or something? Maybe everyone else was too busy with other ‘galactic stuff’. Not that they needed to over complicate the story, but having some sort of Chozo barrier around the planet that will only allow Samus to land unharmed might’ve helped with the logic of that setup.

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Yori takes a bloodless victory! Or maybe not!

Sorry about the missed update last week! I went on a family vacation to northern California to see the redwood forest. I posted some photos in the news post below this news post, which most people probably didn’t see because our site has a weird way of prioritizing posts. I don’t have much to say! I’ve been chipping away at Metroid: Samus Returns, and it’s great! It’s pretty much everything I like about Metroid, although I’ll have to wait until I finish it before I compare it to AM2R, which was incredible (or maybe I just like the soundtrack better).

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Yori has reached faster-than sound effect attack speed! Oh, yeah, Genchu is on his way. Speculate away… or not. Good thing he has a series of sonic booms to point him in the right direction.

I really didn’t plan on buying Mario + Rabbids. The Rabbids franchise just never grabbed me and I had acres of Hyrule to search for Korok seeds. But Ubisoft found the right formula to tempt me away from Hero Mode – a 4-way crossover between Mario, Rabbids, Banjo-Kazooie (music by Grant Kirkhope), and Fire Emblem (okay, this one is a stretch, but to me all turn-based tactics games are Fire Emblem).

Ubisoft’s take on the Mario world is gorgeous. It’s really a shame that they don’t give you more camera control so you could look around.

The games few flaws are obvious pretty quickly: controlling Mario and the gang in the overworld is clumsy at best. This makes annoying block puzzles even worse. While you can warp to individual challenges later in the game, I found exploration tedious. This may be my own lack of direction sense speaking, but a map screen would be ideal, considering the backtracking you’ll do to find secrets.

The point of the game is the combat, and that’s nearly perfect. A few enemy animations are a overly long and the poor camera control spoils some of the fun, but that’s it. The strategy is deeper than I expected and relies largely on chaining your heroe’s various abilities to move quickly around the board.

The comedy is constant and very… Rabbid. I particularly enjoyed the more subtle character animations of your teammates, but by far my favorite part of the game has been the Mario opera (spoiler to follow).

Mario needs more opera.

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714

Oh man, it’s a SAMURAI SHODOWN!

I watched this movie Gantz:0 on Netflix because some trailer I saw for it at some point looked interesting. Turns out it’s narratively incomplete, a tad misogynist, and totally bonkers. I know it’s based on a manga also called Gantz, and all I’ve ever really known about the series is that people who have just recently died are mysteriously resurrected by a black orb in a non-descript Tokyo apartment and told they have to put on tight black scifi catsuits and fight ‘aliens’ in a sort of life or death game where you earn points by killing the most enemies. The movie manages to completely fail to explain the motivation behind these aliens, or why they all look like creatures out of Japanese mythology, or what the black orb is or why it makes people who have recently died fight these aliens in a point based game format. Nor does it explain how this black orb or its creator provides the main characters all the high tech weapons they use or even how it brings them back to life. Basically, it’s an infuriating movie with lots of mysteries and no answers. On the flip side, it is a pretty darn good looking CG film where the characters feel very vulnerable (you don’t quite know who the plot armor is protecting until the very end), with some great effects and animations (outside of the obnoxiously ludicrous jiggle physics on the women). It’s a movie that runs almost entirely on predictable cliches utilizing a bunch of mostly one note characters and a lot of ham fisted melodrama, but if you’re looking for some eye candy that’ll leave you scratching your head, along with some fairly creative action scenes, maybe it’s worth a watch.

Gantz: 0 actually reminded me quite a bit of another Netflix anime movie based on a manga that I watched. BLAME is also a narratively incomplete story driven almost entirely be cliches and ending with almost every question posed by the film unanswered. The basic plot is that a bunch of generational survivors living in a superstructure that’s so huge no one knows how big it is make contact with a travelling guy who apparently is looking for a human with some gene that would allow them to control all the hostile robots in this super city. The movie fails to explain the origins of this mysterious traveler, or why everyone keeps calling him human even though he is very clearly a cyborg with re-attachable limbs, or what the ultimate purpose of the superstructure is, why it became hostile toward humans, and why dart guns are apparently a more effective weapons against murder robots than, say, an automatic rifle. At least its female characters aren’t treated like dainty, vulnerable eye candy, though.

Maybe these movies are meant to be the beginning of franchises, or maybe they’re just meant to be supplementary material to their respective manga, although I find it hard to believe these fairly high budget films aren’t made with the express purpose of being able to stand on their own and increase these franchies’ popularity! I’ll give both these movies points for only being an hour and a half each, though.

And while we’re talking about film adaptations of manga, the trailer for the upcoming Blade of the Immortal film looks gloriously accurate to the source material, which has my hyped. And although the Bleach manga ultimately turned into one of the most overstuffed, over confused shounen franchises of all time, its initial setup was wonderfully unique and compelling, which gives me some hope for the live action film adaptation. On the other hand, as much as I love Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, and am currently reading through the manga, the live action trailer for that movie looks laughably cornball. Maybe keeping Al’s suit of armor design identical to the manga was not the best idea, as Al looks like a walking cartoon in world of competent cosplayers. Actually, ‘a world of competent cosplayers’ pretty much describes every live action anime adaptation I’ve seen, so maybe it’s fine.

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A TRIAL BY FIRE! Clearly Hirotomo’s favorite sort of trial. He’s a harsh mistress. Err, mister. Well, a harsh dad. At least he can count on Tadashii to put Yori through the wringer, OR CAN HE? He probably can.

We just spent the weekend at Matsuricon 2017, chillin’ out, hosting panels, and having a good time. Joe, who’s well into the three digits (and working towards four) of numbers of hours played of Breath of the Wild, hosted a BotW panel where he relentlessly bombarded the packed room with the most obscure Zelda trivia questions you can imagine. I think the most shocking part was that so many of them got answered correctly. I also had a Star Wars panel where I relentlessly whined about the franchise as if I was Luke Skywalker in A New Hope. Maybe some day I’ll remember to actually mention the con we’re going to be at before we actually go there.

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I can’t being to imagine what Tadashii is implying here!

I started watching Little Witch Academia, and it’s pretty great;  fantastic animation, whimsical, orchestral soundtrack, distinct, enjoyable characters, and none of the most cringe worthy anime cliches! I’d recommend it for any animation fan who’s looking for a high energy/low stress show (and who also has a Netflix account). Unfortunately I’ll never be able to watch anything again after I burn my retinas out staring at the SOLAR ECLIPSE.

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AND THEN THEY FIGHT! Wait, is Tadashii fighting with a broken sword?

I’ve been watching the third season of Voltron, and it significantly elevates the show from the sort of generic ‘good vs evil’ template it was plodding along through the first two seasons. Suddenly we’re being hit with (somewhat) difficult moral decision, multiple antagonists in a power struggle, in-fighting between various groups, buildups with high stakes, and flashbacks establishing complex, dramatic turns of character. I’m starting to enjoy the show as much as I enjoyed Korra. It doesn’t hurt that the animation is still outstanding. Even the music seems to have gotten better in season three (although it still fails to compare to that original theme). Granted, for anyone interested, you still have to push through some 24 episodes of varying quality to get there. Watch them for the animation.

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710

That’s not true! THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE!

Search your feelings, Yori. You know it be true!

 

Okay, we went and saw Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets, a movie I REALLY WANTED TO LOVE, but, ugh, nope, it’s kind of awful. I REALLY want to write about the myriad of plot holes and nonsense character decisions the movie bombarded us with, but I don’t have the time! The short of it is that the main character is extremely unlikable and the film does a terrible job of both establishing what anyone is doing and why, and defining the rules of the world (as far as I could tell, it’s a movie universe where the only reason anything is considered ‘illegal’ is because the main character just randomly decides it is). Valerian could’ve been this great buddy cop scifi action comedy, instead it’s an ungodly mess of half baked ideas and rampant sexual harassment that runs about forty five minutes too long. Although, there is a great five minute opening title sequence that’s easily the best part of the movie. It definitely got my hopes up before tossing them out an airlock.

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