Review of Atelier Firis

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When it comes to video games I am a hypocrite. In the past I have chastised Activision for uncreatively releasing Call of Duty games every single year, but I myself buy Atelier titles on an annual basis. 2017 proved to be no exception with me purchasing Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey back when it came out in March. This latest entry in Gust’s long running JRPG series has players guiding teenager Firis Mistlud on a yearlong pilgrimage to the city of Reisenberg. Our heroine has 365 days to reach her destination and pass the exam held there in order to fulfil her dream of becoming an accredited transmutation expert. Should she fail to graduate before the deadline elapses Firis can kiss her tan goodbye, because she will be forced to spend the remainder of her days prospecting ore in a subterranean mining town.

OVERVIEW

Atelier Firis is in a way the Dark Souls of cutesy anime role playing games. The mysterious journey that Firis has set off on involves harvesting materials, confrontations with monsters and periodically resting at campfires. Unlike said FromSoftware game Firis doesn’t however consume the souls of her victims. Campfires are where the young alchemist replenishes her life points and plies her craft. Due to the nomadic nature of her quest, Firis doesn’t have a workshop located in town so she makes do with a portable atelier. From outside the atelier resembles a modest tent, but once you step inside a spacious building is revealed housing a bedroom, cauldron and quarters for Firis’ travelling companions. Just like a time lord’s Tardis! The innards are roomier than the exterior would have you believe.

The objective of Atelier Firis is to arrive at Reisenberg within the allotted time. Along the way Firis also has to secure recommendations from three licenced alchemists, in order to prove that she is capable of challenging the city’s alchemy exam. At first Firis is a novice who can only craft a limited number of things. By battling creatures, exploring the land, gathering ingredients and reading books she will however become more proficient – enabling her to create more items. Completing quests also rewards Firis with idea points, which can be spent on unlocking new alchemy recipes. In no time at all players will be able to fashion weapons, snacks and decorations for their abode. Alchemy is easy to master and so powerful. Perhaps I should recommend it to my pals Edward and Al, as a means of resurrecting their mom. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

VERDICT

My rating for Atelier Firis is four stars. It’s one of the better Atelier games I have played and a substantial improvement over its predecessor Atelier Sophie. The game’s biggest highlight would have to be its expansive open world. Unlike previous titles in the series, navigation does not involve teleporting between zones via the use of a board game like map. The journey from Firis’ birthplace of Eltona to Reisenberg will involve a lot of walking, so get your hiking boots on! I found the trek to be highly enjoyable, even if the sightseeing would have benefitted from stronger graphics. The game’s turn-based battle system is rather basic, but never mind because in Atelier RPGs combat usually plays second fiddle to crafting and funny cut scenes. If Firis were an anime it would be a slice of life show rather than an action packed shounen series.

One thing that is contentious amongst the Atelier fan base is the use of time limits. There’s a faction that likes the challenge of meeting a deadline whilst the other side abhors playing under that pressure. If you happen to fall in the latter camp don’t worry because Firis’ time limit is very generous. During my playthrough I reached Reisenberg with ample days to spare (over one hundred in fact.) In hindsight I should have taken some detours rather than hurry straight to the finale. Once the end-credits roll players have the option of completing unfinished quests at their leisure in the post game, so there is no need to fret over the story’s countdown. Don’t rush because, like a wise man once said, the journey is more important than the destination. Well, unless your name is Phileas Fogg. If it is getting to the finish line ASAP is kind of a big deal.

Review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Right now it’s a good time to be a geek. Not only are we getting flooded with endless superhero films, but we can also expect new Star Wars movies for the foreseeable future. Rogue One is the second Star Wars flick to get released since the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm. This predecessor to A New Hope (also known as The Force Awakens with crappier special effects) has Gareth Edwards showing George Lucas how to properly direct a Star Wars prequel. During the prologue we see how scientist Galen Erso is forced out of retirement to assist with the development of the Death Star. Poor guy, I can really sympathize with his plight. Just like Galen I too am forced to serve an evil empire, on a daily basis, in order to pay the bills.

OVERVIEW

You can’t have a Disney made Star Wars adventure without a Mary Sue so let me introduce you to Galen’s daughter Jyn Erso. Rogue One’s heroine is freed from incarceration by the Rebel Alliance, early on in the film, in the hopes that she can track down her dad and procure blueprints from him that may reveal a weakness in the planet busting weapon he has created. Escorting Jyn on the mission is Latin spy Cassian Andor and a reprogrammed Imperial bot named K-2SO. Out of the trio K-2SO is my favourite character. He is for all intents and purposes C-3PO, if the gold plated android wasn’t a pussy. I couldn’t help but laugh whenever he would announce how bleak things are. K-2SO is the type of machine that will blurt out painful facts like “only 3% of your followers will read this review.”

Over the course of the story three more companions join Jyn in her quest. The first of these is Imperial defector Bodhi Rook who, during an interrogation scene, has the displeasure of having ear sex with a hentai tentacle monster. Freelance assassin Baze Malbus, who wields a laser cannon, becomes the team’s muscle. He is the best friend of blind monk Chirrut Imwe. In a film devoid of Jedi, Chirrut is given the responsibility of imparting sagely guidance to his teammates. Despite being handicapped Chirrut is adept at quarterstaff combat and his strong faith in the Force seemingly allows him to evade blaster fire. Like K-2SO, Imwe gets to deliver some amusing lines. I had to chuckle for example when captors covered his face with a hood. “Are you kidding me? I am blind!” he exclaims.

VERDICT

My rating for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a four out of five. This movie eclipses the George Lucas prequels thanks to its more mature presentation. Yes there is some humour, as mentioned above, but thankfully none of the gags are puerile slapstick performed by an annoying Gungan. The comedy is used sparingly and works to offset the gloom of what is arguably the darkest Star Wars cinematic offering to date. Another plus in Rogue One’s favour is that it doesn’t go overboard with CGI. One of the more impressive feats the visual effects crew pulled off was giving Guy Henry the facial features of Grand Moff Tarkin. If technology continues to advance at this pace we will soon only require the services of voice actors, as a computer can render human bodies. Nolan North, who already appears in every video game, will star in all blockbusters too!

Filmgoers who recently attacked Ghost in the Shell and Dr Strange for whitewashing should have no complaints with Rogue One. The diverse cast includes pilots of both genders in addition to Asians and Mexicans – proving that the galaxy isn’t exclusively inhabited with people who speak in British accents. I’m not fussed about SJW politics though. My only concern was watching a good Star Wars movie and in that regard Rogue One delivers. I liked how the plot addressed the Death Star flaw many people have commented on for years and the cameo appearance of Darth Vader. Although brief, Vader’s screen time showcased how menacing the Sith Lord can be. The way he stalked Rebel soldiers was akin to a horror movie villain slashing down victims in space. It’s just like Jason X… only not terrible.

Review of Mai Mai Miracle

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Anime Limited certainly do not rush things. Back when I discovered that my special edition of Durarara was plagued with missing subtitles it took them a year to post replacement discs. Their release of Mai Mai Miracle wasn’t any speedier either. I backed the English language release of this movie back when it was announced in February 2014 and only received my copy at the start of this year. Delays like that really put me off from supporting projects on Kickstarter, not to mention that some companies are abusing the generosity of customers. Just recently Anime Limited went back to Kickstarter asking for £4,500 to localize Mind Game. What? Are you telling me that one of the UK’s biggest anime distributors can’t afford that sum of cash? Just because the company is based in Scotland doesn’t mean that they have to be so tight with their money.

OVERVIEW

Mai Mai Miracle takes place in a tiny rural town named Hofu during the 1950s. The film follows the daily life of nine-year-old Shinko Aoki who is blessed with an overactive imagination. With no television to keep her amused Shinko spends her time fantasising about what her hometown was like during the late Edo period. One of her many daydreams stars a lonesome princess who moved to the region and now finds herself without any friends of her own age. Early on in the film Shinko befriends an affluent transfer student named Kiiko Shimazu, who has moved from Tokyo to Hofu due to her father’s work commitments. Unlike the boisterous Shinko, Kiiko is quiet and shy… although she does open up after consuming some liquored chocolates. Under the effects of alcohol the timid lady even manages to see the funny side of her mother’s tragic passing.

The source of Shinko’s fantasies is her cowlick, which she has christened Mai Mai. I too possess unruly hair that can only be tamed with strong gel. Perhaps my locks are responsible for the hallucinations I see? It’s that or the twenty beers I drunk. Hic. Anyways, this carefree tale forgoes plot in favour of showcasing Shinko and chums enjoying their youth. Using discarded lumber we see Shinko’s group construct a pond where they hang out caring for a vagrant goldfish. Viewers also witness the protagonist bicker with her baby sis. Like most siblings the two argue, but do care for each other as evidenced in a scene were the toddler goes missing. Over the ninety-five minute running time we also see Kiiko bond with her new classmates. After a rough start she mellows out enough to forgive the scruffy kid who carelessly turned her coloured pencil into splinters.

VERDICT

My rating for Mai Mai Miracle is four and a half stars. I have felt rather low this week, due to undesirable department restructures at work, so a sweet slice of life movie was just what the doctored ordered to perk up my spirits. As someone who resides in a concrete jungle I cannot relate to the rural lifestyle presented in this Sunao Katabuchi directed flick, but I still felt nostalgia watching Shinko and friends onscreen. Their exploits aren’t all that different to the adventures my pals Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy got up to during our preadolescent days. One summer I remember exploring an island with them and tangling with thieves who were after gold housed within the hold of a sunken ship. Oh wait a second. Did that really happen or am I mixing up my childhood with Famous Five plots again?

Overall I had a pleasant time watching Mai Mai Miracle. The only thing that didn’t click with me was the flashbacks (featuring a young royal) that would occasionally interrupt proceedings. Had that footage been removed I don’t think the movie would have been any weaker for it. Perhaps the clips could have been fashioned into a short story and repackaged as a DVD extra instead? Either way I can recommend Mai Mai Miracle as good wholesome family entertainment. The folks at Madhouse have managed to capture the whimsy Studio Ghibli is known for with this adaptation of Nobuko Takagi’s novel. Although I started this review bemoaning the time it took for this release to hit my mailbox it must be said that I am very satisfied with the final product. Like the old adage goes, good things come to those who wait.

The Wolf of Wall Street Review

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Clearly I have chosen the wrong career. Instead of dealing with stressful customers for chump change I could have become a stockbroker and earned millions by spending other people’s money. That’s the lesson I learned from watching Martin Scorsese’s 2013 hit The Wolf of Wall Street. Based on a book that chronicles Jordan Belfort’s infamous career, what we have here is a Scarface like rise and fall tale. Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, strikes it rich via unethical practices before squandering it all on hookers, booze and drugs. Perhaps things would have turned out differently had Belfort’s mentor not been a coked up loon whose strategy for success involves masturbating multiple times a day? What hogwash. If constantly spanking the monkey equals mega bucks then why am I always broke?

OVERVIEW

Jordan Belfort’s life on Wall Street didn’t start well, as his time at L.F. Rothschild came to a swift end on Black Monday. Not to be confused with Black Friday (that joyous date when you can murder shoppers for a discount television set or tacky Amiibo) the 1987 crash dubbed Black Monday saw global share prices plummet faster than Trump’s approval rating after a Middle East missile strike. Thankfully for Belfort the moneymaking schemes he acquired at Rothschild served him well when he decided to ply his trade in selling penny stocks to gullible clients. With his investments netting him a staggering fifty percent commission, Belfort amassed enough funds to found the Stratton Oakmont brokerage firm in partnership with his cousin loving neighbour Donnie Azoff (played by Jonah Hill.)

Most people would be satisfied with a mansion, family and healthy bank balance. Jordan Belfort wasn’t however and that greed is what ultimately led to his downfall. Stratton Oakmont’s complicity in money laundering didn’t escape the FBI’s attention and Jordan’s adulterous escapades eventually wrecked his marriage. In his defence though, I think most guys would divorce their missus to shag Margot Robbie. And shag her he does in scenes where we are treated to the sight of Harley Quinn full frontal nudity. You’d think I would hate this womanizer who bamboozles innocents, but thanks to a funny script and DiCaprio’s charm I couldn’t help but respect Belfort’s success. I do feel bad for the victims of his scams, but based on what this film shows many of them must share the blame for allowing themselves to be duped by glorified telemarketers.

VERDICT

I am awarding The Wolf of Wall Street a score of four stars. The movie is great, but it is something I would only recommend to mature audiences. I dread to think what kind of message this flick could impart on impressionable minds. Given the tame punishment Belfort received for his wrongdoings one could argue that conning people is worth the risk. A short prison sentence is a small price to pay for years of intemperance, were you indulge in prostitutes, fast cars, dwarf throwing and narcotics. One could leave this film with the impression that drug taking is not only harmless, but also a great way of enhancing your productivity. The adverse effects that illegal substances can have on your health are largely downplayed for laughs and if the film is to be believed overdosing on pills is no worse than chugging down a few Red Bulls.

Leonardo DiCaprio has come a long way from the Titanic days were Kate Winslet heartlessly allowed him to freeze in icy waters. Aided by a talented cast, he carries this movie and shows glimpses of the talent that years later would earn him an Oscar. Congrats Leo, the Academy finally acknowledged your greatness and all it took was eating raw meat plus a spot of bear buggery. Despite my low attention span I found that The Wolf of Wall Street’s three hours flew by. The opener detailing how Belfort amassed his wealth, the second act’s moments of debauchery and the finale were Stratton Oakmont’s board attempt to evade justice kept me glued to the screen. I could gush about this film all day, but will end the review now because typing this post has aggravated my sore wrist. It’s an injury I sustained from vigorous wanking… um I mean stockbroker training.

Review of Triage X

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Rest in peace Daisuke Satō. The talented author succumbed to heart disease late last month, extinguishing any hopes that Highschool of the Dead season two will ever see the light of day. In his honour I decided to watch Triage X, an anime based on a manga created by the artist who illustrated the zombie comic Satō is best known for. At a glance the similarities between the two shows is immediately obvious, as they both feature a cast of well-endowed ladies. I am informed that Shōji Satō’s erotic art style was honed in the hentai industry. Hen… tie? Sorry, I am confused. What does poultry wearing neck garments have to do with large breasts?

OVERVIEW

Dr Masamune Mochizuki strives to save lives on two fronts. Not only is he the chairman of Mochizuki General Hospital, but he also leads a team of vigilantes that battle against murderers, drug dealers and other undesirables. The Black Label group, which is comprised of patients who owe their lives to Mochizuki, include a superhuman nurse, a sword wielding doctor and a pop idol who also happens to be an explosives expert. High school student Arashi Mikami is another of Black Label’s members, having pledged loyalty to the team after Mochizuki saved him from death by performing a limb and heart transplant. Deceased childhood friend Ryu Mochizuki, who donated said organs faster than you can say Tokyo Ghoul, follows Arashi on his missions in the form of a ghost.

Fellow teen Mikoto Kiba is the badass biker who ferries Arashi into battle atop her high-speed motorcycle. Normally calm and composed, Mikoto goes weak at the knees whenever the subject of romance with Arashi surfaces. She isn’t bashful about exposing herself to him in the showers though! Weird. Anyways, this DVD collection sees Black Label protect their hometown from a pyromaniac who is taking the law into her own hands, costumed kidnappers that are holding an entire TV studio hostage and narcotic traffickers who are smuggling dangerous stimulants. It’s stressful work, but thankfully in between assignments Black Label get to unwind in a communal bath. During these watery segments viewers get to admire the fleshy flotation devices affixed to each female’s chest.

VERDICT

Boobs and guns. Do those three words sound cool or revolting? The answer to that question will pretty much determine whether Triage X is something worth your viewing time. My rating for the series is a three out of five. Triage X isn’t going to win any storytelling awards, but in the same way that some people enjoy schlocky B-Movies I had fun watching this series. Anyone who appreciates over the top fights and bike chases will be well served by Triage X. The character designs will appeal to Highschool of the Dead fans, but it’s doubtful that anyone will get off on the gratuitous eye candy as the mammary proportions are ridiculously exaggerated. Then again what do I know? Elizabeth Starr is popular in some circles after all (warning don’t image search her at work.)

I can’t award Triage X a higher score because the series feels incomplete. Given that the anime is made up of just ten episodes and a single OVA what we get here are a few standalone adventures. The ongoing feud between Black Label, the Yakuza and an organization named Syringe is left open for a possible sequel or more likely to tempt viewers into buying the manga. Whether I choose to indulge in the comic remains to be seen. Although I liked the series the way it revels in violence against women made me uncomfortable at times. Be forewarned that there are scenes were victims are forcefully stripped, beaten, bound and pictured in demeaning poses. These displays of BDSM make me wonder if Shōji Satō is attempting to court a new writing partner to replace the departed Daisuke. Just you wait. I predict that the Fifty Shades reprint will feature his illustrations.

Review of The World’s End

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Every now and then I receive a notification on Facebook inviting me to a school reunion. I seldom attend the events because interacting with chums you haven’t seen in years can be awkward. People change and it soon becomes apparent that once formerly close buddies no longer have anything in common. Despite my age I still enjoy video games and cartoons, but the same cannot be said of the people I hung out with during my teens. The majority of them have matured, started families and are climbing up the corporate ladder of their respective jobs. It’s the same deal for Gary King, the protagonist of The World’s End. Life peaked for him when he graduated so he opted to remain a party loving alcoholic. Twenty years later, eager to relive the good old days, he coerces his old gang to join him in tackling a pub-crawl, which they failed to complete back in their youth.

OVERVIEW

The World’s End is the name of the final stop in a pub-crawl, dubbed the Golden Mile, which requires that participants drink a pint from twelve of Newton Haven’s most popular bars. A dozen beers in one evening? LOL. What a lightweight. You gotta pump those numbers up – those are rookie numbers. Anyways, irresponsible Gary King via the allure of nostalgia (and guilt tripping) manages to convince his schoolyard mates to migrate from London to their old stopping grounds for one night, to finish the drinking crusade they started two decades prior. Andy Knightley, Steven Prince, Oliver Chamberlain and Peter Page reluctantly agree to King’s demands, although much to Gary’s chagrin the group only accept after getting permission from their wives. Even worse, Andy’s tipple of choice is rainwater in a glass because he has given up on alcohol.

Gary’s tavern tour starts badly and gets worse as the night progresses. Visiting each saloon is an exercise in déjà vu because the establishments look identical, as a pub chain has bought them all out. The locals don’t recognise the returning King either apart from one landlord who, as luck would have it, recalls previously barring Gary from his premises. Gary is also denied some loving when he bumps into Oliver’s sister Sam. She has no desire to re-enact the passionate shag they once had in a disabled loo. Speaking of toilets, whilst taking a pee Gary gets into a brawl with a stranger. The fight ends with Gary literally knocking the guy’s block off – revealing that much of the town’s populace has been replaced with extra terrestrial automatons! Will the discovery prompt Gary to ride out of Newton Haven? Nah, you can’t drink and drive. Let the pub-crawl continue!

VERDICT

My rating for The World’s End is a four out of five. Once again Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have succeeded in delivering a gut busting British comedy filled with witty banter and sarcastic quips. The later scenes also feature some surprisingly good fight choreography. Pegg is great in the lead role of the Peter Pan like Gary King, who refuses to grow up. He is totally oblivious to the feelings of others and lives just to pursue fun. King may look ridiculous dressing like a Sisters of Mercy band member in his forties, but I can sympathize with his refusal to let go of the past. All that said I cannot say that I still drive the first automobile I ever owned (like he does) or that I still listen to music recorded on cassette. I am happy to see the end of tapes given that vast chunks of my youth were spent waiting for Commodore 64 games to load.

Although the film is brill I should caution viewers that The World’s End is the weakest movie in the Wright directed Cornetto trilogy. I guess the novelty is starting to wear off, as The World’s End borrows ideas from its predecessors. Like Hot Fuzz the story hinges on a town’s dark secret and akin to Shaun of the Dead there are pub-based scraps fought against enemies that are no longer human. Viewers who were enjoying a tranquil comedy about estranged friends reuniting in their adult years may not care for the whacky action that follows the Body Snatchers twist, but I personally didn’t mind the narrative’s change of pace. Heck, the sci-fi reveal works for me as I can use that excuse when next turning down a class reunion. Sorry, I’d love to attend your shindig but I can’t due to the threat of alien robot invasion.

Persona 3 The Movie: Spring of Birth Review

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My video game backlog continues to grow because there aren’t enough hours in the day to complete everything I buy. Perhaps I should consider migrating over to Persona 3’s world, because over there days last for a total of twenty-five hours. Sandwiched in between midnight and 1am is the Dark Hour were machinery goes dormant and much of the populace get transported into coffins, where they are forced to hibernate for a total of sixty minutes. The only people unaffected by this phenomenon are the select few who command the power of Persona. Able to summon mystical beings, they patrol the streets of Iwatodai City protecting citizens against the Shadow creatures that manifest when midnight strikes.

OVERVIEW

Watching Makoto Yuki do his thing, in this anime adaptation of the hit JRPG, makes me thankful for picking the female protagonist over him in Persona 3 Portable. The Emo hairdo he sports suits his personality to a tee. Makoto is rude to those around him and is so apathetic that he doesn’t even show concern when his life is put in mortal danger. His one saving grace is that he is able to command multiple Personas, making him highly effective at taking down Shadows. Those skills are what saw him get recruited by a team of adolescent Shadow slayers known as SEES (Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad.) With Makoto in tow, SEES begin to explore the mysterious Tartarus Tower for clues on the origin of Shadows.

Despite being a fan of the Persona 3 video game I found this movie a little dull. I guess that can’t be helped because it is the first part of a four film series. As a result what we get is mostly setup. Many of the game’s notable villains have yet to make an appearance and my favourite robot waifu Aigis is limited to a post credits teaser. On the plus side the soundtrack is top notch, borrowing several of the RPG’s catchy tunes. The production values are also impressive, boasting great artwork and animation. On the visual side of things I liked the eerie green hue that colours the environment during the Dark Hour segments. Replacing black with jade makes the action easier to see. Usually when watching an anime set at night I can’t follow what is going on unless I crank up the contrast ratio.

VERDICT

My rating for Persona 3 The Movie: #1 Spring of Birth is a two out of five. Overall I thought the movie was mediocre, which will leave anyone unfamiliar with the JRPG wondering why the source material is so highly lauded. Some fans may appreciate an abridged version of Persona 3 that can be consumed without replaying an eighty-hour epic, but I personally was disappointed with the end product. Condensing a lengthy game into a ninety-minute feature meant that sacrifices had to be made. On a regular basis the narrative jumps ahead several days, so I don’t hold much hope that the game’s enjoyable side quests will get much coverage in this adaptation. After a while I began to lose interest and by the end I started to nod off on my comfy sofa.

Hopefully things will pick up in the sequels. One positive about this slow start is that it will deter impressionable youngsters from watching the film. That’s a good thing because we don’t want kids mimicking Makoto and chums by blowing their brains out. In case you didn’t know summoning Personas involves putting a pistol shaped evoker to your temple and pulling the trigger! That’s just asking for trouble. Whoever came up with the crazy idea of shooting yourself with a gun deserves to be “fired.”

Given how enjoyable Persona 4: The Animation was I cannot help but wonder if Persona 3 would have worked better as a series. This flick even feels like three episodes stuck together. Makoto transferring to a new school and awakening his powers could have been the first episode. Episode two could have been the part where jealous Junpei Iori tries to prove that he is Makoto’s equal by rushing into a haunted train. The finale, were SEES enter Tartarus to save a girl who has been trapped there by her classmates, could have been episode three. Wow, Japanese students are cruel. During my school days I was the victim of insults and physical abuse, but no one ever locked me inside a spooky tower. People who toss innocents into a ghost filled structure are the worst kind of boo-lies… um bullies.