The Case of Hana & Alice Review

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One thing you cannot accuse director Shunji Iwai of is rushing out a follow-up flick to capitalize on the popularity of the original. Take the Case of Hana & Alice for example. This animated feature is a prequel to a live action movie that came out way back in 2004. Over the course of one hundred minutes it regales us with a tale, which explains how the titular pair went from being frosty neighbours to the best of friends. Man, how I wish I could be Hana. Then I would have an excuse for uttering the immortal line “I’ve been living next door to Alice… Alice? Who the fuck is Alice?”

OVERVIEW

In case you are wondering who the F-word Alice is, Tetsuko “Alice” Arisugawa happens to be a transfer student. She has relocated to a new town after her parents got divorced (fact of the day, Japan has a divorce rate of 36% whilst in the States over 50% of marriages end with a breakup.) Anyways, Alice’s first day at school doesn’t go well because she elected to sit at the cursed desk situated in the middle of her classroom. See kids, this is why all your anime heroes always choose the vacant spot next to the window. Thankfully for Alice the place where she parked her posterior doesn’t doom her to a life of misery. A fellow pupil named Mutsu cleanses Alice’s soul with an exorcism. After a rocky start Alice is welcomed to the fold and becomes a prominent member of the local track team.

Curious if the desk is genuinely jinxed or if the whole thing is just one big urban legend, Alice decides to investigate the curse’s origins. Her sleuthing uncovers that a chap named Kotaro Yuda, who was allegedly murdered by a jealous lover, used the furniture in question years ago. Wow, given the nation’s high divorce rate and how violent ex-girlfriends can be I am starting to realize that being single isn’t all that bad. Anyways, as luck would have it Alice’s neighbour Hana used to sit right behind Yuda in class. When the two meet however Hana is unable to confirm if Yuda is deceased. In order to determine the truth our young heroines concoct a plan to stalk Yuda’s father at work, hoping that observing his movements will reveal if his son still resides in the world of the living.

VERDICT

My rating for The Case of Hana & Alice is four stars. It’s an ideal film to watch whenever you need a pick me up. The early scenes have the serene quality found in slice of life shows and later, when things liven up, viewers are treated to moments of amusing calamity that are sure to elicit a smile. It’s neat how animation has allowed the original film’s stars to play younger versions of their characters, even if they are now thirteen years older. Alice is the better adjusted of the two and quickly acclimatizes to life in a new school. Not even bullies of the opposite gender can stand in her way. Hana is more brainy, but lacking in social skills. A prank that went awry has turned her into a recluse, although its hinted that she’s never excelled at mingling with others. For heaven’s sake, she thinks gifting a marriage licence to a guy on Valentines Day is romantic. Take it from me Hana; blokes will pick chocolate over commitment any time.

As someone who has not watched the 2004 Hana & Alice, I can’t say if the events of this prequel enrich the live action film’s content. What I can attest to however is that the movie works just fine as a standalone feature. I can highly recommend checking it out, even if the visuals may not be to everyone’s taste. Just like Flowers of Evil, rotoscope techniques were used to bring Hana & Alice to life. Many critics have complained that anime made from tracing live action footage doesn’t looks right, but to be honest I didn’t have any problems with the film’s aesthetics. Given the choice, I’d pick a rotoscope anime over one featuring crude CG any day. A rotoscope Alice dancing ballet is far more artistic than the abominations you can witness in the new Berserk or the PS2 level graphics found in Appleseed XIII.

Power Rangers: Mega Battle Review

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It seems like a Power Rangers resurgence is on the cards with a new movie slated to come out late in March. I don’t care one iota though because throughout my teenage years I boycotted the original TV series. During that phase of my life I felt I was too “mature” to watch children’s programming. Well, that opinion didn’t last long after I discovered how awesome the nineties X-Men cartoon was. I wonder what my younger self would think about me watching Japanese animation at the tender age of thirty-six. Anyways, despite my lack of passion for Americanized Super Sentai shows I downloaded Saban’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Mega Battle for the PS4. When it comes to 2D beat-em-ups I’m not particular whom you play as, whether its teens with attitude or a Double Dragon named Bimmy Lee.

OVERVIEW

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Mega Battle is a side-scrolling brawler starring the inaugural Rangers lineup. The five spandex wearing heroes need to protect Earth from Rita Repulsa, who has recently been freed from a lunar trashcan. Over the course of six levels, players will have to fight off an army of Putty Patrollers, Lord Zedd and Harambe with wings… um I mean Goldar. Like most games in the genre, you travel from left to right smacking any enemies that get in your way. Pressing square unleashes a light attack whilst triangle performs a weapon-assisted swipe that deals more damage. Circle fires off a projectile, provided that you have sufficient energy stored up. On the defensive side of things it’s possible to evade harm by leaping out of the way with X, blocking with L1 or tapping the right stick to roll.

The combat is easy to learn, but will require more than mere button bashing to succeed as each adversary possesses their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Flying kicks for example are required to shatter the protective barriers surrounding knights, whilst the horned brutes are only vulnerable when they perform a charge attack. Defeated foes drop luminescent globes that award experience points. Once sufficient XP has been accumulated the Ranger under your command levels up, allowing them to unlock new combos and increase their attributes. Thanks Zordon, those upgrades are a big help. I am so appreciative that I’ll forgive how politically incorrect you are. Seriously how did he get away with making the Black Ranger an African American and the Yellow Ranger an Asian girl?

VERDICT

My rating for Saban’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Mega Battle is a two and a half out of five. It’s a perfectively serviceable fighting game, which I enjoyed for the few hours it lasted. Now that I have finished the story however I have no inkling to replay it or challenge the Boss Rush/Rita’s Tower modes located in the extras menu. Perhaps the game would have more staying power if I could partake in some multiplayer sessions, but unfortunately for me co-op is strictly a local only affair. If your multiplayer cannot be enjoyed online I refuse to play it. Sure, I could probably coerce some buddies into playing Power Rangers if I bribed them with free beer. That would however involve inviting them over to my residence, which isn’t happening. Explaining my secret collection of anime body pillows to visitors would be most embarrassing.

Some critics have complained that Power Rangers’ graphics are weak because they resemble the visuals of a glorified Flash game. Although those claims aren’t untrue, I am okay with the cartoony aesthetics because they suit the franchise’s campy nature. One complaint that is valid however is how underwhelming the game’s giant monster battles are. The titanic tussles between Rita’s Godzilla rejects and the Megazord are settled via simplistic quick time events, which lack any semblance of challenge or strategy. I think the TV show’s iconic mech scenes deserve better than sequences were you tap along to a series of onscreen prompts. QTEs aren’t fun and the button bashing causes my arthritis to flare up. Ouch my fingers are sore now. Guess I’ll have to take something for the pain… its Morphine Time!

My Top 3 Final Fantasy Games

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The Shameful Narcissist is currently running a poll asking readers to vote for the best Final Fantasy game of all time. As a response to that post I have decided to jot down my three favourite RPGs from Square-Enix’s legendary series. Just missing the cut are Final Fantasy 8 and Final Fantasy 14. Eight was a great game although the system of drawing magic from enemies, to boost stats, was far too easy to exploit. Fourteen deserves praise, as Square managed to salvage the game after a terrible launch. At the time of writing FF14 is one of the better MMOs money can buy… and I am not just saying that because the servers are populated with cat girls.

3rd) Final Fantasy 10: For many people this was the last great Final Fantasy game. It’s the title that convinced me to buy a PlayStation 2, which was the first console I ever purchased (all of my other systems were gifts from relatives.) Tidus wasn’t the greatest protagonist perhaps, but the rest of the cast was cool – particularly badass Auron. Aside from the story itself I sunk many hours into Blitzball, because I am a sucker for sport management sims. Heck, when I rebought FF10 for the Vita I never beat the last boss. Screw saving the world, I just want to grind for cash so I can play season after season of underwater soccer.

2nd Final Fantasy 6: Also known as Final Fantasy 3 in the States, as some of the earlier FF games weren’t localized (or perhaps because Yanks can’t count.) Final Fantasy 6 took a while to win me over. I originally played it on an SNES emulator and gave up on it after a few hours. Years later I gave the game another chance on the PlayStation One and got hooked once the ability to customize what spells your party can cast became available. It’s impressive how many playable characters you can recruit when you consider the game’s age. Easily the best of the retro Final Fantasies in terms of gameplay, story and quotable lines. If you think otherwise you must be more insane than a spoony bard.

1st) Final Fantasy 9: The top spot goes to the game that got me into the RPG genre. It’s one of my favourite games of all time thanks to its beautiful soundtrack and memorable cast of characters. Steiner the bumbling knight, Zidane the rogue with a Goku like monkey tail and Vivi the adorable black mage. If you don’t like Vivi you don’t have a soul. They just don’t make Final Fantasy games like this anymore. Now all Square cares about is fast paced combat, sci-fi worlds and photorealistic graphics. It’s technically impressive, but lacks the charm of FF9’s four man parties, medieval setting and chibi character designs. Modern day Final Fantasy has forsaken me, so I’ll have to rely on Bravely Default instead to satiate my hunger for traditional turn based RPG goodness.

So there you have it. Those are my three favourite Final Fantasy titles. Feel free to list your own picks in the comments section below. I look forward to reading how my opinions are wrong, just because I omitted a certain release that features a spikey haired cross-dresser and a flower girl slayer with mommy issues.

Review of X-Men: Apocalypse

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X-Men: Apocalypse is a superhero period piece set in the early eighties. Sounds like a dream come true if you are a mid-thirties comic book geek. Not only does the film feature an abundance of Marvel characters, but you also get a slew of nostalgic references such as Pac-Man and Knight Rider playing on the telly. Taking place several years after Days of Future Past, we get to see how Charles Xavier has converted his mansion home into a school that tutors young mutants. Meanwhile his old pal Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) is lying low in Poland, hoping to avoid retribution for his past misdeeds. Unfortunately for Magneto his hopes of starting a new life are wrecked when the police murder his wife and daughter. Convinced once again that mutants and humans cannot live in peace he joins forces with a group who are plotting to unleash an apocalypse upon mankind.

OVERVIEW

For those of you not acquainted with Marvel comic lore, Apocalypse is the super-villain name of En Sabah Nur – the world’s first mutant. Although the history books won’t tell you this, he ruled ancient Egypt until his followers rebelled and locked him away in a tomb. After a lengthy slumber (even longer than my naps after a wild Friday night) he awakens in the 1980s. Motivated to reclaim his throne, Apocalypse plans to cause a massive natural disaster that will eradicate most life on Earth. From the ashes he can then rebuild his kingdom using any survivors who swear allegiance to him. Apocalypse recruits four horsemen to aid him with his endeavour, whose ranks include Erik the master of magnetism, Storm who can control the weather, a flying pit-fighter named Angel and sexy psychic ninja Psylocke.

20th Century Fox do not own the Avengers rights so it falls on the X-Men to save Earth from peril. The team includes some familiar faces including furry genius Beast. Mystique also returns to help her former rivals against a common foe. A bored looking Jennifer Lawrence plays the character. Jen, if you feel action flicks are beneath you please piss off. You aren’t all that great and Rebecca Romijn looked far hotter in the blue makeup. Anyways, complimenting the old guard are some new fledgling X-Men who I presume are being groomed to front future films. The trio of heroes in training consist of Havoc’s brother Cyclops, German teleporter Nightcrawler and redhead telepath Jean Grey. All of them fear the powers they have been born with, but will need to embrace those gifts if they are to protect the world.

VERDICT

My rating for X-Men: Apocalypse is three and a half stars. Overall it was much better than the reviews I have read suggested. X-Men: Apocalypse may not be a top tier superhero film, but it’s far superior to X3: The Last Stand. I liked how menacing Apocalypse is. Despite being powerful enough to defeat the X-Men singlehandedly, he prefers instead to coerce others to do his bidding. Sadly positioning Apocalypse as chief antagonist relegates Magneto to the role of lackey. A bit of a waste, as Michael Fassbender’s take on the character is superb. Fox Studios should resurrect the idea of giving Magneto his own solo film. He’d make for a more compelling anti-hero than the overexposed Wolverine. If you can’t get enough of Hugh Jackman don’t worry though because he makes a non-speaking cameo appearance in one scene.

X-Men: Apocalypse’s biggest fault would have to be that it falls into the trap of throwing too many characters into the mix. The end result is insufficient time to develop any of the new faces, even if the film runs for over two hours. I personally think X-Men works best when you focus on a core group and their relationships with each other. Spectacular visuals do however disguise the lack of depth. For the second successive film Quicksilver steals the show with a fleet of foot rescue. The sequence where he dashes into a burning building is worth the price of admission alone. Bryan Singer has done a commendable job adapting X-Men for the big screen. Even if the movies aren’t flawless they handle the source material better than Fantastic Four’s live action efforts. Someone should sue the filmmakers for false advertising. The 2015 FF was anything but fantastic.

Review of Star Trek Beyond

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Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Star Trek franchise. It’s continuing mission to explore if the rebooted universe still has legs. To seek out if there is life after the disappointing Into Darkness. To boldly go where… yada, yada – you get the gist. It’s time to review the thirteenth film in everyone’s favourite sci-fi series. Will thirteen prove to be an unlucky number for Trekkies? Let’s hope not because I have enjoyed the Chris Pine fronted flicks, even if the last film didn’t get much praise. To avoid another backlash, this time round we get a brand new adventure rather than a rehash of past ideas. Funny man Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty) contributed to the script, as evidenced by the hilarious opener were Captain Kirk’s diplomatic mission goes awry.

OVERVIEW

Star Trek Beyond begins like many episodes of the classic TV show. The Enterprise enters an unexplored nebula after receiving a distress signal from a ship that has crash-landed on a nearby planet. After warping to the location it becomes apparent that the call for aid is a trick. Without warning, a throng of alien vessels launch from the surface and ambush the Enterprise. Surprised and outnumbered, Kirk’s crew are routed in battle and eventually captured. The Enterprise is completely destroyed, which would be shocking were it not for the fact that star ships with that designation become scrap metal on a regular basis. You can no longer count on one hand how many times the Enterprise has met its demise onscreen. It’s so unsurprising that no one batted an eyelid when the scene was spoiled in the official trailer.

The leader of the aggressors is a chap named Krall who has the ability to prolong his life by absorbing the vitality of others. Did he set the trap to procure hostages he can feed on? Nope. It’s later revealed that he has a beef with the Federation, although his flimsy motivations are only divulged in a brief snippet found shortly before the film’s end. It’s such a waste seeing the talented Idris Elba being relegated to the role of generic villain. What we get as a result is a good film with a weak antagonist, in stark contrast to Into Darkness (underwhelming movie starring an awesome baddie.) Anyways, it falls upon Kirk, Bones and a badly injured Spock to thwart Krall’s convoluted plans. They better succeed if they have any aspirations to live long and prosper.

VERDICT

My rating for Star Trek Beyond is a four out of five. Star Trek (2009) is arguably a better movie, but I still had a great time watching Beyond. Like many modern films it does run a bit long though. I personally would have wrapped things up half an hour earlier. The powers that be decreed however that the story should continue on and close with a bang. Director Justin Lin (who has previously worked on the Fast and the Furious) dutifully obliged with a trademark high-octane finale. Viewers who prefer a more cerebral Trek may not care for the overabundance of action, but on the plus side the fight sequences are flashy. The comedy is top notch too and the character focused subplots fleshed things out nicely. Aside from the Krall matter, Kirk wrestles with the monotony of captaincy whilst Spock ponders what direction his love life should take.

Another thing I enjoyed about Star Trek Beyond would have to be the debut of Jaylah, an extra-terrestrial lady who has a questionable taste in music. She forms a great double act with Scotty and kicks some major ass. What can I say? I dig badass chicks with funky accents, which may explain why I liked Resident Evil more than most people. If another Trek movie ever gets produced I would be okay with Jaylah filling the bridge seat left vacant by the tragic passing of Anton Yelchin (Chekov.) Whether this version of Star Trek gets a fourth instalment or not remains to be seen though, as its box office performance wasn’t stellar. When it comes to generating a profit Star Wars is far superior to Star Trek. Scotty beam me up… I need to get out of here quick, because I suspect livid Trekkers are about to descend on my position!

Review of River City: Tokyo Rumble

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When the police force proves to be ineffective, at maintaining order, it falls upon high school delinquents to uphold justice. River City: Tokyo Rumble is a retro style beat-em-up were players keep the streets of River City… um I mean Tokyo… clean by pummelling the gang members infesting its prefectures. Although I never had the pleasure of playing River City Ransom on the NES, Tokyo Rumble’s brawling is familiar to me as it harkens back to the days of Double Dragon (heck, the game even uses the Double Dragon theme in one of its later stages.) Forget complex combos and special moves, self defence in Japan’s capital merely involves pressing A and B to dish out a flurry of punches and kicks.

OVERVIEW

The combat in River City: Tokyo Rumble may lack depth, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. Smacking hoodlums never gets old, whether you inflict damage with your fists or by using the plethora of weapons found littering Tokyo’s pavements. Like in most brawlers there are whips and baseball bats to wield, along with less orthodox weaponry. Ever had the urge to hammer someone over the head with a bicycle? Well now you can, by downloading this 3DS gem, you violent cycle-path… um I mean psychopath. Defeating foes awards experience points and once sufficient XP has been accrued protagonist Kunio levels up, increasing his stats in the process.

Apart from bolstering his physical might, Kunio can beef up his mind by reading books. Paperbacks can be purchased from stores (by using the coinage procured from vanquished ruffians) and perusing their contents will teach our hero some new Kung-Fu techniques. Money can also be spent on recuperating health, which is accomplished by dining at restaurants, or on purchasing protective attire. The apparel Kunio can don includes defence boosting shirts and agility enhancing sneakers. Items can also be equipped on the AI controlled companions who accompany Kunio on his quest. The allies in question may not be very smart, but on the plus side they don’t “accidently” whack me in the back when my guard is down (like my human chums used to do back when we played Streets of Rage.)

VERDICT

My rating for River City: Tokyo Rumble is a three and a half out of five. I suspect the simplistic gameplay will bore some players, but old fogeys such as myself should appreciate Tokyo Rumble’s nostalgic charm. The 8-bit visuals are rather cute and I dug the humorous dialogue uttered during cut scenes (or whenever an enemy gets thumped.) Unlike some other fighting games, which are broken up into linear levels, I liked how you are given the freedom to explore Tokyo at your leisure. Each area can be reached courtesy of Tokyo’s reliable subway system. Thank goodness that this game isn’t set in London or else it would take hours to reach your destination, because the Underground’s lazy staff is always on strike.

If the game were a little longer I would have considered awarding it four stars. As it stands, Tokyo Rumble’s story can be completed in around four hours. Not great value, although you can extend your playtime by completing the optional side quests that are posted at the local job centre. River City also comes bundled with a couple of mini-games. The first of these is a four-man brawl dubbed Rumble and the other is Dodgeball, which involves knocking out rivals by hurling balls at their faces. Ouch! Watching Haikyu never prepared me for how barbaric sports can be. Parents who want to spare their kids from violence may want to avoid River City’s Dodgeball mode and invest in a more wholesome sport sim instead. I personally recommend Dead or Alive Xtreme 3.

Invaders of the Rokujyoma Review

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I live in an overpopulated city, where the demand for housing is so high that the cost of rent equals that of a mortgage. With that in mind, I can appreciate why Kotaro Satomi was over the moon about securing accommodation for the modest monthly sum of five thousand yen. Like all good deals however, there has to be a catch. After moving in the frugal teenager discovers that the apartment is haunted by a female poltergeist and unfortunately for him she has no interest in sharing the space with a roommate. Things escalate quickly from that point when three other ladies show up at the scene. All of them, for various reasons, demand that Kotaro surrender ownership of the bedsit at once. Man what a pain. Is discount lodgings really worth all this bother?

OVERVIEW

Invaders of the Rokujyoma is a twelve-episode anime based on Takehaya’s light novel series. The show begins with Kotaro and the above-mentioned girls vying for control of Corona House Room 106 (perhaps the address is popular because it is named after a refreshing Mexican beverage.) Kotaro’s rivals answer to the name of Sanae, Yurika, Kiriha and Theiamillis. Sanae Higashihongan is the resident spook whilst Yurika Nijino is an accident prone Magical Girl, who is trying to protect the complex from capture by evil witches. Much less benevolent is Kiriha Kurano, a busty shrine maiden from a subterranean kingdom, who plots to use the apartment as a base from where she can begin invading the surface world. Theiamillis Gre Fortorthe on the other hand is an extra-terrestrial royal, whose claim to the throne is dependent on her seizing Kotaro’s home. Space Invaders have gotten cuter (and more tsundere) since their 70s arcade debut.

Rokujyoma’s early episodes have the cast competing in an obstacle race and various card games to determine whom the flat’s lease should go to. Thank goodness things don’t work that way in the real world or I would be homeless. Whether it’s Poker, Snap or Hearthstone I suck at cards. Anyways, after a while it dawns on the series’ writer that the premise doesn’t have much mileage. A truce ends the dwelling centric feud, allowing the established characters to go off on whacky adventures instead. One storyline sees Sanae get kidnapped by ghost hunters, another tale has Yurika battling a sorceress who can inflict amnesia and there is also an arc were Theiamillis is targeted by a fellow alien princess. The anime concludes with a Christmas special and (given that this is a harem show) you can also expect a seaside episode were the cast strut their stuff in revealing bikinis.

VERDICT

My rating for Invaders of the Rokujyoma is a three out of five. For me the series isn’t strong enough to warrant a physical purchase, but harem genre fans should find it entertaining enough to stream online. Thankfully this isn’t one of those shows were all you get are girls squabbling over a guy who is more “plane” than a jumbo jet. Takehaya’s creativity gives us a number of amusing moments to laugh at. Some highlights of note include scenes were Theiamillis’ aide Ruth gets triggered by rhinoceros beetles and how everyone dismisses the possibility that Yurika is a bonafide Magical Girl, believing instead that she is an overzealous cosplayer. I also had to giggle at how a group, who can cast destructive spells and control technologically advanced weapons, cower in terror whenever their antics anger Corona House’s dainty landlord.

Although the comedy is decent Rokujyoma doesn’t have much in the way of story. There are some hints suggesting that Kotaro was destined to meet up with the women in his life, but the idea isn’t fully explored in this set’s dozen episodes. You’ll have to track down a translated copy of the source material to see if the implied time travel subplot pays off in the books’ later volumes. Waiting for the novels to get localized may take a while though. In the meantime I will sit here pondering how Kotaro managed to attract so many attractive roommates. Why can’t I cohabitate with a lovable phantom or a damsel with big jugs? The only people I find are jerks who refuse to clean the house and gits who eat all my snacks without asking!