KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Mon Jul 24, 2017 12:12 am

How?

How can a single game be so... so... so fucking GOOD?!

NieR: Automata (2017)

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Basic Summary: An android struggles to overcome disturbed robots centuries after the end of the world.
Genre: RPG, Character Action Game, Hack 'n Slash, Bullet Hell
Systems: PS4, PC (though the latter version apparently has numerous porting problems)
Created by: PlatinumGames, Square Enix
Directed by: Yoko Taro
Written by: Yoko Taro, Hana Kikuchi, Yoshiho Akabane
Designed and Programmed by: Takahisa Taura, Isao Negishi, Ryo Onishi
Starring (English / Japanese): Kira Buckland / Yui Ishikawa, Kyle McCarley / Natsuki Hanae, Cherami Leigh / Ayaka Suwa, Greg Chun / Daisuke Namikawa
Story-Gameplay Ratio: A perfect 5:5

(not posting a trailer because I went in completely unspoiled on the game's various oddities and surprises, and you should too)


For the unaware, NieR: Automata follows 2B, a combat-specialized android working for YoRHa, a group comprised entirely of similar androids based out of an orbiting satellite. Untold ages ago, humanity was decimated by alien invaders who filled the Earth with murderous machines, but after hundreds of years with no appearance from the aliens, the machines are still wreaking havoc on the ruined planet. Sent to continue waging the endless war in service of their surviving human rulers, 2B and her companion 9S are sent down to Earth to assist allied android rebels against the ever-evolving robots and hopefully strike one more decisive blow against the enemy. However, the situation is far, far, far more complicated than the duo know, and the battles to come will push them to the breaking point in every way imaginable...

Spoiler: show
Just gonna open with this: NieR: Automata may be my new favorite game. Period.

That's right. I've waffled around in the past about what my all-time favorite would actually be, because almost no games I've played that have profoundly affected me emotionally have also hit that exact sweet spot with the gameplay, or vice versa. There are candidates, but the ones I'd consider meeting those criteria also wouldn't be in my top five favorite games. Automata is a powerhouse in every department I could want from a game and more, and is of such rich quality overall that it simply surpasses all my other contenders. It is, to my eye, nigh-perfect. And now I'm going to struggle to express how without spoiling it, because this is yet another game that's best enjoyed knowing as little as possible about it, and unlike a lot of prior games where I've said that, it's also quite long.

First things first, though. NieR: Automata is the sequel to Yoko Taro's 2010 cult classic action-RPG NieR, itself a bizarrely-related spinoff of the Drakengard series, though no knowledge of that series is needed to understand and enjoy the NieR games. And while Automata initially doesn't seem to share much at all with its predecessor, taking place a couple thousand years after it and seemingly with entirely different lore, knowledge of the original game is absolutely a must-have to fully appreciate the sequel. It's a good thing that the first NieR has a fantastic story, cast of characters, and world design, but it's a bit of a clunky slog gameplay-wise due to its budget and inexperienced programmers; if you haven't played or watched it, I strongly recommend looking into a Let's Play of it (I recommend this one).

All right! With all of that out of the way, we begin the review proper.

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As usual, we begin with the presentation, since there's so much to talk about in all other aspects. Most of the environments are nothing new on paper -- a ruined city overtaken by vegetation, a sprawling desert, a secluded forest, etc -- but the smooth, crisp, and bright visual style makes them all pop and fit together despite the relatively short distance between them (for an open-world game, the world is actually quite small, especially compared to the original NieR). The outward mundanity of a lot of the areas also helps the oddball touches found within them, or the more bizarre and creative environs, stick out even more. All of the character and enemy models are textured beautifully and animated distinctly, and when shit's going down in that special Platinum way, it feels natural within the world. I did run into a few instances of framerate stuttering and texture pop-in, but other recurring problems like screen tearing were notably absent.

But the soundtrack? No possible complaints there. People familiar with NieR will recall its beautiful score, and Automata readily picks up the baton with an OST that stands among my favorites in gaming. There's a track for every occasion, whether upbeat or melancholy, relaxing or completely insane, and they blend together perfectly as you move from zone to zone or scene to scene. Rhythmic drum beats, techno guitars, beautiful orchestral strings, and all manner of wild or serene chanting in various languages (some fictional) fill the air at any given moment, always enhancing the scene they're placed in. There's even a few songs carried over from the first game, though I won't spoil which ones nor when and how they're effectively utilized, save that most of these moments got me misty-eyed. It is just... phenomenal. Need proof? Here are some choice samples.

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On the gameplay front, which doesn't get nearly enough praise compared to the story, things are just as bright. Yoko Taro's games are usually notorious for feeling terrible to play, which was why his partnership with Platinum was such a brilliant prospect, and the result of said partnership is something fantastic. Platinum doesn't go as all-out insane as they're usually famous for doing (don't go in expecting the in-depth combos and crazy spontaneous setpieces of Bayonetta or MGR: Revengeance), but they put immeasurable polish into the first game's mechanics so that this feels like a monumental improvement without being a complete departure. You still strike at close range, send out volleys of projectiles, and avoid the enemies' own collections of orbs in a "bullet hell" manner; the addition of a lightning-fast dodge and counterattack gives you much more versatility. 2B controls like a dream in all situations whether in or out of combat, and the action is tight, fast, and adaptable enough that it fits both the massacring of standard machines and intense duels with the epically-scaled bosses. The amount of modification and customization you can give your Pod (the machine that lets you send out projectiles and use special attacks) and yourself through plug-in chips is icing on the cake. It just feels all-around good to play.

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Beyond the controls, there are other bits of the game that must be commented on. In a fun twist, every mechanic in the game is story-justified; you see maps and readouts because of 2B's visor, menus are her Pod giving her options, and things like saving and fast-traveling (which is unlocked later in the game) have in-universe bases that actually play into the plot sometimes. On saving, there is no auto-save and you can only do a quick save or manual full save when you're in the vicinity of an unlocked access point; this is normally not a huge problem, as the game is generous enough with the access points across the overworld, but there are a few enemy-heavy stretches very late in the game that can be cause for frustration if you die. The game also places some importance on side quests; they don't change anything to do with the main story, but a lot of them do pack either important information or emotional knife-twists from the most unexpected places. Though a lot of them are fetch quests, I highly recommend doing as many as you can, because a great many of them are well worth the effort.

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Now before plumbing the depths of the story, let's delve into the main cast of characters, obviously starting with the lead. 2B is initially a pretty flat character by all appearances; she fulfills the "cold, emotionless girl who actually has hints of emotion" archetype that's ever popular in Japanese media, and Kira Buckland's voice acting fills out all the boxes to make this satisfying enough. However, there are subtleties to pick up on in her personality and character interactions almost from the outset, from the YoRHa rules she gives that only she seems intent on following to how she quickly cracks in a baffling way in the prologue, and these glimpses get gradually expanded upon as the story progresses. By the time the final act is wrapping up, critical developments have turned her into possibly the best character in the game, and it's a treasure to reevaluate her path through the game with knowledge of what's revealed later. Character depth aside, she also happens to be a massive badass to rival other Platinum heroes, moving with cool efficiency and precision that everyone is rightfully impressed with, and despite her outlandish clothing, the camera never lingers on her as a fanservice object. All in all, a perfect protagonist.

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Her ally 9S is no slouch himself; in fact, there were points in the game where he actually surpassed her as my favorite character, though 2B still wins out overall. His easygoing demeanor and constant casual chatter form a great buddy-cop-esque dynamic with the stoic and reserved 2B, and while some of his slacker schtick may wear thin for some after a while, he's a loyal soldier by most measures and he knows when to grit his teeth and do his job. I grew to care about him to the point that the scattered points in the game when he's not at 2B's side felt rather surreal, and I even bought his faint romantic teases with her because of their great chemistry. Like 2B, he gets rapidly increasing development as shit starts to go down in the third act, and Kyle McCarley rises to the challenge as his performance slowly gets unexpectedly raw and emotional. I adore where his character arc ultimately leads him, and like his companion, he's going to linger in my mind for a long time.

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The last of the main characters is rogue android A2, and... well, she's harder to talk about than the other two. In fact, I likely wouldn't even make mention of her if she wasn't on the cover, because I completely forgot she was supposed to be in the game and was pleasantly surprised by her appearance. She first enters the playing field relatively late in the second act, and then only really takes prominence in the third act in a rather spoiler-y fashion. A lot of her backstory is also bafflingly only available in a Japanese-only prequel stage play, the outline of which is made available in-game eventually and which you can find analyzed in full by YouTuber Clemps (in a part of his spoiler-filled analysis of the whole game), but which is still frankly unnecessarily conveyed and saps some of her later arc of the impact it should have.

I can discuss a few things about her, though. Personality-wise, she's a bitter and angry loner who spends her days vengefully slaughtering machines -- very similar to the original NieR's best character, foul-mouthed intersex swordswoman Kaine, though not nearly as compelling or well-realized. She does go through a surprisingly great little character arc with her fairly limited screen time, and only what basic knowledge of her history the game gives you is necessary to appreciate the context of her interactions with 2B and 9S. So ultimately, while she doesn't hold a candle to the main duo, she's still pretty great.

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And since that's the last main character I can say much about without going into enjoyment-dampening spoilers (I didn't even have an idea of who the main antagonists were when I went in, and I aim to preserve that freshness for you), we have nothing left to do but go into the most hotly-praised aspect of NieR: Automata: the masterful story. Yoko Taro has always delivered great stories in his games, though they've always been ignored because of terrible gameplay and related factors (the sole exception being Drakengard 3, which is just awful beyond all repair on every front). With an actual genuinely great game as his foundation, he's woven an incredible tale that's much more fun to digest and be emotionally wrecked by. It's thematically rich, examining concepts like human centricism, the inherent futility of conflict, and numerous more meta tropes in increasingly fascinating lights, and Yoko Taro's writing insanity perfectly matches Platinum's design insanity in a way that elevates both and hinders neither.

As was the famous gimmick with NieR, the first time the credits roll in NieR: Automata is not the ending, but merely the end of Route A. The routes aren't determined by choices or anything; they're less "alternate endings" than linear continuations separated only by credits. Unlike the first game, Square Enix puts an explicit message after the credits letting you know to press "Start Game" again because it's not over, but enough people have apparently somehow still stopped after Endings A or B that I feel the need to make it clear from the start. And I also can't properly talk about the story without going into the routes, so here we go.

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The vast majority of the game takes place in Route A, which goes through most of the initial character development and conflicts, contains at least 80% of the side quests (which, I reiterate, are worth playing), and follows a very satisfying arc to what would probably be the definitive ending if it weren't a Yoko Taro story. Playing it at a proper pace and tackling most of the side quests, it can take upwards of 25-35 hours -- not ridiculous JRPG length, but a sizable chunk of time all the same. Luckily, it's fun as fuck, the story told is relentlessly compelling as it dishes out twist after twist on the initial scenario, and multiple unpredictable shakeups happen whenever the setup threatens to get a little stale. Every few hours my trip through the ruins was met by a sight so striking, disturbing, or just plain weird that I resisted stopping just so I could see what the fuck was going on. It winds toward its climax with a stretch of a scenario that does draw on a bit too long and feels slightly out of place, but that leads up to an awe-inspiring climax with a satisfyingly challenging boss, and the ending is just the right mix of triumphant and bittersweet. It's not as subversive and mind-melting as NieR got even in its first run, but it's a well-told story and I was left very, very curious about how the rest of it would play out after the events of this "finale."

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Unfortunately, Route B is my single big problem with the game, even though it's far from subpar. Like NieR's Route B, it follows the same events from the first playthrough, but from a different perspective and with loads of new information doled out that changes everything you've understood and sets up what comes next. However, while the first game picked up this second playthrough from the halfway point and packed flashback sequences that dramatically recontextualized the battles you fought to devastating effect, Automata has you play through the entire game again with only brief new expositional breaks, development bits, and unlockable files. While this isn't a huge problem because the lack of significant sidequests makes the route far shorter than the first run (if you blitz through it like I did, it can take just a few hours), and there are a few gameplay shake-ups and sporadic changes to events, the vast majority of it is the same game all over again and it can get tiresome despite its rich quality. It doesn't help that what you learn about the battles you've been fighting at this point is most of the time more "aw, that's pretty sad" than NieR's "FUCK I'M SUCH AN ASSHOLE." There is a significant dollop of new intrigue toward the very end of this playthrough that radically changes the game, but I'm not sure if playing the entire game uncut was a necessary lead-up to it.

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Luckily, just as things start to get mundane, the third act hits with Route C and Jesus fucking Christ it's something. This route was exactly what I both wanted and dreaded from the game. It's tightly paced, packed with character development and new mysteries, and fucking gut-wrenching on multiple levels. As I watched events play out in both fascination and horror, I often felt enraged and wronged, but in the best possible way: out of investment in the characters and world and a desire for vengeance against the antagonist/s responsible for what they were all going through, rather than displeasure with bad writing or plotting. This is the route where Yoko Taro unleashes everything he's been keeping up his sleeves, to marvelous effect, and it's without a doubt among my favorite stretches of any story across all media. Devastating losses and powerful emotional reveals are all intertwined around a question so towering and compelling that I had to force myself to stop playing at a point because I wanted answers (and recompense for the fallen) so much that I was willing to play well past midnight and into the early hours of morning. The climax of this route is a bit of mixed bag -- there's a lot to love story and gameplay-wise, but there's also a tedious boss battle that went on way too long and held the threat of losing all my progress due to a lack of save points -- but the final battle is pitch-perfect regardless of which choice you make, leading into either Ending C or D, both of which are perfectly satisfying conclusions to the story.

But unlike NieR, there's one last bit of the game to go after this: Ending E. This can only be unlocked after viewing both of the other endings in whatever order you choose (I think the story works better with Ending D leading into it, but that's just me), and it's perfect. It is just so goddamn perfect it defies words, not that I could give it many for how easy it is to spoil. It is something that can only be truly enjoyed by playing it yourself, as viewing an LP of it takes all of the life and impact away from the content. I was in tears over how profoundly it affected me, and I won't even say whether those tears were from uplifting or saddening events. It is the perfect bow on all of the themes the game has worked toward expressing, it's something I've never seen another game even try to do, and I genuinely see this single stretch of game as Yoko Taro's unquestionable magnum opus. I will give only one intentionally vague piece of advice in this little spoiler tag, for the sake of ensuring you can see it yourself without screwing it up:

advice
Never give up, no matter what. When the time to say "yes" comes, you'll know.


God... I just love NieR: Automata so much. By no means is it perfect, and there are a few pivotal missteps along the way I feel could have been avoided or fixed, but it's overall of such an awe-inspiring quality that I struggled even to isolate its singular flaws. It is a game of deceptive depth, incredible impact, and immeasurable creativity, and it's rightfully what's bringing Yoko Taro from the fringes of gaming nerddom into relatively mainstream success. I struggled with this review for almost a week for the sole purpose of getting at least one more person to buy it; it deserves all the attention it could get. As I said, it might be my favorite game of all time; at the very least, it's my unrivaled Game of the Year in a year that's spoiled us for choice on amazing games, and it'll take something godlike to topple it from that spot.

Rating: Top TieR

TREMENDOUS SPOILERS, DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT CLICKING THE BELOW SPOILER IF YOU HAVEN'T CONCLUDED ENDING E; THIS IS SOLELY FOR ME AND ANYONE WHO'S COMPLETED THE GAME:

extreme critical spoilers
Endless thanks to everyone who sacrificed their hard work so that I could see the journey through to the end. I couldn't have done it without you, and I hope my hard work has gone to good use for someone else -- if the stars align, maybe even someone who eventually reads this. My file was "Sben".
  • 7

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Sun Sep 30, 2018 6:25 pm, edited 3 times in total.
"Your mind is software. Program it. Your body is a shell. Change it. Death is a disease. Cure it." - Eclipse Phase

Game Review: TALES OF XILLIA

Anime Review: MY HERO ACADEMIA SEASON 3

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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Tue Sep 05, 2017 9:26 pm

Death Note (2017)

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Basic Summary: A high school outcast comes into possession of a notebook he can use to kill anyone.
Genre: Thriller
Directed by: Adam Wingard
Written by: Charles and Vlas Parlapanides, Jeremy Slater
Starring: Nat Wolff, Willem Dafoe, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley
Length: 100 mins



For the unaware, Netflix's Death Note follows Light Turner (*gag*), a Seattle high school student who comes into possession of a notebook belonging to the death god Ryuk, which allows him to kill anyone he wants by simply writing their name and knowing their face. A long-suffocated outcast with pent-up frustrations about justice and lack thereof, Light quickly takes to the Death Note, roping his cheerleader crush Mia Sutton into his crusade; together, they form the identity of the vigilante "Kira" and set out to murderously rewrite the wrongs of the world. As bodies drop by the hundreds, brilliant and off-kilter detective "L" joins the manhunt, and the noose starts to tighten around Light's neck as Mia urges him ever forward...

Spoiler: show
Whether you love or hate the Death Note manga/anime (I mostly love it, but I went into this trying to be as open-minded as possible), signs in the prerelease were pointing heavily toward this being a shoddy piece of ass like most anime adaptations, but it turns out it's not like most anime adaptations. This must be said up-front: this is a condensed reimagining of the story, not a direct adaptation. Adam Wingard is a huge Death Note fan and this is his elaborate alternate universe fanfic. With that in mind, in spite of my heavy skepticism right from the film's announcement, I'm judging this as a film as it stands on its own two legs, not nitpicking where and when it strays from the source. And even then, my skepticism was not misplaced: even with everything that works fantastically, this is very much on the low end of a mixed bag.

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May as well start with the production values, since this is the film's primary boon. It's extremely well-shot, with numerous creative camera movements, unique scene framings, effective blending of light (heh) and darkness to establish the atmosphere in key scenes, and mostly realistic effects work. This is where Wingard's passion is most apparent; I'm so-so on his directorial work up to now, but he's consistently good at least with presenting material that's pleasing to the eye. Dutch angles and rotating shots are somewhat overused, but not distractingly so save a few occasions when it just feels like showing off in a mundane scene. Wingard also gives a loving eye to the Final Destination-esque Rube Goldberg death sequences scattered throughout the first act, which are fun to watch from a pulpy entertainment perspective even if they're so ridiculously gory that it's hard to take them seriously.

The sound design is also pretty effective most of the time, and while the soundtrack doesn't do enough memorable work to make up for the lack of familiar Death Note tunes, music is mostly used effectively; there's an especially effective mass suicide scene toward the halfway point that's made all the creepier by the sudden introduction and just-as-sudden vanishing of a brief licensed song. That being said, the climax goes WAY overboard on the licensed music, with a particular emphasis on love songs that try to give the action on the screen an unearned weight, only to derail it all and make it laughably silly.

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And what of the four primary characters who drive us through this mess? Light Turner is... inconsistent. The film casts him as the predictable frustrated emo loner you've seen a billion times before (dipping into increasingly pointless edginess the more you see of his high school life), and he's consistently characterized as a book-smart, street-stupid jackass who has no idea what he's doing half the time -- a far cry from Light Yagami's brilliant sociopath. While this is a potentially interesting path to take, the film doesn't devote nearly enough time to his transformation into Kira, and the way he acts like a lackadaisical idiot driven forward by circumstance and his dick throughout the majority of the film can be frustrating to watch, since it rarely feels like he earns his victories. And for as much hay as the haters of the manga/anime might make about this Light being less likely to get people worshipping and justifying him, the film unambiguously sides with him as the morally white protagonist with L as his antagonist; he is depicted as a good guy for his early killings and never takes any steps into major villainy, and any attempts to grey him or make him questionable are cursory at best. In a story like this, a lack of moral ambiguity (which the source maintained even though Light was an evil bastard) is a nail in the coffin.

I was skeptical of Nat Wolff's casting from the beginning, but he tries his best with the material he's given, and with the exception of his now-infamous meeting with Ryuk (in which he shrieks like an agitated goat and makes a ton of bizarre facial expressions in rapid succession, to unintentionally hilarious effect), he's rarely outright bad. A lot of his line readings are a little flat, but he capably sells both the loathing that drives him and most of the intentional comedy between him and Ryuk. The big problem with the character is the script, not the guy acting it out.

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Not so for Mia Sutton, the film's answer to Misa Amane, cast this time as a punk goth cheerleader rather than a submissive goth idol girl. I hate Misa in the source material and think she's a weakness to the story, but as much as I admire an attempt to change her from the lovestruck airhead Light has to keep on a leash because she never thinks her decisions through, the film swings way too hard to the opposite end of the spectrum and runs into equivalent problems. For most of the movie's run time, Mia is a generic rebellious teen girl whose entrance into Light's quest is barely believable, and her headstrong attitude and frequent urging of Light to go further come off as obnoxious and unearned. Wolff and Margaret Qualley have very little chemistry together, and I didn't buy their rushed, plot-consuming romance for shit. She gets increasingly sociopathic and driven as the movie goes on, but the story is too rushed and muddled to justify that, so her character ends up behaving in ways you simply don't believe she would and her arc ends as a slapdash blob of delightfully stupid nonsense. She's just as much of a mess as Misa, merely an altogether different kind of mess, and she's still detrimental.

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On the other hand, this incarnation of L is pretty damn good most of the time. This is a very different L, less protectively paranoid and more wrathful, but Lakeith Stanfield takes most of the inconsistencies with his script and papers them over with his performance. In addition to generally good acting, Stanfield nails the movement and mannerisms of the character, from his slouched walk, iconic perched sitting position, and casually bizarre actions to how he acts on his sweet tooth at any given time, and adds a few more of his own tics in a way that feels natural. He even looks tired and unhealthy on the few occasions you can see his face, through nothing but his expressions. Unfortunately, the writing is not up to the bar Stanfield sets; he figures out the identity of Kira with far too little work due to a series of massive logical leaps supported by only tangential evidence, and the story merely says that he's right rather than have him do any real investigative work, thus making him come off less like a genius detective and more like someone with a copy of the script. Sadly, he and Light also get almost no interaction to build up their rivalry, and their eventual confrontation is mired in out-of-character action that Stanfield sells, but the plot hardly justifies or earns.

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And finally, Ryuk, the only character whom I was hopeful for going in and who doesn't need any qualifiers to my praise. Played to peak cackling craziness by Willem Dafoe (in one of the most dead-on casting choices ever made), he rocks every scene he's in, whether he's being a terrifying phantom or the playfully neutral jackass I know and love. While changes to the backstory of the Death Note and the way Shinigami work make him a slightly different character in effect, he's fundamentally still the above-it-all death god hovering on Light's shoulder and gently pushing him this way or that, and Dafoe makes him simultaneously a darkly hilarious buddy and a sinister threat you know not to take lightly. I'm also in love with the way he's brought to life: Dafoe's head is superimposed onto a real seven-foot-tall actor in a full costume with excellent makeup and CGI, so he has a real physical presence, but the camera almost always keeps him slightly in shadow or obscured to maintain the feeling that he doesn't belong in this world. My only gripe regarding him is that he's not in that many scenes, and he's ultimately barely consequential to the plot, so this incredible shining star just isn't utilized to its full potential.

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You've probably gathered from my complaints so far that I don't have a high opinion of the film's plot. It sucks that in even a loose reimagining of a story I really like, this is the area where the biggest problems are concentrated and the one most prone to critical and audience thrashing, but here we are. The plot of Netflix's Death Note is poorly written and sloppily executed, riddled with gaping plot holes and wasted potential, and all tied together by the ridiculous pacing made necessary by the 100 minute runtime. It rushes from Light acquiring the Death Note to him being investigated (while having most of his actual murders and the development of the Kira identity being accomplished in a fucking montage barely twenty minutes in), and then rushes to L being sure of his identity through the aforementioned massive logical leaps, and then rushes to the third act confrontations and action setpieces, all while rushing through a shoddy romantic subplot and various interpersonal relationships we're expected to care about. Characters take on behaviors that were never set up because the setup happened offscreen, some arcs and plot points get no resolution whatsoever, and pretty much everything beyond the initial investigation stage is a deluge of amateurish, predictable nonsense. There is simply no time, no room to let anything breathe or develop, no time for an actual story.

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And to make it worse, only half of this is because of the condensed pacing: the other half is down to what the film decides is important to focus on and what can be left out. The rivalry between Light and L is the backbone of any Death Note story, and even if they didn't want to go all-in on the elaborate mind games, they still could have had the two of them interact in more than two or three scenes. The sinister ties between Light and Ryuk, Light's relationship with the father who's unwittingly hunting him, L's relationship with his own father figure Watari, Light's moral ambiguity and declining sanity -- all of that gets left on the cutting room floor save for a few scenes of each. There are even teases at things I was hopeful would be elaborated upon by setting this story in the States: commentary on our attitudes toward vigilantism, on police action and militarization, on interventionalism, even the War On Terror. Focusing in on any of these subjects would have borne ripe storytelling opportunities, but each subject is given only snapshots, montage scenes, cursory lines of dialogue or background action. Even Kira's worshippers being more open and active due to the norms of American society is only used for one brief interesting thing near the end.

Instead, all of the time that could be used to develop any of the things I've listed or fix the assorted plot holes is devoted to the teen romance between Light and Misa (already established not to work), with long lingering scenes of them talking and a valuable 10-20 minutes late in the movie being devoted to their interactions at the homecoming dance, all for the sake of a predictable twist and a deliriously silly climax. If this were a miniseries, perhaps these scenes wouldn't be so destructive, but here they actively deprive everything else of time.

Overall, Death Note is... weird. It doesn't work as an adaptation of the source, because as established, it diverges so far from the established material that it's pointless not to call it a reimagining. It's not a particularly good thriller, since it's hard to be invested in any of the characters and the danger they find themselves in often feels contrived. It doesn't work as a detective story or a story about rivals outsmarting each other, and the pacing and unearned twists keep it from being a rise-and-fall story. It's barely a worthwhile reimagining, since it hardly goes into all of the interesting potential subject matter it teases. It's just kind of... here. It exists. I can't even pin down who it was made for. It's a fun watch worth going through for the cinematography and mostly solid acting, but you have to divert your brain from a lot of sloppy writing and godawful pacing to even call it "good."

Rating: Not At All According to Plan
  • 7

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Sun Sep 30, 2018 5:19 pm, edited 2 times in total.
"Your mind is software. Program it. Your body is a shell. Change it. Death is a disease. Cure it." - Eclipse Phase

Game Review: TALES OF XILLIA

Anime Review: MY HERO ACADEMIA SEASON 3

ARTICLE 13 MUST BE STOPPED
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby Grimstone » Wed Sep 06, 2017 4:09 am

On the plus side, I think there are two things this move got right: 1) Willem Dafoe as Ryuk and 2) the need to adapt the source material for a western audience.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Fri Sep 22, 2017 3:15 am

Perfect Blue (1997)

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Basic Summary: A former idol singer loses her grip on reality as she is stalked by her own persona.
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Directed by: Satoshi Kon
Written by: Sadayuki Murai
Starring: Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto, Shinpachi Tsuji, Masaaki Okura
Length: 81 minutes

(can't find a decent non-spoilery trailer)


For the unaware, Perfect Blue follows Mima Kirigoe, an idol singer with a moderate but rabid following who decides to leave her group to pursue an acting career. Initially relieved to shed her old identity and explore new horizons, Mima starts to have reservations when her role on a sexually-charged crime drama leads her into increasingly uncomfortable territory, not helped by strange incidents on set and at home leading her to become paranoid of a crazed fan stalking her. When bodies start dropping in connection with her career path and a ghostly doppelganger of Mima's old life manifests at random, however, Mima's fragile sanity shatters and the line between dreams, stories, and her life start to fade away -- and somewhere in the fractured world that remains, a very real danger is waiting for her...

Spoiler: show
Despite being a huge geek for both anime and intense psychological fiction, I've been mostly ignorant of legendary director Satoshi Kon's work other than knowing basic trivia like the infamous "Paprika inspired / was ripped off by Inception" debate. However, his 1997 directorial debut was brought to my attention by a video essay from one of my favorite YouTubers (contains some spoiler footage, but is mostly clear of plot points if memory serves), and after months spent trying to track it down, I finally got to settle in one chilly night and watch it. What I found was an inspired, captivating, mind-jackhammering thriller that only gets more horrifying the further displaced it is from its original release date, and I just had to give it a write-up that will hopefully bring it to at least one more set of unaware eyes.

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Starting with the presentation as we generally do, the animation is one of the things that initially put Perfect Blue on my radar. The characters aren't drawn like typical anime characters -- most of them look like average or slightly unattractive everyday people, with Mima and other celebrities being the only ones who stand out as noticeably beautiful. It doesn't look anything like the majority of anime of its time, and while this basic style has increased in popularity, the level of detail that goes into skin shading and realistic proportions makes the film just as eye-catching as ever. Just as much focus is put into the details of the world, which is great to look at even though it's mostly just a very vivid look at urban Japan and the color palette is muted save for a few locations; special mention going to the numerous little touches around Mima's apartment -- one of the main recurring areas in the story -- that help establish her character as a genuine person rather than an archetype. This attention to realism makes the later parts of the narrative, when the colors get more vibrant and surreal imagery blends with the established world, all the more twisted and upsetting.

What I didn't know about going in was the sound design, which is equally captivating and still sticking with me a day later. In keeping with the realism of the setting, most of the music early on is diegetic, usually coming from flashes of an idol performance, a nearby radio, or a film shoot; when there isn't a source for the soundtrack, the film is instead bathed in silence and/or typical city sounds both faint and blaring depending on the situation. Attention to detail is even clear in the quiet moments, which make a very clear distinction between comforting silence and the more crushing, paranoia-inducing variety, though it's a distinction I'm still not quite sure how to explain. And when the actual soundtrack kicks in, it's well worth the buildup -- the music is almost Silent Hill-esque, befitting the way reality distorts through Mima's eyes, and this ominous little number in particular is going to haunt me for a long time.

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For as complex as the story gets, it starts off fairly straightforward, following Mima's departure from her idol group and the early activities of the stalker as she tries to live her life. This first act is slow but compelling, establishing Mima's character and motivation with great care (I'll get to her in a bit) and slowly allowing the foreboding atmosphere to encroach on her mundane life in ever more personal and sinister ways. Scenes like Mima reading a website devoted to her or her associates discussing her career choices are visited often, but rather than become repetitive filler, this helps the film maintain a feeling of normalcy and slow progression that emulates the path of Mima's life. When the stalker's antics cut into Mima's life, it feels as shocking as it would be to actually find out you're being stalked, and this combined with the exploitative paths her career takes her down (including a simulated assault that, while detached from reality and peppered with filmmaker interjections, is still deeply distressing and may be too much for some viewers) makes her slip from reality feel almost inevitable.

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Once the narrative structure is thrown off its rails and the threats to Mima's life take full prominence, Perfect Blue becomes something unforgettable. Mima's loss of control over her life manifests both as a psychotic hallucination of her old self and as a blurring of her lives, with jarring cuts between her real life, the story she's playing out as an actress, and more so you can never be quite sure whether you're seeing what's really going on until it's clarified, which it sometimes never is. Storytelling styles like this walk a hazy line between creativity and pretentiousness, but at least for me, this blending and distorting of the story only enhanced it and never came off like Kon's head was buried deep up his own ass (something I can't say for Aronofsky's Black Swan, which took heavy inspiration from this film). The events within the second and third acts are disturbing and faster paced, but they're set up so well and spaced out so unpredictably that it feels like the film is moving at a much faster pace even when in its downtime. It feels much longer than its eighty minute runtime, which is for once a very good thing and an excellent example of how to tell a complete and satisfying story within a relatively short time (*cough*Death Note 2017*cough*). The escalation of events builds to a riveting and bloody climax that lays out at least the basics of what was going on, and the ending quickly comes down off the action while both dishing up one last subtle mind-teaser and being just short enough not to let the impact of the final events fade. And the themes that twist through this elaborate horror show are poignant and all too relatable, as I'll get to shortly.

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Before that, though, a few words on the character without whom the bizarreness and brutality would have no meaning. Mima Kirigoe is an engrossing protagonist, a woman of many facets who gives her journey through success and sanity slippage a strong emotional root that grounds the surrealism, unreliable perspective, and occasional displays of gut-wrenching violence. She's established without a word of ham-fisted exposition as we're merely taken through a normal day in her life, and while details of her past occasionally come up in natural conversation, we're mostly left with a portrait of her in the present day of the film's events. And as the film very rarely leans on the common anime device of allowing the audience to hear Mima's thoughts, all that's known about her state of mind at any given time is what she chooses to express in public versus in private, and there are a lot of scenes that go on for some time without her giving any more than a few vague expressions or short replies, if even that. All of this has the effect of making Mima seem like a person with more going on in her life than we're privy to; someone who's not necessarily guarded about her life, but whom just has no reason to pull back the curtains any more than necessary.

Yet in the relatively short time spent with Mima and the tight lens from which she's viewed, she quietly flourishes. Her core drive to succeed as an actress at any cost and distance herself from her idol career are expressed through her actions rather than any monologues about her motivation, and her conversations with associates and silent reactions to particular sights and events flesh out other aspects of her personality: her natural charm, the anxiety that balances out her ambition, just a hint of naivety that erodes away very quickly, etc. The aforementioned details in her cramped apartment and the basics of her routine also tell the viewer numerous things about her without beating the specifics over your head. Over time, her contentment and eagerness give way first to disenfranchisement and then to dissociation, as she grows more and more frustrated and hurt by the things she's made to do and the way these new aspects of her life cause people to perceive her. Once she loses control, the rage is then compounded by ramping paranoia and existential misery, and yet the fundamentals of her character remain in place so her spiral is consistently both sad and bleakly hopeful. Even when you're questioning where she is at any given time or whether there might be blood on her hands, she never stops being a presence worth rooting for.

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As well-written a protagonist as Mima is worthy of a great antagonist, and Perfect Blue gives her two to contend with. Obsessive fan turned relentless stalker Me-Mania isn't the most complex character out there, but he serves his purpose well, illustrating the disconnect between artist and audience and how dangerous that disconnect can often be when the audience is no longer satisfied. His sickening appearance and complete silence for most of the runtime sometimes make him seem like a horror movie monster, but the story always makes sure you know he's as much an average person as the woman he's obsessing over is, and the occasional glimpses into his coveting of Mima's "character" provided by his impersonating blog are deeply unsettling. I somewhat wish there was more done with him, but what he is is satisfyingly creepy enough.

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The other intruder into Mima's life that she's forced to contend with is "Idol Mima," the sum of her idol career embodied in a cheery, homicidal doppelganger that flits in and out of the picture to further wear away at Mima's sanity. While initially a clear hallucination brought on by immense stress, the film slowly plants seeds of doubt to that effect: whether she's a product of Mima's self-doubt and regret over moving on, a split personality taking control, or somehow an independent supernatural entity becomes a more difficult question to answer as it goes on, and the climax only gives a clear answer to most of her scenes, leaving some of her grisly work up to interpretation. Whatever her nature, though, she's a much stronger character than Me-Mania due to being rooted in her human counterpart's fascinating mental breakdown, slicing at Mima's insecurities and tormenting her at critical moments with the apparent intent to shatter her completely. And as open-ended as part of her nature might be, the resolution to her appearance is fantastic, providing one of the film's most memorable and intense scenes in the last few minutes in a way that ties her even deeper into the core message than Me-Mania.

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Kon created Perfect Blue in an era when the internet was young (reflected in the only scene that hasn't aged particularly well, when Mima struggles to grasp how URLs and search terms work), and the kind of high status and exaggerated character that drives the film's conflict belonged almost solely to celebrities. Yet the dynamic of person, avatar, and obsessor is nearly universal today, as so many of us present versions of ourselves that either may not perfectly match up how we are in real life or might be a complete fabrication, and judge others -- purposefully or not -- as we are judged in turn. I'm trying not to lift too much from the linked video, which sums a lot of this up much more saliently than I can, but this universal applicability turns Perfect Blue's thematic content from an interesting commentary on celebrity culture and the warped perception of those "above" us to a petrifyingly relatable message on our collective vulnerability. Whether you've actually had a stalker before or not doesn't matter; everyone who puts themselves out in the open can end up in Mima's shoes, under eyes that strip away the complete identity you know yourself to possess and leave only the persona they believe in, to do with as they please. It's both fascinating and chilling to see in a movie two decades behind us, and it ensures that as outdated as the internet talk actually contained in it might be, the message will never cease to be relevant.

Overall, I loved Perfect Blue. It's a superb psychological thriller that serves up a warped narrative, nearly unforgettable characters, and heady themes without crossing the line into tedious pretension like so many others, and it lasts only as long as it needs to but manages not to neglect anything or leave its many threads hanging. It's a masterwork of unconventional storytelling and haunting ambiguity, and it well earns its cult classic status. If you have any interest in thrillers you have to think about for a while (though it's not quite a puzzle box movie you'll have to research to even understand), and you can handle some brief but highly detailed and disturbing scenes of physical and sexual violence, track this down immediately and watch it in the quiet, plaintive darkness it deserves.

Rating: Perfectio- OH GOD SCREWDRIVERS DON'T BELONG THERE
  • 5

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Sun Sep 30, 2018 5:19 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Anime Review: MY HERO ACADEMIA SEASON 3

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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby 52xMax » Fri Sep 22, 2017 10:07 am

I've been meaning to watch this one for a while. Perhaps now that the new Aronofsky movie came out I'll make it a double feature, if I can find this.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby octoberpumpkin » Fri Sep 22, 2017 9:31 pm

Perfect Blue was pretty great
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Sat Oct 21, 2017 1:38 am

My Hero Academia (S2) (2017)

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Basic Summary: Izuku's hero training continues as threats close in around him.
Genre: Shonen, Action, Comedy, Superheroes
Created by: Studio Bones
Directed by: Kenji Nagasaki
Written by: Yōsuke Kuroda
Starring (Japanese / English): (All the same as Season 1, plus) Yuuki Kaji / David Matranga, Go Inoue / Robert McCullum
Episodes: 25
Available on: Funimation and Hulu
Source Material: Ongoing manga by Kōhei Horikoshi

This review contains some spoilers for My Hero Academia Season 1, reviewed here.


For the unaware, the second season of My Hero Academia continues to follow Izuku "Deku" Midoriya, the once powerless boy who bears a growing fraction of his hero All Might's abilities. Despite everyone still recovering from the mysterious villains' brazen attack on the U.A. grounds, no rest is coming for Izuku and friends -- the school's annual sports festival is up next, where the students will hone their Quirks in combat with each other and prove their worth to current heroes and thousands of civilians. The high-stakes competition inflames all of the old rivalries and drives friends into temporary new ones, and it presents excellent opportunities for Izuku to both improve his handling with his newfound Quirk and study up on the strengths and weaknesses of his classmates. But the heroes and admirers aren't the only people keeping an eye on U.A.: the League of Villains is readying itself for its next devastating move, and far above the scheming sits an enigmatic vigilante with a very low opinion of the heroes-to-be...

Spoiler: show
There's been a terrible dearth of anime reviews in this thread this year, primarily because most of the anime I've watched to completion thus far have been sequel seasons that I haven't had many different things to say about (KonoSuba, Attack on Titan, etc), and I've watched some new stuff but not to completion because it bored or repulsed me. I finished Death Note at my girlfriend's behest and I hope to review that soon, and I have a few more high-quality new series I've been saving to watch soon, but for the past few months I've been watching the second season of My Hero Academia -- mainly because I thought it was finished and shorter than 25 episodes, and since I started it, I have a hard time watching multiple anime simultaneously. But here we are at last, and the wait was well worth it.

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Starting as usual with the presentation, the animation was already stellar in the first season, but it gets a significant boost this time around to become easily the most vibrant and gorgeous new anime I've watched this year. Movement is even more fluid and designs are even more detailed, while still sticking within the art style that's just... so much fun to look at all the creative touches of. I marked down the fights for being a little slight and anticlimactic last season, and that complaint is remedied beyond belief: there are numerous fights, duels, and other kinds of face-offs, and whether they're plot-critical or just for fun and spectacle, they're all smooth and compelling and plain fantastic. As I'll go into more below, it's such a pleasure to watch two or more characters with well-developed personalities and interesting Quirks challenge each other.

And as for the soundtrack, that too has been seriously improved (enough that I'm not just tacking a single sentence onto the end of the animation paragraph this time!), with the memetic You Say Run being used to far more memorable effect. The opening and ending themes for the first half are catchy, fun, and well-animated, but nothing special happens until the usual halfway season music changeup, at which point we get two absolute gems. The second opening, Sora ni Utaeba (I'm only linking the music because the full OP is prone to getting taken off YouTube), is a dramatic and intense ear worm I can't stop listening to, and it plays over an intro that's gorgeously animated and put together with enough symbolism and meaning that I had to watch it every time it played. The second ED, meanwhile, is just... so surprising and on-point that I grinned from ear to ear when I realized where they'd gone with it, and I almost didn't want to link it because it's such a pleasant surprise to see at the end of the first episode it's used in.

While the execution is all-around stunning, though, the story is still nothing mind-blowing. It's still very much a character-driven show whose main plot generally inhabits a very standard formula for the genre. There are quite a few more subversions of expectations here and there than there were in the first season, but it's still easy for those with experience in this kind of anime to predict how the overall situation will turn out and the archetypes new characters will fit into. All the same, it's a blast to watch thanks to the sheer quality of execution, and there's a lot more going on this time around with the setup out of the way -- enough that I can talk about the three distinct arcs the season goes through individually.

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First up is the Sports Festival Arc, which takes up about half of the season. I'm not normally one for tournament arcs, as it's very easy to make them more about empty displays of force than making a statement about the characters fighting (see: Dragon Ball Super's Jiren travesty), but this arc did a great job of hooking me and keeping me excited to see what was next. The incredible variety of characters and powers makes even the competitions preceding the head-to-head fights interesting rather than feeling like a waste of time, and when the battles themselves start, they provide some of the best moments of the season. The fights that are mainly there just to show off how peoples' wildly mismatched Quirks and fighting styles can interact and counter each other are a lot of fun, and you can tell a lot of effort was put into even the most minor engagements. The story-critical, full-episode fights between prominent characters, meanwhile, are breathtaking across the board as the spectacle, creativity, and clashing personalities go through the roof. Throughout all of this, moments of the usual rich character development and just a bit of narrative intrigue are threaded through the various fights, leading to moments that I'd actually say make this the most emotionally stirring part of the season. So... it's just a damn great tournament arc. What more could you want?

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Rivaling it in my eyes, however, is the Internship / Hero Killer Arc, which is much shorter and comes right at the start of the second half. It starts off as a few breather episodes showing off how the cast is doing after the Sports Festival, and while these episodes are quite fun and important, they're comparatively a little insubstantial (though Izuku and All Might get a nice bit of development). Luckily, after being built up since the very end of the first season, in swoops a new and remarkable antagonist -- whom I'll highlight more below -- to raise hell in short order and put a lot of my favorite characters on their heels. The events that transpire are thrilling and lightning-paced, and while still fairly tropey, it's such an interesting couple of episodes in context that I was enraptured throughout. The battle it centers around is thoroughly unlike anything seen in the series thus far, and while the pacing works perfectly and it ends on a high note, I found myself wishing these events were focused on for a bit longer because it's such a compelling little arc.

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The pedigree of these two arcs gives the Final Exams Arc that ends the season a high bar to meet, and while the premise of it is exciting, I don't feel that it quite matches what came before. It's not bad by any means, or even disappointing; it pulls off something I've been wanting to see since the first season with aplomb, it's fun to watch, and its resolution in the penultimate episode is about as awesome as it ought to be. However, it lacks the character development and room to breathe that the Sports Festival Arc has, as well as the sense of urgent danger and intensity of the Internship / Hero Killer Arc, so it just feels a bit underwhelming even though the episodes it consists of are great. The final episode pulls it back up with a surprising and chilling series of unexpected turns, but I still can't help but think the Hero Killer Arc would have been a more fitting place to end it; nevertheless, I still eagerly await the next season.

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And now for the characters, at least in some capacity. Since this is the second season, I'm only going to give individual profiles to the new characters I find deserving of it, and handle the rest in synopsis form. Izuku is still as brilliant of a protagonist as last time, and his increasing handle on his Quirk doesn't make him more bland in the least; as he comes up with new and interesting ways to use his power and counteract other allies and villains, his obsessively analytical side is given even more focus and his vulnerability is still made apparent. And while All Might doesn't have as much focus as the first season gave him (though he's just as awesome as ever), he and Izuku still have a lot of nice scenes together, and his past is explored in a fairly interesting development that could lead to something very cool down the line.

Ochaco and Iida get some much-needed time to shine, the former getting quite a few emotional focus episodes early on and the latter getting a lot of development in the Internship / Hero Killer Arc, and I'm pleased that they're still managing to avoid the shonen best friend tropes (Ochaco is teased as a love interest, but unlike Naruto's Sakura or virtually any Dragon Ball female, this stays on the sidelines and her awesome powers and personal development are kept on the forefront). All of the side characters I listed as wanting to see more of in the first season review do indeed get much more focus throughout the season to great effect, and fan-favorite Tsuyu even gets an episode all to herself. The League of Villains are still a weak spot, though the final episode teases much-needed changes to their formula and increased development for Shigaraki. And lastly, Katsuki Bakugou is still the fucking worst.

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The first of the two characters I'll individually highlight is Shoto Todoroki, who was technically introduced in the first season but only becomes a prominent character from the Sports Festival on. The extraordinarily skilled son of the hero ranked just beneath All Might, I was terrified that his stoic arrogance and what I knew of his tragic backstory would make him just another tired Sasuke archetype for Izuku to contend with in addition to Bakugou's Vegeta. Thankfully, that's not the case at all; while he and Izuku do have a rivalry, Todoroki quickly proves to be such a sympathetic and strangely likable character that I was actively rooting for him at many points. His past is horrifying (and it gives me a character I think I despise more than Bakugou), but rather than angst over it, he handles it with as much maturity and focus as he can, and it becomes the motivation for some of the Sports Festival's best scenes. After his initial character arc is over, his personality slots him perfectly into the main cast, and I love everything else about where the season takes him.

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And then we have my main man, the best antagonist introduced so far and one of the most fascinating characters in general: the bloodthirsty vigilante known as Hero Killer Stain. With a design ripped straight out of a 90s Image comic and more than a few mannerisms that have been done to death (prepare for a lot of blade licking), he has a tall wall to climb to get my appreciation, and he leaps over that wall in a single bound. He lacks the cackling craziness you might expect from looking at him, and while his backstory doesn't get reflected on for quite a while, it turns out not to be anything like what you might expect from a serial killer who hates villains and heroes equally. He has a genuinely interesting (even correct in a lot of cases, if overzealous) philosophy that he espouses and motivates himself with, and his Quirk both offers up some reasons for his mannerisms and makes him a terrifying opponent for even the strongest heroes, aided by his ferocious natural abilities and tactical cunning. His character is critical to making the story arc he inhabits work as well as it does, and I only wish I got to see more of him.

All in all, the second season of My Hero Academia takes everything I loved about the first season and builds upon it as a second season should, while eliminating most of the flaws to make it even more fun to watch. While the story still isn't likely to shock anyone who's been watching anime for a while and anyone looking for revelatory new experiences will be disappointed, it takes all of its well-worn tropes and just pulls them off exceptionally well, bolstered by an ever more interesting cast of characters and some of the best animation and music I've seen all year. It's simply the best version of its formula that it can be, it's everything I wanted this season to be, and I can't wait for it to come back next year.

Rating: Training On The Path To Perfection
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Last edited by KleinerKiller on Sun Oct 07, 2018 3:14 am, edited 3 times in total.
"Your mind is software. Program it. Your body is a shell. Change it. Death is a disease. Cure it." - Eclipse Phase

Game Review: TALES OF XILLIA

Anime Review: MY HERO ACADEMIA SEASON 3

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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Tue Nov 07, 2017 10:25 pm

Observer (2017)

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Basic Summary: A mind-hijacking detective travels through a dystopian slum in search of his son.
Genre: Cyberpunk, Psychological Horror
Systems: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Created by: Bloober Team
Directed by: Szymon Erdmanski / Konrad Rekiec (respectively credited as "Project Manager" and "Team Leader")
Written by: Andrzej Madrzask
Designed and Programmed by: Wojciech Piejko, Pawel Niezabitowski, Mariusz Szaflik, Marzena Gasidlo
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Brandon Fague, Kristin Lennox
Story-Gameplay Ratio: 8:2



For the unaware, Observer follows Daniel Lazarski, a special detective in a future where every aspect of life following a devastating war and global plague is dominated by the Chiron Corporation. Daniel is an Observer, cybernetically enhanced to hook his mind into the brain implants of others and explore them for information, at the cost of a much lower life expectancy and a high risk of going insane like many of his peers. After receiving an ominous call from his estranged son Adam, he traces it back to a grimy tenement building and winds up discovering the first of many brutalized bodies just as the area is mysteriously put under lockdown. In order to find out where his son is and whether he's still alive, Daniel must follow the path of an increasingly bloody mystery, surviving the paralyzing fears in the tenants' minds and avoiding the monstrous killer he's been locked in with in the real world...

Spoiler: show
Observer is a game that reminds me a lot of SOMA. Both are dark sci-fi followups to their team's acclaimed Gothic horror mind-benders, Layers of Fear and Amnesia: The Dark Descent, respectively. Both have you take control of a partially mechanical man with a dry wit in a post-apocalyptic world, where complex issues about cybernetics, consciousness, and the worth of survival for its own sake are tackled. Both have the protagonist's vision glitching out in certain circumstances (though for different purposes), both sometimes call on you to stealth past monstrous creatures, and both force you to make the occasional sadistic choice that tests your moral code. And finally, both had premises so enticing that I jumped right in as soon as possible without getting spoiled by any of their marketing. But SOMA is one of my all-time favorite games, and both ultimately set out on very different paths, so I have to judge Observer on its own merits. And on those merits, it's pretty successful.

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Starting off with one of the strongest points, the presentation in Observer is absolutely killer. While the graphics aren't exactly triple-A and I experienced frequent screen tearing and framerate drops, the art direction and world design more than makes up for it; the aesthetic of shifting holograms papering over filth and rot is consistently eye-catching throughout the game's 6-7 hours, and the boxy, unglamorous consumer technology contrasted with the sleeker futuristic aspects tells stories by itself. Even though the game takes place entirely within and around a single large building, the glimpses I got of the Blade Runner / Ghost in the Shell-influenced cityscape and strange cubic architecture made me crave to explore more. The mind-jack sequences offer up both this kind of imagery and more surreal content, and while I do wish there were more drastic variations in these (as I'll get to), they consistently offered up gut-churning and heart-pounding imagery I wasn't expecting.

And the audio... hats off. Audio is a key feature too often neglected, and a horror game in particular can be made or broken by its sound design. This is some of the most oppressive silence I've seen in a horror game all year, and while Resident Evil 7 may have it beat for sheer nerve-jangling ambiance, the feeling of being pressed in on from all sides is tough to match -- this is a game that deserves to be played with headphones. The game knows just when to break this silence, whether it's with a soothing dialogue exchange or the various electronically-tinged hums and drones that permeate the spookier scenes. There's not a lot of music to speak of, save for a nifty beat over the opening credits, but the sound design itself is killer enough to make up for it.

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It's a shame, then, that this immersive environment is navigated through in such a lame storyline. In a polar opposite move with SOMA, I can knock out Observer's plot in a simple paragraph, as it's easily the weakest part about the game. It has a boundlessly intriguing hook, and it's paced well enough with a couple of good twists sprinkled along the way, but that's all I can say for it. It's so... insubstantial. It takes on a lot of the heady topics you expect with heavily transhumanist dystopian fiction, but outside of text logs and computer files you find throughout the environment, there's nothing much to be said about them. The resolution to the killer plotline is interesting mainly in hindsight, and the subsequent finale is overlong and padded out to support an underdeveloped showdown and a choice of two abrupt, underwhelming endings. Compared to the developer's prior work with the mind-bending, interpretation-friendly puzzle box of Layers of Fear, the fact that this promising story is ultimately so straightforward and pat is a disappointment.

It's also a shame because the text logs, files, and other flavor text found throughout the game's world paint a much more interesting picture than what the game allows you to see. While outwardly a classic dystopia, there are some surprisingly bittersweet elements to the corporate-controlled society that I wish had been rendered in more than glimpses. The disgusting, depressing class warfare evident throughout the tenement building is at odds with stunning social progress, including subtle touches when you scan peoples' neural implants and some surprising files about modern prejudices in a late-game location. The glimpses in hallucinations also mix expected horrifying tropes with standard elements of living, and people are seen to scrape by or even thrive in all classes. One of my favorite parts of the game was going from door to door, interrogating each responsive tenant and receiving responses from people of various social statuses, beliefs, temperaments, living situations, and mental states. Bloober Team crafted a truly unique world here, and I wish they'd chosen to have you shuttled to multiple locations throughout the city rather than stuck in the area in and around the tenement.

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Similar to the story, the characters are potentially interesting but just lacking something. Daniel Lazarski is a fascinating character in theory and I wanted so badly to like and care about him, but despite Rutger Hauer's star power and pitch-perfect performance, Dan was stuck somewhere in the awkward place between "faceless cipher" and "pretty interesting" for me. The story centers around him, and his past is critical to the plot as his own memories bleed into the mind-jacking segments, but despite being the focus, I could never quite get a solid grasp on him. His world-weary sarcasm is great in dialogue with other characters and he's sufficiently sympathetic when the moment calls for it, but key moments late in the game would have worked far better if he had been developed just slightly more. Same goes for the antagonists, whom I can't write much of anything about partially due to spoilers and partially because of how little there is to say -- again, the resolution to the killer's story is fascinating, but everyone involved needed further focus.

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So with the world intriguing and fun to explore but the story and characters underserving it, that leaves only the gameplay. I've saved it for last because, well, it's the saving grace from all of the downsides. The real world segments are the most fun I had with the game; you walk through the environment, uncovering clues and talking to people to slowly piece together the mysteries, and occasionally dipping into the scant few optional missions spread through the game. Daniel's cybernetic eye allows him to use two vision modes, one which can scan organic matter in the environment and one which scans technology, and these are vital when examining a crime scene or trying to solve a puzzle. Using alternate vision (or jacking into someone's mind, to a much heavier degree) causes you to slowly desynchronize from your tech, however, prompting staticky vision and a few hallucinations, which you can relieve at any time by popping the pills you collect; I always had an ample enough supply despite not conserving them that I didn't find out what this system affects, if anything, but it is an interesting wrinkle.

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But while I had fun in the outside world, the meat of the horror comes in the nightmare sequences. There are about six throughout the main story and two in optional objectives, some coming as a result of jacking into minds and some bleeding into reality in very cool ways, but they share one universal trait: they're paralyzingly scary. The creative visuals and oppressive audio come into full effect in these scenes, which have you make your way through a collection of distorted and disjointed scenarios revolving around different themes and fears as you struggle to look for the information you need.

The content in these scenes are dramatically varied, and while the scares are a mixed bag between lame jumps and genuine terror, the atmosphere is top-notch and the best creepy moments leave a lasting impression. The biggest boon to them is that no matter what, they're genuinely unpredictable from moment to moment; the game does a great job of visualizing the effects of what happens if someone dies while you're plugged into them, or if you're navigating the mind of someone who's already dead, or if your own mind is fighting not to collapse, and you never know what might be behind the next door or lurking right behind you. Some of them are drawn out too long and the variety of actual enemies is severely poor, which puts a damper on some of the late-game sequences, but the nightmares themselves stay fresh and despite this.

Overall, Observer is a heavily flawed little gem, and it's tough to say whether its flaws or its high points outweigh each other, but I enjoyed my time with it. It's excellent as a cyberpunk world, and frequently scary as hell as a horror game, but all of the parts don't quite coalesce as well as I'd want them to and the game feels both a little too long and a little too short. If you're craving another intense horror experience or want to be immersed in a complex world that doesn't let go of you for a second, I do recommend it; it's a lot of value for your money. I just wish I wasn't left looking at the premise and wondering what more could have been done with it.

Rating: Watch Out For This...? Eh, I Got Nothing
  • 3

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Sun Sep 30, 2018 5:20 pm, edited 2 times in total.
"Your mind is software. Program it. Your body is a shell. Change it. Death is a disease. Cure it." - Eclipse Phase

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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Sat Jan 06, 2018 8:19 pm

This review contains spoilers for 2014's Wolfenstein: The New Order. Which is a good game.


Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (2017)

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Basic Summary: An infamous Nazi hunter continues to incite rebellion against the Reich in 60s America.
Genre: First-Person Shooter, Stealth / Tactical, Action-Adventure
Systems: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Created by: MachineGames
Directed by: Jens Matthies
Written by: Jens Matthies, Tommy Tordsson Björk
Designed and Programmed by: Fredrik Ljungdahl, Jim Kjellin
Starring: Brian Bloom, Alicja Bachleda, Debria Wilson, Nina Franoszek
Story-Gameplay Ratio: 4:6 if judged by gameplay time and challenge, 6:4 judged by density of cutscenes


(trailer is NSFW and also spoils a few things)


For the unaware, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus follows feared Nazi hunter William Joseph "B.J." Blazkowicz, continuing on the timeline set by The New Order (and sort of carrying stuff over from the 2009 game). Following the death of his longtime nemesis General "Deathshead" Strasse, B.J. is saved from near death and left comatose for five months. He awakens, atrophied and still slowly succumbing to his mortal wounds, to find the Kreisau Circle resistance swelling in membership and success rates even as the vengeful Frau Engel hunts them down. A devastating attack sets B.J. on the warpath once again, this time headed to the Reich-controlled United States to gather up the dying pockets of resistance fighters and organize a nationwide revolt. However, even this seemingly impossible task has more waiting in store for the haunted soldier, and he finds himself facing everything from childhood traumas to his impending fatherhood as he races ahead of his death sentence...

Spoiler: show
To put it simply, The New Colossus is a great game that I never want to play through again. I'm a big fan of The New Order, which surprised everyone by blending tight combat and extravagant silliness with a somber, heartfelt story and grimly accurate depictions of Nazism, so I was looking forward to the sequel with cautious expectations. This one received a lot of critical praise for improving upon its predecessor, but it's divided the player base significantly. Which side do I fall on? The answer is, as you might guess from the opening sentence, complicated.

(Just to get it out of the way. Yes, the game is sadly politically relevant, and yes, there are a few scattered jabs at real world events here and there. I will not be focusing on this, because you know it and I know it, so let's just judge the game on its own merits.)

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We'll begin with the story, one of The New Order's strongest features and thus a comparatively even bigger strength in this one given everything dire about the gameplay here. While it feels almost exactly like the first game in tone and presentation and has quite a few high points, the shorter length of the campaign and somewhat scattered focus make it feel less cohesive by the end. The mixed bag is on the table right from the start; B.J.'s continued presence as the main character more or less trivializes The New Order's beautifully bittersweet finale, despite the plot's attempts to remind us that he's on a ticking clock, and some major events happen in very short order that don't feel nearly as earned as they should. However, the narrative's handling of B.J.'s past and the helpless intensity of the first few scenes make up for some of this, a pattern which continues throughout the whole story.

This really is a case study in how proper pacing and focus turns a good story into a great one, as Colossus's assortment of interesting plot points and emotional throughlines is hurt by its scattered nature. A lot of significant things happen, yet it feels like a lot less happens than in the smaller-scale English revolution of New Order, because a lot of these significant things are rarely given the time they need to build up or sink in. Everything to do with B.J.'s horrific childhood and slowly degenerating condition is phenomenal, both arcs climaxing in an absolutely bonkers stretch that hits all of the right notes. However, the actual revolutionary effort is a stunted assortment of resistance recruitments and base infiltrations that barely feel like you're making the change you should be, despite engaging in some really heavy and effective themes. The third act is especially jarring, jumping abruptly from another new resistance cell to two major operations that should have been given way more buildup than they were, and ending on a cathartic but anti-climactic showdown that leaves a few arcs unresolved and suffers a bit from the usual "middle chapter setting up for a trilogy" stuff.

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There are a lot of major characters populating this tale to talk about, so I'll cover just a few, beginning with B.J. himself. New Order reimagined gaming's first FPS hero as a wounded behemoth, philosophizing through his horror at the Nazi-conquered world even as he tore his way through it with bloodthirsty enthusiasm; Colossus continues down that basic path, but in keeping with the slightly lighter aesthetic, he's a bit more prone to snark and smiles this time around. The whole dying thing is a burden he struggles with, but while he angsts over it a bit (and has an ongoing bit where he whispers to a dead character as if they're watching over him), the poetry-quoting rage served its purpose and a lot of his characterization is a good change of pace. And as previously covered, the spotlight on his childhood is a brilliant little arc that serves some of the game's strongest moments.

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The cast who survived the last game are still present in top form, though B.J.'s stealthy Nazi-killing badass girlfriend Anya Oliwa -- one of my favorite characters in The New Order, to a point that I was hopeful for a while that the sequel would star her -- is put on the sidelines a bit too much. Instead, I'll get right to the newbies, the most major of whom is Grace Walker, leader of the Black Resistance Front. I don't care about the "optics" of this sentiment when I say it -- I did not like Grace. Her goals are admirable and she's a good leader, but she's rude to everyone and casually dismisses several characters as Nazis purely for their ethnicity, which isn't a productive quality in a multinational alliance. I also found a lot of her dialogue somewhat predictable and repetitive, though the voice actress does a fine job with her. There is a token (sorry) attempt to build on her and make her more nuanced, but a promising start falls victim to the unfocused tides of the story and she remains somewhat static but for a nice moment near the climax.

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Faring a bit better is another early addition to the cast, Sigrun Engel -- the daughter of the game's main antagonist. An inciting incident almost immediately pushes her from abused subservience to open rebellion, and she becomes a mainstay of the resistance despite only a few of them trusting her. Sigrun is the kind of character you almost never see in an FPS, not just because she's a plus-sized German woman whose appearance is never played for laughs, but because she's shy and honest without being waifish and never serves as a damsel you have to rescue. Unfortunately, her importance is -- yet again -- not given quite as much direct focus as I'd like, but she manages to leave enough of a lasting impression in her moments of importance that I came away really enjoying her presence. I'm also just glad they didn't drag out the "child of the villain is abused and mistreated but takes forever to join the good guys" trope with her.

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And that brings us nicely to the game's central antagonist, the ruthless Nazi general and one-time concentration camp manager Frau Engel. Engel was a high point of The New Order in her scant few appearances there, so it pleases me that she was elevated to the main antagonist in Deathshead's absence, armed with some facial scarring, a massive airship, and a serious chip on her shoulder. Her characterization isn't quite the same, however; she's lost a few more marbles since B.J. entered his coma, and has gone from coyly playing games in tests of peoples' Aryan purity to gleefully decapitating her victims and slinging insults as she mimes with their heads. She's not out-and-out violent to the point of black comedy all the time, but her big moments nearly all have her at this level, and she's fittingly detestable for all she inflicts on the resistance.

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On to the presentation as we move closer to the stuff that really kills the game. The graphics and visual design are stellar, doing an even better job of realizing a world ruled by fascism and empowered with giant robots than The New Order -- the sight of huge swastika banners draped over a sunny, idyllic street corner and stormtroopers mingling with tense families actually made me angry. Animations are smooth and natural, and the gunfire has a lovely neon pop to it most of the time. I did notice a few severe graphical glitches here and there, though, mostly toward the end when the overwhelming explosions started leaving dead pixels or decaying into their basic spinning polygons. Mostly, though, the bugs were all gameplay-related and the visual presentation is impeccable.

Not a lot to be said about the soundtrack. The standard battle music is pretty generic, the redesigned covers of famous songs from the era are still a nice touch, and the credits music (a screamo cover of "We're Not Gonna Take It" -- a far cry from The New Order's powerful "I Believe") is so godawful that it completely derailed the drama for me.

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And now for the reason I'm probably never playing this game again, for all I like about it: the actual gameplay. On the surface, there's not a lot visibly wrong with it; the core systems are mostly unchanged from The New Order, with a couple of new moves grafted on that are only useful in select situations. You still have the option of either going into a Nazi hideout dual-wielding assault rifles and laser shotguns or sneaking around, tactically plugging people with a silenced pistol and taking out the commanders before they can set off their oh-so-annoying alarms. The difference is that while New Order and New Colossus are both extremely difficult games even on the standard difficulty setting, New Order is somewhat fair about it most of the time -- you only have slightly more health than most of your enemies, the AI is smart enough to exploit your weaknesses, and you need to be resourceful to survive. Colossus's challenge comes from what TV Tropes calls Fake Difficulty, or what I refer to as "being balanced for a mode of gameplay that does not exist."

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The problems begin at the fact that you spend the first half of the game with your maximum health halved from the original 100 HP and the regen slowed to an inconsistent crawl. 50 HP still sounds fine, but this is a game where the average mook can take off 15 with a glancing shot and an explosion even of your own making might as well be an instant kill -- it does not go very far. Add that in to the fact that ordinary enemies can easily tank a point-blank shotgun blast through the miracles of Aryan genetics, and that the amount of damage one must do to heavier enemies requires a prioritizing focus that isn't efficient in an open firefight, and any DPS race you find yourself fighting is guaranteed to be a losing battle. Hell, the game encourages you to do some snazzy and brutal executions with a hatchet, but since the other enemies don't stop hurting you as you get locked into the three-second animation, triggering one in most situations is a death sentence. You get the full 100 back around the third act (and it's no coincidence that the game becomes much easier to handle afterward), but it's a small comfort after several hours of bashing against brick walls.

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Other changes to the gameplay contribute to the immense frustration. A knockdown effect has been added, whereupon if B.J. is caught in an explosion or hit by attacks from a couple of enemy types (including dogs, some supersoldiers, and a late-game laser-spewing robot that I swear was intentionally designed to be the most irritating enemy in gaming history), he'll be knocked flat on his ass and rendered immobile for a second with whatever weapon you were holding being drawn to fend off opposition -- during which time the unrelenting gunfire will usually have plinked away most of what wasn't taken by the knockdown. If you were holding a heavy weapon, as you're often encouraged to do because heavy weapons are dope, the knockdown instantly knocks it out of your hands and doesn't let you pick it up until you've stood up and searched for the occasionally finicky pickup prompt; good luck if you happened to have been holding a silenced pistol or a useless SMG before you picked it up, because that's what you're stuck with as you get up. There's much more to complain about, from the homogenization of the mechs to the overreliance on isolated commanders, but to do so would take too much time.

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No, New Colossus's most crippling flaw is a small change to the interface -- a small change that makes it much harder to decipher whether you're taking damage until you hit 10 HP and get a slight screen blur, and if it does signal the damage, which direction it's coming from. It sounds petty, but it's shocking how much it sours the fun of the experience. A game like this requires a completely polished UI to keep you informed about what's going on, and this game simply fails to do so. In many instances, I was completely unaware that some random goon had walked up behind me and started plugging me with his sidearm because I figured any damage I was taking was from the goliath supersoldiers marching at me, and I'd kill or nearly kill the rest of the enemies only to suddenly fall dead from a couple more shots to the back. In other general instances, I'd walk into a room and start taking heavy fire from a lot of directions, but the game would make no attempt to let me know which direction most of the damage was coming from -- and since many of the combat areas have multiple floors to shoot from, it becomes disorienting.

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These are serious issues brought about by a cheap attempt to artificially spike the difficulty, all coalescing into moments of utter misery, like a mid-game courthouse fight that pits you against three long waves of enemies with none of your weapons and little cover, or the last combat section (which serves as the "final boss" fight, in the absence of a real one) that hands you the most ineffective and cumbersome endgame superweapon in history and tells you to kill dozens of the strongest enemies in the game with it as endlessly respawning soldiers screw with you (I know they respawn endlessly because I eventually tested it from a chokepoint and spent almost twenty minutes mindlessly gunning down guys filtering in the door). I hated parts of this game quite strongly. This is not to say the gameplay is without merit, but I enjoyed it most when it slowed itself down: walking through the aforementioned idyllic American street festooned with propaganda and KKK hoods (I wish the game did more with the Klan after this scene), undertaking a surprising and darkly hilarious theater audition in disguise, and the few moments of peace I got in the irradiated husk of Manhattan were some brilliant standout moments. But these moments are few and far between, sandwiched in by the poor design choices.

Overall, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a great game in spite of itself, and one I have a very hard time either recommending or not recommending. Some great story and character beats, inspired worldbuilding, and brief unique gameplay segments are dragged into the depths by the lacking focus and the slam-your-head-into-a-wall-until-it-breaks fake difficulty. If you're a New Order fan (and you're not going to get much out of Colossus if you're not -- it is very much a middle chapter), it's a near-worthy followup if you can forgive its many failings, but whether you take that as a recommendation or not is up to you. Everyone else, stand clear.

Rating: What About All Of The Good Things Hitler Did?
  • 2

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Sun Sep 30, 2018 5:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"Your mind is software. Program it. Your body is a shell. Change it. Death is a disease. Cure it." - Eclipse Phase

Game Review: TALES OF XILLIA

Anime Review: MY HERO ACADEMIA SEASON 3

ARTICLE 13 MUST BE STOPPED
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Wed Jan 31, 2018 10:03 pm

Girls' Last Tour (2017)

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Basic Summary: Two young girls slowly explore an apocalyptic ruin while trying to stay fed, sane, and happy.
Genre: Psychological Dramedy
Created by: White Fox
Directed by: Takaharu Ozaki
Written by: Kazuyuki Fudeyasu
Starring: Inori Minase, Yurika Kubo
Episodes: 12
Available on: Amazon Prime
Source Material: Completed manga by Tsukumizu

For the unaware, Girls' Last Tour follows Chito and Yuuri, two young friends who've found themselves wandering alone through an empty world in a modified Kettenkrad. A terrible event has brought civilization down so swiftly that the children seem by all indications to be the last living beings in their sprawling city, let alone the last humans. Thus, they're forced to survive day by day, finding whatever enjoyment they can in things mundane or extraordinary, as they journey through the ruins with only a vague end goal in mind...

Spoiler: show
While I'm sorting out my thoughts enough to review Danganronpa V3 and trying to keep critical parts of my life from collapsing, I decided to sit down and finally watch a bunch of critically-acclaimed anime that only recently became available to me thanks to the death of Amazon's awful, awful Anime Strike paywall service. With Prime now the only requirement to watching them, I've been able to start shows like Inuyashiki, Made In Abyss, Land of the Lustrous, and Re:Creators, all of which I expect will be reviewed once I've finished them. However, the first priority was Girls' Last Tour, a premise seemingly tailor-made for me and my love of cutesy surfaces layered over horrifying interiors. Is it worth your time? Spoiler alert: hell yes it is.

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You might have noticed that the plot synopsis is much shorter and less detailed than usual. That's by design; Girls' Last Tour is quite light on an overarching narrative, favoring strong episodic situations tied together by a few connective threads, recurring mysteries, and the general sense of tone and atmosphere. Chi and Yuu's slow ride through the snowy city advances them along a clear path, but it's in the episode-to-episode writing where the show really shines. This keeps the pacing relatively quick for this type of show, and keeps the empty isolation surrounding them feeling interesting and refreshing. Not to say that what little driving narrative is there isn't also exciting -- the mysteries about the world before and the bizarre ways it differed from our world had me easily hooked -- but the episodic plots are just so strong that the main narrative is subtler and less focused on until near the end. As for said end, the show goes out on a strong note with most of the manga adapted, and it still feels like a complete story even if the actual ending isn't reached (part of me is quite happy with where it's left off, as the manga's conclusion is... divisive).

As I constantly reiterated, almost every episode contains a situation that's wrapped up by the 24th minute, which is what the bulk of Girls' Last Tour focuses on. They run the gamut from bittersweet character pieces to serenely pleasant little diversions for the girls, the former which I obviously enjoyed more, though they're all satisfying to watch and there's not really a weak episode in the bunch. The most poignant of the bunch are genuinely impactful, offering inspired musings on dealing with hopelessness, the fragile nature of life and legacy, and how swiftly the memory of humanity's achievements could fade from the earth, all while still managing to be beautifully sweet and often surprisingly funny. Others are simply explorations and observations that build the bond between the girls, and while the more dramatic ones are the most compelling, some of the most memorable and heartwarming moments arose from the duo simply finding a way to have fun in one of the most miserable settings imaginable.

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Of course, these wouldn't work nearly as well if the central duo didn't work, as this is the kind of show that's carried on the shoulders of its main cast. Chito / Chi and Yuuri / Yuu aren't the most complex characters around, and it's easy to boil them down to their core characteristics -- Chi is the serious, paranoid one focused on their survival, while Yuu is a gluttonous goofball who wants to have fun -- but they work as our POVs because they're just so damn sweet and likable. The show doesn't suffocate you in cuteness like the art style might lead you to expect, but Chi and Yuu's relative innocence and the dysfunctional-but-vital bond they have with each other makes them impossible not to root for. The ease with which they cooperate and the playful fights they get into make the rare scenes when they're genuinely in conflict all the sadder, and seeing Chi cut loose and smile at the world with Yuu always feels earned.

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Getting into the presentation of all this is tricky, because there's so much I wish to express about the quality of animation and direction that it's difficult to put into words. This is clearly not a show with an especially high budget, but numerous creative visual flourishes and effective framing still make it captivating to watch, far more so than you might think looking at the ashen gray ruins that make up Chi and Yuu's world. From the very first scene of the very first episode, which is a simple and sparse montage of the Kettenkrad slowly ascending through a dark facility, you can feel a strong sense of focus and directorial craft that's missing from a lot of anime. The amount of bloom in the lighting and the use of shadows frame the various remnants the girls encounter in a unique way that keeps the environs from becoming stale, and the generally muted color scheme makes the sporadic vibrant moment all the more striking.

As for the sound design, the echoing rumble of the vehicle's engine always reminds you that the sprawling landscape is completely deserted, and silence is effectively used elsewhere as well. The real thing I want to compliment is the soundtrack, which is way more packed with catchy and unique tunes than the melancholy subject matter would suggest: from the utterly delightful opening and harder-to-find ending themes to some strikingly beautiful vocal pieces that always complement the scenario perfectly. And the fact that the show knows when to use this music and when to shut up and let the setting simply exist is worthy of praise, as far too many anime could stand to learn when background music is and isn't needed or wanted.

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There's one last thing I have to highlight before this quick little review is over, and it's something that rarely sticks out enough for me to go into great detail about it, especially in anime: tone. Girls' Last Tour is masterful at balancing its tone and atmosphere, switching between being tranquil, haunting, and heartwarming so deftly that I rarely noticed a change in overall feeling. It's one of the most somber shows I've watched recently, dealing as it does with the sudden and inexplicable end of all human civilization and focusing on two children who have little chance of long-term survival, yet watching it was always incredibly relaxing and enjoyable rather than stressful. I struggled for a long time to coin what this feeling calls to mind, at times drawing comparisons to either School-Live or a far less agonizing version of Grave of the Fireflies, but I think the most apt thing I can liken its tone to is NieR (especially the first one, without the crazy action of Automata). This alone is high praise from me, so take note if you're still skeptical.

All in all, Girls' Last Tour is exactly what I was hoping it would be and more: a richly atmospheric, nuanced, and bittersweet ride through the wreckage of the world that nevertheless doesn't feel overbearingly sad. I wish I could say more about it than this, but it's a series highly dependent on experiencing it to understand the little bits of magic that make it run, so definitely check it out if you have Amazon Prime. While it might end up being narrowly surpassed by something like Inuyashiki, this is definitely one of the best anime I've watched in a long time and high in the running for my favorite anime of last year.

Rating: The Polar Opposite Of Lifeless And Barren
  • 3

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Sun Sep 30, 2018 5:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"Your mind is software. Program it. Your body is a shell. Change it. Death is a disease. Cure it." - Eclipse Phase

Game Review: TALES OF XILLIA

Anime Review: MY HERO ACADEMIA SEASON 3

ARTICLE 13 MUST BE STOPPED
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Thu Feb 15, 2018 5:00 am

Inuyashiki: Last Hero (2017)

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Basic Summary: A depressed old man and an insane student become cyborgs, a fascinating clash of ideals ensues.
Genre: Action-Thriller, Science Fiction, Drama
Created by: Studio MAPPA
Directed by: Keiichi Sato, Shuhei Yabuta
Written by: Hiroshi Seko
Starring: Fumiyo Kohinata, Nijirō Murakami, Kanata Hongō, Sumire Uesaka
Episodes: 11
Available On: Amazon Prime
Source Material: Completed manga by Hiroya Oku

For the unaware, Inuyashiki: Last Hero follows Ichiro Inuyashiki, a 58-year-old salaryman who looks a decade older than he is. Unappreciated by his family, unwanted by society, and with a terminal diagnosis ticking down his clock, Inuyashiki runs out to a park in a fit of depression -- whereupon he and another man are demolished by a crashing alien ship. In a panic and out of resources, the pilots hastily rebuild the humans' bodies with their weapons to cover their tracks before fleeing, leaving Inuyashiki and the stranger to discover their mechanical nature and immense power. Inuyashiki, horrified by his new nature, makes the decision to regain a touch of humanity and take control of his life by becoming the kind of superhero he always dreamt of being. The other cyborg, high school student and born sociopath Hiro Shishigami, is not nearly so altruistic -- and when the two collide, it might spell the end for Japan...

Spoiler: show
Inuyashiki's history makes me quite sad. A unique new project by the creator of the divisive Gantz, the manga sold poorly and had to be discontinued, forcing the author to wrap it up at ten volumes with advance notice. Then the anime adaptation came out to incredibly positive reception from those who watched it... but was only available during its run on Anime Strike, which was a numbskull idea that nobody wanted and which killed any chance the anime had of being a hit (only Made In Abyss managed to get people buzzed from inside the double paywall's cold, viselike grip). Only now, with Anime Strike dead in the ground, have I been able to binge what was pitched to me as "the best anime of the year that nobody's ever going to talk about." And I must say: I concur wholeheartedly, and I hope this review turns a few eyes to this overlooked gem.

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Inuyashiki is, more than anything, a story of two people, so let's start off by highlighting the titular Ichiro Inuyashiki. The novelty of having a sweet old man as the ass-kicking protagonist is the initial draw of the series, but were he not characterized with any depth beyond that and was just a good guy, it would wear thin quickly. But Inuyashiki is a uniquely flawed hero, in that his flaw is that he's too good. His personality contrasted with his shitty life instantly make him someone to root for, but beyond his depression, he's a fundamentally kind person who's serious about devoting his life to helping others, and seeing the lengths he goes to in order to be that good is often cause for tears of joy -- especially since he very clearly has imposter syndrome and has a hard time processing that he's doing enough good in the world. There's something deeply human about him that pushes him beyond the pure Superman caricature, and while this is hardly unique to him in the series, it's most visible in our protagonist. And the voice acting from experienced actor but first-time voice actor Fumiyo Kohinata accentuates this, lending him a softness and desperation that defies typical senior voices in anime. I have only one complaint in regards to him, but I'll get to it when I get to the story.

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And then... Hiro Shishigami. The primary reason this review took so long to be written. I expected very little out of him as an antagonist, but I could write a fucking essay about this dude, I swear. Rarely ever has an anime villain provoked so much potent loathing in me and yet kept my eyes glued to the screen and my brain tumbling with his complexity. He's almost more the star of the show than Inuyashiki is, with the amount of focus and development given to him, despite how much I love Inuyashiki. It's going to be hard to say everything I want to say about him while keeping things relatively open-ended for those who want to maintain the surprise, but I'll try my level best. My thoughts on him are in spoiler tags for length and minor contextual spoilers; if you want to go in knowing nothing about him like I did for maximum impact, take all of this as a solid gold recommendation and come back later.

Hiro Shishigami
Hiro is a popular high-schooler, manga-obsessed geek, and sociopath from birth. Possessing not a shred of empathy for most human beings, he decides to use his powers as a ruthless serial killer, massacring families in their homes and forcing cars into devastating crashes purely because he has the capability to do it and get away with it. He's extremely casual about this new hobby and has no qualms about killing people for the mildest annoyance or inconvenience -- usually by way of his signature weapon, a "phantom bullet"-type thing that allows him to make a finger gun at someone, say "bang" out loud, and cause the same damage as if he were firing a real bullet. All of this could easily serve to make him one-dimensional and generic, but there are... things.

On the surface level, before you really know anything about him, Hiro is captivating by presence alone. He looks just like a typical high school anime protagonist, and acts like one in between his sprees. He does what he does without cackling or hamming it up, but he's also not a stoic emo. Nijirō Murakami's voice work is equally commendable; his voice is soft and casual, even genuinely friendly-sounding, whether he's discussing the latest issue of One Piece, smiling as a schoolgirl flirts with him, or denying a father's pleas to spare his child. He makes decisions of whether or not to enter a home or snipe someone from a rooftop seemingly by a roll of some mental dice; I like the theory that part of his decision comes down to listening to his "intrusive thoughts", not out of poor impulse control but out of a genuine inability to understand why he wouldn't (credit to Anime FMK for this hypothesis). He has no limits whatsoever, but seems less to revel in it than to indulge just because he has more capability to and therefore sees it as valid. He does make a few excuses for himself regarding the machines in his body, but they're contradictory and he denies early on that there was ever a point in his life when he wasn't like this. It's just potent from the get-go, and if this was all there was, he'd still be a fantastically loathsome baddie.

But as the story advances and we see his everyday life, flashbacks of his youth, and so on, he becomes even more unique and fascinating. While it initially seems like he's your average diagnosable sociopath who fakes emotions and uses people logically, he actually has genuine affection for a select few people and is willing to do almost anything to secure their safety and happiness. He even feels honest empathy for the ones who find out about his crimes and beg him to stop, even though he disagrees with them. While he gets something out of murder, it's left ambiguous how much of it is sexual sadism, how much is the joy of being powerful, and how much is just overgrown childishness. Also, while he's fairly cunning for his age, he's absolutely not a Light Yagami-esque master tactician; most of his contingencies boil down to "kill whoever comes after me until no one's left to come after me", and he's naive -- even optimistic -- enough to think that'll guarantee him a happy ending. And perhaps scariest of all, he's very real, in the sense that I've seen plenty of people who value fictional characters more than real people and would indulge in exactly this kind of thing if they could; hell, at one point in my life, I was one of those people.

So we're left with an antagonist who is a completely irredeemable piece of shit, but who's also a human being (despite his inhumanity) who has depth and nuance to him that makes his every scene gripping without painting him sympathetically. You never truly know what he's going to do next, whether his selective empathy will win out over his sadistic desires, how conflicted you'll grow to be about him, or really anything about where his story might go. Hiro is worth the price of admission all on his own; it's just great that he's surrounded by other excellent characters.


Ultimately, Inuyashiki and Hiro are the ones who matter most, but the supporting cast are no slouches themselves. The series has a special talent for making you care about the most minor characters within a very short amount of time without resorting to cloying or cheap "developing the character just to kill them off for shock" tactics. This extends from the briefest victim to the most prominent recurring characters, but I'll only highlight some of the latter.

Inuyashiki's family serve their purpose and soon fall to the sidelines, but teenage daughter Mari gradually makes a comeback before the others and becomes a major character, complete with a surprising arc that goes to show how great Inuyashiki is at making characters who would otherwise come off flat feel real and alive. Hiro's friend and fellow otaku Naoyuki Ando initially serves to prove that this isn't a bog-standard "old people are awesome and geeky young people are evil" tale, with his empathy and enthusiasm contrasting well against his friend's inhumanity; while he doesn't have as much of a visible arc and stays pretty consistent after an early point, he remains a valuable piece of the puzzle. Lastly, unpopular schoolmate Shion Watanabe slides into a fairly predictable role and isn't as richly characterized as so many others, but she serves her purpose well in that role and defies expectations where she can. There are certainly others I could talk about, like a despicable yakuza boss (voiced by Takaya Kuroda, star of the Yakuza games!) or Hiro's own family, but I'll refrain to save on spoilers.

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And the storyline that these characters propel forward is, while far from perfect, always carried through shaky spots by the strength of its character writing; the episodes that serve to peel back more layers of character nuance somewhat outnumber the episodes that I can classify more as story advancements. It's far from a slog, despite what may sound like; thanks to its simple core premise, brevity, and endless areas of intrigue, each episode breezes by with a lightning pace and left me sorely wanting to immediately watch the next one. However, this is where my aforementioned sole complaint comes in, and that is that Inuyashiki himself is far too passive in the conflict for most of the story. Despite learning about Hiro early on and promising what you might expect to be a Death Note-esque focused mind game, Inuyashiki doesn't actually take much of a direct pursuit of him until the last couple of episodes and only sticks to indirectly fighting him in various ways. One can justify this fault in a number of ways -- in-universe, Inuyashiki is grappling with his low self-confidence and doesn't believe he can do more good than harm by trying to fight, while out-of-universe the truncated storyline no doubt made things feel awkward in this regard -- but a sole fault it remains.

This means that after the introductory episodes, most of them go like this: Inuyashiki learns of or experiments with a new power that enables him to further his cause, while Hiro commits some new atrocity and more of his character is explored. It's a testament to the strength of the writing and pacing that this doesn't get repetitive, instead serving as a compelling buildup of the two characters on the path toward the inevitable confrontation. And when shit finally kicks off and they face down, it's well worth the wait from both a writing and entertainment perspective; the penultimate episode in particular left my jaw perpetually on the floor and marks the high point of the show for me. The manga's cancellation is unfortunately most visible in the finale, as a barely-mentioned background plot element abruptly comes to the forefront in a way that feels undeniably rushed for its importance, but the actual ending still manages to be a near-perfect emotional wrap-up that ties everything together in a beautifully conclusive flourish.

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Now let's get into the presentation, where the main thing to touch on is the animation. When it's traditional, it works perfectly; everything is as vivid as you would want (or, in the case of some of the bloodier incidents, would not want), and the strong directorial eyes of Sato and Yabuta are clear in how gorgeously detailed and stylishly framed many of the shots and scenes are (brief cuts to black just before certain big events are a haunting trick that I really grew to love). More controversial, however, is the fact that 3D CGI is frequently incorporated every time either Inuyashiki or Hiro open up their mechanical bodies. I normally hate CG in anime and feel it's cheap and lazy, and this has turned a lot of viewers off to the show, but... I really didn't mind it or get distracted by it. In fact, I even liked its use in some cases. The bodies look rubbery and fake when rendered that way, but while part of this is of course due to budgetary restrictions, there are elements of it that feel like an intentional invocation of the uncanny valley to make Inuyashiki look as fake as he feels. The big final battle is admittedly a bit hampered in places by the plasticine models, but by that point I was too invested in the characters to care; your mileage will vary on whether it bothers you or not.

As for the sound design, I don't have a lot of thoughts. The sound effects convey a lot of weight and realism, the soundtrack is great, and the opening in particular kicks truckloads of ass (here's the official music video since Amazon is really anal about letting this stuff onto YouTube) in addition to its stellar, symbolism-loaded visuals.

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Lastly, like in the previous review, I'm going to talk about a few things in regards to the tone. There's a lot more to say this time, though, as my thoughts on it and how to express it are a lot more complicated. I've written so far about both Inuyashiki's gut-wrenching brutality and its capacity for rich characterization that builds an attachment to the viewer within an extremely limited time, but as previously mentioned, don't let that fool you into thinking this is one among numerous shows that develop a character for the sole purpose of getting a rise out of you when they're gruesomely killed. This show never traffics in shock value for shock value's sake. It often subverts the expectations of the most genre savvy viewers, and when it really does go in for the horrifying extremes, there's an anxious realism to it that makes it feel like you're meant to see this rather than being forced to. This is not to say it's not horrifying on a deep level: if you can't stomach depictions of torture, child murder, sexual violence (mostly offscreen, but still present), terrorism, and the like, I won't begrudge you for turning away. But it's more clinical and grounded than your usual gorefests, and never revels in its horror.

Instead, if I had to characterize Inuyashiki's tone in one word, it would be... human. At the heart of this show, in the development of its characters and the depiction of its world, this is one of the most beautifully human shows I've watched recently. There's an understanding of the modern world and an empathy for all living things that's missing from a lot of media, leading to more touching moments and emotional rollercoasters than I can count. This extends from everything I just touched on to how modern and of-the-moment it actually feels; numerous real-world pop cultural subjects from famous to niche are referenced, and real things like Shonen Jump and scummy image boards (e.g. 4chan) are present and frequently mentioned, in a way that doesn't feel like uninformed pandering so much as the perspective of someone in the know. The references and inclusions feel just as much like natural parts of the world as they do in the real world, and stereotypes are always avoided in the end, whatever initial appearances may be. I feel like I'm inadequately describing this, but I hope I've given a solid picture.

Overall, Inuyashiki: Last Hero is an imperfect but masterful journey that makes the most of its short runtime. The characters are far more complex than they initially seem (especially the antagonist), every story and character arc is brought to a satisfying close despite the somewhat rushed finale, and the overall style and tonal work does wonders to keep it from being an in-your-face shock-fest. If you have any interest in layered character work and grounded, poignant storytelling despite an outlandish premise, and you can handle the more over-the-line violence on display, you'd be foolish to overlook this show.

Rating: Astronomical
  • 4

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Sun Sep 30, 2018 5:21 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Mon Mar 12, 2018 9:03 am

Just a quick update on this thread. I'm a little deadlocked on future reviews right now: not because I don't have the inspiration for them, but because I want to do so many and can't decide which to tackle first.

For anime reviews, I want to finish up the Amazon Prime deluge with Made In Abyss (which I finished a month ago) and Re:CREATORS, in addition to a retro review at some point of Black Lagoon because I love that series so unabashedly. I also have two surprise TV shows I might want to cover, and Evil Within 2 and the long-delayed Danganronpa V3 review on the video game front. Hell, I might also review Shadow of the Colossus since I just finished the PS4 remake recently.

This is in addition to various writings elsewhere on the internet, some articles for Octoberpumpkin's lovely website, a submission for our writing contest, the story I almost wrote for the last writing contest but abandoned, some possible book and manga reviews (remember when I started that book review thread and never picked it back up?), getting back into my Gotham rants since Hulu's episodes I left off on are about to expire, and a new article column I want to start. And finding a job.

So to those who enjoy my reviews and want to be recommended more cool shit, I deeply appreciate your patience.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby Ladki96 » Mon Mar 12, 2018 10:00 am

Good luck <3
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Thu Apr 05, 2018 10:14 am

Made In Abyss (2017)

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Basic Summary: An intelligent young girl and a powerful robot plunge into an underground world from which they may never return.
Genre: Fantasy, Psychological Horror
Created by: Kinema Citrus
Directed by: Masayuki Kojima
Written by: Hideyuki Kurata
Starring: Miyu Tomita, Mariya Ise, Shiori Izawa
Episodes: 13
Available on: Amazon Prime
Source Material: Ongoing manga and web publication by Akihito Tsukushi

For the unaware, Made In Abyss follows Riko, a young orphan girl who lives in a town on the edge of the Abyss: a vast hole in the ground that leads into a mostly unexplored system of cavernous worlds, teeming with bizarre creatures and otherworldly dangers. Having lived her whole life doing menial labor on the edge with the other orphans, Riko has always dreamed of following in her mother's footsteps and becoming a White Whistle -- the highest rank of Abyss divers, few in number and as feared as they are revered -- despite the fact that an apparent curse on anyone who tries to climb up makes delving deep enough a guaranteed death sentence. A cryptic letter from her mother and a chance encounter with an amnesiac android gives Riko the push she needs, and she rushes into the darkness as soon as she can, intent on reaching the very bottom and knowing she'll likely never come out again...

Spoiler: show
Behold, the single anime exclusive that broke out of Anime Strike's icy claws and got widespread attention prior to the service's well-deserved demise (have you picked up on how much I loathed Anime Strike yet?). A number of people labeled Made In Abyss the undisputed best anime of 2017, but as is often the case, it took me the longest time to get around to watching it and even longer to move past my deadlock-induced writer's block enough to review it. Would I agree with the hype? Read on to find out (please).

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I would be remiss to start a Made In Abyss review anywhere other than with its presentation, as it's the element probably most key to its immediate success. Visually, the series is nothing less than spellbinding at any given time: the animation is smooth and distinct between each character or entity, and lead background artist Osamu Masuyama -- who's previously done work for such splendid visual treats as Spirited Away -- makes each already distinctively designed environment pop into life with just the right amount of depth and texture. Numerous scenes could be accurately described as painterly, but they feel more rich than just artistic landscapes to place the characters on; it always feels like the environments are sprawling and moving around the characters even when only bits and pieces of them are seen at any given time. This gives every step of the journey, from the city of Orth down into the Layers of the Abyss, an inspired sense of liveliness that the story's excellent worldbuilding only compounds. No screenshot I find for this review can do it justice.

The music, meanwhile, is just as astoundingly unique. The entire soundtrack was composed not by a big industry name or an in-house musician, but by Australian composer Kevin Penkin, and as such it sounds and feels quite separate from the rest of the pack. Sweeping orchestral scores blend seamlessly into quiet, understated themes, keeping the viewer's ears perked up with the sense of wonder and variety necessary for this kind of show. Tracks like the beautiful "Underground River" and "Hanezeve Caradinha", or the intense, harshly mechanical "Crucifixion" (which is never used in full in the show, but appears in brief snippets in some crucial sequences and is probably going to be the main theme of next season's villain), illustrate both the wonder and horror that the Abyss contains and help both blend together without causing an unwieldy tonal clash. The opening and ending themes pale a little by comparison, but they're both quite pleasant to listen to and the former is elevated by the imagery it makes use of.

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With such a wonderful blend of spices, it would be a shame if the meat of the show didn't hold up, but while the story isn't perfect, it does the job of propelling the characters through their journey and making us care. The pacing is superb, sending the kids down into the hole as soon as everything has been established in Orth, and each Layer of the Abyss gets just the right amount of time dedicated to it corresponding to how interesting it is: the Layer that's basically just a long drop into nothingness gets one episode, but more time is spent in a mystical forested outpost and a surreally gorgeous void of elevated hot springs prowled by bizarre predators (which occupies the final four episodes). Each Layer thus forms a distinct little arc, and each arc holds a lot of memorable moments and contributes to the excellent, slowly-revealed worldbuilding that the series has grown famous for (it's most visible in the Orth episodes and the Fourth Layer, but there's at least one new tidbit of wonderfully creative culture and history per episode). This keeps everything chugging along smoothly and makes it tough not to just binge the whole show straight through to see what's coming next.

My biggest complaint with how the story plays out is admittedly one that's less due to the show itself and more to the realities and limitations of the anime industry. This is a gorgeous and compelling show that does the most it can with its thirteen episodes, but those thirteen episodes run out right as the show has settled into its best rhythms, when it's about to introduce its Big Bad and elevate everything to a whole new level of intensity and unpredictability. The show does choose some satisfying emotional beats to go out on for each character so it doesn't feel quite as abrupt as it otherwise might, and it will probably allow next season to devote the time and money the upcoming arc deserves, but still, cutting the season off just when it goes from good to great is a bummer.

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But within the current run of episodes, there's still a lot of solid character work to go over. Riko is a great little leading lady, headstrong but intelligent, obsessive without being annoying. She's relentless in what's basically a suicide mission, and a rather pointless one at that, but her reasons for delving into the Abyss are established with such heartbreaking sincerity that her painful quest always feels justified. She's a bit... damsel-y for my taste, exclusively relying on her robot buddy to protect her (and getting near-completely pushed out of the spotlight so he can take precedence in the last few episodes), which is one of the reasons I shied away from the show for a while. The dynamic between the two helps make this work most of the time, though, and I'm impressed enough with the series that I'm currently confident that she'll mature and develop later on.

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Then there's the robot kid, dubbed Reg by Riko, who switches from deuteragonist to main protagonist depending on the arc. Reg's purpose in the story is to be the stoic muscle to Riko's energetic brains, with his near-indestructibility and host of incredibly useful powers enabling her to survive in the depths; he has some drawbacks Riko must deal with, though, from his inexperience to the unavoidable hour-long coma that follows every use of his most powerful weapon. Despite my misgivings about how he causes the duo to slot into traditional gender roles -- most annoyingly when he boots up just in time to take control of what seemed like a critical personal moment for Riko in the Third Layer -- these weaknesses and the pair's camaraderie help sell the conventions. His amnesia and the early point the story is currently cut off at means he's used as more of a lovable talking plot device than an enduring character with an arc, mainly coming into his own in the last set of episodes, but I liked the little scamp despite not having much to write about personality-wise.

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Rounding out the protagonist group is a very late addition, despite basically being the mascot of the series: Nanachi, the strange bunny mutant girl. Nanachi doesn't hop in (kill me) until the last few episodes; she was a character the author added with editorial help as a last-ditch effort to revive the manga's flagging popularity, and quickly soared to become the breakout character as the show skyrocketed to popularity, so almost as much hype surrounded her appearance as the show she resides in. Luckily, she's more than just another overhyped "Best Girl" given more due than she's owed by the internet: she's easily my favorite of the three protags, and I have the most to write about her consequently.

Despite her cute appearance, Nanachi's personality is disarmingly weird, displaying a lot of oddball tendencies and a few hints of barely-contained sadism that make her early scenes darkly hilarious, especially due to the especially grotesque scene that serves as her introduction. The funny acts and casually delivered threats bely her true nature, however, as becomes apparent very quickly. Nanachi is more than the deadpan comic relief with ears and paws the undesirables in the audience will obsess over: she's a damaged, bitter little girl using her living situation and demeanor to cover up the fact that she's scared out of her mind. She's been to hell and back numerous times for the sake of protecting and providing for someone who can no longer protect and provide for themselves, and the reason why is tied inextricably to a very promising antagonist, meaning her backstory hits top marks every time it's visited and gives her as much depth and likability in the present as the characters we've followed for much longer. Despite only being introduced four episodes from the end and only getting her most substantial character work in the finale, she receives the most poignant backstory and character development of any character in the season, to the point that it's her emotional resolution that primarily buoys the climactic actions. Honestly, Nanachi's one of my favorite anime characters from 2017, and I wish I could speak on her more without diving into contextual spoilers.

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That does it for the main cast, but there are two other less prominent characters I want to highlight for how much impact they made on me. The first is Ozen the Immovable, one of three White Whistles introduced during the season and the only one the characters directly interact with. As soon as she's encountered a short ways into the dive, she immediately injects some new blood into the show just when the focus on the kids exploring was threatening to get stale. Serving as a vaguely threatening mentor-rival for a few episodes, though to label her either a supporting protagonist or an antagonist would undersell her mystery, Ozen's stony affectations and twisted morality are more instantly unnerving than any savage creature could be, and they tell you all you need to know about what being a White Whistle really entails. She's a vehicle for both some uncomfortable laughs and some of the earliest slices of psychological (and body) horror, and the revelations she holds about the plot and how she unveils them do little to untangle her complicated persona. For a while, I almost thought the show couldn't top her with another White Whistle, so unique is she.

And then... I met Bondrewd.

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Yes, the final character I want to talk about -- despite having so little screen time this season -- is Bondrewd the Novel, a more directly villainous White Whistle shrouded in mystery and promising to become an active threat next season. Bondrewd is pretty much solely responsible for me finally cracking and watching the show; he's the manga's breakout villain and one of the more celebrated antagonists in anime or manga I've heard of recently, hyped up enough to be included in the show's opening and nominated for Best Villain in Crunchyroll's Anime Awards even though he's only in scattered seconds-long snippets and an extended flashback in the finale.

And let me tell you... I adore this crazy fucker. Without going into too much detail -- and yes, I can go into too much detail from the sparse amount of time I've seen him -- he's a remorseless mad scientist and mass murderer with a subdued voice, numerous quotable and blackly comedic lines, terrifying mastery over technology and biology, and a nonexistent moral compass that seems at odds with the genuine affection he has for his subjects. Think Shou Tucker from Fullmetal Alchemist, on a far grander scale and more fun to watch, but exactly as gut-churningly repulsive. He doesn't match up to villains like Stain and Hiro Shishigami purely by virtue of not being an active threat yet, but when he steps onto the scene in full, I doubt any other anime villain of the year will be able to step to him in my heart.

Oh, and did I mention I absolutely cherish his design? "Tall guy in dark armor with weird mask and longcoat" is a well-worn character design type -- one I love and have used myself, but one that can also lead to laziness if not enough originality is injected into it -- but Bondrewd's design is just so goddamn cool to me. I struggle to articulate exactly what it is about it, whether it's the purposeful intricacy of his suit and mask or how immediately contrasted he is with the design philosophy of the world without feeling like he doesn't belong (hell, it might just be because this kind of costume is usually reserved for brooding edgelords rather than confident scientists), but I just want to gush over his appearance every time I see it. I encourage you to look up a few manga panels or fan renditions of his full profile. Shit's immaculate. A+.

I wish I could just leave it at that, with me gushing over Bondrewd (how did I write more about a guy who's barely in the season than the main characters?) and imploring you to give the show a watch right away, but alas, there is one final thing I can't leave out of this review, and it's not all that positive.

Made In Abyss is a seinen horror story that routinely plies its wares in psychological trauma, grotesque contortions and mutilations of the human body, and other such delights. I'm totally on board with that -- body horror in particular is a quick and dirty way to get me sold on your shit -- but Made In Abyss is also a show where the main characters are prepubescent children. Now, if you've watched anime and read manga as long as I have, you will probably be at least somewhat accustomed to horrors being visited upon characters who at least LOOK twelve, but in this case, it's a bit worse -- not just because of how realistic they are as children, but because the horrors tie into how the story views children in general as equal to adults in what can be depicted.

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I speak, as anyone familiar with the series will have guessed by now, of the weird sexual overtones that permeate Made In Abyss. Much hay is made about how into each other Riko and Reg are, and they peep on each other rather often both unintentionally and totally on purpose. The apparently notable size of Reg's dick is mentioned often enough by various characters to be considered a running gag, and a critical scene of the season's final arc involves Riko getting medicine via what I'll generously refer to as a suppository. And that's just the big stuff! Now, I absolutely don't think this sexualization is played for fanservice or pedophilic titillation, just by virtue of how the material is presented (no nudity or naughty stuff is ever directly shown onscreen, though I'm told the former is untrue in the manga). There are obviously cultural differences at play, much of it is played for laughs, and I read at least some aspects of the series as a clear metaphor for puberty and the loss of innocence. I think. But the fact that even seasoned anime veterans find the sexualization of children in this show major enough to routinely warn people about -- the fact that a connoisseur of creepy shit like me would be made uncomfortable watching it -- should be taken as a message in and of itself; it's not a defining trait of the series, but you have to have the stomach for some uncomfortable humor and awkwardness every now and again.

All in all, that questionable shit aside, Made In Abyss is a great ride that I only wish had continued longer without interruption. The story's a solid throughline to boost some excellent worldbuilding and a great cast, and the show's visual style and musical charm would be more than enough of a selling point even if the core were stale and generic. I may have trouble writing about it in exceptional detail because it's just the beginning of a new series, and it doesn't surpass things like Inuyashiki in my eyes, but it is a damn great start and I'm waiting on tenterhooks for the continuation.

Rating: Deep Underground, But Managing To Soar
  • 2

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Sun Sep 30, 2018 5:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"Your mind is software. Program it. Your body is a shell. Change it. Death is a disease. Cure it." - Eclipse Phase

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Anime Review: MY HERO ACADEMIA SEASON 3

ARTICLE 13 MUST BE STOPPED
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Mon Apr 23, 2018 6:53 pm

A Quiet Place (2018)

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Basic Summary: A family tries to survive in a world overrun by sound-sensitive monsters.
Genre: Horror
Directed by: John Krasinski
Written by: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, John Krasinski
Starring: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe
Length: 95 minutes



For the unaware, A Quiet Place follows the Abbots, a nuclear family struggling to live past a very non-nuclear apocalypse. Monstrous predators have appeared across Earth; they hunt by the slightest sound, tear everything they find into bloody pieces, and are immune to all conventional forms of attack. Society fell within weeks, leaving behind a silent world of scattered survivors all trying to avoid making any noise above a whisper. The Abbots have an advantage: as their oldest daughter is deaf, everyone already knows how to communicate via sign language. They use this and numerous other survivalist tricks to continue eking out a semblance of life on their isolated farmstead. But when a painful accident shatters their safety and draws the monsters in, they must scramble to defend each others' lives from the beings who already took everything else from them...

Spoiler: show
Against all odds, this genre creature feature has been getting the kind of buzz and praise usually reserved for avant-garde disappointments outshined by their promising premises. If you couldn't tell, I don't tend to care for those films. And the last conventional horror flick I can remember getting this kind of critical hype was Adam Wingard's petrifyingly poor Blair Witch, so there was plenty of reason to be skeptical of whether I would actually have a good time with A Quiet Place. I'm here today to tell you........ pretty much, yeah.

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The story of A Quiet Place is very simple, so we'll start there. After a brief prologue setting up the premise, most of the action takes place in the span of two days and one very long, very bad night. The deceptively short timespan does at times contribute to some pacing issues and choppy editing -- similar to the problem I complained about when reviewing Lights Out at the very start of this thread, just much more bearable -- but it also keeps the action rapid-fire and close-quarters when shit really kicks off. The plot serves more as a loose framework from which dozens of intense and varied encounters with the monsters are strung, ruthlessly propelling various family members from one place to another as some of the deadliest monsters ever imagined come hot on their heels, which keeps the film exciting and interesting even when not a lot is actually happening story-wise. There are also a few surprisingly effective emotional beats throughout, subtly conveyed and occupying just enough time to keep you rooting for the family's survival without being a distraction from what you came to see, leading up to an ending that's well-earned and pretty great (partly because it's not clear sequel bait like virtually every other modern horror flick).

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Equally simple but good are the sole human characters in the movie, the Abbot family. Despite the film featuring no exposition outside of newspapers and board scrawlings, and only about a dozen lines of spoken dialogue (most communication is done through subtitled sign language and facial expression), the whole family is believable, likable, and well-performed enough that the audience should care about them. As father Lee Abbot, John Krasinski pulls off the rare writer-director-star combo that actually works, in addition to managing a genuinely great dramatic turn after years of comedy work. He spends most of the movie in various states of "stern but semi-panicked frown", but the understated nature works for his character and makes the few moments when he allows himself to crack more effective. Emily Blunt also kicks ass as wife and mother Evelyn, despite getting slightly less onscreen character development than her husband; she's the focal point for a lot of the initial shit going down, and gets some weighty stuff to do later on.

But my favorite of them all, and the best of the Abbot children (the young sons didn't leave much of an impression on me, but both are used effectively), is deaf daughter Regan. Played by actual deaf actress Millicent Simmonds, Regan somehow brings the most weight and gravitas to the proceedings despite being the only member of the family who never gets to speak out loud once. Take that as a huge testament to Simmonds' ability; between this and her prior breakout role in Wonderstruck, she is definitely going places. Regan's character arc is the strongest and most defined, and despite a note of predictability that paid off how I expected it to in the climax, I enjoyed her screen presence most of all.

(One minor thing I wanted to note is that the cast was heavily tutored in sign language, partially by Simmonds, in order for them to feel like fluent and experienced communicators -- enough that each family member has their own "accent" to it, which I hardly noticed until doing research after the fact. It's a small detail, but it definitely contributes to the family dynamics feeling warm and familiar.)

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Now let's get into the presentation. The cinematography is solid, if nothing to write home about most of the time. The most interesting thing about the camera is how it frames the monsters for most of the movie, giving them just enough exposure that you know roughly what they look like but keeping them mired in darkness, harsh angles, and speed blurs (these motherfuckers are fast) so your mind has to fill in the blanks until the eventual full-on shots. And on that note, the effects for the monsters are utterly fantastic despite the film's relatively small budget, relying on the work of Industrial Light & Magic to make them come to life; between their bizarre-but-detailed anatomy and their fluid-but-heavy movements, they have a feeling of comprehensibility and texture that makes them feel all the more dangerous.

But as you might have guessed, it's the sound design that takes home the gold. The sheer ballsiness of making a near-completely silent movie for one of the dumbest and least considerate audiences in the world -- PG-13 horror flick theater crowds -- did not escape my notice during prerelease hype, nor did the widespread talk of said audiences being so cowed by the oppressive silence and harsh audio cues that they barely made any noise (it was thankfully the same for my theater). This is where A Quiet Place lives up to its hype the most, as the absence of all but subtle diegetic noise in most scenes -- and near-complete absence of any sound from Regan's perspective -- gives the film an unforgettable atmosphere that never lets you rest for a second. It sadly can't resist breaking the silence with a few false "cat scares" with piercing cue chords early on, but these dry up quickly. And because the film does such a great job establishing early on that even innocuous noises are a very big deal, any accidental slip-up or visible source of potential sound got me white-knuckled in my seat, even if nothing came of it.

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As always, since this is a horror film (I'm realizing now that I haven't reviewed a proper one in a while), I'm going to end it by answering the all-important question: is it scary? Yes, yes it is. I've already gone over the omnipresent sound design, the established threat of the monsters, and the protagonists whom the film does a great job of making us care about -- throw these elements all together and you have a recipe for some fabulous spooks. Every scene where a family member or members are trapped in the same place as a monster is varied and memorable, from Evelyn's early evasion of one while in perilous health to some frantic encounters in a corn field and grain silo; they flow into each other seamlessly, and the change-ups of circumstances keep them from getting repetitive. Since the monsters are established as being just as threatening in daylight as they are at night, even the brightly-lit scenes keep you on edge. The rapid-fire action and sparse breathers can make the film somewhat stifling at times, but overall, I loved the sense of never being truly safe; a real moment to truly relax and unwind would devalue the awful state of the Abbots' world. And thankfully, mercifully, even though half of the monsters' threat comes from their incredible speed, there are very few jumpscares after the 1/3rd mark.

All in all, A Quiet Place doesn't necessarily meet all of the unbelievable accolades being thrown at it by creativity-starved critics and loathsome marketing execs (I've heard "a new classic" so many times that the phrase is dead to my ears), but it's a cut above the rest of the modern horror film pack and I do believe it'll continue to be remembered in years to come. Whether you're especially sensitive to audio-based horror or you're dying for a horror flick that's about proper monsters instead of demons or home invaders, you're probably going to have a good time with it. And if you have the time, I definitely recommend seeing it in a theater.

Rating: The Unquiet Hype Is Real
  • 4

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Sun Sep 30, 2018 5:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"Your mind is software. Program it. Your body is a shell. Change it. Death is a disease. Cure it." - Eclipse Phase

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