Tag Archives: review

Redline (and Battle Royale)

Remember Galaxy Express 999, or Robotech, or pretty much any of the anime that made its way overseas and opened the door? For a number of people, the works of anime that got them hooked were because of the mind expanding experience. Lately, it seems like the vast majority of anime is about naked highschool girls and their panties. Not an especially new phenomenon, but there’s a chasm with ample room for an anime that reminds people of what got them into it in the first place.

Fear no more, boys and girls, we have the movie Redline full of oldschool goodness that fills every second with a visual feast. The story is simple: an eclectic mix of characters participate in a series of high stakes races in a bizarre variety of machines. Things get more interesting as this particular race is set on a bizarre fascistic planet which does not want the race to happen. As the story is very simple, it’s hard to elaborate without ruining all the crazy events which happen. That the story maintains a tight focus speaks well of it, as there is so much going on that could easily water down the kickass racing. This reminds me of one of the things which bogs down many anime with sci-fi or fantasy elements: The need to explain so much of how the universe works.

Visually, it’s an absolute joy to behold. Words cannot adequately describe how amazing this movie looks. The audio is solid, with a pulsing soundtrack that matches the action perfectly. Dubbing has gone a long way since those early titles, and that is one recent development which enhances the movie. Just watch the movie!

Battle Royale

“Could you kill your best friend?” Possibly one of the best taglines ever in cinema, and naturally the movie has one of the most memorable premises. With the nation in spiral, and the youth in revolt, the adults are so frightened of their own children they create Battle Royale to turn the youth violence inward. In short, a class of high school students are abducted, taken to an island, rigged with explosive collars, and given weapons as they are set on each other or else get blown to bits. In this free for all, there are no rules of engagement and no quarter given as the name of the game is to be the last one standing at the end.

An obvious comparison will be made to The Hunger Games for a similar premise, but there’s one detail which makes all the difference in the world: In Battle Royale the contestants know each other. Rivalries, friendships, unrequited feelings, all of these come bubbling up and are tested as the class is put in an impossible situation. At least one scene comes to mind which played out like something out of Shakespeare, but more awesome because there were guns involved.

The current version available is the Director’s Cut with additional scenes that were shot after the fact, an unusual choice. Even more unusual the extra bits were not scenes of extra violence and sex, but scenes which expanded the characters including a recurring flashback. This also includes three epilogues, which is a little absurd but it’s hard to pick one and say that it should be removed. I’m especially partial to the final epilogue and the last line spoken which even got its own epitaph. Could also be a sign of getting old that it felt especially poignant to me.

Yes, there was a sequel to Battle Royale, but one might be better off skipping it. From what I read, it sounds like a few characters were arbitrarily brought back. While the first movie has a subtext with political implications, the second one really packed it in, which wouldn’t be so bad if it had anything insightful or fresh to say. It’s pretty much: Youth good, adults bad. Watching the first movie, I got the impression that the real problem was that nobody was being an adult. The principle antagonist in the first movie was this strange blend of terrifying, douchey, and just plain sad. Overall, Battle Royale is one of those movies which a movie buff has to see at least once.

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Kaze no Stigma review

I was visiting my local library about a week and a half ago looking for some free entertainment and this anime series caught my eye. The idea of a fierce rivalry between two masters of different elements intrigued me. The two main characters are Kazuma, a young man who was banished from his family of fire-users and returns as an expert wind user, and Ayano, his second cousin who took Kazuma’s place as the successor to their clan following his exile. I envisioned an anime in which the two main characters, equally gifted, would clash countless times in epic battles where each side has legitimate grievances with the other in the style of Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin. It had enormous potential, and boy, did it not live up to it.

It started off on the right foot when Kazuma returns and begins harassing his former clan. The build up to the inevitable first clash between Ayano and Kazuma progressed just as I’d hoped, but the series quickly takes a turn for the standard as it quickly becomes clear that Kazuma is the superior mage and the rivalry gets watered down into run-of-the-mill personality clashes you see in romantic comedy animes. Before too long Kazuma and Ayano get set up as the couple we’re supposed to be rooting for. Ayano often secretly agonizes over what Kazuma thinks of her, takes an unhealthy interest in his social life, and flips out when he looks at any other woman. The story continues to not do Ayano any favors, as she is often the victim of random acts of fanservice, mostly in the form of unnecessary upskirt panty shots.

I guess being second cousins is officially the line where it’s okay to bang someone with the same last name as you in Japan. I’m not sure that’s something I would do, but no one in the show seems to mind. Quite the contrary, before long nearly every single supporting character is working to bring the two together, which is another pretty annoying, uninspired tool for rom-coms. But maybe I’m just being a hater because everybody in my life doesn’t get up in morning asking themselves what they can do to help me get laid. That being said, as the raised-on-sappy-unrealistic-Disney-romances sucker that I am, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a little entertainment out of the rom-com subplot, and the fact that it was fairly uninspired makes me hate myself even more.

The ending left me with more than a couple of questions about some of the finer plot points of the story but by then my expectations for the series were below the point where a few loose ends would seriously damage my opinion of it. I suppose I’m partly to blame for my own disappointment that Kaze no Stigma turned out to be a fairly average anime, considering its lead characters consist of an overpowered emo guy that all the chicks want to bang and a pink-haired chick who swordfights in her schoolgirl uniform.

Overall, the action scenes are usually entertaining and the story, though uninspired, was compelling enough for me to watch through to the end. I’ve used the word “uninspired” a lot in this review but that doesn’t mean I disliked it. Kaze no Stigma is not bad, it’s just okay. It was a premise with a great deal of unfulfilled potential that turned out to be pretty average, like a TV show you enjoy from time to time but don’t go out of your way to watch. Plus it was free to rent from my library, so the price was right.

Lollipop Chainsaw

For some time, when friends would complain that the zombie games need to go away I would add that they should go only after Lollipop Chainsaw comes out. The advertisements and trailers played up the raunchy parts, but the real appeal is in the sheer madness and unabashed old school fun. While the game itself doesn’t innovate, the game is a solid, albeit brief, experience.

The story revolves around a cheerleader with a knack for zombie killing and a giant chainsaw fighting through a horde of the undead. Her boyfriend gets bitten, so she removes his head to save him and proceeds to carry him around like a set of keys throughout the game. The player character with a bodiless sidekick sounds like the winning formula from Shadows of the Damned, and it works well. Nick, the boyfriend, makes a good Sancho to Juliet’s Don Quixote. As a rule of thumb, I don’t like stupid heroes, but Juliet comes off more as ditzy than oblivious. That she more often explains to Nick the way the universe works than others explain it to her is refreshing, and she is having a blast killing zombies which fits the goofy tone of the game.

Combat is straight forward, but it should be noted that the name of the game is getting a high score and lots of medals. The first time around, just winning will be the goal, but as you progress through the game and make sufficient upgrades, you’ll become quite a killing machine. Sparkle Hunting is when you deal the fatal blow to three or more zombies simultaneously, and this nets more points and medals compared to killing zombies individually. This will be difficult to do early on, but this is compensated for with a gauge you can fill up and trigger at will a special mode where Juliet is invincible and can smite zombies with a single blow, set to a memorable one hit wonder. Stage 5 has to be my favorite level in the game: it’s minigame free, all about putting the lessons and upgrades you acquired to use, and it culminates in an awesome boss battle.

Minigames and QTEs, these are ubiquitous in modern games and it’s no shock that they would be part of this one too. Overall, minigames are a nice way to break up the normal gameplay though to be honest I don’t think it ever gets boring. One stage is minigame heavy, but it works with the nature of the level. QTEs in general are a pain in the neck, but they are done at times that make sense, are practically telegraphed to the player, and you have plenty of time to do them. There are QTEs where failure means death, but they are very hard to screw up.

Seems like everyone can’t avoid talking about the risqué humor and pantyshots, so let’s get this nonsense out of the way. As upskirt action goes, you find it if you’re looking for it, if not then it’s pretty sparse. Yes, there is plenty of perversion in the scenes involving the elderly Japanese gentleman, but he’s a minor character. The alternate costumes are par for the course, and the one that managed to raise my pulse was the Shiro from Deadman Wonderland outfit hugging Juliet’s curves. I can’t help thinking about the time some friends got up in arms because of the sexual themes in the game Catherine because the ads overplayed it, but in the end it was a good game that simply had some grown up subject matter. Plainly put: If any talk of sex bothers you and you don’t care about playing good games, then don’t play it. If you want porn and you don’t care about playing good games, then don’t play it.

The one real defect of the game is that it’s too damn short. The first run could be finished in less than six hours, but there’s replay value in fulfilling objectives like beating the high score, buying extra outfits, or tackling the Ranked Mode. However, Ranked Mode should be challenged in earnest after getting all the goodies you care to get as those medals received don’t count for buying stuff in Story mode. The gun can be wonky between the autolock sticking to one enemy and you’re trying to pick off the explosive barrel behind him. Nick Tickets let you use a special move, but are of limited usefulness even though using those fit with the absurd tone of the game. All in all a fun game that is only hindered by being a little too short, but the crazy fun to be had is abundant though a frugal gamer might be better off renting or waiting for a major price drop.

Shadows of the Damned

Shadows of the Damned heavily plugged the involvement of Suda 51, the mad genius of video games, but upon playing it becomes more apparent the Shinji Mikami contribution. In fact, the game is so much like Resident Evil 4 that it puts Resident Evil 5 to shame for the inadequate imitation. The story is fairly traditional: bad guy kidnaps girlfriend and our hero, armed with his sassy skullgun sidekick, goes on a quest to get her back. In the general sense, it’s nothing new, but in the execution and little details the game is pure magic.

The gameplay is straightforward run n’ gun, but unlike RE4 you can move around as you aim the gun. Granted, this makes the game fairly easy, but evade command is what makes the game really easy since it makes the player immune to damage. Ammo boxes and healing items are fairly plentiful, and will automatically float to you when you get close enough. Not having to scrounge for items is a nice way of maintaining the flow and managing inventory all comes down to the push of button.

Despite the threadbare premise, the game does offer plenty of story and offers a very rich universe. Examining posters spark brief conversations about the nature of the Underworld. Our hot blooded hero, Garcia F. Hotspur (and the “F” doesn’t stand for “Francis”) and his firearm, Johnson, take turns reading storybooks which tell the backstories of the various bosses with some amusing asides. Overall Garcia and Johnson play off each other well, and are a welcome break from stoic soldier types. All the macho dickswinging among faceless space marine and chainsaw vasectomy enthusiasts appear limp compared to a pair that whip out a giant cannon dubbed “The Big Boner” and fire it very suggestively.

Kidnapped princesses are an old story, but the relationship with our hero is established and she’s often on the hero’s mind as he battles through the baddies. The big bad uses his powers to torment and revive the girlfriend, which can be pretty rough to watch. On the other hand, it is a refreshing break from games which have the princess as a plot device and nothing more. Further, the player and hero are constantly reminded of what’s at stake while the cruelty and utter dickishness of the villain is illuminated.

Bugs are few and far between, even though one bug which can make the final boss effectively immortal. This bug is rare, but the first time I fought the boss for nearly three hours before giving up in frustration. Unskippable cutscenes can be a tad annoying, but at least only the first and final cutscenes have any major runtime. The Unreal 3 engine works nice and all, but waiting for stuff to properly render can be a tad annoying. Most people will generally suggest playing on Hard mode for a challenge because of how easy the game is, and for the most part they are right on the money. While QTEs are there in the game, only with one specific enemy do you have the situation where failure means death, but you only fight this type three times in the final level.

Good gameplay, lots of laughs, and it’s a lot like Resident Evil 4. It’s a damn fun game, and worth playing. In short, if you like offbeat shooters, Suda 51, rampant penis jokes, then play it, now.