Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These (2018) First Impressions

These past few years have truly been a blessing for fans of both “old-school” anime and manga and space opera anime and manga in general. I plan to eventually go more into detail regarding this topic, but the short version is that I would have never imagined owning legit English translations of things like Captain Harlock and Queen Emeraldas in manga form, and novels and anime of the VERY sought after classic Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Granted, the original anime has yet to materialize over here despite being licensed – but I’ll go with the next best thing – an entirely new show streaming on numerous streaming sites. Today we will be looking at Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These.

While a general synopsis of this show is very hard, I think I can boil it down to the chronicle of a war between three galactic superpowers that spans hundreds of years and involves billions of people. The first super-power was formed in 2801 and is dubbed The Galactic Federation. After power largely shifts from the Earth, a man named Rudolf von Goldenbaum, an ex-admiral turned dictatorial politician is elected to power, quickly makes himself Emperor Rudolf I, absolute monarch of the renamed Galactic Empire. Rudolf adopts extremist policies including the suppression of any opposition and the extermination of anyone perceived too weak, such as the disabled and those in poverty. So yeah, basically space Nazis.

Later on, the second power springs up – a group of serfs in the Altair star system manage to escape captivity and make “the Long March of 10,000 Light-Years” into the Sagittarius Arm to escape the Galactic Empire, which is located within the Orion Arm. These people set up the Free Planets Alliance, a democratic republic. Seeing these people as nothing more than traitors and rebels, the Empire vows to crush the FPA at all costs. Assuming a quick victory, The Empire suffers large losses and has to settle into a prolonged war.

The third realm is the Dominion of Phezzan, a planet-state with connections to Earth (now dubbed Terra). It technically remains a part of the Empire and pays tribute, but it also maintains a relationship with the Alliance. Providing the only link between the Empire and Alliance whilst simultaneously playing the two sides against one another makes Phezzan act like true war profiteers. so far, these guys have yet to show up in the first few episodes.

The first season of this show is just twelve episodes and seems to roughly cover the contents of the first novel (which I really need to finish reading one of these days). This has been a “second season” announced, but it will be comprised of three theatrical films that I assume will be the second book. Time will tell if this new production will achieve that sort of success that could warrant the sort of long-term commitment that eventually led to over 100 OVA episodes, but I really hope it does.

Perhaps one of the biggest differences between this show and the older OVA series, is that some of the theatricality of the dialogue has been removed for a much more subdued (realistic?) version. The example that sticks out to me the most is a scene in episode one where Commodore Reinhard is sitting on an ornate throne on the bridge of his flagship The Brünhild looking out of the observation window. This scene is basically in both versions, but first we’ll talk about the original. His longtime friend and military confidant, Kircheis, has entered the room to comment on his stargazing, to which Reinhard goes into a long, almost Shakespearean, aside about stars and how vast space is in comparison to man-made wars.

In this new version, however, Kircheis rolls and in and Reinhard comments on how tall he has gotten, to which Kircheis basically replies “cool story bro” – end scene. To me, This dramatically alters the character of Reinhard from a more romantic character to a dark brooding one ala Captain Harlock. It’s too early to tell if this is long-lasting or even a detriment to the narrative. One could argue that such flowery dialogue led the original show to coming off as pretentious at times, I personally like it as space operas of that era all tend to be that way.

There is also a tendency for Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These to go into details of specific battle plans and tactics used far more than what was in the original show. In the original show, there were points where you were left to assume everyone was correct in their assertions that characters like Reinhard and Yang were tactical geniuses as most of the actual planning was glossed over. Here we have the exact opposite, in fact some battles are almost laboriously detailed with little maps being discussed and references to as yet to be unseen older battles. Honestly, I think the new show takes the edge, as these battles are far more like the ones in the books by description alone.

Honestly, this and the battle scenes are basically pornography to me – giant space battles set up like old school navel battles have always been a thing I love seeing in science fiction, and you can’t really get any more epic than two armies consisting hundreds of thousands of ships duking it out. These action scenes have immense gravitas due too how dynamic they have been realized and the budget that must have spent to do so.

One notable thing missing is the original score comprised largely of classical music, but this has been replaced with suitable original orchestral music that suits the show and gives it the vibe it needs. Although watching ships blow up to Gustav Mahler or Antonin Dvorak pieces is awesome, this original stuff is pretty good.  I can’t find too much about the new compositions, but they appear to be from famed Japanese composer Shin Hashimoto, aka Sin. He is well-known for his works for Takako Matsu, EXILE, Mika Nakashima, AAA, and LISA.

Perhaps one of my favorite things that these first episodes did was illustrated when Commodore Reinhard, in the first episode, comes up with a seemingly flawless battle plan, only to meet his match with Yang Wen-li in episode two. the way both episodes show the same period of time through the eyes of two opposing men was cool and I hope they do this more.

So far, This is a really solid adaptation of something that I assumed would get ruined in an effort to modernize everything. I know there are still fans that are mad about changed that have been happening, but honestly some would be mad at anything other than a shot-for-shot remake in the same art style which would be a waste of everyone’s time. What we have is a solid introduction to the show and really gets me pumped to finish it up. I plan to continue watching this for the next few weeks and give more thoughts as I go through. Hell, I might get back onto the 100 episode horse that is the original show as I’m pumped that this is getting made!

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The Monday Meme: Never-ending Celebration

The Monday Meme: Space Force

Miami Law (2009)

Imagine all of those testosterone soaked cop shows from the 70’s and 80’s in convenient handheld form, that is Miami Law in a nutshell.

As the kind folks over at Hudson have stated “Miami Law is an action-adventure game worthy of its own prime-time TV show.” Just imagine a pulse pounding handheld version of a cross between the 80’s mainstay Miami Vice and 2000’s mainstay 24. It’s got all the action TV staples you can imagine including a storyline with a shadowy terrorist conspiracy, furious shootouts in abandoned warehouses, challenging crime-scene detective work, and car chases; what more can you ask for in an adventure game.

I was really anticipating this game for two reasons: I am a huge fan of adventure games, and the localization was handled by Gaijinworks, the successor to the fan-favorite yet sadly gone Working Designs production house. This game starts out somewhat similar to another adventure game that I played not too long ago called Jake Hunter, but has something that Jake never had: a soul. This comes across mainly because of the meticulous work done in the localization department, as the dialogue is great. The storyline is also fairly mature, so no ambiguous kiddie-fied translation here.

 

The main story revolves around the intense loose cannon Law Martin from the Miami PD and the brainy tech-savvy Sara Starling from the FBI, who is put in charge of your case. Martin is in deep undercover trying to infiltrate a drug syndicate to avenge the death of his former partner Sam. Sara is put in charge of keeping an eye on Law, to make sure he isn’t too far from the good graces of his civic duty. Depending on what you would like to do, you can choose to switch characters at various points in the game, and depending on what you choose; the gameplay ends up worlds apart. For instance, one scene places you in a tense situation as you are trying to trick the sub-head of the syndicate into thinking you are a former prisoner from an Arkansas Prison rather than a detective. If you Choose Law, you get a dialog segment, where you are buying time, but if you chose Sara you have to plant a fake prison record into the Arkansas penitentiary database, so his story checks out.

Generally there are huge differences like that throughout the game and the “minigames” are quite varied. Law usually ends up being the man to engage in car chases, gunfights and detective work, and Sara usually is behind a computer screen hacking, wiretapping, or, if she feels adventurous, sniping with a high caliber rifle from the door of a nearby helicopter. These “minigames” are really fun and really help to break up the sometimes-monotonous nature of games like this. I especially liked the shootouts as they were essentially handheld versions of Time Crisis, complete with reloads, headshots, and a cover button. Due to this duality system, the game already has built in replay value, as you could play the whole game as Martin, then play it again choosing only Sara.

 

The normal gameplay works out just like many other recent visual novel games. You have icons for speaking, looking, moving from one area to another, a cellphone to call out on, a PDA that acts as your log book and displays character bios, and sometimes a fist shaped icon that allows you to rough folks up. This navigation is pretty easy to understand and is rather intuitive, but seems a little bit too linear. Except for a few instances where people give you the run around, you pretty much know exactly where to go at any given time. The gameplay is really good, but almost too standard sometimes, but the minigames really help that out.

One good thing that Miami Law implements is a quick restart option for when you die or make a bad decision. For instance, at one point in the game you are looking for a drug dealer on a beach amongst a handful of random residents. I foolishly tried to rough this one man up that I thought seemed like a good idea. I got too pushy and started brandishing a gun on the guy and yelling, and was immediately booted off the case, as Sara was keeping tabs on me via a wire. In most games I would have reverted back to a previous save point, then would have to endure the same dialog over again. Not so, thankfully, in this game. All you do is choose “restart” and you are taken back to that exact point where you made the bad decision. I really liked this as it moved the game along.

 

Unfortunately “moving the game along” may be the one big gripe I have about Miami law, as it is really far too short. The game consists of five chapters that clock in at around 5 hours total. Taking into account two consecutive play-throughs in order to play as both characters and Miami Law still clocks in at a brisk 10 hours, this is far less than many of these games now. I would assume that this is due to the fact that the dialog, although masterfully written, is pretty short and to the point, so the novel side of this “visual novel” is a bit weak. If you look at this game the way they want you to, as a cop TV show that you are in control of, it suits it just fine.

The graphics in Miami Law are stylish, well-drawn and very different to what you may see in some of these games. The characters show a good range of emotion in their static pictures, and a lot of detail was put in place to make this game look like it really takes place in Miami. In most games like this you see a ton of Caucasian folks walking around no matter where you are, but this game is full of Hispanic, black white, and any other race of character that you would find in Miami. This sounds like a minor thing, but this very small bit of detail really helps make this game that much more realistic.

The same bit of detail was put into the games sound presentation as original music was composed by Grammy-nominated Miami Beat Wave, a music production group hired to give the game an authentic Miami flavor. The soundtrack has 15 tracks that really pull off the feel of the areas in the game, whether it be a high tension warehouse area or the beach. The only things that are missing are voice acting and lyrics to the music, but I guess that’s just me looking for rust in the armor.

Miami Law is a great game, but a bit too short to really warrant the price it holds. Although you can play through the game multiple times and experience all-new events, this really should have been a budget game from the start, or a tad bit longer. Really, this is the only bad thing I can say about the game, but it really hurts it, I kind of hope that this game does well, and a decision to make a sequel is made, as the characters and gameplay are pretty good, but more would be awesome.

All in all Miami Law may have been the best Adventure game that I have played in a while that wasn’t in some way related to the Phoenix Wright series. With all of the top notch music, dialog and attention to detail, this is a title that all adventure game fans on the DS should love to play – that is if they can get past the short playtime. If you are looking for a good cop-based adventure game that mirrors television shows of the genre, then you really can’t look any further than this little gem.

Persona 2: Innocent Sin PSP (1999, 2011)

We all had to deal with schoolyard rumors and gossip as adolescents; whether directed at us or friends, it was usually never a good thing. Imagine, if you will, a world where these hurtful rumors are coming true, from the mundane to the utterly ridiculous. This is the world of Shin Megami Tensei Persona 2: Innocent Sin. Originally released way back in 1999, this particular entry of the Persona franchise actually never left Japan back then, while the second part of this two part series, Eternal Punishment, did. Many reasons have been cited for why this exclusion originally occurred, most notably a homosexual relationship within the game and the inclusion of Adolf Hitler as a major villain. Thankfully for all “Megaten” fans with a PSP, there is now finally a legal way to play this game.

Fans of Revelations: Persona, and its later PSP port, will find that the game is vaguely similar in many ways, except for a huge facelift. First and foremost, gone are the first person dungeons, replaced by a familiar isometric over-the-head view made standard by many a Japanese RPG. This sounds like a minor change, but it makes the dungeons slightly less monotonous and confusing, especially in areas like a school building where all walls look the same. Other improvements include the ability to select between three difficulty levels, the ability to save almost anywhere, and a far more streamlined battle system.

persona 2 innocent sin psp

The battle system is of the tried and true “random encounter” variety from yesteryear. Everything is turn-based, except the player is given almost complete control over character positioning, turn order, and other commands, including auto-battle. This comes in handy in two major ways. Firstly, when one is trying to obtain new “fusion attacks”, one needs to be able to re-order various spells as they need to be performed in a very specific order. The second example is when you see that the turn order is going to lead to a character dying (e.g. they are poisoned), all you have to do is open a menu and switch them around. I really enjoyed this, as the completely random nature of newer Persona games drives me up the wall even though I love the series.

All of the main characters are equipped with an initial Persona, a sort of multi-dimensional being that gives its user the ability to use magic. Aside from leveling up the actual characters in the game, one can also level up these Personae (Personas?) to learn new spells and abilities. If you tire of the “factory” models, you can always hunt for more. Of course, the legendary “contact system” is here in full force for franchise veterans.

For those new to the series, this system allows for players to communicate with the demons they are fighting. When on the “contact” screen a player has to negotiate with the target demon. One can ask for money, healing, items, or even a “pact” that allows for the player to summon that demon as their new Persona. Think of something similar to Pokémon (SMT did this first though), except on more of an intellectual field. The player has to figure out which character would be the best to speak to the demon, and what they need to say; say the wrong thing and you can provoke an extra attack from the monster rather than a shower of goodies.

persona 2 innocent sin psp 2

The story of Shin Megami Tensei Persona 2: Innocent Sin is initially fairly confusing, but rewards people for “hanging in there”. The game opens with the silent protagonist, Tatsuya, getting into trouble at Seven Sisters High School with the new principal. One can see that something is definitely wrong immediately as the comically evil-looking principal (complete with a scar over his eye) has apparently mysteriously won over the student body to the point where he gets cheered by passers-by and has had a statue built in his own honor. This coupled with a sudden rash of disfigured students has led to rumors of curses, demons, possessions, and other occult happenings. Tatsuya and his rag-tag group of friends (including his female companion Lisa, and visual-kei musician and overall comic relief character, Michael) assume that the urban legend of a person called “The Joker” who grants wishes must be true. It is said that if one calls their own number on their cellphone, they can summon him and get their greatest wish.

Without spoiling too much, it is revealed that these rumors are in fact coming true, and this plays a very significant role in the actual game. In most games, talking with non-player characters (NPCs) doesn’t get you very far. In this game, one can actually come across rumors in dialog, which, with the help of a certain detective agency and a nominal fee, can ultimately come true. Early on in the game one such rumor pops up in which a local Ramen shop is said to be a front for a black-market munitions shop. This is obviously nonsense… until you pay off the detectives to help spread the rumor. Once it hits critical mass you have access to your very first weapons shop. Players that explore every nook and cranny for rumor-mongers, gossip-peddlers, and other nosey people could end up with optional quests, optional weapons, and altered maps.

persona 2 innocent sin psp 3

When looking at the graphics and audio in this game it is important to realize that it’s over a decade old, and originally ran on a console far less powerful than the PSP itself. Because of this, it’s hard to see this as much more than a nostalgia title – a “lost game” in a widely popular series. That doesn’t ruin this game at all, but when comparing the presentation to other PSP RPGs, like Valkyria Chronicles 2, for example, you can really see the age. There are cleaned-up “modernized” menus and an option to use the remixed music. Fans that like to keep things retro can toggle the music option off – a huge bonus for those that hated the musical revisions in Persona PSP. Keeping the above in mind, Persona 2 does have good graphics for its time, and with a few pre-rendered cut scenes here and there, it never feels too antiquated.

I mentioned earlier that one of the major stumbling blocks of this game’s release in the West was some of the content held within. There is good news and bad news, as almost all of the game is intact, including an implied homosexual relationship (assuming the player chooses that path), and the inclusion of Hitler as a boss character. The bad news is that Hitler is simply referred to as “Fuhrer” and is seen wearing a hilarious pair of sunglasses – just as he was in the Japanese version. This has caused many to jokingly call the character “cool Hitler”.

persona 2 innocent sin psp hitler

Assigning a value to this game can be hard as it will be loved by one generation of RPG fans, and possibly hated by the other. On one hand, the sheer length and content held within is staggering, especially compared to Persona PSP. While you could breeze through that game in no time at all, Innocent Sin could easily take 40-50 hours if you are a “completionist.” It took me a total of around 55, but bear in mind that I power leveled, talked to all NPCs and tried to do as many side quests as I could. People with less time on their hands might be able to finish it in around 25 or so, just breezing through the storyline. This is great for a handheld RPG, and makes it feel more like the real deal than other, sparser handheld RPGs out there.
All in all, Persona 2: Innocent Sin is a strong choice for any PSP RPG fan, and with PSP entering its twilight moments, this could very well be one of the system’s last hurrahs. The game shows its age with dated conventions such as mindless grinding, random encounters, and muddy graphics, but makes up for it in spades in both the storyline and gameplay departments. Fans of the newer Persona games will want to play it, as it is definitely the “missing link” between the old school mentality of Perosna PSP and the newer Personas (3 and 4 especially). So was the long wait worth it? Yes, and I loved every minute of it.

JokerPSPIntro

 

Nine Inch Nails – Bad Witch EP (2018)

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have returned with the third and final EP of their two year EP project, and it was well worth the wait! Hot of the heels of Not the Actual Events and Add Violence, I can see why going the EP route was preferred this time around. When artists usually create music we get an album every half-decade or so, and it very well could be full of filler that you don’t like just so it can fill a 12-16 track threshold. With EPs we get small themes that don’t overstay their welcome and allow artists to produce more music more often. being a big metal fan, I’m used to this release method, but seeing more “big-name” artists do it is surprising.

Today we will be looking at Bad Witch, the new Nine Inch Nails EP that packs about a half hour of awesomeness into your ears.

The track listing is as follows

1. “Shit Mirror” 3:06
2. “Ahead of Ourselves” 3:30
3. “Play the Goddamned Part” 4:51
4. “God Break Down the Door” 4:14
5. “I’m Not from This World” 6:41
6. “Over and Out” 7:49

One of the surprises for me are some songs echoing back to older eras in Trent’s back catalog. For example, Ahead of Ourselves and Play the Goddamned Part sound vaguely like something that could have been on The Fragile. Shit Mirror, even sounds vaguely similar to another Fragile song Starfuckers Inc. while the tail end of I’m not from this world creeps back into Downward Spiral territory. But this isn’t a case of ACDCism, where a band makes every album sound the same, these homages to the past are just superficial, sort of like when a theme song pops up in the background of a movie when the action is really getting good and the viewer is like “oh hey Captain America’s about to show up.”

The main difference with this album versus the previous two is that there is a subtle jazz vibe to the whole thing. Saxophones play a big part in most of the songs and help achieve this unsettling tone that seems like the soundscape from a dingy nightclub in an 80’s police show. One thing I’ve enjoyed about this EP trilogy is the return of the aggression that made me enjoy NIN in the first place – and yes that is still there in this third release.

While this release didn’t come with a physical ARG component (one full of black powder that initially scared me) Trent has made allusions on the website to rethinking physical media making the vinyl or the person listening to the album the physical component this time around. This is an interesting change considering Reznor was on the bleeding edge of online distribution, even employing a “pay whatever you want” model for one of his albums. This in no way detracts from the album because a gimmick is a gimmick, and what I care about most is the music itself.

In these times of nearly unlimited access to all the music in the world, we’ve come to appreciate the value and beauty of the physical object. Our store’s focus is on presenting these items to you. Vinyl has returned to being a priority for us – not just for the warmth of the sound, but the interaction it demands from the listener. The canvas of artwork, the weight of the record, the smell of the vinyl, the dropping of the needle, the difficulty of skipping tracks, the changing of sides, the secrets hidden within, and having a physical object that exists in the real world with you… all part of the experience and magic.

Digital formats and streaming are great and certainly convenient, but the ideal way i’d hope a listener experience my music is to grab a great set of headphones, sit with the vinyl, drop the needle, hold the jacket in your hands looking at the artwork (with your fucking phone turned off) and go on a journey with me.

— Trent Reznor

All-in-all this is probably the best EP in the trilogy and is a must-have for nay Nine Inch Nails fan.

A Look at EVEN MORE Cameos in Tiger Mask W

 

One of the more popular things I’ve posted on here in a while was a look at cameos (true or implied) found in the recent pro wrestling anime Tiger Mask W.

A Look at All the Cameos in Tiger Mask W

Since I did that, more episodes have been released and there are even more cameos! Some of the funnier cameos are the “homage cameos” like characters that are obviously WWE wrestlers slightly tweaked to avoid copyright issues. If you’re a new fan of wrestling or not a fan at all, a lot of these references might be over your head, so that’s why this guide is here!


Tiger Jeet Singh / Gorilla Jeet Singh

The Tiger Mask W character Gorilla Jeet Singh is a barely hidden homage to the real-life professional wrestler Tiger Jeet Singh. Singh was a legend in Japan, and made his way over here by way of tape and DVD releases of various Japanese feds. I remember seeing him for the first time when he was teamed with a young Sabu in Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling (FMW) the fed that ECW owed a lot of their influence to.


Tiger the Black / Keith Lee

This is one of those cameos that is just implied rather than being really obvious. Tiger the Black has the same appearance, body type, and moveset as former PWG champion and recent WWE signee Keith Lee.


Gedo

While a popular tag team wrestler all over Japan, Gedo is most notable (now) for being the head booker of New Japan Pro Wrestling. Karl Anderson is quoted as saying the reason Gedo and Jado got these positions, and it involved cleaning up a mess from somebody who didn’t really know how to book wrestling leading to a huge downturn in sales. Gedo was railroaded basically into an office job, and excelled in his new role. He started giving guys more American-style gimmicks while keeping the matches important and the rest is history, now NJPW has a ton of merch in places like Hot Topic – something that would have been unheard of years ago.


The Candy Pair / Mizuki and Saki

Character designer Hisashi Kagawa has said that they are modeled after Japanese female pro-wrestlers Mizuki and Saki. And yes, they do look exactly the same.


Bosman / Michael Elgin

I’m actually not sure why Elgin isn’t officially in this series, seeing that he works for NJPW, but Bosman will have to do. He is signed with New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), where he is a former NEVER Openweight Champion. In NJPW, he was also a one-time IWGP Intercontinental and a one-time NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champion. He is also known for his work in Ring of Honor (ROH), where he is a one-time ROH World Champion. He has also worked for the Southern California-based company Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, where he is a one-time PWG World Tag Team Champion with Brian Cage.


Red Death Mask

This is another case of a wrestler being portrayed in real life to advertise the anime Tiger Mask W. This has been done before with Tiger Mask and Tiger the Dark, so here we go with Juice Robinson in a red suit! In the anime he is one of the earlier opponents for Tiger Mask.


Kota Ibushi

Ibushi actually plays Tiger Mask W in real life, so here he is in anime form as well. Ibushi is probably best known for his work in Dramatic Dream Team (DDT) where he has had several videos go viral including a series of matches he had with a blow-up doll. In 2009, Ibushi started working for New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) and eventually signed with the promotion in 2013. In NJPW, he is a former three-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and a one-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion. He resigned from both DDT and NJPW in February 2016 and has since been performing in several different organizations as a freelancer, including both DDT and NJPW as well as WWE.


Odin / Gene Simmons

This is one of the sillier ones, but the art designers have said Gene Simmons of Kiss fame was the Model for Odin!

Lucha Underground Returns: Thoughts on Season 4 so far

For a while now, my favorite wrestling promotion has NOT been WWE or Impact Wrestling, but Lucha Underground. I’ve always been a fan of lucha libre, ever since one of my friends and I attempted to watch AAA on Galavision in the late 90’s with VERY minimal Spanish language skills. The problem is that watching this style of wrestling was always largely ignored by most magazines and tape trading companies (the outlet at the time before the internet was useful). Yeah, you could get ahold of tapes of translated Japanese wrestling easily, but Lucha was somehow ignored. MTV tried to bring it over twice with Wrestling Society X (which had a LOT of lucha talent) and Lucha Libre USA, neither lasting very long. Then there was Lucha Underground.

On paper, the entire idea behind the show was destined to be like it’s spiritual predecessor Wrestling Society X – a show with decent matches overwhelmed with so many gimmicks it fell apart and looked silly. Viewers used to the wrestling product produced by WWE are used to a lot of conventions that haven’t really changed in decades. Yeah, the addition of constantly harping about social media and elaborate entrance ramps are new, but the core has not really changed much – and I think a lot of that is due to casual fans getting mad when chances are made.

So here we have a show that fundamentally changes what a wrestling show is, in fact one can argue that it’s not a wrestling show, but a show that uses wrestling to drive the drama of a narrative. The entire thing is produced like a film, with slick backstage promos produced by Robert Rodriguez. Throwing out the “realism” that modern wrestling has embraced for the last 20 years or so, Lucha Underground revels in silliness that would be commonplace in a comic book. Just thinking about common tropes in the show illustrate this well: there have been a handful of on-screen deaths, there have also been on-screen resurrections due to magical powers. There are a few immortal characters, at least one time-traveler, a tribe of half-dragon people (not guys in suits, real dragon people), a couple of undercover cops trying to investigate a murder spree, and a shady organization seemingly trying to bring about the end of the world by way of Aztec gods or something.

This embracing of the fantastic is one of the main reasons that I treat this as how many would treat something like Game of Thrones. While other shows can be predictable, there are some SERIOUS surprises with Lucha Underground.

Another major difference is the filming schedule. Instead of airing as a continually-running weekly show in the vein of WWE or TNA programming, Lucha Underground films episodes in batches and airs episodes on a weekly basis under a seasonal structure. Matches are taped first, then out-of-ring story segments are filmed later; this method allows for tighter control of storylines and helps the production team when it comes to writing around injuries. What this means, is that there is a far less likelihood of a meandering storyline that the audience forgets about. There is also less of a chance of hostile micromanaging from a promoter i.e. not letting someone become popular because they aren’t the person you decided should be popular. Each storyline climaxes when they should, and it makes the final shows of the season, Ultima Lucha, seem far more important than many WWE Events, even WrestleMania!

Far more than anything else, the real strong point of Lucha Underground is that it has taken a handful of midcard talent, some discarded by bigger federations, and grown them into bonafide stars. Pentagon Jr., Aerostar, King Cuerno (El Hijo De Fantasma), Drago, and even Fenix were small time players in Mexico until hitting Lucha Underground, now they call the shots much to the dismay of AAA who would have liked to keep them under cheap contracts and quiet. When people are trying to find “this generations ECW” – I would say that you should ignore feds like ROH and PWG – while solid federations, they lack the edge and game-changing mindset that ECW did for wrestling during the Attitude Era. Look no further than Impact Wrestling to see how influential Lucha Underground is, as it’s basically starting to have the same roster.

You can only imagine how excited I was to see the start date for season 4 to finally roll by considering how unlikely it seemed that there would ever even be a season 4. Here we are two episodes in and I have some thoughts to share:

New and returning Heroes:

Season 4 starts out with a bang immediately with Aztec Warfare – This is Lucha Underground’s answer to battle royale style matches like The Royal Rumble. The match starts with two people in the ring and new wrestlers are introduced frequently until a winner is determined via pinfall. The premise this year is that Antonio Cueto (more on him later) is trying to clean up messes his son made and wants a different world champion. Hopefully this sets up a Pentaagon Jr. VS Antonio feud.

New entrants included ECW legend Tommy Dreamer, Mr. Pectacular Jessie Godderz, and King Cuerno. Cuerno was returning from a long absence, as was Shawn Hernandez and Vinnie Massaro. Sadly, we are missing people like Dante Fox, Dr. Wagner Jr. and Texano Jr. so far, I really hope that doesn’t last all season. All in all, this was a solid Aztec Warfare and considering the final two were Pentagon and Marty Martinez, “The Moth” was shown to be a potential main even player of they want everyone’s least favorite sleaze ball to run for the gold. My favorite AW match is still AW 2 and the introduction of Matanza, but this was solid.

Episode two introduces new members of Infamous Incorporated (managed by Famous B and Beautiful Brenda) in Jake Strong, Big Bad Steve and Sammy Guevara. Jake Strong is the real standout here as he is the former WWE star Jack Swagger. It was cool seeing him get such a solid reception by fans in The Temple considering how crappily he was used in WWE towards the end.

New Villains:

I mentioned Antonio Cueto up there, you read that right as Dario is gone. In fact, he is currently dead due to being killed by his father’s goons. I say currently because anything can happen in Lucha Underground (I’m waiting for an undead Dario face-turn). The funny thing is, that the two characters are both played by Luis Fernandez-Gil but could not be any more different. The bombastic arrogance of Dario has been replaced by the cold-hearted no-nonsense demeanor of his father. Instead of constantly putting folks in bad situations like winning a match only to be placed into a second match right after, Antonio states that “he is a far better promotor than Dario” and sets things up for the following week. Let’s see how long that lasts before he also goes off the deep end as all Cuetos do. We saw a bit of this when Matanza lost against Pentagon Jr. only to be berated by his father to a point where he cowered in fear.

Confusion?

Really my only quibble with the start of season 4 was a bit of a continuity glitch wherein, they completely ignored that Vampiro (on commentary) cheated to harm Prince Puma (now in WWE as Ricochet) to help Pentagon yet again. This caused Matt Striker to rip into Vampiro for it. This week? No tension at all – I know time heals all wounds, but the lack of a call-back seems like an afterthought.

While this season was allegedly made with a budget slash in mind, and was touted to be different than different seasons in the press lead-ups to it in such a way that it seemed like it would be worse – This feels just like previous seasons of Lucha Underground. Perhaps there were less backstage vignettes than what we’re used to, but that’s about it. Great job so far, can’t wait for more!

The Monday Meme: Time

Pro Wrestling Crate June 2018 Unboxing / Review

Looks like it’s that time of the month again! Time for yet another subscription crate un-boxing. I know I seem to do a lot of these, but truthfully it’s just a few each month and the ones I usually get are awesome. As you may or may not know, I’m an avid collector of wrestling memorabilia and signed autographs, and as someone that usually doesn’t care for receiving gifts on holidays and other special occasions, these boxes seem to give me the same feeling most people get on their birthday or Christmas. Now before I start a therapy session, it’s time for the main event: This week we’re taking a look at the Pro Wrestling Crate June 2018!


Spoiler Card

This month’s theme is “Ladies of Wrestling” with some of the proceeds of this crate going to an organization called Womankind. Womankind is a UK-based organization that helps support other organizations in developing nations that help women’s rights. I’m not actually sure how long PWC has been donating to charity in these, as I may have been insanely unobservant in the past, but either way it’s cool to see them helping others with some of the money they receive.

With women’s wrestling in what many would consider to be it’s highest point in many decades, it’s fun to have one of these boxes devoted exclusively to the division.


Shirt 1: Sugar Skull Amy Dumas / Lita Shirt

 

Cool distressed sugar skull shirt from WWE’s Lita / Amy Dumas.


Shirt 2: Join the Hive – Rosemary

 

Easily Impact Wrestling’s biggest female star of the last few years and one of the cooler babyface gimmicks in the entire company.


Candice LeRae Micro Brawler

 

I absolutely love these little figures we get each month exclusively in this subscription box. This one will be proudly displayed next to my Joey Ryan figure to recreate the World’s Cutest Tag Team or holding a spot for a possible Johnny Gargano figure I hope we eventually get. I have started amassing quite the collection of these:


Barbie Blank / Kelly Kelly Poster

While not my favorite wrestler, Kelly Kelly sure makes a nice pin-up poster. Granted, I have very few places I could actually put this without looking like a total sleazeball. Maybe I can hang it near my exercise equipment.


Vickie Guerrero autographed 8×10

Another solid  addition to my collection. I really need to post some of those on here one of these days.


Shayna Bazsler Playing Cards

 

What better merch for the “Queen of Spades” than a deck of playing cards!


Tessa Blanchard collector’s Pin

 

Impact Wrestling’s latest female star and former Mae Young Tournament competitor Tessa Blanchard is the exclusive pin this month, very nice!


In the Ring DVD: Luna Vachon

I am woefully behind on my wrestling DVDs, but this looks pretty cool. Perhaps most well known for her work in WWF in the 90’s, Luna was one of the few female wrestlers at that time, that I was legit scared of.  Here is part of the blurb on the back on the DVD:

Shot on 6/6/06 at a wrestling school behind a mental institution, Luna and Vampire Warrior covered all the wrestling basics such as bumping, selling, and working for the camera as they weaved in stories from being on the road and working with WWE! This was an amazing performance that needs to be seen to be believed. Everyone remembers Luna’s insane promos and on this exclusive DVD she takes the time to work with the students on their promo skills. We even got a chance to watch Luna cut some of her most infamous promos and explained to us where they came from emotionally.


Tenille Dashwood’s aviator sunglasses

 

Emma was one of the most criminally underused characters in the last decade in WWE, I’m very glad she’s been doing well in the indies, and especially her work in Ring of Honor. Cool sunglasses as well.


All-in-all another great box from Pro Wrestling Crate – as always the autograph is always a highlight for me, but the shirts (especially the Rosemary one) were great, and I love my Micro Brawlers! pound for pound, this is the best wrestling crate out there. It usually has the most diverse selection of items, and the coolest themes. To get your own, head on over to Pro Wrestling Crate at the following link: Pro Wrestling Crate!

Next month’s box is all about the bad guys

The Monday Meme: BOOOOOOOOO

Lady Death: Chaos Rules / Lady Death: Damnnation Game (2015)

One of my guilty pleasures in the world of comics are “cheesecake comics” an outdated term for a comic with sexy women in it (beefcake is more used today for the opposite). One thing I will never do is get on a soapbox and try to pretend that the only reason I read comics like this are for some metatextual ironic reason, or that I believe books like this are in some way feminist in nature. Honestly, some books like this are pretty trashy, although I try to avoid the stuff that veers into total smut as the storytelling is usually the caliber of a late night Cinemax movie.

What I will say is that I enjoy the art and I like the carefree attitude most of them have, and that’s why I read them. Most of these comics are not really erotic in any way nor do they depict lurid acts for the most part, but everyone in it usually dresses like they live in a Frank Miller movie, so there’s that. If you recall I have posted reviews in the past for Vampirella comics, which despite the silly costuming and gratuitous poses, is actually a good read and a fairly compelling comic for somebody that loves gothic horror. I also enjoy things like Conan and Red Sonja which are both barbarian adventure comics, and cheesecake depending on the story. So why am I rambling about this? Today we’re talking about what I consider to be the “best of both worlds” in terms of gratuitous imagery and a barbarian tone – Brian Pulido’s Lady Death.

Much like Dawn and Vampirella, I remember being introduced to comics like this when I was a teenager in the 90’s and an avid reader of Wizard Magazine. They would usually have posters or articles about these comics, and they looked really cool, but the comics were usually kept in the forbidden “behind the counter” zone that young impressionable teens had no access to at the local comic shop. Had I seen a stray side-boob at that age, you never know what sort of miscreant I would be today!

Coffin Comics, the new company helmed by Lady Death creator Brian Pulido, has an interesting way of making comics in this modern climate of digital distribution and Amazon running everything out of business. Instead of a model where comics are sent out to stores, he funds each issue with a Kickstarter campaign resulting in a landslide victory each time in funding and a ton of swag to the contributors. I have been able to participate in the last few campaigns and have been rewarded with all manner of posters, bumper stickers, cards, guitar picks, and even challenge coins. While some creators use the funding to pad their wallets or to fund other things than what the fans are contributing to, Coffin Comics leaves me happy each time even though I will never be able to use all of the silly swag I get. But where did this business model come from?

Coffin Comics was started in 2007 by Pulido, who is the previously mentioned creator of pretty much all of the properties formerly under the roof of a company called Chaos! Comics. These titles included Lady Death, Evil Ernie, Purgatori, Chastity, Jade, Bad Kitty, and Lady Demon. At one point, Lady Death was big enough to have her own trading card sets and other merch that usually was only reserved for big Marvel and DC properties. When Chaos ceased publishing, the license to Lady Death moved to another company called CrossGen publishing that went out of business about a decade ago.

After a few false starts, everyone’s favorite anti-hero is back home with Pulido in this new company since 2015. When asked about this new strategy utilizing Kickstarter, Pulido has remarked that he’s not really interested in the mass market that much (although he does sell through Diamond like most comics) but has a comic collector in mind with every decision. That’s why all of the comics are marked #1 and there are TONS of alternate covers for each issue – some with print-runs as low as 12 copies! While that seems silly, the fans of his don’t seem to mind, it’s just a quirk of getting comics from them.

To date: the following titles have been released:

  • Lady Death: Chaos Rules
  • Lady Death: Damnation Game
  • Lady Death: Extinction Express
  • Lady Death: Oblivion Kiss
  • Lady Death: Merciless Onslaught
  • Lady Death: Unholy Ruin
  • Lady Death: Apocalyptic Abyss

So getting into the first of our double feature – Chaos Rules #1, the comic assumes you know who Lady Death is right from the get-go and wastes no time in making sure you know anything. Granted, there’s nothing keeping a new reader from understanding the plot, but a vague knowledge of the basic plot could be a plus. I would recommend perhaps watching the 2004 film created by the Now defunct anime studio AD Vision and written by Carl Macek. It’s not completely true to the source material, but it helps sum up the backstory. Here it is conveniently found on YouTube:

If you don’t want to watch that, the gist of her origin is that she was once  a young girl in medieval Sweden named Hope. Her father was a local nobleman named Matthias (Marius in one of the reboots) who was forcibly conscripting peasants into military service as feudal levies. Unknown to his innocent daughter, Matthias had a dark secret.

Although congratulated by the Church for his work against the pagans, he was despised by the common folk as a cruel tyrant. Matthias was outwardly pious, but secretly dabbled in black magic and demonology. He was actually a descendant of the fallen angels who had led the rebellion against God. A couple of the series change what happens next a bit, but Hope’s father summons a demon and Hope is captured in his place to be tried as a witch – she uses the same incantation her father was using and summons another demon that gives her a choice: Die or live as a soldier in Hell. She takes the latter and becomes a bad-ass warlord to face her father or to take over Hell depending on the version.

“In Chaos Rules #1, Lady Death is awakened from a 20-year, spell-induced slumber, she finds herself in the fiery pits of Hell. Two decades of her life, gone –– nothing more than nightmares. Who among her depraved enemies is responsible? How long until she exacts bloody vengeance? Not long!!! This is the first new Lady Death comic I’ve personally published in 12 years. This story –– chock full of sex, violence, and very bad behavior –– is Lady Death, fully realized.”

The above is a quote from Brian Pulido from the Kickstarter page and it sets the tone of the comic. This is definitely a re-introduction the the character that I assume many have not kept up with for a number of years, if not decades. While no Citizen Kane in terms of writing, the story is well conveyed and well-written for this type of comic. Perhaps the only thing holding this back from being “great” was the fact that some of the art is a bit cold or static, making it hard to tell what exactly is going on.

This is a minor gripe though, as fans of the original book and fans of this genre will enjoy it immensely. It was good to see the story scaled back after the almost Dragonball Z styled power boost given to the characters in later incarnations – a trend that seems to ruin most comics like this. It happened in Spawn, Punisher, and even Dragonball Z! It’s nice to see the Lady return to her roots.

Damnation Game #1

“Lady Death rescues an innocent boy dragged to Hell, inciting an ultra-violent quest into the depths of Damnation, a depraved city hosting ‘The Hades Engine,” a contraption that can return the boy to earth. But Lady Death’s actions bring her into direct conflict with the nefarious Hellwitch. Who will live? Who will die? With her return to Hell, Lady Death is public enemy number one, and you know what? She wouldn’t have it any other way. Let the mayhem begin!”

Coffin’s second outing is another solid read, but is held back by the exact opposite issue I had with the first issue. While the art in this is better than in the first, my opinion at least, the writing isn’t as well-done. some bits of dialog are very stilted, perhaps cliché and seem forced. On the flip-side, there are moments of great foreshadowing that Dheeraj Verma and Sabine Rich employed that conveyed a plot twist coming up better with their use of panels than the dialog could do. I loved the artwork.

This book is also the introduction of a new nemesis for Lady Death in a character named Hell Witch. You see Lady Death may have offed her Daddy in the last issue, so Hell Witch is out for vengeance. Since I’m assuming old Chaos! characters like Purgatori are off the table, Hell Witch seems like a fine replacement without being a direct clone or simple stand-in of the other. Although, to be honest, part of me would love to see these older characters eventually make their ways back home as well.

All-in all you really can’t go wrong with either book – stay tuned for more as I have all of the issues so far and will try to do more reviews! I will also do a kickstarter un-boxing whenever my La Muerta: Retribution stuff arrives.

The Monday Meme: PSA

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

As we all know by now, Konami sucks and has cemented itself as one of, if not THE most hated game company on the planet. Formerly the home of a myriad of popular gaming franchises, the company now seems hellbent on ruining the careers of it’s once most valued creators and cranking out mobile games and pachinko machines for the Japanese market. This has led a wave of aforementioned creators to bail on the company including the likes of Hideo Kojima and Koji Igarashi (IGA), the man that is the topic of today’s review. IGA left Konami a number of years ago to help found a new company called Artplay and helmed a successful Kickstarter for their first game entitled Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night – a 2.5D modern “spiritual successor” to his popular Castlevania series.

It’s been a few years since IGA did his Kickstarter, and we’re finally seeing some of the fruits of the labor that he and his team have been putting into the title. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is actually the result of a stretch goal from the main title that was expanded into a full-fledged game. This isn’t really something new for crowdfunded games, and honestly games in general nowadays, as a lot of production companies have been churning out small, usually cellphone related, games as a marketing tool for their releases. The difference between this and a lot of those promotional games is that this is a FULL-ON 8 bit game that was crafted to help build the world around the Bloodstained franchise and set the scene for the main game.

On the night of the full moon, demons called forth by evil alchemists emerge from a land beyond ours and ravage the earth, becoming a threat that spells the end of mankind as we know it. On this night, one man, a warrior from the east, arrives to exterminate the demon threat for the sake of both his friends and the survival of the human race. However, to destroy the demons once and for all, he must find solace and support in unusual allies…

COTM is, in a lot of ways, similar to the NES classic Castlevania 3 (which also has a solid Netflix show based on it) in that it is level-based instead of the sprawling castle that we are used to in more modern “Metroidvania games” and has switchable characters. Each character has strengths and weaknesses and learning how to properly employ them in battle is the key to getting through this game easily. Granted, there is an easy mode if that doesn’t help.

First up we have Zangetsu, a warrior from the East who wields the legendary sword Zangetsuto, in his battle to remove all deminds from the earth. He is eventually aided by Miriam, a character that was introduced to us as the main protagonist of the upcoming Ritual of the Night. Miriam suffers from a curse that is slowly turning her into a stained glass window. Miriam wields a whip in classic ‘Vania fashion and can jump higher than Zangetsu and slide under walls in some cases.

The next character obtained is named Alfred. He is an Alchemist said to be searching for an ancient tome called the Liber Logaeth. Since alchemists have been touted as the chief evil of this world, it will be interesting to see how his story pans out in the larger game. Alfred is very weak but can wield powerful magic including this awesome electricity spell that will lay waste to any boss if you mange to keep it on you to that point.

Finally, Zangetsu meets a man named Gebel who is allegedly the progenitor of the crystallizing curse who harbors deep hatred for both humans and alchemists. he can shoot stuff out of his hands and turn into a bat to help avoid annoying platforming sections. At least that’s what I did! According to all the press stuff, Gebel appears to be the main villain of the follow-up game, so seeing him here as a “hero” is interesting.

Like I stated earlier, this isn’t some quick cash-in cellphone game. This is a full featured game with multiple difficulties and multiple endings that open up after you clear the game forcing you to play again to see the true ending. There are eight full levels, with the final three being pretty long, and a boss for each and every level. I currently have only finished the game once, so I cannot comment on additional modes past that. The graphics and music are also very good and really help this game stand out.

All in all this is a GREAT retro game – it’s not gratuitously hard like the recent Mega Man sequels or super short like I assumed it would be. This is a full fledged game that seems like I could have been playing it on the NES 30 years ago. If this is the quality to expect from this series, I am very excited to see the follow-up and hope there will be a new franchise coming from this.

I got the game for free as I donated to the Kickstarter, but it appears to sell for $9.99 which is a good price for such a quality game. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is available on just about everything, so if your looking for a new Castlevania styled game, look no further.

Niche Games Can do Well if Companies Take Time to Market Them Correctly

Note: Close to a decade ago, I worked for a gaming website called Gamrfeed, sadly the site folded and was absorbed back into it’s parent website VGchartz a long time ago. When I started working at my current job in 2011, I sadly did not have time to continue producing articles on the schedule that was required, so I had to drop it. I was really proud of some of the work I did on there, and do not want it to disappear into the ether as most websites do after a while. I’ve been posting a few of these “rescued articles” recently, especially ones I think still matter or that I’m proud of. Since this article is from early 2011, the references are incredibly out of date, but that should not stand in the way of the information presented.

I wrote this as a commentary on the trend of publishers not releasing what could be considered “niche games” in the US market for a myriad of reasons and basically blaming the fans when asked about it. I was really hot about this issue at the time, as companies like Namco, Konami, Capcom, and pretty much any other Japanese gaming company started this really ugly trend of cancelling games then blaming fans for not doing free PR work or “not being excited enough”. Honestly this seems to have gotten somewhat worse as time has gone by as most “AAA games” have shifted from being “games” and are now almost all open-world monstrosities that are designed to pump money from you. Case and point, this slide from an Ubisoft press conference: 

 


The “Games as a Service” dilemma might be a solid topic for a future article, but without further ado, lets step back into 2011 and see what made me rage out then.


We have been told for years and years now that niche games (which usually mean games from Japan) do not sell in this current market. This has been, on countless occasions, the primary reason for the endless sequels, spin-offs, and clones that we see in place of refreshing new IPs. I have always held the opinion that, if given a fair shot, many of these games could sell very well if marketed well, courted to the press, and handled better than many games are handled. The age old argument seems to be that “weird Japanese games” should never be released over here, as they will fail miserably. Some seem to forget occasions where this was proven to be total bunk, like with the EXTREMELY weird game Katamari Damacy and now an equally bizarre game – Catherine.

If one had to actually explain the premise of Catherine to a non-gamer or the dreaded “casual gamer” I would imagine that the person in question would resemble either a total loon, or somebody on a prohibited substance. In a recent VGchartz review, the plot was laid as as such: “Every night after Vincent leaves the bar he grows horns and enters a nightmare world in which he and some sheep constantly climb a tower of blocks in an attempt to reach the top before the bottom falls out from under them.” For the layman, a premise like this seems destined for the bargain bin amongst copies of Wet and Brink; but that’s the funny thing about Catherine – it’s actually doing well.

After just one week out in the Americas, the game has racked up a total sales of nearly 300,000 units worldwide, and with a reported 200,000 copies released to stores (the largest release Atlus USA has ever enjoyed) I think we can safely see that a game like an erotic action/puzzle game can sell well if handled correctly.

 

https://i0.wp.com/gamrfeed.vgchartz.com/galleries/2010-06-06/steves-gallery/steves-gallery_1312837171.png

News reports later backed this revelation Catherine had shipped 200k copies”:

“Yesterday, Atlus told IGN that Catherine has been the company’s biggest launch title ever. “[It] has exceeded our highest expectations,” said Tim Pivnicny, VP of Sales and Marketing at Atlus. “It released last week to tremendous critical acclaim and fan response, bolstered by the release of a demo a couple weeks prior, and continues to generate discussion among fans for its mature themes, engrossing subject matter, and frantic, challenging gameplay.”

So how did this happen? How did a game where a man is slowly being turned into a sheep and has to climb a tower do so well? Quick answer – it was marketed correctly.

Let’s face it, Atlus games have a very loyal built in fanbase all over the world, and while some games sort of fizzled out like, Growlanser V, they have had a number of modest hits including the Persona series. The reason that their games do well is a hard question to answer, but I feel that it can be broken down into a quick little formula that they have obviously mastered. First and foremost Atlus USA seems to be one of the only companies in America that sets realistic goals for games. Rather than expecting everything to be a million seller, then getting mad when they have extra stock and nobody buying them, Atlus makes small runs of every game based on predictions from pre-orders. This usually means that their games almost always sell out.

Another thing that Atlus always does well is that they treat any release like an event, like it is something special. Rather than throwing the game to the wolves in such a way that indicates that the parent company really could care less for a quirky foreign game, Atlus does it right. They set realistic goals, run pre-orders, and use viral marketing to build hype. Atlus USA have a good relationship with their fans, and utilize them to help hype games, but not in a way that totally burdens them with it, as a lot of the bigger companies do.

When fans spoke out about Catherine originally not getting released in the U.S., the fans spoke up and it worked. Nobody ever said “you better hype this or we won’t release anything else”, they said “okay here it is”. Now that the fans were happy and willing to help out, it was time to win over the press. Remember all the E3 press the game got, even if the game itself wasn’t being talked about, all patrons of the convention had “Catherine” branded on their lanyards, leaving many to look into the game if they hadn’t done so. Magazines started talking about it, game websites, everybody.

It really shouldn’t be a huge surprise that Catherine is doing well, but many are treating it as such. This is most likely because we live in an era when any game that does not sell millions of units is considered a huge flop. If anything, it is the small publishing houses that get it right in these situations: they don’t try to act like they are as big as EA or Activision, but cater to their more intimate audience. Through Pre-sell bonuses, viral marketing, word-of-mouth, and pure old fasioned sexual innuendo, Atlus seem to have struck gold here. Let’s hope it keeps happening.


End Note: It’s funny to look back on this and see me talk about the “modest hit Persona” considering how huge Persona 5 was last year – despite that Atlus (now owned by Sega) is still great at what they do, and many other Japanese publishers have not changed course – especially Konami because F%$# Konami.

Lucha Loot May ’18 Treasure Chest Unboxing / Review

I occasionally partake in the subscription box craze that seems to be going on right now, mostly gaming and wrestling related. There’s been some good ones and some bad, but the wrestling ones are largely my favorite ones to get. As an avid collector of wrestling memorabilia and signed autographs, these things are always a pleasure – well aside from that time WWE unloaded a ton of Enzo Amore merch on everyone before he got released for being an alleged rapist.

This week I’m going to look at the Lucha Loot May ’18 Treasure Chest from Masked Republic. First thing’s first – the spoiler card:

Looks pretty solid, a bit heavy on the Masked Republic branded Merch, but I have a possible answer for that later.

Mask – Huracán Ramírez

 

One of the forefathers of Lucha Libre, Huracán Ramírez, aka Daniel García, was one of the handful of luchadors so popular that he was given his own feature films. He was an active wrestler for more than 30 years, and passed away in 2006.  During his career, his true identity was a closely guarded secret except to the closest family and friends, more closely guarded that any other luchador of that period. Following his retirement the “Huracán Ramírez” name and mask has been used by others, primarily because García did not own the rights to the name and the mask.

Pin Set: Juventud Guerrera

Solid pin set, instead of one enamel pin (as usual), we get two buttons this time.

Sticker: Masked Republic Japan X Haoming Logo Sticker

About the size of a baseball card.

Masked Republic Beer Koozy

I have more wrestling Koozies (that looks weird) than any sane person needs.

Shirt: MAD

I need to get caught up with recent happenings in AAA, as I had no idea that MAD had reformed or that Konnan had buried the hatchet with the promotion. The logo is really cool, and doesn’t scream WRESTLING SHIRT (not that I care like some folks) but it legit looks cool. It’ll definitely get added to my rotation!

Autograph: Mascarita Dorada

Better known in the US as El Torito, the diminutive Bull character that used to accompany The Colons a few years back when they were dressed up as Spanish bull fighters, Mascarita Dorada is awesome! one of the better autographs from this subscription.

Dr. Wagner Keychain

Solid keychain currently residing on my keys. Or other way around…whatever… Plus Dr. Wagner Jr. is one of my faves, so this was cool.


Here’s what I was talking about earlier:

Looks like Lucha Loot will be switching to a 6 boxes per year model instead of a monthly model as it now stands – I assume this is why this box had a lot of in-house swag as they are rebuilding for some reason. I hope it’s not some sort of monetary issue as I love these guys and their customer service is pretty awesome.

All in all, solid box with the stand-out items being the shirt and autograph. If you have some spare cash laying around, give these guys a shot – it’s like a lucha filled Christmas in your mailbox every month. I would say that you could set aside money for the pre-paid subscription like I did, but that’s no longer an option.

Anyway, check this out here

Digital Manga Bargain Bin Dive

One thing that I always enjoy is a good sale – and when it comes to manga you really can’t beat books for around 2-3 bucks a pop. I’ve obtained great reads from a company called Digital Manga Publishing over the past few years – usually Vampire Hunter D or Osamu Tezuka books that they seem to be the chief publisher of. A while back I grabbed a few books on the cheap that didn’t really warrant a full-sized review, so figured I’d do the same thing I did with my bargain Heavy metal haul from last year.

Check em out right here if you’re interested!!


IWGP vols 1-4 (2001-4)

I already did a full review of IWGP Vol 1 a while back, here’s a recap:

The story follows a guy named Makoto that seems to have all sorts of connections to street gangs and other illicit activities despite seemingly not being a part of said activity. He runs a shop with his mother and has some sort of oddly close Batman/Commisioner Gordon relationship with the local police that has yet to be fully explained. He and a few friends meet a couple of girls at a New Year’s Eve party (the over-hyped 1999-2000 millennium celebration in particular) and hits it off with a girl named Rika. Ikebukuro is plagued with reports of a serial “strangler” that seems to be attacking girls that go on dates with older guys for money, and this has everyone scared. Some bad stuff happens and it’s all up to Makoto to stop it (to not go into spoiler-land too much).

 


Knights Vol 1 (2008)

This is a 2.5 story with a very interesting protagonist, so I rated it a bit higher. Based loosely on the European witch hunting craze in the 13th century, it seems that all clergymen have become insane zealots that practice witch persecution this side of the Malleus Maleficarum. The only people standing up to a genocide of falsely accused witches are a squire named Mist commonly referred to as “The Black Knight” and his assistant, some sort of real witch that is naked about 99% of the book. I thought Mist was interesting because he is dark-skinned in a world where nobody seems to have seen either a Moor or African person (it’s a fantasy world I suppose) and thinks that they are demons. So basically this is a literal black knight fighting racist clergymen…weird…


Worst vol 1 (2002)

Worst vol 1 is a promising beginning to a comic in a genre I have never really delved much into. Of course I’ve seen parody stuff like Cromartie High Schoool and read things like GTO, but that’s not really the same. This is the typical “youth delinquent” genre story where rival high school gangs are vying for turf and duking it out, but instead of a tough-as-nails protagonist, Hana is a fun loving guy with a big heart that can also kick pretty much anyone’s ass when it comes to fighting. Can’t wait to read more…

 

The Monday Meme: Country Music

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

“I’m gonna be a pilot. Best in the galaxy.”

 

While I can’t say I’ve been one of the more loyal Star Wars fans over the years, (the prequels lost me for a bit) some of my fondest memories of my childhood include it. Then again, I can’t imagine too many “older millennials” not having some sort of deep cultural connection to it – whether loved or hated the ever-present looming of the franchise was always there. Cartoons (Muppet Babies), other films (Spaceballs), and even songs (Weird Al) constantly had references to a series of films that almost became bigger than film itself. In what was likely a very annoying event for my family, I once taped the trilogy off of a USA network cable marathon and watched it constantly – so much that I used to know the words to the Ewok song at the end of Jedi.

Seeing my fandom really blossoming, I remember at some point that my mother gave me a series of books called The Han Solo Adventures when I was young, I think she got them from a book club or something and passed them on to me, and I was hooked on the characters of Han and Chewie. I mean, I teared up at the end of Episode 7 due to a particular incident – er, the movie came out a million years ago, if you haven’t seen the spoiler I’m sorry. I nearly cried when Han Died. When a prequel film was announced I got really excited.

“It is a lawless time. Crime Syndicates compete for resources – food, medicine, and hyperfuel. On the shipbuilding planet of Corellia, the foul Lady Proxima forces runaways into a life of crime in exchange for shelter and protection. On these mean streets, a young man fights for survival, but yearns to fly among the stars…”

That is the opening crawl for Solo: A Star Wars Story, a film that fills in some of the gaps of the titular characters backstory. Ultimately, one can think of any of Han Solo’s questionable boasts in the previous films and wonder “I wonder what the Kessel Run is?”, “Has Chewie ever really ripped someone’s arms off?” or “Did he really win The Millennium Falcon from Lando ‘fair and square’?”

The film answers all of this without seeming too gratuitous about it, thankfully. Yeah a lot of things that seem really important to the character’s later motivations and personality seem to have all taken place in the span of only a few weeks or less, but the writers resisted things like shoe-horning Boba Fett or Darth Vader into the film, a fact that I was really happy about. Yeah there was another BIG cameo in there, but it was refreshing rather than cringey.

Harrison Ford has some mighty big space boots to fill, and I was perhaps the most skeptical of the casting of Alden Ehrenreich as Han. Rather than attempting to do a prolonged impersonation of Ford, Ehrenreich nails the personality and wise-cracks of the character in such a way that you could imagine him being a 20-year-old version of the same man. To compare this to the series’ often fan-imagined competitor – Star Trek, I feel that casting of young versions of characters was done FAR better here.

Donald Glover was amazing as he always is in his role as Lando Calrissian – a portrayal that actually added a lot to the character that casual fans that don’t want to read a library of books may be unaware of. I know some folks, as tradition with any film nowadays, were mad at the insinuation that Lando was Pan-sexual now in various interviews – once seeing the movie, I love how this was handled, and while not going into specifics he was not going around and having sex with anything he saw. In fact, it was one of the more touching relationships in the franchise.

Rounding out the main cast was Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra, Paul Bettany as Dryden, and Woody Harrelson as Beckett. I was actually surprised at how much I like Harrelson’s character as I wasn’t a big fan of him being cast as he’s far too recognizable and Star Wars has always stayed away from huge stars for the most part. Granted, he basically played the same character he often plays in many films such as Zombieland and The Hunger Games  – older guy that has seem some crap and mentors the younger main character. I’ll just chalk that up to his version of how Ice Cube always plays police officers or how Liam Neeson is perpetually given roles in thrillers that involve him saving his family. Honorable mentions go to other characters like Enfys Nest who meet the “cool character that folks will become obsessed with” mold like Boba Fett.

Perhaps my only real quibble with the film was the addition of a sub-plot concerning a droid character in Lando’s employ named L3-37 that is basically a parody/homage of various modern-day social justice movements. The character is often seen advocating for droid rights, as she has “malfunctioned” to such a degree that she sees injustices involving droids all around her when few others seem to care. We even see that many of the shadier characters in the galaxy enjoy droid cage-fighting as a spectator sport, a fact that enrages her.

While I’m not mad about this inclusion, I feel that this and the war profiteering plot in Episode 8 are a bit too “on the nose” and lack the subtlety that Star Wars usually has. I mean, Star Wars isn’t Handmaid’s Tale, it’s usually not a scathing rebuke of modern-day politics unless you consider that the bad guys are space Nazis essentially.

All-in all, I really liked this film – it captured the fun and spectacle of the non-‘anthology” films well, and made me remember how awesome Han and Chewie are. I’m hoping this does well enough that they make more, but who knows as it seems the film was released at a bad time and is slightly under-performing. Considering this was a film in which the original directors got fired and Ron Howard ha to “swoop in” and save the day on, I’d say they did a solid job.

The Bunker (2016)

The 1990’s were a weird time for videogames – developers were throwing all sorts of crazy ideas out there to see what the future of gaming would be – there was a wave of virtual reality games, holographic games, and my personal favorite – games that used live action FMV sequences to create the illusion of the game being an interactive film of some sort. I clearly recall being damn near obsessed with a game called Mad Dog McCree for some reason, many a quarter was wasted pretending to shoot down terrible actors the caliber of a wild west themed amusement park with a sluggish light gun. And then like that, the genre died and was regarded as an embarrassing relic of a confusing time for many years. I honestly would have never thought that a live action revival of sorts would have popped back up nearly years after their hay-day, but here we are at the tail end of the “tens” (that sounds weird) and that’s exactly what has happened.

Enter The Bunker, by British game developer Splendy Games and published by Wales Interactive. Not only is this definitely a new live action FMV game, but it’s actually surprisingly good if one takes it in as it is intended  – as an interactive film.

The game places the player in the shoes of a lone nuclear war survivor named John that has been living in a fallout bunker for over thirty years. After the death of his mother, John is left continuing a mindless daily routine that he has been doing every day for years only to have a series of unfortunate predicaments put his life in danger. With no contact from anyone on the outside, or hope for rescue John must face his past and make the decision on whether he’s going to leave the safety of his home or perish like so many before himself.

I think what seriously sets this game apart from the previous wave of live action games is that ACTUAL bona fide actors were hired to play the characters in the game, thus eliminating the sheer camp of about 99% of the genre. Granted, I do not know of the pedigree of any of the actors used in the 90’s, but nearly all came across as local theater actors at best, my apologies if this was not the case.

John, for instance, is played by Adam Brown who isn’t the next Johnny Depp by any means, but is a notable character actor that is perhaps best known for playing Ori, one of the dwarves in the recent Peter Jackson helmed Hobbit trilogy. The other major actor, Sarah Greene, is a theater actress that has many television roles including a small stint on Showtimes Penny Dreadful.

At its core, this is a point-and-click adventure game utilizing an inventory system and puzzle solving to progress the story. Granted, the limitations of this being something that was previously filmed rather than a rendered game, makes the trial and error nature of most adventure games null and void for the most part – the game is incredibly linear and you usually know exactly what to do even if you aren’t sure where you are going from room to room.

For instance, there is a section where John has to fix an air filter, a task he learned about reading his daily computer diagnostic screens. John is given instructions to finish this task and where to go, it’s just a matter of going to the correct areas and following directions. Other puzzles include things like door passwords and recognizing visual clues.

Depending on how open-minded one is to the fact that this is an interactive film – the relatively short gameplay time might be a turn-off to some. I would say that without a guide and a bit of exploration, this game clocks in at around 2-3 hours tops – something many adventure games are used to, but others might scoff at the length. But in all actuality, this is one case where I feel the length doesn’t matter as the narrative definitely exhausts itself by the end of the game, and the novelty would likely wear off.

Yeah, they could have added a puzzle to every door like some sort of MYST clone, but that would have slowed the game down for no reason whatsoever.

So, if we’re not critically looking at this fully as an adventure game, does it stand on it’s own as a film? honestly yes it does. This is by no means a major Hollywood blockbuster, but as a minimalist claustrophobic indie film it succeeds in creating a mood of depression and desperation that I feel few films truly achieve no matter the budget. granted, I have a perverse fascination with post-apocalyptic fiction as many long-time readers will recognize, but I feel that this is up there with some of the best in the genre.

That is not to say, that I’d like for there to be tons of games like this – if this were to get popular I’d fear this would be a fertile ground for tons of licensed games using a similar engine – and as we’ve seen with Telltale games and the many imitators of theirs, more is not always better.

In conclusion, I really liked this experiment in interactive film. while it may not truly exceed most expectations for a modern videogame, it shows that the technology and talent needed for what many in the 90’s tried to achieve using live action FMV sequences is finally there and this this format can be successful and memorable. John’s story is bleak, heartfelt, and truly sad – when you finish the game John’s fate is left open – perhaps for a sequel, or perhaps to give the viewer an opportunity to think about his world and the ramifications of nuclear warfare and how it could affect us all.

No matter what, I recommend this game to science fiction fans that want something different. Yeah, it’s not for everyone, nor is it very challenging, but it’s at least got me excited to see more games like this – I see the same publisher also released a game called Late Shift that I’ll have to try as well.


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