Friday, July 19, 2019

Hal (2013)


Hal is an original anime film where Hal if killed during a plane accident.  His girlfriend, Kurumi, is devastated and has become reclusive.  The solution is to have the robot, Q01, take on the form of Hal to try and heal her emotionally.  Despite the somewhat promising premise, Hal falls short and becomes quite boring and bland.  It never seems to manage to emotionally connect you to the characters and since we know so little of the world, it doesn't help when it tries to shove in too many characters and backstories of the two main leads.  During Hal's journey to get Kurumi to open up to him, he discovers various recordings of the pair which are connected right up to the moment of the climax where the big revelation happens.  The background of the pair was a surprise and works well however, overall, Hal doesn't have enough time to connect the viewers like it wants to and becomes a somewhat hollow experience as a result.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006, 2009)


The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is based upon the light novel series.  Season 1 had 14 episodes which originally aired in 2006.  Then during a rebroadcast in 2009, 14 new episodes were mixed in (which were collectively known as season 2).  The new episodes were slotted in based on where among the other episodes it chronologically fitted in.  The only issue with this is that it is obvious from the animation quality what was season 1 and what was season 2.


The anime follows Kyon, a normal boy who is just beginning high school.  It is in this class that he meets Suzumiya Haruhi.  During her introduction to the class, we see how weird Haruhi is (and is quite infamous for from others who were in the same middle school).  Haruhi outright states that she has not time for normal humans and to only approach her if you are a time-traveler, an alien or an esper.  The thing is, while Haruhi gets bored at anything else, she is clever and athletic.


For some odd reason, Kyon is one of the only ones that manage to have normal conversations with Haruhi.  While it starts off awkward, soon after, Haruhi starts to pull Kyon (who is completely unwilling and regret getting himself into this situation) into her crazy antics.  The first of which was to create her own after school school, known as the SOS Brigade.  The aim of the SOS Brigade is to investigate unusual anomalies.  Since you need at least five people to form a club, they manage to find a few other characters, each one having their own weird quirks.  First up is Nagato Yuki, who is solely focused on her reading.  As the last surviving member of the Literature Club, she gets absorbed into the SOS Brigade.  Then there is Asahina Mikuru, who is cute and follows all of Haruhi's crazy whims (such as always wearing a maid costume inside the club room).  Lastly, there is Koizumi Itsuki who is a transfer student.


While the first few episodes start off as a normal slice-of-life anime, it soon takes a turn to the bizarre.  To Kyon's surprise (and later, his expectations), he finds out that the people around him are not what they seem.  It's actually really interesting at how all these separate coincidences centers around Haruhi, you end up eager to find out why this is the case.  The anime ends up taking on a sci-fi theme.


As the anime goes on, the important of Haruhi is more and more obvious.  Disasters happen when she gets bored or if she has sudden mood swings.  This leads to Kyon to avert this disasters, usually with guidance from the other members.  For some reason, Kyon's presence is really intertwined with Haruhi's.  Unfortunately, Haruhi gets more and more unreasonable as the season goes on and there is absolutely no concrete reason why anyone has to go with her ways.  Yes, she is super important to the world but on the other hand, she ends up being quite annoying without a proper reason on why she is so important.


All the episodes feel like that there wasn't enough content for the episode but they had to drag it out anyway.  Since each mini-arc takes multiple episodes, the problem is compounded.  While a few episodes can be boring, especially with a lot of spoken dialogue with limited things happening on screen, there are scenes where it's really funny too.  It's hard to tell the direction the anime is going in since the plots for a lot of the episodes is just things happening due to Haruhi's intentions and thoughts.


Haruhi gets bored easily and when she gets bored, she thinks up of random things to do.  She then forces the entire group to do it and due to the nature of things, they all agree.  Kyon is reluctant most of the time since he is the one that bears the full force of Haruhi.  They end up doing things such as making a movie, play baseball and play games.  Season 2 is the one where it opted to include the infamous Endless Eight episodes.  The background of this is that we have eight episodes of exactly the same events, to simulate the characters experiencing the time loop.  Each episode differs from each other, with scenes shown from slightly different camera angels, and slightly differing dialogue.  Unfortunately, while the concept may sound cool (not really), after three or four episodes, you would have had enough, let alone eight of the same thing.


It's not wonder that the second season got so much flak.  More than half of the new episodes are the same event repeated again.  It is hard to decipher why anyone would think that this was a good decision because due to the different camera angels, the animation work would have been the same as if they had done a different arc.  In the end, it gets excessively repetitive, boring and because you know the arc won't be resolved until the eighth episode, you know that there is little point in watching yet another loop.


Overall, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya falls victim to the Seinfield Syndrome, where it was the first to do a lot of things but everything else copies it to the point of being tired cliches now.  There are some odd choices of the anime, especially wasting eight episodes on repeating the same events.  There are a lot of scenes where literally nothing happens and plenty of leaps of logic.  While there are interesting concepts and humor, the pacing just does not work that well.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer (PS1)


Spyro 2:  Gateway to Glimmer, also known as Ripto's Rage outside of Europe, is the sequel to Spyro the Dragon and the second of the original PS1 trilogy.  The graphics have stayed pretty much the same, although some of the objects may be a bit softer in comparison.  In this game, Spyro retains all his previous abilities such as jumping, charging, gliding and breathing fire.  Naturally, being a sequel, he gains new moves such as hovering and diving underwater.  Yes, this means that Spyro does not die when he falls into water as he can swim in it.  That being said, there are still other liquid hazards such as lava, boiling water and electrified water.  These new abilities are gradually unlocked as the player progresses through the game.

The structure of the game is familiar with a hub world containing portals to the various levels.  Each level has a different and unique theme now, meaning that it can sometimes feel very random and unconnected when you enter one for the first time.  In each level, there are treasure gems for Spyro to collect and enemies to defeat.  The gems now have a purpose since you spend these to gain extra moves and unlock pathways to progress through the level.  If you take your time through each level getting most of the gems that you can see, you will never have an issue of running out.  Unfortunately, the levels are also a bit more linear than the first game, you're able to easily get all the gems the first time around (that is, if it isn't locked behind an ability you haven't gotten yet).

Sparx the Dragonfly retains his purpose of showing how much health that Spyro has.  Spyro can still only take four hits before he dies and you lose a life.  Checkpoints in levels are represented by flying fairies and you can now save anytime, which is pretty awesome.  In Spyro 2, it has changed its focus from exploration to minigames and optional quests within each level.  For good or for bad, this adds variety to the game.  Normally, beating a level will give you a Talisman for story progression but these optional quests will give Spyro orbs instead.  These quests are usually simple challenges such as lighting up all lights within a time limit, solving a stone puzzle, a race course or a timed challenge.  As there are so many different minigames, there will definitely be ones that you don't like as well as really frustrating ones that ends up making Spyro 2 a huge chore to complete 100% in.

You have the option to display a map showing the level's layout.  It sounds great in theory but its still better to just explore yourself.  The map can also be deceptive since the level can have multiple height levels.  Apart from the platforming and minigames, the other gameplay focus is combat.  Some enemies can only be beaten by flame, others by charging; you can usually guess how to tackle an enemy by their appearance.  By defeating a certain number of enemies, this will unlock a power up gate in each level which gives Spyro a temporary ability such as superflame or supercharge.  This is used to reach previously unreachable areas, defeat otherwise invincible enemies or assist you in completing a sidequest for an orb.  The game in general is pretty good at letting you go at your own pace, choosing what to collect and what not to.  Unfortunately, in the last world, this is not the case.  The game forces you to collect at least 40 orbs (just shy of two-thirds), which can be quite tedious when you have to repeat previous levels.

Boss battles are a lot more involved.  The bosses actually actively attack you now and don't just run away.  Apart from the final boss, they're pretty easy.  As expected of a platformer, the final boss is a multi-staged boss.  The annoying thing is that if you die, you start again from the beginning of the first stage and this is such a drain.  Yes, it is a typical design choice from that era but it doesn't mean it is a good one.  It doesn't help that the camera angle is fixed towards the boss but you have to go around the arena getting items and thus the controls will initially throw you off.  Repeating the same phase again and again just because you died in the last one is not fun and very repetitive.

The story is more fleshed out than the first game as there are cutscenes in very level.  A bunch of new characters are introduced and they become mainstays in the series.  Spyro wanted to take a holiday after defeating Gnasty Gnorc but is instead transported to Avalar, and ends up having to help free the lands from Ripto.  Overall, Spyro 2:  Gateway to Glimmer is still a really fun game.  It doesn't radically improve upon the first game since that itself was pretty polished and fun, but it adds in a lot of additional abilities and minigames, which admittedly, might not be your cup of tea.  Despite that, this is still a worthwhile game to play and has plenty of awesome platforming elements.

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Monday, July 15, 2019

Book Review: Re:Zero - Starting Life in Another World Vol. 6


Review:  #852
Title:  Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World Vol. 6
Series:  Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World – 6th volume
Author:  Tappei Nagatsuki
Comments:  The pain and suffering that Subaru goes through is relentless.  As if all the things he had to experience were not enough, it continues in this volume.  Subaru is currently stuck in the same loop where he is trying to stop the Witch Cult from killing Emilia, Rem, Ram and everyone else in the village.  Unfortunately, due to his stuff ups he does not leave a good impression on anyone.  He fails at negotiations by asking for everything and offering nothing in return.  He dies due to being weak.  He just rashly blunders through, being arrogant enough to think that it’ll work.  The humiliation that Subaru goes through, as well as the despair and helplessness that he must feel, is heavy stuff indeed.  All this culminates into some deep character development for Subaru and just when things all seem bleak and lost; we get the shining light that is Rem.  Rem once again shows just why she is so popular.  She unconditionally loves and supports Subaru, while trusting and being the only one that understands him.  Although what takes the cake is how Rem doesn’t let Subaru stagnate and give up, she pushes him to continue onwards.  Thus, while it takes a whole volume for Subaru to learn (and there were often unusual events such as when he went crazy or gave up on everything), it leads to a very promising future at the end of the volume.
Rating:  6.5/10

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Toy Review: Transformers Generations War for Cybertron Siege Shockwave (Leader)


Review:  #506
Name:  Shockwave
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Decepticon
Line:  Generations - War for Cybertron:  Siege
Year of Release:  2018
Size Class:  Leader (Wave 1)
Mold Status:  new

SPACESHIP MODE:


Shockwave transforms into a spaceship and it is actually quite decent thanks to the armory.


The multiple thrusters at the back work really well and the whole figure is in a nice rich purple.


There's a plastic hose pegging to the bridge, which features a lightpiping effect, a rarity these days.  Shockwave doesn't have any wheels so he can only rest on the table in this mode.


In vehicle mode at least, Shockwave is pretty big (but hollow).  Above is a comparison against TLK Leader Optimus Prime.


A surprisingly good mode, especially when most people would have bought the figure only for robot mode.

TRANSFORMATION (TO SMALL SPACESHIP):


As part of the Leader class gimmick for this line, Shockwave features a smaller robot mode and alternate mode, as well as a bigger one.  The smaller alternate mode here is done by unclipping various pieces, namely the front and the side wings.


SMALL SPACESHIP MODE:


While the larger spaceship mode looks good, the same cannot be said about the small one.  It is weak and you really cannot tell what it is supposed to be.


Stripping all the extra pieces, it is really obvious that this is a robot mode lying down and the robot feet just stick out like a sore thumb.


However, flipping it upside down and you can see the resemblance to the G1 toy's laser gun mode.  Too bad the handle is way too short to be held.


Shockwave in this mode is roughly between a Deluxe and a Voyager.  Above is Studio Series Deluxe Lockdown as an additional comparison.


A disappointing alternate mode and best forgotten.

TRANSFORMATION (TO SMALL ROBOT):

The small spaceship transforms into the core robot and it is really simple.  It does take some cues from Masterpiece Shockwave but on the whole is nothing to be excited about.  The arms fold out from the "barrel" (so to speak), the barrel then folds onto his back.  Extend the legs and you're pretty much done.

SMALL ROBOT MODE:


To be fair, the robot mode is really what you're buying this figure for and he doesn't disappointing here.


The proportions are near perfect and he doesn't have any ugly silver "battle damage" like so many others in the line.  He does have a big hollow backpack though.


The headsculpt is great and features lightpiping!  It is really effectively and kind of reminds you that it is sad that recent figures have had to drop this gimmick for cost reasons.


Again, Shockwave's size is roughly between a Voyager (above is POTP Hun-Gurrr) and a Deluxe (above is Titans Return Quake).


Poseability is great with joints for his hips, knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows and head.


The plastic hose on his left arm is attached to the backpack and does restrict his arm a tiny bit.  This is because the piece is too short for the arm to fully extend.


He doesn't have any handheld weaponry except for the gun hand.


While this isn't in the instructions, it is in the stock photos and is clearly an intentional feature.  Unlike Ultra Magnus, the leftover pieces in this mode can assemble to form a hovercraft.


Shockwave can then stand on the hovercraft and this is a neat use of the power-up kibble.


However, while there are posts on the hovercraft and corresponding peg holes underneath Shockwave's feet, they aren't well spaced meaning you won't be using them anyway.


A fantastic robot mode and the good news is that it only gets better.

TRANSFORMATION (TO LARGE ROBOT):


The various pieces split into:  two feet pieces, shoulder armor and a backpack.  It's less involved than Ultra Magnus and it's disappointing in this aspect but it is super simple to peg them onto Shockwave.  The feet pieces plug straight into Shockwave's feet, the shoulder pieces slot into the shoulders and the last piece clips onto the backpack... to create a bigger backpack.

LARGE ROBOT MODE:


Okay, this is a bit ridiculous but also awesome at the same time.  Shockwave... with four arms.  It just makes him even more menacing.


It feels like a missed opportunity when so much of the additional armor just ends up becoming an even bigger backpack for Shockwave.  It would have been preferred if the legs could have been bulked up more or something.


Shockwave only gains a little bit of height but is a lot wider thanks to the large shoulder pads.  Thus, he's still only roughly Voyager height but carries a bit more bulk.


Articulation remains the same but the large shoulder pads can get in the way sometimes, and the larger backpack doesn't help in this regard.


Unfortunately, the additional arms do not have outward movement.  They only hinge back and forth on two joints.


As Shockwave gained most of the bulk in his upper body, this can make his legs and thighs seem a bit too skinny.


Nevertheless, this is an awesome robot mode, the four arms really adds a lot of character to the figure and makes it distinctly unique.

OVERALL:

Shockwave is a fantastic figure.  The armor gimmick gives it a lot of play value, with four modes and three of those being absolutely stellar.  Shockwave is highly recommended as he is one of the best toys we've had for a while.

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For other Transformers reviews, have a look at this page.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)


The second Ant-Man movie has the daunting honor of following up the massive cliffhanger of Avengers:  Infinity War.  Despite that, Ant-Man doesn't take place directly after and won't answer any of those questions, although is still a fantastic film.  Ant-Man retains its lightheartedness with plenty of gags that works really well.  The story naturally extends from the first film and also the events of Civil War with Ant-Man on house arrest.  Understandably, Ant-Man manages to get out on all sorts of adventures with the grand task of returning to the quantum realm.  There are plenty of returning characters and we get plenty of action sequences that utilizes the size-shifting abilities of the characters extremely well, from dodging knives when tiny to becoming a giant rising from the water.  There is a traditional antagonist who is just evil for money and a second antagonist whom you're going to sympathize a lot more with, and makes you eager to see their fate.  Overall, Ant-Man and the Wasp is great follow up to both the first Ant-Man film and Infinity War.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Book Review: Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World Vol. 5


Review:  #851
Title:  Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World Vol. 5
Series:  Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World - 5th volume
Author:  Tappei Nagatsuki
Comments:  If the previous volume taught Subaru a humiliation lesson, then this volumes teaches him a despairing one.  While things seem to be slowly improving with Subaru staying in the capital to have Ferris heal him, the fact remains that he and Emilia parted on bad terms.  As he struggles to find a way to repair the bond, he gains insight and advice from the other royal candidate, Crusch, and her servants.  However, nothing good ever remains that way for long with Subaru and he finds himself right into the thick of another disaster, this time a lot more serious than anything before.  The guy never gets a break and the toll that his ability of being able to go back in time via death is starting to destroy him emotionally.  It feels worse when you ponder that no one else knows the pain and suffering that he has to go through each time.  The only positive note is that his relationship with Rem is adorable and grows significantly.  It feels a lot more natural now.  The twists and turns in this volume make it a gripping read, especially when you consider the powerful foe that Subaru has no sworn to kill, you feel that this might be the first step of Subaru going over the edge.
Rating:  6.5/10
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