Thursday, December 13, 2018

Book review: The Griffin's Feather


Review:  #799
Title:  The Griffin's Feather
Series:  Dragon Rider - 2nd book
Author:  Cornelia Funke
Comments:  The Griffin’s Feather’s beginning, and granted, the first half of the book, starts out very slow and very hard to get stuck into.  The Dragon Rider Ben, is now living in Norway looking after fantasy creatures but unfortunately, one day, a Pegasus arrives with three unhatched eggs with a grave problem.  The eggs need to grow larger otherwise the foals inside will suffocate and die, thus Ben and his adopted father, Barnabas, travel in the search of the only thing that can help them, a griffin’s sun-feather.  Griffins are cruel and proud creatures, being extremely dangerous.  It takes a long while before the group arrives at where the Griffins live, and it takes even longer for the dragons to shine.  A huge chunk of the book is spent on Ben worrying about his dragon Firedrake, and their future.  It is understandable but that doesn’t make it interesting.  However, as the plot moves along, it captures more and more of your attention, although it never feels like it properly built up to a grand finale.
Rating:  6/10

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Overlord II (2018)


Overlord II is the second season based on the light novel series at 13 episodes long.  The background of the plot is that when the Dive Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game Yggdrasil had its servers shutting down, one player stayed logged on right until the very end.  As the time ticked over, he realized he was still in the game.  However, soon after, it dawns on him that he isn't in the game anymore, but rather transported to a new world.  All the NPCs in his guild have gained their own personalities and are able to learn and grow.


He takes on the name Ainz Ooal Gown and sets out to spread his name far and wide in this world.  His aim is to find other Yggdrasil players, particularly on the off chance the ones from his own guild, who had quit playing years ago.  That aim quickly takes on the form of taking over the new world.  One mistake you shouldn't make is assuming that this is still a game world because it is not.  While it has its parallels, such as various tiers of magic, vague levels and items, it's pretty much like every other non-game fantasy world.  Effort has to be put in to make items, there is no menu screen and no visible stats.


The first arc feels like a massive sidetrack at first as you have no idea how it links to the overall plot.  The first season was already alike this with a vague distant objective and it's even vaguer here.  It spends a few episodes introducing and focusing on a new character that is part of another race, the Lizardmen.  Zaryusu is a "traveler" and an outcast as he had left his village to learn about the world and then return.  We quickly learn the Lizardmen's customs and history as Zaryusu travels out to other tribes to ally together and defeat the dark forces that had promised to wipe them out.


It takes a while to find out how this links to Ainz and what is his role in all this.  Ainz's reasons and his actions involving the Lizardmen is weak at best as while his Guardians are convinced that he had a plan all along, this doesn't feel like the case as a viewer.  It feels like Ainz is aimlessly executing his plans but it lacks explanation on how his plans will further his objectives.  The anime defies your expectations on what happens to the characters.  It is not afraid to kill them off, even if significant amount of time was spent in developing them as characters.  It is a bit heartless of Ainz though when he does this and is not something you'd expect from a protagonist.


The next arc, which takes up the second half of the season focuses on Sebas and Solution.  It continues on their plight from the first season as they are blending in gathering information (but on what exactly, is not revealed).  They are living in a large mansion with Sebas as the butler and Solution as the Lady.  A big part of this season is allowing the members of Nazerick to think for themselves and this causes Sebas to (in Solution's eyes) go astray and help out a human girl for seemingly no benefit and only out of the goodness of his heart.


This actually uncovers a significant plot about a powerful organisation pulling the strings behind the scenes.  Sebas' involving drags in Nazerick but like the rest of the arcs, it's hard to see where it is supposed to be going towards.  On the one hand, we get heaps and heaps of new characters that turn up, in different factions, either for or against the organization.  On the other hand, you don't feel much for these characters because they seem to be characters who are only important to this one arc and then forgotten until they are needed way down the track that is typical of this series so far.


However, there are a few touching scenes, especially one where it ties together one of the new characters with a previous one.  It will come as no surprise that all the characters are either mentally unhinged or hold onto some sort of extremely righteous ideal.  The season constantly hammers home how powerful (and overpowered) the residents of Nazerick are.  After a few episodes of hyping up some human warriors from the supposedly evil organization, it takes all of one second for someone from Nazerick to defeat them all at once.  Despite the fights being over in a second, it actually remains satisfying in a way.


The last few episodes ramps up the pacing with tense scenes, surprising developments to the plot so far and mixing in some lighthearted humor for good measure.  It works well and you thirst for more.  It has a strong ending and wraps together the arcs so that they don't feel as segregated as before.  Overall, Overlord II serves as a pretty good second season.  While the first arc felt like a bit of a detour, as does the first half of the second arc, the ending helped in remedying some of that.  It's cool to see Ainz and his followers absolutely destroying their opponents with overwhelming power but does paint them in an antagonistic view making it hard to cheer for them at times.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Unravel (PS4)


Unravel is a sidescrolling puzzle platform game by an indie developer and published by EA.  In the game, you control Yarny, a being made of red thread.  Yarny has a very inventive and cute design.  You'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't like the design at all.  Yarny has a few abilities, the obvious one being that he is able to jump.  His main ability spins from the material he is made off.  Yarny can use his yarn to tie onto things and swing from certain points or create bridges to allow him to pull objects across gaps.


During levels, Yarny will unravel as he advances and must collect more yarn in order to go further, these points act as checkpoints.  Therefore, you cannot skip a puzzle even though it might look like you can as Yarny will run out of thread and cannot go any further.  Unravel has a beautiful presentation, taking place on a smaller scale due to Yarny's size.  You'll go through parks, beaches, forests, sheds, snow covered environments and other places.  The graphics are fantastic and the environments are bright and colorful.  Objects in the 2D plane are crisp and clear while anything in the background (the "3D" parts of the objects) are out of focus.  This works remarkably well and gives Unravel a unique look.


The story is minimal but with enough to know what's going on.  The game aims for an emotional story, with the serene music at the start setting the tone.  We see an old woman looking out the window and throughout your adventure, you'll see memories of other characters.  There is an environmental undertone to the story, as Yarny will end up traveling through contaminated and polluted environments.  It's made worse when you realize that those toxic green puzzles are actually acid that will instantly kill Yarny.


There are a total of 12 levels, and each level has 5 hidden collectibles.  Yarny's aim is to collect red yarn badges at the end of each level, which he adds to a photo book signifying the memories gained.  Some of the collectibles are tough to find since they are hidden so well.  Even when you know what you need to do to get them, it may require some tricky jumps requiring you to build up just enough momentum to make the massive jump.


Despite the peaceful atmosphere, Yarny can die, sometimes in counter intuitive ways such as drowning in deep water or falling from great height (considering Yarny is made of thread, you wouldn't have thought that to be fatal).  On the whole, the game is quite easy.  The puzzles never get too hard, although there are some annoyingly finicky ones.  The physics of how Yarny moves and the interactions of his threats is what make the game so fun and enjoyable.  However, there is a Trophy for completing all levels without dying, and that is where the difficulty comes in if you want to earn the Trophy.


Each level takes 10 to 20 minutes to complete so the game isn't that long.  However, it is the perfect length as the game mechanics and puzzles never get old, despite not introducing any new abilities after the first level.  Tying two points together to make a yarn bridge that Yarny can use to jump over obstacles never ceases to make a smile on your face.  There are even some thrilling sections where Yarny gets chased or he is being targeted.  You never realize how dangerous it would be for something that is Yarny's side, where even birds can sweep you away.


Overall, Unravel is an extremely fun piece of platforming game.  It never gets too hard, the puzzles won't cause you to spend hours trying to figure out without a guide, meaning you're able to keep plodding along, enjoying the amazing scenery, the surreal music and the charm of Yarny himself.

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Sunday, December 9, 2018

Toy Review: Transformers Generations Power of the Primes Headstrong (Voyager)


Review:  #475
Name:  Headstrong
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Decepticon
Year of Release:  2018
Size Class:  Voyager
Mold Status:  new but shares the engineering with Torox

BEAST MODE:


Headstrong transforms into a robotic rhino.


This mode is really bulky, especially with the combined mode's thigh piece underneath (but is at least out of the way, unlike in robot mode).


Headstrong is hefty, much more than any other Voyager classed figures.


Predaking's feet can attach to this mode as a double-barreled cannon.  This mode is also very static which is disappointing.


Headstrong looks good in this mode, just a bit too much of a brick for a Transformers with an animal mode.

TRANSFORMATION:

Like the rest of the Predacons, Headstrong has a simple transformation.  The forelegs become the arms, the back unfolds to form the legs and... that's pretty much it.

ROBOT MODE:


Headstrong is big and bulky in this mode, one of the small annoyances is the fact that the silver stickers on his upper torsos are on angled surfaces, which makes the stickers come unstuck, sigh.


Predaking's thighs form a huge backpack.  While a backpack is necessary, what sucks is that this one has it all the way to below the knees, severely hampering his leg articulation and balance.


The face is sculpted underneath the rhino head, and it is decent.


Headstrong is much taller in robot mode than a Voyager now.


Articulation is still decent, you just can have the legs hinge backwards (which isn't too much of a problem for most poses).


Thanks to the large feet, he is fairly stable despite the heavy backpack.


Headstrong's weapon is one foot of Predaking.


This acts as a shoulder mounted cannon and truth be told, it doesn't look half bad.


Paint applications are sparse, most of the colors are provided by the molded plastic.


An okay robot mode hampered by the big and unsightly backpack.

OVERALL:

Considering the engineering that went into making Predaking look awesome, Headstrong isn't too bad.  His biggest flaw is the thigh piece that acts as a huge backpack (this isn't a problem in rhino mode, on the contrary, it makes that mode much more solid).

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Saturday, December 8, 2018

Book Review: New Moon: The Graphic Novel Volume 1


Review:  #798
Title:  New Moon:  The Graphic Novel Volume 1
Series:  New Moon:  The Graphic Novel - 1st volume
Author:  Stephenie Meyer & Young Kim
Comments:  New Moon adapts into a graphic novel much better than you’d expect purely because it distills it so much.  Unlike the novel, which was full of description and exposition of Bella’s feelings without many things happening, the graphic novel moves at a much quicker pace without losing any of the meaningful content.  However, it is also when reading through it that you come to realize how ridiculous some of the plotlines are such as the hallucinations that Bella has of Edward.  The plot is simple thus far, where after a mistake, Edward and the rest of the Cullens leave Forks and tries to break up with Bella.  In despair, Bella finds comfort in the company of Jacob.  Unfortunately, this first volume ends at a really awkward point in the story, you would turn to the next page and it’s suddenly blank and you realize that it has ended.
Rating:  6/10

Friday, December 7, 2018

Assassination Classroom the Movie: 365 Days (2016)


Assassination Classroom the Movie:  365 Days is a compilation film of the anime of the same name.  At only one and a half hours long, it is extremely selective in what it depicts.  It cuts out all of the inter-class fights and instead focuses upon the bond between Koro-sensei and his students.  Even then, having two seasons' worth of content (47 episodes) to pick from, it chooses to star the scenes in the finale the second season.  The flashbacks are justified via Karma and Nagisa, now a few years later and at the start of their careers, reminiscing about the past.  As so much content is cut and it assumes the viewer is already familiar with the premise, you definitely have to have seen both seasons in order to fully appreciate and understand it.  It evokes the same sad feelings the anime did.  However, there are only literally 5 minutes of new scenes, which are the conversations between Karma and Nagisa, which is fairly disappointing.  If you're a fan of the series, then it's worth watching a while after you finished the last episode, otherwise, it can be quite bland as there is not enough new content.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Overlord (2015)


Overlord is based upon the light novel series with the first season comprising of 13 episodes.  It starts in the year 2126, when the Dive Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game Yggdrasil was released.  This is a game where players enter the virtual reality and was one of the most popular games.  It garnered a huge amount of players, thanks to its high degree of player interaction.  However, like all online games, 12 years later, the servers are about to be shut down.


A high level player with the character name Momonga, the guild leader of Ainz Ooal Gown, spends the last few days within the game, staying until the very last second.  However, once the clock ticks over, something unusual happened.  The servers seemingly didn't get turned off but he cannot pull up the main menu.  The NPCs has suddenly gained their own personalities, beyond those of a computer program.  After some time, Momonga takes up the Ainz Ooal Gown as his name in this new world.


Upon investigation, their headquarters, The Great Tomb of Nazarick, was transported to an unknown place and Ainz investigates the world.  As he gains more information, it seems more and more unlike the game Yggdrasil, although there are some similarities.  He can still use magic, although some have different effects.  Certain types of monsters from Yggdrasil appear in this world, the tiers of magic and its rules are the same and the same items can still be used here.


However, an important note is that this new world is not governed by game mechanics at all (so it's not like Sword Art Online).  Perhaps the most disturbing thing is that Ainz has taken on his avatar form of the undead, and ended up losing most of his human emotions.  In the game previously, he has created a number of NPC characters to guard his guild headquarters.  The NPCs all gained their unique personalities which had remnants of their original coding.  They are loyal to Ainz but have their own views of him as their leader.  Ainz has to treat and act carefully to not arouse suspicion.


The first two episodes are slow paced as it sets up the premise but from the third episode, it pushes the plot forward a lot more, filling it with intrigue and mystery as Ainz steps out from the headquarters and into the world.  Curiously, so far, it seems that he is the only player from Yggdrasil.  Ainz ventures out into the world and shows off his powers.  He wants to spread his name far and wide into this new world in order to see if any other Yggdrasil players were also transported.  Most importantly, he wanted to find out if other guild members, who were his most treasured friends, was in this world and that is the main motivation and plot for the series.  Thus, it ends up feeling a bit aimless with the events that are occurring not feeling very connected.


Ainz was a high level player in Yggdrail, having reached the level cap and access to high level spells.  As a result of being able to use the same spells in this new world, he tests his power against others and finds that he is significantly more powerful than anyone he has encountered.  Nevertheless, he is still wary and is careful when fighting someone for the first time, never underestimating.  Unfortunately, Ainz remain very apathetic, which makes it hard at times to stand behind him.  For example, some companions that he meets ends up losing their lives and Ainz does not show any emotion at all.  However, there was another time where he preemptively attacked the opponent such that they couldn't launch a full scale attack on the town, even though that would have allowed him to appear more heroic, and thus spread his name out farther and wider.


Despite the members of Ainz Ooal Gown being the protagonists, their abilities can be nightmarish.  You definitely would not like to be on the receiving end.  The last two episodes ramps up the action although the causality of the events doesn't seem that strong.  Things are happening... but the anime doesn't convey properly the impact of these events and why the mastermind behind it is doing these things.  It does set up a nice fight where we finally get to see Ainz fight against an enemy that is closer to his level.


Of note is that one of the villains has a great voice actor that really nails home their twisted nature.  She stands out and is the first proper antagonist for the series.  Overall, Overlord falls a bit flat as while the concept was good, it can be hard to back Ainz considering his apathetic nature.  The fact that over the course of the season, it doesn't feel like much progress has been made, or even Ainz achieving any sort of major milestone, dampens the enjoyment.

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