Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle

What can I say about Tsubasa Chronicle other than talk about how charming and fantastic it is. Every single episode is completely heartbreaking, yet it's a real joy to watch for just that reason.

Princess Sakura and young Syaoran are childhood friends (and you know where that tends to lead, and this series is no different). Syaoran's adoptive father was an archeologist for Sakura's kingdom but he died prior to the events in the series, and Syaoran has since taken up his father's work uncovering a set of vast ruins not far from the castle. One night as Syaoran is investigating some deeper parts of the ruins, Sakura appears, called there by some mysterious force. Syaoran thinks little of it, and is indeed happy to see her, until she activates some sort of seal and vanishes. Syaoran runs through the ruins to find Sakura floating in front of a similar seal, and arrives just in time to see wings sprout from her back. As she begins to slowly be absorbed by a dimensional portal, Syaoran jumps up to save her, knocking her to the ground and causing the feathers on her wings to scatter. Sakura falls into a coma and Syaoran learns that the feathers were Sakura's spirit, or more specifically, her memories. Without them she will fade and die. The king's adviser Yukito sends Syaoran off to visit the Dimensional Witch, where he arrives simultaneously with a mage named Fay and a warrior named Kurogane, both from separate dimensions.

The Dimensional Witch offers to aid the three (four if you count Sakura, but she's not the one asking for aid since she's unconscious). Syaoran wants to recover Sakura's feathers, Fay is running away from something, and Kurogane wants to return home. However the Witch doesn't do anything for free, and so she asks a steep price from each of them - the thing they value the most. Fay gives up a strange tattoo on his back, Kurogane gives up his sword, and (and this is the worst of all), Syaoran gives up all of Sakura's memories of him. This means that no matter how many feathers they find, and even once they have all of them, Sakura will NEVER remember who Syaoran really is, and will never remember the time they spent together. The Witch gives them a creature named Mokona in exchange, which teleports them across dimensions and can also detect the presence of Sakura's feathers.

What makes the series so heartbreaking is that Sakura really can't remember Syaoran at all. Often when a feather is returned to her, the memory associated with it will play in her mind...with a specific person conspicuously absent. She knows someone should be there, because she'll remember speaking to someone, but it's like she's talking to the air, or an empty chair. And anytime she starts to remember him, or tries to remember him, her mind locks up and she forgets what she was trying to remember in the first place. Nearly every episode brings tears to my eyes.

Aside from a really lovely story, the show is very well animated. It's a CLAMP series, and there are a lot of cross over characters from series like Cardcaptor Sakura, xxxHolic, Angelic Layer, X and Tokyo Babylon. The music is composed by Yuki Kajiura, who is probably best known as the composer for the Xenosaga video games (episodes 2 and 3), and the various .hack// anime series. In my experience with her music, she seems to be a bit of a one trick pony, using the same musical tricks and stylings over and over again in everything she does. Now, she does this VERY well, don't get me wrong; but it seems to be about the only thing she can do. Still, it's effective in this series, even if various themes are overused from time to time.

So far the series (in animated form) consists of 52 episodes (two 26 episode seasons), a three episode OVA, a movie, and another OVA that will appear in the spring of 2009. FUNimation has the license for the 52 episode series and the movie. FUNimation is still in the process of releasing the DVDs. Volume 10 will come out in just a few days, and covers up to episode 44. Volume 11 is scheduled for a February release. The movie has already been released alongside the xxxHolic film A Midsummer Night's Dream. To that effect, I have not seen the entire series. As usual, I watched it via the FUNimation channel, which only played the series through episode 26 (the end of the first season). Still, that was plenty enough to make me want to see the rest of the series. On that note, I should mention that the English dubbing is, for the greater part, well done. The only real objection I have is the voice of Sakura, which I have an extreme distaste for, particularly when she sings (it's Monica Rial, who seems to do fine when she's not doing airy, little girl voices). It's a strong show all around though, and I highly recommend at least checking out the first few episodes. The story secrets and plot twists are revealed very slowly throughout the series, and the pacing is pretty good, but this means you'll be a little clueless from time to time (and sometimes the characters are far slower on the uptake than you will be). If you're a CLAMP fan, then it's certainly a must see. I myself have only seen a few of their shows (Chobits, X, and now Tsubasa), and haven't yet read any of their manga (except a couple volumes of Chobits), but I've enjoyed each of them.

Image: Left to right are - Fay, Yuko (Dimension Witch), Black Mokona, Sakura, Syaoran, Mokona, Kurogane and Princess Tomoyo.


A Year of Disappointments

What is it with this year? The gaming industry has consistently failed to deliver. We were promised so many amazing games, teased with fantastic visuals and inventive ideas. But when they arrived, they were so much less than what we expected.

Fable 2 made lots of promises. Molyneux is a PR machine that is often out of control. Fable was lacking in many ways, and we were left wondering what had happened. Fable 2 was supposed to deliver what the first game missed, and some. What we got was the game that should have come out years before, and a lot of new features that fell flat. The on-line co-op was a disappointment, and the reasons offered (i.e.: Excuses) - mostly repetitions of "henchmen aren't heroes" - didn't make up for anything. Menu screen lags, a missing quick menu, a missing overhead map (meant to make the game easier for casual gamers...which doesn't make sense), more bugs and glitches than are acceptable, missing codes, and a list of other things. It was still a good game, but it should have been much more.

The Last Remnant is plagued by frame rate issues, long load times, and an over ambitious combat system.

Infinite Undiscovery just missed brilliance with it's overload of characters, unpolished cinematics, and an underused item creation system.

Animal Crossing was little more than a rehashing of a game that's already been done twice. The commercials make it look like the most boring game in existence. And if you're playing it for the third time, it might be an accurate depiction.

Mirror's Edge took a brilliant concept and dragged it through the mud with useless additions.

Prince of Persia at once returned to its roots and did away with them.

The Force Unleashed is entertaining but weak. Things we were promised, like bringing down entire star destroyers with the Force, flinging poor unsuspecting Storm Troopers off of ledges, and being a total unleashed bad ass, were less than fulfilling.

Lips, the 360's version of Sing Star, did not get the reviews I was expecting either. The basic summary is that it was very flashy and pretty, but it didn't incorporate the things that made the Sing Star games work so well. So it doesn't work as well.

Now I'm seeing disappointing reviews for Rise of the Argonauts. It could have been another God of War, but it seems to be plagued with too many problems. Nothing that should break the game or make it unplayable, but enough to make it not worth its $59.99 price tag. It might play better on the PC, where it's about 20 bucks cheaper. Otherwise it sounds like a fun game, that didn't quite meet expectations, and that would be worth picking up at some point after it drops in price. Which seems to be the case with a lot of games coming out this year, and that's very unfortunate and does not speak well for the industry.

One often wonders if they actually have people play test these things. And I mean people who actually play games and know what gamers like, not people who think they know what gamers like. Until companies learn that what they think gamers will like and what they really will like aren't the same thing, we'll continue to get mediocre releases and promising titles that just don't deliver. I hear GTA IV and Fallout 3 really rocked the house though, so there's still hope.


Infinite Undiscovery

Infinite Undiscovery is one of three Xbox 360 titles being released by Square-Enix this season; the other two being Last Remnant and Star Ocean 4 (er, sorry, this one seems to be releasing far later that I thought). This oddly named RPG, made along with tri-Ace (Star Ocean, Valkyrie Profile), was the first of the trio, released in early September.

My first impression of the game was: This is so half-assed. If you play just a few minutes of it you'll understand what I mean. It has great potential, and some really fantastic elements, but it's not executed as well as one would expect from a Square game. It feels like Square stretched itself too thin with Star Ocean (2 on the PSP and 1 on the 360), Last Remnant, Infinite Undiscovery, 3 upcoming Kingdom Hearts games (DS, PSP, mobile), 2 (3?) Final Fantasy XIII games, Crystal Chronicles (DS and Wii), remakes of Chrono Trigger and Dragon Quest IV (DS)...did I get them all? I know they're a big company, and some of those have second developers (like tri-Ace), but damn. I'd rather they put some more focus onto singular games and make them really fantastic, because I feel like IU suffered from a lack of polish and focus.

To be clear, I did enjoy the game. I've sunk around 50 hours into it, and it's really only a 30 hour or so game. It comes on two discs, which seems a little strange. Don't jump the gun and think that as a Square game it's full of space hogging CG cut scenes...because it's not. There's one CG cut scene, and it's not part of the game at all. It's the intro movie that plays before you get to the menu screen, and that is the only time on either disc you will ever seen graphics that good. Unfortunately it's a gorgeous cinematic, which makes the game itself all the more disappointing. Not that the game is ugly - it has good graphics, though some of the shading effects are off on occasion (specifically the way facial features are shaded...the coloring is totally off and it makes them look a little strange).

In Infinite Undiscovery you take on the role of Capell, a traveling musician (he plays the flute) who is mistaken for a rebellion leader and arrested. It might sound strange that an unarmed wandering minstrel could be mistaken for a hardened warrior, but it won't once you meet the Liberator - turns out that Sigmund and Capell look exactly alike, and not even Sigmund's follower Aya could tell the difference when she arrives to rescue you from prison. Sigmund and his rag tag band are attempting to sever the chains that bind the moon to the surface of the Earth. These chains are very slowly (but surely) dragging the moon down from the sky, which would cause untold destruction. Leonid, the Dreadknight and leader of the Order of Chains, is behind this potentially devastating event and must be stopped at all costs. Unfortunately something far more powerful and dark is behind Leonid's actions and is granting him power. The group must travel throughout the land destroying the chains and hunting down Leonid, but what they discover along the way could shatter the reality of their world.

Things I loved:
  • Interesting characters. Even with such a short game, the characters manage to be interesting. There are a few duds, but all the main party characters (meaning the ones you have control over and can use in combat) are fairly interesting and decently developed. Now, they don't have a lot of back history and depth, but they're clear and defined, though occasionally a bit cliche.
  • The item creation system. This allows you to make just about every item in the game, from potions to materials for making armor and weapons, and the armor and weapons as well. In order to make the best use of this, you must download (for free) the A and B vouchers from Xbox Live, otherwise the item components you will need will not be available in stores. And unless you sink an absurd amount of time into this thing (and I mean like 5 times the amount I did) you'll never gather up enough items naturally to make use of this system. And it's far cheaper to make items than it is to buy them from the stores. Equipping 18 characters can get expensive.
  • The story. It's not very long, but it's good. Aya's secret identity, the origin of the Aristos, the true connection between Sigmund and Capell, the truth about Lunaglyphs, the fate of the Unblesseds.... It's all very interesting, I just wish there had been more. I also wish it had been a bit more balanced. The first disc is rather lacking in story telling, but the second disc is nearly over whelming and full of long running cut scenes.
  • The graphics. The game does look good, despite the aforementioned shading problems. The character designs are distinct and their outfits are, for once, fitting and well designed. The environments are all unique and each city has its own personality. There are also some weird lip sync moments, and I don't mean that the lip flaps and dialogue are off, because that's done well. I mean spots where characters are speaking and there's no mouth movement at all. They're moving about, but the lips aren't moving, and it's rather random in occurrence. But otherwise the characters emote really well.
Things that just needed some more thought/work:
  • The combat system. Sure it's great that I only have to worry about one character. All action is real time, even menu access. But the AI...well it's not bad AI, but you don't have much control over it. You can set your active party (4, including you) to follow various instructions - act freely, save MP, focus on one enemy, combo attack, spread out (not sure how this is different from "free") wait behind. They work. But act freely causes them to use special MP consuming attacks constantly, and run off and attack enemies at random. Save MP makes them not use them much at all, but it also causes any healers to tend to use items instead of spells (stupid Eugene! You have a revive spell! Stop using expensive revive medicines!). Focus does exactly what it's supposed to do, and it's really useful if you just want to take down the darn boss already and forget the minions. You don't really have any other control of your party members. They act entirely on their own. You can do a connect, which allows you to access 2 special moves of the character you're connected to, but Capell can't act when you use the abilities. You can also go into your characters' spell lists and tell them which spells you never ever want them to cast. And you can set 2 battle abilities to them which they will use more often than other abilities. All very useful, but it's just a smattering of control and it makes me long for Final Fantasy XII's gambit system. Also, as the game is an RPG, I didn't really want to button smash my way through it. But that's how it's played, and you get used to it quickly. It also means you can't access your items menu unless there are no enemies around, otherwise you're a sitting duck...unless you're really quick with your eyes and fingers. Fortunately for you, your party members will use your items with annoying regularity. Also, targeting can be a pain sometimes.
  • The item creation system. It's a brilliant idea, but damn does it cost you. As I said before, finding the items in the field is not going to get you anywhere. You're going to have to buy them from the stores (download the vouchers or they won't show up). And they can get really pricey. Early on make sure you create (or find) a Harvest Coin, which gives you 10% more cash from kills. That will help a lot. So will several "get rich quick" items, like the Smiley Charm and Horseshoe, which have low component costs and fantastic selling profits. I believe only 5 of the 18 characters lack any sort of item creation feat, so that's a lot of shit you can make. The failure rate is also annoying high, so if you're making high level equipment that uses ridiculously expensive materials, make sure you save right before so you can reload and try it again. I'm sure that's "cheating the system" or some BS, but you're going to want to do it; it'll save you a lot of anger and frustration.
  • There are too many characters. In all, there's 18, including Capell. The game isn't all that long, which means getting attached to characters, or having 18 individual stories play out isn't really going to happen. The main party gets a decent amount of face time, except for a couple, and the secondary party is the reverse (nearly no face time but for a select few). For reference, in case you're confused, main party members can be added into any party. Sometimes you have to split into 2 or 3 separate parties, and these secondary parties will move and act entirely on their own without your input. But there are certain characters (5 of them) that can never be part of your main party. You can talk to them and connect with them in towns, and they'll pop up in the story line, but you can't enter combat with them. An interesting feature of the game is the personality screen, which lets you see the traits and abilities of each character. For example, Capell's personal thoughts, or the kind of food (items) they like to eat, or if they perform poorly in the dark or when ambushed, or dislike specific monsters (which lowers attributes around them). You unlock more of them as you adventure with or speak with characters, and Capell's thoughts of each character change pretty frequently throughout the game. It gives you a bit more connection to them and gives them a bit more personality. The bear is still stupid, though, no matter what it says. I guess they wanted to put some cute creature in there but it's not cute at all.
  • Lack of awesome cut scenes. Seriously I really miss this. That opening animation is such a freakin' tease.
  • Capell has a turn around...and then goes right back to being his lame old self. I was so thrilled that for once a main character had a defining point in the story where his personality totally changes. Capell goes from innocent, goofy, perverted and a tad cowardly to this hard core, cold, everyone-is-my-tool kind of guy, and it's awesome. Check the personality descriptions right after this happens for the best effect. Too bad it didn't last. I guess getting your freak on really does fix everything.
  • Can't change my party! This is so frustrating. The only time you can change active party members is in towns and between certain scenes. Now, I'm not asking to be able to switch members out just any old time in the middle of some dungeons or something. But I'd appreciate being able to do so at a save point, at the very least. The game gives experience to characters on standby as well as the active party, so experience is not an issue (though I do think it's less than what the main party gets...items can fix this). But there are SO many characters, and it just seems such a waste to play with the same 4-5 the entire game.
  • Sound. The music is OK, but hardly memorable. Even the CG movie before the game suffers from a weak score where it should be sweeping and epic. But that's not an issue I had with the game. What did bother me were odd game moments where there should have been voice over work, but for some reason there was not. Just subtitles (sometimes moving too quickly) and silence, in the strangest places.
  • As a musician, Capell totes around a magic flute. Throughout the game you pick up or create various songs that Capell can learn and that he can play at any time. But they're mostly useless. Or at least I didn't ever use any of them. Except one that reveals hidden items, and there's a sound that plays when you're near them, and that's the only time you use the song. You also use the same song to make vermiforms (a specific monster that appears late in the game and there are only a few in certain areas) visible. There's one you can play in towns to collect money, but it's hardly worth the time. I didn't use any of the other songs, though they do various things like improve party defense (but lower attack, and then vise versa) and lower magical effects against the party.
  • Vermiforms. What a nuisance. During a certain part of the game, there's an event that causes party members to transform. I didn't have much of a problem with this, because during that time I just sheathed my weapons and ran until I left the area. And that's what I suggest to anyone playing the game. Because there are only 3 (playable) characters in the game that aren't affected. And one of them is the stupid bear, and he takes up two whole character slots. Aristos aren't affected either, but of the 3 you get, you can only use one of them. It's mostly just a silly thing to have to worry about.
So I didn't really hate anything out right, which is rare. Except the stupid bear, which was annoying and pointless. But I didn't absolutely love anything either (though I did enjoy the story). It's an entertaining game, but it's mostly mediocre. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, because there's nothing really broken or glaringly bad about the game. I hope this review gives you a good description of the game, so you can decide for yourself if it's the type of game you want to play. The Xbox has been getting a load of RPGs, and while this one isn't excellent or outstanding, it's still a good game. It can also be found fairly cheap (particularly for so new a game) if you know where to look.



I'm still a little watery-eyed after having just finished the final episode of Basilisk. I was pretty much in tears during the whole thing, which may be the result of watching it right after I woke up this morning, or of it just being a well made episode...or both. Let me tell you right now that this is the kind of show that you just know, even in the very first episode, can only end in tragedy and heartbreak. Anything else is impossible.

Basilisk is the story of two ninja clans in the early 17th century, the Kouga and the Iga. The Kouga and Iga have been at war with each other for centuries. Hundreds of years of bloodshed, betrayal, and hatred. Hattori Hanzo the first somehow manages to create what is basically a cease fire treaty between the clans. But years later, after shogun Ieyasu retires, a succession dispute arises between his two grandsons. To solve the problem, Ieyasu orders the no hostilities pact dissolved, and creates the Ninja Scroll, a list of the 20 best ninja, 10 from each clan of Kouga and Iga. Only a bloody annihilation between the clans can determine the shogun's heir (each clan represents an heir). Unfortunately this event comes right on the heals of possible peace between the two clans, with their respective heirs, Oboro Iga and Gennosuke Kouga, betrothed to each other. But while Oboro and Gennosuke desire peace, their clan members are less adaptive to the situation and jump at the chance to wipe each other out once they learn the pact has been dissolved.

The biggest problem with the show is the sheer number of characters involved. Several of them have similar character designs (across the clans and within them) and it took me a few episodes (and about 5 dead ninjas) before I could sort everyone out. The upside is that by the 4th episode, 5 of them are already dead. And they keep dropping like flies until the last handful of episodes. The second half of the series focuses on a select few of them pretty well. I don't think much more really needs to be said. It's two ninja clans fighting each other to the death, while their leaders struggle with their love for each other. This is not a show for kids. The deaths can get pretty brutal and bloody, two of the characters use their, erm, feminine wiles to kill, and for some reason Tenzen of the Iga likes to rape women (there's at least 3-4 rape scenes in the show...or the beginnings of rape at least, which doesn't really change the point...no pun intended).

The real tragedy of the show is that neither Oboro nor Gennosuke want to be involved in the battle, but the events sort of get away from them. Particularly in Oboro's case, as Tenzen takes over the leadership of the clan and runs away with things. I wouldn't say she's weak, because she's actually one of the strongest characters in the story, but physically she is not very capable in the arts of the ninja, and she's a very quiet, innocent character; Tenzen completely overpowers her, helped by the fact that Oboro basically refuses to act against the Kouga or aid her own clan.

The animation is very well done and the fight scenes are excellent. Being a ninja show, each character has a ninja power, so you're going to see some pretty strange looking characters and some bizarre powers (Nenki uses his hair to attack, and Jubei is just a torso and moves along the ground like an insect). Though as I mentioned before, some of the character designs are rather similar. Kagerou of the Kouga and Akeginu of the Iga look almost exactly alike. Yashamaru and Koshirou of the Iga also look fairly similar. The rest are pretty distinctive, though. I enjoyed the opening and ending themes, and think they fit the show well, and I particularly enjoyed the opening's animation.

Basilisk is a 24 episode series from Gonzo, produced domestically by FUNimation (with a pretty good English dubbing). It is based on the manga by Masaki Segawa, which was based on a novel by Futaro Yamada. Watched it via the FUNimation channel.


Holiday Updates (2008)

Well the year is almost over. I'm busy cleaning house, going to family gatherings, baking, gaming (in 4, count 'em, FOUR RPG games now, sheesh...2 D&D, one Warhammer, 1 Star Wars), wrapping presents, and trying not to freeze my ass off when I go outside to do laundry. My hands are really dry, so this season is hell on my skin, and my knuckles are all crackly (and occasionally actually bleeding), so handling wet clothes outside in 40 degree weather isn't fun (and though it hasn't quite hit that yet, it will within the next day or so...I got a weather alert for "icy rain" for tomorrow morning, hooray). Fun times. And I'm sure everyone wanted to know that. :)

Basilisk is just about over. There can't be too much more; there's only 3 characters (out of 20) that are still alive. So expect a review of that soon (I liked it for the most part). I did finish Peach Girl. I still don't like it. Momo chose the right guy, in my opinion, but the process it took to get her there was absurd. But saying she actually "chose" between the two is a little overstated. Especially considering the reasons she jumped from one to the other to begin with. For a show aimed at teenage girls, it teaches them really horrible morals and ideas.

And while I won't review it yet, I will say that Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles is pretty fantastic. Nearly every episode brings a tear to my eye; the entire series is just so heartbreaking.

I'm nearly finished with Infinite Undiscovery, I think. I seem to be at the end of the game. Or the ending chapter at least, if not the final area.

And why did I just see Harrison Ford getting a chest wax? Some crazy climate change, deforestation, conservation something or other analogy. Odd...oddly sexy. Moving on.

My love/hate relationship with Anime News Network aside, the site is a really great place for news. Here's some interesting new shows coming our way (or Japan's way, I guess) within the next year:

In fall 2009, yet another CLAMP series will be getting the anime treatment. This time it's Kobato.

April brings us the new Full Metal Alchemist series. If I understand correctly, this is a revamping of the series, and not simply a sequel. The series previously produced strayed from the manga in its second half (I believe because it got ahead of the manga, as often happens), and this series is supposed to follow the manga more faithfully.

Now, I actually found this show rather cute and charming, if sappy and a little cheesey. La Corda D'Oro is getting a second series, Secondo Passo (the first was Primo Passo). It's reported as a "special," so I'm not sure if that means a single episode or a full season.

The story of Nodame and Chiaki will also continue into next fall, with another Paris season of Nodame Cantabile. I don't read the manga, and the current season is still ongoing, so I'm not sure how the seasons will break up the story. It's a great show though, and every bit of it is worth waiting for and watching.

Alright, it's nearly 3 pm and I'm still in my PJs, so I think it's time to get up and do something a little more productive. Like change and play more Infinite Undiscovery.


Peach Girl

I haven't finished it yet, but I don't think I need to. What a load of garbage. And yet, I watched it all the way through. It's like a train wreck - you just can't pull yourself away. It seems like the anime (and its manga) was created specifically for teenage girls (and it probably was), or at least that's the way FUNimation's American marketing of the series presents the high school drama. And by drama I don't mean in the sense that Gone With the Wind or A Streetcar Named Desire are dramas. I mean hard core high school bullshit dramatic crises. A single episode of Peach Girl contains a whole year's worth of drama packed into 20 minutes. If that's your thing, you will love this show, and you don't have to read any further.

Manipulative female classmates, a wishy washy heorine, multiple love triangles (at least 4), breakups galore, and I swear there's at least one person crying in every single episode (sometimes more than one). And it all centers around lead girl Momo, a swim-tanned, chlorine bleached high school student. Momo has got to be one of the worst heorines I've ever seen. She's not like Tohru (Fruits Basket), with a charming naivete and a bottomless well of kindness. In fact, she's not really naive at all; she's completely aware that her best friend Sae is manipulating her. Yet she keeps falling for Sae's lies hook, line and sinker. Over and over and over again. She's a moron, and that's about all there is to it. She goes on and on about how her first crush Toji is always there for her, looking out for her, and always cheers her up, etc. But that's not Toji at all, that's Kairi. In fact, Toji's kind of a jerk, to be honest. I can't stand the guy; he's almost as bad as Momo herself. Kairi on the otherhand has far more depth and devotion, and he's probably the most interesting character in the show. And poor Kairi; when he starts going through the same exact sort of things Momo has gone through (Kairi's older brother is just as vengeful and manipulative as Sae), Momo won't even believe him (WTF?), even though Kairi has had complete faith in her from day one. One of Momo's biggest flaws is her ability to blow everything out of proportion immediately and her inability to wait for an explanation before she jumps to the worst conclusions imaginable. If she'd bother to talk first (or, ever), run away later, she'd save herself a lot of heartache (and me a lot of frustrated sighs and constant eye rolling). But then I guess it wouldn't be a high school drama romance. Though frankly I could probably do without it.

Sae is the biggest steortype of the "bitch" girl I've ever seen. She's worse than Mika from Absolute Boyfriend, who although is always trying to steal the guys Riiko likes, she isn't out to ruin Riiko's life completely. Sae just wants to tear Momo down any way she can. Are real girls actually like this? I never knew any girl so heartless and manipulative in my life. What's worse is that Momo is completely aware that Sae is constantly trying to destroy her, and yet she falls for her tricks and lets Sae rip her apart. Momo has more faith in Sae's trickery than she does in the guys she supposedly loves. Not only that, but Toji has more faith in Sae than in the girl he's supposedly in love with (Momo). The only way Momo can even get Toji to listen to her is to threaten to kill herself. That's a fantastic message to send to young girls. If your boyfriend won't believe you, just throw yourself out of a window.

The voice acting for the show is surprisingly decent. I have to give the lead girls credit for having to cry (or fake cry) about every five minutes. The theme songs are less impressive. The opening was rerecorded with English lyrics, and it's not good. The woman singing it has this sort of nassaly sound that I really don't like. The ending song was also rerecorded, but I don't know who sings it (it could be the Japanese singer singing it in English for all I know; my usual source doesn't list a separate singer for the end theme). The Japanese version of the ending theme is much prettier. The lyrics for both are pretty typical for the genre.

The animation is alright. If you've seen any Peach Girl images, you'd know right away. It's fairly distinctive. Personally I don't really like the way the lips are defined, but otherwise it looks good. There are some odd design ideas, like when Sae loses all her umpf (when the school finds out about her lies) and turns into this almost chibi-looking, paper cut out, whispy thing. It's just meant to portray her deflated ego, so for a visualization it works. The image above I believe is from the cover of the English box set and shows Kairi, Momo, and Toji (in that order). Don't know if you can see the subtitle of the series up there, but it says "Super Pop Love Hurricane," and that's a pretty accurate description.


Happy Thanksgiving

I'd like to apologize to my handful of lovely readers for really dropping the ball over the past week (and this week!). I've been busy trying to unlock as much crap as possible in Dynasty Warriors 6. In fact, I will probably review the game soon. There are also at least 2 more shows from this fall season I want to take a look at (or rather give you a look at), Kuroshitsuji and e.f. A Tale of Melodies. One is sort of a cross between Hellsing and Majin Tantei Nougamu Neuro, and the other flows like a visual novel (and may very well be based on one; I'll have to look into it).

But for now, all I can do is report on Crunchyroll's newest acquisition - Naruto Shippuden. I am also happy to report that fansubbing group Dattebayo will cease their work on the show when Crunchyroll launches it in January. If you're interested (I'm not), starting January 15, in conjunction with Viz Media, Crunchyroll will begin airing Naruto with English subtitles 1 hour after their Japanese broadcast...for a monthly subscription fee. You can view them for free a week after they air. Joost and Hulu will be also be airing the episodes, as will Naruto.com. It's a fantastic step in the right direction for companies to compete with fansubs (instead of trying to stop them while doing nothing to replace them). Hopefully some better shows will be getting the treatment as well (they did this with Strike Witches, I believe, during the summer, and there are other shows that will get the treatment from this season starting in 2009 as well, including Skip Beat!). I hope it works out well for them.

But for now, I won't have time to write up anything review-like before I'm busy visiting family this weekend. Hopefully next week I'll have time to sit down and work on some things.
For now, Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Beck Mongolian Chop Squad

It's a good show. We'll just get that out of the way. FUNimation produced the domestic English release, and for the most part, it's a good dub. Especially considering it's a music anime, and the English voice actors re-recorded the songs (or most of them at least, and it honestly sounds better than the heavily accented Japanese versions of the (English) songs) with their own voices...and it sounds pretty damn decent. I wasn't blown away, but I was impressed. Particularly by Greg Ayres, who voices the lead role of Koyuki, and whose previous roles I've never really cared for.

Beck Mongolian Chop Squad sounds like a pretty weird title for an anime. It's technically TWO titles. Beck is the name of their band in Japan, and when they're released in America it's changed to Mongolian Chop Squad (because a band named "Beck" would never sell in American, hahaha). The name of the band comes from the leader's patchwork dog, the strangest mutt I've (or indeed anyone in the show) ever seen.

The show has a lot of great themes. Growing up, following your dreams, balancing real life with your dreams and goals, friendships, relationships, changes, staying true to yourself, staying true to your music, and so on. 14-year-0ld Yukio/Koyuki comes across guitarist Ryuusuke on the verge of forming a new band (his present band has just broken up and he has made a bet with one of the musicians over who can get a popular band launched first). When Ryuusuke's little sister Maho invites Koyuki to Beck's show, Koyuki's life is changed forever. With encouragement (and a guitar) from Ryuusuke, Koyuki sets out to learn to play the guitar. He receives lessons from a former student turned volunteer swimming instructor Saitou. On Maho's recommendation he is eventually invited into Beck as a back up vocalist and guitarist, along with his friend Saku, who becomes the band's drummer. Koyuki struggles with his relationships between the girls Maho, Izumi and Hiromi, the constant bullying at his school, and with an awkward friendship with Ryuusuke. Chiba, the band's lead singer, struggles with his place in the band, wondering if he really belongs in the group. Ryuusuke's trials could fill a show of their own; the driving force of his troubles come from a mysterious bullet ridden guitar called Prudence. Base player Taira and drummer Saku hang out in the background, working to keep the group together when problems arise.

The show follows the band from formation, to stardom, and then to dissolution. The characters all grow in their own ways, particularly Koyuki, who is the focus of the series. The animation is good, though the concert scenes can be a little boring as the same short sequences of animation are used in repetition throughout the various performances. The music is fantastic, but again, it's mostly the same couple of songs performed over and over again. And there's nothing wrong with that, but with such a good soundtrack, it does leave one wishing that certain songs were heard more often, or that more were written and included to begin with.
The series does fall a little flat in some places. Some storylines aren't completely wrapped up (individually; as a whole there's a clear ending to Beck's journey), and some of the characters sort of drop off the map near the end. Koyuki's on again, off again relationship with Maho is a little strange, especially since two other girls enter into his life in the mean time. None of them really go anywhere at all and only serve to cause conflict between Maho and Koyuki. Or make Koyuki look like a man whore, as he entertains the idea of each of them in turn, even while being obviously taken with Maho. A more concrete "I like this one" instead of "I like all three, so whichever one's left I'll take" would have been better. I mean, it's clear that Maho and Koyuki will end up together eventually, so the rest seems a bit unnecessary.
Ryuusuke is also a complete jerk most of the time, though deep down he really is a good guy and a good friend. He just has, erm, "problems," and he takes out his frustrations on his friends. He grows as well though, as it seems that the concept of friendship is something he doesn't quite understand at the beginning of the show, but he learns it from the others as time passes.

It's worth a watch. It's entertaining, and I think it's very relatable. The characters in the story are the underdogs, the outcasts, the rejects, the oddballs. They slowly climb to something more, and begin to earn the respect of the people around them. As I mentioned before, the music in the show is great, in particular the intro song, Hit in the U.S.A by the Beat Crusaders, and a song called Moon on the Water which is sung multiple times throughout the series. The Pillows' (who did the music for the anime FLCL, and it's FLCL songs that are played here) music makes an appearance near the end of the show, though briefly.
I'm not sure what sort of extras are on the DVDs, as I watched it on FUNimation's cable channel. But it's definitely going on my "to buy" list.


Fall Anime 2008 - Part 2

Well, I got to cheat earlier. Most of the shows I reviewed in my previous post were continuing series that I had already been watching, or a show where I'm reading the manga. So they were a lot easier to review and explain. Now I'm going into shows I know nothing (or next to nothing) about. I'll try to make them sound interesting. :)

Yozakura Quartet:

I'm going to have a hard time explaining this one as I'm having a hard time grasping what it's supposed to be. I don't know why it's called "Quartet" either, since there's actually five of them, not four. Many years ago, the people of Sakurashin planted sakura trees to sent the youkai back into their own dimension. They're basically dimensional gates. So any youkai that falls to earth gathers in this particular town, because it's the only place where they can return to their dimension, and it's the only place on Earth where humans and youkai live together (as some of them wish not to return). Some still wish to harm humans, of course, and they're banished by a process called "tuning," which can only be performed by one person - the successor of the Hiizumi clan, Akina Hiizumi. Akina, along with several others, works in and runs the town of Sakurashin, keeping things in order and protecting the humans from harmful youkai, and also welcoming new youkai into the city. Several of these protectors have super-natural powers or are youkai themselves. Including Hime, a high school girl who has taken on the role of mayor, and is also a youkai. They are ultimately fighting against a youkai named Enjin Hiizumi (not sure if he's related to Akina) who is determined to destroy the barrier that protects the city.

I really like the animation style. It's well done, though the character designs are rather simple. There are fight sequences and things, so I guess it's a super-natural action drama, if that's the sort of thing you like.

One Outs:
It's a baseball anime. And that's about where I lost interest.
Decorated baseball player Kojima has never won a championship; it's the only honor he has yet to attain. He forms a camp to search for a certain something that will help him reach this goal, and he finds Toua (or rather, his friends do), a cocky, but talented, pitcher.
The title of the show is based on a gambling game called One Outs which pits pitchers against batters, and the pitchers win if they strike out the batter or the batter doesn't hit the ball out of the infield, and the batters have to hit the ball into the outfield (but not a foul).
The show is kind of silly (like haha funny), but it's way over dramatic. Now, I don't watch many of these kinds of shows (none at all), but the intro song and animation look very shoujo-y, with the pitcher guy walking around, and then falling through space with his shirt off and his pants unbuttoned, followed by several more scenes where his shirt is either unbuttoned or off (and his pants are still unbuttoned, which is some bizarre fashion thing in Japan). He's also rather a pretty boy. It doesn't really scream "male sports anime."

Earl and Fairy:
An Earl named Edgar is looking for something called the Noble Sword of the Merrow, during the 19th century (in England). And I mean FAIRY fairies, like nymphs and stuff. Anyway, he's directed to Lydia Carlton. Lydia Carlton is a fairy doctor; she takes care of fairies and helps out humans who are being troubled by them, because she's the only one around who can actually see and talk to them. If you recognize Lydia's voice (like I did), it's because she's been all over the place lately, staring in Itazura na Kiss, Allison and Lilia, Tales of Symphonia, and Rosario + Vampire (she's done some of the theme songs too; her name is Nana Mizuki). Edgar is a bit of a rogue, especially compared to the more innocent (and rather ostracized) Lydia, but the characters play well off each other. He also happens to (supposedly) be the descendant of the Blue Knight Earl, the ruler of the fairy kingdom. For some reason everyone seems to recognize Edgar as the descendant, but at the same time they disregard the existence of a fairy kingdom. He basically kidnaps the poor girl on the way to greet her father, and ropes her into helping him find the sword that has gone missing, which he is unable to find on his own because he does not possess the powers of his ancestors (ie: he can't even see fairies). In order to claim his birthright, he has to present proof of his lineage, and that proof is the missing sword. But he's not the only one trying to find it. Nor is he quite who he claims to be.
It's cute, though not as cute as you might think given that it's about fairies and has a talking fairy cat. I actually kind of like it; the animation style is really appealing to me. It reminds me a little of La Corda d'Oro (which is about a girl whom a fairy teaches to play a magical violin so she can compete in her school's music competition), which I also enjoyed.

Clannad: After Story:
Like other shows of this ilk, Clannad is based on a Japanese visual novel (and the game was made by the same company (Key) that made the adult games AIR and Kanon, which also have anime versions; all three shows are also animated by Kyoto Animation). Clannad: After Story is a chapter of the game that opens up after you complete the main story.
In the previous season we met Tomoya, a former basketball player with an injured shoulder that keeps him from playing. At the beginning of a new school year he comes across the shy Nagisa. She desires to reinstate the drama club so that she can perform a play that has been in her memories. Having nothing better to do, and realizing that the quiet Nagisa wouldn't be able to this on her own, he decides to help her with her goal. He enlists the help of his friends and the people he meets at school - the twins Kyou and Ryou, soft spoken genius Kotomi , the aggressive Tomoyo, his delinquient friend Youhei, and the wandering consciousness of Fuko - to build the drama club and help Nagisa realize her dream. Tomoya lives with his drunken father (who injured Tomoya's shoulder in a fight), but spends a lot of time at Youhei's and Nagisa's homes. Nagisa lives with both of her parents who run a bread shop.
The second season picks up where the first left off, and follows the relationship of Nagisa and Tomoya. If it follows the story of the game, it's going to be a very sad story indeed, but right now it looks like it's just Nagisa and Tomoya's relationship in high school (with some new characters in the mix...or maybe old ones I just can't remember). The game follows them well after that, and based on some hints in the show, it seems it will go the same direction. It's going to be a full season (20-some episodes), so there's plenty of time to get there.

Not sure how many more shows I'll be reviewing, as I'm starting to settle into the shows that I'm going to stick with. There are a couple others I want to check out, but I can't say which ones I'll be looking at next.



My 360 just bit the dust. Got the Red Ring of Death. It lasted a lot longer than most.

I blame Fable 2.


Fall Anime Preview 2008 (Part 1)

Alright, I'm going to do things a bit differently this time. It will be easier for me, and hopefully easier for my readers. Instead of doing single, long posts detailing the first 1-2 episodes of each new series (which I never manage to get around to doing for all of them anyway), I'm going to do one post (maybe break it up; we'll see how quickly I get to them) that lists each new series I checked out with a brief description of what the show is (or seems to be) about. Ie: a Gundam show, a moe high school show, a fantasy epic, a space opera, a romantic comedy, etc. And a few details (like studio, basic critiques on animation, etc, things like that).

So let's get started!

Skip Beat
I have to start this one out by mentioning that it's based on one of my favorite (and still ongoing in the US) manga, by Yoshiki Nakamura. I think it's delightful, funny, romantic, and well written and drawn. She does have some problems; the plot occassionaly errs on the side of super cheesy and disbelief. Her profile images (meaning the view of her characters from a straight side perspective) need some work as well. But I really do enjoy the book.

From what I can tell of the anime so far, it matches up with the manga very well, though it adds an extra little scene here or there which work into the story just fine. It has some good voice acting, which is saying something, because the main character Kyoko has some insane mood swings and I'm sure it's a lot of work on her voice actress (Marina Inoue), The show is very bright and colorful as well. The plot follow young Kyoko Mogami, fresh out of Jr High, who moved to Tokyo with Sho Fuwa, the boy she was in love with. Sho wanted to move away from home to pursue his dream of being a famous musician/celebrity. We soon realize that Sho is vain, spoiled and fairly cruel, making one wonder what the innocent and selfless Kyoko is even doing with him to begin with. If she was in the dark to his true self, it doesn't take her long to discover that he essentially only brought her along as his maid, and finds her plain and boring. This infuriates her, and she vows to get revenge on him by becoming more famous than he is. Pure, innocent Kyoko vanishes and is replaced by a vengeful, desparate, grudge bearing woman. To get her revenge, she joins rival talent agency LME. Unfortunately she lacks the most important thing to being a celebrity, nay a human being - the ability to love and (want to) be loved by others - which she lost when Sho ditched her. So she joins the agency under a special Love Me section, where she is charged with regaining this emotion, which will lead to the agency sponsoring her debut. Too bad fellow LME talent and major celebrity (and Sho's biggest rival) Ren Tsuruga is trailing around telling her that her goal of becoming a celebrity will never be accomplished with her attitude and motives for revenge.

Tales of the Abyss

I am really enjoying this one. Anything with a creature as cute as a Cheagle is worth taking a look at, at least. But I have a soft spot for super adorable animal-like sidekicks. Like genius dogs, cuddly space ships in disguise, flying foxes, and patchwork pooches.
If you've enjoyed previous iterations of this series, then I see no reason why you shouldn't like this one as well.
Main character Luke is a boy of prophecy. His birth was spoken of in the Score of Lorelie, an ancient script read and recorded by Yulia Jue that details all of time. The Score is enormous; as big as a mountain. But it broke into pieces, most of which is in orbit around the planet. However some of it landed on the planet and is now the cause of war between the two main kingdoms of Kimlasca and Malkuth. Nothing in the prophecy has ever not come true, but no one has ever really tried to go against it either, instead using the prophecy to dictate their actions. Luke has the power to bring destruction (according to the prophecy) or peace to the land. The story is certainly intriguing, and the characters are more interesting that in the previous Tales (Symphonia, I believe, earlier this year).

Vampire Knight Guilty
This is a sequel, or rather the second part. The first only ran 13 episodes. So more than just being a sequel, it's like the second chapter of the story. I've been reading the manga for this, which, in the US, is caught up with the end of the first season of the show. So I'm not sure where it goes from there. But I can give you a summary of the first season, though I think the manga is a lot better. The anime feels a little choppy somtimes; like parts of the story are missing. It feels that way because it IS that way. Now, understandably, not everything can get in there, but sometimes it just seems like you miss part of the story somehow, or that certain character choices and reactions don't make a lot of sense. It all makes sense in the manga (as much sense as it can given the secrets and mysteries of the plot).
So anyway....
In Vampire Knight, students attend Cross Academy. The school is broken up into a day class, attended by normal students, and a night class, attended by vampires. The purpose of the school is to promote healthy, safe corespondence between vampires and humans. Or to teach vampires that they can live without harming humans, as they are not allowed to feed on human blood (the school is testing blood tablets and substitutes), and actually have very little contact with the students of the day class (with some exceptions like the time when the day class ends and the night class begins, or the school dance). The main characters are Yuki, Zero and Kaname. Yuki is the adopted daughter of the school's headmaster, and was saved from a rabid vampire's attack by the vampire Kaname. Kaname is of an elite, noble class of vampires; meaning that he's a pureblood, and he carries a particular status among other vampires. Zero is from a family of vampire hunters, but his family was attacked and killed by a pureblood vampire, and Zero was bitten and is now a vampire himself (the idea is that if you're bitten by a pureblood, you become a vampire, but you eventually degrade into a mindless monster). There's an obvious love triangle between the three, with the obvious catch that either Zero or Kaname, if they give in to their feeling for Yuki, could end up killing her.
It's a bit of a comedy, but it's meant to be a drama. The manga-ka, Matsuri Hino, has previously written comedies, and it's clear that it's difficult for her to break away from that. She manages alright though, as a bit of comic relief is welcome in an otherwise deadly serious story (pun intended). The art/animation style is one of my favorite things about the show, and the colors which, though dark, are still vibrant and beautiful.

Nodame Cantabile - Paris Chapter
When we last left Nodame and Chiaki, they were on their way to study abroad in Paris. They had just finished their schooling at a Japanese music school. Nodame studied piano, hoping to become a kindergarten teacher, and Chiaki studied conducting. With (sometimes harsh) encouragement, Chiaki convinced Nodame that she could be something more if she continued to practice. And Nodame hypnotized Chiaki into overcoming his fear of flying in airplanes. Not wanting to lose the man she loved, Nodame, and Chiaki, who desired to continue watching the clumsy pianist improve, agreed to go to Paris and study together. This is where the new chapter picks up. Nodame is still clumsy, unorganized, and a pain in Chiaki's side. She is as much a chore as she is an encouragement. Chiaki is still the handsome, confident student who is revelling in his new opportunities now that he can finally study seriously abroad. They will continue to grow as people and as artists in this new country.
It's a very charming, adorable, fantastic show, and it's first season was my favorite anime of the season (spring '07). It's still full of great classical music pieces, and although the music scenes aren't fully animated, you're still listening to full orchestrations (or solos) of some great songs. It's also a whole new cast of characters for the most part, since they left everyone from the previous season behind in Paris; but some of the more notable characters do make appearances.


Here Is Greenwood

Here is Greenwood is an OAV, and only runs 6 episodes. It was produced by Media Blasters for the US (though Central Park Media originally released them on VHS), on two DVDs. Extras include commercials, trailers, Japanese voice actor interview. It's based on an 11 volume graphic novel series by Yukie Nasu. It also received a recent live action interpretation, which I have yet to watch, but the guys are certainly cute. Especially Hasukawa's older brother (hooray hot guys in glasses!). And that's about all that matters to me. :)

Main character Hasukawa Kazuya has fallen in love with Sumire. Unfortunately his older brother Kazuhiro just married her. To get out of the uncomfortable situation of living with them, Hasukawa decides to attend an all boys high school and move into one of their dormitories, affectionately known as Greenwood. Little does he know that Greenwood is home to the campus misfits, but he finds out soon enough when he is put into a room with Shun Kisaragi, who, Hasukawa has been told, is actually a female masquerading as a male - and Hasukawa is only 1 of (now) 4 people that know Shun's secret. Toss in dorm RA Mitsuru Ikeda and his troublesome former (female) classmate who wants to hide out in his dorm. Add Shinobu Tezuka, the student body president with a vengeful older sister who is always out to get him. Mix in Kazuhiro, who just so happens to be the school nurse at the school Hasukawa attends. And an overly affectionate sister-in-law who doesn't understand that her familial love is driving Hasukawa insane. Things are interesting in Greenwood.

Due to how very short this series is, the story line is fairly jumpy and very rushed. It's actually not really a problem as the main points come across fine, and it saves the show from replaying jokes and instances that could otherwise become too repetitive. But it also leaves you wanting a bit more. Similar to Cromartie, the characters will direct you a couple of times to the manga story, but again, it's not necessary to enjoy the story, though I'm sure it wouldn't hurt any either. It's a fun little show that started airing in 1992, so it's going to be a bit dated; but the animation is still done well. The boys are meant to be "pretty boys" ... I think. The girls are a little too masculine looking sometimes though.

There's some familiar voice talent here for those who watch English dubs. Wendee Lee plays Shinobu's older sister Nagisa, Dave Lelyveld/Wittenberg as Shinobu, and Kate Higgins as Miya.

It's cute, it's humorous (though not side-splitting), and it's short. And it has ghost girls.

New shows, fall 08

Working on a review for the fall 2008 anime season. I'm going to do it a bit different this year and bring everything together into 1-2 posts or so, instead of a single, long post for each new show. It might take a bit longer to get it together this way, but I think it will be easier for me, and it will hopefully be easier for readers as well. It will also keep me from going on and on with a full episode synopsis as I am wont to do, and instead do show summaries based on an episode or three of each show (that I have picked out) with the important stuff.

Skip Beat! is reviewed, and I am moving on toward Tales of the Abyss right now. Vampire Night Guilty, Clannad After Story and Nodame Paris Chapter should be easy as I watched their first seasons. Hint - they were all good shows (though Nodame blows the other two out of the water, and VN is the lesser of the three). One is about vampires (duh) attending a school with normal humans (but not like Twilight, which sucks), one is about high school kids and has a story along the lines of Kanon or Tokimeki, and the last is about music school students (a pianist and conductor specifically).

There are many others piling up as well. I also just finished watching Samurai Deeper Kyo, but I'm not sure if I will review it. I wasn't really happy with it, if that helps. It tried to be too much, I think, and fell a bit flat. And I finished up Here is Greenwood last night, which was cute, if incredibly short. I'm also watching Beck on the Funimation channel, and it's brilliant, so if you're looking for a show that deals with rock bands, musicians, and the trials of school life (like bullying and grades), then it's a must see (and it's a must see besides all that).

If you live in the United States, don't forget to vote! Early voting ends on October 31st, so if you don't get in there by Friday, you'll have to wait unil the 4th and vote then. I recommend going early if you can. We went this past weekend and waited in line...well I'm pretty sure it was under an hour at least. Would have been quicker if they'd had enough personnel, because they had 2 checking in when we arrived, but they had 4 by the time we checked in half an hour + later. Anyway, go vote!


Fable 2 - First Impressions

Been playing for a couple days straight now. Here's what I like and what I don't like. The things I like far outweigh the things I don't, but the things I don't like are major issues with the game. I thought they play tested these things? Sometimes I wonder....

What I Liked
  • The dog. The dog is seriously awesome. It finds treasure chests, silver keys, dig spots.... And it growls anytime an enemy is nearby. Plus it's freakin ADORABLE. I love my doggie!
  • Character customization. There really aren't a ton of different clothing options, but mixing and matching (with the addition of male and female versions of most things) creates some great outfits. The dye system (and there are a LOT of colors) adds a wonderful element of personal customization to the game, as everything can be dyed - clothes (with primary and secondary (like, fringe and hem) color options) and HAIR. Yeah, you can dye your hero's hair! Mine's blue. Plus if you're a girl (or feel like cross dressing) you can wear make up. Add to that tattoos, hair styles, beards, mustaches, etc. It's really great. You can even give your dog different collars. And you can upgrade the furniture in your houses.
  • You can play a male or a female! And the game reacts accordingly.
  • Tons of expressions. They really expanded on this. There's rude, scary, fun, flirty, social, and dog expressions (which are just for your dog). Plus your dog can learn tricks which correspond with some of your expressions.
  • SEX. You can have sex again. If you use a condom, you get purity points and stave off pregnancy and STDs. If not, the opposite happens. Plus the sex noises are a bit dirtier this time around. And you can have sex with pretty much anyone. People in the streets have sexual orientation (straight, lesbian/gay, bisexual) as well as sexual morals (loose or prudish; meaning prudes insist on marriage before they'll get it on with you).
  • Simple, quick combat. Remember in the last game where you had to switch out your weapons? Well this time around it's nearly instantaneous, as each weapon (melee, range, spell) has its own button, allowing you to switch quickly between them.
  • You can buy anything. Stalls, stores, houses...even if people already inhabit them. You don't even have to kill them! You just have to pay them extra, because you're evicting them. You also have control over the rent. You can upgrade furniture in a house to raise its price, and you can also manually lower or raise the rent amount. You collect rent during the daytime every 2 minutes (of real time). So while it's not a lot of money, it adds up nicely.
  • Jobs. There's a set of mini games that allow you to take on a job, get promotions, make decent cash. You can be a bar tender, chop wood, or be a blacksmith. There are also bounty hunting jobs, assassin jobs, slave trafficking. There's also the pub games.
  • Amusing dialog from random passerbys. From, ehm, sexually healthy men letting you know they just had some sea food, people commenting that you'd be prettier if you'd just dress up a little, to people running away screaming from spell use, and masses of people of the opposite gender begging for wedding rings.
  • No mana bar. Less potions to keep track of, less potions to use, unlimited spell usage. Fantastic!
  • The quest trail. It's a yellow line on the ground that leads you straight to a quest's origin (and subsequent sections). You can set it for ANY quest, to lead you to story quests, store sales, jobs, spouses. It's extremely useful, especially since the game lacks an over head map.
What I Didn't Like
  • The dog. It's a little glitchy. He froze on me in the very first dungeon. He also tends to get stuck behind trees, fences, people, corners. Most of the time he's running right along side you though. One thing I didn't like about the dog is that since it changes with your character (if you're good, the dog is beloved by all), people will stop to pet him. The dog will stop in the middle of the street and wait while someone approaches to pet him. So you either run off without him for a bit, or wait until they're done. Otherwise, he's incredibly useful and incredibly cute.
  • The character is a little sluggish. Which you should remember from the first game as well. It's the same issue. They turn slowly, their movements aren't sharp. The upside is the combat refinement, which is faster; although the spells are a bit slower.
  • There's no overhead map! This is my biggest and most prolific complaint. You'll remember from the first game that there was a small map in the top corner that showed you where your spouse was in the area, marked stores and merchants, demon doors and monsters, area entrances. Well, it's gone. There's not even a compass to tell you what direction you're going. It's very frustrating, because the world this time is much larger and more free roaming. You can access a region map from the menu, but it doesn't really show much on there. And the obvious problem there is you have to stop playing and access the menu screen to see it. This also makes the strategy guide pretty much useless. It has maps where dig spots (etc) are marked, but...what good does that do if I don't know where I am?
  • Online co-op. Maybe they should have delayed it after all. It's...interesting, but I wouldn't want to play the whole game that way...or much of it at all, to be honest. It's very awkward. Neither player can manipulate their camera, which doesn't really make sense. You share one camera and essentially one screen...even though you're not using the same TV. Your henchmen, as the extra player is called, can interract with your citizens, but cannot shop from any of your stores or...really do much at all except expressions and combat. I'm a little confused as to why MY character cannot go into someone else's game, though I'm sure it's for simplicity's sake. You choose a pre-made generic henchman character - neutral, good or evil male or female - and then pick a set of weapons you wish you use (based on your level). You have access to your spells and abilities, and things like potions I think, but nothing else. You split experience and money between you. If you had control over your own camera I'd be more inclined to use this feature, but it's rather annoying.
  • Bonus DLC for the collector's edition. Congratulations! You paid 10 extra bucks for some Halo Spartan armor (most of which looks fine, except the helmet; btw, make sure you're not wearing any of it at the end of the game, because it will probably cause a crash), an energy sword which becomes obsolete almost immediately (even the "championship" weapons from the pub games are pretty weak), and a dungeon I haven't even seen yet. So unless the extra dungeon is just fantastic (2-week-later edit; it was meh. Mostly hollow man killing and some weapon which I never used because you can't access the dungeon until Bloodstone, which is the last city near the end of the story), I gotta say, the extra 10 dollars isn't really worth it. I miss my nonexistent Hobbe figurine.
  • Inventory management. I should clarify. The game lets you purchase multiple copies of items that it didn't in the first (like clothes). However when you go into shops, it doesn't inform you of how many copies of any item you currently have in your inventory. It leads to a lot of accidental repeat buys of books and things. Expression books can only be used once (and disappear if you try to use them again) and dyes do not disappear after use so you can keep coloring things to your heart's content. I'd really like it if I knew I already owned a particular dye so I didn't waste money on buying it again. Your personal inventory screen in the menu works fine, though it would be helpful if there were a couple more additional layers (like separate drink and edible foods under the food label). I also really miss the ability to access my inventory from the d-pad panel (which used to and still does perform specific expressions), and being able to customize this wheel.
  • Enemies don't drop items. They don't drop money, food or potions like they did before. Wandering merchants are a bit more abundant, and you can teleport to any place in the game whenever you want (as long as you've been there before), so shopping is easy. But I miss not having to invest loads of money in healing items.
  • Single Save File. This is both a blessing and a curse. By giving each hero a single save file, the game makes your decisions final and the consequences real. If you made the wrong decision and got a bad result, there's no reloading to try again. The game auto saves at the end of every quest (and other places). Unfortunately this means that instead of making the player FEEL like they made a real decision with a real consequence, it's forced on you through the save function. But it's biggest downside is simply that you only get one save file per hero. The game is full of bugs and glitches (some of them game ending), and if you run into one, well, too bad for you. You can't reload a back-up save and try it again. Which is horrible if your save file gets corrupted; wow, sucks to be you, man. It is a healthy gaming habit to create multiple save files, not for the purpose of cheating the system or whatever (though you can use it for that too of course), but so that you have a backup in case something happens to the file or the game. It's "healthy" because when these things happen, the anger and frustration it produces is not at all good for your body. Or likely your game system, controller, or game disc. :)
Bottom Line
The game is fun. There's a ton of stuff to do and lots to explore. It's what the first game should have been. So more than just a sequel, it's like Fable x 100. But, it IS a sequel. It takes place 500 years after the first game's story. Bowerstone is there, but it's completely different. There's a town called Oakfield, which I suspect was built over Oakdale. Your guide in the world is oddly suspicious, though (so far) it's not spelled out if she is who she appears to be (she'd be ridiculously old by now). There are books and items in the game that make reference to events from the previous game, and your character is supposed to be a descendant of the Hero (if I understood correctly). The guild is gone (remember, it burned down in the last game and everyone was killed), which has streamlined the game a bit. You can level up your abilities anywhere and anytime, and quests appear automatically in your menu instead of having to report back to a base to pick them up.
The graphics are better. It still has a cartoonish look to it, but there's a lot more detail, and the cut scenes have gotten a nice upgrade. The music is familiar but unobtrusive, though to be honest some of the sounds are a bit unbalanced (even after adjustment). The dog is a bit hard to hear sometimes.
But it's worth playing, and it's worth buying (though I'd forgo the LE unless you just really want to look like Master Chief...particularly since not all copies of the LE had the included DLC code cards, and it will be at least a week before there's a resolution to the problem). Don't bother playing online though unless you want to show off your Hero or homes or something, or you just want to randomly kill some bandits or something with a friend. It might also be useful if your partner is of a much higher level and you're having problems with an area; but overall it's not very well implemented. The full game though, is well done, and plays well, and it's entertaining. And in the end. what makes a game is if it's entertaining; if its positives far outweigh and overshadow its (relatively few) downfalls. And Fable 2 does that. It can be as short or as long as you want. Molyneux himself said it lasts around 15 hours. I've clocked in close to that already, and I'm far from being finished with the story or the game.



Sorry for another really slow week. We just bought Dynasty Warriors 6, so I've been rather occupied. But I have been watching anime. I'm watching Beck Mongolian Chop Squad via the Funimation channel, which is fantastic. I've also been finishing up Black Cat (which I canceled on my Netflix after the second disc because it was so boring, but I figured I might as well finish it).
For DVDs, I'm watching Samurai Deeper Kyo, which is really hit or miss. Sometimes it's great, sometimes it's just really off.

So there's 3 reviews that will be up and coming soon(ish). Or four, as I'll talk about DW6 at some point as well. We're going camping this weekend though, so that's 3 days of no games, and Fable 2 comes out next week, so that's drop-off-the-face-of-the-earth gaming.

In general news, for the interested:
Konami's Yoshitaka Arai made mention of MGS4 and the Xbox 360 in the same sentence...in a (sort of) positive manner. His comment has since been edited within its accompanying article. I believe it'll see a 360 release eventually; they might as well just climb down off their tower and get on with it.
Some journalist reviewing the new Max Payne movie for the Orlando Sentinel dared to make the comment that "Nobody ever shed a tear over a video-game character's death." Now, the full context is: "Max Payne isn't the worst video-game movie adaptation, not so long as Uwe Boll lives, breathes and directs. The acting's not bad, overall; the shootouts work. But as good as a couple of its action beats are, Max still suffers from the heartlessness that makes games emotionally inferior to movies. Nobody ever shed a tear over a video-game character's death."
Did you catch that? "...that makes games emotionally inferior to movies." If you want to join in the obligatory flaming, you can see the entire article here.
Will Wright finally bought a PS3, thanks to Little Big Planet. That still hasn't convinced ME to buy one. There still isn't a single game I'm interested in playing on the console, and clearly there wasn't one Wright was interested in before LBP. But I'm one of those people who doesn't "get" LBP. Feel free to flame me now too, I guess. :) Sony fanboys is why I won't be going to the midnight Fable 2 launch; I don't want to fight my way through Sackboy freaks to get my freak on with Fable.
If you're a Portal fan, or have been interested in playing but have not taken the dive yet (what's your deal? Get with it!), next week marks the release of Valve's Portal: Still Alive game/expansion. It should have the full Portal game, plus the extra levels, so it's fine if you don't have the original game yet...though it sucks for people who already have it and now have to buy it again. I hope it's released as an expansion, too. Only 360 Portal fans need apply.
Also, the people who put DRM on their games don't even like the DRM they're using, but they're going to use it anyway! Hooray! It's great being a gamer.


Chocolate Underground

It's a really simple, short show so I'm going to do a really simple, short write up. The whole show (which is 13 episodes long) only takes about an hour to get through. Each episode runs roughly 5 minutes. So if you've got an hour to kill, I recommend it, because it's very cute and fun. Watching them individually, the story feels a little choppy as there isn't enough time in a single episode to really cover a lot of ground. Watching them all together should remedy this. It's not the most fantastic show, but it's a decent watch.

In Chocolate Underground, a political faction called the Good For You party has taken over. I'm not sure how they managed to get voted into power to begin with, but it's kind of irrelevant. The Good For You party has outlawed chocolate, and basically anything that isn't strictly health food. They've replaced it with government sanctioned recipes and food items. To hunt down law breakers, they have built giant robotic sensor machines called CACAO. They can detect chocolate (but not its raw ingredients), and they also serve as weapons when needed. The two main characters, Huntley and Smudger, love chocolate and want to bring it back to their home town. They believe that chocolate brings happiness and kindness into the world. With the help of their friends Louise and Blades they form an underground chocolate ring (sort of like underground bars during prohibition in the '20s in the US) and attempt to uncover the secrets of the Good For You party and expose the corrupt government to the world.

Told you it'd be a quick look. I've been working hard on my Fable 2 Pub Games to get all the goodies I can before the game hits next week. But I've also been watching a lot of stuff on the Funimation channels, which I would love to tell you all about once I've seen some more episodes. Also I'm just about through with the summer season, and I'm starting to get episodes together to decide what I'll be watching this fall. A few are a sure thing (Clannad After Story, Skip Beat, Vampire Knight Guilty, Nodame Paris Chapter), but the rest is all up in the air right now until I see some episodes.

Oh, and just for reference, CU is from Production I.G. It's based on a manga by Aiji Yamakawa, which was itself based on a children's novel by Alex Shearer.


Fable 2's Dog

I for one am pretty excited about the little pooch. I think it's a fantastic idea; it reminds me a lot of The Bard's Tale. Even in death that dog was all about helping you kick ass and digging up treasure for you. But maybe you don't like dogs. Maybe you don't want that adorable, loyal friend tagging along with you all over Albion. Well, that's fine. But you can't just turn him off. What you can do is leave him injured, whimpering and limping behind you. If you don't feed him doggy treats to heal him, he'll stay injured, which will slow him down. So he'll still be following you, but he'll be very far behind. And when he does catch up with you, you'll find him still injured, and still limping around, loyal to the end even if you abandon him, you cruel, heartless bastard.

Visit Kotaku to see Molyneux call you a big meanie.

Oh, and while we're on the subject of Fable 2, online co-op WILL be available at launch after all. It seems they're managing to get it out on time. I guess they just panicked before and didn't want to delay the game disc in case it wasn't quite ready. So when you pop the game in on launch day, it should immediately prompt you to download the patch.


Phoenix Wright Manga vol. 1

It's proper title is Official Casebook Vol. 1: The Phoenix Wright Files.

First of all, I don't recommend reading it if you're not a fan of the game. The jokes and references will go way over your head, and a lot of it will be meaningless. It might still be a good read regardless, but it's meant to be a companion to the video game series. What this book is, is a compilation of short stories and 4-panel gag strips that are drawn and written by various artists. Basically, each story has a different artist. Some are better than others, but they each have their own charm. The book was released here by Del Rey manga, for $14.95. It's actually two books; I'm not sure where the split would be, but it was published as two separate volumes in Japan, and one here. The second US volume will be an Edgeworth volume, so it seems Del Rey will publish them as character collections, which is good. I don't recognize any of the artists' names myself (and some of them are probably pen names anyway, and many are likely doujin artists), but I'll see if I can't find some links to go along with it.
Fans will be delighted to discover that a broad range of the characters are presented in the book, though many only make brief cameos (or just appear somewhere in the background). Phoenix, Maya, Pearl, Mia, Larry, Edgeworth, and Gumshoe all make plenty of appearances, along with the Judge, Oldbag, Godot, Ms. Von Karma, Mr. Grossberg and even Mr. Armstrong.

Progress Toward Tomorrow, by Tamako Yamauchi
Turnabout Inference, by Kei Nisemura
Turnabout Illusions, by Seventh Gear
A Small Case in a Small Office, by Wataru Yamasaki
Kind Lies, by Tsubaki Mikage (seems to be a doujin artist, mostly BL I think)
Turnabout Misunderstanding, by Kaname Uchimura
Motive Power, by Naruzou (doujin artist, likely)
Turnabout Day Off, by Yuya Kurogami
Turnabout Kitten, by Natsu Otono (possibly)
Spirit Medium or Bust!, by Kaoru Osada
It's Not Easy Being a Defense Lawyer, by DAIGO
A Turnabout Day Together, by Masao Aona
Turnabout? Food Fight, by Yorozu
Car Life, My Life, by Tamako Yamauchi
Ball Search Team, Head Out!, by Tomo
The Legendary Defense Attorney, by Kikuchiyo Anko (likely doujin artist)
Maya's Blue Skies, by Wataru Yamasaki
The Mystery of the Missing Manju, by Tsukapon
Encounter with the Unknown, by Rin Hashiba (maybe)
Turnabout Big Turnaround, by Shinosuke
Four-Panel Comic Strips, by Kikuchiyo Anko, Aira Kanou, Kiyono Shimanda

I enjoyed all of them for the most part. The art styles vary pretty drastically, and the only one I really had any sort of problem with was Kei Nisemura's piece, because the characters all looked like they were constipated through the whole story. There were a couple of bizarre stories, and the language/writing/translation was really off on one or two of them. The characters are captured exceptionally well though, and the stories are a lot of fun (though there are one or two that are a little on the serious side). The stories range from ghostly clients and lost kittens to quests for food and missing toy balls. If you like the games, and if you're like me and are always left wanting more stories when they're over, then it's worth picking up.


Fable 2 LCE not so Collectible

Via Kotaku

If you pre-ordered the limited collector's edition of Fable 2, go get back 10 of your precious dollars, and watch your snazzy collectible items vanish. Due to "supply chain issues," whatever the hell that means, you will now be out the tin box, the awesome Hobbe figure, and the beautiful printed fate cards. Now I could understand problems with the figures (as it's happened to other companies before), but the cards and the box? Geez, Lionhead (though I guess it's really Microsoft's fault). First no online co-op at launch and now this? I half expect the game to come out with an apology along the lines of "Due to 'development issues' this game only includes one town and one dungeon, and will only take you about 10 hours to play. The only thing we promised you that you're going to get is the dog."

To clarify, what you will still be getting with the limited edition is the making-of bonus DVD (whoopty-freakin-doo), bonus in-game content with LIVE (unclarified), what I guess is an extra dungeon, an extra weapon, and the Halo Master Chief Fable-fied armor set.

Oh, and an update came as I was working on this. It appears that the cards aren't out entirely. You'll be able to download them as a pdf file and print them out on your own. So...they're made but they won't take the time to print them out on some card stock? Good gracious.... That just seems lazy, really.

The DLC might become general DLC eventually, so...not really seeing a reason to even bother with the LCE now. The price is dropping 10 bucks, but it's still 10 bucks more than the regular edition. The only thing I could see not going to general DLC is the Spartan armor, and maybe the sword. And if the making-of DVD is just a compilation of the developmental diaries that you can download for free online or on LIVE...what's the point? This has seriously killed a good part of my excitement for the game and leaves me really worried about what the finished product will be.

Not cool, Microsoft. Not. Cool.

It's Friday and now there's more news of even MORE things being cut.
Now both the developer diary and soundtrack are being removed from the bonus disc.
With just a few weeks left until the game hits shelves, I wonder what else is going to be removed. Hopefully it will come with the game, at the very least.


In the News 9-30-08

The biggest news obviously is OMG America's economy OMG. But as I'm a complete dunce when it comes to money and the economy, I can't really comment. I have NO idea what's going on, or how it should be fixed, or if what they're doing will fix it or not, etc. I wish we could let the banks fold, because they put themselves in that situation, willingly, knowingly, by handing out loans that they knew would not be repaid, for their own greed. If they wouldn't bring the entire nation down with them (or possibly the world), I'd say let them implode.

Now on to far less serious things.

A rumor about a new DS unit, complete with camera and music player, has surfaced. Nintendo essentially has no comment, but anyone who pays attention to Nintendo knows that that's usually the response they give for...anything. Something along the lines of "We're always developing new things." On the other hand, anyone who pays attention to Nintendo also knows that they have stated on several occasions that they would not bring out a new version of the DS until the current DS Lite slows in sales...which it has not. Sales of the DS Lite are still going strong, and several new colors are being released soon. I'm of the opinion that the rumor is pretty much bogus, and since the original report cites no sources, and indeed never even talked with Nintendo, I'm willing to believe that I'm right.

For Fable 2 fans, I have some slightly disappointing news. Despite Molyneux's comments at E3 that Fable 2 was finished, and another comment a week or two ago from Molyxneux that Fable 2 had "gone gold," the game will not launch online co-op ready. One of the top marketing points of the game is the ability to play the game online with another player, so it's rather odd that this won't be available on launch day, especially since it's not due out for another month and yet is "complete." They have stated, however, that an update will be released within a week of the US launch that will put this back into the game. I don't really understand how a game that is still a month from launch won't be a complete game, but, well, it's hard to complain when it will arrive almost immediately anyway.

Did you throw a party on September 25th? Did anyone you know mysteriously start rejoicing on that day? Well, they had good reason. On September 25th, 2008, anti-game lawyer Jack Thompson was officially disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court. Now, it doesn't take effect until the end of October, but once it does, Thompson cannot practice law and will not be allowed to apply for reinstatement.

Do you like Gears of War? Do you like to play shooter games on your PC? Too bad these two things will never go hand in hand for you. Gears 2 will never come to the PC. The reason? Apparently any person who is good enough with computers to upgrade their unit to the specs required is also good enough with computers to know how to torrent games, and would therefore simply download the game illegally rather than buy it. It's so nice how PC gamers get treated like criminals on a regular basis.

Love Google? Think it's the best thing ever? Well now you can have a Google phone! Called the Android, Google's iPhone-esque phone will launch with T-Mobile in October at about $180USD.

ADV has announced that they have acquired a Clannad license, though I don't believe there is any confirmation on whether this is for the movie or either of the TV series. Still, any Clannad is still Clannad, and one version could lead to the others if it does well.

Well, that's it for today. The all new Phoenix Wright manga is out, and I'll be picking up my copy later this week when I go to get my comics. Expect a review of that. I've read good things so far, so I have high hopes that I'll enjoy it.

Have a good week!


Cromartie High School

Sakigake! Cromartie High! Cromartie High from Production I.G. and Bandai Visual, released domestically by ADV Films. A 26 episodes series on 4 discs. Don't let that fool you though; each episode only runs about 10 minutes. But that's all you really need. Extras include: clean credits, official Japanese trailers, inventive DVD menus, and some excellent cultural notes provided by ADV. You'll need them if you want to understand the jokes fully.

Which, I would say, is the only problem with Cromartie. The series relies very heavily on Japanese culture jokes, baseball references (for character names and school names), and American pop culture for its time (2003 I think). That doesn't mean it won't be funny even if you don't know the references. When every episode of a show opens up with the main character nonchalantly informing you not to repeat actions you see in the show, as the characters are all delinquents and you could end up in jail, you know it's going to be amusing at least. Throw in a gorilla, Freddie Mercury, and a robot (or two) as normal students attending high school, and this high school comedy is sure to elicit some laughs.

There's not a whole lot to be said about the show, as it's mostly nonsensical in nature, and there isn't a really firm plot line. There are a couple of themes that pop up in multiple episodes, like Cromartie leader Takenouchi's motion sickness, the fact that no one seems to realize that fellow student Mechazawa is actually a robot, Destrade school leader Yamaguchi's quest for the perfect joke, and the fact that Hokuto's Lackey doesn't have any other name other than Hokuto's Lackey.

Still not convinced? How about noting that the Japanese voice for Mechazawa is Norio Wakamoto? If you don't recognize the name, you'll definitely recognize his fantastic voice. How about an episode where all of the characters suddenly become females? A gorilla that makes and serves sushi? Incompetent delinquents who always manage to make a 10 minute journey take more like 10 hours (even when they're in a hurry to save poor, abduction prone Maeda)?

The animation is pretty crude, but it works to great effect. A mohawk with a mind of its own, an afro that grows larger as time passes, nose hairs that jump from one nostril to another. Simple effects, but they work. There is one other problem with the series, along with the occasional obscure reference; there are some instances where the show refers you to the manga it is based on for certain background information. Don't let that be a deterrent, however, as it's really not necessary for the enjoyment of the show. And that's really all there is to it: the show is entertaining and very funny. One other thing I'll add, and that is that while the English dub is decent enough, the show is somehow funnier in it's original Japanese. The timing is a little better, I think, and the voices just work better as well. They talk pretty fast, but the subtitles aren't too hard to keep up with.

Check this one out. It looks strange and sounds totally bizarre, and it is. So if you want a show you don't really have to think about, and you just want to be entertained, then this is a good choice.