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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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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A Look at All the Cameos in Tiger Mask W

I’ve recently started watching the winter 2016/7 anime Tiger Mask W, a wrestling anime featuring stars from New Japan Pro Wrestling. New fans might think that all of the colorful characters are from the minds of producers alone, but I’m here to show that a handful of these grapplers are actual people! This has always been something cool when a wrestling anime comes out in Japan, as Jushin Thunder Liger had an anime show, and guys like Terry Funk appeared in Ultimate M.U.S.C.L.E. I’ll eventually review Tiger Mask W, but for right now check out some characters you’ll get to see if you start watching this.


 

TIGER MASK

Naoto Azuma is the main protagonist of the anime series, which is actually a sequel to a 1968 manga and 1971 anime series. While Naoto is a fictional character made for this show, many people have actually portrayed the character in real life. There have been a handful of wrestling anime characters that have spilled over into the real world, and Tiger Mask is perhaps the longest running.

  • Tiger Mask I Satoru Sayama
  • Tiger Mask II Mitsuharu Misawa
  • Tiger Mask III Koji Kanemoto
  • Tiger Mask IV Yoshihiro Yamazaki
  • Tiger Mask V Ikuhisa Minowa
  • Tiger Mask W Kota Ibushi

TIGER THE DARK

Takuma Fujii is a new character in the anime called “Tiger the Dark”. He is basically this anime’s version of the Black Tiger who has always been a rival of the Tiger Mask character. A lot of famous foreign wrestlers have portrayed “Black Tiger” through the years, even the legendary Eddie Guerrero once held the title! There is currently a version of the actual character of “Tiger the Dark” currently in NJPW and is feuding with the real life Tiger Mask W.


SPRING TIGER

Haruna Takaoka aka Spring Tiger is the female protagonist of the series. Like the previous two, she is a made up character, but is not wholly based on fiction. A female Tiger Mask iteration, called Tiger Dream, was played by female wrestler Candy Okutsu in the mid-1990s. unfortunately, Okutsu being injury-prone and having to take several sabbaticals from the ring, the character was easily forgotten by the fans and eventually abandoned.


KAZUCHIKA OKADA

Kazuchika Okada is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. Okada joins Naoto in his fight against GWM. In real life Okada is a very accomplished wrestler who has held the IWGP Heavyweight title on four occasions as well as a ton of other accomplishments. He did have a breif, and largely forgettable run in america in TNA (Total Nonstop Action) Wrestling.


HIROSHI TANAHASHI

Hiroshi Tanahashi is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. A wrestling ace who helps Naoto in training. In real life, he is a former seven-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, one-time IWGP Intercontinental Champion, two-time IWGP Tag Team Champion and two-time NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champion. Tanahashi holds the record for most reigns as the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, while his fifth reign holds the record for most successful defenses, with eleven.


YUJI NAGATA

Yuji Nagata is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. Aside of wrestling, he’s also involved with the management of NJPW. Most American fans will recognize him for his tenure in World Championship Wrestling in 1997-8 during the height of the Monday Night Wars.


TOGI MAKABE

Togi Makabe is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. In the show, he has a sweet tooth and hosts a famous blog about sweets, being so obsessed with them that he can lack motivation without sweets. One cool tidbit – The character is voiced by the real Togi Makabe.


KIMIHIKO OZAKI

Kimihiko Ozaki is based on a real-life ring announcer in NJPW.


TOMOAKI HONMA

Tomoaki Honma is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. He is currently working for New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW). He is a former one-time IWGP Tag Team Champion and a two-time World Tag League winner with Togi Makabe.


TOMOHIRO ISHII

Tomohiro Ishii is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name.Though pushed for most of his career as an undercarder without any major championship wins, Ishii gathered a cult following, until he was too popular to ignore. Since then he has gained tag championships, singles titles and even the ROH Television title.


YOSHI-HASHI

Yoshi-Hashi is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. While he was almost an enhancement talent of sorts in real life, he has slowly started to win occasional matches. a feat that earned him a PWI ranking of 314 of the top 500 singles wrestlers in the PWI 500 in 2016.


BILLY THE KIDMAN

Billy the Kidman is a fictional character in Tiger Mask W, but it’s funny to not that there is a real-life wrestler from the late 90’s – 2000’s named Billy Kidman.


 

BULLET CLUB

Tama Tonga and Bad Luck Fale are real life members of the gaijin (foreigner) heel stable “The Bullet Club”. Also represented is Kenny Omega who is the current stable leader. Previous members of the group include WWE’s Anderson and Gallows, Finn Balor and AJ Styles.


QUEEN ELIZABETH AND PAYNE FOX

While not a direct cameo, Queen Elizabeth and Payne Fox are obviously modeled after WWE women’s champions Charlotte Flair (daughter of Ric Flair) and Becky Lynch.


TETSUYA NAITO

Tetsuya Naito is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. Naito is currently in his first reign as the IWGP Intercontinental Champion, while also being a former IWGP Heavyweight and NEVER Openweight Champion as well as IWGP Tag Team and IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion with former partner Yujiro Takahashi, with whom he teamed as No Limit. In addition to those, Naito is also a one-time winner of NJPW’s premier singles tournament, the G1 Climax, having won it in 2013, and the New Japan Cup, winning it in 2016. In 2016, Tokyo Sports named Naito the wrestler of the year.


BLACKOUT

Blackout is a robot (sure why not) from the Tiger’s Den, he serves as the gatekeeper of the Hell in the Hole match being the last challenge to face. He bares more than a passing resemblance to WWE’s wrestler The Undertaker.


METAL BROTHERS

Metal Brothers I & II are a couple of masked wrestlers that make an appearance. They bare a resemblance to the WWE’s legends the Road Warriors.


FUKUWARA MASK

Fukuwara Mask isn’t a real character, but his “gimmick” is very similar to a number of clownish wrestlers from Osaka Pro like Ebessan, Kikutaro and Kuishinbo Kamen. He dresses with a Hyottoko mask and common clothes, giving him a ridiculous appearance. Fukuwara Mask’s focus is in providing laughs and serving as a comic-relief by deliberately acting like a fool in his matches, which the audience enjoys.


And More!

There are other references and mentions like Jushin Thunder Liger, Captain New Japan, Toru Yano, and members of Los Ingobernables de Japon such as Evil and Bushi. Here’s hoping they do more of this show, as I would love to see a lot of of the real life wrestlers from NJPW! Stay tuned for a full review of this show soon, I still need to finish it up and I’ll let you know what I thought!


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Cyborg 009 – Call of Justice (2017)

For me, one of the most overlooked and underappreciated anime / manga franchises out there (at least in America) is the venerable Cyborg 009 series by the late Shotaro Ishinomori. Created in 1963, Cyborg 009 could be considered Japan’s first superhero property, and one of, if not, the first fully racially integrated superhero team stories out there. There have been countless comics, movies and TV shows made for the franchise, this being the most recent. It should be no surprise to my readers that I really like older anime and things that have interesting art styles, and I find Ishinomori’s versions of the classic 60’s manga style to be at least up there with Tezuka.

Sadly, I recall the art style of the 2001-2 show (that aired on Cartoon Network) to be a dividing force in anime fandom at the time, with some of the more “mainstream” fans disliking it “because it looked old”. Thankfully 2017 is an entirely different beast, and while this show has had a modern facelift, anime fans seem to be more willing to try different things today which is great! Don’t be surprised if I do more Cyborg 009 reviews soon, as the 50th anniversary has brought a handful of new shows, films, and comics to enjoy.

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The main story of Cyborg 009 involves a shady militarized weapons manufacturer and terrorist organization called Black Ghost, and their newest project – cyborg super soldiers. Nine people from around the world are kidnapped and forced to undergo experiments which turn them into cyborgs with superhuman powers. Realizing that they have been wronged, and that Black Ghost is a threat to humanity itself, the cyborgs band together in order to stop Black Ghost in its’ goal of starting the next world war.

This story picks up years after Black Ghost has been eliminated, and the Cyborgs are trying to live as close to normal lives as they can, only to have that ripped away from a new threat – Metahumans with abilities like their own that have seemingly been ordered to kill the Cyborgs. Called “The Blessed” these guys are all sorts of zany bad guys such as a Cowboy that can control the weather, and a man that can alter gravity at will.

Cyborg 009 – Call of Justice is a “Netflix original” that was originally released as three films in Japan. It was produced by Production I.G and OLM Digital and distributed by Toho with Kenji Kamiyama (he directed  Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex ) as executive producer and chief of the project, and Kokai Kakimoto (Psycho-Pass movie unit director) as director of the films themselves. Netflix basically took this footage and edited it into a twelve episode series that premiered last month (Feb 2017).

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I mentioned earlier that there was a “facelift” of sorts for the animation and character designs, and for once this is a modernization that isn’t terrible. The Cyborgs in Cyborg 009 have always had iconic red costumes adorned with yellow buttons and long yellow scarves. This motif is intact, but the suits have been “upgraded” to armored protective suits with yellow vent ports in the place of buttons. oh yeah, the yellow scarves are there! It’s subtle, but it’s a welcome upgrade for the long running series. Another change is that the character designs have been tweaked a bit, even from the 2012 film 009 Re:Cyborg, also from production I.G.

While this may be the farthest departure from the classic art style by Shotaro Ishinomori, the character  designs are good, in honestly my only quibble is that every iteration seems to make Jet Link (Cyborg 002) look less and less stylized that his original design. Jet used to have crazy spike hair and a huge hooked nose, now he just has a big nose and shaggy blond hair as if played by a young Owen Wilson. This isn’t a deal breaker, but I wish classic character designs wouldn’t be hidden sometimes – this was also an issue for me with the recent Harlock CGI film. The flipside to that sentiment is that thankfully, Cyborg 008 – an African man named Pyunma, has been toned down as to not look like any sort of blackface character as he previously was depicted. Granted, this hasn’t been an issue since the 70’s or so, but seeing the original 1960’s version of this shows Aquaman is pretty uncomfortable at times.

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You may have noticed that this show uses 3D CGI graphics to render characters rather than a traditional style that mimics old-school cel art. Japan has caught a lot of flack for years in the way that they handle this sort of animation as it seems somehow “cheaper” than American and even European counterparts. This sadly isn’t an actual technical limitation, but a misguided stylistic choice. The following is an excerpt from an Anime News Network column on the issue that may shed some light:

Part of the problem is that not only are CG artists trying to imitate the look of 2D animation, but they’re trying to imitate an aesthetic that was born out of cost-cutting. If anime had always been lavishly funded, it might have consistently been animated on 1’s or 2’s (that is, 24 or 12 frames per second, or a cel every 1 or 2 film frames). But it’s usually far less. To try and match that, CG artists have started rendering at lower frame rates — 6 or even 4 frames per second.

This style is jarring to western fans used to things like CGI animated films from Disney, Dreamworks, or Pixar. Hell there are even crappy children’s shows that look infinitely better than a lot of CGI anime – a recent whipping boy for this is 2016’s Berserk TV series – check out the bloodbath that unfolded after that show premiered to see how passionate fans are about this issue.

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So where does Cyborg 009 – Call of Justice fall into this picture? Well, thankfully it looks pretty good – it’s by no means the best I’ve seen, but the animators made some cool choices that show a lot of depth and show off action very well. There are a few janky scenes here or there, but for the most part the animation seemed on par with shows like Cartoon Network’s recent Green Lantern series or Disney’s Tron show. It seems that Japan is finally drifting away from the fake low framerate effect on their shows, now they just have to work out stiffness a bit more, and we’ll really start to see the style come into it’s own.

I did forget to mention earlier, but I watched this anime in English on Netflix, so we have an anime dub in play. This one was produced by California-based Bang Zoom! Entertainment who used to always do dubs for Manga Entertainment releases. They are usually a solid studio with this production being no exception. I haven’t followed a lot of today’s voice actors very much, but everyone involved seemed to do a great job, and there wasn’t anyone in the cast that grated on my nerves.

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All-in-all I really enjoyed this show, and hope more people check it out. Thankfully, it exists as an entry point into the franchise and really doesn’t require any knowledge of a 50+ year old back-story, but it also doesn’t alienate long-term fans. Perhaps the plot is a bit “too safe” to be anything immediately classic, but it’s a fitting chapter in a long story. If you think this looks cool, or want to see what is basically “Japanese X-Men” I’d give this show a shot!


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Megaten Games Should Be More Controversial Than They Are

NOTE: A version of this article was originally posted on a now-defunct gaming website that I previously worked for. Some of the references might be a bit dated. Rather than have something I worked hard on disappear from the internet, I have decided to post it on here. 

Remember the HUGE controversy that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas spawned a few years ago? Despite the “Hot Coffee Mod” being only unlockable by way of a cheating device, many an anti-videogame lobbyist threw up an amazing fuss over the game citing it as the downfall of our civilization amongst other things. Let’s face it, was all the fuss really worth it? Only a few folks could even access the section, so was it really that bad? What about all of the controversy that has recently started up for the new iteration of the Medal of Honor franchise? Being able to play as the Taliban has opened a can of worms that many folks are drawing battle fines for. It’s okay to fight against Nazis and Viet Kong though, as they are old news.
Both examples make me chuckle, as there are tons of games out there with far more objectionable content that would make these people freak out like crazy if they only knew about them. Hell, if you look at a game like Pokémon just right, one could argue that it is simply an animal fighting simulator, and in this post-Michael Vick world, that’s the last thing kid’s need (sarcasm). Another example is the growing H-games category, including awful games that depict things such as rape of digital characters. These are even sold in the U.S. generally by digital distribution, and nobody bats an eyelash.
The main subject of this article is another game series; one that would outrage many folks if it weren’t for that fact that these people that get on anti gaming bandwagons do no research and only get mad about what is popular. Part of me sort of hopes at least one stuffy suit in an offiece finds out about the series so it gets more popular. Called “Megaten” for short by many of its fans, the Shin Megami Tensei games have been alive and kicking since the Famicom (NES) days way back in the late eighties. Many do not know this, as the series was completely unheard of in the west until Persona, a spin-off game for the PlayStation rolled stateside with heavy edits in place. But why was this the case? Why was this game series seen as “un-releasbale” for so long? and why is the game more controversial than most other games out there? I have listed a few, but not all, reasons that I feel truly illustrate this point.


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Way to go guys….

Anti-Government / Anti-Authority Overtones

One of the first factors that I would like to bring up, as to why this series used to be quite sensitive and still would anger pundits and folks like Tipper Gore, is it’s general consistency in the “authority is bad” department. Games and movies alike have been lumped together in the assumption that all they do is create juvenile delinquents. The cornerstone of this belief, especially games like GTA, is that they promote a lack of family values, starting with a lack of respect for elders. This scenario pops up in just about all Megaten games.

Let’s face it, if a demon invasion were to happen in your town, the local government would probably come across as jerks trying to handle it. Martial law, food rations, curfews and other inconveniences would surely occur. Problem is that in most games where this happens there is an ulterior motive for this, one that does not involve the well being of the people.

This exact scenario happens in the Nintendo DS game Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. An outbreak of demons causes the Japanese Self Defense Force to seal in Tokyo keeping anything from entering or leaving the city. The main characters find out by way of a computer program acting as a “Death Clock” that everyone there is to die in exactly one week. The assumption is that the SDF is going to nuke Tokyo wiping the infestation off the map. The main characters fear the worst, as SDF soldiers are realized as anonymous inhuman soldiers within the game. This sentiment is made worse by the fact that many times within the game, soldiers and government officials stand by while all manner of atrocity occurs, letting religious cults seem the ones to trust in the situation.

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“We don’t have to listen to you adults!”

 

Many games in the main series revolve around a post-apocalyptic backdrop for all the demon wrangling. This is usually caused by a total mismanagement of a small situation by a few world powers, and BOOM, end of the world. If the government wasn’t the cause of the calamity, they usually stand benign and allow all kinds of bad stuff to happen.

Another spinoff of the series, Persona, shows how corrupt and untrustworthy the governments can be in these games. For Example, one of the main antagonists of the game is a huge multi-national company called SEBEC. These guys specialize in looking like any other electrical company from the outside, but actually exist as some kind of militarized pseudo government that rises up to control the world once all hell breaks loose. Pretty soon you are fighting SEBEC agents and soldiers along with the popular demon characters.


 

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Don’t you hate when you forget to wear pants?

 

Gore and Sexual Imagery, Especially in Spinoff Material

Most anime and Manga fans are pretty lucky to have adaptations of or spinoff material from their favorite videogames, as these items can be a huge marketing push for the company producing the game. This success has been seen with Final Fantasy VII and its spinoff materials including the widely popular Advent Children movie. The Megaten series is no stranger to this as there have been a number of anime and manga publications out there for years. Problem is that most of these go overboard with the “adult” tone. While a lot of the Megaten games are full of dark imagery, they never really cross the line into the pornographic side of gore, nudity, cursing, and other hallmarks of mature media. This hasn’t stopped the writers of these movies and books from making their stuff basically all pornographic.
One example of this that immediately comes to my mind is the near ancient OVA (Original Video Animation or Direct to Video) movie Digital Devil Saga: Megami Tensei. The movie came out right as the game series began to be somewhat popular, but is actually based on the original novel that the game originated from. What follows is 45 minutes of gratuitous nudity, tentacle …..uh….situations, and gore. By the end of the movie you end up pretty desensitized to what is happening and you very well could fall asleep, that’s what I did at least. There are a lot of goofy situations like the main character creating a virtual reality version of his teacher in order for a demon named Loki to have sex with in the virtual realm. As you can see, pretty off-base stuff.

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This game where I actually kill people is awesome!

A lot of the manga is equally off-base including the sole Western released manga (as far as I know) Kahn, which takes place storyline-wise after an obscure spin-off game made many years ago. Much like the later Persona games, the action takes place entirely in a school that gets infested with demons. On any given page the reader is blessed with beheaded students, blood sprays and even a lesbian girl-on-demon girl sex scene. I totally remember that in the games! (oh wait…) All joking aside it seems that anyone who wants to shell out some extra cash on some Megaten side stories will have to watch out, as your basically buying porn. Bloody weird porn with demon sex in it.

The games themselves are still fairly violent and risqué, but are a lot more subtle about it. One of the more “out in the open” things found in some of the games are the designs for some of the demons themselves. Had this series been released in any other decade there would be many a digital bikini getting drawn onto pixilated characters as there are some pretty scandalous things in the game, such as:

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and…no comment on the next one:

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Good to see he can still fight like that!

Skewed Religious Overtones

Much like how western folks get random kanji tattooed on themselves that are supposed to mean “strength” but actually says “Kitchen”, the Japanese have always been fascinated with western religious imagery and mythology, especially for works of fiction, and slightly mis-used them. If you are an anime fan and have seen a show called Neon Genesis Evangelion, you know exactly what I’m talking about in this regard.
This topic is actually one of the more controversial aspects of this series, and help lead to the games being dubbed “un-releasable” back in the good old days due to heavy censorship. On the surface the Megaten games take the age old RPG cliché of “the bad guy is an evil religion / deity / priest etc.” motif and attaches actual religions to it. Instead of a fictitious god with a generic name like “the nature spirit” we have YHVH. “YHVH?” “What does that mean?” YHVH, which is also called the tetragrammaton, is the actual perceived “name” for what many of us call God. This acronym can also have syllables added to it to read as Yahweh or Jehovah depending on what religion you come from.

In the game Shin Megami Tensei II YHVH is the main bad guy, a point that would utterly anger most religious types. His motivations in the game are that the world has become so unreasonably bad that he has decided to destroy it and begin anew. This leads to a difficult choice for the gamer: does one listen to their God who wants to destroy the earth, fight against him and join with Satan, or decide that their all idiots and do your own thing. Not only does this fly in the face in just about every Christian concept there is, but it promotes anti-authoritarian values to the highest degree. Did I mention that the main character in Shin Megami Tensei II is the Messiah? Yeah talk about daddy issues!

The “real ending” of this game is one where you chose to kill God himself, to which he gives a speech along the lines of “As long as humanity is too weak to look for their own answers, their weakness will create a belief in me that brings me back to life again and again and again! MWAHAHAAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”. You walk outside and Satan himself is there acting all cool like the Fonze saying “hey man, good job!”

Don’t take my word for it: Here is a bit of one of the endings of Shin Megami Tensei II for reference –

 

The religious imagery does not end there, as you fight enemies such as a crucified man who looks to be of the Jesus persuasion, bondage clad sado-masochistic angels, demons named after archangels and saints and so on. It would be a safe bet that if the wrong person witnessed various parts of these games, there would be a crap-storm. The Jesus thing is a big problem as labeling a fictitious character as the “messiah” or a reincarnation of Jesus pretty much makes everyone angry. This is especially true when you have a character in a game that looks exactly like the Western depiction of Jesus that is evil and is a false messiah like Takaya in Persona 3.

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Didn’t know Jesus was packing

The problem with this is that anytime one makes a reference to an actual deity in a game, TV show, or movie that doesn’t paint it exactly in the best regard, the followers of said church are probably going to get mad. Two examples of this that I can think of off the top of my head are the Danish Cartoon debacle and the protests over the popular Kevin Smith movie Dogma. Both situations ended up garnering death threats and angry mobs, and in the case of the cartoons, promised violence. Imagine if you will, those folks finding out about these games!


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Kids handling guns

After the Columbine tragedy, depictions of school children doing any harm to each other (or themselves for that matter) are generally frowned upon in the U.S. and much of the western world. Why else would a ten year old movie such as Battle Royale never get released legitimately here despite honors, awards, and wide appeal? It’s because most folks are scared that they will get blamed when the next series of schoolyard violence opens up. Color me surprised when the trailer for Persona 3 opened up and showed what looked to be a group of kids shooting themselves in the head with small caliber pistols. “surely they’ll edit that out” I said, remembering the unnecessary edits done to previous Persona games. These were edits that went so far as to change people’s Races or remove entire chunks of storyline. It’s a different era I guess, because said guns are definitely in the game.

 


 

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Hitler’s short-lived “cool” phase

Other Issues

The following is a small list of “hot button issues” that any Megaten game tries to push the envelope on, but weren’t big enough for their own section.

Occultism – The series is full of depictions of Satanic, pagan, and other rituals including sacrifices, blood orgies, and other items that would make many frown upon the game.
Anti-Semitism – The main storyline of the first half of Persona 2 revolves around a clan of Neo-Nazis trying to resurrect Hitler to take over the world. They succeed and you have to fight Hitler. This would get the game outright banned in some countries such as Germany.

Cannibalism- In the game Digital Devil Saga the main characters are all demons, and gain powers from other demons by way of eating them. When Serph and company devour other demons, they gain magic points, but only if this attack actually kills the demon in question.

Homosexuality – Rather than dancing around the issue of homosexuality in games, (much like the character Birdo in the Mario series) The Megaten games have always presented it in an honest adult manner. Usually there is a random character in the game that turns out to be a cross-dresser or openly gay. Take for instance Kanji Tatsumi in persona 4, and his problems with his own sexuality and it’s perceived “un-manliness” (yeah that’s a word now).


 

So there you have it, the most controversial game series out there should be the Megaten series, yet a very small amount of folks have actually played it. I bet by reading this at least one reader has become shocked and outraged about the series, which is my intention. If we are to believe that “controversy sells”, what better way to promote a game that I enjoy than to use it to anger “stuffy” folks. All kidding aside, most themes in these games make GTA look tame by comparison due to the tone it uses. Other games revel in the immaturity of the gore, sex, and drugs they use, yet the Megaten series does it in an intelligent adult manner.


 

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A look at the Nine Inch Nails- Not The Actual Event “Physical Component”

It wasn’t that long ago that the legendary industrial rock “band” Nine Inch Nails announced a surprise release for a new EP called Not The Actual Event. People that decided to purchase the music noticed that you were jot buying a CD, Tape, Vinyl, flash drive, or anything else normal, but a confusingly named “Physical Component”. Here it is, a few months later and I received my package. Upon opening the shipping pack, a heavy black envelope fell out. It became very obvious that I was in for some kind of treat when this is the first thing I saw:

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I sat there for a while wondering what it could be and how I should handle it. Assuming I was about to get glitter-bombed or something, I opened the package to find a stack of heavy printed cards, and a transparency sheet all smeared with black toner powder. I can only assume that this is the beginning of some sort of ARG, or alternate reality game, and am excited to see where this goes. Trent Reznor is no stranger to ARG projects as he did one about a decade ago for another album, Year Zero. Even if I can’t figure out any hidden messages, these prints are still very cool to have!

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In case you are a fan of NIN and have yet to hear the new album, here is a sample.


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H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (2005)

I was thinking recently about what films I would love to see the new season of MST3K riff, and one film immediately came to mind – one that not many people have likely heard of or seen. You see, I’m a connoisseur of bad movies, and I always love collecting them in order to obliterate everyone in bad movie marathons. Gems like Manos: Hands of Fate and Robo-Vampire are my usual ammunition in such contests, but I honestly think H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds is worse. You might be sitting there while thinking “that 2005 The War of the Worlds film with Tom Cruise was alright though….” but that’s a different film that is somewhat better than the topic of today’s discussion.

Our story goes back to sometime in 2001, and some message-board I was reading at the time was keeping tabs on an upcoming War of the Worlds film. It was supposed to be a modernized re-telling of the original story and more of a horror movie than any version prior. Everything was rolling strong until the events that occurred on September 11, 2001. Pendragon films, the studio behind the picture posted the following to their ebsite in the aftermath.

 Since events of 11 September…


Pendragon Pictures’ principals are concerned over a rumour that production of WAR OF THE WORLDS is about to resume on October 8th. Director Timothy Hines expresses dismay at the rumour, “It is absolutely not true that War of the Worlds is about to resume. The reality is that we are massively reworking the script in the wake of the World Trade Center disaster and we will not be able to go before the cameras for a little over a year.”

The Pendragon principals lost a close friend and investor in WAR OF THE WORLDS in the World Trade Center attack. 

Timothy Hines goes on, “It has been a very difficult time for everyone. The whole world was touched by the WTC experience. For us personally those planes slammed directly into our lives. We lost a very close friend and have been in mourning. We also watched portions of our fictional screenplay being played out on September 11th. I knew immediately we couldn’t do War of the Worlds as conceived. It was a strange time. I found myself weeping on the phone with Michele Jeffers at Foundation Imaging. They were great in that they wrote off some of the effects work we had built for War of the Worlds. The fans of War of the Worlds will be very pleased with the direction we are taking, but I won’t just slap it out there. War of the Worlds deserves care and time and there is no other way I could do it.”

Pendragon Producer Susan Goforth adds, “The script has to be rewritten from the ground up. This new version will be a true and accurate adaptation of the Wells classic story placed in its original 1898 setting. It’s been emotionally difficult for us to see sets and thousands of preparations scrapped. But Timothy has made the right choice.”

It’s really a shame, because this was a piece of concept art:

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Timothy Hines was also posting stuff like this prior to the old film being scrapped:

“The fans of War of the Worlds will be very pleased with the direction we are taking, but I won’t just slap it out there. War of the Worlds deserves care and time and there is no other way I could do it.”

– 7th October 2001

“Everyone has come away from the script telling us that when we film this story, it will be the most frightening movie ever made.”

– 6th June 2001

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Now this wasn’t a bad thing necessarily, having a period drama version of the original story would be amazing if done well. As long as the script is there, something like this could be a huge hit. It took until 2005 for the film to finally surface in trailers and press clippings and it did not look good. due to the delay, Steven Spielberg had swooped in with his own film, and one by Asylum pictures was also in the works. it seems that Pendragon had to get the movie out there, and boy they did! Everyone knows that you can’t adapt a book 100% to a movie, because if you do it will be a horrendous borefest. If you want a case-study in that fact, look no further than this movie.

Before we get to that, I wanted to touch base on one of the most baffling things associated with the production of this film – the Amazon scandal it was part of. It seems Hines, or someone else working for Pendragon Studios (then later trolls) decided to flood Amazon.com with over 3500 fake 5 star reviews, one of which actually implied that film made a lady stop being lesbian and another that said the film was a religious experience.You see, this film was ONLY available on Amazon and Wal-Mart for some reason (probably because it’s bad) and they wanted to ensure bad reviews got buried. next thing you know, the film is top of Amazon’s film ratings and is selling like hot cakes to people that think it’s the Tom Cruise film most likely.

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Totally a real mustache guys!

This was the era of look-alike films at video stores to trick old people, a business plan championed by companies like Asylum Entertainment – the guys behind such “mockbusters” as Snakes on a Train, The Land That Time Forgot, Transmorphers, AVH: Alien vs. Hunter, The Da Vinci Treasure, Battle of Los Angeles, and Paranormal Entity. H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds fit right into the mold.

The film is basically comically bad in every way possible. Usually first time directors decide to do a small movie to get their ears wet, and if it that’s popular, go ahead and get more funding for something bigger. Hines decided to tackle an epic war film right of the bat. I could possibly handle the horrendous special effects had the acting been anything better than community theater acting. And by horrendous special effects I mean late-night Christian children’s programming graphics.

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Then we have the plotting of the film, which moves at such a glacial pace, that the film seems 12 hours long. It’s honestly VERY true to the book, but it’s true to a fault because it makes everything nearly unwatchable. The plotting can be summed up as follows:

  • Main character hears about aliens
  • main character walks somewhere for 5 minutes
  • main character talks to somebody
  • walks back for another 5 minutes
  • sees some alien thing that is completely useless to the film because….
  • MORE WALKING!
  • CGI Tripod blows up GCI houses
  • repeat for 3 hours….

 

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Another major flaw is realism. The story takes place in Victorian/Edwardian England, about the time of the Boer Wars, but everyone is either dressed as if it is an American western or in a World War II era war movie. this can be overlooked as me being a snobby history major looking for things to whine about, but the costuming is so inconsistent it almost looks like this was directed by multiple people. also, NOONE is British or able to pull off a convincing accent. Most people have some ridiculous sing-songy fake cockney accent this side of Mary Poppins or a faux Royal Accent that makes everyone sound like a bad community Shakespeare play. There is even a guy who must have a Scottish and Irish split personality, because he switches between both at will.

And don’t get me started on the main actors fake mustache that falls off either.

Here is one of the better scenes in the film if you want to see some of the glory within:

 

 

One of these days, I might have to give Pendragon Pictures another chance as they apparently took another stab at the premise with a docudrama called War of the Wolds: The True Story (2012). I’m under no impressions that the film looks amazing, but it at least looks interesting, and the special effects look marginally better. It seems to use the same footage as this film mixed with new stuff, so maybe the editing will mask any other problems the film had.

It allegedly won some awards, so it might be passable. Either that or Timothy Hines is the modern day Ed Wood.


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Throwback Thursday – That time my friends and I attended a TNA wrestling PPV in St. Louis and met Lucha Redneck.

If you guys don’t mind, a new thing I want to try every week is to tell a story of something that happened in the past, a story that might mean a lot to me, or maybe something I just find funny. Since the outlets I used to blog on like Livejournal and Myspace are long distant memories that I really don’t use anymore, resurrecting these old stories is fun since the majority of my readers might not know me personally or might not have heard any of these. I don’t really want to ONLY use this blog to review things and post news, I want to share stuff with you guys as well. This week is a road trip story, one that involves a trek across our state to an area we aren’t used to in order to watch some simulated fighting. I hope that even those who could not care one-half of a cat’s fart about wrestling will still get a chuckle out of this. I managed to resurrect things like crappy M.S. paint drawings of stuff that happened because this, while not an era before phone cameras, was an era when most folks still had flip-phones and iPhones were exorbitantly priced.

It was April of 2007, and my buddies and I saved up some cash to attend a wrestling Pay Per View in St. Louis, Missouri. It’s funny having to explain what a Pay Per View is, but the entire concept has basically gone out the window in the past five years. basically, wrestling feds would use their weekly television shows as a commercial of sorts for a BIG monthly show that cost a ton of money and usually had cooler stuff happen. Now people have Netflix and WWE Network, so folks are not willing to throw down that sort of cash on a monthly basis for three hours of entertainment. It also feels bizarre that this was more-or-less ten years ago, and I now feel very old. When I think “ten years ago” my mind jumps the the late nineties, which is in fact, nearly twenty years ago. The federation in question, TNA wrestling was sort of the alternative wrestling federation out there at the time, and Pay Per Views were usually big news and rarely came to our state at the time. This was before our Sprint Center opened allowing bigger shows to go on, and something about the death of Owen Heart in Kemper Arena seemed to keep WWE and other groups away for many years.

The day started with my friends Dave, Mike, Marco and I hauling up and driving the three and one-half hours to the PPV venue. Immediately, out of the gate, this trip was weird as we passed a dude that was legit wearing a white cloak, Quaker hat, and a walking staff and walking down the highway. I think most of us saw him, but we were all in shock and could not vocalize our feelings for a bit. Finally I broke the ice:

“Can we discuss the fact that we just drove past a god damned wizard back there!?”

“Holy Crap dude I know!”

During our long car ride, we created an entire backstory for this guy, his name was Mordecai and he was in fact some sort of Warlock now. Hey, it helped us pass the time I suppose.

In hindsight, this was likely a local person that was mentally unstable and claimed to be a time traveler. I recall seeing him try to warn everyone at a bank that the end of the world was coming when I was younger – all whilst carrying a huge wooden staff and a robe of some sort. The town I lived in sadly had a few guys like this after a homeless shelter shut down, all with varying degrees of instability.

We ended up there a tad bit early (around 2 o’clock) so we had some time to kill. Being in a rural area near a big city, we didn’t really want to drive so far, and went across the parking lot to a shopping center. We attempted to go to Bass Pro shop, not because any of us are outdoorsmen (although I do like to fish), but we didn’t want to drive too far away from the arena. The only thing we successfully did was scare the crap out of ourselves by walking past this abomination of a statue that was on display. I really wish we would have taken a picture of this thing, because it was like the Burger king and a deformed cigar Indian statue had a kid. This thing was so terrifying that it had a smile that would send chills down Chuck Norris’s Spine. I believe Chuck Norris was a period specific reference to use here, maybe something about voting for Pedro etc. We all joked that it would be in the car when we got back to it, and tons of other hypothetical horror movie starters that we could think of. Perhaps this thing was actually Mordecai, once again trying to warn us of impending doom? Realizing that none of us really needed any bear mace or razor tipped hunting arrows, we all drove back to the arena.

We decided to go ahead and get in line because a line was beginning to start, and sometimes people at the beginning of the line get to be on TV during the pre-shows. Once, in the line we struck up conversation with some guys from Houston TX, that were pretty cool, and generally just talked about what we felt was going to happen at the event. That’s when we saw him: the finest specimen of redneck-dom if I have ever seen one. This guy was a scrawny man with very few teeth wearing a TNA shirt for a tag team called “Team 3-D” or “The Dudley Boys”, which ironically used to have the gimmick of being inbred rednecks. I know what most of you are saying “That doesn’t sound that out of the ordinary…” Well on top of that this guy and his friend were both sporting bright ass red Luchador (Mexican wrestler) Masks. To top it off, he also had a mullet under the mask. After this realization, what we all had to endure was 2 hours of the most inane drunken cat calling and sheer insanity that we could handle. I didn’t want to make fun of this guy, but he was so bad that it was hard not to. He was either insanely drunk, or on the shallow end of the gene pool, and since he had no alcohol on him, i’d unfortunately say the second.

At one point they began taping the crowd for the pre-show that airs just prior to the Pay-per view. We felt that we all had a good chance of being on TV, because we were at the front of the line, but Lucha-Redneck was so annoying and vulgar that the camera stayed well away from our area. As wrestlers began to walk in he got really bad. At one point a female wrestler by the name of Gail Kim came walking out to cut a promo.

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(picture capture from the DVD)

This was a set up for a match that was essentially the first all-female steel cage match that the promotion has ever had. All of the sudden Lucha-Redneck starts shouting:

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The “you tell’er daddy” part was that this guy happened to have what I would assume was a wife and 2 kids, and he was always being encouraged by them to say more and more idiotic things. Don’t believe me? here is photographic proof of this guys existence. Supposedly, this guy went to the fanfest the day before and was trying to pick fights with wrestlers and acting very similar to the day of the event.

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Once we got inside were were all worried that this guy would be right beside us in the seats, thankfully he wasn’t but we did see that he brought some signs with him to the event, with hopes of being on TV. One that said “We Want Rats” (eingrats is a somewhat derogatory term for female wrestling fans, that implies all they are there to do is try to have sex with wrestlers), and another that simply said “who wants a rimjob?” (classy!) So yeah if you look up the word “redneck” in the dictionary, I bet this guys face is on there. I have family from Arkansas and I have NEVER EVER seen somebody as bad as this guy.

In the line, it was made very clear that there were basically two types of wrestling fans:

1) The Smart wrestling fan – this fan (like myself) is essentially a wrestling nerd. We watch matches for the athleticism more than anything. this type of fan has some knowledge of how the business of booking works, and will sometimes keep up with indy organizations. sometimes these fans are terrible as they think they know everything and that they are part of the show.

2) The Norms – These are the fans that to some degree think wrestling is real, they watch what is on TV and usually like trashy stuff like lingerie matches. This is the stereotypical fan that most think of when they imagine a wrestling fan.

Sadly we were around a lot of guys that were the bad side of both, including a guy that attempted to start a fight with the somewhat infamous wrestling writer and personality Vince Russo.

Fun Fact: The camera zoomed over us a few times, but since the house lights were lowered we seldom appeared on TV. The best I could find was this:

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Note: Lucha-redneck, thank god his sign didn’t show up.

The one thing that struck me about this PPV was the amount of fan interactivity that they offered to us. Right from the start the wrestlers were walking around in the audience and signing autographs before the show. Even the owner of the company at the time, Dixie Carter, was talking to people, a few of us shook her hand and told her that we really appreciated them coming to St. Louis (they normally tape in Orlando). The experience that I’ve had with a WWE show was that it was really distanced from the fans, and it seemed like we were all named “Franklin”,” Washington”, and “Lincoln” rather than fans. Since this show, I actually attended a few more TNA shows and each one was similar. I even have a book somewhere full of autographs of pretty close to the entire roster from a local show we went to a few years later. I’ve met guys like Jeff Hardy and AJ Styles, TNA knows how to make fans have a great time.

The Matches themselves were awesome, aside from one match that was too gimmicky (a blindfold match) and a match that could have been handled better for realism (an “electrified cage” match, never a good idea from the realism standpoint). The problem with the electrified cage match was that for something that everyone knows is fake, they could have done a better job to help us suspend disbelief. The premise was that these two tag teams were so at eachother’s throats that even a normal cage would not suffice. allegedly, if somebody was tossed into the metal of the cage they would receive some exaggerated shock from wires going into the metal. What actually happened was that the lights flickered and they piped a noise into the sound system. In Japan, they used to do matches like this where pyro would shoot off if somebody touched the ropes, something that looks equally fake and stupid. The cage itself looked like the electric fences from Jurassic Park, a fact that actually made it hard to see the show live. The wrestling itself in the match more than made up for it though, it could have been so much better without the goofy crap.

So there it is, watch out for redneck Luchadors and highway wizards folks, it’s scary out there!


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R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots)(1921)

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I have wanted to read R.U.R ever since I did some research on classic science fiction and discovered that Capek is the first to popularize the word “robot” – something that has become a staple – perhaps a cliche of science fiction itself. The Robots in Rossum’s Universal Robots are not machines in the way we think of machines ie mechanical, clockwork, computer driven automatons, but a literal synthetic human. They are “machines in that they are created to work as factory equipment.

Here is an excerpt:

DOMAIN: (Solemnly) And then, Miss Glory, old Rossum wrote the
following day in his book: “Nature has found only one method of
organizing living matter. There is, however, another method more
simple, flexible, and rapid, which has not yet occurred to nature
at all. This second process by which life can be developed was
discovered by me today.” Imagine him, Miss Glory, writing those
wonderful words. Imagine him sitting over a test tube and thinking
how the whole tree of life would grow from it, how animals would
proceed from it, beginning with some sort of beetle and ending with man
himself. A man of different substance from ours. Miss Glory, that
was a tremendous moment.

HELENA: Go on, please.

DOMAIN: Now the thing was, how to get the life out of the test
tube and hasten development: to form organs, bones and nerves,
and so on: to find such substances as catalytics, enzymes, hormones,
and so forth, in short — you understand?

HELENA: I don’t know. Not much, I’m afraid.

DOMAIN: Never mind. You see, with the help of his tinctures he
could make whatever he wanted. He could have produced a Medusa with
the brain of a Socrates or a worm fifty yards long. But being without a
grain of humor, he took it into his head to make a normal vertebrate.
This artificial living matter of his had a raging thirst for life.
It didn’t mind being sewn up or mixed together. THAT, you’ll admit,
couldn’t be done with natural albumen. And that’s how he set about it

It seems that the unseen Older Rossum of the book’s title discovered a way to weave human tissue and create false humans, his family member (younger brother, son? it actually just says younger) takes this information and removes everything that makes a person human to create a perfect working class, you know without those pesky emotions. This obviously backfires and spells doom for humanity. It’s funny that that robot science fiction is so ingrained with the idea that “robots” would be our downfall, considering this was what happened in the literal first robot story.

Rossum’s Universal Robots is actually a three act stage play and is somewhat short, but it’s a fun read. The dialog is somewhat surreal and almost comedic, but I enjoyed it.


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My Forays into Anime Cel and Original Art Collecting, a lost Otaku Hobby.

Back in around 2001 or 2002, I was poking around an internet forum and discovered the hobby of animation cel collecting. At that time, you could get some cels super cheap online so I jumped in and snagged a few. Cels (or celluloids) are paintings on transparent plastic sheeting used to create an animation. Each cel is one “frame”, and they are filmed and then put behind one another to give the illusion of a continuous motion. Since it takes hundreds of these to do a few seconds worth of film, there are ones that are similar out there, but no two are exactly alike. The cool thing (to me at least) with these was that they are all unique and original, and I that I got to own a piece of my favorite films or TV shows!

I honestly didn’t collect a ton of these because they can be pretty expensive and sometimes VERY rare. Certain shows did not keep their cels to sell; in fact, many of these cels ONLY exist on the secondary market because people fished around in studio dumpsters and hauled huge armloads out to safety. This was also the way people were able to obtain cels for bootleg Korean animation projects that I might review on here as well. At pretty much that exact same time period that I started buying these, animation had really shifted away from animation cels and into digital animation – now I know you can get digital scan sheets used in much the same way as some of the coloring sheets you are about to see, but I haven’t followed up on this, and don’t know the lingo.


Anyway here’s a few I’d like to share with you guys!

These first two are for Mobile Suit Gundam Wing (1995). Notice that  have pencil drawings for each. These are called “Douga” and are sometimes stuck to the cels they accompanied. Thankfully these are separated.

Note: these are crap pictures I took with my phone, my apologies.


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This one is from one of the Tenchi Muyo animes, probably Pretty Sammy (1995)

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These are from Great Teacher Onizuka (1999) – The one of Tomoko in the talent contest is actually multiple cels and a background, that is unfortunately stuck together. sometimes the paint from the cels acts like glue, and trying to force it could ruin the artwork.

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This one is in rough shape, but it’s from Galaxy Express 999 (1978), sadly the cel is stuck to the douga, and the black lines appear brown, meaning that the color was probably sun-bleached. All I’m concerned with is that I have it!

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Akira (1988) This is my prized cel! it appears to be a “key cel” of Kei since the number is circled, but I’m no expert in these things.

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I also have a few pieces of original artwork by two manga creators. These are in marker on  white Shikishi Boards.

dscn0018  Leiji Matsumoto

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Toohru Fujisawa


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The Monday Meme: Poor Billy

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Source – Mr. B Natural via MST3K

Concert Review – Kraftwerk (2015)

I know some folks see hundreds of concerts before they even graduate high school, but that was never really a part of my life growing up. At one point, I was even more into music than anything else (more than anime, sci-fi, or wrestling GASP! ) but I went through a few phases of changing musical tastes, and grew up poor, so my exposure to new bands and concerts was at the mercy of MTV and VH1. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve had both the disposable income and friends that enjoy live music that I have been attending more concerts than I ever have in my life. I’m one of those guys that usually won’t go to the theater or see live entertainment by myself because, to me, that’s super lame.

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One thing I’ve especially been trying to do is see shows from bands on my “musical bucket list”, especially ones where band members are getting old, and it might be close to time for them to be retiring….or worse. I still feel sad that I never got to see David Bowie in concert, that is assuming I would ever have had the cash sitting around to do that when he was touring on a consistent basis, but the thought is still there that I missed out.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to see the legendary German electronic quartet, Kraftwerk, when they went out on a North American tour about a year and a half ago. Apparently, they had not been to Kansas City since the mid seventies, with that sort of frequency, this was basically a once in a lifetime show! Why didn’t I post about this then? Well, this blog wasn’t as open to this sort of topic then, and I wasn’t posting as much due to personal stuff going on. Now that Arcadia Pod is open to whatever I want to write about, I plan to review some concerts I attended recently as well.

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We knew we were in for a treat when we were handed 3D glasses. What IS a 3D concert anyway? we were about to find out!

 

 

When we were seated, a guy that I will characterize as an aging yuppie (as well as a gaggle of the drunkest and most-drugged out fiends he could find) looked back at my wife and I, both in our early 30’s (I’d assume they were 50-ish), and remarked at how confused he was to see folks our age at a Kraftwerk show. Indeed, Kraftwerk is ostensibly a band of the 1970’s and 1980’s, but they have been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. Anyone that is a fan of electronic music, new wave music, or even hip hop music should know about Kraftwerk and their contributions as they were decades ahead of their time.

I recall many days in rural Kansas where I would watch educational TV on PBS; these were the days before I had cable, as satellite was the only real way to get anything other than local channels out into my neck of the woods. I watched PBS more than anything else, and I honestly credit that with the fact that I was slightly accelerated in a few topics in elementary school. A few of my favorites were an old show called 3-2-1 Contact, and another called Newton’s Apple, the latter having an amazing theme song that I loved.

I would later find out that this theme song was in fact, a song called Ruckzuck by a band called Kraftwerk that my mom had a few records by – most notably 1974’s Autobahn. I won’t pretend that I was enamored by the full length LP of Autobahn at that age, because it was far too complex and long for me (22 minutes for the title song alone!) but the band’s name stuck with me. It wasn’t until we moved to Kansas City, and got cable, that I would sometimes see Kraftwerk Videos on Vh1. I immediately fell in love with their sound. So yes, annoying drunk guy at concert – I do know who Kraftwerk is, turn around and let me enjoy the show!

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The biggest thing that caught my eye going into this concert was the promoter tagline and marketing listing this as “a 3-D concert”. “What does that even mean?” I said to myself, was this just a bit of marketing goofiness or was there really going to be a 3-D element to the show? Fast forward to us standing in line, and being handed small red envelopes with 3-D glasses in them (seen above). I knew that Kraftwerk usually employed giant media screens as a way to make concerts more exciting, as four guys standing at keyboards can be sort of boring, what I didn’t know was how much this 3-D was going to change the concert game for me.

Considering Kraftwerk also actively pretend to be robots on stage, a lot of stage charisma is sort of out of the question, they need gimmicks like this to enhance the music. Upon the opening few seconds of the song “Numbers” the awesomeness of this 3-D was made clear as the theater was filled with huge lime-green numbers floating in the air and loud cheers from everyone in attendance.

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This picture really doesn’t do it justice, I’d love for a home video release with glasses.

 

All of the songs (over two hours worth without an opener) were arranged in album suites with some featuring full-length cuts of longer songs such as Autoban and Tour de France. They opened with five tracks from 1981’s Computer World, starting with Numbers as mentioned above. this was followed by songs from Radio-Activity, Trans-Europe Express and more. Almost all of their major albums had some sort of representation here, minus the first two albums that were more “stoner rock” than the electronic sound they eventually settled on.

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The famous song Radio-Activity, got a new line added about Fukushima

This was the full set-list, honestly do yourself a favor and see this show if it continues past this leg.

Numbers; Computer World; It’s More Fun to Compute; Computer Love; Pocket Calculator; Metropolis; The Man-Machine; Spacelab; The Model; Neon Lights; Autobahn; Airwaves; Intermission/News; Geiger Counter; Radioactivity; Electric Cafe; Tour de France: 1983, 2003 (Etape 1), 2003 (Etape 2); Trans Europa Express/Metal on Metal/Abzug. Encore: The Robots; Aero Dynamik; Planet of Visions; Boing Boom Tschak; Techno Pop; Musique Non Stop.

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Perhaps my favorite Kraftwerk concert thing is where they take a break and are replaced by actual robots for one song.

One of the cooler parts of the concert, for me, were those small hints of improvisation that were sprinkled in from here or there. I know some folks try to bad-mouth acts like Kraftwerk and Daft Punk as being guys that press play on stage, but that isn’t how this works at all. you could tell that the guys were up on stage actually mixing samples and re-arranging things as they went. while it might have been tightly controlled German engineered chaos, it was still cool to hear.

The highlight of the night was probably Tour De France, there was just something about the mix of video and songs that I wasn’t really expecting. My favorite Kraftwerk album has always been Trans-Europe Express, and perhaps I have ignored Tour De France, but it really caught me off guard in a good way. Since this show, I have listened to it more because of the concert. Honestly the whole concert stood out as awesome, with no real dud anywhere in the set. The only let-down was when the lights came back on.

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Metropolis had the best video presentation

I will chalk this up as, perhaps, my favorite concert that I’ve ever been to. The attention to making this an “event” that you can only experience live was exhilarating, and I wish more bands would do stuff like this. this was a great show that is suitable for all ages, as there really isn’t any vulgarity or sexual content anywhere in their repertoire. That’s not a big thing for me, as I see stuff that’s definitely not for kiddos all the time, but it’s good to know that it’s out there without it actually being “for kids”.

Glancing at Kraftwerk’s website, it looks like they are currently in the middle of a long European tour – so if I have any UK based readers that have yet to see this show, I’d recommend seeing if it’s coming to your town in May. As for US readers, fingers crossed that it isn’t another 40 years before the robots come back to town. In the meantime, check some videos out on Youtube, that’s almost as good.


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Omon Ra (1998)

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I’m fascinated by the concept, albeit pretty much firmly in the realm of fantasy, of lost cosmonauts. The idea that the USSR was so obsessed with besting America in the space race that they would stop at absolutely nothing to do so is interesting and horrifying at the same time. In a way, this is a sarcastic book about that very subject as well as a criticism of blind nationalism and the concept of “national heroes”.

One of the more outlandish things in the book takes place when the main character, Omon, enlists in a flight school only to discover that they do not create any pilots, but push their students through a series of grueling ordeals (like forced foot amputations) in order to turn them into national heroes. He thankfully escapes this fate and goes to cosmonaut training which is even more disturbing. I did a bit of research and (according to Wikipedia) this whole thing is a reference to a famous Soviet ace-pilot Alexey Maresyev, “who despite being badly injured in a plane crash after a dogfight, managed to return to the Soviet-controlled territory on his own. During his 18-day-long journey, his injuries deteriorated so badly that both of his legs had to be amputated below the knee.” In the World of Omon Ra, this is seen as the quickest way to create national heroes.

This book reminds me of Doctor Strangelove in many ways – it’s very surrealist, a dark comedy, and very acerbic towards the failings of the USSR. This book is not for everyone, but if you have an interest in history, dark comedy, or the space race this might be a fun read, and at only 150 pages or so, it’s a quick one. Perhaps my only big quibble with the book, and with many translated books, is that the writing is very simplistic, meaning that much of the nuance of the original book was probably lost in translation. I will definitely have to find more books by Victor Pelevin in the future.


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Digital Devil Story: Goddess Reincarnation & Digital Devil Story 2: Warrior of the Demon City (1986-8)

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It’s no mystery that one of my favorite videogame franchises is the venerable “MegaTen” series, which is shorthand for Shin Megami Tensei and encompasses a “main series” and its spinoffs. The first entry in the series, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei, was released in 1987 on the Famicom (NES) and its success spawned the entire franchise that still has new games coming out yearly. Few people realize, however, that this entire franchise was originally a book by Aya Nishitani.

I’ve wanted to read the original novella that started the whole thing for quite a while, but the lack of an actual translated book and my desire not to read thousands of words on a computer screen kept me away until now. Apparently a fan translation has been circulating for a while, and Goodreads thankfully had a link directly to it. After a few clicks and a bit of formatting, I was all set. Side-note: I did see an old anime OVA based on this book years ago (check youtube for Megami Tensei OVA) but it’s pretty bad despite being largely true to the book.

Akemi Nakajima attends a prestigious school called Jusho High (the gifted class no less) and despite being a genius, is having trouble in his classes. He is distant, ignores his schoolwork, and has few friends. This all seems to stem from the bullying he deals with from day to day. The book opens with Nakajima fighting with a male and female classmate because he ignored her romantic advances and is some kind of lunatic and gets her boyfriend to beat Nakajima up. He is plagued by nightmares of ancient gods Izanagi and Izanami, the gods from the Japanese creation myth, roughly the equivalent to Adam and Eve in Christian culture.

Instead of being a mature adult, Nakajima uses his vast intelligence with computers and new found fascination with the occult to create a demon summoning program for his computer. He plans, with some success eventually, to get a demon to take revenge on his bullies and make him more prominent at school. What he doesn’t know is that he should never trust a demon and has his life thrown into utter chaos. It’s hard to pin Nakajima down as the “hero” of this story as he is basically a giant sociopath for about half the book. It isn’t until the presence of his love interest, a transfer student named Yumiko, that he stops being a total D-bag. I don’t mean benign either – his is directly responsible for rapes, murders, and brainwashing until he flips a total 180 to being a heroic lover this side of Shakespeare’s Romeo.

This weird characterization is one of my big issues with this book – yeah, I see all of the building blocks here that eventually became one of my favorite videogames of all time, but the characters seem one-dimensional and switch personalities half-way through the book. Perhaps this is the fault of the translation I have, or characterization was not the purpose of this story. To me, Mr. Nishitani excels at describing horrific gore and body horror, and the majority of his descriptive prose is there to make the reader’s stomach turn.


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Not much to say about book two that wasn’t posted up there.

When I read Digital Devil Story: Goddess Reincarnation I characterized it as a mediocre book with bland characters (or awful ones) that had amazing descriptions of body horror but not much else. Granted, it did sow the seeds of one of my favorite video game franchises of all time, but it was a shell of what I expected.

While this book is still slightly hokey, the main character, Nakajima, is written slightly less unlikable, so at least you can relate to him this time around. The secondary cast is decent and the villain is cool. Most notably, this chapter brings in tropes like a somewhat post-apocalyptic setting and a demon-fighting mechanic that proved so popular that even Pokemon ripped it off years later.

This was very much better than the first book. If I was still rating stuff on here (I don’t because that’s dumb) I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to give it more than an average score, but this might just be worth reading. I wish I could read part three, but as of 2017 there is yet to be any sort of English translation. It seems the guy thaat was doing it got a real job translating stuff and never went back. Maybe one day we’ll see it surface


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Heavy Metal Magazine Bargain Bin Dive

To change up what I was reading a bit (lots of superhero books), I decided to get a handful of European comics from a sale that was hosted by Heavy Metal Magazine. Heavy Metal is known to be an “adult” comic company, and while this is not for children it isn’t crass or filthy – it just has a bit on skin. You may remember a film based on the Heavy Metal license back in the 1980’s – same books. Almost all of these were around $3.00 which is almost cheaper than most modern comic books. If you want to check some of these out, here is a link to the bargain bin on the Heavy Metal website:

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For this round, I chose four books that caught my eye from the cover alone. Since this turned out to be a success. I will probably get more. All four of these books turned out to be beautiful hardback editions, about the same size as most children’s storybooks. I’m not sure of this format is particularly great as I’m more used to omnibus editions, but they are quick easy reads.


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Ulysses (1974)

I believe this comic was originally written in 1974, and I really enjoyed the artwork a LOT – very much Jack Kirby meets 70’s drug chic. The plot is a “modernized” (1974) version of the classic Story by Homer. The Olympians and associated monsters are aliens, which are mistaken for gods by humans that cannot comprehend their technology. They enjoy putting humans in peril and watching their follies as some sort of twisted reality show. Ant that was long before that particular strain of television mind-rot became a thing.

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The only downside is that this volume leaves the story incomplete, as Heavy Metal (as far as I can tell) did not release the second volume with this 2006 reprint.


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The Bible 

I would have loved something like this when I was a kid even though this isn’t a kids book. Since this ran in the french version of Heavy Metal I know this is meant for an adult audience so it’s cool to see that they did something like this.

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This book contains an illustrated version of The book of Genesis, and while it’s pretty short, all of the important information is there without getting bogged down in minutiae. Unlike other illustrated bibles, this one isn’t watered down for kids – Yahweh is a jerk, and people try to swindle or kill each-other all the time – an honest representation of what the Bible is actually like. This isn’t a bad thing – I prefer not hiding things no matter how rough they may be. I wish there was more re-published by Heavy Metal, but it seems that this was the only book re-released, or at least the only one available in English.


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Attila (Hombre #5) 1991

I love Post-apocalyptic stories, and I especially like ones that aren’t the run-of-the-mill post-nuclear cold war stories – something different. The world of Hombre, the main anti-hero of this book, has been devastated for some reason (this is book five so it isn’t explained, sounds like social collapse they way it is discussed) and he travels around as a lone survivor much in the same way Max Rockatansky does in the Mad Max series. This world is basically like the American old west – full of lawlessness and hardship as well as horses. This particular volume opens with Hombre trying to live a normal life, when a group of evil men rip that from his arms. He meets up with a young Barbarian girl named Attila that shares his common goal of revenge against said man – but she makes him realize how dark he has truly become.

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Hombre was a Spanish comics series written by Antonio Segura and drawn by José Ortiz, first published in 1981 in the magazine Cimoc. This translation was run in Heavy Metal magazine at some point in the 1980’s and contains many of the trappings of many adult comics including gratuitous naked women. This isn’t a bad thing, but I wanted to point this out in case somebody rolls in assuming this is a wholesome book or something.


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The Odyssey

Wait didn’t you already read this? Nope, it was a different comic based on the same story. I ended up with two very different versions of the same story – Ulysses which is a psychedelic French comic and this one from Spain. Francisco Navarro and Jose Martin Sauri manage to cram the entirety of he story of Odysseus into a fairly small book, and while it’s missing stuff all of the major plot points are there. The art is an amazing heavy ink style in high contrast black and white, if anything this is the highlight of many European comics.

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That’s it for now – stay tuned and I may just be getting a few more of these…


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Queen Emeraldas Volume 1

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I am so glad to finally read this! I’m a big fan of Leiji Matsumoto, so I was pretty disappointed with a now defunct anime company called ADV only releasing half of the OVA animated series that was loosely based on this original 1978 manga. That was like a decade ago, and there wasn’t really a good way to get the rest of the story legally. Flash forward to 2016 and not only can you buy things like a legit copy of Captain Harlock on DVD, but one can also buy this original manga in a beautiful hardcover edition!

If you like space operas, I’d definitely recommend checking out some of Leiji Matsumoto’s works if you are unfamiliar. He is, perhaps, most well-known (by a casual audience) for inspiring the fabulous animated music videos for the French House music duo Daft Punk during their Discovery era. These videos were later collected into a film called Interstella 5555. Older fans may, no doubt, recognize his other works such as Star Blazers (Yamato) or Captain Harlock – it’s all the same guy.

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Matsumoto has woven a fine tapestry of interconnected stories with stoic characters that anyone can love; unfortunately, most younger anime fans ignore classics and he has somewhat fallen out of the mainstream as of late. I was assuming that some of his older comics would never come out here, until I read a recent news article from Publisher’s Weekly, touting VERY strong sales of older comic titles at Anime Expo such as pre-orders for this very book!

“At the Kodansha Comics panel on Saturday, Ben Applegate, director of publishing for Kodansha Comics, cheered the ongoing rebound in manga print sales. “You’re probably seeing all the industry people here smiling, so you know that the manga industry is doing really well,” he said. “This resurgence of manga is allowing us to take chances on different series we wouldn’t usually in the past.” […] An example of a title that, in the past, Kodansha might have thought was too risky to publish in English is Leiji Matsumoto’s Queen Emeraldas, which the publisher is releasing in August. An older, classic SF adventure, the advance hardcovers of the book were sold out by weekend’s end.”

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As for the book itself, the story surrounds a boy named Hiroshi Umino, who strives to be a powerful star captain so that he can live by his own rules and sail the “sea of stars” like his heroes. His run in with Emeraldas changes his life forever, as she slowly becomes his mentor (of sorts). Emeraldas is basically like Xena in this book, a total badass that kicks booty and takes names. You often see supposedly feminist comic characters that end up being some sort of fetishistic dominatrix-style sexual wish-fulfilment trope, but that’s not how Emeraldas rolls. I wouldn’t name my very own cat after a character with skeevy undertones like that! We see Hiroshi and Emeraldas sharing eerily parallel origin stories until they meet again later on.

If you are also a huge fan of Matsumoto’s works, or are familiar with stories like the aforementioned Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express 999, Galaxy Railways, Arcadia of my youth or Maetel legend, you will absolutely love this. This story adds more substance to a somewhat overlooked character that constantly shows up in various shows as a background character. Otherwise, this book stands on it’s own well, and acts as an introduction to a character that thankfully appears in a ton of material. If you become a fan you will want to branch out and see more. And hopefully, if this book ends up selling well Kodansha will release more Matsumoto manga!


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The White Mountains (The Tripods #1)

The White Mountains (The Tripods #1)

The Tripods first came to my attention a few years ago when I stumbled upon a picture of one of the titular crafts in some sort of memorabilia magazine; one that was full of garage model kits. As I recall, I had no idea that there was some sort of “sequel” to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, and wondered why I had never heard of it. I was, of course, mistaken as the concept of these three-legged walking crafts is merely inspired by those similar Martian crafts, and have no relation otherwise.

The Tripods was actually a series of “young adult” novels (way before they were a cultural phenomenon) penned by John Christopher in the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s. The series was a success and was eventually adapted into an awesome television show that I’ve seen the first season of. If this sounds fun, be sure to look for my reviews of that show on here. The production was a joint venture between the BBC and the Australian Seven network, and lasted two seasons. Sadly, a third season died before it went into production.

The White Mountains is immediately unsettling based solely on the realization that something is wrong. The book employs a great juxtaposition of little hints of lost technology and a primitive, medieval-ish, somewhat pastoral, setting. This sets up what I will be calling “The Reverse Shyamalan”- we have already seen the twist, something bad happened and this is a dystopian future – now let’s work backwards and find out why. Maybe it’s more like Memento? I’m sure I can figure out a better early 2000’s film reference to put here, but that’s beside the point.

Anyway…we know that something isn’t right: either these people are some sort of Anabaptist off-shoot that hates technology, or something bad has happened in the past. This is answered almost immediately as we meet the main characters on their way to a village celebration. It seems that Jack, a neighborhood boy, has reached the age at which everyone is considered an adult, and is to have his “capping ceremony”.

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Will (and later his cousin Henry) are disturbed by this practice as everyone that gets “capped” comes back different. Capped individuals seem to lose any sort of creativity, drive, and imagination that made them who they were. “Adults” become bland worker drones that want no other past time than work and sing the praise of their “masters”. These masters are of course gigantic three legged monstrosities called “Tripods” and the Capping Ceremony can be surmised as a way of them controlling humans. At this point we have no idea what these creatures are or what they want with the human race, but one can see that it isn’t good.

Will strikes up a conversation with an eccentric “vagrant” named Ozymandias that talks of a land of free men in the White Mountains, a land outside of the influence of the Tripods. Vagrants are those that are seen as harmless by the Tripods and regular capped townspeople, but are not allowed to mingle with everyone else. Usually it is accepted that these people were “driven mad” by the capping process and are better to be not spoken about. Will is amazed by what Ozymandias has to say, and plans to escape to the European mainland to find this utopia of freedom.

Then a whole lot of shenanigans ensue – a third character named Beanpole joins up, and grenades get hurled at stuff. I will let you read to find out the rest.

I was struck with how different this book is to the television series. First and foremost – Will and Henry almost hate each other. Even coming to blows a few times. The show also has a LOT of “fluff” padding the main part of the story. Honestly, the book flows better and is very tightly paced. This is ostensibly a young adult book or some equivalent thereof and can be read very quickly, if you enjoy science fiction I would greatly recommend it.


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Vampirella Volume 1: Our Lady of Shadows

Vampirella Volume 1: Our Lady of Shadows

I’ve stated in a few other reviews on here that I *usually* don’t like modern vampire fiction. This is largely because writers try too hard to make it hip and trendy to cater to the teenage audience. So, while everyone was obsessed with sparkly shirtless vampires, I basically stopped reading anything in the genre. I have, however, found that I actually do like this stuff, I’m just an old “stick in the mud” traditionalist when it comes to it. Even some of the more of-the-wall vampire stuff I enjoy (like Vampire Hunter D) is firmly based on stuff like Christopher Lee films from Hammer Horror.

When reading Vampirella Volume 1: Our Lady of Shadows, I was having a lot of fun. Despite the covers, the story doesn’t really get too outlandish and exploitative, and everything is fairly well written. This is basically my introduction to the character since I always assumed this book was nothing more than softcore porn – now I know it’s more of a “pulp” series, and I feel bad for ignoring it so long.

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The story follows Vampirella as she is sent by The Vatican to stop a long dead nemesis, a cult leader and warlock, that may have resurfaced. She ends up on a quest (aided by a Nosferatu no less) to consume energy from various “vampires” from other cultures to make herself able to stop him and his plan to start the apocalypse.

Honestly, my only real quibble here is that it ended in such a way that it really should have had at least one more issue. Everything seems rushed at the end, thus making the whole story-arc unbalanced. There was even a point where the “monster of the issue” feel is thrown out in order to speed things up (what previously took a full issue was resolved in two pages), making Vampi’s quest seem pointless. It was good that a “prequel” issue was included, but I wanted a better ending. I will have to look at more Vampirella titles from Dynamite and possibly read more as I am starting to really enjoy these retro “pulpy” titles they are doing.


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A Regeneration is coming, 2017 is the year of rebirth

Anyone that may still check on this blog may have noticed that some changes have been happening behind the scenes. I have purchased a new web domain, re-tooled the logo, and altered things like the Facebook page – but what does that mean? I plan to alter this blog ever so slightly in 2017, instead of having a handful of small one-topic blogs that I have been neglecting, I plan to merge them together into a new entertainment site -arcadiapod.com. not only will I discuss science fiction, but it will not only be UK-based sci-fi. I will discuss movies, TV, books, wrestling etc. Pretty much whatever I want. This will help with creativity and not lead to burn-out. Once I move, I will also be re-vamping my short-lived podcast so get ready for that as well.

Can’t wait to share some great stuff with you guys!