Picture of the new MST3K “Mads” in Full Costume Revealed!

With just around a month away, the VERY tight-lipped staff over at Netflix and The Satellite of Love have finally started to trickle a tiny sliver of what’s to come with the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Funded in part by a largely successful Kickstarter campaign in late 2015, this will be the first season of new episodes to grace the airwaves for nearly twenty years. Felicia Day posted the following image to Twitter today, finally showing off Kinga Forester and TV’s Son of TV’s Frank in full mad scientist garb!

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Some Takeaways / thoughts –

  • Patton Oswalt is my favorite stand-up comedian, so I was pumped from day one when he was announced for this role. he definitely has the grimace of an evil scientist down.
  • Wonder how much like Pearl Kinga is?
  • The set looks like the Deep 13 set, love the heart shaped gate.
  • The new “mads” logo seems to be a “bonehead”…awesome!
  • Love the black overcoats – almost a season 1 feel, or perhaps they aren’t scientists are pure torturers!?
  • I can’t wait for next month!

 

Oh and if you didn’t see this, here’s an older promo image showing the “mads” in white, as well as the majority of the new cast:

mst3k-on-netflix


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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.

Cyborg-009-Call-of-Justice

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).

cyborg-009-call-of-justice-episode-7-english-dubbed

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.

Cyborg_009_Call_of_Justice-5846afec5ad13

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.

cyborg-009-call-of-justice-episode-6-english-dubbed

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.

cyborg 009

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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How To Watch British Television in America

An easy guide on how to watch all this stuff I keep yammering on about!

We live in a very interesting time for entertainment consumers. Gone are the days of only having a small selection of television channels to watch on any given day. First, the home video and DVD markets opened the floodgates on older and far more obscure programming to watch. This was followed by internet streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and those dreaded Peer to Peer and bittorrent clients. No longer is the consumer shackled to the whims of a TV executive or commercial entity. For the most part, barriers are falling and e can watch what we want, when we want,how we want.

This blog covers one particular type of media – UK science fiction and other “genre” programming. A lot of the stuff I cover is readily available to Americans on pay services or home video releases, but what I want to do is give a general overview on how I watch all this stuff. Don’t fret if you are a reader that doesn’t live in the U.S., most of these tips can help you out as well no matter what country you live in.

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Look for one of these on the back of your DVDs

Region Codes, and how to bypass them.

As many science fiction fans may have noticed – shows licensed from UK companies such as Doctor Who cost about twice or even three times more than most U.S. television shows. This can be particularly bad if you are on a budget and don’t want to break the bank. Yes, a few of these shows are available on Netflix (e.g.Red Dwarf, Doctor Who, and Day of the Triffids) but some shows that I plan on eventually getting such as the Tripods or Blakes 7 will probably never come out here or be released on a streaming device. You can obviously download things and burn them, or watch programs on your computer, but if you are like me, this choice is never as good as watching a good quality image whilst sitting in a comfy chair. This is where region-free DVD players some in.

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this is what happens when you try to play a disk on the wrong player (Photo credit: williac)

So what are DVD regions? They are an archaic policy adopted by home media companies decades ago to promote policies such as price discrimination, disallow reverse importation, and control costs with staggered release dates. For example, in America a company can get away with selling a seven year old season of Doctor Who for around $79.99 due to the niche market and limited exposure. In the United Kingdom this would be ludicrous, and as such, it is much cheaper. Anyone in their right mind, when confronted with such a price difference, would just order these DVDs from England. This is what they are trying to stop. America is called “region 1” and the UK is “region 2” so neither can easily watch each others home media very easily. If you pop a foreign DVD into your personal DVD player it will have an error message, this is the same with personal computers,game systems and just about everything else that would make you happy. Here are maps of the DVD regions and Blu-Ray regions. 

DVD-Regions-map
DVD Regions
Blu-Ray Regions
Blu-Ray Regions

My recommendation to anyone that may decide to watch some harder to find UK shows is to do one of the following two things:

Region-Free DVD Players
Region-Free DVD Players are big business in some countries(Photo credit: Hikosaemon)

1) Cheap Method: It’s a little known secret that most, if not all cheap Chinese-made DVD players are actually region-free, and have their region locks installed via software within the factory. In the past I used to get DVD players from Digix or Coby for around 20-30 dollars. These players were pretty crappy for the most part, and honestly aren’t worth it unless you can’t swing what I will post on option 2. I remember having this one particular model of Coby DVD player that would work fine until around the six month mark, *boom* – broken. The trick to using one of these is to do a little research. Websites like DVD Help have listings of DVD players and whether they can be region hacked or not. Most of these are simple to hack, as a numerical code on the DVD remote usually does the trick.

2) Best Method – depending on how much one wants to spend, visiting a site like Region Free DVD is the best option. Tired of dealing with cheap players, I plunked down 100 dollars for a Toshiba regionless HDMI up-scaling DVD player, and will never look back. Not only is the picture better in just about every way, but the player itself is tailored for wide screen TVs and widescreen media, like most UK TV.

The reason I recommend getting one of these players is pretty self explanatory with the numbers. Here are the prices and availability of one show Life on Mars, and its spin-off/sequel Ashes to Ashes.

Amazon.com

LOM Season 1: $49.99-$79.00

LOM Season 2: $49.99-$79.00

A2A S1: Not released

A2A S2: Not released

A2A S3:Nor released

Total $100.00+ for 2 seasons, Ashes to Ashes not even announced for release as far as I know.

Ashes to Ashes (TV series)
Ashes to Ashes (TV series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Amazon.co.uk

(as of today’s exchange rates)

LOM Season 1: $15.00

LOM Season 2: $15.00

A2A S1: $15.00

A2A S2: $15.00

A2A S3: $20.00

Total $80.00 for 5 seasons, all episodes complete, there are also combo packs of all three Ashes to Ashes seasons, and both Life on Mars seasons that could bring the price down even more. 

And now you can see why I do this, and shipping isn’t bad either – maybe 8 bucks for most DVD orders to reach the U.S. If you don’t care to get a new DVD or Blu-Ray player, there are also computer programs that disable region codes on PCs. Technically you can watch foreign DVDs on there as it does allow for a VERY limited amount of region swaps, but be careful. If you keep switching regions, it will eventually permanently lock into one. Most computers can be toggled around six times before this happens. 

But lets say you don’t care about actually owning these shows, is there a way to watch these on TV or on your computer? Why yes there is!

Cable TV Alternatives

Image representing Netflix as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

There are three major streaming services in the U.S.: Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. These three companies have become my lifeline lately, as I decided to “cut the cord” a few years back, and drop my cable subscription. Needless extra channels and ever-increasing prices were getting to be a headache,and I’m glad there was an alternative to cable and satellite. While there is a bit of cross-over, all three companies have their strengths and weaknesses in price and availability. In a general sense, Netflix is better for movies, Hulu is better for TV, and Amazon Prime is like a weird cousin of both – having VERY popular TV shows and movies, but less of them.

Hulu
Hulu (Photo credit: Evan Hamilton)

Netflix gets big props for having licenses for some of the bigger shows like Doctor Who and Top gear. With the latter, they even have all of the 20+ seasons (minus the first) all ready to marathon. Hulu has been bringing quite a few UK comedies and dramas over as “Hulu Exclusives” such as Rev. and Whites as of late. Other shows like Moone Boy, Misfits, and Pramface have been getting quite a bit of traction on there as well, bringing what could be considered “more obscure” shows to a new audience. Amazon Prime is the oddity here. They have some huge shows like Downton Abbey and things like Sarah Jane Adventures as well as next day purchase options for the NEW episodes of big shows. This year, I spent 2 bucks a pop for Doctor Who series 7, something that I could have pirated, but chose not to.

amazon-prime

Considering that my monthly cable bill used to run some $120, these companies are awesome. Hulu is $7.99 per month, as is Netflix, and Amazon Prime is $79.99 yearly. There are other perks for the Amazon subscription including free two day shipping on everything, so if you are a heavy Amazon user, I don’t know why you wouldn’t use this service.

Public Broadcasting Service
Public Broadcasting Service (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kickin’ it Oldschool

For our penultimate section I decided to bring up regular old TV, whether it be network, cable, or satellite. This is not my preferred method of watching UK TV, but it will definitely do in a pinch. For years, the Public Broadcasting Service has helped many an Anglophile get their fix. I grew up watching comedies like Keeping Up Appearances, Mr. Bean, and Monty Python just to name a few. My local PBS station still runs a Saturday block of UK TV all sponsored by some very passionate fans. Some of the videotapes they use look pretty bad now, but if you haven’t seen the show digitally remastered you will be none-the-wiser. Some PBS stations even run shows like Doctor Who and Red Dwarf, so keep an eye on the schedule. Outside of that, cable providers have a decent amount of UK TV, especially if you have BBC America on your cable plan. The problem with “regular TV” is that most US TV execs love to remake everything that is popular rather than airing the original.

bittorrent

“By other means”

I won’t lie, I sometimes obtain TV episodes from the internet. Whether it be a bit-torrent client or YouTube,if one is internet savvy enough pretty much anything is obtainable online. For older shows that are out of print on DVD and impossible to legally obtain over here, I have ventured onto torrent sites quite often. be warned, this is NOT legal at worst and kind of a  gray area at best, and could land you in trouble. I would never download a Hollywood film or adult film using these sorts of programs, as shady litigation “honey pots” are out there to tempt people into breaking the law. Another option is using proxy servers or streaming sites to access UK-only TV providers. I haven’t really dabbled with this, and have no real opinion on the use of these programs or the results.

So there you go fellow anglophiles, I hope this helps you navigate the wondrous world of British television much easier, and gives you some new stuff to watch. If you have any questions on show availability, or tips on how to watch something, please feel free to ask, as I may be able to help.

Day of the Triffids (1981) – Episode 2

Egads! It has it been a while since I looked at this series, and I know that I should do more seeing that it brings the most traffic to my blog than any other topic! I had previously stated how thrilled I was that Netflix was carrying the show, and that they had a big selection of such material. I guess the people who make sure we don’t have any fun saw my glowing praise and the show was gone immediately from their digital service. All kidding aside, I had wondered if I should go ahead and just buy the film from Amazon, which was until I noticed that it was on Amazon Prime for free. It seems that in the wake of “Flixtergate”, the debacle wherein Netflix announced that they were splitting into two companies and raised prices – killing their reputation, many of these great UK shows have moved to both Hulu Plus and Amazon prime. Most of these aren’t science fiction shows, but I know that I’ll be getting some new material for this blog from this none-the-less. Now I hope that this very article will not trigger another calamity such as the show being lost forever, but I think I can take the chance, if only to share with you all this great drama.

When we last left Bill Mason, he was lying in a hospital bed thinking back at the series of events that ultimately led to him being there. His blindness seemingly gone, Mason yanked his bandages off only to find everything in disarray. As far as he can tell not many people have the ability to see anymore, and even worse – the world has gone to hell. Dead bodies lay everywhere, Triffids are crawling all over the place, and human society has ultimately crumbled. Some of the post-apocalyptic scenes we are presented with are truly disturbing; one of the earliest shots in this episode sees a man committing suicide nearby a field full of people wandering around without the use of their eyes. It’s always a cheap tactic to use endangered kids against the viewer to illicit certain emotions, but hearing small children yell “Mummy where are you?!” was a shock.

Josella-Payton-emma-relph-triffids

We are also introduced to another main character of this program, Josella Payton as played by Emma Relph, the eventual love interest of Mason. Being another person that hasn’t gone blind, Jo finds out first hand that the world isn’t such a nice place anymore as she is assaulted by a haggard looking man with a beard. Desperate people want to take advantage of anyone that still has their vision, and this man is the worst kind of accident survivor there is. Jo isn’t in danger long, and eventually meets up with Bill when he saves her from this creep. Her interest in Bill seems sort of forced, as if she is only tagging along because she feels helpless by herself, but it’s cool for such a nerdy guy to get with such an attractive lady. Then again this was a time of the “weak female assistant” as seen in Doctor Who and other shows; all they do is get in trouble and act emotional as the strong man character does all the work.

I think I really like this show based on the simple fact that Bill Mason, as portrayed by John Duttine, doesn’t look or act like your typical action hero. He’s a normal looking guy with a beard and a tweed jacket, not a square-jawed badass that you would normally see in Hollywood action shows. Bill feels the need to help people in the situation, but feels bad that his size and ability gives him no upper-hand in altercations with bands of marauding football hooligans. If there is one thing he’s awesome at, it’s killing triffids – we see him destroy one with a pitchfork towards the end of this episode in a manner that would make Neptune himself blush with envy.

Bill-Mason-john-duttine-triffids

My last review of episode one was pretty sparse, as it was like the third entry for this blog, so hopefully I’ve improved here. Episode 2 of Day of the Triffids was awesome, and keeps me coming back for more. Slowly but surely through this and the 2009 miniseries, I am becoming a big fan of the property, and plan to seek out more if I can.  Since I can definitely watch this on Amazon prime, I will try to get through this fairly quickly so that I could possibly read the books as well. Onward we go to episode three, where Mason is hopefully on his way to get some firepower in order to battle the triffids.

Red Dwarf: Series 1, Episode 1 “The End” (1988)

This fall is going to be a great time for fans of UK-based science fiction. Not only are we going to have six episodes of Doctor Who just after the Olympics, but there is a new Season of Red Dwarf on the way as well! Since there still is a ton of time left, I figured that I could easily pass it by looking back at some older episodes of Red Dwarf, sort of like a countdown to the new ones. So, without further ado, my review of the pilot episode from the far off time of 1988 – “The End”

When I first watched Red Dwarf, I immediately fell in love with it. My (now) wife had actually seen it on a PBS affiliate, and at the time I was oblivious to it aside from a passing mention. I wasn’t really into my full “anglo-phile” mindset at the time, and didn’t really seek out older shows yet. That all changed in 2004 when I got Netflix and started renting old Doctor Who episodes and Red Dwarf. I loved the idea of a science fiction sitcom, although very few of these cross-genre mergers were any good. Shows like Homeboys from Outer Space and Small Wonder put a bad taste in my mouth, but I was willing to try something new. I was immediately sucked in by this incredibly powerful and somewhat intense introduction:

I actually wish they’d bring a version of this introduction back. I like the more jazzed up one and all, but this is a nice palette cleanser for the hilarity about to ensue. I know some would say that “it doesn’t fit the show”, but I still love it, and that’s all that matters to me.

From the very beginning of the first episode we learn the dynamic between the two main characters –Lister and Rimmer inside and out. Lister is the lowest ranking guy on the ship, and a total slacker. His main goal is to simply collect a paycheck until he can retire to Fiji and start a farm. He’s all about having fun, and has no interest in his work. To foil this, his direct superior Rimmer (the second lowest ranking guy on the ship) is a self-righteous know-it-all with a severe inferiority complex. He always strives to become an officer on Red Dwarf, but ruins his chances with his manic nature, poor people skills, and sheer arrogance. This “odd couple” motif has been done countless times, but rarely is it done in such a humorous way as we see it here.

The thing that truly stands out with this show is the characters themselves. We might be used to seeing the exploits of all the highest ranking officers on serious shows such as Star Trek, but imagine an entire program consisting of “red shirts”. And not just plain “red shirts” but the ones that aren’t even cool enough to go on away missions and get their faces eaten by aliens. Focusing on characters that are destined to fight, screw around, and do nothing of any real importance whilst trying to get back to Earth basically writes itself. We see other characters in the beginning like Captain Hollister, but they won’t matter for too long, as they all die within minutes of the opening credits.

This is where the show gets fun. Lister gets in trouble for smuggling a pregnant cat named Frankenstein into his sleeping quarters on the ship. This is against regulation, and he is sentenced to stasis – a choice he made rather than giving up his pet. Lister’s job was to work on food replicators, and ironically, one messed up royally while he was unable to fix it. Rimmer tried to fix it, but Rimmer is Rimmer, and he messes it up even more. The entire ship went through a huge dose of nuclear radiation – killing everyone on board except Lister and Frankenstein, who was safe in the cargo bay. Three million years later, Holly (the ship’s computer system) informs Dave of some shocking news:

“They’re Dead, Dave….Everybody is dead, Dave.”

To fill this cast out, Lister is joined by other rejects, we have a holographic version of Rimmer, the person that the ships computer feels was Lister’s closest friend, a human-like creature that evolved from his stow-away cat simply named “The Cat”, and the ship’s computer itself, driven mad for the last few million years. Credits roll, and that’s why we kick off history folks! If you haven’t seen this show, and don’t mind special effects that are 2 decades old, I would definitely recommend checking it out. Currently you can watch it for free on Amazon Instant Video, if you happen to have an Amazon Prime subscription, or you can rent it on Netflix. The episodes used to be available on Netflix streaming, but they let the videos lapse for some reason.

Join me soon, for a look at episode 2!

TV Review – Day of the Triffids (1981) Episode 1

I was perusing Netflix’s streaming tab one day, and noticed a few new shows added to my “you might like this” tab.  One show in question was one that I had heard of, but had never seen called “The Day of the Triffids”.  Since then I have researched it a bit more, and discovered that a 2009 remake was made, and a few theatrical movies exist of the story, all of which was originally a book by John Wyndham.  I hope Netflix keeps this up, as I’d love to see some more stuff that I can review for this site.

The opening credits are creepy

As the episode opens, we see a man named Bill Mason, who is laying in a hospital bed with bandages covering the majority of his face.  We learn, through various flashbacks, that Triffids were some sort of plant, whose oil could be used as a new source of energy.  It appears that some sort of energy crisis is afoot, and the new Triffid oil is the best around.  The problem is that apparently Triffids seem to be either sentient, or at least move around to feed, as Bill knows the best of all.  He was the first to officially be “attacked” by a Triffid as a child, as one was able to sting him pretty badly.  He gained expertise in the subject, and later went to work on a Triffid farm of all places.  His injury, that as of yet was a mystery, seems to come from another Triffid sting, that left him temporarily blind.  As Bill lay in bed, the world bears witness to a beautiful meteor shower, one that will change mankind forever.

A Triffid on the attack

The story in itself is a breath of fresh air for a person like me, who has seen just about any science fiction plotline used umpteen times.  To be honest, I really can’t say that I’ve seen a show about walking killer plants.  The budget for The Day of the Triffids is obviously pretty small, but doesn’t seem to suffer from the budget shortcomings of shows like Doctor Who and Blakes 7, probably having to do with the short duration of the miniseries.  The special effects are pretty good, but sparse, and the only real heavy amount of them you see are the Triffids themselves, which look like a huge Amazonian carnivorous pitcher plant, mixed with some kind of houseplant.

I will definitely keep watching this show, and now plan to check out the other versions of this story, as I love post-apocalyptic stories, which I assume is where this goes, and weird stuff in general.

The intro

My rating: 4 out of 5