Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Valkyrie Drive - Mermaid

Valkyrie Drive - Mermaid is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most offensively tasteless anime I have ever seen.

It is aggressively misogynist softcore pornography, in which women are sexually subjugated in order to turn them into literal objects.

There's fanservice, and then there's… whatever this is.

How does something like this get created? Who comes up with this sick bullshit, and how the hell do they find other people that like it enough to fund its production?

I'm finding it difficult to put into words how enthusiastically horrible this show is. Its closest relative, in my viewing history at least, would be Ikkitousen, a similar "sexy battle" show where female characters were the subject of simultaneous physical violence and lecherous sexualisation - though I'm not sure if it's better or worse that Ikkitousen "only" had the camera participate in the violation. Valkyrie Drive's constant insistence that the characters are willing(-ish) participants somehow feels more sickening.

I've tried to think of something - anything - positive about Valkyrie Drive, but every aspect of it from character design to the music is cheap and nasty. The only things keeping it from being instantly forgotten are how dreadfully it treats its characters and how spectacularly low an opinion it has of its audience.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The World


The first show I watched as it was broadcast in Japan, .hack//SIGN was part of a multimedia experiment spanning TV anime, OVAs, manga and videogames with a shared universe - a fictional MMO named The World - and long-form stories that fed into each other to varying degrees. .hack//SIGN was the first part of the franchise, although the PS2 games (offline single-player JRPGs, rather than actual online games) are probably more well-known in the UK.

I remember sitting up until two or three in the morning, waiting for the torrents to finish so I could see the newly-fansubbed episode. I wasn't even engaging with any other fans on forums, reading and sharing theories about what was happening in the show. I was just obsessed with it, desperate to find out how it ended. Now, 13 years later, I can't even remember the ending.

I've never managed to rewatch it though, until now. I tried, when the UK DVD release first came out, but I couldn't even finish the first disc. What had somehow been so engaging in 2002 just seemed tedious and boring. The show is stubbornly paced, dripping character and plot information over the first several episodes.

I'm now six or seven episodes into my second proper viewing and the glacial progression of plot isn't as frustrating as I found it a few years ago - I'm appreciating the importance of showing how The World operates and how its players approach their time there, but a few things are sticking out as bizarre.

There appears to be zero administrator presence in the game. The closest thing to a moderation team would be the Crimson Knights, a hardcore RP guild inexplicably led by low-level axe-wielding mage Subaru. They appear to have contact with the game's operator and even mention getting access to server logs for their investigations, but appear to have no enforceable power over players.

Of course, since there seem to be next to no players anyway, maybe they just make up enough of a majority to do as they please. Most of the game's areas seen in the show appear to be abandoned; you'll occasionally see a couple of players walk past a main character, but it's rare even at what look to be spawn points. The "Aqua Capital", the only urban area shown, is sparsely populated, and at least some of the people you see must be NPCs anyway.

Something I've noticed recently is my tendency to reimagine shows I'm watching - trying to figure out what the core idea or theme of the series is, and how you'd reshape the rest of it to work as a live-action film or TV show, that might appeal to someone who's not interested in the animated version. These thought experiments have varied results, from realising that Evangelion is basically unadaptable, to wondering how a mainstream audience would react to a GATE series that's basically Game of Thrones meets Generation Kill.

But it's also resulted in my trying to come up with a back story for The World; how it would end up in a place where the company running the game appears broadly uninterested in what's happening to its players, and why there are so few of them anyway.

My headcanon, as it stands, is that the game's been running for years and its popularity is fading. The only people left are high-level players with established friendships, and solo players like Tsukasa using it to escape real life and be alone. The developer has all but abandoned development and moderation, allowing the Crimson Knights to police the userbase. Rumours of hidden items and players unable to log out are being dismissed as forum jokes or creepypasta.

I'm hoping to get all the way through .hack//SIGN again, but I'm already feeling the fatigue starting to set in. Fingers crossed my curiosity about the ending keeps me going, even if we never find out why The World is still running.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


I want to like Volume, but it's making that so difficult.

The new game from Thomas Was Alone designer Mike Bithell, Volume is a top-down(ish) time-attack stealth game, where you creep around levels avoiding and distracting guards, stealing diamonds and (eventually) attempting to overthrow a corrupt dictator.

Mechanically it's solid; you can see enemy vision cones, duck into cover and distract guards with a variety of gadgets. Levels are short and varied, in colour as well as challenge, and if the 100 "campaign" levels aren't enough there's a level editor and a huge list of maps created by other players. It also looks great, with levels deforming and rebuilding themselves out of flat triangles at the start and end of each mission.

The missions are just a little too short, however - and you don't carry equipment over between them, so you'll pick up a gadget in one level and then not see it again for three. Progression feels stilted and uneven; there's no sense that you're getting more powerful, and no excuse for the loss of tech between levels (or the restriction to a single gadget at a time). You're dumped back to the Level Select menu after every map, breaking up the flow even more. Some levels are grouped together with the implication that they're all in a single location, but aside from the portrait indicating whose house it is there's no consistent theme between them - and you're back at the menu after every one anyway.

But where Volume really falls apart is the story - or more accurately, the way the story is told. Voiceovers play constantly, either distracting you from the game itself or being ignored as you figure out your approach to the next section. The conversations seem designed to span multiple levels, but restarts (either due to failure or manual resets) will reset to the start of the current dialogue. Lines are accompanied by an on-screen subtitle box which covers a huge chunk of the bottom of the screen, blocking your view of anything to the south, which you won't read anyway because you'll either be listening to the dialogue or paying attention to guard patrol patterns.

The end result is occasionally brilliant, but frequently annoying. Constantly stop-starting between missions and with a story it doesn't seem to know how to fit between such short bursts of action, Volume is ambitious but deeply flawed.

And it corrupted my save data when I completed a user-generated level earlier. I don't know if I can force myself through those opening sections again.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


I don't know when chuunibyou became such a big deal in anime, but it seems to have exploded from nowhere. All of a sudden, every high-school anime seems to have a character with delusions of grandeur based around their (maybe genuine?) belief that they have supernatural powers or a long line of historically-significant past lives. The term is apparently a genuine "middle-school second-year syndrome" where young teenagers act out elaborate fantasies to varying degress in an attempt to... I'm not sure.

The most visible example of this in anime is Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! - an insipid moe show about a guy indulging a younger student's delusions until she falls in love with him - but these characters seem to be popping up all over the place these days.

In most anime cases, the afflicted character doesn't actually have supernatural abilities; they just pretend or imagine that they do. What makes Charlotte a bit different is that not only do its characters actually have powers, it explains why the chuunibyou phenomenon is so short-lived.

Similar to mutant powers in X-Men, abilities in Charlotte emerge during adolescence, but disappear by adulthood. So the various characters' superpowers - which range from mind control to telekinesis - will only be usable for a few years.

The other great thing about Charlotte's superpowers is that each one has a ridiculous limitation that makes it practically worthless.

Otosaka can take control of someone else's body - but only for five seconds at a time, and his own body is catatonic (usually having faceplanted in the street) for the duration. Takajou can "teleport" - but in practice just moves imperceptibility fast in a straight line until he's stopped by an impact. Tomori can turn invisible - but only from one person at a time, remaining in plain sight to everyone else.

The three of them make up the core of the student council at their school, which is specially set up to find and gather children with powers, protecting them from discovery and experimentation until they're old enough for their powers to disappear.

For the first six weeks the show has been pretty lighthearted, focusing on the ways powers can backfire or be misused for comedic effect (and profit). It's had some serious moments - Tomori's back story and her behaviour when revealing it to the protagonist are at odds with her usually-carefree personality, which is jarring - but the final moments of the most recent episode have taken a turn towards a darker tone that will hopefully drive the story with a bit more force.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

B-type H-isms

This might sound like an overstatement, but I'm standing by it: B-gata H-kei (subtitled Yamada's First Time in the US) might be the best romantic comedy ever made.

It's certainly the best I've ever seen, although it's perhaps more accurate to call it a relationship show than a romantic one.

It's not just surprisingly honest about how difficult high school crushes are, but also about how they are difficult; self-consciousness and doubt, jealousy, the pressure to get everything right - the protagonists spend much of the series' running time trying to figure out if they like each other, why, and whether their other half is even worth the trouble of this pursuit.

Yamada initially just sees Kosuda as a means to an end - a first sexual partner to give her the confidence to embark on her quest to bed 100 guys. Kosuda is, no doubt, smitten with Yamada from the outset - but as a timid loner he's mostly just happy with attention from the prettiest girl in class.

But over the course of the series - a thankfully brief 12 episodes1* - Yamada is forced to admit that her continued focus on Kosuda (and rejection of other would-be suitors) is about more than the first notch on her bedpost.

Few anime romances take this much time to show the development of a relationship from the initial attraction into deeper feelings, and B-gata H-kei not only manages that easily, the series does it with an honesty and sweetness that I'd not expected.

And it's hilarious into the bargain.

1 Not that I wouldn't like to see more of the couple as their relationship develops further, but a couple of subplots already felt like padding. A 22 or 26 episode series would have been overkill.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Shenmue III is going to suck

Listen, I love Shenmue. I've completed the original Dreamcast game a half dozen times, and attempt to play through it every year at Christmas. But it seems like a lot of people have forgotten something about the game:

It's really not good.

The controls are even more obviously dreadful than when the game was released, sixteen years ago. The last decade and a half has been incredibly unkind to the visuals. The story is over-padded, dumb and poorly paced. The script and dialogue are laughably awful. The Virtua Fighter-based combo system has been surpassed by modern combat systems, leaving Shenmue's battles feeling sluggish and boring. The one thing it still does better than nearly any other game I've played, the minute details of the world that Ryo could explore, pick up and examine, was all but dropped by the first sequel, leaving little hope that a third installment will reduce its scope in exchange for focus.

The Kickstarter for a third installment has, at the time of writing, just passed its $2,000,000 funding goal - a thirty-fifth of the Dreamcast original's $70 million budget - with 31 days remaining.

If I'm honest, I never wanted Shenmue to continue. The second game's out-of-nowhere cliffhanger, with a levitating magic sword, was the final straw; the believable, realistic world of Sakuragaoka and Dobuita was what I loved about the game, and by introducing overt supernatural elements - seemingly out of nowhere - the game had lost me.

I'm surprised the Kickstarter has been this successful. As vocal as they were, and continue to be, Shenmue can't have enough fans to justify the kind of budget that's required to produce a game that'll satisfy them. This campaign is undoubtedly a kind of financial proof-of-concept for a larger investor - maybe Sony, since they hosted the announcement at their E3 press conference - to put up the rest of the budget.

But who's going to buy the game apart from the people already clamouring to support it? Who's going to be willing to jump straight into the third installment of a sixteen-year-old period kung fu series? Shenmue isn't going to appeal to the Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed crowd, which is where all the money seems to be, these days. How many people remember Shenmue as anything other than a forum joke?

Especially given the terrible pitch video on the campaign page. My brother sarcastically described it as "really pushing the upper limits of what the Dreamcast can do"; to me, it looks like a particularly impressive third-year computer arts student's showreel. I guess it looks like a $2 million game, but that's not what the series' fans want, and I'm sure it's not what Yu Suzuki wants either.

But even if I'm not going to play it, I do hope Suzuki gets to finish Shenmue. Closure's been a long time coming for its creator as well as its fans - let's just hope Shenmue III doesn't end on another 14-year cliffhanger.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


I'm terrible at Netrunner but I love it anyway and not an hour goes by that I don't wish I was playing Netrunner except when I'm actually playing Netrunner (when I wish I was playing Netrunner better).

I went to a tournament on Sunday (and came second last, above the guy who rage quit after three rounds); a bunch of us get together on Tuesdays on the pub and play for a few hours.

I've played eighteen games in the last four days, only won four of them, and I'm already wondering when I'll get another game to try out this HB deck I've been trying to get right.

I can't remember the last time I was this monumentally bad at something but still enjoyed it this much.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

ToraDora! Christmas Club

Every December, there's a ToraDora! rewatch on r/anime. One episode a day, from the 6th to the 30th inclusive, so that the Christmas Eve episode aligns with the actual day.

I've seen the show through twice, but never dubbed; this year's Christmas Club is an excuse to try out the English track - though it took me longer than I should probably admit to find the audio settings on my Blu-ray copy.

From the snippets I'd heard in trailers and on YouTube I wasn't 100% sure how good it was going to be - I'm generally pro-dub, but I know that some are better than others, and shows with a strong comedy bent are particularly difficult to adapt successfully. So I had a little bit of trepidation firing up a full episode. But imagine my surprise when it turns out to be awesome. It's been a long time since I've watched a dub where the actors "clicked" with their characters this fast; it usually seems to take two or three episodes for them to really get into the swing of things. But right out of the gate, Ryuji and Taiga are spot-on - and Minori is perfect. The script's absolutely solid, too - nothing sounds forced or awkward, even the jokes flow naturally.

And it's funny, into the bargain. Not just the visual/slapstick stuff, which works in any language, but the line delivery had me laughing more than it ever did in Japanese. (Reading jokes doesn't have the same impact, no matter how funny they are.)

So I'm totally sold on the dub. It was incredibly difficult not to just marathon the entire thing to see how they did later scenes and characters (including Objectively Best Girl, Emi, whose appearance I'm really looking forward to for more reasons than the usual).

I was a bit worried I wouldn't have much to say about ToraDora on a third viewing - and second group discussion - without repeating myself, but this has given me a whole new appreciation for the show and the characters.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Yokosuka, 1986

The weather in Yamanose on November 29th, 1986 is how Ryo Hazuki refers to the day his father was murdered.

He doesn't even mention his father to anyone but Ine-san and Fuku-san. When anyone else brings up "the day it rained", he insists he's okay - before immediately demanding clues for his quest for revenge. His sights are fixed so firmly on revenge - on Lan Di, then sailors, then the Chi You Men, then Hong Kong and beyond - that his father fades away behind the anger, only taken out to be used as a key to unlock otherwise closed doors on the road to vengeance.

After Hazuki-sensei is killed, he only appears twice, in semi-secret flashbacks triggered when you inspect a bowl of carrots or the cherry tree outside the dojo. It's not long before the only person still thinking about Iwao Hazuki and what he might have wanted is Ine-san. He'd have wanted you to take over the dojo, she insisits. She's probably right.

But every step Ryo takes after he wakes up, three days after the rain, takes him away from the spot where his father died. Away from the places and people that might force him to accept and move on from his loss. Every discovery, each clue about Iwao's past - the mysterious key in a desk drawer, the basement behind a hidden door and all the artifacts in it - should give Ryo pause, cause him to consider who his father used to be, and who he decided to become. At the very least, it should surprise him.

But any curiosity is burned away by the need to move forward, to move away from the loss and the responsibility he's been left with. Every attempt by Fuku-san, Ine-san or Nozomi to get through to Ryo is either twisted to help his need to run away or regarded as a hurdle to be overcome.

And what's he going to accomplish, in the end? We're probably never going to find out, at this point - the saga ends in a cave in China, with Ryo really no closer to the answers - or the revenge - he was looking for.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fourteen shows

Revolutionary Girl Utena

This anime season might be the death of me. I don't think I've ever tried to keep up with this many new series' at once; even back when I was reviewing new releases, they'd come in four- or five-episode chunks on a DVD every couple of months, which doesn't require anything like the same kind of brain real estate to keep track of.

But I have, at the moment, fourteen shows in my Currently Watching section on MyAnimeList. Disclosure: only twelve are currently airing, and I've not actually started three of them yet. The rest are between two and four episodes into their run, which is usually the point where I start culling shows - but so far they all seem like keepers, to some degree.

And someone's asked me about Akame ga Kill - which I didn't bother with last season, but now I'm wondering if it's worth a try...

Currently airing

Amagi Brilliant Park (3/13) is from Kyoto Animation, famous for moeblob trash like K-On!, and author Shoji Gatoh of Full Metal Panic! fame. It follows a cast named mostly after American rappers (the male and female protagonists are Kanye West and 50 Cent, respectively) trying to save a theme park that's actually a mechanism to harvest positive energies for powering a magical kingdom in an alternate reality. It's not as funny as it seems to think it is, with a lot of its humour falling a bit flat for me, but it looks great - expect nothing less from KyoAni - and the characters manage to carry off the surreal story remarkably well.

Danna ga Nani wo Itteiru ka Wakaranai Ken (3/13), or I Don't Understand What My Husband Is Saying, is based on a 4-koma manga about a normal office worker and her shut-in otaku husband, who makes a living as a blogger. It makes fun of the stuff that geeks accept about our hobbies, but never feels mean-spirited. Also, if this doesn't convince you to give DannaKen a look then nothing else I say will ever convince you.

Denki-gai no Honya-san (3/12) is a slice-of-life show revolving around the employees of an Akihabara doujinshi store. It has a similar attitude to nerd culture as DannaKen, but coming from the retail perspective it peeks behind the curtain a little into how these kinds of stores operate. The cast is universally likable and quite varied in personality, history and appearance, and it's got just enough shipping fodder to satisfy, even if it's unclear at this point where any of it's going.

Gundam: G no Reconguista (4/?) hooked me in seconds, with its gorgeious retro designs and animation. I'd initially thought there was no CGI in the show at all, but rewatches of the first episode dashed that misconception pretty effectively. Still, the 3D is kept to a minimum, and so far none of the actual mecha action has been anything but hand-drawn 2D. The story is a bit more sloppy and convenient at this stage than I'd like - I'm already predicting the shifting alliances, not that either side seems particularly bothered about keeping enemy combatants away from their tech. I'm hoping it tightens up a bit soon, but hinestly it's such a joy to watch that I'll stick with it to the end anyway.

Log Horizon 2nd Season (2/25) is a disappointing continuation of the excellent first season. With animation duties transferred from Satelight to Studio DEEN, existing character designs have changed subtly but entirely for the worse, and a couple of the new female characters are much more predictably "anime" than really suits the established aesthetic. The pacing has seemed off for the first episodes as well, with less emphasis on Shiroe's genius-level manipulation of various parties, but the plot has been more combat-oriented so far so hopefully it'll get back on track. I'd like to see more of the old cast as well - Akatsuki has been almost entirely sidelined, especially disappointing as she was woefully underserved by the first season.

Ore, Twintail ni Narimasu. (2/12) is this season's strongest contender for "Dumbest Plot That Might Just Work". Officially translated as Gonna Be The Twin-Tails!!, the show is about a high-school student with an obsession with/fetish for twin ponytails who is given a bracelet that will let him battle alien invaders determined to steal all the twin ponytails from Earth. The bracelet also turns him into a girl (with twin ponytails, natch), though it's disappointingly lacking an elaborate magical girl-style transformation sequence. The most important thing I can say about this show is that it doesn't give a fuck what you think. It's here to have fun, and nothing is going to stop it. It helps its case by being genuinely hilarious in places, and while its innuendo occasionally oversteps the mark it's usually moved onto something else by the time you'll notice anyway.

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (2/22) is almost certainly going to destroy me. School romance shows about musicians rarely end well, and while I don't expect this to go full White Album 2 on us, Your Lie in April is shaping up to be a total heartbreaker. Aided by gorgeous animation, great music and an unexpectedly thrilling first-episode reference to Laputa, I'm hooked.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis (2/?) is a weird one. With a visual style somewhere between Attack on Titan and Space Dandy, a main character who acts like a cross between the latter's eponymous hero and Cowboy Bebop's Spike Spiegel, and a tone that just barely holds together between the action, drama and comedy, it's going to take a lot more episodes before I can decide how I feel about it.

Shirobako (2/?) is about five women who met in their high school's animation club and now work in the anime industry. A number of characters are inspired by real anime directors, composers and producers, and repeated in-universe conversations about one near-disaster seem to be references to actual production problems on Girls und Panzer. It's hard to see what the long-term plot goal is for the show; I'm watching it almost like a documentary about anime production, and the names and job titles that pop up on-screen when a character first appears seems to suggest that's the intention.


Nisemonogatari (1/11), the second part of the lengthy *monogatari franchise, is proving difficult. I persevered with the (deliberately?) obtuse Bakemonogatari mostly for its cinematic flair, but starting Nise, I'm not sure how much longer I can put up with the unnecessarily-wordy plot digressions, creepy fanservice and frankly unappealing main characters. If it had a better long-term story I might be convinced to stick around, but honestly it might have to go. It's been weeks since I last watched an episode.

Shoujo Kakumei Utena (14/39) has been on my "to watch" list for literally years at this point; seemingly almost as influential on the industry as Evangelion, if nowhere near as successful commercially, I've got something different than I was expecting so far. I mostly wasn't prepared for the humour (or the rodent sidekick), and I think I expected more to be made of Utena's princely aspirations. There's been more filler than I anticipated too, although with a 39-episode runtime I guess they can afford momentary diversions. Still, I watched eight episodes in a row last night, so it must be doing something right.

Not started

I'm going to try Girlfriend (Kari) despite its dumb name and dating-game origins because I saw it described on Reddit as a harem show without the male character at the centre, which has intrigued me. I don't know what's going to set it apart from slice-of-life shows in that case, but I guess I'm going to find out.

Inou-Battle wa Nichijou-kei no Naka de, or When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace is about a highschool literature club who are given supernatural powers, but nothing else about their lives has changed - there's no world-ending threat to defeat. That sounds like an interesting enough setup to give it a couple of episodes.

Based on a long-finished manga and with a plot synopsis that sounded like shonen tedium, I was pretty certain I'd just give Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu (Parasyte -the maxim-) a miss, but I've seen enough buzz about the series - and the seventeen-year-old beatboxer who provides foley sfx - I've been intrigued.

Friday, October 03, 2014



"If it sees you," our instructor states bluntly, "you're already dead".

We file into the next room. I pick up the flamethrower as instructed - it only has two shots, but while it won't kill her it will scare her off temporarily. I scour the cluttered crates for anything else that might be useful, finding nothing, and open the door.

Steam and flame pour from exposed pipes; the station is full of noise and movement that distracts and startles. My first instinct is to hide, and I obey it.

I pull up the motion tracker: no contacts. This doesn't really reassure me.

The objective marker pulls me to the left, but as I round the corner the lights cut out and I stop dead. The motion tracker shows a single blinking dot moving towards me. I panic and start making my way down a nearby corridor - a dead end.

I stuff myself into a small locker, my heart beating so strong and so fast that I can feel it in my hands. The motion tracker still shows movement to the left, but from my cramped perspective at the end of a corridor I can't see—

She's there.

I hold my breath. She snarls. She starts to move away. When I think I have space, I move out of the cupboard, inching my way closer to the most dangerous thing I have ever laid eyes on as every fibre of my being screams to get back in the cupboard.

She moves behind a stack of pipes but I can still see the spikes on her back, silhouetted against the warning lights. I check the tracker again to make sure she's not moving.

When I focus back on the room, I realise I've lost sight of her.

Cowering behind cover, I keep staring at the tracker for signs of movement. A ping, much too close. I start to move backwards, trying to get a fix without giving my own position away.

She has her back to me.

I glance behind, and see a door. I can make it if I run, I think.

I stand up and sprint. I don't know how close she is, but the thump thump thump of her feet on the steel floors terrifies me. I smack the door release and run through in a blind panic. I turn around just in time to see her secondary jaw shoot out, into my face, and everything goes dark.

I was so scared I'd forgotten about the flamethrower.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Counter Spy

"What kind of spy agency makes its agents buy their own equipment?" I wonder, as I run out of bullets for my diplomatic pistol. I'm pinned down by enemy fire in a Cold Ware missile silo somewhere in Russia, low on health and ammo, and dangerously close to raising the Socialist DEFCON level again.

I spot one of the guards reaching for his radio and pop out of cover, taking the headshot as well as several machine gun rounds in the chest. As my agent collapses, launch codes are entered and the countdown begins: I have 60 seconds to save the Moon from nuclear apocalypse.

Despite its whimsical visuals, bombastic score and joking plotline, Counter Spy is not a game to be taken lightly. A momentary loss of focus on my part has increased tensions between the rival Imperialist and Socialist sides in this atomic stand-off, and although the situation is usually recoverable I find my desperation kicking in and overriding the measured approach I know is necessary to save the world moon.

Missions carried out against each side can lower their DEFCON level, if you find and "convince" an Officer to reduce it, but more often than not I've used that extra breathing space to relax, immediately removing my advantage. Sneaking around and taking out guards one at a time is the usually the safest approach, but get one too many stealthy headshots and I start to feel invincible - a misconception the enemy guards are all to eager to dispel.

But later levels throw so many guards at you together that stealth isn't always viable; breaking out the shotgun can be necessary but messy - better to drug a Specialist and have them do your dirty work.

When everything is going to plan, Counter Spy makes me feel like a top-tier operative: efficient, deadly and unseen. The only problem is, I'm none of those things.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Giant Bomb

Disclaimer: I don't read Giant Bomb. I've got an account, but their aggressively American approach and labyrinthine forums have always combined to produce a community that I find difficult to immerse myself in*.

They recently hired a new writer, and there's been some disappointment expressed on Twitter that it's another white guy. The Giant Bomb community has rallied to the site's defence, and their general argument appears to be, under a lot of bile, that New White Man is a good fit with the site's established editorial style and humour.

I also understand that these places hire people they know, and it's a fact that white guys are higher-profile in the games industry and enthusiast press, as a rule, than any other combination of race and gender. So it makes statistical sense that a bunch of white guys running a videogames website would know and hire another white guy.

But I have difficulty accepting either of these arguments as good enough.

If you care about the quality of opinions and writing, then a different voice than the ones you're already getting can only be a good thing. I already know how white guys feel about Call of Duty. Give me a new perspective.

The statistics are harder to argue with, bit the weakness in that argument is the assumption that Giant Bomb couldn't have possibly found any women or non-white men to hire at all. It would have been harder to find that voice, maybe, but if we really want a more diverse, inclusive industry - and if you don't, I'm afraid we can never be friends - then the established networks like Giant Bomb have to be prepared to put your legwork in.

That they didn't think this effort was worth it - I'm not sure if that's better or worse than the thought never occurring at all - speaks volumes about their (lack of) commitment to improving the industry they're part of as well as the one they cover.

*And I'm a straight white guy, their target audience. I am only imagine how daunting an experience that place must be for women or non-white users.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dark Arisen: Fantasy Cardio

Not pictured: Dragon, cowardice

I'd like to say I was minding my own business when the dragon landed on top of me, but that wouldn't be fair to the goblins I was slaughtering at the time.

I experienced a brief moment of panic when its nine-part health bar appeared at the top of my screen, which was replaced with a mixture of dismay and terror fewer than ten minutes later. Even after grabbing onto the beast and climbing up to cut open it's chest, exposing its heart, I hadn't made a dent.

So I ran away.

I don't know why fleeing from an overpowering enemy is so refreshing in Dragon's Dogma. I'm sure other games, especially in the open world genre, have given you the option.

Maybe it's the fact that your pawns - user-generated AI companions - won't take the hint immediately, continuing to hack away at the colossus in front of them for a moment, before they notice that their master has legged it.

Maybe it's the sense that you've just barely escaped by the skin of your teeth, your health and inventory empty and your stamina gone, but still in an unfriendly wilderness many inhospitable miles from the nearest inn.

Or maybe it's the infrequency and unpredictability of the encounters. You can be happily exploring for hours, cutting through bandits without incident or a serious challenge. The map is slowly uncovering, and you spot a castle on the horizon.

"That doesn't look too far," you think, "and the enemies here are pretty easy. I'll just take a look."

Then out of nowhere comes a winged shadow, chewing through your companions and health potions with equal ease and speed, and your only option is an exhilarating retreat down any path that doesn't have a griffon at the end of it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

New season anime

When KILL la KILL, Log Horizon and Golden Time ended a couple of weeks back, I was staring at the upcoming season of shows, unable to figure out which, if any, of these series' I'd bother with. It's incredibly difficult to judge anime by its cover (or a short synopsis) because so many of them sound so cliche.

Fast forward to today and I've started seven new shows. I don't think all of them are going to last the season, but they've all done enough so far to keep me at least interested. The highlights so far have been Mekaku City Actors, Akuma no Riddle and One Week Friends, although both are running a fine line.

Only the first episode of MCA has aired so far, but it's got a really intriguing undercurrent that I can't quite put my finger on. It's all questions and no answers so far, and the Tumblr frenzy it's inspired over the months leading up to its release gives me pause. Still, it's visually arresting and the characters introduced so far aren't too offputting, plus the flash-forwards(?) and other assorted weirdness will keep it on the list for a while.

One Week Friends is a lot more predictable: it's going to be this season's feel trip. The plot - a girl forgets her friends at the start of each week, but one classmate determines he's going to befriend her anew each Monday - isn't logically sound, but it's a joy to watch when it's not heartbreaking. It's going to destroy me, but I think I'm going to love every second anyway.

The premise of Akuma no Riddle is horribly cliche, and its execution, if you'll forgive the pun, doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence, but I've really liked the two episodes I've seen so far. By far the biggest thing it's got going for it is the near-total absence of fanservice (apart from the regrettable OP sequence), which is especially surprising in a show about teenage assassins in an all-girls high school.

Still, the World is Beautiful is a fantasy shoujo series, which is either going to be incredibly good or disappointingly awful depending on how the relationship between the protagonists develops. Nike, the fourth princess from the Principality of Rain, has been nominated by her sisters to travel halfway across the world to marry the Sun King, a power-mad dictator who also happens to be just a child. It's difficult to see how romantic they can make this relationship considering the age gap, but it would also be weird to see it as maternal (especially considering she's legally his wife?).

On the chopping block, much to my surprise, is Studio Bones' mecha epic Captain Earth. Its dialogue is offputtingly dense without actually achieving any exposition, and the various layers of coming-of-age drama, corporate conspiracy and intergalactic war haven't gelled for me yet. It looks stunning, which shouldn't be unexpected considering the studio, but it's not clicking.

Likewise, Brynhildr in the Darkness is feeling a bit frustrating. Faced with a prediction of his death (from a transfer student who may or may not be a deceased childhood friend), our protagonist... tries to fulfil it in order to disprove the concept of fate? I don't really understand what his motivation was. This one comes from the writer behind Elfen Lied, so I'm not expecting great things.

The last show on my menu is Ping Pong The Animation, which is surely the weirdest-looking on the schedule. It seems, from the first episode, to be a pretty basic sports anime, but the visuals alone have intrigued me - they've got to be pretty confident in the story to have such offputting character designs and sloppy - but incredibly energetic - animation. I don't expect it to chart new territory, but fingers crossed it'll keep things interesting enough to be worth the bandwidth.