The Triumphant Return of Nerd Poker

As with many things that were once seen as underground and “uncool” for anyone not in the nerd culture, Dungeons & Dragons has seemingly come out of nowhere to be a mainstream thing all of the sudden. I recall an episode of Community that heavily featured the game, as well as a recent episode of iZombie that lovingly poked fun at the venerable past-time. And let’s not forget Stranger Things, and its group of D&D heroes fighting a real-life monster. Gone are the days of the inane “Satanic Panic” outrage over the game and questionable films like Mazes and Monsters helping to stir the pot. Even Vin Deiesel had a movie made that was entirely based on his own personal D&D character – it’s weird time indeed. This was the perfect climate for something amazing to pop up on the internet.

For a lot of my friends, especially those into stand-up comedy, there was a different entry-point into the game – a podcast, formerly on Earwolf and now on Patreon, Called Nerd Poker. Starring stand-up comedian Brian Posehn, Nerd Poker was a great look at what many D&D games turn into – a DM frantically trying cling to order while a bunch of silly people make dumb characters and waste time instead of doing what was planned-out. What ensued was pure comedy gold most of the time, and it wasn’t a forced product like it could have been.

The OG Cast including Sarah, Sark, Brian, Ken, Blaine and don’t forget Gerry.

At the height of the show’s popularity, I even went as far as to donate some cash to Gerry Duggan at a local comic convention as well as a condolences card for his most notorious character, Sir Richard, who had died in a blaze of glory recently. We talked for well over a half hour about gaming, and was able to get a Nerd Poker related autograph in the binding of my Deadpool book.

Hearing my name in the following episode was amazing and really helped me feel like a part of a small community of fans that had sprung up. I started playing the game again with some buddies, and eventually bought a bunch of 5th edition books. While talking to Gerry Duggan I asked if they realized how important their show was to gaming as a whole, and he seemed surprised. I’m still not certain why the company that owns D&D never sponsored the show or anything, because Brain and Co. basically advertised their product better than they did themselves for years.

An example of the fan outpouring for the show includes awesome fan art of the characters.

For the first 75 or so episodes – Nerd poker was one of my favorite things to help me pass time at my boring office job. Their DM, an internet personality named Sark, wove a tale of a rag-tag group of heroes battling an evil organization referred to as The Collectors that seemed to be “collecting” people from other worlds for some dire purpose. Sadly we never really got closure for this story, as a number of the cast members including Sark had to bail on the show at one point. Blaine Capatch took over as the DM and the show basically meandered for another 75 or so episodes until it’s untimely death about a year ago. Nobody’s really sure what went down, but it seems like Earwolf, the podcast network the show was on, screwed them over regarding a cancer benefit for one of the players. Everyone assumed the show was gone and buried until just a few months ago – Nerd Poker is BACK!

Now DM’d by Dan Telfer, most of the cast has returned for a creator-run version of the show with Patreon subscribers providing the funding. In return for donations, Brian and Co. have been releasing special episodes with guest stars and other fun bits. Now existing as a fan run product, there is a whole new charm to the show as things that would normally be insanely annoying such as Ken Daly accidentally eating pizza directly into his microphone somehow come off as hilarious. And when Vin Diesel ignored their not-so-serious requests to be in the show, they did one better by creating a version of him as a character in the game. It seems like the old magic is back, and part of my work routine that sadly was taken away has returned!

If you’re a lapsed fan, head on over to Patreon and throw some cash over there – if you’re like me, you want the show to last for a LOOOOONG time.


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The New English Beat feat: Ranking Roger: Bounce

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Not too long after I finally got to see the US version of the English Beat Live, I found out that the other iteration of the band had a new album out. It’s been a bit since I bought this, but I was finally able to give it a solid listen today. For those unaware of why I mentioned two versions of the band up there, there are currently two different English Beats with both former singers heading their own version. From what I can gather, there wasn’t any sort of bad break-up or anything (Between Dave and Roger, the band did basically implode in the 80’s with the other members) as Dave Wakeling moved to California in the early 90’s and the rest didn’t want to follow. Both artists tried to do tours with their own names, only to have everyone always call them “The Beat” so they embraced it. Here’s a more detailed answer from an interview with A.V. Club, where the question was asked to Wakeling as to why there was two bands:

Oh, that was quite simple. Whilst we were trying to get five out of the seven members for a reunion show in England, Roger was coming up against the same thing as me; he was being called The Beat over there regardless of what he tried to call himself. The same thing had happened with me. I’d just given up in the end; fine, English Beat, I liked the name anyway, I thought of it, so fine, I’ll be the English Beat.

And so I said, “If you want to use the name in England, that’s fine by me; just don’t screw the legacy, make sure that the shows are always great quality and the fans go home happy and it makes them like the records more rather than less.” And so that was quite an easy thing to sort out. It’s kind of cute, I think, that you can hear “Mirror in the Bathroom” sung live by one of the lead singers on two continents!

 

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Ranking Roger at his personal recording studio

With that in mind, it’s kind of funny to find out that Ranking Roger’s The New English Beat released an album at the very tail end of 2016, with Wakeling planning his own new album sometime this year! But your question may be: How’s Roger’s Beat stack up? is it like the old stuff? well yes and no, but not in a bad way. In all honesty Bounce (the album in question) is basically what I would have expected the band to do in the 90’s if they had stayed together. It’s more polished than the previous albums, seems like it was made on a higher budget, and seems altogether “shinier”. You can feel the vibes from Both English Beat and General Public as well as a slightly more somber tone.

For those that know me, “shininess” is not always a good thing for my musical tastes as I sometimes feel that a lot of modern music, especially pop music, is empty and overproduced. While Bounce doesn’t completely stray down this path, there are a few hints of Coldplay-like guitars and such found in a few songs that really didn’t do a whole lot for me. what I did like was that some of the more mellow songs seemed to be a lot more politically charged than most Beat songs ever where. Take a track like “Walking on the Wrong Side” for instance.

What this means, is that some of the energy found in some of my favorite beat songs like “Mirror in the Bathroom” and “Ranking Full Stop” is curiously absent from this record. What we do get are a few lighthearted sentimental tracks to even out the politics, which is a trademark of the sound most bands fall into when they get older. Thankfully this wan’t a total deviation into sappy ballads or anything so that’s a plus.

All in all, this was a solid listen, and a great re-introduction to a band that has basically been doing touring for the past few decades. I’ve personally been hankering for a fourth wave ska movement to pop up, so hearing only a few hints of the rudeboy sound in this record made me a bit disappointed overall. The good news is, that the music stands on it’s own and I plan to include it in my current iPod rotation. I also need to hunt down some of the music Roger did between the original English Beat and this album to see how his sound has progressed. If you enjoy ska, reggae, or The English Beat – do yourself a favor and check this out – despite a few quibbles I have it’s a solid album.

 

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Persona 5 (2017)

NOTE: I will leave this as spoiler free as possible and describe main themes rather than specific story notes. Be warned, some images will contain spoilers.

A few of you might be wondering where I’ve been hiding this month. I wish I had a great reason that involves international espionage or something, but the truth happens to be that I’ve been spending most of my free time playing a new RPG from Atlus called Persona 5. As of this writing, I just saw the end credits roll and with a tear in my eye I wish that I could play more. Usually a lot of JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Games) tend to be good for about 25-30 hours, then fetch quest you to a final boss that you don’t care about. My Playthrough of Persona 5 was 110 hours and I didn’t have time to do everything I wanted – I’m not one to immediately re-play a game, but I kind of want to with this one. I actually started to write this review a few weeks ago, but decided to stop in case the game “crapped the bed” at the end like so many do – thankfully that was not the case, and if there was any way to eloquently describe the opposite act I would write that instead.

For those unaware of the series my gushing pertains to, Persona is a long running spin-off of another series called Shin Megami Tensei which dates back to the NES days. If you want to see more info, I did a write-up a while back about how controversial the series was, that sort of shows you some themes and ideas within. SMT or “Megaten” games tend to be pretty hardcore, and for a while Persona has existed as a more casual friendly entry into the series, full of anime tropes and cut-scenes. As this series has matured, the staff has shifted the balance around a bit until they finally hit the sweet spot. I’m honestly leaning towards a “student surpassing the teacher” moment, and I think Persona 5 has been my favorite SMT game ever made.

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So, what makes this game so good? Does the near unanimous praise this game has garnered from review sites come from anywhere or is this just weebs hyping something? The answer is – Persona 5 is a near perfect classic turn-based Japanese RPG – a genre that everyone has been abandoning due to age and lack of innovation. And while many former genre-mates like Final Fantasy have gone to action-RPG land, Atlus has doubled down and it paid off. At the game’s core are two gameplay features that define the series – demon negotiating and the press-turn battle system.

Demon negotiations are what led some to call this series “goth Pokémon”, but in truth Megami Tensei, the first game in this series, was released nearly a decade before Pikachu was a glimmer in anyone’s mind. So yeah, you do go around capturing monsters to force into battles, but it’s a bit different here, as these creatures (from gods to toilet demons) act as a way for the characters to use magic and strengthen attacks rather than actually throwing down. The concept here is that these creatures, called Persona, are shards of the mind of the psyche of the characters and embracing their power will lead the characters to self-discovery, and in this case, stand up for themselves. I’ll talk more about this later, once I finish up this thought.

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The Press-turn battle system is perhaps one of my favorite RPG battle systems, as it forces you to think about strategy rather than plowing throw every encounter doing the same attacks. Basically, one attack is allotted per character deployed in battle. How you use these opportunities is crucial to your chance at winning the fight. By executing an attack (physical, magical, or using an item) one press turn will be used up. To make things more interesting, is the fact that you can lose and gain turns in a few ways. If an attack hits the enemies weak point or triggers a critical hit, you will gain a press turn (essentially an extra attack when all is said and done). Thus, making enemy exploitation and knowledge of your foes a primary factor in winning the battle. Be aware though that enemies can do the very same things to you. Therefore, if you are unprepared and caught off guard, even a much lower level group of enemies can defeat you quickly in a string of critical strikes. This exact situation happened to me in a few of these games, most notably SMT: Nocturne, where the game would constantly put you in situations where battles seemed almost impossible to win sometimes.

Now a great battle system can make or break a game, but the story is where it really counts right? Yes – and with this game the story was nearly flawless for me. I’m a sucker for anything related to western esotericism and Gnosticism, and this game is basically a media representation of many of the books and podcasts I like to study in my free time. For me, playing this game is almost like having the feeling of an epiphany the entire time which is a feeling I rarely have with games. In the past, The Persona games have been about the idea of secret inner beings that we force out of our mind. This concept is taken nearly directly from the pages of Swiss Philosopher and Psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung. When writing about his concept of a persona, Jung explained that many lack a persona –

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“The alternative is to endure living with the absence of the persona—and for Jung “the man with no persona… is blind to the reality of the world, which for him has merely the value of an amusing or fantastic playground. […] Those trapped at such a stage remain “blind to the world, hopeless dreamers… spectral Cassandras dreaded for their tactlessness, eternally misunderstood.”

Then, there was the concept of recovery of these personas:

“Recovery, the aim of individuation, is not only achieved by work on the inside figures but also, as conditio sine qua non, by a readaptation in outer life—including the recreation of a new and more viable persona. To develop a stronger persona… might feel inauthentic, like learning to “play a role”… but if one cannot perform a social role then one will suffer. Thus, one goal for individuation is for people to develop a more realistic, flexible persona that helps them navigate in society but does not collide with nor hide their true self. Eventually, in the best case, the persona is appropriate and tasteful, a true reflection of our inner individuality and our outward sense of self.”

Within these few paragraphs lies the entire theme of this game – people are mere husks until they embrace a persona, nurture it through social interactions, and evolve it to better oneself.

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On top of this, Persona 5 is about bad people doing bad things, and good people feeling hopeless about it. The problem is, genuinely evil people doing genuinely evil things are commonplace in our world. This might be as small as somebody cheating on their spouse or a policeman taking bribes all the way up to mass murder.  For the most part, few have the courage or intention to go against this, since that is what our society has conformed to. We do many things to uphold collectivism, and feel that order brings “the greater good”. We listen to people in authority because we’re afraid that going against it will change our lives for the worse, no matter how much we disagree with them. If someone hides their bad intentions behind the media’s manipulation and lies, we believe it, because that’s all that we’re able to see. Without going into a political rant here, this game is very true to our current times.

Persona 5 is also about breaking free from those conventions, standing up for what’s right and basically throwing a big middle finger up to “the greater good”. In the game, our rag tag group of heroes assemble to help people that don’t have the power or courage to help themselves. They are all social outcasts in their own ways – a pair of juvenile delinquents, a foreigner judged for her looks, a stoic class president, a daughter of a powerful man, an artist seen as “eccentric” and even a person that shuts themselves away from the outside world. It would be easy for any of these characters to turn into bitter horrible people, but they don’t because they still have hope. Hope that humanity can turn away from evil.

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Easily, one of the most fulfilling parts of this game – and the reason it made me emotional more than a couple of times was the way it handles relationships between characters, and even NPCs. This isn’t a new thing for persona, as all of the games since Persona 3 have had a “Social Link” system in place wherein one gets stronger as they nurture friendships between characters. in most games, interactions with NPCs are a few bland moments of time filling exposition and that’s it – here one can easily fall in love with even the simplest characters. Aside from dealing with your own problems, the main protagonist becomes friends and helps a slew of other people, all similarly down on their luck and wanting to give up. One example is a back-alley Doctor that ultimately supplies the party with medicines and other goods, Early in the game you discover that she has a troubling past and has basically given up on all of her dreams. and only after you push her to be her best, does she finally accept her faults and move forward with her life. and that’s only one of many characters you interact with

These interactions are not mandatory, as the game allows the player the ability to choose how to progress the game. with a limited number of things that can be done in any given day, as well as the need to place some needs above others, means that some friendships will not be as fulfilling as others – much as with real life. It seems that at any given time, you know you really need to level a character up, but tests are starting soon and you better study! And what’s that 6 other people want to hang out! Socializing in the world of Persona can be just as hard as in the real world it seems.

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I promised that I wouldn’t go too far into spoiler territory, so I better leave it there. I would say this this is easily one of the best RPGs, scratch that, GAMES that I’ve played in the last decade. when most RPGs roll down a checklist of boring cliches, the Persona series continues to break new ground and re-invent itself each time. If you are looking for something different to play, and are willing to stick with a game that could clock in over 100 hours, you won’t find any more fulfilling game that came out all year. Here’s hoping that an inevitable “sequel” spinoff game comes out soon so I can hang with these characters again, and here’s hoping we don’t have to wait eight years for Persona 6!


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Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Let’s get this first part out of the way:

If there is one thing I’m tired of in the realm of film and television, it’s pre-emptive complainers trying to de-rail everything before it even comes out. with any review of this live action American/Chinese Ghost in The Shell film, everyone has drawn battle lines in regards to the elephant in the room of “Hollywood whitewashing”; in fact, I would say you were almost expected to take a side, and if you took a side that many didn’t like you’d get lectured by the other. It’s annoying that folks are getting in fights and “unfriending” each-other because of opinions over a goofy sci-fi film, but that’s our modern society I guess. Some popular reviews from major sites didn’t even talk about the film, they just reviewed everything that was in some way perceived as racist to stoke the outrage fires, this honestly comes across like they never actually watched it.

I’m not going to dwell on this topic too much because I can see both sides and don’t think arguing over whether or not Scarlett Johanson should or should not be cast as The Major actually addresses the actual problem that Hollywood has with representation. The internet witch hunts and rage were nearly identical to what people attempted to do with both recent Star Wars films, and even last years re-boot of Ghostbusters, and I honestly don’t care anymore. I’d rather discuss a film based on an anime/manga property that I’ve loved for upwards of 20+ years, and how it turned out.

/end rant

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Ghost in The Shell has been a favorite of mine for a VERY long time. I recall being first introduced to it through my older stepbrother that loved cyberpunk stuff – he had the original Masamune Shirow manga laying around at some point when I was visiting and I was enthralled by what I saw. Not too long after that, I was able to rent the anime adaptation from one of our local video stores and was hooked on the franchise from that point forward. every continuation has been something I get really excited about – all the movies, games, TV shows etc. That said, I was torn when they announced that a western adaptation was going to be produced a few years ago.

Readers may recall that I’m pretty vocal about my dislike for most anime adaptations because they don’t treat the source material with respect and are generally bad (Dragonball Evolution is the king of this). That goes for live action adaptations produced in Japan itself. I am always annoyed when they discuss a possible Akira remake because the two directors that were vocally lobbying for it seemed determined to completely alter the entire premise of the story into something else. I recall at one point, the script going around had Kaneda and Tetsuo, protagonists of the film, gender swapped and made into former lovers – nope! Any such fears that I had with Ghost in the Shell were calmed when the released the first trailer – the logo was there, scenes appeared to be adapted directly from the 1995 film, characters looked almost correct – “wait?! was this going to be okay somehow?” the controversy I touched on above was something that troubled me a bit, but I figured I’d give it a shot and see what happens.

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Quick verdict – Ghost in the Shell 2017 is good, not great, and it’s not deserving of the critical heat it’s getting online.

An argument can be made that many of the visual flourishes in this film seem like a road often traveled, somewhat dated, nothing new. That’s by design, as many scenes are literally directly lifted from the 1995 film – keep in mind that the source material is nearing thirty years of age if you go even further back to the comic. it’s filled with typical cyberpunk aesthetics, and much like steampunk, or post-apocalyptic fiction – straying too far from the agreed upon tropes is never a great idea. Most “cyberpunk” properties follow a set groundwork laid by much older films like Blade Runner, books like Neuromancer, and the like. Ideas like megacities run by huge militarized corporations, dingy slums filled with bright holographic neon lights, weird Asian and Western culture amalgamations and the idea of trans-humanism seem passe today, but we seem to be ever closer to that very reality. it might not look the same, but in many ways cyberpunk is closer to our modern society than it was back in the 80’s.

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I mentioned that some scenes were directly influenced by the Mamoru Oshii film of the same name, and I would even go as far as to say that this was almost a shot-for-shot remake of that very film with a little bit of some of the sequel material sprinkled in. This is a double edged sword in many ways, as seeing scenes like the building infiltration, the spider mech fight, and the cloaked fight with the hacked garbage man was cool, but a lot of those scenes were a lot cooler and more fleshed out in the original film. This was because there was a decent amount of new material – some adapted from the comics or TV series taking up the runtime. Reading reviews online, a constant complaint I kept seeing was that “The Major got a new backstory” which is funny because Hideo Kuze and his revelations at the end of the TV series factor into this film quite a bit, meaning that people have not seen Stand Alone Complex and should not be commenting on it as if they are authorities on the matter.

For much of the film, we know The Major as Major Mira KIllian – a cyborg created by a large robotics company named Hanka Robotics. She was a survivor of a refugee boat accident – something that left her family dead and herself severely injured. Her brain was the only thing salvageable from her body, so it was put in a new body as a second chance at life as long as she’s cool being basically sold to the government as a weapon. Of course, this is all BS and the driving force behind The Major trying to piece her previous life back together.

Much like the backstory stuff, I saw people complaining that the inclusion of Hanka was a new addition to the franchise, but they were actually an organization from the original comic, although not as major as here. In both versions they are a VERY bad company, as the comic version of Hanka was caught in a scandal where they were dubbing the ghosts of children into a mass-produced consumer robot to achieve a greater sense of human personality. Here, without going into too much detail – they are trying to create a race of perfect soldiers with human brains in a cybernetic body, where they get these brains could be an issue.

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In some ways, making Hanka Robotics a major plot point in the film is actually going against one of the major philosophical ideas from the original manga. In a world where the internet is literally in and around you at all times, and cyber-warfare is something even low-level street thugs dabble in from time to time, old ideas like national sovereignty and borders are basically obsolete. Section 9 always skirted a fine line between acting within the scope of normal law enforcement, and treating the Networks as a free for all that the old ways stood against. Leaving out some of this diplomatic and political intrigue sort of boils down the role that Section 9 and Hanka have as nothing more than a Corporation acting as The Government and Section 9 acting as their willing lap-dog. I guess in some ways that’s a telling indictment of the current status-quo with our own corporations, but something that I wanted to point out as a major difference. Hanka is also a convenient way to have a blatant “villain” rather than the numerous ephemeral “gray area” antagonists the material usually features.

There are a few differences like this that are not huge deal breakers, but sort of “dumb down” the ideas from Ghost in the Shell to a more palatable product for those looking to see an action popcorn movie rather than a philosophical look into trans-humanism. I’m not annoyed by this in any way because no two versions of Ghost in the Shell are exactly alike. The manga, the Oshii films, The TV series, and the recent Arise films are all different parallel versions of this story, and none of them are very much alike to be honest. I actually prefer the TV series Stand Alone Complex, to the films and dislike the manga sequel. with a franchise like this, there are many ways to look at the story – something for everyone.

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When it comes to casting, I absolutely loved the job they did. And yes, Scarlett Johanson did a fine job no matter what internet folks want you to believe. Pretty much every character from section 9 is present aside from Paz, seemingly replaced by a new character named Ladriya, I’m pretty sure she’s not from any previous version, but could be wrong. Takeshi Kitano (As Aramaki) is my favorite Japanese actor, and having him be such a badass in this film was awesome. He has, by far, the best line in the entire film where he chumps out an entire squad of armored assassins with a briefcase and quips “Never send a rabbit to kill a fox”. I wanted to clap at that very moment, but that probably would have made everyone mad in the theater.

Chin Han is also great as Togusa, perhaps my favorite character from the TV series. He’s not a major part of the film by any means, but I was glad to see him in there. Finally, I wouldn’t be able to discuss this without talking about Batou, as played by Danish actor Pilou Asbæk. I’ve somehow missed him up to this point, but he was really good – he really captured the character and was perhaps the truest to the source material of anyone in the film.

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I’ve already written a lot here, and I don’t want to spoil more than what I have since the film does have a few mysteries and twists. To reiterate from above Ghost in the Shell 2017 is a good, but not great film that stayed close to the source material with a few alterations. Yes, these alterations sort of “water-down” some of the themes of the source material itself, but this was a summer popcorn flick, I was never under the assumption that this was going to be a complex film for jaded otaku. I enjoyed the casting despite the online backlash, and would be up for a sequel if one ever materializes. That is unlikely as the film hasn’t really caught the box office on fire, but who knows. I am sad that there was no reference to any sort of mobile tank unit like the Fuchikoma / tachikoma / Uchikoma /or Logikoma units from the numerous iterations of the franchise. This was no surprise as they are not present in the 1995 film either unless you count the spider tank.

I’d say ignore the haters and see this for yourself – I’m not saying you’ll like it, but it’s not the bucket of dog turds everyone wants it to be.

 


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Concert Review: English Beat w/ Deco Auto 3/24/17

I used to have a long commute to work every day, so my chief companion quickly became my car stereo. It took about a year, but I ended up rage-quitting local radio stations completely once I realized that my local “hard rock” station was garbage and that my local “alternative” station was basically folk music garnished by seemingly mandatory Pearl Jam songs. I bought Sirius XM to alleviate all my radio woes, and immediately fell in love with a channel on there called 1st wave.

Whenever I tell folks that I’m into 80’s new wave music, I think a lot of folks assume I love bands like Hall and Oates or something, but honestly I’m only really into that late 70’s – early 80’s scene that sprang up (mostly) in the UK – great news, that’s what they play! I think one of the first times I was listening to 1st Wave Dave Wakeling (of the English Beat and General Public) was on a talk show segment hosted by Richard Blade and I immediately realized just how much I loved the band, and my love for ska was re-energized.

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Readers may recall a while back I was talking about “trying to see more bands on my ‘musical bucket list'”, so when The English Beat popped up on my Jambase page I had to immediately snag some tickets. I’ve always been a fan of ska music, so getting to hear one of the pioneers of the 80’s second wave of ska/two-tone/reggae was definitely something I’ve wanted to do. Some of these bands rarely come over to the United States anymore, but the good news is that Dave Wakeling happens to live in California, so he tours here all the time.

Before I get into the show itself, I wanted to talk about the venue the show was held in, Knuckleheads Saloon in Kansas City, MO. This was my first time at this venue, and I was really impressed. I’m not a big blues aficionado, which is the style of music most featured at this venue, but I’d love to come here again –  I’ll have to keep an eye out on acts coming in from time to time. This is a promotional ad, but shows off the Place better than I could attempt to describe it.

The compound is made up of a number of venues, with our concert taking place in “The Garage”. This was a roomy music hall with standing room at the front and back, a bar, and some tables – since we arrived early we were able to score some choice table seats.

The supporting act for this show was a local band called Deco Auto which is a power pop band in the vein of a lot of those early 90’s alternative bands that used to get tons of radio play like Weezer and Superchunk. While their music isn’t really my standard listening, they were pretty good even though they had a few technical difficulties during their set. For a few of their songs, one of the vocalists was sadly muted lower than she should have been so we really couldn’t hear the full impact of their music. The highlight of their set was a cover of the Blondie Song “Hanging on the Telephone”, which is always fun to listen to.

Their Bandcamp page

Oh wait, you thought you had seen all of my crappy concert pictures in previous posts, think again – this is a snap of Deco Auto doing their thing.

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Next up was the main event – finally getting to see The English Beat live! Honestly the band shows absolutely no signs of loosing any steps – the music sounds every bit as good as the original albums from 30+ years ago. The set-list was the following:

Rough Rider, The Tears of a Clown, Hands Off…She’s Mine, Twist & Crawl, Rude Boy Skank, I’ll Take You There, Save It for Later, Whine & Grine/Stand Down Margaret, Too Nice to Talk To, Can’t Get Used to Losing You, Sole Salvation, Tenderness, Ranking Full Stop, Mirror in the Bathroom

There was a LOT of music from their first album which coincidentally is my favorite album of theirs due to the heavy ska and reggae influence. later albums somewhat shifted to arena rock, which is good, but the older stuff is my preference. conspicuously absent was the song “I confess”, perhaps one of their biggest hits, but I’ll gladly trade it for “Tenderness” from General Public.

This iteration of the band is Dave Wakeling on vocals, Nucci Cantrell on drums, Matt Morrish on sax, Kevin Lum and Minh Quan on keyboards, King Schascha on vocals and MC duty, and Brad Engstrom on bass guitar. For those unaware, there are actually two touring versions of the band going around – one helmed by Wakeling and another helmed by Ranking Roger, former bandmate of Wakeling’s in The English Beat and General Public. It seems as though there is no bad blood between the two, as the band originally broke up because the rest of the band wanted to stay in the UK and joined the Fine Young Cannibals, Wakeling moved to the US at some point and it was simply too hard to be a band at that point. Both Roger and Wakeling wanted to tour as themselves, but were always labeled as “The English Beat” so they embraced it.

The cool thing is that both singers bring a bit of a different flavor to the music, so having new albums coming out from both bands this year is a blessing for fans. I recently picked up Bounce, the new album from the UK version of the band – hope to review it on here at some point.

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All-in-all, I had a blast at this show, and hope to get to see the band again next year as they release their new album Here We Go Love. I was also glad to see that despite the age of the band there were fans at the show from pretty much every living generation in attendance. I keep thinking that we’re long overdue for a fourth wave of ska music to get big in the US, seeing so many people supporting a band like this makes me hope that’s true.

In case you’ve never seen this band:


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Mystery Science Theater 3000: 11×01

 

It’s less than a week from the premiere of the eleventh season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, so if you’re like me you’re pretty excited to see what happens. Thankfully, Kickstarter backers past a certain level got to see an advance screening of the pilot episode over the weekend, and since I was unable to wait another week to watch it, I caved and booted it up. I’ll try to keep a ton of major spoilers out of this review, since this is technically a pre-screening, but be warned – there will be a few in here. You may have a number of questions now – Did Joel an co. recapture the Magic? Is Jonah a good host? Are the bots more than a shadow of their former selves? are the riffs pretty good? are there celebrity cameos? If you’d like me to answer yes to all the above – you’re in luck!

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On the host front, you couldn’t find a better fit than Jonah Ray as Jonah Heston. I’ve been a fan of his for a number of years largely due to his many podcast adventures on the Nerdist Podcast alongside Chris Hardwick and Matt Mira. While real life Jonah be be sort of curmudgeonly and grumpy, Jonah Heston is very cheerful and peppy – much like both of his predecessors. Considering that the entire point of the show is a group of mad scientists basically trying to drive a guy crazy, having the host be happy makes it that much more fun. The bots are also back in full force, with all of the voice actors doing a great job. The one jarring difference is that Gypsy, the sole female member of the Satellite of Love now has an actual female voice, rather than a husky voice provided by a guy for comic relief.

We do see a bit of the circumstances that lead to Jonah being on board the Satellite of Love (which is now tethered to a moon-base on the dark side of the moon), but they don’t dwell on it. there is no mention as to how any of the bots came back, or what happened to Mike Nelson, the previous host. Honestly, this is a show that doesn’t need to be bogged down with exposition, so I wouldn’t care too much if we never find out – keep in mind “Just repeat to yourself “It’s just a show, I should really just relax”.

What we do know is that Jonah Heston is an employee of Gizmonics institute, and is in charge of delivering a cargo of asteroids harvested from deep space. Co-workers apparently talk him up to be one of, if not THE best at what he does, with his only downfall being a rebellious streak. He is minding his own business when a distress call rings through the airwaves. Our new “mads” headed up by Kinga Forester (daughter of Clayton Forester and Granddaughter of Pearl Forester) have concocted a plan to shanghai a good Samaritan, just like himself, and force him to be the new test subject for a new iteration of the Mystery Science Theater experiments.

The first experiment – a bad monster flick called Reptilicus.

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Repticilus is a 1961 “kaiju” movie in the same mold as Godzilla made by Danish filmmakers that really had no business trying to make such a film. In many ways, its like a lot of the early Hammer science fiction and Monster films, notably Quatermass and X: The Unknown, in that the main characters are scientists and they are fighting a monster that they do not understand. These films from nearly a decade prior had great acting for this sort of film, and cutting edge special effects – this one – Not so much. Honestly the entire films down down around the shoddy special effects and film quality of the monster itself – a creature that has been realized as a bad puppet with perhaps a single string making it’s head writhe around.

These scenes are notably inferior to other scenes to where it almost looks like an entirely different movie has been spliced in. One of the funnier riffs involves this disparity where someone exclaims that “it’s raining tar” due to the large amount of film imperfections on that given scene. Reptilicus becomes unintentionally hilarious when he starts eating people, an effect realized through a terrible mat overlay as far as I could tell, and his acidic green slime attacks. Sometimes less is more with films like this – a lesson learned from 1954’s Gojira (Godzilla) in spades. that film barely shows the titular monster so you’re never left to face the fact that he’s a dude in a suit – Reptilicus however overstays his welcome.

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I am left VERY happy with this new season so far. I think my only quibbles with this new version of MST3K is that some of the riffs are slightly too rapid fire – some scenes go from riff to riff without any real time to breathe. The good news is that the writing is pretty solid, so one never really gets too tired of the jokes. Also, this first episode is also pretty sparse on interaction between the SOL crew and the “Mads” – we see some some good interactions at the beginning, involving an invention exchange, and some pretty solid banter, but they disappear soon after.

I’m really looking forward to more MST3K, it really feels weird having new episodes considering I think I was in high school when it was still on in the past. Much like the revival of Doctor Who, there are some changes – some that won’t please everyone, but this is in every way classic MST3K. Welcome back, hope you stay a while!

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The Monday Meme: I’m Coming Down

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Image from: IT


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Tales of Masked Men (2012)

About the same time Netflix added the first two seasons of the hit Robert Rodriguez show, Lucha Underground, it seems they have also added a couple of Lucha Libre documentaries to their ever-expanding library of great stuff. Tales of Masked Men (2012) is the first one I decided to watch, mostly because it was super late and the whole thing was just about an hour-long. I’m not certain if it premiered there, but I know this film was aired on PBS at some point, which shows the sort of program that it is. The documentary is both a historical analysis of the origins of the sport, starting in the 1930’s with such men as El Enmascarado (purported to be the first guy that wore a mask in Mexico City), Masked Basque, and Masked Marvel, but it also stands as a sociological film, looking at the society in and around Mexico City.

Described by cultural anthropologist Heather Levi as “a sport in the key of melodrama,” Lucha Libre springs from the same root as American professional wrestling (i.e. Olympic and Greco-Roman style competitive wrestling), but has taken on the unique characteristics of Mexico and the country’s long-standing fascination with masks. Masks conceal faces but not feelings, allowing luchadors to transform themselves into either the character of a rudo, the rule-breaking villain, or a técnico, the fair and square, technically proficient hero. Practiced in large and small arenas throughout Mexico and the U.S. as well as other countries, this “working class” sport is truly interactive, with multigenerational fans passionately involved in the high drama of the ring.

–The website for the film

As one lady in one of the “on the street” interviews states, “For Italians there’s opera, For Mexicans there’s lucha Libre”, which really goes to show how the sport is regarded by many people in modern-day Mexico. Sadly, just like in America with its own strand of professional wrestling, Lucha Libre is often looked down upon by those that seem to think that the whole thing is a bait and switch act played to fools, but they are the real fools because fans know exactly what is going on. Nobody, apart from small children and perhaps the mentally challenged, think it’s real guys – get off your arrogant high horse.

I liked some of the discussions of this ever-popular “you know it’s fake right?” question that folks seem to always have – and anyone that says this has to be ignorant of just how physical the whole thing is. yeah, outcomes are pre-determined, and there are pulled punches, but I’d challenge any of the naysayers to step in a ring and jump from ropes, do flips, and entertain a crowd. It’s a melodramatic live-action comic book, full of real-life superheroes.

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After a bit of this cultural discussion, the film shifts into a series of profiles of prominent luchadors (wrestlers). The legendary El Santo (The Saint) is the first Luchador profiled. debuting in around 1934, Santo was a largely poor journeyman wrestler that toiled around dingy independent arenas until he decided to don a silver mask and become a “Rudo” (bad guy). Despite his penchant for cheating and getting disqualified, Santo easily became the most popular wrestler in all of Mexico (turning him into a “Technico”, or good-guy), a fact that landed him numerous film roles. Eventually he transcended the sport and became a living legend and symbol of Mexico until his death in 1984.

Many anecdotes were shared for Santo (born Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta (September 23, 1917 – February 5, 1984)) including the fact that he seemed to never lose sight of the fans, and did everything in his power to make them happy. It was said that he would even forgo pay, if the show he was attending did not have enough money to pay the rest of the talent, he would have rather they split his guaranteed sum than let his brothers go home penniless. I know it’s bad to speak ill of the dead, but it legitimately seems like Santo was a truly good person.

One of these days, I need to try to get some of his films, such as one where he and another Luchador named Blue Demon fight werewolves and vampires because wrestling is serious business.

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Next up was Mascarita Sagrada (Little Sacred Mask), perhaps the most famous Mini-Estrella in all of Mexican wrestling. While many see “midget wrestling” as exploitative here in the US, it’s as popular as ever in Mexico with many of the mini counterparts to normal sized wrestlers becoming more popular than their larger namesakes. One of the more interesting things said during the interview is that Sagrada originally hated Lucha Libre, he saw it as a sport for uneducated people much in the same way that people up north sometimes look down at pro wrestling as a sport for rednecks. He wanted to get into Kung Fu, and used Lucha Libre as a way to train until he fell in love with it.

He was trained by two prominent little people wrestlers named Gulliver and El Gran Nikolai, two men that pretty much started the division in Mexico in the 1960’s. At one point he relays an anecdote of a class he was in as a small boy, one where a teacher asked him to get some folders from a high shelf. Friends and enemies alike mocked him for not being able to reach said shelf, so he set a chair up in front and grabbed the folders. He knew that in that moment, much as in life, if he had said “I can’t” his entire life would have been stunted from that point forward. That’s how he lives his life – never letting his size get in his way.

There is a version of Mascarita Sagrada currently on US Television on Lucha Underground, however it is very likely that it’s not the same guy as the original one here, as he is older.

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Finally the film shifted to another dynamic – a father and son tag team. Solar is one of the last working wrestlers from the “silver era” of Lucha Libre, and while many of his contemporaries have long since retired, he is still there running the ropes at 60+ years old. I recall seeing Solar in the short lived Lucha Libre USA show that ran for three seasons on MTV2 and Hulu, where he even won the Lucha Libre USA Heavyweight Championship at one point. I had no clue how old he was on there, as he can still move like a man much younger!

His son is training to follow in his father’s footsteps as El Hijo de Solar or Solar Jr. At the point of this film, he was still very much a greenhorn – not ready to be a star, but he was learning from one of the best. who knows if he’ll be as good as his father, hell he may even surpass him in every way – it’s just cool to see them together. The documentary went a bit into the succession of masks and how luchadors will usually pass their persona down to somebody else – for instance, there is now a THIRD El Santo, Dr. Wagner, and second Blue Demon out there – keeping the whole thing alive for years to come. We don’t really have that much in American Pro Wrestling, I can honestly only think of a few times where a moniker might be passed down – like in the case of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, or “Gorgeous George”.

All in all, this was a very good, albeit short documentary. It’s tailored in such a way that total newbies can watch for the human drama unfolding, others will love seeing cameos from a ton of their favorite wrestlers in the background of shots.


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The Monday Meme: Haters

haters


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Easily the Best Part of Tonight’s WrestleMania 33!

After weeks and weeks of legal issues, and claims of medical tests delaying a return, it looks like many were caught off guard with tonight’s most talked about moment –  The Return of Team Extreme / The Hardy Boyz to the WWE. If you missed it, there was a six man tag match scheduled at WrestleMania where the defending champions The Club were set to face Enzo and Big Cass and Sheamus and Cesaro. WrestleMania hosts, The New Day, seemed to be injecting themselves into the match when this happened:

Still no word on whether they’ll be able to use the popular “broken” gimmick, but this is a good first step!


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RiffTrax Announces Special Doctor Who Event

Hot off the heels of yet another successful riff-related Kickstarter campaign, The guys from Rifftrax (formerly MST3k) have announced something that conveniently combines two of my favorite things – Doctor Who and movie riffs! In the trailer below, you will see Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy hype up their next riff target – Doctor Who: The Five Doctors.

The Five Doctors is a particularly great episode to poke fun at, because despite it’s intentions, it’s more-or-less sort of a mess of fanservice. The episode originally aired after the conclusion of the 20th season to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the classic television show. Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee reprised their roles as the Second and Third Doctors respectively. Richard Hurndall portrayed the First Doctor, as the character’s original actor, William Hartnell, had died since his last appearance on the show ten years previously. Since Tom Baker decided not to appear in this special, footage from the unfinished serial Shada was used to portray the Fourth Doctor.

This isn’t the first time Rifftrax has jabbed at the venerable Doctor Who franchise. Despite numerous mentions in MST3k itself, The Rifftrax crew have done all of the questionable 1960’s non-canonical Peter Cushing Dr. Who films in the past. I went ahead and found a few trailers for you, if you aren’t aware of Rifftrax or MST3k styled stuff.


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Barbed Wire City: The Unauthorized Story of Extreme Championship Wrestling (2013, BWC Films)

Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) has been dead for well over a decade. People involved such as Paul Heyman, the cultish former owner, have moved on and seemingly distanced themselves from their one time passion, thus leaving multitudes of fans clamoring for something to whet their appetites. In a post-Benoit world, professional wrestling has sort of lost its way, alienating a lot of its former fans that kept it going in the late nineties. People have tried to replicate the magic of the extreme wrestling movement, but a lot of others have tried to merely capitalize on it. Since 2001, there have been many promotional imitations, direct to DVD lamentations, and even historical revisionism released to the masses. It seems that ECW is the “dead horse” that everyone has their clubs ready to beat the hell out of. When I saw that there was yet another ECW documentary in the works via Kickstarter, I was skeptical. I thought “what else can be said?” Boy was I wrong, Barbed Wire City: The Unauthorized Story of Extreme Championship Wrestling is exactly the sort of DVD that any wrestling fan should have on their shelf.

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I think my main problem with a lot of posthumously made ECW media, is that people have a tendency to use the whole thing as some sort of political device. WWE’s Rise and Fall of ECW, once thought of as the ultimate tribute of the company, reeks of a Vince McMahon victory lap over the failed venture. Another documentary, Forever Hardcore, was seen as a “counterpoint to WWE’s slightly revisionist offering, but was plagued by bitterness by those interviewed and suffered from a lack of actual ECW video footage. Possibly the most egregious misuse of ECW comes from a company that I am very fond of. TNA, the current number two wrestling federation in the United States, even did a “reunion show” called Hardcore Justice. While it had a solid card, they really had no business doing it as they were founded well after ECW’s demise and had no pony in the proverbial race. The whole thing seemed like a cashgrab.

The reason Barbed Wire City is different is that it comes from a different viewpoint; we’ve had the victorious billionaire, we’ve had the wounded former employees, and we’ve even had the copy-cats, now let’s hear from a fan. John Philapavage, the man behind the documentary, was like so many other rabid ECW fans: he lined up in long lines in the snow, huddled in crowded bingo halls, and got to meet some of his heroes. The thing that really set him apart from other fans is that he had the sense to record interviews of himself talking to the people involved. These interviews are combined with wrestling footage, and the odd Ken Burns-esque still photograph with a nifty 3D effect added in.

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I have to tip my hat to Mr. Philapavage on the quality of his interviews. Mostly taken around the time that ECW was on its last legs, these interviews are both entertaining and heartbreaking. Considering the decade worth of interviews here, there are some insights that many documentaries simply cannot hope to achieve. Sometimes you would see an interview from 2001 followed by a snippet of one made more recently to compare someone’s attitude change. Take, for example, Angel Medina in 2001: as he watched the company crumbling around himself with guys jumping ship left and right, he stayed positive. More recently he talks about why he stayed in there, and the mistakes he made by doing so. Balls Mahoney was another notable interview that really got to me. He goes from very optimistic in 2001, saying that there was no way the company could go under, to a very different man a decade later. He talks about some really dark times such as a bout with depression, an episode that nearly cost him his life.

It isn’t all sadness in modern times, as the film is bookended by clips of an upstart federation out of Philadelphia called Extreme Rising ran by ECW alumni Shane Douglas. From meager beginnings, the story of Extreme Rising seems to both mirror and be haunted by its connections to ECW right from the get go. By the end of the film we are left wondering if Douglas can really recapture the magic from a decade past. I liked seeing this stuff in here because it acts as the anchor to our modern world, and really shows how much the wrestling world has changed. While one is left with a little glimmer of hope that we really could see this style of professional wrestling come back, there is a lot of shadows there as well. What was once cutting edge and trendy almost seems depressing today.

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I commend the documentarians discussing the dark times when ECW was said to be “taking it too far”. They were on the cusp of being so big that the glamorized violence and dangerous stunts were causing problems, but too small to chance upsetting loyal fans by toning it down. Some ECW documentaries have a tendency to not talk about bad things aside from the occasional reference to Paul Heyman’s poor business decisions. By having wrestlers discuss their personal issues, and problems within the company, the documentary seems more “balanced”. Instead of having an agenda, John Philapavage has stayed fairly neutral. He discusses the good things, the bad things, and the downright ugly side of professional wrestling here.

My one real quibble with the film is that there was no footage of the “Mass Transit Incident”. This was a notorious controversy involving an untrained and underage wrestler that got hurt during a match, then tried to sue ECW out of existence. The man in question lied his way into filling a slot in a show and was “cut open like a stuck pig” when he allowed a wrestler named New Jack to cut him. One thing most casual wrestling fans don’t realize is that wrestlers used to have small strips of razor blades hidden either on their person or some other strategic spot to cut themselves open. This was done for dramatic effect, as the “fake” nature of the violence needed to sometimes be “spiced up” to tell a story. “Mass Transit” was not comfortable doing this himself, and asked New Jack to “help him”, which was a bad idea. This controversy was a main talking point towards the end of the film, and there was no footage, or even a stock photo of what happened. I felt that this was a missed opportunity, and could have confused someone that did not already know about it.

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On a technical standpoint, the DVD is a class act; it even has its own composed music. While I would have LOVED to see this in HD on my widescreen TV, the standard definition print is very professional and looks great. There were no stutters or other anomalies, something that can’t be said for other fan productions. There are extended interviews and deleted scenes in the special features tab including a series of clips involving Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins. Despite many appearances on many wrestling shows, fans don’t seem to realize how much of a wrestling fan Corgan is, to the point that he owns his own federation. This special feature was cool because you really got to see his passion for ECW, and how it got him into the business. One thing I would love to see is an eventual “Director’s Cut” edition of this film with more outtakes, deleted scenes, and maybe some more interviews. I bet the guys at BWC films are sitting on tons of footage for this, why not get it out there!

All in all, I loved this DVD. For years Beyond the Mat was seen as one of the few great wrestling documentaries out there; now we can add Barbed Wire City to the same level of prestige. The RF video footage, the interviews, and the 3D still images all mesh in such a way that I could really see BWC Films going somewhere in the world of independent filmmaking, and I can’t wait to see what they do next. So if you are even a small fan of ECW, do yourself a favor and watch this DVD, you won’t regret it.


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Godzilla: Monster Planet Announced

For better or worse, the 2010’s have been a big decade for the revitalization of the Kaiju genre. We’ve had multiple Godzilla films from both sides of the Pacific Ocean, a new King Kong film, Pacific Rim, Matt Damon fighting Chinese wall monsters, and even plans for eventual cross-overs. Hot off the heels of 2016’s Shin Godzilla, it looks like Japan is going the anime route for the first time ever for a proposed new series of films called Godzilla: Monster Planet.

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a look at the launch website reveals the following:

Since its birth in 1954, the feature film “Godzilla” has been loved all around the world as a giant cultural icon. This is followed by “SHIN GODZILLA” (General Director: Hideaki Anno) released in 2016. The thorough realism depicted in the film grasped the heart of many audiences, recording a big hit of 8.25 billion yen box office. And in 2017, Godzilla goes through a brand new “evolution” no one has ever expected: the animated feature film “GODZILLA”.

The work depicts a severe and hard-core future world unlike any previous Godzilla films. It is a story of human beings destined to confront “Godzilla” that has reigned the Earth for 20,000 years.

One of the dual director is Kobun Shizuno, who realized “Detective Conan: The Darkest Nightmare” (2016), which marked the box office of 6.33 billion yen; the highest record of the franchise. Another director is Hiroyuki Seshita who has proved his abilities at the forefront of CG field through his direction/ general direction in “Knights of Sidonia” and “Ajin”. Original story and screenplay is written by Gen Urobuchi, known for “Puella Magi Madoka Magica” and “Psycho-Pass”. His groundbreaking ideas and unpredictably elaborate structures has grasped the heart of many fans. The production house is the greatest 3DCG studio in Japan, Polygon Pictures, which has created “Knights of Sidonia”, and through their work such as “Star Wars: Clone Wars”, received an award for three consecutive years for Outstanding Special Class Animated Program at 41st Annual Daytime Emmy Awards, known to be the Oscars of the U.S. television industry.

Hear the roar echoing through the world, telling the beginning of the unprecedented, brand new “GODZILLA”.

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also included are details on the plot:

The last summer of the 20th Century. That day, the human beings learn that they are not the only ruler of the planet Earth.

The appearance of the giant living creatures “Kaiju’s” and the ultimate existence that destroys all monsters: Godzilla. Through the battle against kaiju’s that lasted for half a century, human beings has experienced continuous defeat, and finally plans to escape from the Earth. And in 2048, only those who were selected by the A.I. managed under the central government boarded the inter-sidereal emigrant spaceship “Aratrum” to head for “Tau Cetus e”, the planet beyond the distance of 11.9 light-year. However, the environmental condition differences between that of the Earth and Tau e, which they finally arrived after 20 years were far beyond the predicted numbers, and was not an environment considered to be habitable by human beings.

The young man on the emigrant ship: Haruo, who saw his parents killed by Godzilla in front of his eyes when he was 4 years old, had only one thing in his mind for 20 years: to return to the Earth and defeat Godzilla. Shut out from the possibility of emigration, as the living environment in the ship deteriorates, the group of “Earth Returnists” led by Haruo became the majority, and determines to head back to Earth through a dangerous long-distance hyperspace navigation.

However, the Earth they have returned has already passed the time of 20,000 years, and has become an unknown world with the ecosystem reigned by Godzilla.

At the end, will human beings win back the Earth? And what will Haruo see beyond his fate…?

Her’s some more concept art, and stay tuned for details as they are revealed!


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The Monday Meme: Work?

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Atlus Announces New Shin Megami Tensei Game – Deep Strange Journey

I think one of the more overlooked games in the Shin Megami Tensei series was the 2009 Nintendo DS game SMT: Strange Journey. Tossing aside the standard setting of some sort of post-apocalyptic Japan, Strange Journey had a refreshing plot and setting that involved a scientific expedition rather than a teenager being angsty. This scientific mission was to a black hole that unfortunately opened in Antarctica – now dubbed the ” Schwarzwelt”, this opening in the earth swallowed anything it touched and threatened to destroy all of mankind. The UN basically decided that wasn’t a great idea to leave that sitting around, and sent this tassk force in to stop it. Then demons happened…

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Good news for us, is that it seems Atlus plans to re-release some sort of remake of this game on the 3DS – nobody is sure what this face-lift will entail, but we see a handful of new demons and even a new character named Alex. This was revealed today in a livestream that was put up on their website. These are revealed in the following trailer:

 

I attempted to watch the livestream, but not knowing Japanese meant that I got little information from it. what I could gather is that there is a new Radiant Historia game coming out called Perfect Chronologia. It appears to be some sort of remake of the 2010 DS game, as is much of the content in the presentation. They also announced a new Etrian Odyssey game called Etrian Odyssey Mystery Dungeon 2 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the series. Then we had Strange Journey, a new trailer for the Nintendo Switch Megaten game, and some news about SMT IV: Apocalypse. If you are curious, HERE is the presentation.

and here are some selected screen grabs to enjoy:


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I’m Going to be Moving This Month

Heya folks!

This shouldn’t disrupt stuff too much on Arcadia Pod, but I will be moving a lot this upcoming month – I will *attempt* to keep posting as much as I have been if you enjoy my ramblings, but be prepared for some “shorter” articles while my free time slips away each weekend. With any luck, my new house will mean that I can start creating some different content for everyone, including a revamp of my audio podcast and maybe some videos. Stay Tuned!

Check out the possible inspiration for the minions in the new MST3K season

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SUPER INFRAMAN (1975) – In 2015, Demon Princess Elzebub awakens from 10 million years of dormancy and plots to conquer the Earth. She destroys a few major cities in China to prove her power to a terror-stricken humanity. Returning to her lair in Inner-Earth, she awakens her army of Skeleton Ghosts and various ferocious mutant humanoids to wreak havoc on the surface.

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The as of yet named minions in MST3K

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Southpaw Regional Wrestling is one of the Best Comedy bits WWE Has Done in a While

 

While I consider myself to be a HUGE wrestling fan, I’m not always a fan of comedy in WWE. On good days, you get a hilarious segment like Mankind giving Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson the This is Your Life treatment, and on other you get crass bathroom humor that only a five year old would find funny. “Classics” of the latter category include a time when Roman Reigns gave his boss a coffee full of Syrup of ipecac, or a time when Natalya Neidhart was given a gimmick where she could not stop farting. Riveting stuff.

Despite this, WWE surprises me every once in a while – take, for instance, this weeks premiere of the four episode web series Southpaw Regional Wrestling. Easily one of the best bits of digital content WWE has ever done, SRW is a parody of hundreds of small local wrestling feds in the old territory system – you have a less than charismatic champion with a comically small belt, a ridiculous feud between two former tag champs, a literal monster heel character, and even the down home southern-fried man of the people. Check out some photo highlights, then the actual videos below.


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The MST3K Netflix Trailer is Here!

“I am re-opening my family’s most legendary experiment, Mystery Science Theater 3000”

Just a few days ago I posted one of the long awaited promotional images from the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which will be airing on Netflix in a few weeks. I assumed we were just going to get a few odds and ends prior to the premiere, only to discover a brand new shiny trailer waiting on the internet after I got home from work! I’m not going to do a full breakdown or anything, but we can at least grasp the gist of the plot of this new season a bit.

It appears that Jonah Heston (Jonah Ray) is some sort of space miner, or rock transporter or something, just minding his own business when a distress call rings through the airwaves. Our new “mads” headed up by Kinga Forester (daughter of Clayton Forester and Granddaughter of Pearl Forester) have concocted a plan to shanghai a good Samaritan, just like himself, and force him to be the new test subject for a new iteration of the Mystery Science Theater experiments. The Mads appear to be on a moonbase called Moon 13 which has all sorts of minions about aside from Kinga and Frank Jr. On closer look – does Kinga have a sister that looks like Pearl?

We see a small taste of some of the films to be shown this season including:

Reptilicus (1961) – “A portion of the tail of a prehistoric reptile is discovered in Denmark. It regenerates into the entire reptile, which proceeds to destroy buildings and property and generally make a nuisance of itself. It can fly, swim, and walk, and has impenetrable scales, which makes it difficult to kill.”

Star Crash (1978) – “Outlaw smugglers Stella Star and Akton manage to pick up a castaway while running from the authorities, who turns out to be the only survivor from a secret mission to destroy a mysterious superweapon designed by the evil Count Zarth Arn. The smugglers are soon recruited by the Emperor of the Galaxy to complete the mission, as well as to rescue the Emperor’s son, who has gone missing.”

The Time Traveleres (1964) – “In 1964, a team of scientists are trying to develop a view screen into the future. What they in fact get is a portal and they soon find themselves on the other side, 127 years into the future when the portal collapses. The Earth of the future is barren and they are soon attacked by mutated humans but rescued by a group of scientists who are building a spaceship to take them to a new planet.”

–text from imdb

Check out the trailer below!


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Forgotten Gems: Theresia – Dear Emile (DS)

For me, survival horror games have lost their edge. I remember actually getting scared while playing Resident Evil 2 ‘back in the day’ and have been saddened at the state of the genre since. While I love games like Resident Evil and Condemned, these series have begun to take a turn down ‘action game alley’ and have lost what made them so appealing to me in the first place. Granted, I have yet to play Resident Evil VII, so my opinions could change. Recently, while scanning a list of adventure games on the DS, I ran across a game I had enjoyed a LOT a decade or so ago and had somehow forgotten about. The game, Theresia: Dear Emile, seemingly came out of nowhere back in 2008 from Aksys games and was flooded under all of the other holiday games on the DS. It is a shame though as Theresia was probably the scariest game I’ve played in a while.

Theresia is an adventure horror title exclusively for the Nintendo DS. In this game, developed by WorkJam, players take on the roles of two different characters trying to understand their past, present and intertwined destiny. The first of the two stories, called Dear Emile, is the story of an amnesiac girl who wakes up in an abandoned complex full of corpses and traps left by someone trying to kill her. The other story, Dear Martel, can only be accessed after completing Dear Emile and stars a young scientist. The meat of the game is within the Dear Emile Scenario. I can’t reveal too much more about the storyline as it is very much veiled in mystery, and I do not want to spoil the fun.

The game follows the backdrop of a war torn country, with biological weapons and the horrors of war, as well as isolation and death. While other survival horror games resort to demonic forces or zombies as the main antagonists, Theresia pits you against an entire building that seems to be trying to kill you. Through the course of the game you come across many disturbing scenes like a pantry left alone so long that it is completely covered with ravenous bugs; piles upon piles of dead corpses; torture rooms for war prisoners; and even dead loved ones that cause horrible memories to flood in. It is this method of making me feel the desperation of the little girl I am controlling that makes this game so unsettling. In a way it reminds of the overly creepy vibe I get from many of the Shin Megami Tensei games.

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The immediate realization I had after turning the game on, is that it plays almost exactly like the old Shadowgate series that was on the NES, N64 and computers. The game is presented with a first person view of corridors and hallways, much like an old-school first person shooter minus the gun. Also like Shadowgate, you have the ability to look at objects, touch objects, use a number of inventory items and in some cases combine said items. This is all pretty standard fare for a point and click adventure game for veterans of the genre, but Theresia does a few creative things with the set-up.

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One thing that is immediately apparent is that Theresia does not want you to explore the game too much. There are many areas where in a normal adventure game you would find small trinkets hidden in desks drawers or barrels, for example. In Theresia, 99 per cent of the objects you can touch and examine are booby trapped and have to be disarmed or simply left alone. At the beginning of the game you come across a records room full of books, and you can look at a bunch of these books on the shelf. However, only a few can actually be removed as the others have spring loaded darts or knives hidden behind them. This means that in many places you are scared to examine the area too much for fear of instant death traps like electrified doors and acid. Throughout the game you do find elixirs for your life bar, so you can keep yourself alive much longer, but as the game progresses these are few and far between.

Most of the puzzles in Theresia are hard, not I’m going to kill someone if I don’t beat this hard, but hard nonetheless. Because of this, the developers have added a hint system into the game in the guise of a barbed wire covered pendant – or a mirror in the second scenario – that the protagonist carries with her. All you have to do is drag the pendant to the icon that represents yourself. The girl squeezes it, cutting her hand in the process, and a hint comes up. During my play through I did not have to use it very much because although the complexity of the puzzles is very steep, I didn’t really get stuck too often. I am glad this was in here though, as the hint system sometimes alerts you to things you may not have noticed.

An example of this complexity can be seen in one of the more laborious puzzles I ran across in the prison area. I had a block of ice I had fished out of a fridge that had frozen over, and needed a way to get the key that was frozen inside. My first thought was to hack the key out with an axe, but the game informed me that it might mess up the key, so the next logical step was to melt it. I later stumbled across a crematorium room that was used to burn prisoners, and assumed that this was the key to the iceblock. I had to figure out a way to light an incinerator found in said room, but the wood I carried was too big. And without spoiling all of the shocking twists and turns I had to go through, I ended up having to cover something with ethanol then burn it to heat a metal slab then retrieve the key with pliers after dumping water on the fire that had melted the ice. As you can see, this isn’t some simple adventure game, and it can be VERY time consuming. These puzzles were fun to figure out and, unlike similar games like Touch Detective, there were no huge leaps of logic that nobody could have figured out without the help of a strategy guide.

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The controls for Theresia are fine, but not well tuned to the DS. Theresia does not use any DS functionality besides the stylus for the simplest of controls and the two screens, obviously. Personally I even found the stylus controls to cramp my hand up a little bit and played the game almost entirely without the stylus, only taking it out if I had to turn a crank or something. I feel that this was an oversight and makes the game feel even more like a port of a PC game, which it is not. The button mapped controls worked well but you could not do everything without the stylus, so it wasn’t really a great alternative control scheme.

The graphics for Theresia are a mixed bag. On one hand you have beautiful hand drawn anime inspired cut scenes that use stills, and the occasional well done 3D cinema scene. But this is sometimes undermined by the fact that, for the most part, the corridors and hallways all look like Wolfenstein 3D in some ways. In some areas the textures look very good, but in others they are like a retro PC game. I have a feeling this is because of how massive this game is, and better graphics would have taxed the small DS cartridge. The 2D rooms you stand in run separately from the 3D corridors, and look beautiful. They are hand drawn and are the norm for DS adventure games. With this in mind, and the exceptional art design and mood set by the game, it all seems to fit well.

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Theresia’s next technical point, the sound, was also done very well. Like many survival horror games, the music consists of moody ambient sounds that set the tone for the game. The sound designer was able to harness his keyboard for true evil, as the music leaves you creeped out more so than the game in some ways. The music is often disjointed and not happy whatsoever, while other times you get a baroque funeral dirge blasting at you. None of these make you want to be in this horrible compound anymore. These musical arrangements really add to the game’s presentation and keep it as creepy as possible.

Theresia – Dear Emile is a very good and scary adventure game for the DS and, even though it is slightly different from most survival horror games presentation-wise, any survival horror fan should at least check it out. Although the dated graphics may be a turn off for some, the sound, art design, and retro feeling make this game a great choice for fans of the genre. Depending how much you explore, this game takes easily 15-20 hours to complete, which dwarfs many DS adventure games. Some may see this as a snail’s pace and will stop playing the game, but for others, like me, a longer game is appreciated. All in all, Theresia – Dear Emile is much underrated, and needs to be played.

Too bad the sequel was a mobile phone game 😦

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