Review of The Woman Called Fujiko Mine

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The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is a spin-off series based on the Lupin the Third franchise, which has being going strong since the late sixties when it started life as a manga comic book. The vastly popular Lupin saga, which stars the grandson of a famous French gentleman thief, has been adapted into various animes and a number of animated movies (such as The Castle of Cagliostro, directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki.) As the title suggests, this Manga Entertainment release focuses on Lupin’s love interest Fujiko Mine, the seductive lady looter who isn’t shy about using her feminine wiles to profit from heists.

In a manner of speaking this thirteen episode series is a prequel given how it chronicles Fujiko’s first meeting with Lupin along with other notable characters such as Goemon Ishikawa and Daisuke Jigen. The first episode for example deals with how Lupin and Fujiko began their friendly rivalry, as they compete against each other to nab narcotics stored on an island belonging to a religious cult. In case you’re wondering, Fujiko’s inaugural encounter with the sharpshooter Daisuke happens when she is forced to pilfer his handgun after losing a bet to a casino owner. Goemon the samurai on the other hand first bumps into Fujiko, who is masquerading as a teacher, when he boards a train during an assassination mission.

From what I understand the vintage Lupin shows were light-hearted affairs, but in the case of Fujiko Mine the tone has shifted to something darker. The two-disc set I am reviewing includes tales that involve drug use, slavery, murder, the indoctrination of minors and plenty of fornication (nothing explicit though as the series carries a fifteen age rating.) Some fans may not care for this change in direction, which at first glance may seem like turning something dark because that is what is considered cool these days, but from what I understand the show’s style is more consistent with the original source material (that was later kiddie-fied when turned into a cartoon.)

Most of the episodes are one off episodic affairs were Fujiko is engaged in thievery. Some notable examples include a tale that draws inspiration from The Phantom of the Opera, an Indiana Jones style treasure hunt within the confines of a pyramid and a story loosely based on the Cuban missile crisis. The early episodes were amongst my favourites, as I didn’t care for the twist that happens later on, culminating in a bizarre finale that delves into Fujiko’s origins. Any discontent I may have were however quelled by decent action scenes and the main character’s bouts of stripping. If cartoon nipples are your thing this is the show for you.

Overall I would give The Woman Called Fujiko Mine a rating of four stars (that’s the series not the female lol.) It was an entertaining show, although I cannot help but wonder if the creators would have been better served by delivering a regular Lupin series. Fujiko may be easy on the eyes, but as a protagonist she isn’t as likable as Lupin. Sure Lupin is a thief, but at least he has a code of honour, takes down crooks and seems to partake in robberies mainly as a means of testing his skills. Fujiko’s motives on the other hand are rooted in greed. When in danger she has no qualms about killing and she isn’t exactly the classiest of dames, given how she uses sex as a weapon irrespective of her target’s gender or age.

In terms of presentation the series is blessed with a stylish look that uses chalk lines, mimicking the sketchy shading you would find in classic mangas. Audio wise I thought the English dub was solid. The jazzy soundtrack comes courtesy of Cowboy Bebop’s Shinichiro Watanabe, although the show itself doesn’t have an opening theme. Instead they opted to go with some narration playing over clips of Fujiko prancing about in the buff. If they ever make another series I hope Fujiko decides to rob a new bra for herself. The excessive shots of areolas tested even my high tolerance for fan service.

Prison time for watching anime?

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I read over in Metro that the UK is set to introduce a law, carrying a three-year prison sentence, for anyone possessing images of rape. The kicker is that the ban includes simulated clips (e.g. scenes played out by actors.) This had me thinking, what impact would this legislation have on what anime shows get released? Off the top of my head I can say I have watched Berserk, Blood Plus and RIN – Daughters of Mnemosyne, which all contain content that theoretically would be outlawed now.

The thing with laws like these is that anyone opposing them will be branded as a heartless monster or pervert. If you analyse the reasoning behind the law however I cannot find any logic to it. Prime minister David Cameron argues that such images normalise sexual abuse. Why aren’t we banning all Hollywood action movies for normalizing violence then? One things for sure, we will need to build more prisons to house those sinners who purchase stuff off the Manga Gamer adult store!

Review of Tales of Xillia (PS3)

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Tales of Xillia is the latest game from the popular Tales series, which has been kicking about since the mid-nineties when it made its debut on the Super Nintendo. As far as RPG franchises go the Tales games don’t have the clout of Final Fantasy, but a vocal fan base has gradually convinced Namco Bandai to release more of its titles over here in the west. Xillia became available to buy in Europe back in August 2013 (two years after its Japanese release) and anyone who enjoys it will be pleased to learn that its direct sequel is scheduled to get a localisation sometime in 2014.

STORY

Xillia takes place in the world of Rieze Maxia were humans power their technology via a symbiotic relationship with spirits. The game’s leading characters are a Kung Fu fighting medical student named Jude and Milla the boobilicious Lord of Spirits. The two meet one day when Milla infiltrates a research facility with the aims of sabotaging the Lance of Kresnik (a spirit guzzling cannon) that is housed there. Things don’t go as planned however forcing the pair to retreat after the aforementioned lance drains Milla’s powers. Players must then lead the protagonists on their quest to prevent the Lance’s misuse, which could trigger a world war, in an adventure that spans across parallel worlds.

Along the way Jude and Milla join forces with a bunch of other heroes, forming a balanced party of playable characters. The first of these is the pistol totting mercenary Alvin. How this treacherous gun for hire doesn’t kicked out of the group is beyond me, as he has a reputation for openly betraying allies. Next up is the spunky staff-wielding nurse Leia who has had a crush on Jude since childhood (awww.) As someone who likes little girls (okay that came out wrong) my favourite character is the adorable spell caster named Elize. Although she is shy her lack of speech is balanced out by her floating mascot Teepo, the comic relief who is blessed with the gift of the gab. Rounding off the party is Rowen an elderly butler who used to be an accomplished tactician.

GAMEPLAY

In terms of game play, based on my limited experience of the Tales games, Xillia’s combat system feels much like the earlier entries in the series. Unlike Final Fantasy, which alienates fans by constantly reinventing itself, Namco knows what its buyers like and makes sure not to deviate from it. Walking into enemies on the field triggers battles where your playable character and up to three A.I controlled allies are plonked onto a small battle arena. From there you get to use the face buttons to execute various attacks, in real time, with your computer controlled partners following whatever tactics you set for them in the strategy menu.

Assaults with regular attacks costs AC, which replenishes over time whilst performing special skills requires technical points, which can be recharged by hitting enemies or using restorative items. Xillia also introduces a link system that allows two characters to team up in combat, granting them bonuses and allowing them to perform combo arts. To be honest, as someone who prefers turn based combat, I had a tough time getting to grips with Xillia’s battle mechanics, so I just turned down the difficulty and button bashed my way to victory. Anyone willing to master the combat system will however be treated to a fast paced, yet tactical, experience that rewards players for cleverly countering attacks, exploiting elemental weaknesses and juggling foes in the air.

Outside of combat players are able to customize both their party’s gear and how their fighters develop. As Jude and Milla trek across the land they will pick up items, from defeated foes or harvested from the land, that can be donated to stores in order to unlock more powerful weapons and armour. Winning battles on the other hand allows the group to level up, earning them points that can be used to activate nodes on a web shaped sphere grid that bestows characters with new skills and boosts to their attributes. Who says you have to study hard to get smart? In RPGs murdering crabs is a perfectively viable way of raising ones intelligence.

SUMMARY

All things considered I think Tales of Xillia deserves a score of five stars out of five. Thinking back at the games released during the Playstation 3’s life cycle I would have to rank it as one of the better RPGs to come out on the system. Some diehard Tales fans may accuse it of being more linear than other games in the series, but it can’t be doing too many things wrong as I played it through to completion, a first for me as far as Tales games go. Even if Xillia is fairly short, when compared to other Tales games, there is some replay value to be had. The game sports a new game plus mode and upon starting your adventure you need to select whether to focus the story on Jude or Milla. To see everything the game has to offer you’ll therefore have to play through the story twice to experience both paths.

Graphically, Xillia opts for anime visuals to bring its world to life. I like the character designs and the animated clips that play during key events, although the in game graphics aren’t quite as impressive as other titles on the market. Story wise Xillia’s narrative is your usual JRPG fare, but it never gets dull thanks to the enjoyable cut scenes you are treated to during your journey. These sequences are a joy to watch as they flesh out the cast with comedic banter, insights into their back-story and even their culinary opinions on the meals they recently consumed. If you are interested in trying out a Tales game I can highly recommend Tales of Xillia. It ticks all the right role-playing boxes and as I jumping on point for newcomers I would have to say it is the most accessible Tales game I have played to date.

Persona 5 announced

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Atlus have finally announced the release of the long awaited Persona 5, but despite being a fan of the series I am far from elated. The game is slated to come out in Japan at the tail end of 2014, so who knows how long western gamers will have to wait for a translated version. Perplexingly the game is scheduled to be a PS3 title, coming out a year into the PS4’s lifecycle. One can only imagine that consumers will have already transitioned over to Sony’s new machine by the time the game hits our stores.

Maybe I am just being paranoid, but this news has me worried. Given that Atlus’ new owners (Sega) are wary of releasing unprofitable games over here, I fear that releasing Persona on an obsolete system could deny us future instalments. Take Valkyria Chronicles 3 for example. The third game of Sega’s anime themed tactical RPG never got localised after sales were hurt by the decision to transfer the series over from the PS3 to the less popular PSP.

On the plus side Persona fans have a slew of other titles to look forward to. The cutesy dungeon crawler Persona Q, featuring characters from P3 and P4, is set to come out on the 3DS. There’s also an upcoming Persona dancing game for the Vita (yawn) along with a new Persona brawler, which looks like a minor Persona 4 Arena update featuring a few more characters. Persona adopting the Street Fighter model? I thought Atlus had been bought out by Sega not Capcom!

Review of Kenichi the Mightiest Disciple

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Bullies can make the life of an average student a living hell. What can a weakling high schooler do against such thugs? Well if you are me you can flee in terror, become a social recluse and stay indoors playing video games (where you can safely live out the digital fantasy of pummelling any hoodlums who give you trouble.) Thankfully the titular protagonist of Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple decides to take a more proactive approach concerning the tormentors based at his after school karate club. Kenichi challenges the bullies to a duel, but to avoid the pounding of a lifetime he’ll have to toughen up first.

With that in mind Kenichi enrols at the Ryozanpaku Dojo, partially to learn some fighting moves from the dojo’s instructors (and partially to get closer to the hot transfer student who happens to reside there.) As the old adage goes – no pain no gain. The gruelling workouts Kenichi is subjected to make a beat down by bullies seem like a tickle fest in comparison. Thankfully the training regime yields results, with Kenichi emerging victorious when he eventually clashes with the muscle heads giving him aggro. Unfortunately things spiral out of control from there when schoolyard rumours begin to circulate proclaiming that Kenichi is now a badass. The gossip reaches the ears of a street gang that decides that Kenichi should join their ranks and they are unwilling to take no for an answer.

Collection one of Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple contains a whopping twenty-six episodes, spread across four DVDs. The set follows Kenichi as he squares off against the Eight Fists of Ragnarok gang, who he normally vanquishes using a new technique he conveniently learned earlier on in the episode. As to be expected, from a show marketed at male teens, the stories aren’t exactly deep focusing instead on action. There’s little in the way of character growth, despite claims by the cast that Kenichi has matured ever since he began to receive coaching. In my eyes he remains a snivelling coward by the time episode twenty-six rolls along, although he does manage to temporarily overcome his fears whenever delinquents target his friends.

What makes Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple more watchable than other similar shows would have to be the comedy. This normally comes in the form of the torturous exercises Kenichi is forced to endure, along with the series’ colourful cast of characters. Kenichi’s various masters are an odd bunch that include a pervert who specializes in Chinese martial arts and a Thai kick boxer who is unable to show any restraint (often resulting in poor Kenichi being launched up into the stratosphere by a furious uppercut whenever the two spar.) Other minor characters that made me chuckle include Kenichi’s manipulative classmate Haruo who looks like the devil due to his forked tongue and pointed ears. I also laughed whenever Kenichi’s old man was on screen. He has a habit of transforming from a gentleman to a gun-totting loon (who has christened his shotgun Sebastian.)

As far as a rating goes I would give Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple four stars. Even if it isn’t anything out of this world I found it to be more fun than your typical shonen show as it doesn’t treat itself too seriously. In terms of weaknesses the only things I disliked would have to be Kenichi’s whinging, which can get annoying at times, and the series’ visual look. Like with many long running animes the budget gets stretched thin resulting in some animation shortcuts (such as an over use of still images) and some parts were the quality of the artwork noticeably dips. Even so I think Kenichi is worth watching for anyone who appreciates over the top martial arts action or comedic high school capers. It’s recommended viewing for days when you cut yourself away from human contact and stay at home to avoid those meanies from school (insert painful high school flashbacks.)

Review of Rosario + Vampire

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There was once a time when vampires were synonymous with horror. All that changed however when a talentless hack, known as Stephenie Meyer, unleashed the literary plague that is Twilight upon bookstores across the globe. These days bloodsuckers are associated with romance as much as they are with terror (although nosferatu continue to instill fear in males, if only due to the risk that their girlfriends will force them to watch Breaking Dawn.) It appears that the undead love contagion has spread to Japan, because Rosario + Vampire revolves around a young human and vampire couple who have the hots for each other. Thankfully, thanks to some shameless fan service and a smattering of comedy, it’s actually entertaining (eat your heart out Ed and Bella.)

STORY

Tsukune Aono is not a happy chap. After failing his high school entrance exams he is forced to enroll at Yokai Academy rather than waste a year before he can re-sit the pertinent papers. Ah well, it could be worse; I ended up at the less than prestigious Anglia Polytechnic University after flunking my A-Levels. That said, aside from dodgy canteen food, my life wasn’t at risk at APU. For those not fluent in Japanese, Yokai is another word for monster and as it transpires the student body of said school is made up of creatures learning how to masquerade as humans to mingle in the real world.

Once it dawns on Tsukune what a fine mess he’s gotten himself into, dropping out and waiting a year to find another school suddenly seems like a good idea. Unfortunately for him his only escape is a bus that visits campus once a month. He’ll have to keep a low profile and try to survive until then, hoping that no one notices he is in fact a human and not a monster in disguise. Still things could be worse. On his first day he becomes close friends with a gorgeous vampire named Moka Akashiya. Moka is smitten with Tsukune as she’s never encountered anyone who wants to be pals with a scary vampire. Her fondness for him is further enhanced by his tasty blood which she cannot resist sampling via some playful nibbling of his neck.

Potential risk of anemia aside, Tsukune actually settles down well in Yokai Academy and decides to stay after making a number of friends. He joins the school’s newspaper club whose members include Moka and a bunch of other cute girls who are clamoring for his affections (I guess dweebs are popular with monsters of the opposite sex.) Tsukune is able to mingle with his monstrous classmates, as pupils have to adopt the appearance of humans, given that revealing your monster form on school grounds is forbidden. Near the end of the series however the disciplinary committee gets whiff that Tsukune is an outsider from the human world. If his identity gets exposed the punishment will be death. Gripes that’s way harsher than the detention I used to get for not doing my homework.

CHARACTERS

As with most harem leads, Tsukune is a bit of a loser. That character archetype is to be expected in a show like this otherwise the comedy wouldn’t work. Half the fun is seeing him get flustered when girls throw themselves upon him, as opposed to making out with them which most guys would do if given the chance. His personality makes sense given the situation he is in. Not only is he a poor student struggling to adapt to high school life, but he is naturally skittish around his class mates – given that most of them would gobble him up if they found out he is human. One thing in Tsukune’s favour is his caring personality. His sympathy for others is what turns a number of gals giving him grief in the early episodes into his biggest admirers.

Although numerous girls would love to get into Tsukune’s pants, it’s pretty clear that Moka is his main squeeze. She’s normally a sweet and innocent pink haired lass that melts your heart. When the rosary around her neck is removed however her dark side is unleashed. She transforms into a silver haired vampire who literally kicks arse. Most of the episodes in this season one box set revolve around a student (or member of faculty) giving Tsukune agro. Inevitably things get out of hand and the antagonist gets dispatched by Moka pulling off moves that would put Bruce Lee to shame. When the dust settles a talking bat appears (who also acts as the show’s narrator) declaring how many seconds the episode’s fight lasted followed by the ending credits shortly thereafter.

If vampires aren’t your thing the show has you covered with three other girls catering to the tastes of your typical anime viewer. First up is Kurumu the succubus who is blessed with the oversized boobs Japanese cartoons are infamous for. Out of all the girls she’s the most forthright in trying to seduce Tsukune, be it with her hypnotic eyes or erm other assets. The lolita quota is satisfied by Yukari, an underage witch who has been skipped ahead a few school years thanks to her genius intellect. A lot of jokes have her bickering with Kurumu, who teases her for having a flat chest. Finally for those who like silent chicks (I’m guessing most married men lumbered with nagging wives lol) there’s Mizore the ice demon. She has a reputation for being a stalker which leads to gags were she startles people by appearing out of nowhere (such as behind a tree or even under a table.)

SUMMARY

Rosario + Vampire ended up being a pleasant surprise. It was a show I had avoided, as I mistook it for a romance series, but as it turns out the focus is squarely on the comedy. Whenever things turn mushy it gets played for laughs such as the recurring theme of Moka/Tsukune getting interrupted whenever they gaze lovingly into each others eyes (complete with a cheesy romantic tune in the background) and scenes were the girls feud over who should hook up with Tsukune. I find some harem shows get annoying as all you get is the girls chasing after one guy, but thankfully Rosario + Vampire doesn’t overdo that particular routine. It even adds some limited action to the mix. Normally the fights are restricted to a couple of minutes per episode, but towards the tail end of the series you get extended scenes were the cast get to utilize their super powered combat skills.

In terms of sound the voice cast did a good job and the soundtrack is catchy, if you like J-Pop. I was less impressed by needless singing during some episodes though. It just seemed like a short music video was injected to pad out a thin plot. Visually speaking this is a good looking show, which will have pervs drooling over the gorgeous character designs that fall victim to gratuitous panty shots. It’s a shame however that the animation quality dips in parts. You can tell the artists took shortcuts with certain backgrounds and the lack of effort put into drawing some of the subsidiary monsters. One of the worst offenders was episode ten during an action packed duel featuring a witch named Ruby. The art style was all over the place so even my untrained eye noted inconsistencies in how the characters were drawn from scene to scene. Those segments felt like something you would see in a nineties or older cartoon, not something made post the year 2000.

There’s nothing particularly original about Rosario + Vampire, but I enjoyed it all the same. Due to the episodic nature of the series and its repetitive gags it’s not something I would advise marathoning in one go, but it’s fun to experience in short bursts (maybe one or two episodes a night.) As far as comedies go I would give it four stars. I think it would be unfair to judge it as anything deeper than a sitcom given how wafer thin the plot is, content to stay within the realm of supernatural high school hijinks. There’s no character development to speak of and with the exception of the last few episodes there isn’t an overarching storyline. No story and weak character development? I guess this anime does share some similarities with Twilight… thankfully it doesn’t suck (well apart from what Moka does to Tsukune’s blood.)

Review of Kirby’s Adventure (Wii)

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It’s funny how things turn out. Gamers haven’t seen the cute and cuddly Kirby on a main Nintendo console since the N64 days. Fans of HAL Laboratory’s puff ball have had to content themselves with his handheld exploits in recent years, but I am pleased to report that the drought of Kirby console games has now come to an end. With the Wii reaching the climax of its life cycle we get treated to two Kirby titles within the space of a few months. Earlier in the year we had the excellent Kirby’s Epic Yarn which had Kirby whipping enemies in a fabric themed world. Kirby’s Adventure Wii follows hot on its heels returning to the more traditional Kirby gameplay of gobbling up enemies and absorbing their powers. Eager to have an excuse to turn on my neglected Wii I snapped up the title on its release. Let us see what I made of it.

STORY

The game sees Kirby helping out an alien named Magolor who has crash landed on Dream Land. Being the kind hearted chap that he is Kirby agrees to travel from region to region collecting parts of Magolor’s broken spacecraft so the vehicle can be patched together. Around the midway point of the game Kirby succeeds in the task and is rewarded for his good deeds. Magolor takes Kirby over to his home world, but the trip is cut short when they come across a nasty four headed dragon named Landia who they must battle. By Kirby standards the story is decent. Sure the plot is a little cliché, but considering that the series is aimed at youngsters I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare. Besides the creators don’t have much to play with when drumming up a tale given that the protagonist’s vocabulary is restricted to a few cute sound bites.

PRESENTATION

Although the graphic design of the game isn’t as clever as Epic Yarn, from the traditional Kirby games I would have to say that this is the best looking title in the series. The visuals won’t blow you away, given that the Wii is only a suped up Gamecube lacking HD support, but what we get looks nice, colourful and moves along smoothly. The soundtrack however was a little disappointing when compared to the high standards set by other Kirby games. We get remixes of some well known Kirby songs which are okay, but the new tunes they introduced didn’t wow me. They are competently put together and easy on the ear, but none of them stood out like the upbeat pieces we have been spoiled by in the past. It does feel like the creators rested on their laurels by playing things safe with the score.

GAMEPLAY

Kirby’s Adventure is your typical platformer which has Kirby going through a number of areas broken down into stages which you ultimately clear by defeating a boss. To deal with enemies Kirby doesn’t jump on them like Mario, but instead uses his inhalation powers to gobble up foes. Any bad guys in Kirby’s mouth can be spat out to hit monsters from a distance or you can swallow them to absorb their powers. There’s over twenty powers Kirby can mimic and the game includes most of the popular ones such as the sword, beam attack and rock transformation. Amongst the selection of powers there are a few new abilities to try out such as a whip, spear, leaf and water.

During his travels Kirby will sometimes come across sparkling enemies (not to be confused with Twilight vampires) which if eaten will endow him with a special power for a limited period of time. The special powers he acquires are juiced up versions of the regular abilities he gets and you will be using them to uncover hidden zones. Wrecking the area with a giant sword, magical sphere or waves of fiery dragons was pretty spectacular at first, but after a few goes I did find the powers to be a bit clunky to use. Every time you perform one of the flashy attacks the screen freezes for a few seconds as the animation plays out. I think I preferred the transformations we got in Epic Yarn over the super powers as the constant stop/start did interrupt the flow of the game.

One of the title’s main selling points would have to be that it supports four player co-op. Anyone who has played a multiplayer Kirby game, such as Kirby Superstar on the Super Nintendo, can testify as to how much fun playing with a buddy can be. Aside from Kirby other players can control the likes of King Dedede (a duck with a big ass hammer) his spear wielding henchman Waddle Dee or the sword user Meta Knight (he can fly with wings so I guess he is a fan of Red Bull.) Working together against the enemies is a blast and gives you a few extra options such as team attacks or the ability to heal injured allies by erm kissing them. Gripes it does seem a tad risqué of Nintendo to have a game were male characters lock lips. Ah well what did you expect from a “fabulous” game featuring rainbows and a pink hero.

SUMMARY

As a Kirby fan I loved Kirby’s Adventure Wii as much as Epic Yarn. If you are an older gamer seeking a new platformer for the Wii you really should check it out although be aware that the game is pretty easy and not all that long. Renting could well be an option if you are only interested in playing through the story as the adventure only lasts for around eight hours. There is however some replay value to be had because upon completing the game you unlock a hard mode to tackle and the arena where you take on the bosses in a series of fights. You can also revisit completed stages to find hidden gears which are needed to unlock all of the game’s optional content.

I especially liked that you could play Kirby’s Adventure with traditional controls by holding the wii-mote like a NES controller. Needless motion controls are restricted to shaking the wii-mote on a few rare occasions and for the mini games. Releasing Kirby’s Adventure Wii late in November 2012 was a good idea by Nintendo as it made a good Christmas gift. Cynical teenagers may scoff at the cute graphics, but if you have a couple of kids aged ten or so I would imagine that they would love playing this. Let them save Dreamland in a game suitable for all ages whilst the grown ups gobble up the turkey putting Kirby’s gluttonous ways to shame.