Review of Death Parade

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Yesterday was meant to be a vacation day. Unfortunately for me the Friday was spent in bed wrestling with a bout of man-flu. These occasions, were illness strikes, serve as a stark reminder that I am not impervious to ailments. I am very much mortal and like everyone else will someday meet my demise. As I lay there, in a feverish stupor, I began to ponder what happens to us when the Grim Reaper comes a knocking. Some denominations believe that we get whisked away to heaven, whilst atheists (such as myself) believe that we simply cease to be. Death Parade’s take on the after life is that spirits of the departed are transported to a pub, where a quick game determines if said souls are to be reincarnated or exiled away to an empty void.

OVERVIEW

Death Parade’s setting is the Quindecim Bar. Most of the anime’s dozen episodes start with a pair of recently deceased entering the saloon. Unaware of their plight, as all knowledge of their passing has been expunged from memory, the two visitors are coerced into competing in a random game. A digital roulette wheel selects the contest from a range of pastimes that include cards, air hockey, Street Fighter II and Twister (the latter which I hear is great fun to play with members of the opposite sex.) Each game comes complete with a supernatural surprise. The inaugural episode for example features a darts duel between newlyweds, were throwing a projectile at the board causes their significant other to feel immense pain.

Unbeknownst to the competitors, the outcome of their match doesn’t matter one iota. How they behave during the session determines whether they will be reborn as someone else or hurled into purgatory. The arbiter who decides each person’s fate is the pub’s courteous bartender Decim. He’s a pasty skinned chap who collects mannequins as a hobby. Decim is exceptional at pouring drinks, but his lack of emotion can be a hindrance when it comes to judging the nature of his guests. It’s for this reason that in Death Parade’s first instalment he is afforded a perceptive assistant named Chiyuki. Throughout the series other characters make an appearance, including Decim’s pintsized superior Nona and Ginti – a crimson haired mixologist who has nothing but contempt for humans.

VERDICT

My rating for Death Parade is five stars. Thanks to the wide spectrum of personalities that go through Quindecim’s doors the series is able to evoke a gamut of emotions. Some episodes made me laugh, others brought me to tears and on a few occasions I raged over Decim’s verdicts. Perhaps that illustrates what a fine line exists between saints and sinners? Whether you brand someone good or evil often comes down to your own personal values/beliefs rather than the person’s actions. As someone who detests filler I admired how Death Parade made every episode count during it’s modest twelve part run. The first half of the series follows an episodic format, but as the narrative approaches its climax things shift to the mystery that ties Decim and Chiyuki together.

In terms of audio and visuals Death Parade deserves a thumbs up. The confined bar setting didn’t prevent Madhouse’s animators from going all out during certain scenes. Until now, I never knew that a game of air hockey could look so epic! The voice acting, which is a vital component of any good psychological drama, was top notch too. I also dug the show’s OP and ED. Flyers (the tune that kicks off each episode) will make you want to boogie, whilst Last Theatre closes things out with a ditty that will appeal to rock ballad lovers. Now that I think about it, catching a cold on my day off wasn’t so bad. Staying indoors resulted in me watching an excellent anime. I doubt going out to my local tavern would have been more enjoyable than spending time at the animated Quindecim Bar.

Review of Mad Max: Fury Road

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After a thirty-year hiatus Mad Max is back. This time however the titular Road Warrior (Aarrrggghhhhhhhh… What a Rush) is played by English actor Tom Hardy. Mel Gibson is still in the doghouse, so he doesn’t even get to make a cameo appearance in Fury Road. Perhaps I am being too nice but don’t you think sufficient time has passed, since Mel’s much-publicised misdemeanours, that we should give him a second chance? Most of us have done foolish things under the influence of alcohol after all. Even I have been known to perform gymnastics, on the concrete pavement, after one too many ciders!

OVERVIEW

War never changes. That’s what I thought when Fury Road started, because the movie is set in a post apocalyptic Earth reminiscent to the world depicted in the Fallout games. During the opening scene Max is captured by a band of War Boys and turned into an involuntary blood bank. A tyrannical cultist named Immortan Joe leads the group responsible for Max’s abduction. He’s a nasty chap that appears to have borrowed Hardy’s respirator from the last Batman movie. After an unspecified amount of time Max is able to escape from the War Boys’ clutches and joins forces with a badass chick named Furiosa, who has absconded from Joe’s citadel – taking his harem of wives in the process.

Joe is naturally miffed that the ladies, who are carrying his unborn children, have been taken so he gives chase. Gorgeous women are a precious commodity he can ill afford to lose – especially when you consider that most of the populace in Mad Max are either deformed, toothless, missing limbs or all of the above. What follows is a 120-minute vehicular pursuit between Max/Furiosa and Joe’s convoy of follicly challenged henchmen. There isn’t much plot in Fury Road, but to compensate for the lack of narrative you get copious amounts of blood splatter instead. No one should be surprised by the visceral content given that George Miller directed the movie. His previous writing credits include video nasties such as Babe and Happy Feet.

VERDICT

My rating for Mad Max: Fury Road is a three out of five. In retrospect I think I went into the movie with overly high expectations, which had been inflated by the film’s bevy of Oscar nominations and positive reviews. The movie is a solid action flick, but not the exceptional tour de force some people had led me to believe. Due to the script’s minimal use of dialogue I found getting attached to any of the characters a difficult task. The story is also disappointing. A simple premise followed by a chain of action set pieces. On the plus side the gunfights, car chases and fisticuffs were all exciting to watch. Said sequences are all the more impressive when you consider that they were supposedly recorded using practical effects and little CG.

Feminists may wonder why Max Rockatansky gets top billing in this movie. Make no mistake; this is Furiosa’s adventure with Max tagging along for the ride. Charlize Theron handled the physical demands of the role very well and was very much Hardy’s equal in terms of ass kicking. When it comes to strong females, who can pull off a buzz cut and dish out pain, Furiosa is right up there with the likes of Ellen Ripley and Britney Spears. Mad Max: Fury Road may not have wowed me, like it did for some people, but the action alone made it a worthwhile two hours spent. I wouldn’t be averse to checking out another Max sequel. Hopefully we won’t have to wait three decades for the next instalment.

Review of Lostorage Incited Wixoss

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Lostorage Incited Wixoss is the third season of an anime franchise that seemingly chooses its titles by plucking random words out of the dictionary (a naming convention popularized by Kingdom Hearts’ sequels.) Lo-storage? Better buy a bigger hard drive mate. Anyways… for those of you not acquainted with the prior Wixoss cartoons, I would best describe the show as Magic the Gathering meets Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Brace yourself for a lot of “you activated my trap card” and a lot of tragedy, when players realize why one should always be careful of what you wish for.

OVERVIEW

Homura Suzuko and Morikawa Chinatsu were inseparable childhood pals until the day that Suzu’s family moved away to another town. Years later the pair reunite, under less than ideal circumstances. Suzuko, Chinatsu and countless others have been chosen by a cosmic force to compete in a Wixoss battle royale. Participants are tasked with amassing five coins within a ninety-day deadline, or else they will be stripped off their memories. Coinage is earned/lost by winning/losing duels respectively. Anyone who exhausts their supply of mystical currency is spirited away as punishment. Scary stuff! This series is doing a lousy job of promoting the real life card game. Based on this plot, I am now too terrified to ever play a game of Wixoss.

All that said – the series is more concerned with telling a good tale rather than being a glorified commercial for the titular TCG. Just like the first season of Yu-Gi-Oh (were it’s clear that the script writers never read the game’s rulebook) watching Lostorage’s dozen episodes won’t teach you how to play Wixoss.

The narrative’s focus is on how the heroines react to the stresses they are put under. Chinatsu turns to the dark side, after buckling under the strain of family problems and the pressures of living up to Suzuko’s expectations. Suzu on the other hand grows in courage after a lifetime of depending on others. Under the tutelage of pro player Hanna Mikage, Suzuko becomes an accomplished Wixoss duellist. She receives lessons from Hanna in exchange for desserts. Judging from the current state of the Pound, it won’t be long before I too will have to barter by using tasty treats instead of worthless Sterling. Let’s hope I can resist the temptation of gobbling up my delicious sugary bank balance!

VERDICT

My rating for Lostorage Incited Wixoss is four stars. From what I recall, the show received a lukewarm reception back when it aired. I suppose that many viewers preferred the waifus characters from the last series more, although I personally enjoyed the anime quite a bit. Lostorage is rich in drama and unlike some other shows it ends on a satisfying, albeit bittersweet, note. Due to being a sequel series, Lostorage has the handicap of no longer being able to coast by on shock factor alone. The writers at J.C. Staff have however managed to keep things interesting with some unexpected revelations and twists, even if the overall story structure adheres to the blueprint laid down by past Wixoss seasons.

One thing that may annoy Yuri fans is that Wixoss is no longer a female exclusive domain. Lostorage’s cast includes a few guys, although I use the term guys loosely as they are all a bunch of pussies. Chinatsu’s love interest Shohei Shirai isn’t man enough to fight in battles whilst sis-con Shou Narumi doesn’t have the testicular fortitude to defeat female opponents. Lostorage’s antagonist Kou “bookmaker” Satomi is a bloke too, although he is wickedly flamboyant. Weak male characters aside, I had a grand time watching Lostorage Incited Wixoss and am looking forward to the 2018 fourth season. Said series is titled Lostorage Conflated WIXOSS – Missing Link… looks like the writers are continuing to use that random word generator for naming purposes.

Last Day of June Review

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I’ll start this review by getting the obvious observation (that everyone has already made) out of the way. Why is this game called Last Day of June if it was released on August 31st? I hate it when titles lie. Seriously though, the titular June is a young artist who tragically died in a traffic accident, one fateful day, on the way back from a romantic picnic. In this game players assume the role of June’s lover Carl. The bespectacled baldy was in the car when June passed away. Although he survived the crash, Carl sustained injuries that have confined him to a wheelchair. How depressing. Thankfully when Last Day of June begins Carl acquires the power of time travel. Can he use his new ability to undo the tragedy or will he discover that altering history is impossible?

OVERVIEW

Last Day of June’s intro sees Carl uncover four mystical portraits that depict his neighbours. Touching the watercolours transports Carl to the date when June perished and gives him control over the painting’s model. By possessing said villagers players need to find a way of averting the fatal collision. Sounds simple enough, but sadly the past is not so easily manipulated. Every time an event is tweaked some new disaster occurs that kills June. Early on I was able to keep the kid, whose dash across the highway caused the crash, away from the scene. This was accomplished by having him play with a kite elsewhere. Job done? Nope. In the new timeline June dies swerving off road to evade a cardboard box spillage further up the street. Those things are deadly, as Solid Snake will attest to.

At its core, Last Day of June is a third person puzzle game. You pick a character, use their unique skills to solve brainteasers and then see how your handiwork impacts June’s future. The little rascal I mentioned above for example is too scrawny to open heavy gates, but his short stature allows him to squeeze through fence holes. Another character of note is the local hunter, who has to use his faithful hound and a musket to chase after a medal-pilfering bluebird. Meanwhile the blonde with the nice rack can clear away slippery leaves. Um, did I say rack? I mean she uses her nice rake to clear away said foliage. Aside from the puzzles there are also collectables to locate, which reveal snippets of each character’s backstory.

VERDICT

My rating for Last Day of June is four stars. The gameplay is clunky, load times are long and the inability to skip cut scenes can be annoying, but it matters not because the emotional storyline is beautiful. It’s remarkable how expressive the characters are, in spite of the fact that their dialogue is limited to Sims style gibberish. Each time Carl is unsuccessful in rescuing June his rage and despair are palpable. I think the game’s soundtrack helps to accentuate the onscreen drama. The music’s quality should come as no surprise given that Carl’s tale is based off a Steven Wilson tune. Visually the game is impressive too. I dug the stop motion marionette like character designs and how the environments have an oil painting aesthetic to them.

Unless you have no heart I can highly recommend Last Day of June. Buyers will however have to deliberate if they wish to pay now for a title that can be finished within a few hours, or wait for a future price discount. Given the title’s linear structure there isn’t much replay value once you reach the ending. Watching the game via a Let’s Play would suffice for most people, although I think that walking a mile in Carl’s shoes and solving the game’s conundrums yourself adds to the experience. Technical niggles aside, developer Ovosonico deserve praise for a job well done. I’m so awed that I’ll forgive them for the deceptive title. Last Day of June? The game came out in August! Ovosonico why did July to us? May god forgive your fib. Okay the review is done, time to march off.

Review of Death Note (Netflix)

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Netflix, you have let me down! People have praised your superhero shows and I myself was impressed by your take on Castlevania. All that goodwill has however evaporated due to your treatment of Death Note. I no longer feel guilty about not subscribing to your service, after my free trial ran out. To be fair, Death Note is one of my favourite anime of all time. Regardless of how good this live action film would have turned out, it would have struggled to live up to the source material’s legacy. Perhaps the limited running time is partially to blame? I feel that a lengthy live action series, which follows the manga more closely, could be a hit with western audiences. That’s something we are unlikely to ever see though, after the negative reception this movie has rightfully received.

OVERVIEW

What would you do if a demon gifted you a notepad that can magically kill anyone whose name you scribble onto its pages? You could take over the world, refuse to write on it because murder is wrong or use the book to assassinate any traffic warden foolish enough to give you a ticket. After acquiring the titular tome, from a fruit eating death god named Ryuk, Light Turner opts to harness the Death Note’s power to rid Earth of evil. A bully, the mobster who killed Light’s mom and various criminals all receive punishment at the hands of Turner’s penmanship. Vigilante justice is frowned by society though, so the authorities soon get involved. A taskforce led by Light’s own father and a detective named L begins to investigate who is responsible for the recent underworld purge.

That premise alone is enough to carry an entire film, but the cat and mouse game between Light and the law gets even more convoluted when romance is thrown into the mix. Light elects to divulge knowledge of the Death Note to his girlfriend Mia Sutton, which aggravates matters further. Given the choice, Light would rather not get innocents involved in his mess. Mia on the other hand is more ruthless. If meddlesome cops try to interfere with their righteous crusade, against criminality, Mia is all for aiming the Death Note’s fatal sorcery at the police. Mia feels more like the anime version of Light than Turner does. Just like Light Yagami, she is corrupted by power and isn’t averse to manipulating friends as a means of achieving what she believes is the greater good.

VERDICT

My rating for Death Note 2017 is one star. I was going to give the movie a two, but the silly finale persuaded me to award it the lowest score possible. Some viewers may find Death Note entertaining, the idea of a killer book is cool after all, but having seen the story executed better in animated form I cannot be as generous. It was disappointing to see the Death Note turned into nothing more than a MacGuffin that turns people into brainwashed slaves that occasionally perish in gruesome ways. The film felt like a teenage horror flick from the nineties with its Final Destination style death sequences. Blood splatter cannot however disguise how boring the story was. I must confess that I nodded off a couple of times during the feature’s 100 minute running time.

I didn’t like how Light was portrayed. The studio didn’t seem to have confidence that western viewers would accept an evil protagonist, so they transferred most of Yagami’s traits to Mia. L wasn’t handled much better either. Rather than coming across as a savant he just seems to be a weirdo, who isn’t all that smart. Most of his deductions are just leaps of logic required to keep the plot going along. A cynic may remark that a black actor was cast as L to deflect the whitewash critics, who were already moaning about the setting’s transference from Japan to Seattle. The only thing that I enjoyed about the film was Ryuk. Willem Dafoe was the perfect choice for delivering Ryuk’s sinister quips and the visual effects team should be commended for their creepy creature design.

Ghost in the Shell detractors may want to revise their opinions, because Death Note is a far better example of an anime adaptation gone wrong. One concern I have is that Death Note’s conclusion leaves things wide open for a potential sequel. Hopefully the folks at Netflix will “kill” that idea in the bud, after the critical backlash the movie has received. Just to be safe I’ll jot down “Death Note 2” into my little black book.

Review of Sonic Mania

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Sonic the Hedgehog hasn’t been doing too well lately. Gone are the days when the blue speedster was considered a genuine rival to Mario. Apart from a couple of exceptions, since 2006 most of Sonic’s games have been garbage. Sonic Boom’s reboot of the character flopped and the less said about the Princess Elise bestiality romance the better. Sega’s current creative team have no idea what made Sonic so special back during the 16-bit era. Thankfully someone in the company does at least have the sense to outsource their mascot’s next adventure to a programmer who does. Christian Whitehead seized the opportunity given to him by Sega and the result is arguably the finest post Genesis Sonic title to date.

OVERVIEW

One thing I like about Sonic Mania is that it goes back to basics. Gone are the convoluted plots of recent times. A dialogue free cut scene sets up the story. Eggman has gotten his dastardly mitts on the mystical Phantom Ruby. Just like sexual harassment, that’s no good. Sonic and chums race after Eggman, but upon confronting him get sucked into a portal and are transported to the past. Players must now guide the trio of heroes through twenty-four stages, which are inspired by classic Sonic levels. The playable characters on offer are Sonic, Tails and Knuckles… who since Sonic Boom appears to have cut down on the steroid abuse. If you want an easy playthrough pick Tails because he can swim and fly.

Although some of the zones are modelled off levels from yesteryear their design has been tweaked and there is a fair number of brand new areas to challenge too. That’s a relief because playing a Greatest Hits of old content would have felt like a rip off, especially given that Sega has rereleased the vintage Sonic trilogy more times than Square has recycled Final Fantasy One. Dashing through each zone is a joy, as the courses have been crafted in such a way that you can appreciate Sonic’s swiftness. The stages may only have one exit, but there are multiple routes you can take which encourages exploration. No two zones feel the same, as every act houses its own unique set of obstacles.

VERDICT

My rating for Sonic Mania is four and a half stars. If you enjoyed the nineties Sonic games, Mania is a must buy. Unlike the disappointing Sonic 4, Mania captures the spirit and feel of the Mega Drive era titles. It’s surprising how well the sprites still look and the music is as catchy as ever. The soundtrack boasts a nice collection of remixes and new electronic tunes. It took me around five hours to clear the story, which is long by Sonic standards. The fifteen quid asking price seems fair given that I have yet to replay the campaign with the other two characters. I also have to hunt down the Chaos Emeralds and tackle the epilepsy inducing 3D orb mini-game. Pikachu isn’t the only mascot that can trigger fits!

The sole gripe I have with Sonic Mania is that progress is only saved at the start of a new zone. Levels are divided up into a pair of acts. Should a player exhaust all of their lives during act two they will be forced to replay act one from the beginning. Not a big deal though, as the game isn’t difficult. Insta-death pitfalls are rare and Sonic is practically immortal, providing that he holds at least one ring at all times. Any frustration I felt with redoing a stage was offset by the game’s cool references to past Sonic titles. My favourite throwback came at the end of Chemical Plant Zone, where the boss challenges you to a Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine duel. I couldn’t believe it. Sonic has to beat “Eggman” in a puzzle game? You must be yolking.

Review of Kong: Skull Island

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Plagiarists! Tinseltown is full of them. Marvel took a chance by creating a shared cinematic universe, were their characters regularly crossover, and it paid off big time. Now everyone else is trying to replicate that profitable formula. DC has the Justice League in the pipeline, Netflix followed suit with the Defenders and even Universal is resurrecting their classic monsters for potential team up films. Not to be outdone Legendary Pictures has laid down the groundwork for a series of Kaiju blockbusters. First up was the 2014 Godzilla (directed by Gareth Edwards) and hot on its heels is everyone’s favourite climber of skyscrapers King Kong.

OVERVIEW

Kong: Skull Island is set in the year 1973. Thanks to advances in satellite technology the United States have discovered an unchartered isle that agent William Randa (a slender John Goodman) wishes to explore. Using funds procured from the senate, Randa assembles an expeditionary force comprising of scientists, an award winning photographer and a former SAS operative that specializes in tracking. Given the risk that the mission carries, a platoon of soldiers is also recruited to guard the team. Samuel L. Jackson (star of Snakes on a Plane) plays Preston Packard, the commanding officer of said military outfit.

Lieutenant colonel Packard hates serpents on planes so he chooses to transport the explorers via helicopter. After braving a storm, that surrounds their destination, the team arrive at Skull Island. Kong wastes no time in greeting the uninvited guests to his home. Like a chimp tossing faeces, the giant primate downs the choppers by hurling tree trunks at them. Randa, Packard and the remaining survivors now find themselves stranded in an inhospitable land. Their only means of escape is a rendezvous point situated on the northern coast. Unfortunately for them carnivorous creatures called Skull Crawlers patrol the passage. Skull Crawlers? Yeah, even the movie remarks that their name is corny.

VERDICT

My rating for Kong: Skull Island is a three out of five. An entertaining popcorn flick, but I’m not sure there is enough substance here to birth a franchise of creature feature sequels. The movie’s biggest problem is that the characters are so forgettable. Brie Larson, who plays the photographer, contributes little to the story other than looking fine in a tight vest. Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of an ex-SAS soldier reminds me of the Predators protagonist. Both of them are accomplished survivalists who are totally devoid of personality. Most of the other actors are just fodder, waiting to be devoured by Skull Island’s assortment of bugs and flying reptiles.

I suppose Samuel L. Jackson was okay, as the crazed leader who is more concerned with killing Kong than getting off the island. Given that the ape slaughtered many of his men I can understand why he would be motivated by revenge. Retreat is also not on his agenda, as he recently toured Vietnam. After that fiasco he is not keen to abandon another war zone. My favourite character was a chap named Hank Marlow, who has been marooned on Skull Island since the forties. He’s a funny guy and I rooted for his safety, so he could reunite with the family he hasn’t seen in decades.

Even if the flesh and blood actors didn’t wow me their CG co-stars did at least leave a positive impression. The battles between Kong and Skull Island’s wildlife are spectacular. Based on this film and Planet of the Apes, it’s safe to say that Hollywood has mastered the art of animating virtual simians. Unlike Godzilla 2014, the makers of Kong are not shy about showing off the titular giant at every opportunity. Just as well. I see no point in teasing audiences with glimpses of the headline act. No one pays to watch the dull humans go about their business. We want to see the monkey bash stuff and in that regard Kong: Skull Island delivers.

This review is dedicated to the memory of Harambe. May 1999 to May 2016.