Tag Archives: television

FGC #565 Beast Wars: Transformers

Transform!When I got married this past Fall, my (moments later) wife noted as part of her wedding vows that she would never understand the difference between Voltron and a Transformer. This is obviously an absurd issue that speaks to the fact that my beloved may have some manner of brain damage (I love you, honey, but if you can’t tell the difference between a robot lion that transforms into the leg of a giant man, and a robot lion that transforms into a regular-sized man, I really don’t know what to tell you) , but it is also a fine illustration of my love of Transformers. I’ve been collecting the little weirdos since I was a child literally praying to assemble all of the Predaking pieces, and, to this day, I am allowed one stupid Transformer purchase a year (because if I bought them as often as my impulsiveness demands, I would be literally drowning in the suckers)(and “drowning in useless media” is reserved for videogames in this house, natch). So big surprise here: I love Transformers.

And my favorite Transformers? Well, that would be the Beast Wars generation, a group of Transformers that have rarely been seen since the late mid-to-late 90’s. And despite my love for the characters, I have had a rough time over the years determining the exact origin of that affection. Was it a matter of timing with my childhood? No, I was the right age to be imprint on Grimlock, not Dinobot. Was it a love for 3-D animation? No, I kind of hated the brown, blocky aesthetic of Beast Wars. Was it an overabundance of affection for Waspinator, and everyone else just got to soak up the residuals? That… might be it. And in thinking about the simple fact that I really do enjoy the antics of the mechanical bug man, I came to one unavoidable conclusion:

I like Beast Wars because its stars are broken.

WeeeeLet’s not mince words here: this should not be a surprise. The essence of drama is conflict, and you are inevitably going to get more conflict when your protagonists and antagonists all equally need therapy. The old, “kiddy” Transformers of the 80’s were predominantly robotic gods that occasionally deigned to interface with humans out of some misplaced feelings for all sentient lifeforms, and, as a result, the majority of them came off as flawless/boring. It is no wonder that the dysfunctional Decepticons, like Soundwave and Starscream, had more of an influence on future generations than the likes of Ultra Magnus and Hot Rod. But that generation features the iconic Transformers that “everybody knows”, so they have been recycled and reformatted hundreds of times over the course of a million reboots. And has that made them any more human as time has passed? Yes, but not nearly to the degree as we saw with a cast of misfits that can occasionally transform into a rat or two.

Speaking of rodents, let us look at Rattrap, one of the stars of Beast Wars. Want to know Rattrap’s deal? He’s a jackass. That is pretty much his entire his personality. He is good at making gadgets and traps (oh, I just got that), but other than that, his main asset seems to be being available to make the occasional cynical remark. Apparently he was envisioned as a sort of “jaded combat veteran” character amongst his more youthful compatriots, but, given his propensity toward some childish antics with Cheetor, he comes off like a skeptical teenager more often than not. And how does that fit in with the rest of the Maximal crew? Well, Optimus Primal is obviously everyone’s barely-holding-it-together dad, Rhinox is the wise old grandpa that talks about the good ol’ days and nature a little too often, and recent adoptee Dinobot is just straight up Vegeta, puttering around talking about how he’s going to be the world’s strongest one of these days when he finally finds his good eye lasers. Then you’ll all see… Then you’ll all see…

And if you missed Beast Wars, please be aware that I just described the good guys. The bad guys are just plain bad guys.

DOOM!Beast Wars started with the rare conceit that the clearly-defined “bad guys” were starting this whole fight from a position of weakness. The heroic crew of the Axalon crash landed with a crew of potentially dozens of sleeping protoforms (Transformer fetuses…. Oh man this is a weird show), while the bad bots over on the Darksyde had an extremely limited crew of six. By the end of the pilot, one of those crew members had already defected. Further exacerbating matters was the fact that at least two of the remaining Predacons were dumb as a bag of hammers, while two other Preds were scheming and plotting against their own commander seemingly for no greater reason than it was a fun way to spend the afternoon. This meant that the Predacons had roughly the same teamwork aptitude as a box filled with rabid weasels hopped up on pixie stix. The Predacons had firepower, but they would have to stop fighting each other long enough to actually use said firepower.

And, yes, at least two of ‘em would wind up taking a mortal volcano bath before they ever pulled that off. Please let us know if lava is wet, Scorponok and Terrorsaur.

But this brings us nicely to the “extra”, later additions to the Beast Wars continuity. Remember those previously mentioned protoforms? Well, anytime the writers wanted to introduce a new character to either faction, a protoform would crash to Earth, and it would be time to learn about all the features of the latest toy. And fun fact? It appears the writers had one question when it came to introducing new characters: how is this guy broken? Literally! Pretty much every character that was introduced after the launch of Beast Wars was physically or mentally damaged in some unique way. Tigatron bumped his head, so felt more at home with mundane, organic cats than his fighting robot buddies. Inferno took it a step further, and was vaguely convinced he was a giant ant, and Megatron was his queen (this was correct, of course, but not in the way Inferno imagined). The rest is darknessBlackarachnia wound up trapped in a spider’s web from day one, and the fuzor twins could not stick to a single beast mode. And one of them had a southern accent! On prehistoric Earth! That had to be the result of a glitch or two. Airazor seemed like the most stable of the newbies, but the writers evidently forgot she existed every other week, so she was suffering through some manner of divine impediment. And we are not even going to acknowledge Depth Charge and Rampage, two Transformers that were (unusual for the series) “born” and fighting before the start of the Beast Wars. One is a rampaging, murderous psychopath that cares only for seeing the destruction of his enemies, and the other one can turn into a tank-crab. They are both about as emotionally stable as your average Stephen King antagonist, so please do not trust either with selling your daughter’s Girl Scout cookies. It will not end well.

But, ultimately, that is the appeal of Beast Wars to this humble blogger. I would not want the cast of Beast Wars, Maximals or Predacons, to be responsible for anything in my life. They are supposed to be saving the Earth? No, that does not sound like a good plan for anybody. But I am very entertained by their antics. As the overarching plot of Beast Wars amps up from “monkey fight dinosaur” to “Megatron has traveled back in time and shot a sleeping Optimus Prime in the face and now you have to deal with that”, you never lose the feeling that the “heroic” Maximals are all about seven seconds from clocking out on this overly-long shift they somehow have been stuck on for overtime they know they’re going to have to fight human resources to even get. The heroes often come off as defeated even before their well-laid plans are disrupted by the villains, but the villains can barely hold it together for longer than seven seconds to actually disturb the ostensible protagonists.

The rest is darkness, againThe cast of Beast Wars? They are a bunch of losers that wound up in the middle of a Transformers war. And I can get behind a bunch of entertaining dunderheads. I like the Beast Wars era of Transformers the most because its stars are all living, breathing (?), mistakes.

Oh, but their Playstation 1 game was a bigger mistake. I don’t like that.

…. Dammit, article is already overly long as is. Guess I don’t have time to talk about the featured game! Clocking out for the day. Sorry!

FGC #565 Beast Wars: Transformers

  • System: Playstation (1) and PC. There’s actually a funny story about that PC version…
  • Number of players: The Playstation version is single player, but the PC version had an 8-player “battle royale” mode. Apparently there were more than a few people that actually liked this mode, and kept online servers going for a while. Or maybe they just liked it ironically? Whatever, who doesn’t want to be Cheetor?
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Oh, this is awful. It is a primitive 3rd person shooter with just the worst camera anyone can imagine. Someone went ahead and added some “lock-on” targeting so the experience isn’t wholly impossible… but it’s otherwise pretty impossible. I really can’t convey with mere words just how wrong doing practically anything in this game feels, even if you are allowed to choose between playing as either faction. Controlling a giant scorpion should not be this janky!
  • ANTS!Transform!: Oh yeah, most egregious error? You cannot attack in any way while transformed. In fact, the only reason to transform at all is to manage your “Energon Meter”. This makes a certain amount of sense for, like, Rattrap, but doesn’t really feel right for more offensive animals like Rhinox (note for those unaware: he is a rhino). And there are two separate characters that can transform into freakin’ dinosaurs, and all they can do is putter around like the spiders. Do you understand how hard you have to try to make a videogame about occasionally being a robot dinosaur boring!?
  • On the subject of having plans: You have to unlock Rattrap or Blackarachnia, and Airazor/Terrorsaur are only available in “rescue” minigames, but the whole of the stable Season 1 cast is otherwise represented here (Tigatron has never been reliable). Oh, wait, except for one major omission: Waspinator is not present in any way, shape, or form. That poor buzz boy gets no respect.
  • What’s in a name: They spelled Scorponok with an “I” in some of the game materials. I’m not going to say that’s exactly why the poor dummy died at the end of Season 1, but I’m not going to say it wasn’t a factor, either.
  • What’s in a voice: Oh yeah, the voice acting for this game is totally six guys trapped in an elevator recording lines at four in the morning. The original voice cast was apparently not available (or weren’t contractually obligated to participate in an awful PS1 game), so this Beast Wars adventure was voiced by some people that just weren’t into it. Or maybe I’m just focusing on Rhinox here, as he has the timber of a man that doesn’t really want to survive this adventure… or even the next few seconds.
  • Best Transformer Ever: It’s Optimal Optimus, who does not appear in this game. Primal Prime will also do in a pinch.
  • What is even happening?Did you know? There was an episode of Beast Wars that was scrapped because it was too damn depressing. The whole concept was Rattrap was going to attempt to revive Dinobot by forcing his undead spark into an (evil) Dinobot II, but the ultimate moral was to be that Dinobot is 100% dead and never coming back, get over it. … Also, in typing that out, maybe Beast Wars did have a byzantine, maudlin overarching plot…
  • Would I play again: Absolutely not. I want to rewatch Beast Wars, though, so maybe this toy promotion worked out.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Rockin’ Kats for the NES! Let’s rock out with our tails out! Please look forward to it!

Don't pay attention

FGC #363 The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants

Here come those SimpsonsThe Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants is either one of the most clever, innovative licensed games of the early 90’s, or it’s a steaming pile of garbage.

It’s The Simpsons!

TS:BvtSM was the first Simpsons videogame. At the time, The Simpsons was a bonafide cultural phenomenon, having premiered (basically) a year earlier (technically The Simpsons started [as an independent series] in 1989, but it was December 17, so that barely counts… there, satisfied, nerds?), and setting the world ablaze with that whacky Bart Simpson and his lovable catchphrase… uhh… it was something about eating cow, I think. It was a long time ago! Regardless, at the time, there was more Simpsons merchandise than you could shake an officially licensed Groundskeeper Willie protractor at, so a videogame was just a matter of time. This title scooted out the door before… let’s see here… the game was initially released the same week as the premiere of Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment, Season 2, Episode 13, Production Code #7F13. This means the game was likely planned and produced before the second season even aired. Imagine! A time when there were only thirteen episodes of The Simpsons! John Swartzwelder had only written four scripts!

This, naturally, led to the game being written while Springfield still had a pretty shallow pool of characters and quirks. Lisa Simpson, for instance, had barely been established as the smartest little girl in town, and was hardly more than Bart’s sister. Maggie did not possess her love of firearms, and Homer still only sounded brain-damaged, as opposed to actually being brain-damaged. Realize that Bart Simpson (who the hell are you?) was the most developed Simpson, and this game starts to take shape.

On the other hand

Did any of these versions even get the colors for our favorite family right?

It's Bart!

Don’t tell me the NES couldn’t support Marge’s usual green! Maggie got it for some reason! And the Genesis has absolutely no excuse! 16-Bits of raw power! And nobody look at Homer’s shoes! They’re weird! Basically, pick your version, but everyone is just off model enough to be recognizable, but completely wrong.

And that’s before you get into the actual usage of The Simpsons characters. Homer is known for dropping black sludge and hanging out at the museum, right? And who could tear Marge Simpson away from the mall? It’s nice that someone tried to wedge the whole family in there before their personalities were completely solidified (and then fossilized), but Maggie randomly shoving bowling balls at Nelson Muntz… doesn’t make the most sense.

The Plot ain’t Bad!

Here he comes!Bart was the pint-sized star of the show back in the 90’s, so naturally he was featured in an adventure where he… fought aliens?

That sounds a little crazy for a typical cartoon sitcom family, but it’s not that absurd. The whole point of a “side story” like this is that it is something you wouldn’t normally see on a “mundane” series until about the 562nd episode, so fighting aliens seems like fair game. After all, it’s an excuse for Bart to get out there and do something good. In fact, it plays into the whole “Bart the scamp” narrative, as it gives our lovable hero an excuse to commit mischief, but, ha ha, he’s doing it for the good of the human race, and no one must ever know. He’s not spray painting trash cans because he’s a lil’ bastard, he’s doing it for the world. Hey, look, this whole thing is a lot more believable than the entire family beating up Homer’s boss in a giant mecha suit.

On the other hand

This is the exact same plot as Fester’s Quest.

Sitcom protagonist learns there’s an alien invasion, gets some help from his family, and ventures forth to save the day.

It's Bart! It's Fester!

They’ve probably even got the same stupid glasses!

And, yes, for anyone wondering, Fester’s Quest was released two years prior. Is this some popular trope I’m missing? Am I out of touch? No, it’s the producers who are wrong.

The Gameplay ain’t Bad!

So the aliens are going to take over the world, and they need particular objects to achieve their global dominance. In each level, Bart is tasked with stealing and/or destroying every one of these objects he can find. For instance, in the first level, the aliens are using objects that are purple, so Bart must do everything in his power to mask or destroy all purple objects in Springfield. And you, Bart-troller, have got options!

There is a lot of purple in Springfield, and this leads to a number of different techniques and tricks for repelling the purple menace. Spray paint is the first and most obvious option, but outright destruction through cherry bombs and firecrackers is allowed. And sometimes you can even find ways to make the purple come to you, like by crank calling Moe’s Tavern and spray painting his signature purple apron (?) when he comes out to murder the ten year old. Honestly, the whole situation, complete with a talking statue imparting sage advice, becomes almost indistinguishable from King’s Quest and other adventure games. And we needed more creativity like that in gaming at the time! We still do! And Mario should have access to firecrackers!

On the other hand

UGHEvery other level sucks.

The first stage presents this huge, expansive Springfield where you have to solve riddles and interact with the denizens of our favorite stink town. And, from that point on… it’s just a lousy platformer. The second level is all floating platforms (over “wet cement”, the lamest of all bottomless pit substitutes) and mini bosses. The third level seems like it might be returning to the “town” atmosphere of the first stage, but then it turns out it was just a few mini games that quickly devolve into more lousy platforming hijinks. The museum of the next stage is an excuse for rejected levels from other videogames (which would later become the theme of 16-bit Simpsons titles), and the final stage is a maze. This is not to imply that the last level is a fun maze; no, this is more akin to “find the right path” castles from the original Super Mario Bros. They were not fun there, and they are certainly not fun in a labyrinth featuring space aliens.

And this all wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Bart didn’t control so absolutely terribly. For reasons that can only be described as a hate crime, Bart’s “run” button is the same as his jump button, so you must hold jump to build momentum, and then… press jump to jump. It’s a little unintuitive. And it also makes some of the smaller platforms nearly impossible. This wouldn’t be noticeable if more of the game was like the introductory level, but instead we’re dealing with nearly impossible gaps seven seconds into the second stage. Oh, and if you want a little more momentum while jumping, then you press the action button, because that makes perfect sense and wastes whatever limited ammo item you might have for the stage. Everything is coming up Milhouse!

The Bosses ain’t Bad

It's Moe!Okay, the levels might suck, but the bosses are cool. The first level sees Bart battling Nelson, just like in Bart the General. The second stage is versus the Babysitter Bandit, who nearly stared in the first Simpsons episode! Krusty Land is dominated by Sideshow Bob, and Dr. Marvin Monroe is employing shock therapy at the head of the museum. There’s no boss for the final level at the Nuclear Power Plant, but one would assume that’s only because C. Montgomery Burns was getting ready for his big beat ‘em up premiere in the arcades.

On the other hand

None of these boss fights make any sense. Okay, maybe Nelson gets a pass, but hopping on a psychiatrist’s head is just confusing. And Bart and Lisa may have discovered the nefarious Ms. Botz thanks to her suitcase, but reversing gravity on bags while Marge chucks bowling balls is a little unusual. Sideshow Bob almost makes sense with the foot stomping thing, but if you somehow missed that episode, it’s nearly impossible to realize what you’re supposed to do during that battle. Is there a single other spot in the gaming universe where foot stomping is the right answer?

And that’s basically The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants in a nutshell. It’s unique among its videogame peers… but it’s also kind of terrible. No fun, and no satisfaction. And no fun and no satisfaction make Goggle Bob something something.

FGC #363 The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants

  • Thanks, GrandpaSystem: I always think of this as a NES game, but it’s also available for Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Game Gear, Master System, and Sega Genesis. The screenshots for most of this article are from the Sega Genesis version.
  • Number of Players: It’s Bart! He’s alone.
  • Port-O-Call: I’m not going to try every version, but I can safely say that the Genesis port has more faithful graphics (though not completely faithful graphics), but less official Simpsons music than the NES version. This is probably for the best, as you can only listen to the Simpsons Main Theme so many times before mailing dead lemmings to Danny Elfman.
  • An End: The finale features Bart Simpson defeating the Space Mutants, and then, in an act of contrition, they paste Bart’s head on Mount Rushmore. Depending on the version, Bart’s head is either erected on the far left or far right side of the monument. Does… that mean something?
  • Favorite Simpsons character (this game): Krusty the Clown is the icon for 1-Ups, and he’s got his own carnival, and you explore a giant version of his head, but I don’t think he actually appears anywhere in the game as a proper human being. So I think he wins by default for just providing a pile of off-brand merch in his absence.
  • HAW HAWDid you know? Bart fights aliens in this title, but they are notably not Kang and Kodos. And, for that matter, the space mutants don’t look consistent between their bipedal and tiny-tentacled forms. And they look totally different between different versions of the title, too. Weird aliens.
  • Would I play again: Nope. Don’t have a cow, man, but this game kinda sucks to play. It’s an interesting curiosity, but I’m not touching it again.


What’s next?
Random ROB has chosen… The Adventures of Bayou Billy for the NES! I guess it’s suddenly very hard NES games week! Or something! Please look forward to it!

Television without Piety

It’s Halloween, so let’s talk about the devil, and how he appears on my television once a week.

I’m talking about Lucifer.

Fox’s Lucifer did not immediately catch my interest. It’s another damn police procedural that’s based on a comic book property, and I figured it would be one and done inside of six episodes. I mentally logged it to dig out that first season in a few years, check in with a vocal contingent of nerds that claim it’s the best thing ever, and then never go back to thinking of such a thing ever again. After all, how could a Satan-based television show ever last on the same network that once hosted good, wholesome shows like Married… With Children and Melrose Place?

But here we are with a second season of Lucifer. Here we are with a detective show featuring the devil having to deal with his whacky mother, stern brother, and nymphomaniac therapist. And there’s a will they/won’t they bubbling over between Lucifer and his stalwart cop partner (who is, incidentally, a former porn star). Nix the devil aspect, and this could be practically any police procedural on TV, but, no, we’ve got Satan and his magical ability to suss out people’s innermost desires (an ability he uses… when he remembers it exists). The whole show is simultaneously banal and extraordinary, which is usually how it goes with Ol’ Scratch.

It also happens to summarize exactly where we are in our media history.

SexyThe sympathetic Lord of Lies is something that has been going on since well before the television was even imagined. Many cultures feature a “devil” character that is more mischievous than outright evil, even if the featured trickster stands in direct opposition to a kindly creator god. Raven, Anansi, Puck, and other mischief makers that didn’t appear on Disney’s Gargoyles seem to be a recurring motif throughout history. Even within Christianity, noted Xenosaga prequel Milton’s Paradise Lost told the story of a devil that was “bad”, but mostly because he was sympathetically prideful. “Better to rule in Hell” and all that riot. And that was written in 1667. Even before that, you could claim the Satan of Dante’s Inferno is sympathetic in his punishment: this 14th-century Lucifer is eternally weeping and attempting to escape with six wings that only serve to further solidify his frozen prison. That doesn’t describe a menacing devil that is the root of all evil, that’s a toddler that got stuck in a molasses bucket (it happens).

But what makes Fox’s Lucifer so modern is that it’s based on one specific sympathetic devil: Lucifer Morningstar of DC Comics/Vertigo. For those of you that have never read Gaiman’s Sandman (and, seriously, if you’re reading this blog and haven’t read that epic series, please put the computer down, and go to your local library. This article will still be here when you get back, and my writing will only appear 20% worse), Sandman features a Lucifer that is tired of being blamed for all of humanity’s ills, and decides that, after a few billion years, why not try out a new job? So he locks up Hell, tosses the key to Lord Morpheus, and (after a brief sojourn in Australia) starts a nightclub with his best lady demon by his side. Screw you, God, I’m gonna get my own place. By the finale of Sandman, Lucifer seems oddly content playing the piano at Lux and looking an awful lot like at least one incarnation of David Bowie.

The second oneDC Comics actually successfully identified the potential of the timeless character Gaiman had borrowed from a couple millennia of history, so Mike Carey continued the story of “that” Lucifer in the 75-issue Lucifer comic book series. And, good news, it may have been a very different story from Sandman, but it was every bit as good as the perennial Vertigo launch title. This Lucifer did seem to start out by “solving crimes” from his nightclub base… but shortly thereafter he got a little more mystical, and created his own damn(ed) reality. Then there was no lack of fantastical events, like angels breeding with humans to create lil’ godlings, ghosts, centaurs, witches, forgotten pantheons, and Mona, who stands over hedgehogs. By the end of the Lucifer Vertigo series, the whole of creation has nearly collapsed, but it was saved at the last moment by the devil himself and a British teen. God is also hanging out at some highway rest station outside of the universe. I think He needs a break.

Suffice it to say, I don’t think Fox’s Lucifer is going to dip into the centaur well.

But Fox’s Lucifer is ostensibly based on the comic book character. There’s the Lux nightclub, (facial reconstruction) Mazikeen, and much of the Gaiman flare for “I’m so tired of everybody always blaming me for everything”. This is a series where, somehow, Neil Gaiman gets credit for creating the devil (even if this devil isn’t fit to lick Bowie’s boots). This is, like Gotham, Arrow, and iZombie before it, yet another primetime series based on a comic book franchise.

And that’s kind of amazing.

This is the devil in 21st Century America: another comic book character to be welded to a “cop show”. Lucifer is not scary, Lucifer is here to solve crime and flirt with ladies (and not men, because a gay/bi devil might make people uncomfortable). Lucifer is not a creation of thousands of years of myth, no, Lucifer is a creation of the British comics invasion of the late 80’s. And, don’t worry, kids, Lucifer isn’t going to ask any uncomfortable questions about faith and the nature of good and evil, Lucifer is just going to find a body at the top of the hour, and then send the second interviewed witness to jail every episode.

He’s the Lord of Lies, and he’s advertiser friendly!

SeriouslyTo be clear, I’m not saying that any of this makes Lucifer a bad show. I rather like it, and its… disorderly approach to the Christian mythos. I find Lucifer (the character) charming, and his whacky cast is enough to carry scenes where he’s off doing whatever devils do in their downtime. It’s a good show, if a bit rote with its procedural trappings.

But it’s also a perfect encapsulation of the modern approach to entertainment. Find a popular property in some other medium, rely on the fans to carry it through its inevitably rocky opening salvo, and then establish some mysteries to keep the gears rolling for another seven seasons or so. The devil, a creature blamed for death and suffering for countless years, is now completely domesticated and solving crimes opposite Supergirl.

So happy Halloween, kiddies. There are still monsters out on the streets, and they feed on the ratings of young souls.

And tune in on Wednesday to look at some other devils that feed on approval ratings.

AHHHH

You Can (Not) Watch Anime

See, there's this crab... oh nevermindTo be frank, this site started as a depository for my Kingdom Hearts FAQ posts, and the Fustian Game Challenge was merely an excuse to generate new content. Now, fifty FGC posts later, I’ve found I really enjoy the parameters of the FGC, as it encourages me to replay any number of games I could have likely ignored for the rest of my life. Super Mario Land is up next, and, spoilers, I really enjoyed replaying this game that I likely would not have touched otherwise. Super Mario Land is fun, but there are literally ten other Mario games I can name that I’d be more likely to play before it, never mind the glut of excellent NES platformers that at least have color, and then never mind the last thirty years of video games that have been released in the median. But, hey, the robot said to play the game, so I did, and I enjoyed it, and that’s about how this whole project has been going. From the beginning, I always knew there would be a point where I’d stall out and give up… like most every “hobby” project I’ve ever started… but the way things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were another fifty posts. Maybe even a whole 52.

But, as I was saying, the FGC was just one of many ideas I had for what to write about for this site, and second runner up was basically the same concept, except with anime. Same basic rules: with streaming and other such services nowadays, it’s easier than ever to cue up a random show and view a random episode. So, watch an episode of any given series (whether I’d seen the series before or not was irrelevant), digest what I’d seen, and then write about it. Pretty straightforward.

Now I realize that, had I gone with that concept, I would currently be insane.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I like anime. If I think about it, I’ve always like anime, starting back before I even knew my own last name but knew the name of the defender of the universe, a mighty robot, loved by good, and feared by evil. Anime, though, is like any other entertainment medium: there’s about one good show every couple years, and the rest is a pile of nonsense either pandering to the lowest common denominator or mindlessly imitating whatever was popular last year. Sometimes both! So, as a result of there being a lot of trashy anime, I watch a lot of trashy anime. It’s not a matter of “wanting” to watch any anime that is 90% fan-service, it’s just a matter of the television is right there, it’s easy to try out any given weird show, and then watch five hours of it while grinding out EXP on the 3DS. I can do two things at once!

So, in memory of the fact that this blog could have been dedicated entirely to anime, I’m going to write a skosh about a few random animes I’ve watched over the last few… years? Seems like it’s been a while.

Infinite Stratos

This is the most recent thing I’ve watched, so it’s getting covered first. Also, it might be the most anime-anime I’ve ever seen. Boy is the chosen one, and he’s the only XY on Earth that can pilot (kinda) giant robots. So he’s sent to an all-girls school where he’s relentlessly pursued by the entire student body, particularly six main girls that cover the standard range of harem archetypes.
It’s pretty terrible.

Bunny ears, maid costume, yep.My main takeaway from the show is that, while I’m not usually one to think “oh man, I could do this so much better” about professionals who have likely been in their industry for years, I could probably write an entire season of harem anime in about a week. Episode one: introduce boy and main girl and general conflict. Following ten episodes: introduce a new girl and her new quirks once per episode, and have it continue into the next episode as their issues are resolved by Boy just in time for the next girl to arrive. Obviously, have each new girl bounce her “quirky” personality off of Boy and each of the established girls. As of episode eleven (well, the finale episode ten), introduce a major threat that you can claim was foreshadowed the whole time, threaten Boy or Main Girl, and then the whole gang pulls together to eliminate Threat. Episode Thirteen: Everyone goes to the beach!

Oh, and when I said each of the girls would have different quirky personalities? If rushed for time, just replace that with different bra sizes. No one will notice.

Good Luck Girl

I always find it hard to say this, but I don’t understand humor. I realize this is like trying to dissect a beloved pet to understand why “petting” is so soothing, but any time I try to analyze why I find X funnier than Y (or, more likely, I try to figure out why the likes of Everybody Loves Raymond or Monkey like bananaThe Big Bang Theory are apparently the most beloved comedies of the century while, say, early Community was treated like a dissected beloved pet), I come up empty. I find some things funny, I find other “funny” things atrocious, and I think I’ll live longer if I just don’t think about it too hard. This is likely why I’ve taken to writing about video games, because there have been six deliberately funny video games in the last three decades.

Good Luck Girl is funny. It makes me laugh. I have no idea why this anime, over the many others I’ve watched, is that much better at being a comedy, but there it is. I do have to admit, the central concept of the show, that one girl has nothing but good luck, while her rival has nothing but bad luck, is pretty much the same concept as, say, every Roadrunner short ever, but modern Looney Tunes can’t seem to make me crack a smile, why does Good Luck Girl succeed?

From an objective standpoint, it’s even basically boilerplate anime, complete with the two female leads constantly squabbling over breast size (and every random guest star commenting on their physical differences). There’s a “bath episode” to take the place of the traditional “beach episode”, and there’s even a “serious” subplot about finding romance that does absolutely nothing new, original, or even interesting.
But I think I laughed out loud at least once during every episode so… good job?

Maken-Ki: Battling Venus

See Infinite Stratos.

RAWRLove Bullet Yurikuma Arashi

And this is maybe my favorite thing I’ve seen all year in any medium.

By all accounts, this should be terrible, as it’s an examination of society’s treatment of / individual’s own acceptance and reactions to homosexuality… coming from a culture that is still very much in the Dharma & Greg stage of homosexual acceptance. But Love Bullet actually comes through and tells not only an amazing story (and given the strong ties to Revolutionary Girl Utena, I shouldn’t be surprised), but one that makes it abundantly clear to even the more ardent homophobe that “othering” people and attempting to “build a wall” to keep out undesirables hurts not only the “others”, but the “ruling majority” as well. And it’s subtle enough that… wait… is that official art of two teenage girls licking honey off of the third? Okay, maybe the lesbian overtones are a little… superliminal. But I stand by my assessment that even people that would normally be frightened away by the gay can enjoy this series and maybe even learn something. It’s got bears, after all. Bears are macho, right? Or am I thinking of something else?

Absolute Duo

See Infinite Stratos.

Persona 4 The Animation &
Blazblue: Alter Memory

Ever play these video games? Good, then there is absolutely no reason to watch these shows. Next time you complain about a movie not being faithful enough to its source material, remember that there’s a terrible universe where that “movie” is five hours long, and offers absolutely no additional insight or ideas.

Steins;Gate

And speaking of adaptions, here’s an odd one. Steins;Gate is another damn harem anime, but the reason I paid it any real attention is that it contains a season-long time travel plot, and, seriously, you could shoehorn time travel into a porno, and I’d watch it attentively with notebook in hand (“Hm… so he’s traveling through time to make sure she’s not a virgin in the future when… wait… How does the pizza delivery fit in to all of this?”). The boy of this show is Okabe, a fairly detestable creature that, forgoing the “purity” of his harem star He ate her yogurt or somethingfraternity, is easily the least likeable member of the cast. This isn’t a matter of the main character being a boring protagonist, no, this is a matter of it being established early on that this is a “hero” who has essentially kidnapped two friends from the start, and has a third victim by the end of the first episode. He’s narcissistic, transphobic, misogynistic, and women seem to fall for him when he shows the tiniest glimmer of humanity.

But, seriously? I don’t give a damn, because I can deal with an unlikeable protagonist if the story is interesting. This is no Breaking Bad, but the science of the show coupled with its pacing and the fact that we’re basically dealing with a “time travel whodunit” is enough to hold my interest. It’s okay that Okabe is a jerk, because he’s supposed to be an eccentric genius, not Sir Galahad. He’s one unpleasant character in a cast of, what, eight or so? Doc Brown, godfather of time travel, was neat to watch, but I wouldn’t exactly trust him with my car keys. No big deal.

And then I discovered that Steins;Gate was all based on a video game. And that game is of the “visual novel” variety. And Okabe? That’s you. You are Okabe.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the scariest hell imaginable.

Watch. Do not play.

Upotte!!

I have no idea what this is, or who it was intended for, but if you ever find someone raving about this being their favorite show, please, please tell an adult.

Monogatari
Or whatever they’re calling it this week

There are some significant reasons to never watch this show. Among them:

  1. The fanservice is constant and unflinching. This is a series that opens with a thirty second panty shot. I know this because they literally put a clock on the screen as it happens.
  2. Two of the characters are Starfire-level exhibitionists, so, no need for a beach episode, you’ll see them near-naked before their introductions are over. A third character is prim and proper and reserved… but has a split personality that causes her to strip to her unmentionables. The most reserved character winds up with a malady that just happens to cover her body, so she’s gotta get naked for the investigation. This is not very subtle.
  3. There’s a thousand year old vampire… who is “influenced” by the (male, duh) main character into appearing like a preteen child. See any of my posts on Kingdom Heart’s Xion for details on how much I love the trope of “woman whose appearance is exactly what her man desires”. See also Meggan of the X-Men, assuming you believe this to be an exclusively Japanese thing.
  4. Perhaps worst of all, the protagonist has a pair of younger sisters that are confirmed to be sub-high school age and… you can guess where this is going, right? Yeah, they’re sexualized like hell, rapidly graduating from unfortunate camera angles to full-on partial nudity, with a particular emphasis on the youngest of the two. Unless you’ve got a… sister lolita complex? Is that a thing? Unless that’s your specific kink, there’s pretty much no way you’re making it through these scenes without being grossed out. Hell, I’m nauseas just typing it.

All that said? I’ll watch every episode of this show.

A long time ago, like, back in the age of Shakespeare, directors realized that watching two people converse was about as interesting as watching a puppy nap (“Aww, that’s cute… Okay, let’s go do something else now.”), so various tricks and techniques were developed to create the illusion of forward momentum even when nothing is technically happening. Fastforward to the age of television, and you’ll see even more refined methods for masking boring conversations. Consider that any one of the thousand procedural shows now on the boob tube are just a series of experts talking to each other about an event that already happened before the opening credits, but that illusion of momentum is maintained through camera angles and actors unnecessarily walking down hallways and through labs. I’m certain that every single episode of Law & Order could actually be produced using two sets and four actors.

Also note that the majority of video games ever produced do not understand this simple fact. Please enjoy these two static characters standing parallel while text scrolls along.

90% of Monogatari is just two characters having a conversation that is at least tangentially related to the central problem, but, rather than employ Smexyany of the old standbys of traditional drama, Monogatari seems to have opted for allowing the animators to go wild. The first I ever saw of this series was two characters sitting on a bed discussing the concept of love for fifteen minutes, which, by all accounts, should be the most boring thing ever produced; but, no, it was an interesting mix of styles and text and all sorts of crazy things. It really shouldn’t work, it shouldn’t be fun to watch, but it is, and it occasionally strikes an excellent emotional chord by flashing images of what the speaking character is clearly thinking, but doesn’t have the guts to say. It’s a neat trick, and does an excellent job of making each episode distinct and remarkable.

And the other chief reason I keep watching Monogatari? I haven’t seen a show that made me feel for teenagers this much since FLCL. Look, I’m not one to romanticize my own teenage years. When I was living it, I could nary believe some people refer to that age as “the best years of your life”. If anything, I consider high school to be the absolute worst time of my life. Not that it was that bad, mind you, simply that it was the first time in my life that I really felt like I deserved to be steering my own ship, but had absolutely no freedom to do so. When I really think on it, high school is likely the time period in my life I’d like to relive the absolute least. Do-over, yes, but not reexperience on its own terms.

But in some strange, honest way, Monogatari makes me actually feel nostalgic for being a teenager, and particularly the concept of teen romance. Maybe it’s a side effect of the animators so frequently, almost subliminally dropping into the protagonist’s head, but there’s a sincerity to relationship interactions in this series that is completely absent from the likes of shows like Infinite Stratos. So many harem animes claim their heroes are pure and good and the center of so much female attention because of their nobility, but all they ever do is save people when they’re in danger, which, congratulations, dude, you didn’t watch another human being die, here’s your damn medal (and six girlfriends). Mix that faux-nobility with a character that seems to be either wildly sexually repressed or downright asexual (despite being a straight teenage boy), and you’ve got the recipe for a boy that seems more mythical than giant robots and magic powers. Monogatari is wall-to-wall male gaze, but that’s exactly what that male is gazing at, and he makes no excuses for his own behavior, simply a, “I’m a teenage boy, what did you expect?” And, if I’m being honest, I envy that. I covet the time when relationships were new, when you didn’t fly into every new relationship with more baggage than could ever be stowed overhead, when it was just, “hehe, I like your boobs.” Yes, it’s wildly immature and problematic, but that’s exactly why I miss it. I will literally never feel that pure, animalistic lust about a woman ever again, and that’s a good thing for everyone involved, but that doesn’t mean I can’t miss those simpler, hormonal times. I wouldn’t want to go back, but I can feel for that lost feeling.

Monogatari makes me feel, and I feel like that’s important.

Highschool DxD

See Infinite Stratos.