Apr 302014

As with any other hobby or interest, being an anime fan eventually leads to the desire to share the things we love with our friends.  We can’t help but want to talk about our favorite shows with our favorite people.  The trouble is, there are so many barriers to entry when it comes to much of the anime world: different language, different culture, different visual style, and on it goes.  Getting your friends hooked on anime can sometimes be a tall order.  The purpose of this series of articles will be to cover all the necessary steps for making a new anime fan: finding the perfect show, getting your friend to watch it, and turning an experience into a hobby.


One of us. ONE OF US.

A vital first step that tends to be forgotten by many eager anime evangelists is the selection of a good introductory movie or series.  Our natural instinct as fans is to start with our favorites, or perhaps the works we feel represent the best of what the medium has to offer.  You’ll want to fight this instinct as if it were a hungry titan invading the walled city of your brain.  The Evangelion films may be awesome, but they’re also damn near impossible for a newcomer to understand on their first viewing.  Sure, Madoka Magica is a great deconstruction of the magical girl genre, but it only truly works if you know the shows it’s critiquing.  There’s a lot of great anime out there, but not all of it makes for a good first experience.  Thankfully, there are a few easily identified qualities to look for when choosing a starter show.

First of all, look for something with a low time commitment.  I love Space Brothers, but it currently consists of 99 episodes.  It’s tough to get someone to agree to give up dozens of hours to humor your interests.  Movies are a great option in this regard, since they’re meant to be watched in one sitting.   A good 5- or 6-episode OVA series is also a relatively easy sell.  If all else fails, look for a series that’s mostly composed of standalone episodes, like Space Dandy or Mushi-shi.  Not having to sign on for a full season will make anime an easier sell.

Next, find something accessible.  By this, I mean you should avoid picking something that you’ll have to pause every thirty seconds in order to explain a cultural reference or visual metaphor.  Anything steeped in decades of self-referential anime culture is probably a poor choice.  Also, and some of you are going to hate me for saying this, English dubs are your friends.  Subtitles can be an annoying hurdle for first-time viewers, and they distract the eye from all the beautiful, stylish animation that you’re trying to show off.  An easily understood story and a good dub make it easier for newcomers to get immersed in a series, which is exactly what you want.


Good series? Yes. Good first series? HELL NO.

Once you’ve cleared out all the scary, complicated stuff, the last step is to make a selection based on your friend’s tastes.  As the saying goes, give the people what they want.  Think about all the movies and TV shows that the person in question enjoys, and try to find something from the world of anime that matches those genres and styles.  If your friend loves action movies, find something where things blow up spectacularly.  Turn to the world of spaceships and giant robots for the sci-fi fan, and find a good love story for the rom-com enthusiast.  Chances are you know your friend pretty well, so use that to find something they’ll really enjoy.  If you’re stumped, here are a few universally solid choices.

Cowboy Bebop

They call them “classics” for a reason.  Bebop offers a combination of compelling characters, excellent writing, and visuals that stand the test of time.  Throw in a great dub, self-contained episodes, and an iconic opening theme and you’re all set.

Wolf Children

There are plenty of good, accessible anime movies out there, but this universally appealing film is one of my favorite fan-makers in recent memory.  It looks absolutely beautiful, and offers a surprisingly smart take on the subject of family.  Wolf Children will make even the most stoic viewers cry buckets, but it earns those tears the hard way through believable character development.

Black Lagoon

This deceptively clever action series makes a strong, explosive first impression.  Any fan of classic Hollywood explosion-fests will be hooked by the end of the second episode.  As a bonus, its strong female cast puts most macho American films to shame.  I’ve never shown Black Lagoon to a girl who didn’t enjoy it.

Just about any sports series

We all have that one friend who dedicates his or her life to playoff brackets and fantasy leagues.  Conveniently, anime has a weird habit of making shows about American sports.  Find the best series about your friend’s favorite sport and watch the magic happen.

Now that you’ve short-circuited your brain trying to make the ideal selection, it’s time to move on to the hard part.  The next step is getting your friend to sit down and watch the darn thing, which we’ll cover in the next part of this series.


You can read Part 2 here.

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

Apr 292014

It took gaming communities by firestorm last weekend: a film company shooting a documentary about the history of Atari led a successful excavation of an infamous landfill in the New Mexico desert, proving true the long-debated urban legend that Atari buried truckloads of copies of the E.T. The Extra Terrestrial video game there at the start of the company’s downfall. The news was so exciting that it was picked up by mainstream news outlets as well as gaming publications. A video game related story on CNN that isn’t about how Grand Theft Auto drives people to murder? You don’t see that every day!


I realized later, though, that there’s one person who may not be so excited over this news: James Rolfe, better known as the now-legendary Internet video game personality “The Angry Video Game Nerd.” Rolfe has been working on his long-awaited feature length film starring the Nerd since he finished the first draft of the script back in 2008. After tons of delays, Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie is finally entering its early post-production stages.

The problem: The plot focuses on the Angry Video Game Nerd road-tripping to New Mexico to debunk the rumor of the E.T. cartridges buried in the landfill, a rumor now proven to be true.

It’s probably easy to say, “It’s just a movie. How can a real-life event affect it?” I can guarantee you that back in 2008, James Rolfe never expected a crew to excavate the landfill. Up until this year, I’m sure everyone thought the E.T. cartridges, and the rumor surrounding them, would remain buried. How is this a problem for AVGN: The Movie? If a lot of dialogue revolves around this assumption that the E.T. games would remain buried, then audiences watching the final film can significantly lose their suspension of disbelief, knowing in the back of their minds that the urban legend of the Atari Landfill was revealed as truth.

Rolfe did lightly brush on his plans for the movie in a blog post about the excavation, in which he gives the dilemma an easy fix. Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie, Rolfe said, will take place in an “alternate reality,” presumably one within which the games have yet to be dug up. Rolfe even argues that the excavation of the Atari Landfill will not hinder, but help, his story. He notes that this year, the aforementioned Atari documentary will be released as well as AVGN: The Movie. The news of the E.T. games being rediscovered as well as the near-simultaneous release of these two films, Rolfe says, will make his story “more timely than ever.”


It all comes down to the audience reception, and with all the work Rolfe has put into this project I doubt most viewers of Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie will let a real-world event affect their experience with the film. It’s important to remember the movie was entirely funded by the fans through a 2011 Indiegogo campaign. More or less, Rolfe’s project is a film for the fans, asked for by the fans and ultimately funded by the fans. In the end, Rolfe will share with us a piece of amazing Nerd goodness (which already looks amazing through the clips he has shared in production updates). For these dedicated fans and many others, the real news event of E.T. definitely won’t take away from the great humor that is to be expected from the Angry Video Game Nerd’s take on the game, and its now-famously proven urban legend.


The Minus World is written by Steven Brasley. You can keep up with his thoughts on gaming via Twitter. Check back every Tuesday for new articles.
Apr 282014

In recent years, driving games have embraced a jack-of-all-trades attitude.  You’ll sell more copies if you can be everything to everyone, or so the thinking goes.  Start with an enormous range of vehicles, tracks, and game modes, and add on an array of assists that allow players of any skill level to enjoy the game.  The result is a huge amount of content for the money, but this approach also brings a lack of focus.  In a genre dominated by titles that do everything reasonably well, it’s nice to see the occasional game that does one thing perfectly.  In the case of Trials Fusion, that one thing is best described as “doing crazy stuff with motorcycles.”


The latest entry in the acclaimed Trials series, Fusion remains true to the franchise’s basic formula of guiding motorcycles through increasingly difficult obstacle courses.  Through careful application of the throttle and precise control over the rider’s ability to lean forwards and back, players engage in a wonderfully absurd combination of racing and platforming.  As in previous installments, the difficulty level progresses gradually from rolling hills and majestic jumps to rage-inducing exercises in mandatory perfection.  Few series are as capable of conjuring up profanity from even the most patient gamers, and even fewer can do so while remaining fun and addicting.

Trials Fusion does add a few new elements to the franchise, including a score-based trick mode and a four-wheeled ATV.  Controls for the mid-air stunts can be somewhat finicky, but the events offer a nice, occasional change of pace from the rest of the game.  The four-wheeler is remarkably entertaining, as its handling differs significantly from that of the bikes.  While I’m happy to see it added to the game, it’s a shame that it can’t be used on more of the single-player levels.


The visual spectacle of Trials Fusion is a notch above its predecessors, thanks to a combination of improved graphics and a welcome dash of bright colors.  Two announcers bring some Portal-style humor to the game, but it would be nice not to hear their lines repeated every single time I restart a level in pursuit of a faultless run.  User-generated tracks are back thanks to an expanded level editor, and the community hive mind has already put out some genuinely impressive creations.  Multiplayer races also make a return, and remain an absurd amount of fun, especially if you can get four players together in the same room.

Trials Fusion does a fine job of carrying on the physics-based gameplay and controller-throwing difficulty that makes this series so special.  A multi-platform release opens the franchise up to a wider audience, and newcomers and veterans alike will get plenty of entertainment out of it.  When it comes to doing crazy stuff with motorcycles, Trials stands alone.


You can buy Trials Fusion with a season pass for downloadable content at Amazon.

Pit Box One is written by Paul Jensen. You can follow his thoughts on video games and motor racing on Twitter. Check back every other Monday for new articles.
Apr 252014

Welcome to another edition of Channel Chaser! This week, I’d like to take a break from my regularly scheduled writing about fictional shows and bring you all some more current news from the land of television. As you may have guessed from the title, I’m talking about the two biggest faces in comedy today, and probably my personal favorites of all time, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart.


I’ve been a huge fan of both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report for a long time, and I would imagine that I’m not alone in this. A lot of people in my generation seem to be avid watchers of both shows, sometimes preferring one over the other–more on that later–but what they love is the fact that while they are unquestionably funny, Stewart and Colbert both endeavor to present truth in a newsy and comedic format.

This kind of delivery is simultaneously laugh-out-loud funny and deeply affecting for viewers, who realize pretty quickly that while Stewart and Colbert may make light of a situation, they are primarily presenting commentary on the hypocrisy of government officials, the ineptitude and irresponsibility of the media, and generally the social state of our times.

The best thing about having both shows on is that they appear to complement each other, in that The Daily Show is a relatively liberal-leaning program, while The Colbert Report is allegedly hosted by a diehard conservative. Even though most people could probably pick up pretty fast that Stephen Colbert is not anywhere close to as Republican as he pretends to be–and the key word here is pretends–you’d be surprised at just how many people out there assume Colbert’s conservative pundit character is sincere and agree with the ludicrously outdated and insensitive statements he makes. This just serves as further proof of what Colbert and Stewart are getting at; our society is pretty screwed up.

I guess what I’ve said so far makes it clear what side of the political divide I personally land on most of the time; full disclosure and all that. But enough about me, because the big news recently has been all Colbert. In case you’ve been living under a rock, or you just don’t watch late night TV that often, Stephen Colbert was recently selected as the successor to David Letterman on CBS’s wildly popular Late Show.

Obviously this is great news for Colbert; after starting his career on The Daily Show as a popular but relatively unknown correspondent, he moved up to having his own spin-off show, and now is taking the next step into hosting a nationally-renowned talk show. It’s less great for long-time fans of The Colbert Report, however; if Colbert is moving on, than it stands to reason that the show will die with his departure. That’s the theory, anyway. I find it pretty hard to believe Comedy Central would try to re-brand the show with a new host or something like that. It might give one of The Daily Show’s other alums the chance to break into the spotlight, though; since one-time Stewart backup John Oliver is doing his own thing on HBO now, perhaps an experienced political comic like Lewis Black or Jason Jones could step up and make a go of it?

Another thing that concerns me is that the Stephen Colbert that we all have come to know will also be left behind. Colbert has publically stated that he will not be bringing his famously egocentric, hardheaded, and aggressive personality he cultivated as host of the Report. In essence, the Colbert we will see on the Late Show will be the “real” Colbert. If anyone has not seen Colbert speaking in public as himself before, I would advise you check it out; the difference between his personality and his television persona is about as polar opposite as can be. The “real” Colbert is a quiet, polite, and sincere family man–a great guy to be sure, but not necessarily a personality that you would expect to see on television, much less in comedy programming.

So I guess the question is whether, without his character, Stephen Colbert can still be funny. And the answer is, we’ll just have to wait and see. Late night television on a major network is a pretty big leap from Comedy Central, and most of the raunchy, line-crossing humor of The Colbert Report probably wouldn’t fly on CBS.

I think we shouldn’t rush to judge within the first few weeks of the changeover, however, because that’s usually the time when the new host struggles the most to find their own unique voice. I remember when Jimmy Fallon first started on the Tonight Show; Fallon is undoubtedly an extremely funny and talented man, but his first week or so of hosting fell flat as nothing he said seemed to be worth a laugh and his presence on the set was painfully awkward. But he quickly got the hang of it and is now back to hosting and cracking jokes with the best of them. The moral of the story here is that no matter what I or anyone else may think, we have to at least give Colbert a chance before making a decision on his merit as a late-night host.

In conclusion, I’d just like to say again for the record that I am very glad to hear that Stephen Colbert’s talent is being recognized and that he is being promoted to late night, as despite his obvious knack for comedy and television hosting I feel that he still to a certain extent lives in the shadow of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show. This gives him a chance to get out on his own and do something completely different to really make a name for himself.

Of course I’ll miss The Colbert Report, but I’m hoping that a similar show will step up to take its place. Will it happen? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.


Channel Chaser is written by Kyle Robertson. You can check out more of his work on his website. Check back every Friday for new articles.
Apr 232014

Here in the US, we’re most familiar with manga in its standard paperback form.  For around ten dollars, we get between 150 and 200 pages of content in black and white on decent-quality paper.  Early-adopter types might also be used to digital formats, be they individual downloads or subscription-based services.  Whether in print or online, we’ve grown familiar with a low-cost, no-frills approach to manga where lots of content for as little money as possible is the goal.  In this market, premium hardcover releases might seem like something of an oddity, and yet that’s exactly what we’re starting to see from a number of publishers.


A girl, a guy, and a giant robot. Yep, you’re in the manga section.

Browse through the manga section of a bookstore and you’ll come across several hardcover manga series on offer.  There’s Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin from Vertical, Vinland Saga from Kodansha, and A Bride’s Story and Highschool of the Dead from Yen Press.  I could go on, but we’ll stick with this group in order to do some analysis without taking all day.

Flip through any of these books and you’ll notice a number of things beyond the heavier covers.  Most of these releases are bigger than usual, in terms of both the size and number of pages.  The hardcover edition of Highschool of the Dead looks capable of crushing any of the four paperback volumes that it collects.  There’s also more “extra” content than one might expect from the average paperback; the authors’ notes in A Bride’s Story and Vinland Saga are a good example of this.  Finally, color pages make a frequent appearance, from the multiple color sections in Gundam to every single page in HOTD.  You can expect to pay extra for these releases, but that money’s going towards more than just a hefty cover.


Obligatory size comparison shot. Yes, the HOTD hardcover is ridiculously huge.

We know why this format might be appealing to buyers, but what is it about these particular titles that earned them the special edition treatment?  In many cases, it has to do with the market for the series in question.  Vinland Saga and A Bride’s Story are both extensively researched pieces of historical fiction, featuring detailed art and stories that don’t necessarily follow a typical manga plotline.  They’re probably not going to catch the interest of as many people as recent hits like Attack on Titan or Nisekoi, but they’re likely to be very popular with their niche audience.  Series like Bride and Vinland tend to play to a slightly older audience, one with a bit more money to spend than the average manga fan.  Because of this, Yen Press and Kodansha likely decided that a deluxe format would be appealing to this limited fanbase, and potentially increase each book’s profit margin without hurting sales.  A dedicated audience with money to spare is a prime market for a hardcover release, especially when the series in question is good enough to generate positive word of mouth.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have heavy hitters like Highschool of the Dead and Gundam: The Origin.  The hardcover editions of HOTD are omnibus collections of the original paperback releases, printed in color on larger pages.  In this case, Yen Press had the sales data from the paperbacks to look at when they made the decision to print a deluxe version.  This franchise hit the US at the height of the recent zombie craze, and won a sizable fanbase as a result.  Strong sales of the anime and manga probably led to the decision to make a product that would appeal to the most passionate of those fans.  I suspect a similar thought process led to Gundam receiving the hardcover treatment.  As a new take on the classic storyline, the series has a built-in audience of people who remember watching Mobile Suit Gundam way back in the day.  Where titles like Vinland Saga try to appeal to a small but enthusiastic fanbase, HOTD and Gundam try to appeal to the core of a larger audience.

The “special edition” approach is never going to work for everyone.  Plenty of manga fans simply want to read their favorite series and don’t see the need to pay extra for a more impressive product.  On the other hand, this is also a market full of collectors who enjoy the extras as much as the actual content.  Whether or not we’ll see more premium manga releases will depend on how well the current crop of titles fare.  If publishers come to see hardcovers as a safe bet, they’ll be more inclined to take that bet in the future.  If that happens, though, we might all need to invest in sturdier bookshelves.


You can find most hardcover manga discounted at RightStuf.com.

Kawaii Overthink is written by Paul Jensen. You can follow his ramblings about anime and manga on Twitter. Check back every Wednesday for new articles.

Apr 222014

True story: just before I sat down to write this article I went to my stovetop and made myself a huge bucket of delicious, buttery, salty popcorn (I’ve learned through experience that microwave popcorn pales in comparison to making it on the stove). Not only do I know a thing or two about making great movie snacks, I also know what makes a compelling movie to snack to.


I bring up this topic because last week, more news popped up about a long-stagnating but much-anticipated video game film adaptation. That’s right, it looks like a movie based on BioShock may be going back into production, now apparently under Sony Pictures, which registered three domains possibly connected to the project.

I now raise the question yet again: with the movie industry putting out lackluster film after lackluster film based on popular video game franchises, can a movie based on BioShock, a game with arguably one of the best storylines in first-person shooter history, change the way we view video games on the silver screen?

BioShock has tons of components that make for an exciting movie: a solid plot with shocking twists, very strong major and minor characters, a breathtaking setting (I’d like to see the film happen if only to view the Art Deco grandeur of Rapture from a few more angles), and as expected in a first-person shooter, tons of action and suspense. BioShock even has an added bonus when it comes to special effects: the use of Plasmids by both the main character and the game’s hordes of enemies can lead to some amazing visuals in film, with fire, ice, lightning, and many other “genetically enhanced” abilities shooting out of characters’ arms, sailing across the big screen at high velocities in action sequences.


The challenge Sony faces, should they decide to follow through with the film, is the same challenge movie studios have always faced making movies based on video games in the past: it doesn’t matter how amazing a story is in a game if it can not be seamlessly translated from the participatory medium of video games into the spectating medium of film. BioShock may have had some powerful moments in its plot, some incredible twists in particular, but all of these moments were experienced directly through the actions of the player. A new protagonist that the viewer can connect to may have to be at the center of a BioShock film in order for those moments in the plot to have any success in the movie; in BioShock players took on the role of Jack, a faceless, emotionless character, because you, the player, were his face. You, the player, provided his emotions. Jack’s actions are the actions you, the player, make, and Ken Levine expertly designed the character to be invisible so the player could better place themselves in the role and thus connect on a more personal level to the situations and characters they encounter. Film does not have this luxury; as a viewer you need a protagonist with a strong relatable personality to rally behind. If Sony can create such a character to lead us through Rapture then perhaps the game’s story can be just as enlightening in the form of film.

Another challenge to a BioShock movie specifically would be how to make the game’s compelling analysis of objectivism an experience that is equally enlightening and entertaining. Andrew Ryan’s lengthy intercom speeches in which he spews his ideology across Rapture were interesting to listen to in between combat sequences in the game, but it is important that a movie not get too preachy with this kind of ideology. Here I think of a recent trilogy of independent films based on BioShock’s source material, Ayn Rand’s groundbreaking novel Atlas Shrugged, the final part of which is expected to release this July 4th. The first part of the film trilogy in particular was panned for being remarkably boring. To quote Roger Ebert in his review: “The dialogue seems to have been ripped throbbing with passion from the pages of Investors’ Business Daily.” A BioShock movie should not be preachy when informing audiences of Ayn Rand’s ideals. What made the game so compelling, rather, was seeing how holding such an extreme philosophy could go horribly wrong. This is something that could be expertly visualized in film, using similar imagery from the games: the Big Daddies and Little Sisters, the grotesque, mutated Splicers, and of course, the sheer cruelty of Andrew Ryan.


Besides the filmmaking itself, studio politics should be expected to come into play at Sony. The BioShock movie was originally called off at Universal Studios after Ken Levine and then-slated producer Gore Verbinski refused to bend to Universal’s insistence that the movie, based on a hard M-rated game, get a PG-13 rating. Getting the right director may also be an issue before going into production; directors who have played BioShock would have a very different vision for the film than those who have not played it (Guillermo del Toro has played BioShock, hint, hint, Sony). And let’s not forget about casting; which Hollywood star is right to play Andrew Ryan and can work for the given amount on their paycheck? How about an actor for Atlas? Sander Cohen?

Perhaps I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. For now, let’s celebrate that the BioShock movie has once again cleared the first hurdle: it has found a studio that seems to be interested in making it (and with Sony Pictures currently working on a movie based on The Last of Us, perhaps another proposed video game adaptation will have a chance there). I’ll be eagerly awaiting new developments, as I’m sure many other BioShock fans will be. With BioShock Infinite now wrapped up and Irrational Games significantly downsized, it seems a BioShock film is the next means through which we can once again journey to Rapture, good reviews or not.


The Minus World is written by Steven Brasley. You can keep up with his thoughts on gaming via Twitter. Check back every Tuesday for new articles.
Apr 182014

Welcome back to Channel Chaser! As you may have guessed from the title of this week’s column, I’ll be diving in the wild, wacky world of the BBC’s sci-fi fantasy epic, Doctor Who.


It’s difficult to judge Doctor Who as a whole simply because every version of the title character is so fundamentally different; and to be clear, I’m just talking about the revival series that began with the Ninth Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston, in 2005. Eccleston’s Doctor was blunt, standoffish, and played it cool at all times: a very close-to-the-vest kind of guy. The Tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant, was exactly the opposite; cheeky, frantic, hotheaded and totally out of control. Finally, Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor seems more like a combination of the two than anything else; filled with awe, wonder, and child-like enthusiasm and energy, but while simultaneously harboring a darker, more withdrawn side that can come out without warning.

In all my years of watching television, the Doctor strikes me as one of the most multi-faceted, interesting, and confounding characters ever created. He is lonely, first and foremost; as the last of a race that was once the greatest civilization in the universe and was destroyed in a horrifyingly cataclysmic war, he carries a survivor’s guilt that no one else can know. He also periodically undergoes regenerations, radically changing his looks, personality, and clothing tastes. Whether this is what makes the Doctor so interesting or not, I can’t say.

While he is at heart a good person and travels the cosmos in the hopes of seeing new things, meeting new people, and saving those in trouble, the Doctor also has a dark side; when roused to anger, he can be vengeful, arrogant and merciless. This duality makes him simultaneously one of the most beloved, as well as one of the most feared, beings in creation. He is also quite obviously a genius in most fields, along with tending toward eccentricity, and is quirky, awkward, and empathetic all at the same time. The many different faces of the Doctor–sometimes in a literal sense–is for me the biggest part of the show’s appeal.

To temper the Doctor’s self-destructive tendencies, as well as to boost viewer interest, he is joined in the main cast of the show by a variety of human companions who he chooses to travel the stars with him. As the Doctor has always been a male – something that I hope will change in the future – these companions are usually women and can sometimes fall in love with the Doctor, forgetting that he is alien, immortal, and essentially not human. Companions Rose Tyler and Martha Jones both suffered from this kind of emotional crisis, and Amy Pond struggled with it briefly; although Rose is the only one the Doctor ever comes close to reciprocating these feelings with.

Donna Noble is the exception to this, as she never once was shown to be romantically interested in the Doctor; this, along with her fiery personality and her unique willingness to back-sass the Doctor and call him out on his decisions, make her one of my favorite companions. Honestly, Martha, Rose, and lately Clara Oswald just don’t do it for me; I was especially annoyed by Rose because of her essentially sappy relationship with the Doctor. What exactly does he see in her, again? The title of favorite, though, has to go to the power couple of Amy Pond and Rory Williams; the dynamics between the two of them and the Doctor make for the series’ most interesting storylines.

Speaking of storylines, season-spanning arcs are something that Doctor Who revolves around, much like Supernatural; this, I feel is the show’s strong suit, as singleton episodes spaced between plot-arc relevant stories are much harder for me to get into. The first series’ “Bad Wolf” arc was really nothing to write home about for me, except for the blockbuster finale in which the Ninth Doctor said his final goodbyes. The Tenth Doctor’s “Torchwood” arc was a bit more interesting, and the Master arc of series three was Tennant’s crowning glory. The Dalek arc of the fourth series was a bit lower on the scale, but was quickly followed by the rise of the Eleventh Doctor and the Pandorica and Silence plotlines that both left me breathless from excitement.

Finally, I found that the most consistently interesting stories of Doctor Who featured one or more of the Doctor’s recurring enemies: the vicious, destructive Daleks; the insidious cyborg Cybermen; and the Master, a fellow Time Lord and the Doctor’s dark parallel. I would especially like to single out the Master, played by John Simm, for praise; he is an almost perfect villain, both empathetic and unspeakably cruel at the same time, as well as filled with the same uncontainable enthusiasm that makes the Doctor so fun to watch. While the Cybermen and the Daleks are much less relatable in comparison, their relationships with the Doctor are for me what makes them so interesting to watch, and over time their repeated appearances allow them to themselves take on a semblance of humanity that can be alternatively humorous and creepy.


My rating: 3.5/5

As you may have guessed, Matt Smith’s Eleventh is definitely my favorite Doctor so far. Smith brings all the power of Tennant to the stage, but with an irrepressible enthusiasm that you can’t help but smile at. The epic scale of Smith’s adventures, especially with the Silence, along with the light and fun tone they maintain, contributes to making his series unforgettable. Alone, I would give his seasons a 4.5/5, which balances out Eccleston’s relative 2.5/5 and Tennant’s 3.5/5. If you were looking to get into Doctor Who, I’d recommend starting with Smith: then you can dive into the darker, heavier territory of Tennant and Eccleston if you like. Not bad for a show I swore I’d never watch.


Channel Chaser is written by Kyle Robertson. You can check out more of his work on his website. Check back every Friday for new articles.
Apr 162014

It’s that time of the season once again: the time when anime fans cram their schedules full of more shows than any reasonable person could possibly watch.  Most folks will soon scale things back as it becomes clear what is and isn’t worth watching, but for now we’re still all caught up in the manic flood of possibilities.  Just to make everyone’s lives that much more difficult, here’s a list of five new shows with tons of potential to fill up your queue this spring.


Universal Appeal: The World is Still Beautiful


As more and more shows make a point of playing exclusively to a particular section of anime fandom, it’s nice to see a series with as broad an appeal as The World is Still Beautiful.  The fantasy premise of a princess from a tiny country marrying a powerful king has been used plenty of times, but this show quickly stands out on merit.  On their own, the heroine is immediately charismatic and the hero is intriguingly flawed.  Together, they have the kind of excellent chemistry that can carry a series all on its own.  Add a solid mix of humor and drama, toss in a bit of political intrigue, and the result is hard not to like.  The World is Still Beautiful has the potential to connect with quite a large audience, and is easy to recommend to just about anyone. US viewers can catch the simulcast on Crunchyroll.


Strong Sequel: Mushi-shi: The Next Chapter


While the other titles on this list were pleasant surprises for me, there was never any doubt that the new season of Mushi-shi would make this list.  The original manga and 2005 anime adaptation are both absolutely fantastic, and this latest iteration appears to have what it takes to live up to that standard.  Not unlike a Japanese folklore version of The Twilight Zone, Mushi-shi presents episodic stories of mysterious life forms called Mushi and the effects they have on humans.  Each episode can be tragic, uplifting, or even horrifying, but the series always manages to be both creative and intelligent.  Come for the beautiful visuals, stay for the clever insights into human nature. The show is available through Crunchyroll and Daisuki.


Substance Over Style: Ping Pong the Animation


Not unlike the controversial Flowers of Evil, Ping Pong employs an unusual yet fluid animation style that can be off-putting at first glance.  However, I found myself forgetting all about its looks by the end of the first episode thanks to the show’s impressive ability to build a compelling narrative and set of characters.  While I enjoy the over-the-top approach of more typical sports anime like this season’s Haikyu!!, Ping Pong stands out by not needing any of the genre’s usual crutches.  There are no flashy special moves or spiky-haired heroes aiming to be the best in the world.  Instead, Ping Pong quickly establishes a number of real human conflicts between characters that feel like more than just the usual archetypes.  Check it out if you’re looking for something different from the usual sports shows. Funimation is handling the US simulcast for this one.


Biggest Surprise: One Week Friends


With the kind of premise one might expect from a lousy date movie, One Week Friends sets itself up for plenty of cynical eye-rolls from potential viewers.  Its teenage heroine loses all memories of her friends at the beginning of each week.  Undeterred by this credulity-straining premise, one of her classmates does his best to befriend her, even if it means starting from square one every Monday.  What should’ve been a sappy and underwhelming show caught me off guard with solid writing and genuine emotional depth.  If it can continue developing its characters and keep from going off the rom-com rails, One Week Friends could be the biggest surprise of the season. Sentai Filmworks and Crunchyroll both have the license for this series.


Built to Succeed: Mekakucity Actors


I very nearly put Nanana’s Buried Treasure or Captain Earth on this list, but Mekakucity Actors came in at the last second and stole my interest by a slim margin.  Combining the visual style of Bakemonogatari with an ensemble cast reminiscent of Durarara!, Actors checks all the boxes when it comes to things that draw in anime fans.  A snarky shut-in hero with an Artifical Intelligence girl living in his computer.  Morally ambiguous, hood-wearing supernatural vigilantes.  Hints of a potentially sinister big picture.  Throw in a strong sense of style, and you’ve got all the right ingredients for a fan-favorite series.  Mekakucity Actors is heavily loaded with potential, and it’s hard to believe that it won’t deliver at least reasonably well.  All aboard the bandwagon! Actors is available all over the Internet, including Crunchyroll, Hulu, and Daisuki.


Between some solid continuations from the winter season and a promising group of new titles, this looks like a good spring for anime.  I look forward to being proven completely wrong about which shows end up being the best.


Kawaii Overthink is written by Paul Jensen. You can follow his ramblings about anime on Twitter. Check back every Wednesday for new articles.

Apr 152014

All I can start this musing off with is: wow. I am still recovering from what was an incredible, epic weekend of video games and gaming culture as far as the eye can see. PAX East 2014 was the largest convention I had ever attended. I felt very overwhelmed at first, but eventually I got my bearings and experienced tons of panels (most of which were epic) and watched and played some great upcoming games, all while acquiring an accumulated hatred of oatmeal (thanks to Cards Against Humanity for randomly distributing their 27 PAX East-exclusive cards in packets of oatmeal, forcing me to open packet after packet to collect them all).

Where to begin?


 To start with, the few games I tried were pretty awesome. The unfortunate thing about going to a convention with 80,000 attendees is there are long lines for just about everything; it makes waiting in line for Space Mountain at Disneyland feel like a cakewalk. As such there were very few games I got to play hands-on, but there were several that I watched gameplay of.

Easily the most accessible games with the shortest wait times were the many on display at the Indie MEGABOOTH. One of the highlights for me, as I expected after seeing it on the MEGABOOTH list, was the arcade-style Victorian-era high society simulator Max Gentlemen, by Organ Trail developers The Men Who Wear Many Hats. A friend and I competed to drink as many pints of beer as possible in the given time limit, sliding our suit and monocle-sporting characters across the bar table at the bottom of the screen. Each pint of beer collected put another hat on our character’s head; whoever had the most hats would be deemed the most gentlemanly and thus the winner. Ultimately my friend had a taller stack of hats than I by game’s end, because it took me a while to figure out how to properly dodge the many thrown beer glasses flying across the screen, knocking the hats off my head. Either way, Max Gentlemen is a fun little game, especially for anyone who likes facial hair, monocles, top hats and classic arcade gameplay format. After trying it at PAX East, I greatly look forward to its appearance on Steam, iOS and Android.


Even some of the games with a much larger presence on the PAX East show floor were fun to watch. Turtle Rock Studios and 2K showed off their upcoming co-op shooter, Evolve, at a massive booth. With the crowds it was practically impossible to take part in a demo (open slots were given to people who signed up via text message, but by the end of Friday the list was way too long to even get a shot at playing), but huge screens gave spectators a look in the action. The game is more or less a refined version of Team Fortress 2’s “Vs. Saxton Hale” mod, in which you and a group of friends work together as different character classes to hunt down a massive alien monster. The player controlling the monster has the ability to kill creatures and gain experience points to level up and gain stronger attacks. This game is gorgeous; the level I watched was set in a massive jungle with highly detailed rocks and foliage. The character models, especially the monster, were also sights to see. It is unknown if Evolve will have a large variety of maps or even a story mode; if those are added then the game could be of high enough quality to justify a full $60 price tag. If not, I will likely check it out on Steam when it has a good sale price.


Of the few panels I went to, I enjoyed most of them. By far the most entertaining panel of the weekend was Mega64’s panel on Saturday night; as is tradition at their panels, the ten-years-and-counting gaming comedy crew opened with a ridiculous video intro and funny song-and-dance routine. They then showed us a new skit that has yet to be shown to the public (expect it to pop up on their YouTube channel in the coming weeks!). I will not spoil what game Rocco Botte and his pals lampooned, but I will say that the video has some of the funniest public reactions I have ever seen from their skits, and the scenario under which those reactions were received only added to the hilarity. Also, their panel was easily the most efficient with its Q-and-A; the crew almost got through two full aisles of questions before the hour was up. Mega64 has made appearances at both PAX Prime and PAX East for years now, and it shows that they’ve experienced these conventions enough to know how to handle the many fans that come to see them. Not only was their panel both entertaining and efficient; each day I visited the Mega64 booth the gang was full of energy, excited to interact with all their fans, even going out of their way to pose for pictures and sign autographs when asked. I was a fan of Mega64 since the eighth grade, but after seeing their profound appreciation for fans at PAX East I can respect them on a much deeper level.


The panel for the web series Extra Credits deserves a mention as well. In addition to premiering two new series, one about video game remixers (which premiers today!) and also showing a preview clip of another upcoming show, the Extra Credits team spent a ton of time answering questions from the audience through their typical analytical lens. They answered far fewer questions than Mega64 did (I honestly recall them only getting to two or three questions before the panel ended), but with the amount of intellectualism with which they answered those few questions, the audience didn’t seem to mind too much.

I could keep going on about the amazing weekend that was PAX East 2014, but I have already talked for too long. To quickly brush over some other highlights: Anamanaguchi played a spectacular concert on Friday night that re-energized this exhausted, overheated and slightly malnourished cosplayer; the retro arcade room built by the American Classic Arcade Museum was absolutely lovely, and I was happy to see it so well-received by its many visitors. I got way too many Streetpasses but that was a great thing since it allowed me to more thoroughly enjoy one of the 3DS’ features that I previously used the least. There were tons of amazing cosplays and I giggled like a little kid whenever I interacted with a cosplayer that remained constantly in character. Overall, this weekend at the Boston Convention and Exposition Center was the greatest display of gaming culture I had ever seen, and is one of the few conventions where I saw gamers come together in a way that fully celebrated that culture.

This is why PAX East is so popular. This is why the three-day badges sold out in less than half an hour last October. This is why I’ll be fighting for one of those golden tickets again next year.


The Minus World is written by Steven Brasley. You can keep up with his thoughts on gaming via Twitter. Check back every Tuesday for new articles.
Apr 142014

Many gamers can recall the first day they played a new title.  The excitement of playing an A-list release on day one has a habit of staying in our memories, as does the joy of finding a sleeper hit in the bargain bin.  What’s often less memorable is the last day of a game’s lifespan.  Unless it’s an epic rage quit or a soaring triumph of 100% completion, we rarely remember the last time we play a game.  It’s often an ordinary experience, a few matches in an FPS or a mundane sidequest in an RPG.  No matter how good or replayable a game may be, there always comes a time when we simply stop coming back.  It’s as true for racing games as it is for any other genre, and it’s something that developers have long tried to postpone by releasing new content after launch.


For driving sims, this DLC usually comes in the form of new cars.  For a not always nominal fee, developers offer gamers additional vehicles to customize and race.  Repeat this exchange every month for the first year of a game’s lifespan, the thinking goes, and the chance to try new cars will keep people coming back.  However, for all the hours I’ve sunk into the Forza Motorsport series, I’ve never shelled out for a single piece of paid DLC.  Despite their individual nuances, there just isn’t enough of a difference between the original selection of cars and their downloadable counterparts.  You can drive a circuit in half a dozen different vintage Mustangs, but the experience just isn’t varied enough for me to consider it a new and interesting challenge.  The recent releases of the Road America and Long Beach circuits in Forza 5 helped me understand the issue: while new cars can be appealing to collectors, it’s new tracks that increase a game’s lifespan.

Put out as free updates to the game, Road America and Long Beach have played a big role in keeping Forza 5 on my radar.  In the wake of Long Beach’s release last week, I even decided to stick around and keep playing until I finally bring my driver level up to 150 (just a few more to go as I write this).  Each of these tracks offers a new location, a new layout, and a new challenge to take on.  Unlike a new car, a new track moves players back to square one.  Rather than simply adjusting your approach to compensate for a new car’s strengths and weaknesses, track DLC throws up a fresh set of unfamiliar corners.  It’s going to take much longer to wrap my head around the turn 11 hairpin at Long Beach than it would to find my rhythm around a familiar circuit in a new car.

Of course, it helps that the tracks were free, but I would’ve happily paid for content like this.  For people like me who obsess over doing the perfect timed lap, a new track is like a new campaign in a first person shooter.  It’s hard to replicate this effect with car DLC, unless an expansion came out featuring an entirely new class of vehicles.  It’s nice to see the folks at Turn 10 taking a new approach to expanding their games after release.  Maybe they’ll bring back the Suzuka circuit next (hint, hint).


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