Feb 052014

It happens from time to time, even to the best of us.  Caught flat-footed on an off day, we suddenly find ourselves completely incapable of explaining our hobbies to someone without babbling like a moron.  In one terrifying instant, years of knowledge and insight melt away, leaving behind an inarticulate puddle of stupidity.  Here for your amusement is a retelling of how, last weekend, my attempt to talk about anime to another human being left me feeling about as well-adjusted as Tomoko Kuroki from WataMote.  Enjoy.



The girl seemed nice enough.  She was actually quite pretty in that tall, blonde Scandinavian sort of way, but we clearly had all the chemistry of an empty test tube.  Unfortunately for us, the other two people at the table worked in the same field and were completely engrossed in talking shop.  So, we plodded pleasantly through the barroom ritual of making small talk with someone you’ve never met before and won’t see again any time soon.

“Yes, I come here all the time.  Yeah, you can’t go too far wrong with any of the appetizers.  No, I ate earlier, so I’m just having a beer.  Oh, you work at That Job but would rather do That Other Job?  Interesting.  I produce written and video content for this website I made.  Yeah, one guy does a column about video games, I write about anime…”

“Oh,” she said between sips of hard cider, “you like anime?”  It wasn’t the excited voice of a fellow otaku, but the politely interested tone of someone who couldn’t possibly care less about the topic at hand.


Normal human detected! All hands to battle stations!

“Yeah, I guess you could say so…”

Stop trying to backtrack, idiot.  You just admitted to writing a weekly column.

“I mean, yeah, it’s not the kind of thing most people are into.  You wouldn’t come across it unless you knew someone who already watched it…”

Oh, GREAT.  Reinforce the idea that your hobby is weird.  What a clever idea!

“I guess I just like it because it’s not what you’d normally see on TV, you know?”

It’s not worth it, dude.  Change the subject ASAP.  Abort mission.

“It’s gotten a lot easier to access over the years.  You know, it used to be like twenty bucks for a VHS tape with like two episodes on it.  Now there are online subscriptions…”

STOP!  Just stop.  You’re babbling.  What’s wrong with you?  You’re not even attracted to this girl.  Why can’t you just speak like a normal human?


Social interaction failed. Retry from last checkpoint?

The conversation dragged itself along for what felt like another three centuries.  I managed to avoid offering a pompous correction when she made a reference to “reading anime,” but couldn’t stop myself giving the world’s worst explanation of why manga is printed from right to left.  I nearly stood up and danced for joy when a fifth person arrived at the table and hijacked the conversation with tales of her job as a waitress.

Looking back, I’m baffled by what an absolute ass I undoubtedly made of myself.  If you went nine years back in time and asked High School Me about anime, he’d probably have been more coherent.  I normally pride myself on being able to convey my interest in something without talking someone’s ear off.  Heck, I essentially have a monologue titled “Yes, I’m Quite Fond of Anime” stashed away in my subconscious.  So why did I become such a spectacular train wreck while chatting idly with someone whose name I can’t remember?

I suspect some of my own prejudices lie at the heart of the matter.  On the rare occasion anime gets any kind of mainstream exposure in the US, it’s typically shown in a less than flattering light.  I think this gives some American fans (myself included) a bit of a persecution complex.  We expect “normal” people who “just don’t get it” to write us off as a bunch of awkward dorks.  In the moments before my epic conversational failure, I let myself fall prey those expectations.  Based entirely on appearances and some meaningless small talk, I had decided that I was dealing with someone who would judge me because of my interests.  It was a lazy, ignorant conclusion that colored my interpretation of everything she said and did.  I started reading condescending dismissal into perfectly innocent remarks like, “I knew some people who were into anime.”  In my state of mind, that casual attempt at establishing common ground was promptly translated into, “I had to interact with this bunch of nerdy losers once, and I assume you’re just like them.”  Standing in front of an imagined firing squad, I became my own stereotype of a socially inept otaku.

If our mutual acquaintances ever put us in the same room as one another again, I owe this girl an apology.  I let my preconceived notions distort my opinion of her, put her through a painfully awkward disaster of a conversation, and apparently couldn’t be bothered to remember her name.  If you ever find yourself in my position, dear reader, I hope you’ll learn from my mistakes.  The day may come when you’re judged unfairly for the things you like, but expecting someone to do so shows the same kind of prejudice on your part.  It also makes you look like a doofus.


Kawaii Overthink is written by Paul Jensen. You can follow his ramblings about anime on Twitter.
Feb 042014

I’m getting extremely excited for the next installment of Super Smash Bros. You could argue it’s the only game franchise that draws the hardcore gaming audience to Nintendo consoles (and as such I expect a surge of Wii U sales to occur around the time of Super Smash Bros.’ release later this year). Smash Bros. brings together two very vocal communities in the gamingsphere: the fighting game crowd and nostalgic Nintendo fans. Even before this latest Smash Bros. game was revealed, these passionate fans sent virtually endless suggestions for what they want in the next game to series mastermind Masahiro Sakurai. Even as we now get daily updates on the Smash Bros. official website, fans are still blogging and commenting about what they want to see in the new game: characters, stages, music remixes, so on and so forth.

But you know what’s missing? A humble reminder to Mr. Sakurai about what we don’t want to see in the latest Super Smash Bros. Thus, I present my own suggestions for what should be removed from the Wii U Smash Bros.


Eliminate “clone” characters from the roster.

I guess I should get the big one out of the way first. Even during Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s development, Smash fans were extremely outspoken about removing characters that share the same (or very similar) move-sets. The problem was not solved with Brawl. While some clone characters from Super Smash Bros. Melee such as Dr. Mario and Pichu were removed, other clone characters were added (Wolf, Lucas) while some clones from Melee either remained (Ganondorf, Falco) or were replaced with a new character model (Young Link/Toon Link). This time around, we want to see some more variety, especially considering Sakurai said the new game’s character roster will not be as large as the one in Brawl.


Of course, we know that one clone, Toon Link, is already in the game. Hopefully Sakurai can give him some new abilities this time around, to better differentiate between Toon and regular Link. At the very least, Toon Link’s Final Smash could be different instead of sharing the “Triforce Slash” with his more realistic counterpart. I always thought it would be cool for Toon Link to use the Wind Waker to summon a huge windstorm that could blow enemy combatants off the stage… No need to pay me for that one, Sakurai. That suggestion is on the house.


Either remove the difficulty/tediousness in unlocking characters and stages, or make unlocking them a fun challenge.

When I first played Super Smash Bros. Brawl on my Wii U, I started with a clean slate because a malfunction in my Wii prevented me from doing a data transfer. And what a pain it was to re-unlock everything. I found a “quick cheat” online that allows you to rack up 450 Versus matches fast (thus unlocking all characters), but it still took me several hours of mashing the Start button to reach that point. But it was a lot easier and faster than unlocking every character through “The Subspace Emissary,” the lackluster single-player mode in Brawl.

Here I see two possible solutions. For the players who want to unlock everything quickly and easily for a full multiplayer experience, there should be an easy option to do so. And for the players who want to feel rewarded with a single-player experience, Sakurai should make one that focuses on fights and fight-related challenges rather than story; perhaps a beefed-up version of the series’ staple Event Matches would suffice. Maybe even upgrade the Smash Bros. series’ traditional fighting teams into a full-fledged foe.

Whatever single-player experiences we get, Sakurai, just promise me we don’t have to fight Mr. Tron-With-Butterfly-Wings again. Worst. Final boss. EVER.


Scrap massively huge stages.

I have a screenshot of a stage that I want you to look at. Here, take a look.


You see that monstrosity? That’s New Pork City. You might not remember it because it’s the stage in Brawl that nobody wanted to play. Why? Because the stage was so huge and so open, fights on this stage devolved into nothing more than wild goose chases. Sakurai reasoned that people liked Melee’s Hyrule Temple stage because it was big, and thus made a bigger stage in Brawl. And boy, was it a mistake. Luckily screenshots for the new Super Smash Bros. have so far displayed stages that are quite simple, on small areas that contain one or two small platforms. You’ve got nowhere to go; you might as well fight. Smaller stages are perfect for epic Smash Bros. fights, and thankfully it looks like Sakurai realizes that developing the new game.

I am hopeful that the Wii U and 3DS installment of Super Smash Bros. will be a huge improvement over Brawl regardless, as it seems Sakurai has been implementing tons of suggestions from the passionate Smash fan community. I was also going to mention how random-chance tripping, added in Brawl, shouldn’t return in the sequel. But then I learned that Sakurai confirmed last year that the controversial feature is not in the next Smash Bros. Whether or not all of my suggestions become a reality, the simple fact that Sakurai is listening to his fans gives me confidence that the new Super Smash Bros. will be the best game to grace the series yet.


The Minus World is written by Steven Brasley. You can keep up with his thoughts on gaming via Twitter.
Feb 032014

This year’s first F1 pre-season test wrapped up last Friday, and the four-day session in Spain has given the sport’s fans plenty to argue about.  We’ve learned what the new cars look like, and gotten our first impression of how well new engines are working.  In both an aesthetic and mechanical sense, it’s not a pretty picture for a number of teams up and down the grid.  Time to crunch some numbers and stir up some controversy.


Oh, MY.

We were warned that the new regulations might result in some strange-looking cars, and lo, it has come to pass.  Most of the teams have ended up with either a massively stepped nose (Ferrari, Mercedes) or a suggestive-looking protuberance hanging off the front wing (Caterham, Toro Rosso).  The reason for these odd designs is a headache-inducing mix of detailed rule changes and aerodynamic principles, but the basic causes and effects are pretty simple.  New rules require the front of the car to be lower than before, which will hopefully reduce the chances of one car getting airborne after rear-ending another.  This is probably a good idea as far as safety goes, but having a low nose makes it harder for the teams to manage the flow of air over and under their cars.  This means less downforce, which means less grip, which means slower lap times.  As a result, the teams have tried to make the low part of the car’s nose as small as possible, which gives us things that look like anteaters and vacuum cleaners.

Of course, a car’s appearance isn’t a particularly big deal as long as it wins races.  Unfortunately, this won’t provide much comfort to the teams using Renault engines.  The French company’s new V6 is evidently prone to excessive vibrations that cause problems with the fancy new energy recovery systems. (I’ll leave it up to you to combine jokes about the Toro Rosso’s nose with the phrase “excessive vibrations,” dear reader.)  As a result of having malfunctioning engines, the Renault-powered teams weren’t able to do anywhere near as much running as their rivals.  How bad was it?  The 4 teams with Mercedes engines covered 875 laps, the 3 Ferrari teams covered 444, and the 3 Renault teams managed a measly 151.  Perhaps that number might have been a bit higher if Lotus had bothered to show up, but the difference wouldn’t have been huge.


The RB10 in motion, a rare sight at the Jerez test.

Perhaps worst off are the defending champions at Red Bull Racing.  On top of the previously mentioned issues with their Renault engines, the team has run into some serious overheating issues.  How serious?  Well, serious enough that they only managed to complete 21 laps in 4 days, and gave up halfway through the last day to pack up and go home.  Anyone who’s followed the sport over the last few years will recall that the folks at Red Bull have always had some issues with cooling, but this seems far worse than the occasional toasty alternator.  They’ve got the design talent and the budget to fix the car by the first race of the season, but they’ll be at a disadvantage in comparison to their rivals.  McLaren, Mercedes, and Ferrari all completed over 200 laps during the first test, which makes for 200 laps’ worth of testing mileage that Red Bull will need to make up during the next two pre-season sessions.  While the other frontrunners can move on to making their cars faster, the defending champs have yet to finish making their car functional.

So, is anyone looking particularly impressive after these first four days?  Well, it’s difficult to say.  Fast pre-season lap times are notoriously unreliable, especially at the first test session.  Remember that time we thought McLaren and Williams were going to have a good year in 2013?  Still, we can draw a few basic conclusions.  First, the big spenders at the front of the grid will probably continue to dominate unless a midfield team can pull off a car design miracle.  Second, McLaren’s decision to give Kevin Magnussen (I’ve taken to calling him “K-Mags”) a race seat seems to have been a good one.  The Danish rookie worked his tail off during testing, and set the fastest overall lap time.  Only Alonso and Rosberg completed more laps.  Finally, I still have no idea how to pronounce Daniil Kvyat’s last name.  Good thing I only have to spell it in order to write this column.


Back from its winter hiatus, Pit Box One is written by Paul Jensen. You can follow his thoughts on video games and motor racing on Twitter.