Monday, October 17, 2011

Five More Awesome Anime Openings

Yeah, this is totally against whatever schedule I wrote up, but I like anime openings, so there. These are five openings that I think are pretty dang good.

Baka To Test's First Opening

This opening has the same unfortunate side effect as Durarara's: it makes me want to dance. Granted, it's more like a dance of happiness and stupidity, but it's still a dance...

Ergo Proxy

After posting my five favorite anime openings, someone told me I needed to see Ergo Proxy. I made a mental note, since I had a lot to do. At Benedictine I was finally in the mood for something new, and one of my friends owned the dub, so I watched it. To make a long story short (too late!) I found the show to be pretty good, but the opening?

Bloody fantastic. So good that I downloaded the full version! Thanks for the recommend!

Angel Beats
Piano? Yes please. This song is beautiful, and I find myself whistling it all the time. It's also cool that the girl who's playing the piano's name means "to play a song". Nothing less than what I'd expect from something written by Jun Maeda.

Eden of the East (Broadcast)
Notice how I said broadcast version? Yeah, the DVDs have a different opening, due to copyright arguments with Oasis. And it's a damn shame, too, because this opening is amazing. It has a similar feeling to Ergo Proxy's, and that can only be a good thing.


The Second Deathnote Opening

Ok, so that totally wasn't what anyone would expect for me to put up as an "awesome opening", but hear me out. A large part what makes an opening good is the tone that it sets for the show. The opening is supposed to help set up the audience for the show. That's almost exclusively why Clannad: Afterstory's opening is my favorite: because it summarizes, informs, and sets you up for the show so well that when you watch the show you realize what the writers are trying to get at, based off the opening alone. Very few shows get openings at that level of quality, and I'd say that, in its own dark and twisted way, the second Deathnote opening does that very well. Is it a weird death-metal-ish song, that has almost no aesthetic appeal? Yup. Does it sound insane? Yup.

But consider this: the first Deathnote opening was about Light's dreams of being a god in a world that he had made, and the hope that he had. With the death of L Kira starts to genuinely lose his sanity. Do you need to know that in the anime? You almost don't, because this opening is so nutty and repulsive that people turn it off, because they don't want to see what Kira has turned into.

This is the true essence of Light Yagami, people, this is your supposed anti-hero. Take a good look, because it's not pretty.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mortal Kombat Review, Part 2: The Ugly

Welcome to the second (and last) part of my review of Mortal Kombat. This is my second time writing an "Ugly" part of any review. Basically what The Ugly is is my attempt at transparency. Sometimes I feel that I have a very unique reaction to certain pieces of media, and that an explanation is necessary for the reaction that I have. I don't really write this for anyone else's sake but my own, since it allows me to explore my own twisted little psyche and come to grips with myself. Not all of The Ugly reviews will be unpleasant, but most of them are related to unpleasant things in my own life, so most of them will be rather intense.

Without further ado...

Most of my reasons for playing Mortal Kombat stem from my short time as an amateur Thai boxer, which are recorded in the previous The Ugly. Muay Thai is a very brutal sport, as I put up in the other review. But at the same time it's a very intimate sport. You learn a lot about someone by hitting them as hard you can and having the favor reciprocated. You learn how much someone wants to win something in the face of adversity, you learn how much they want to defend themselves, whether they're go-getters or not, things that you wouldn't know in quite the same way.

Anyway, the events that I had discussed from the last post had put me in a situation, where I didn't get to see people very often. I took the opportunity to hide from the world and brood. Since I was homeschooled it wasn't very difficult to do that. Without Muay Thai I started to feel lonely and wanted to hit people. When I was around people I became a bit...overzealous in my rough housing. As I approached 16, however, I noticed a funny thing: when I rough-housed with people I hurt them! I wasn't out to actually hurt these new people, so I stopped touching people as much as I could, unsure of what to do. At about this point my dad enrolled me in a college. He did this for a few reasons: he worked there (free tuition), he couldn't teach me writing (I didn't like his teaching methods), and he couldn't teach me art. Well, to college I went! And, deep in the student's lounge, I found this:
I'd played Mortal Kombat when I was a kid, so I was intrigued. I remember being scared of Raiden and finding that the only character I was truly good with was Sub-Zero, because it could stop other people in their tracks and hurt them. So I started playing. I'm not going to say that it was a good game (Mortal Kombat 4 is most definitely not), or that it was actually enlightening to play, but I couldn't stop. It was bloody, the sound effects were just ridiculous to remind me of reality, and  the hits looked like they hurt.

In essence, it reminded me of Muay Thai, in all its messy glory.

Basically all I did those days was go to school, draw, and play Mortal Kombat. I didn't really see that many people during that time, which allowed for the brooding to worsen. I started screaming and fighting in my sleep, pounding the walls and waking my parents up several times a week. I withdrew further from people, forgetting the good times I had as a child and remembering all the awful things that had been done to and by me.  My drawings grew darker, and my parents grew more and more worried. But I kept playing. And one day I couldn't stand not moving anymore.

I left the Student Lounge one day, and stood behind the college, staring at the trees behind the dorms. Despite doing everything that I could remember as good I felt more alone than ever, and I'd had enough. I started practicing my katas in the back alley. I'm not sure why I did, but it felt good. But I found it felt better when I screamed at each hit. I moved and whirled about, screaming my confusion and loneliness out through my fists, feet, knees, and elbow. Tears started to stream from my eyes, and as I was about to start over on my katas, someone tapped me on the shoulder. Startled, I turned around. There was a security guard.

"Hey man, what are you doing out here this time of night? I've got some noise complaints, people thinking a fight's going on out here. Everything OK?"

I realized I was still behind the dorms. I blushed and quickly explained that I just needed to blow off some steam, and that no one was fighting me. The security guard asked me to show me some moves, and I performed a few katas for him (with significantly less volume). He critiqued me, told me I had serious potential, and we talked  for awhile about the type of training he'd undergone to become a security guard. Apparently this guy was quite the accomplished martial artist, but hadn't gone to a dojo in a while. After about ten minutes of talking the guard told me he had to keep going on patrol. We walked inside the student lounge and parted ways again. But before he left the security guard clapped me on the shoulder.

"Good meeting you, Nate. You're a good guy. Hope to see you again, OK?" I nodded, reciprocated, and hoped I would. I walked back to the machine that drove my days and nights, smiled, and hit the start button again. So what if Mortal Kombat wasn't the intimacy I was looking for? It was a hell of a lot of fun to play.

Shortly thereafter my parents removed me from college and put me into highschool in an attempt to get me to acclimate to "normal" kids, who weren't necessarily going to attack me on sight. After a bit of balking, I entered. I didn't play Mortal Kombat for several years after that, and I never saw the security guard again. But I still think about that guy. I wonder who he was, where he'd come from, and where he went after talking to me. And I still play Mortal Kombat, if only to partially remember who I was and still am, and to remember someone giving me five minutes of kindness when I really needed it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Eden of the East Review

Eden of the East was an anime released in 2009, and was created, written, and directed by Kenji Kamiyama, the writer of Ghost in the Shell. The show follows Akira Takizawa, who wakes up naked, holding a gun and a cellphone outside the White House. He quickly saves a Japanese student named Saki, who threw a rock into the White House yard for fun. What follows is an eleven episode show about the woes of society and the people in them. I'm not going to spoil too much of the plot, but here's my review:

While the basic amnesia plot is almost a direct rip of a Bourne Identity, the plot is a lot more than that. While it is slow (especially for an 11 episode series), the plot spends most of its time addressing the problems that the last few episodes endeavor to solve. Personally I've always been willing to put the plot on hold if the character work is good enough, but that's until the next part of the review. The point of the show is not the plot itself but the ideas that are explored by it, which the plot does adequately. While I'm not saying that the plot is bad it certainly doesn't take center stage, as it does in shows like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. No, what this show does is reminiscent of Clannad and Evangelion: if you thought those were about plot you were obviously going to be disappointed. That being said, the plot sets up the ideas and character situations quite well, and is the only show I've seen that makes people sit down and have an intelligent discussion. So the plot succeeds, in its own quiet way. 

Now this is where the show shines. Akira and Saki are easily some of the best characters I've seen in a long time. They're complete, well-rounded people who are feel like ordinary people. Most of this is done by just watching conversations between the two. I for one liked the conversations so much I was a bit disappointed when the plot had to take over towards the end. I would have dearly like more, but the plot's good enough to enjoy. Honestly, the romance between these two characters is my favorite in all the anime I've watched, and that's pretty impressive considering that it's an 11 episode long show!

The series is charming, deep, and intelligent. The characters are well done, and the romance is deep and convincing. The plot is definitely thought-provoking. In short, it's one of my favorite series yet. Now I realize that there's two movies to finish up the series, but I've gotta say that I'm stoked to watch them. If they continue focusing on the characters I know I'll be happy with the results, no matter what they are.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Mortal Kombat Review

God, that looks painful.

Alright, let's get this out of the way, out of our system:

Now we can proceed.

Mortal Kombat is the reason we have a video game ratings system, since it was the first popular game to break the bounds of decency. For whatever reason parents decided to give up a little more responsibility and demanded the the government decide what was decent. While the rant on the stupidity of some parents is something that may come down the road I should probably stay on topic. We're here to talk about Mortal Kombat, not socialism. Anyway, Mortal Kombat is known for (and is thus rated by) three things: Violence, Gameplay, and Story.

Let's be honest with ourselves, this is the reason why Mortal Kombat is so well-loved: the ridiculous, over-the-top violence. If anyone says that they're playing the game strictly for the gameplay I'd reply that people look at porn for the articles and stories.

The violence in this game is extremely satisfying and not only fun to watch but hear. Honestly, this is some of the best sound production for a game I've heard in a long time. All the sounds are so well-designed that I could probably play the game on sound alone. Which is not to say that the visuals are bad. The figures are well-animated and the amount of blood is absurdly awesome. And the fatalities... well....

Gruesome enough for you?

While the Mortal Kombat franchise is known for it's blood, its gameplay is something commonly derided by the fighting community for being, well... not very good. And to a certain extent that's understandable. With the emphasis on presentation, not gameplay, you would think a game like this wouldn't have a good fighting mechanic. I can honestly say that most of Mortal Kombat's 3D excursions were too slow and bulky to really be fun. 
That's not the case here. The fighting engine is extremely good, with combos that can be cannibalized and put into your own ideas and imaginings. The game rewards creative thought in a way that reminds me very much of Smash Bros (the best fighting game ever made, in my humble opinion). However, if you're a beginner and don't want to spend a lot of time putting together your own custom combos the game has presets that work very well. That being said, Mortal Kombat is at its best when you're doing creative thinking about how the regular and special moves work together. When a game rewards ingenuity I think it's more than worth the time to play. 

That being said, the boss fights in this game are truly absurd, filled with bosses that truly break game physics and common sense, as well as many TV sets. Seriously, how are you supposed to fight these guys beyond medium difficulty? I still haven't found a way, and while I acknowledge I'm not the best player in the world I'm pretty decent in my own right, and I STILL play the game's story mode on beginner. The ending boss fight in the story mode is ridiculous even for the game, and after 30 tries I gave up in sheer frustration and downgraded the difficulty to beginner. It took an additional five tries before I got it. That's a total of 35 times, people, with cheating. That's wrong.  Most of this can be circumvented by playing as much multiplayer as possible, which is the point of the game anyway.

This might come as a shock to most people, but almost all Mortal Kombat players I've met are in love with the plot of the games. The game's known for an intricate and dark storyline where the good guys barely win, and that's assuming nothing goes wrong. The story of this game is essentially a reboot back to the original Mortal Kombats 1-3. To be honest, I don't like the story all that much. It feels unnecessarily dark and dismal, to the point where I ask "why even bother?" Also, the matching up of the fights make little to no sense, particularly if you know the game's history. While it's true that people don't play fighting games for the plot the ruining of this element of Mortal Kombat is a travesty.
Amazing presentation and overall great gameplay trump a crappy story and ridiculous boss fights. If you're into fighting games I definitely recommend picking this game up!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hell's Gambit

This is an incident that occurred in my Dungeons and Dragons game last Friday. It's a dark fantasy/horror game with an empahsis on the supernatural and the influences of Hell. Here's a bit of back story into my game, which is called Hell's Gambit. Hell's Gambit is a continuation of last semester's game, Hell Child, in which the succubus Alianna managed to to seduce, be impregnated by, and get the soul of Gant Arrow, a sociopath high elf who has a strong superiority complex. Besides Gant Arrow, here's the list of characters:

Vladmir Dostoevsky: a male paladin for Bahamut, the god of justice and metallic dragons. Has amnesia. Alianna had been trying to corrupt him, but gave up and went after Gant Arrow as a break from trying to break him. Vladmir's usually been a very reactionary person. Vladmir had an artifact called the Deck of Many Things, an artifact of sheer chaos and power. He had been recently kidnapped, and as of the beginning of this particular D&D session has only returned to the group just now. He remembers a fellow paladin, Sir Sampson, was capture also. Sir Sampson was brought into a room with Alianna, and after a blue light flashed in the room, Sir Sampson vanished. Vladmir escaped in the confusion, without the Deck of Many Things.

Didier: A male elf who is the sniper of the group. His village had been wiped by Alianna just for fun. He's very quiet but extremely good at his job, so everyone lets him be.

Poultrin: Deceased, but a former vessel of the Goddess of Love, who had descended to Hell to steal Alianna's child from her. He named the half devil baby he retrieved Celeste. He died later in a fight with two dragons, dying as a result of Gant Arrow not knowing how to heal him.

Thade and Ila: A dark and high elf married couple who were on the run from Ila's parents, the Merinbornes, who were not happy with her marriage. They had stumbled acrost the rest of the characters, and had been offered a fortune by Alianna to get Celeste back. They told her to "piss off", and that they would raise Celeste to be good and grow beyond her hellish origins. Alianna swore revenge upon these two. Thade has a bear named Ubin, a loyal and much-loved animal companion.

Valenae: A high elf psion. Her husband, who was a powerful mage, and new-born son had been killed by a medusa, whom the other characters killed. She was brought in to the group to be the wetnurse of Celeste. She randomly developed  a vast amount of psionic power, which she learned to control almost immediately. The current theory is that because of her exposure to magic and its intellectual control she is able to control her vast amount of power so well.

Collectively, these heroes are known as the BB Squad. 

The Story
The BB Squad had decided to take down the goblin town Billi, which had slaughtered every elf that lived in a ghetto in the slums of the town. The elves were besieging the town, but had lost 2/3's of their army (10,000!) to the town because Billi's seer was so proficient at his job. Since the BB Squad had locks of a medusa's head they found that  they weren't included in the seer's visions, so they decided they would destroy the town. They grabbed three ingredients: kerosene, bee's wax, and sawdust. All three of these ingredients are the basic make up of medieval napalm. Through a stunning display of tactics and stealth the Squad managed to lace the entire town of Billi with over 600 pounds of napalm. Vladmir brought several catapults within range of the city, and had them ready to go and light the town on fire. It was an almost perfect display of stealth and teamwork.


Thade was captured during the operation, and was dragged into the main town hall, where the goblins were celebrating. Gant and Didier followed, hoping to rescue their comrade.

It turns out that the seer had foreseen danger to himself, and so he was gotten out of the city several hours ago. The goblins were celebrating because they had managed to keep their greatest weapon safe. Standing in the middle of them was Alianna, who was holding a dagger to Ila's throat and had Celeste strapped to her back. Alianna grinned at Thade, and said "Watch this".

Ila's blood went all over the goblins, who cheered at the death of another elf.

Right about this moment Thade lost his mind, and he burst out of his ropes. Gant and Didier broke in some of the windows and started sniping into the crowd, aiding to the confusion. Thade charged Alianna, grabbing her and biting into her neck savagely, ripping out a good chunk of her throat, barely missing her jugular vein. As he ripped through Alianna's neck the goblins began to unload countless crossbow bolts into Thade, mortally wounding him.

Valanae, who had been lacing the outside walls with napalm, was finished with her job and lit the walls up as the signal. Vladmir launched the catapults, and the city began to burn in earnest.

Alianna escaped from Thade's grip and started stumbling through the crowd, trying to get away before she lost too much blood. Seizing the moment Didier cocked an arrow, and Alianna fell to the ground. The Squad's primary antagonist was dead.  Thade whistled for Ubin, and started killing goblins with his bare hands. Ubin busted through the doors five minutes later with Valanae in tow. Valanae grabbed Celeste and headed for the exit, barely escaping with Didier and Gant as the fire reached raised temperatures easily 150+ degrees.

But Thade didn't follow. He stayed behind, if only to rip apart and destroy Alianna's body to ensure that nothing could resurrect the succubus.
As he ripped open her stomach a bright blue light blinded him and everyone within miles for a few minutes. When the light died down Alianna's remains were gone, a burn spot being all that remained.

Thade shrugged, and started slaughtering as many goblins as possible with his beloved bear. After killing approximately 40 goblins Thade made a pile, and put his wife's corpse on it. He called his bear over, and talked to his softly one last time, scratching it behind the ears.

Thade slit Ubin's throat.

As the flames built up around him Thade raised his knife and screamed to the Goddess of Death, the Raven Queen. He cried that Alianna had taken the only thing he had ever truly cared for, and that he was finished living. Offering his beloved bear's blood as a sacrifice he swore an oath. Until Alianna and all her kind was extinguished he would forever hunt them, and he asked for the Raven Queen's permission to let him live on as a spirit of vengeance and death in her service. He raised his knife to the heavens and begged the Raven Queen to honor his demand. Lightning lanced down and struck his knife, causing it to burn a fire dark and horrid. Satisfied, Thade laid upon the pile and was consumed.