Mar 312014

Two races into the season, the topic of conversation in Formula 1 remains the new engines.  Considering the reduced noise the turbocharged V6 units make, one could say that the arguments over their merits have become louder than the engines themselves.  However, for all the salvos exchanged between critics and proponents of the new regulations, there is one overriding fact that renders the debate irrelevant: the change was necessary to keep the sport alive.


Regardless of how popular a racing series may be, it cannot be expected to thrive without manufacturer support.  You can gather the world’s best drivers at the world’s best tracks and pack the stands full of fans, but none of it means anything without cars to race.  The days of scrappy teams of enthusiasts building their own racing cars have long since passed.  Whether they support private teams or field their own factory drivers, major automotive companies have become a necessary part of top-level motorsport.  I bring up this obvious point because Formula 1 in its previous form was on the verge of losing this critical element.

Manufacturers will only devote resources to a racing series if they get something out of it.  The free advertising that comes with winning a grand prix is always nice, but the main benefit of racing from a factory perspective is the opportunity to develop and test new technologies.  This is only possible when a racing series is relevant to the kinds of road cars that major companies want to build.  The small-displacement, high-revving, naturally aspirated V8s that F1 used up through 2013 were the exact opposite of relevant.  As a result, Renault was considering pulling out of the sport as an engine manufacturer, leaving only Mercedes and Ferrari to supply power plants.  Since it’s unlikely they could have supported the entire grid on their own, F1 would have been left with fewer teams and fewer star drivers.  With dwindling support for the series, we would likely have seen a slow exodus of talent to other disciplines.

By moving to an engine style with greater relevance to road cars, F1 was able to keep its three engine manufacturers, and even attract a fourth.  Honda’s planned return to the sport in 2015 is a direct result of the new technology.  The sport’s increased relevance allowed Honda to justify the expense of participating.  If the change proves successful, F1 may even be able to win back other companies it lost due to its high cost and past refusal to move forward.  There was a time when Formula 1 was able to be both a drivers’ championship and a major force in automotive development, and it can be both again if it makes the effort.

To see what F1 is missing out on, simply look at the entry list from a World Endurance Championship or United SportsCar race.  Between the GT and Prototype classes, these sports attract the support of a wide variety of car companies because of their value as a testing ground.  Even without F1’s rabid fanbase, endurance racing is thriving and expanding. A major manufacturer can look at the 24 Hours of Le Mans or 12 Hours of Sebring and see an opportunity to improve its products.  It’s why Porsche decided to build a Le Mans prototype instead of a Formula 1 car, and it’s why Ferrari is also considering a return to the sport.  As the global economy continues its slump and private teams continue to have trouble finding sponsors, can F1 really afford to ignore the benefits of attracting factory teams?  Of course not, and that’s why we have new engines this year.  Perhaps they aren’t as loud as they used to be, but neither are the engines in modern IndyCars or Audi endurance racers.  The high-pitched scream of the old V8s was little more than the cries of a sport slowly sliding into irrelevance.  The future doesn’t sound the same as the past, and it never will.  Get used to it.


Pit Box One is written by Paul Jensen. You can follow his thoughts on video games and motor racing on Twitter.
Mar 282014

Continued from Part 1:

The second day gets off to a much more leisurely start than the first.  With my press pass already in hand, I’m able to skip all the registration lines and wander into the convention center the minute it opens.  This seems like a great idea until I realize that I’m in almost an hour before anything starts.  Secure on a bench in the Hynes second floor hallway, I collect my thoughts and people-watch.

One thing is obvious: Attack on Titan owns this convention.  Nevermind that the dub premiere is set to be today’s biggest event; it’s obvious by looking around that the show is the darling of the cosplay scene.  For every Sword Art Online or Naruto cosplayer, there are at least two people in Survey Corps uniforms or Colossal Titan masks.  One clever individual even combines the two, draping the iconic green hood over his titan-print tights.


Boston traffic would’ve been easier to deal with if I’d had a set of maneuver gear.

My thoughts are echoed at the morning panel for review website The Fandom Post.  Veteran anime journalist Chris Beveridge suggests that Titan may be having an effect on the US anime scene on par with iconic shows like Cowboy Bebop.  The original manga is the main focus of the Kodansha Comics industry panel later in the day, as the publisher launches an oversized omnibus collection and several spin-offs.  Whether it’s the epic scale of the series, an unconscious connection with today’s fans, or the cosplay-ready military uniforms, some magic combination of factors has made Attack on Titan king of the hill over here.  As I sit through a screening of Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad, the questionable English chorus of the theme song sums things up nicely.  To repurpose the quote, Attack on Titan was made to hit in America.

The rest of the day rushes by in an exhausting blur of industry panels and dealer floor buying sprees.  My brain short-circuits a bit during a panel explaining Kantai Collection, the latest online gaming craze in Japan.  Something about fighting aliens with anthropomorphized battleship girls is simultaneously baffling and completely logical.  I guess I didn’t realize the world had already moved on from airplane girls.  I’m hoping they go for classic sports cars next.


How many ship girls could a shipper ship if a shipper could ship ship girls?

At the Kodansha Comics panel, I learn a couple of interesting things.  First, the Attack on Titan manga, which has seemingly owned the bestseller lists for an eternity, wasn’t a particularly big hit until the anime series came out.  Second, there seems to be a push towards premium collector’s editions throughout the US anime and manga markets.  The hardcover release of Vinland Saga reminds me of the big-ticket Blu-ray collections that Funimation is beginning to experiment with.  I wonder if one of my past articles was right, and we’re starting to see “standard edition” physical media replaced by a combination of cheap digital content and expensive premium items.

The Funimation industry panel is most impressive for the way it takes a huge room and packs it to the back rows with people.  After running through some repeat information from yesterday’s events, we get to the big news items.  There’s the Toonami airing of Black Lagoon, a dub release date for action comedy Ben-to, home video rights for A Certain Scientific Railgun S, and the dub cast announcement for Red Data Girl.  Most importantly, we learn that a second season of Space Dandy will launch in July.  Hooray for trippy sci-fi comedy, baby!


The crowd at Funimation’s industry panel. I’m in there somewhere. (Photo from Funimation)

I wander out of the Funimation panel to find the convention more crowded than ever before, and find myself more exhausted than ever before.  I decide to forego the completely mobbed Attack on Titan dub screening and get a row of seats to myself at the Crunchyroll panel.  A few catalog title announcements later, I’ve completed my final event of the day.  I’m a bit disappointed to find that the convention is around a week too soon for spring simulcast announcements.  A final trip through the artists and dealers nets a Kill la Kill poster, the Blu-ray release of Wolf Children, and a card game featuring anime maids.  Yes, there’ll be a full article on that last one in the near future, and yes, it’s hilariously entertaining.

I head straight home to New Jersey on Sunday, rather than stopping in for Anime Boston’s final day.  I’ve done, seen, and bought everything I wanted, and am ready to call it a weekend well spent.  The city of Boston sees fit to give me a parting gift by squeezing six lanes of traffic into two, and I spend as much time in stop-and-go hell as I did waiting for any panel at the convention.  To quote Madarame from the classic otaku comedy Genshiken, “We have to wait in line to get home, too.”


Check out part one of our coverage here.

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

Mar 282014

Welcome to another edition of Channel Chaser. When anyone talks about a new television show that pops up on the tube, the primary topic on everyone’s mind seems to be the originality factor; in other words, what is this show doing or saying through its plot, characters, setting, or other elements that has never been done before? The novelty and originality of a TV program’s premise is a big part of what attracts viewers to the show and keeps them tuning in every week.

Because of this, I’ve seen a lot of eye-rolling and heard a lot of annoyed sighs lately about the apparent lack of any kind of originality whatsoever in the media anymore; I’m speaking, of course, about spinoffs and reboots.


In general, spinoffs aren’t treated nearly as negatively because of their extremely close association with popular parent shows. Rebooted shows, however, are a much tougher sell: the idea of taking a beloved classic program and recasting, resurfacing, and totally revamping it doesn’t usually go over well with people who have seen them in their original glory. If you want my opinion, though, I think people could do to be a little more open-minded when it comes to rebooting a TV show; I would point to the relative popularity and success of the recently rebooted Star Trek film series as a perfect example of when reboots can go right. In fact, I would say that in many ways, reboots are essential to keep the shows we love in such high esteem.

Why is this, you ask? First of all, there are many purely practical reasons as to why shows need to be rebooted; changing viewer tastes, modern innovations, and aging actors, just to name a few. While many older television shows have managed to maintain their charm through the ages, many others are so hopelessly out of date in both technical and theatrical aspects that they cannot hope to appeal to the minds of current audiences. Rebooting a story to bring it up to date with the current times and put it in a context that more viewers will understand and be interested in is a great way to breathe new life into the classics; I would point to the renewed wave of interest in Sherlock Holmes through the modernized shows Sherlock and Elementary as proof of this idea.


Furthermore, shows obviously can’t stay around forever because actors age and must necessarily be replaced with fresher, younger faces; this transition is made much smoother through rebooting rather than just dropping unfamiliar people into the same story. While this kind of thing can also be avoided by just spinning a show off, that trick can only be used so many times before the spinoffs lose any vestige of what the original show was trying to be. Take Star Trek for example; by the time Voyager rolled around (the franchise’s fourth spinoff, for anyone counting), it had become so hopelessly filled with techno-babble, increasingly ludicrous plotlines, and characters so lifeless and unoriginal that they may as well have been stamped out of a mold, that the franchise was almost unrecognizable. In TV, as with any medium, you can only try and top yourself so many times before implausibility makes the audience lose interest. Lost, anyone?

This was also tragically the case with one of my favorite television franchises, the sci-fi series Stargate. For almost as long as it ran on TV, one of the trademarks of Stargate that made it stand out from the competition was the fact that despite the grand interstellar adventures, powerful alien adversaries and dire threats to universal peace that made up each episode, the shows had an overall tone that still managed to be light and funny at times; it didn’t take itself seriously. In the aftermath of the smash-hit reboot Battlestar Galactica, however, every show in the sci-fi vein was pressured to mimic the dark, gritty, and serious overtones that made the show so entrancingly realistic, and the third show of the Stargate franchise, Stargate Universe, went to great lengths to fit into this mold. The result was a frankly awful show and the death of Stargate on television, at least temporarily.

Another key reason for rebooting a show is the fact that, due to the necessity for show-runners to keep topping themselves when their characters face new challenges, there comes a time when the heroes of a show are too powerful for the show to make sense anymore. Again, focusing on the Stargate franchise, the entire point of Stargate SG-1 was that despite being incredibly outmatched in terms of numbers and technology, a contemporary military force could use ingenuity and innovation, not to mention good old plucky human spirit, to outwit and defeat vastly superior alien forces. As the franchise progressed, however, Stargate teams gathered more and more advanced technologies from across the universe with which to augment their capabilities, until it finally got to a point about midway through Stargate Atlantis where humanity was obviously the dominant force in galactic affairs, with ships and weapons that could handily defeat any conceivable foe. When the show’s plot lost this appealing “root for the underdog” mentality, Stargate more or less fell apart; the only thing left to do was focus on inner dramas rather than external forces, which, as previously stated, was something the franchise was never meant to do.


While I love Richard Dean Anderson and the rest of the Stargate universe as much as the next guy, I believe that it would be incredibly advantageous for the franchise to reinvent itself in the same manner as Star Trek. In the aftermath of the original 1994 Stargate film, author Bill McCay wrote a series of five novels that detailed the political, social, and economic fallout both on and off Earth following the movie’s events; these novels ignored the canon resets of SG-1 and maintained the notion that there are only two (later revealed to be three) Stargates in existence. I would love to see this idea explored in a reboot film or television series, bringing a new and refreshing take on the story to Stargate fans everywhere.


Channel Chaser is written by Kyle Robertson. You can check out more of his work on his website.
Mar 262014

Our Editor in Chief attended Anime Boston on March 21st and 22nd, which marked the first time our website has covered an event with official press credentials.  This article is the first part of a narrative piece on his experience at one of the east coast’s most prominent anime and manga conventions.


As any convention veteran would expect, the day starts with an interminable series of lines.  I arrive at the Sheraton Hotel half an hour before the con begins and get in the line for people who registered ahead of time.  A few minutes after 8, our line begins to move through the hotel, forming a new line to pick up our passes.  I soon have my shiny new press pass dangling around my neck, and march triumphantly out into the hallway.  My last name may be misspelled on the pass, but I’m ready for action.

And by action, I mean another line.  Most of Anime Boston takes place in the Hynes Convention Center, adjacent to the Sheraton.  In order to get into Hynes, we all have to go through a bag check, which means more waiting.  A wave of commotion rushes down from the front of the line, and we’re finally moving at around 9.  A cursory check of my near-empty backpack gets me through, and things are officially under way.  The orderly procession eliminates the mad stampede that we’ve seen in every anime comedy, but there’s an undeniable (if sleepy) buzz amongst the early birds as we wander around, getting our bearings in the three-floor convention center.


The indoor entrance to Hynes, complete with swarms of people waiting to get through the bag check.

The panels don’t start in earnest until 10, so I duck into a screening room to get off my feet for a while.  As the first episode of School Rumble plays in front of me, I go over my battle plans.  Outside, the halls are quickly filling with the sights and sounds of countless cosplayers.  My resolve bolstered by a healthy dose of romantic comedy, I head out to take on my first time covering an event of this scale.

After a lengthy but interesting panel on anime soundtracks, I hit the dealer floor and artists’ alley.  It’s a sensory overload on all fronts.  Legions of fans shuffle from booth to booth, admiring the huge selection of books, Blu-ray collections, posters, figures, games, shirts, pillows, pins, and cosplay gear.  Traffic jams break out constantly as people in particularly impressive costumes are flagged down by would-be photographers.  After several near-collisions, I decide to let the dealer floor clear out a bit and break for lunch.  The nearby food court makes a college campus dining hall seem quiet and roomy, so I wander around for half an hour before finding refuge in a relatively peaceful California Pizza Kitchen.

With my face stuffed full of pizza, I’m ready to line up for my first event: Funimation’s 20th anniversary panel.  Once the remnants of a Sailor Moon panel clear out, we filter in to a J-pop soundtrack.  The front rows fill up quickly, and everyone seems keyed up for the first industry panel of the weekend.  There’s a steady buzz of chatter as people exchange Pokémon tips and argue about Madoka Magica characters.  The excitement peaks as Funimation’s Justin Rojas and Adam Sheehan make their way onto the stage and get the panel started.  We get to see the company’s new logo animation (my first convention premiere!) as our hosts prepare to take us “down the memory lane of Funimation.”


Fans head up to the stage after the panel to get a look at some vintage Funimation merchandise.

The panel begins with the company’s origins and the all-important acquisition of Dragon Ball Z.  Rojas and Sheehan refer to Funimation as “The house that Goku built,” and they’re obviously not just joking.  As the company’s first big license, DBZ played a big role in Funimation’s growth over the past two decades.  We get a look at old VHS cases, vintage trailers and promos, and a retrospective video taking a look at what the franchise meant to the company.  From there, the panel moves on to other major acquisitions (Fruits Basket, Fullmetal Alchemist, and so on) and landmark events (first convention appearance, first co-production).  The crowd cheers at the nostalgic mentions of favorite shows, and we ooh and ahh over fan campaigns like the Hetalia art cards.  After things wrap up with the acquisition of Attack on Titan and the simultaneous dub of Space Dandy, we get some creative promotional cards for Psycho-Pass.  The panel as a whole is a supremely enjoyable piece of nostalgia, not to mention a fascinating look at how a tiny company grew to be one of the leading names in the US anime industry.  What’s especially nice is seeing the obvious enthusiasm of the Funimation staff for the shows they release, along with their appreciation for their passionate fanbase.


Promo cards for Psycho-Pass, shaped like the Dominator handgun from the show. Shiny.

A few minutes later, I’m back in the same room, a few rows further forward, waiting for the second Funimation panel of the day.  This time the topic is their online presence, both through social media and their own website.  The big takeaway this time is how hard the company’s pushing to make their site into a sort of “one stop shop,” be it for news, forums, streaming content, or their company store.  It’ll be interesting to see if they can successfully carve out significant sales numbers from established anime retail sites.

I end the day with a trip back to the dealer floor and artists’ alley, which has calmed down a bit since the opening rush.  Of course, “calm” is a relative term when you surround countless anime fans with an unlimited supply of things to buy.  I pick up a Survey Corps pin and stick it on my jacket, my decision-making clearly influenced by the legion of Attack on Titan cosplayers present at the convention.  Over at the artists’ alley, I pick up an impressive piece of Fate/Stay fan art, and engage in a geek-out over the various iterations of Saber with the artist.  After realizing that I’ll be paying $40 a day for parking, I resolve to buy more stuff tomorrow.

As I shamble exhaustedly back to my car, I reflect back on my first day at Anime Boston.  Over the course of 11 hours, I’ve gone from being a bit overwhelmed and incredibly sleepy to being fully engaged in the controlled chaos of the convention experience.  I know full well just how exhausted and broke I’ll be by the end of the day on Saturday, but I can’t help being excited for the process of depleting all that energy and money.


Read the rest of our coverage in Part 2.

Kawaii Overthink is written by Paul Jensen. You can follow his ramblings about anime on Twitter.
Mar 252014

Have you ever felt like “simulator” games are starting to oversaturate the PC gaming market? I started to feel that way this week.


I could accept the hype behind Train Simulator, because many real train enthusiasts play such a game seriously. And I enjoy Surgeon Simulator; while it is silly with its broken physics engine and complicated controls, you’re motivated to accept the game’s challenges to finish each surgery under the ridiculous circumstances.

But now we have Goat Simulator launching on (appropriately enough) April 1st, and a fresh Kickstarter campaign for Bear Simulator has already exceeded its funding goal.

What is the appeal? Why do so many gamers pay anywhere between 10 and 25 dollars for what is essentially nothing more than a novelty game that couldn’t possibly provide more than a couple hours of silly diversion?

Let’s look specifically at Goat Simulator in an attempt to answer this. First, in its marketing developer Coffee Stain Studios proudly boasts programming bugs as a feature in the game. Any sound-minded person in game development would say that bugs in a game are bad things that seriously diminish the quality of any finished product. Yet, like the trend of celebrating the atrocious writing and acting of a “B-” list movie, gamers can get tons of entertainment from the unexpected beauty that is the glitch. In a very comedic fashion, Coffee Stain is celebrating this thrill of spontaneity with Goat Simulator’s wacky physics engine, and it’s likely a key reason why so many people are attracted to this quirky game.

There is also an experimental factor with these simulator games that likely attracts gamers to the experience too, if only for a brief time. Some recent gameplay footage of Goat Simulator recorded by IGN features a Coffee Stain developer ramming the goat into a gas station, causing the tanks to blow up as the game literally dubs you the new Michael Bay. This “what would happen if I did this” factor sparks gamers’ curiosity and creativity. Blowing up a gas station playing Goat Simulator is a very similar to your first time playing Garry’s Mod – you spend your first day blowing up hundreds of explosive barrels, then next thing you know you’re setting up ridiculously amusing scenes with the game’s physics tools. Looking at the possibilities of open-world “novelty” games like Goat and Bear Simulator is yet another reason why gamers may want to fork up a small bit of cash to play these games.

Also playing off of gamers’ curiosity, many of these simulator games have an exploration element that leaves many of us asking what more there is to find. Many have already noted a giant, red, glowing pentagram on the forest floor in Goat Simulator, and the developers are cleverly teasing that one must play the game to find out what it does. Similarly, the trailer for Bear Simulator teases monsters in dark woods, a community location called “Kickstarter Island,” and a mystery shed that can only be unlocked by Kickstarter backers. Gamers are always challenged to leave no stone unturned, and by teasing many of the stranger encounters in these simulator games the developers are getting gamers instantly invested in finding these secrets.

So, is the hype over these novelty simulator games a bunch of hype made by the developers? Yes, more or less, and the marketing driving the hype has been succeeding remarkably well. But don’t look at these game studios with an evil eye, because I see a silver lining here. All of these game studios making simulator games are much smaller, clearly up-and-coming places. Coffee Stain Studios has only been around for four years, making a few games for iOS and Steam. Bear Simulator is Farjay Studios’ very first game. Hyping up their quirky games has already lead to early success stories for these two little-known studios. Not only does it get their names on the gaming radar, but sales of Goat and Bear Simulator will surely be cash cows for Coffee Stain and Farjay, which will help fund bigger and better projects for these two newer studios in the future.

So, a gamer may be interested in in Goat or Bear Simulator for many reasons: the quirkiness, the ability to explore, or to help some up-and-coming developers get off the ground faster than a jetpack-wearing goat on a trampoline. It still boils down to any decision to check out a new game: if it piques your curiosity, if it looks like a good piece of entertainment, what have you got to lose?


The Minus World is written by Steven Brasley. You can keep up with his thoughts on gaming via Twitter.
Mar 202014

Welcome to another edition of Channel Chaser! Today, I would like to take a trip back to 2008–and maybe even a little bit further–to discuss a lost gem of American popular culture; the short-lived but spectacular series Life on Mars.


Life on Mars premiered on ABC in the fall of 2008 as yet another Americanized spin-off version of a foreign program: in this case, the British show of the same name. The series quickly garnered near-universal praise for its visual artistry, acting, and premise, which centers on Sam Tyler: a police officer working in modern-day New York City who is hit by a car and wakes up in the year 1973. Tyler, confronted by a time and place whose technology, culture, and ideas of morality are so disparate from his own that he likens it to having “landed on a different planet,” struggles to fit in with his 70s coworkers at the fictional 125th Precinct and continue to solve crimes and keep the city safe, all while searching for a way back home.

The first thing Life on Mars has going for it is its all-star cast, headlined by Jason O’Mara as the time-traveling detective Sam Tyler. As Tyler, O’Mara does a stunning job of being serious, silly, and sympathetic all rolled into one, and creates a compelling persona of a man who is totally lost and near insanity, but able to cope with his situation thanks to his drive to continue doing what he does best; catching bad guys.

As an immigrant to the much less politically correct environment of 1973, Tyler often comes into conflict with his squad mate and nemesis Ray Carling. Played by Michael Imperioli, Carling is everything Tyler is not: ambitious, hot-tempered, bitterly sarcastic, and prejudiced to the extreme. Despite his essentially unlikeable nature, Carling often delivers the funniest lines of dialogue, replete with 70s slang, and acts as a foil to Sam’s cautious, methodical, and self-righteous attitude; essentially the perfect character that you love to hate.

Veteran actor Harvey Keitel completes this top trio as Tyler and Carling’s immediate superior, Lieutenant Gene Hunt; a rough and rugged bulldog of a man whose skill at drinking and fighting is only matched by his success at closing cases, usually thanks to intimidation, evidence tampering, and other questionable practices that Tyler objects to. Even though Tyler and Hunt rarely see eye to eye, they share a strong sense of justice and eventually develop a close, almost father-son relationship.

Other characters include Policewoman Annie Norris, portrayed by current Boardwalk Empire star Gretchen Mol. Annie, who as a female officer often struggles with the sexist attitudes of her male coworkers, develops a special bond with Tyler due to his more enlightened views and her concern about his delusions of 2008, and serves as his on-again, off-again romantic interest. Television newbie Jonathan Murphy plays Chris Skelton, the 125th’s youngest detective, who is good-hearted and friendly, but also painfully naïve at times, and serves as the show’s voice of the “young generation” as compared to the mostly older, more skeptical detectives.

For people who may be repelled by the humdrum drama of a traditional cop show, Life on Mars spices up the genre with a healthy helping of fantasy elements. True to the show’s name, Tyler often finds himself stalked by phantom robotic Mars rovers that show him flashes of images from his childhood during the 70s; events that he then experiences again in a different context as an adult. He is also monitored and manipulated by Project Ares: a shadowy government group that seems to have plans for him and knows that he is a man out of time. Tyler has frequent run-ins with his own past, including his father, who abandoned him and his mother when he was young, and shows up again with dark secrets that throw Tyler’s beliefs and values into question. Many episodes also explore the mystery of what Tyler is doing in 1973 in the first place, as several crimes and circumstances he investigates pose different possibilities, from mental breakdown to coma dreams and even alien abduction.

In addition to plot elements, the technical values of the show are similarly out of this world. The painstaking detail with which Life on Mars recreates and reexamines life in 1970s New York makes the show so extraordinarily vibrant and life-like that it is a treat to watch and a true work of art. The show also utilizes music brilliantly, drawing on classic 70s tunes for its soundtrack and mixing them with the story and what is on the screen in a manner that makes perfect sense to the viewer, and greatly adds to the entire experience.

As if this wasn’t enough, humor also abounds in Life on Mars; most of it stemming from Tyler’s knowledge of future events, which he often exploits for his own benefit. Modern-day pop culture names such as Tom Cruise, Bono, and even Luke Skywalker (“it’s Navajo”) are among Tyler’s aliases that he uses when working cases. In one episode, Tyler attempts to talk down a suicidal investor who lost all his money when a company trying to market an early version of cell phones crashed. In response to his continued insistence that the jumper is “not crazy, just ahead of your time,” the other detectives simply shake their heads and look at each other in confusion. As Ray Carling observes, “Who would ever want to carry around a telephone?”


My Rating: 4.5/5

While it may only have lasted for a single season on network television, Life on Mars is one reality trip you definitely shouldn’t miss out on. The show’s mix of satire, serious drama and science fiction, combined with the very real emotional arcs and development of its characters, and just the right touch of nostalgic sentimentality, make it a joy to watch over and over again. And watch out for the finale; it’s sure to blow your mind.


Channel Chaser is written by Kyle Robertson. You can check out more of his work on his website.
Mar 192014

Anime Boston is this weekend, and those of you reading this are either going or living vicariously through articles about it.  Either way, there’s a lot going on at the big name in east coast anime conventions, so here’s a quick look at some of the most important things happening this year.


Attack on Titan dub

After revealing the English cast a few names at a time, Funimation will finally premiere the dub of Attack on Titan at Anime Boston.  The screening and Q&A session will happen at 4:30 on Saturday, and woe to anyone whose panel is scheduled at the same time.  Even if you’re not a die-hard dub fan, it’s probably worth going just for the experience of watching an A-list series with a packed crowd of fans.


Dai Sato

There’s a darned good chance that Dai Sato is the writer behind your favorite anime series.  His credits include Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Eden of the East, and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, not to mention the awesomely trippy Space Dandy.  In addition to the standard autograph session, he’ll be doing a panel at 2:30 on Saturday.  You’ll be able to find me there by looking for the ridiculously excited guy with a press pass.


Spring simulcast announcements

Gosh, it seems like Anime Boston matches up conveniently with the end of the winter anime season.  I wonder what Crunchyroll and Funimation will be announcing at their industry panels?  If you want to hear about the new season’s simulcasts, get ready to sprint from room to room on Saturday afternoon.  Sadly, it looks like you’ll have to make a tough choice between the Attack on Titan screening and the Crunchroll panel, as they’re scheduled to happen at the same time.  Maybe if you believe in yourself, you’ll find a way to be in two places at once.


Your (empty) wallet

With every anime convention comes a big room full of dealers selling awesome merchandise.  This big room brings with it an age-old question: pay full price on Friday, or wait for discounts on Sunday and risk the stuff you want going out of stock.  All right, fine, so it’s not really a dilemma.  You and I both know you’re going to burn through your war funds on Friday and come back on Sunday to spend even more.  It’ll be as if countless wallets cried out in agony, only to be drowned out by the rustling sound of posters being carefully crammed into backpacks.


Our coverage

SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT!  As I hinted earlier, we’ve been granted a press pass to Anime Boston this year.  Get ready for some extended coverage, complete with industry analysis, crazy con stories, and perhaps a bit of buyer’s remorse for all the money I’m undoubtedly going to spend.


Kawaii Overthink is written by Paul Jensen. You can follow his ramblings about anime on Twitter.
Mar 182014

While it was super-cheap on Steam the other day, I grabbed myself a copy of BioShock Infinite for my Mac. I originally played it on PlayStation 3 last year, but since I’m currently a seven-hour drive away from my PS3 I seized the opportunity to be able to play Burial at Sea: Episode 2, the game’s final batch of DLC, as soon as it’s released on March 25.

And now I find myself playing through the entire game, for a second time.


 If you ask me, this is the mark of a good game, much like the mark of a good film. For movies I think are excellent, I don’t mind paying another ten or fifteen bucks to see it in the theater again. Great games work in a similar way for me, where I don’t mind killing another fifteen or twenty hours to soak in a game again, looking at its characters, its secrets, and its environments at a greater depth.

And that’s part of what makes BioShock Infinite such a great game; there are so many details that are easily missed the first time you play, searching for those extra audio diaries or picking up on verbal cues you missed the first time makes the second play-through just as rewarding, if not more so, than the first time. Drawing from a movie comparison again, BioShock Infinite is pretty much the game equivalent of Fight Club. You reach the end credits after witnessing a strange story with bizarre plot twists. Watch/play it a second time and passive phrases that seemed meaningless the first time will put a stupid grin on your face, because now everything is connected; everything makes sense.

Additionally, playing good games a second time gives you, I would argue, a more immersive experience than your first play-through. I’ll be honest, the first time I played BioShock Infinite I thought the City of Columbia was nothing more than an elaborate façade that didn’t feel like a living, breathing utopian city like Rapture in the original BioShock did. But now I find myself taking my time, pausing to listen to each character on the street and find more audio diaries. I’m listening to more dialogue that is helping to further immerse myself in this massive city in the sky. I would still say Rapture is my dystopian city of choice, but my latest play-through of BioShock Infinite is helping me to appreciate Columbia more than I did the first time.

A similar story happened when I played through Portal 2 multiple times. The game is incredibly immersive already, but Valve put so many hidden secrets in the game that are easy to miss the first time that a second play-through is incredibly worthwhile. The old Cave Johnson test chambers are now the most memorable part of the game for me, not just because of the immediate visual hints at Aperture Science’s history I saw playing through the first time, but also because of the hidden dry-dock of the Borealis research ship and the more hidden Cave Johnson dialogue I found during my second visit to the aging testing spheres.


This isn’t the first time I’ve played through a game more than once. I think back to by pre-teen years when I obsessively played through the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone PC game countless times. I kept trying to find one missing Chocolate Frog card to 100% complete the game. I played through the game enough to be convinced that that one card does not exist. But through those replays, I didn’t just find a possible design flaw; I became more immersed in Hogwarts than I ever did reading the books. I recited the spells from the game and baffled my friends who never heard of these spells from the books alone. I hummed the game’s music more than I did the John Williams soundtrack, and saw an interpretation of Hogwarts that people who just read the books and saw the movies never had a chance to see.


So, the moral of the story: if you loved a game the first time you played it, hit the start button a second time. This day and age, designers sneak so many secrets to find that a second play-through of a game can be a dynamically different and often rewarding experience.


The Minus World is written by Steven Brasley. You can keep up with his thoughts on gaming via Twitter.
Mar 172014

As the first race in a season full of new technical regulations, the Australian Grand Prix was always going to be a learning experience for everyone involved.  Now that the champagne has been uncorked and the teams have moved on to the next venue, it’s time to take a look at what we learned from the start of F1’s new era.


All aboard the power train.

There was a great deal of moaning about the new turbocharged V6 engines leading up to the start of the season.  The general consensus was that they were going to sound like blenders and that the majority of the cars would end the first race in a cloud of smoke.  As it turns out, reliability isn’t as much of a concern as many feared, even with the “problem child” Renault units.  Mercedes in particular have come up with an impressive piece of engineering, and the torque from the hybrid power units has had an unanticipated benefit.  With the cars constantly on the verge of spinning out, the world’s best drivers are now required to demonstrate their skills at every single corner.  And while your mileage may vary, I think the new engines sound pretty darned cool.


Fresh faces are frighteningly fast.

The Australian Grand Prix ended up being something of a showcase event for the sport’s rookies, along with some faces who had previously flown under the radar.  Kevin Magnussen made it abundantly clear that he deserves to start his career at McLaren, and Daniel Ricciardo has already justified Red Bull’s decision to promote him to the senior team.  The absurdly young Daniil Kvyat put in an excellent points finish in the Toro Rosso, and Valtteri Bottas finally showed what he can do with a competitive car.  With veterans like Vettel, Hamilton, and Massa stranded on the sidelines, the new kids on the block put on one heck of a show.


Time to invest in silver.

After four years of Red Bull Racing acting as the sport’s golden standard for performance, it looks like the silver teams have shot up in value for 2014.  Nico Rosberg’s crushing win showed just how fast the Mercedes is this year, while the equally shiny McLarens showed that the team is once again a force to be reckoned with.  Anyone still unconvinced that this year’s winning car will be painted silver clearly didn’t watch the race…


White is the new black.

… Unless they saw the incredible comeback drive from Valtteri Bottas.  After dropping to last place with a thoroughly deceased tire, the Finn stormed his way up the field to finish comfortably in the points.  If the black and gold Lotus cars were the promising underdogs last year, the revitalized Williams organization has taken on that mantle for 2014.  With a beautiful livery, a talented veteran, and a flying Finn, the popular team may be on its way to a comeback season.  After all, they’ve already scored more points than they did over the entire 2013 season.


Australian drivers have terrible luck.

With his impressive drive to second place, Daniel Ricciardo did what Mark Webber never could: score a podium finish at the Australian Grand Prix.  Or, rather, he would have if he hadn’t been subsequently disqualified by the FIA.  The race stewards declared that Ricciardo’s car ran with an illegally high fuel flow rate, while Red Bull Racing maintains that the car was fine and the fuel sensor was faulty.  The disqualification has been appealed by the team, but whatever the final decision may be, one thing is certain: Australian drivers, especially those employed by Red Bull, just can’t catch a break.


Pit Box One is written by Paul Jensen. You can follow his thoughts on video games and motor racing on Twitter.
Mar 142014

For all my readers, welcome to the first edition of Channel Chaser! In this column, I’ll be discussing everything TV-related, from reviews and trends to discussion and analysis.

First, a bit about myself: I am a senior journalism major at Ithaca College in New York, originally from Philadelphia, an aspiring writer, and an avid watcher of all things television. While I can’t say I’m a fan of the video medium when it comes to news–I’m more a radio guy myself–I will say that pretty much any kind of fictional programming on TV can grab my attention.

But enough about me: today I’d like to talk about the recent resurgence of one of my long-time favorite television shows, the CW’s Supernatural.


It’s no secret among fans that Supernatural has dragged in recent years; in truth, the show was only supposed to last five seasons, but due to its immense popularity the CW wanted it back for more. With its main producers and writers departing, however, the story suffered; season six was blasé, and season seven was downright terrible. I–along with many other fans, I’m sure–prayed to Supernatural’s supposedly missing-in-action God for the series to be cancelled and stop it from ruining my cherished memories.

I was forced to eat my words, however, when the eighth season’s storyline began once again to draw me into the battle of heaven versus hell; I once again dared to hope that the show might be getting better. When I watched the season’s shockingly epic finale, where all angels were expelled from heaven and fell to the Earth, I was thrilled and amazed, and it only took a few episodes of season nine, which premiered last October and is nearing the middle-end of its run, for me to realize that my hopes were confirmed; the Supernatural I know and love is back.

What is it that makes this new season so great? Well, if you really don’t want to be spoiled, you should turn back now; I’d tell you to go back and start from episode one of this wonderful show, but you’d have a lot of catching up to do.

The relationship between Sam and Dean is greatly complicated in season nine as, while Sam lays dying in the aftermath of the unfinished trials, Dean recruits an angel named Ezekiel to heal him by secretly possessing Sam and leaving no trace of his continued presence. The plan backfires, however, when “Ezekiel” turns out to be Gadreel, an angelic criminal who takes total control of Sam, kills prophet Kevin Tran, and declares allegiance to Metatron, the now dictator of heaven and the show’s new big bad. While he is eventually able to cut Gadreel loose, Sam explains that he would rather have died and that he cannot trust Dean anymore; he wants to keep their relationship strictly professional. As goofy as this sounds, it is incredibly heartbreaking to see the two boys out on a case, talking and bantering like in the good old days, and then to see Sam leave Dean without a word and slam the door to his room the second they return home. This conflict is shown to have hurt Dean deeply, his guilt moving to him to more reckless actions, such as accepting the Mark of Cain despite warnings of a terrible price to be paid, and upping the tension of the series to new heights.

Heaven’s patron saint, the renegade angel Castiel, has grown a lot since his first appearance in season four; his penance in Purgatory, stint as a lunatic, and being betrayed by Metatron aside, he begins the season stripped of all his angelic might and working a gas station counter as a normal, powerless human. While this doesn’t last long­­–Cas “gets his mojo back” around episode nine–it finally humbles him and puts him in mortal shoes for long enough that he can empathize with the human condition.

On the other side of the street, king of hell Crowley is up to his old tricks, but is also brought down a peg after showing a glimpse of his former humanity and being unseated from power. It also doesn’t help that he is essentially the Winchesters’ prisoner for the first half of the season, and is only freed after possessing Sam to help him kick Gadreel out of his body. Despite being as snarky, self-serving and egotistical as ever, Crowley also shows signs of redemption as he dwells on the effects of the previous season’s trials and appears more willing to help the brothers toward the common good.

The mythology and structure heaven is also greatly explored in season nine as all the angels, tossed out of heaven by Metatron’s spell, struggle to fit in among humans with disastrous results. More factions have emerged; some who want to retake heaven and use mass media outlets like Internet preachers to get thousands of people the world over to agree to possession, to others who are violent anarchists and want to take over the Earth, and still more who are caught dangerously between camps. In a particularly fascinating episode, Dean, Sam, and Castiel encounter a Rit Zien; a heavenly battlefield medic who can mercy-kill wounded angels and is attracted to feelings of pain. The angel, who filled a useful function in heaven, is out of place on Earth and goes on a killing spree as every human who feels even a briefly painful thought is at risk of being summarily executed. Also, the absence of God is finally explained as it is revealed that He left due to sadness and anger at Gadreel’s incompetence; Gadreel had been God’s most trusted angel and guardian of the Garden of Eden, but was disgraced when the serpent got in on his watch and corrupted mankind, God’s most prized creation.

While I may not be able to give a certain verdict as of yet about season nine’s value, I can definitely say that this new season has done more than I thought possible to restore Supernatural’s credibility and put the show back on track. Who knows; maybe miracles do happen after all.


Channel Chaser is written by Kyle Robertson. You can check out more of his work on his website.