Apr 112014

Welcome back to another edition of Channel Chaser! This week I’m eager to discuss with you what has been on my mind–and I’m sure many other people’s minds–since Sunday; the season four premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones.


Before I go any further, if you have not yet watched the episode, I would ask that you turn back now to avoid being spoiled. Living with a bunch of people who take Game of Thrones very, very seriously, I know just how upset that can make people. Also, for those out there who may not watch Game of Thrones regularly, trying to explain the show’s back-story up to this point would take about five of these columns; sorry about that. I can only urge you to start from the beginning and catch up with this wonderful television series as soon as possible.

Are you still with me? Good. Moving on…

In their review of the episode, IGN gave the season four opening an 8.5 out of 10, and I would pretty much agree with this rating. The episode was not a spectacular or action-packed blockbuster like we’ve gotten used to in previous seasons, and that is more or less to be expected; after the Red Wedding, the story of Game of Thrones does slow down quite a bit. The episode was still very strong in other ways, though, namely developing both new and established characters.

Most of the episode is set in King’s Landing, and its most prominent feature is the moment I’ve been waiting three whole seasons for; the introduction of the last of Westeros’s great houses, and one I claim as my personal favorite, House Martell of Dorne. From the moment he enters the screen, Prince Oberyn Martell is depicted as a suave, mysterious and dangerous man on a mission; that is, to get revenge for his family’s dishonor and to kill anyone who stands in his way. Oberyn is out for blood and harbors a hatred for Lannisters, something that causes Tyrion no end of discomfort as he tries to make the Martell prince feel at home.

Oberyn immediately stirs up trouble by picking a fight with two Lannister soldiers and critically injuring one of them, but not killing him, and forcing the other to flee for help. The Martells are different from any of the families introduced in the series thus far; they have no skin in the game of thrones, and are thus complete and total wild cards, introducing a new unpredictable and exciting element to the show. Plus, their vendetta against House Lannister ought to cheer up anyone who likes to see the lions of Casterly Rock squirm for once. One thing is for certain; the Martells are here to stay, and they will certainly make an impact. As Oberyn ominously warns Tyrion, “The Lannisters are not the only ones who pay their debts.”

The episode is filled with other great character moments as well, especially between some of the established pairs we have learned to love so well. Jaime Lannister continues to show his newfound vulnerability as he is hurt by Cersei’s rejection and his father’s plan to remove him from the Kingsguard; this ends with Tywin ostracizing Jaime from the family, although Jaime keeps his position and Tywin leaves him a new sword (ironically made from the remnants of Eddard Stark’s great sword Ice), saying “A man with one hand and no family needs all the help he can get.” Jaime is also berated by Joffrey for his failures against the Starks, but admirably manages to keep his cool; he is even fitted with a new golden prosthetic hand for his trouble, giving him some semblance of dignity. He also talks with Brienne again in the antagonistic but still brotherly way that we have come to expect from the two characters; you can tell that their adventures together have left them with a deep respect for each other that they just can’t bring themselves to admit.

In other character news, Tyrion struggles with his relationships with Sansa and Shae, who tries to seduce him and is infuriated when Tyrion does the honorable thing and rejects her advances. On the other hand, it’s good to see Sansa cheered up a bit when a former fool whose life she saved returns her kindness by giving her his treasured family necklace. It was also nice to have more character development for Grey Worm and Daario Naharis as they compete for Daenerys Targaryen’s affections; Grey Worm is slowly becoming more human and less brainwashed soldier, while Daario is his classic flirtatious and quick-witted self. Nice save with the flowers, by the way. Also, Dany’s insistence on seeing every one of the dead children on the road to Meereen shows she is making huge strides as a leader, but the scene where her dragons snap at her gives some dark foreshadowing that she may still not be in total control.

The episode did have a few weak points, though; the scene of Jon Snow’s trial by the officials of the Night’s Watch is really nothing to write home about. We knew he wasn’t going to get into trouble anyway, right? He’s pretty much the only competent soldier they have. And Ygritte and the Wildlings make a brief return, if only to demonstrate just how desperate their situation is and how different the Free Folk really are (aka, they’re apparently down with cannibalism). Oh, and there’s a brief mention that Ygritte might still have feelings for Jon; big shocker there, but as things stand I’m saying there’s not a chance.

The biggest moment came at the end of the episode, when Arya Stark got to show her dark side by helping The Hound kill a group of Lannister men. Coming face to face with the man who stole her sword and killed one of her best friends, Arya shows immense pleasure in taunting him before sliding Needle slowly through his throat. It was gratifying and bone-chilling to see Arya, both a young girl and a Stark, dish out some punishment for a change; maybe hanging out with The Hound is finally rubbing off on her.

Overall, the show does a pretty good job of refreshing our favorite characters and building up to what will obviously be the big focus of this season: Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell’s wedding. If this series has been any indication, it won’t be anything like we expect, and with the drop in action this season, it will be interesting to see if the show’s pacing can stay as strong as we’re used to.


Channel Chaser is written by Kyle Robertson. You can check out more of his work on his website.
Apr 092014

Back in the fall of 2013, an anime series called Arpeggio of Blue Steel premiered in a season filled with big-name titles.  A sci-fi series boasting some impressive naval combat sequences, Arpeggio faced stiff competition and was quickly torpedoed by fan-favorite shows from a variety of genres, including Non Non Biyori and Kill la Kill.  With the original manga now available online from Crunchyroll and on course for a print release from Seven Seas, it’s obvious why the anime adaptation didn’t fare better: it didn’t give us the whole picture.


It also didn’t give us gorgeous two-page spreads like this one, but I digress.

For those who’ve neither read nor watched, Arpeggio of Blue Steel doubles down on apocalyptic scenarios.  Rising sea levels have displaced large portions of humanity and thrown a wrench into the global economy.  To make matters worse, a mysterious fleet of AI-controlled warships has blockaded every continent, cutting nations off from one another.  Each ship in the “Fleet of Fog” is controlled by a Mental Model, a physical manifestation of its artificial intelligence in the form of (what else?) an attractive woman.  When Fog submarine I-401 defects to humanity’s side, it shifts the balance of power and sets all manner of changes in motion.  Existential quandaries, geopolitical power struggles, and kickass sea battles ensue.

On paper, this should have made for one heck of an anime series, but Arpeggio of Blue Steel suffered from having to cram a complex plot and setting into just twelve episodes.  As a result, entire elements of the series’ world had to be dropped completely, while others were simplified into irrelevance.  At the same time, character development was kept to a minimum for a significant portion of the cast.  What remained were some solid action sequences, a handful of quirky AI girls, and some interesting ideas.  These alone couldn’t carry the show, and I abandoned ship several episodes early.

Around a month after the anime adaptation of Arpeggio wrapped up, Crunchyroll added the original manga to its catalog of online titles.  One lazy night, I tried out the first few chapters.  One thing led to another, and “the first few chapters” quickly became “the first twenty-four chapters.”  At around 3:45 AM, it became obvious that the manga version of Arpeggio of Blue Steel had everything the anime lacked.


I guess ship girls are the new airplane girls.

The most immediately apparent difference lies in the depth and complexity of the series’ world.  The anime essentially boiled down to a series of fights between I-401 and around half a dozen Fog ships.  There were suggestions that human politics were also an issue for the heroes, but this mostly just served as an excuse to have a Mental Model take on some special forces soldiers.  The manga presents a much more detailed look at all sides of the conflict, an approach that makes it far more interesting.  We see power struggles within the Japanese government, rivalries amongst an expanded cast of Fog characters, and the efforts of human militaries to take on the more powerful Fog ships.  As a result, the Arpeggio manga has a living world to exist in, rather than just a sequence of events to follow.

It takes longer to notice, but the manga also devotes more effort to developing its characters.  To its credit, the anime did a respectable job with several of the Mental Models, examining their varied reactions to direct contact with humans.  Sadly, the same wasn’t true for the show’s human characters.  There was little in the way of backstory for the I-401’s crew, and they spent most of their screen time shouting expository dialogue.  The original work takes the time to develop the crew, their allies, and their enemies.  We learn more about Gunzou’s military past and his family’s connection with the Fog.  Seeing Kongou under pressure from other high-ranking Fog ships makes her more than just a standard “Destroy All Humans” villain.  Outside of combat, the sub crew gets a chance to evolve beyond their roles on the ship.  We get a better sense of where everyone is coming from, and this deeper connection with the cast causes us to be more emotionally invested in the battle scenes.

Exciting combat sequences can make a series like Arpeggio of Blue Steel good, but it’s the more subtle touches that can make it great.  It’s been a while since I’ve had such wildly divergent opinions on two versions of the same story, and it’s a testament to the quality of the manga that it so outshines a perfectly decent anime series.  I’m glad I gave this franchise a second chance, and look forward to seeing the manga’s print release later this year.


You can pre-order Volume 1 of Arpeggio of Blue Steel from RightStuf.com here.

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

Apr 082014

I’m excited to say that this year will be my very first time attending PAX East, one of the biggest geek events on the East Coast. There will be so many things to do, I have absolutely no idea how I’ll have the time to do absolutely everything I want to this coming weekend. Regardless, I’m making plans to see some amazing panels and epic gaming booths, as well as witness some exciting tournaments. Here’s just a taste of what PAX East 2014 will be offering; whether you’re a first-timer like me or a repeat visitor, these are just a few things you’ll need to check out:




There’s such a multitude of panels at PAX East, I’m still trying to wrap my head around them all and decide which ones I definitely want to go to. I do have a couple set in stone though; first and foremost I’m definitely looking forward to the Mega64 panel on Saturday night. I first met the ten-years-strong YouTube gaming comedy gang last fall when I attended their GameDays event at Disneyland, and they are awesome people to get to know. And the best place to do so will be at their panel, which is full of hilariously ridiculous song and dance routines, absurd videos, and a very funny Q-and-A. I’d also recommend visiting their merchandise booth during free time if you want some more Mega64 madness (they tend to dance awkwardly at their booth wearing Mexican wrestling masks. And I love it.).

I’m especially stoked to see some other favorite gaming personalities I’ve never met before on Sunday, at the OverClocked ReMix panel. David “djpretzel” Lloyd, the founder of OC ReMix who writes reviews of just about every remix uploaded to the website, will be there along with tons of other long-time remixers. The group is expected to tease an upcoming Mega Man 25th Anniversary album, but I hope to see some other upcoming remix projects being announced or discussed. As a lover of video game music, I deeply appreciate the passion that goes into this organization that celebrates its artistry. This is a panel for true lovers of game music, and I can’t wait to see how the group’s speeches and Q-and-A reflect that passion.


Friday and Saturday Night Concerts


 I’ll be honest, when I saw the list of musical guests for PAX East this year I thought the roster was rather lackluster, not because the groups are untalented but because of who will be playing compared to last year – Jonathan Coulton and The Protomen are very tough acts to follow. The lineup is pretty solid regardless, with video game rock groups Bit Brigade, Metroid Metal, and Anamanaguchi taking the stage Friday night; Saturday night will have a variety of acts including the Seattle-based musical geek sisters The Doubleclicks, nerdcore rap’s own MC Frontalot (returning from last year) and The Video Game Orchestra. This year we may not have JoCo or Mega Man rock operas, but still there’s something for everyone on the music scene.


Tournaments Galore!


I doubt I’ll be playing in any of the tournaments (though I may do the Team Fortress 2 tourney on Saturday for fun). Some of these tournaments will definitely be fun to watch though. I especially look forward to what will surely be a chaotic mess of teams shouting techno-babble in the Spaceteam tournament (on a side note, I love seeing this independent game getting such attention; it’s one of the best iOS/Android apps on the market currently).

The biggest tournament highlight is always the Omegathon. This year’s randomly selected teams will compete playing the classic kid’s tabletop game Perfection in round one, Starwhal in round two, and Towerfall in round three. The last event of PAX East, at 5:30 on Sunday, is the Omegathon final round, in which the remaining two teams compete for victory with a strange mystery game. This final match on the main stage should be one for the ages; I expect the crowd’s enthusiasm will recreate the final scene of The Wizard.


Too. Many. Games.


It wouldn’t be a gaming convention without tons of hands-on gaming booths. Always a highlight of PAX is the Indie MEGABOOTH, and I expect to spend a significant amount of time there. Two games I expect to be very popular there due to lots of press coverage and talk: A Hat in Time, a game inspired by Nintendo 64 collect-a-thon platformers being funded through Kickstarter, and Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, the sequel to Dennaton Games’ 2012 hit retro top-down shooter. Taking a quick look at the MEGABOOTH list, I notice a few other games that may tickle one’s fancy. There are quirky games like Max Gentlemen, an “arcade-style extreme manners simulator about stacking hats,” and Robot Roller-Derby Disco Dodgeball, a four-player robot dodgeball battle game with pumping bass and Tron-like visuals. For the adrenaline junkies there’s Distance, a fast-paced “survival racing game” that also looks straight out of Tron. If you’re into puzzlers, Miegakure looks very interesting; your character manipulates objects in a garden by moving into the fourth dimension. This just scratches the surface of what the MEGABOOTH has to offer; stroll around there for a few hours and I’m sure you’ll find plenty of amazing games you may have never heard of before.

I’m excited to embrace the old-school gaming scene as well. Once again, the American Classic Arcade Museum will be running a booth at PAX East this year. I may be biased having grown up in New Hampshire, the home base of ACAM, but it is truly an amazing organization that celebrates gaming’s roots with countless classic arcade games, all ready to play. There’s no word from ACAM on what arcade games they’re bringing this year, but they promise a true 1980’s arcade experience just like the one they offer at Funspot, their main base of operations. This will make ACAM’s booth worth visiting for an hour or two; it is the booth to go to for gamers like myself who deeply appreciate the history of gaming.

I have already gone on too long about what to do at PAX East this weekend, and I only mentioned a handful of things to see and do. Take this piece as a basic guide for things that are worth checking out, but of course if you find any panel or booth you want to see then do it. PAX East is all about celebrating every aspect of gaming culture, so be assured that this weekend you will be able to explore every niche of the gamingsphere that you’re interested in.


The Minus World is written by Steven Brasley. You can keep up with his thoughts on gaming via Twitter.
Apr 042014

Welcome back to Channel Chaser! It seems like it’s all the rage these days to get your favorite TV shows from the Internet rather than having to go through all the effort of sitting down in front of the old tube at the same time every week; maybe it’s just the fact that mobile devices are huge now, or that we live in a more on-the-go world now…I’m sure you’ve heard it all before.

Anyway, one of the ways that online content providers such as Hulu and Netflix are trying to capitalize on these trends in viewing is to skip the traditional middleman of content providers and go right at their viewers with original programming. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of this idea right now, mostly because I haven’t seen that many Hulu or Netflix-exclusive shows that have thrilled me yet. It also doesn’t help that since the shows are online only, there’s not the same sense of predictability, structure, and urgency that usually makes me want to catch a show every week. Bottom line is, webisodes just aren’t doing it for me right now.

My personal quibbles about mediums aside, though, I do think this would be a good time to bring up one of what I think is the more promising online-only shows out there; Hulu’s wild Western spoof series Quick Draw.


In order for me to get interested in an online show, there usually has to be something fundamentally different about the series that sets it apart from anything else I’ve watched; some characteristic that just wouldn’t fly on regular television. Quick Draw has this in spades; the biggest reason being that it is a half-hour, improv-only comedy. What that means is that basically outside of a rough premise for each episode, nothing shown on the screen is scripted; the humor is captured pretty much as it happened in a one-and-done shot routine.

Usually I find improvised comedy to be a bit inconsistent for my taste, but serious kudos to the creators and actors of Quick Draw for coming up, more or less on the spot, with one of the more inventive and humorous plotlines I’ve seen in a sitcom. The show follows John Henry Hoyle, a Harvard graduate who becomes the new sheriff of the one-horse, rough and tumble frontier town of Great Bend, Kansas.

Beginning in the first episode, it is made clear that Hoyle, portrayed by sometime comedic actor John Lehr, is unusually well educated for his time, in relatively modern fields such as criminal psychology, ballistics, and forensics. This causes the less sophisticated, small town folks he deals with on a regular basis no end of irritation, as in spite of being a crack shot with a relatively sharp mind, Hoyle is tactless, insensitive and blunt. He is also a miserable hand-to-hand fighter and hates physical conflict in a direct reversal of most Western lawman stereotypes, much to the disgust of his dull townie deputy Eli and Honey, the voluptuous owner of Great Bend’s saloon and whorehouse.

Through Hoyle and his modern sensibilities, the show also takes repeated shots at the basic assumptions that most old-school Westerns rely on. In contrast to his less educated associates, he puts no stock in superstitions and has no qualms about getting his hands dirty in investigations, from handling severed body parts to sampling the stomach contents of murder victims. He also feels it his duty to impart his supposed wisdom to everyone around him and constantly runs his mouth off; for example, telling a horrified Vernon Shank, the local undertaker, that nobody wants to befriend him because he is “creepy,” and admitting that he “failed jumper negotiation class” only after the town drunk takes a dive from the saloon’s roof.

As is the case with many improvised comedies, the humor in Quick Draw can sometimes be spotty. One of the cardinal rules of improv is to never directly contradict or deny something another actor says; Lehr and the other cast members mostly avoid this, but on occasion some scenes do devolve into a circuitous, back and forth argument that more carefully scripted sitcoms can avoid. The awkwardness and raunchy nature of much of the humor can also be off-putting at times, including Hoyle’s incredibly blunt statements on his own sexual relationships. It’s funny the first few times, but eventually enough is enough.

Improv-style shows also suffer from a lack of real narrative direction, which I think is critical for a television show; but Quick Draw does feature some recurring elements, and eventually over its eight episodes gains the rudiments of a storyline. This primarily focuses on the tale of Hoyle’s dead wife, who may have been a famous outlaw, as well as the man that killed her: Cole Younger, a vicious and ruthless masked desperado that is Hoyle’s most frequent nemesis, both legally and romantically.


My Rating: 3.5/5

Honestly, if this was a scripted sitcom rather than improvised, I would probably give it much higher marks; the premise of Quick Draw is hilarious, and it would probably stay more consistently funny besides. As it is, the dialogue bickering can become a bit tedious to listen to, but overall the show manages to stay pretty consistently funny. If you’re interested in getting a few good laughs for a minimal time commitment, I’d say check it out. Plus, Hulu renewed Quick Draw for a second season later this year: so I for one will be watching to see if this show’s plot becomes more defined and the humor more on target.


Channel Chaser is written by Kyle Robertson. You can check out more of his work on his website.
Apr 032014

Deck-building card games are a strangely fascinating part of the tabletop world.  Where a traditional trading card deck is build before the game actually takes place, deck-building games make this process part of the competition.  It’s an unusual choice that gives players a chance to chat and joke about one another’s strategies over the course of the game.  This is plenty entertaining in classics like Dominion, but Tanto Cuore offers a unique twist on the genre.  Instead of building a kingdom or an army, players compete to employ a variety of anime housemaids.  Yes, you read that last sentence right.


The mechanics of the game will be familiar to anyone who’s played a game in this genre before.  Between two and four players begin the game with small, identical decks, which they expand by acquiring more cards from a central pile.  Adding new cards to your deck gives you additional resources to work with, allowing you to buy more expensive and powerful cards.  Some grant special abilities, some hinder their owner’s opponents, and some contribute to a player’s final score.  The key to victory is coming up with a good strategy and acquiring cards that support that particular plan of action.

This process of using cards for resources and victory points is fairly common among deck-building games, but Tanto Cuore stands out thanks to its premise and art style.  Rather than buildings or soldiers, each card features a maid drawn by one of a variety of illustrators.  There are some prominent names from anime and manga character design featured, and the game presents a fairly wide variety of visual styles.  While the idea of competing to employ the best staff of maids may seem a bit ridiculous, that slight absurdity makes the game more fun.  Why build a barracks or hire a blacksmith when you can debate over whether to hire Viola or Ophelia?


Whether by accident or design, Tanto Cuore also creates countless opportunities for players to joke among themselves as the game goes on.  Whether it’s using “Love” as a resource to pay for new employees or sending a maid to your “Private Quarters” to gain special benefits, Tanto Cuore can be an absolute riot when played with a sense of humor.  Working with named characters instead of nondescript buildings also changes the way players interact with the cards.  It’s hard not to laugh when a player curses Colette Framboise for coming up when they were hoping to draw Claire Saint-Juste.

As far as gameplay goes, Tanto Cuore is best with more than two people.  Once three or four players are in the mix, it becomes harder for one person to dominate the game.  Anyone who seems to have the upper hand quickly becomes a target for the other players, which helps keep things interesting until the end.  Replay value is high, thanks to a couple of factors.  First, a variety of potential strategies encourage players to try a new approach each time.  Second, the game provides 16 “general purpose” maids, but only 10 are used at a time.  This means that different combinations of maids can create vastly different game dynamics.  Depending on which maids are available to the players, the game may take on a more aggressive or defensive flow.

FINAL VERDICT: If you’re trying to get an anime fan hooked on tabletop gaming, Tanto Cuore might just be the ideal way to do it.  The rules are fairly simple, the game has a relaxed pace, and the whole endeavor is just silly enough that it’s hard to resist giving it a try.  Fans of Dominion or other deck-building games will likely enjoy it as a change of scenery, and several expansions are available to increase the game’s already solid replay value.  Don’t take it too seriously and you’ll have a good time.


Tanto Cuore is available on Amazon.

Review by Paul Jensen.

Apr 022014

The finale of Kill la Kill aired last week, wrapping up a journey filled with epic battles, shocking plot twists, and absurd outfits.  It’s safe to say that this show generated plenty of interest and debate amongst anime fans, and the constant buzz that surrounded it was not without good reason.  Kill la Kill carefully walked several fine lines over the course of its 24-episode run, a risky approach that ultimately helped the series stand out from the crowd.  Fair warning to anyone who hasn’t seen the final episodes: spoilers lie ahead.


Somewhere in Japan, and anime cafe is working on a recipe for mystery meat croquettes. I guarantee it.

Kill la Kill’s first and most obvious balancing act was the way in which it constantly defied expectations while still embracing the conventions of Big Dumb Action Shows.  At first glance, we have a fairly typical shonen plot structure: a rebellious loner with special powers takes on increasingly challenging opponents in a quest for revenge, which ultimately leads to a climactic battle with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance.  Along the way, friends are made, lessons are learned, and monologues are shouted at maximum volume by heroes and villains alike.  Anyone seeking a modern version of the Dragon Ball or Fist of the North Star franchises could watch Kill la Kill and come away satisfied.

However, despite its adherence to the rules, Kill la Kill was still able to constantly catch viewers off guard.  After getting a look at the cruelty and scheming of Ragyo and Nui, many probably guessed that Satsuki would eventually come to her senses and side with Ryuko.  We expected a Return of the Jedi moment where Satsuki would interfere at the last second and help Ryuko snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.  Instead, Kill la Kill showed us how gravely we’d underestimated Satsuki when it revealed that she’d been plotting an organized rebellion from the very beginning.  Suddenly, we understood why so much time and effort had gone into humanizing Satsuki and the Elite Four, who began the series as the ostensible villains.  (See one of my past articles for just how completely the show had me fooled.)  By starting off as a “style over substance” action series, Kill la Kill set itself up to constantly surprise its audience with how clever it could be.

Viewers were also kept guessing by Kill la Kill’s seemingly contradictory efforts to empower and sexualize its female characters.  On one hand, nearly all of the show’s heavy hitters are female, a rarity in this genre.  I challenge you to find another shonen action series where the protagonist (Ryuko), best friend/love interest (Mako), rival (Satsuki), archenemy (Nui), and evil mastermind (Ragyo) are all women.  The ladies of Kill la Kill displayed a wide range of intelligence, physical power, emotional depth, and believable flaws as they stood constantly in the spotlight.  On the other hand, the series reveled in having these characters wear skimpy, ridiculous outfits on a nearly constant basis.  The revealing costumes weren’t limited to the female characters, but the battle attire in Kill la Kill always seemed to be at odds with its other themes.


Eat your heart out, Madoka Magica.

Of course, by “always,” I mean “until the last episode.”  It wasn’t until the aftermath of the final battle that we saw the whole picture.  In the process of defeating Ragyo and the life fibers, the last of the heroines’ uniforms were destroyed.  In his final moments, Senketsu told Ryuko to replace him with new clothes.  His request was honored in the epilogue, which showed the show’s surviving characters wearing street clothes of their own choosing in a newly peaceful world.  This change punctuated an idea that slowly built up over the course of the series.  In order to fight their enemies, Kill la Kill’s female characters needed to put on revealing outfits.  We can interpret this as an analogy for the way in which women in anime action series are frequently used as “fan service” characters, their fighting abilities ignored in favor of skimpy clothing and sleazy camera angles.  From this perspective, Ryuko and Satsuki’s battle takes on a symbolic quality: their struggle is as much for the freedom to dress how they want as it is to save the world.  I’m not sure this lets Kill la Kill completely off the hook for its costume design, but it does elevate it a notch above less ambitious titles.

Looking back, Kill la Kill reminds me of other anime titles that proved to be smarter than they first appeared.  It stands on level ground with shows like Black Lagoon, Gurren Lagann, and Fate/Zero.  Each can be enjoyed on a surface level as a mix of impressive action and high drama, but there’s a more complex layer waiting for anyone willing to take a closer look.  Considering that I’ve watched each of these name-drop shows at least twice, I suspect Kill la Kill will soon be due for a second viewing.  It’s the kind of series that simply demands more attention than can be paid in a single sitting.


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

Apr 012014

It took me a week to finally wrap my head around Burial at Sea – Episode Two, the final batch of DLC for BioShock Infinite and the final piece of BioShock content developed by Ken Levine and his team at Irrational Games. Set up as something of a “grand finale” for Levine’s contributions to the BioShock franchise, playing this DLC you can expect to revisit many of your favorite characters in the locations from both games.


The story picks up immediately following the events of Episode One. The player, now in the role of Elizabeth, is forced to help the city of Rapture’s own revolutionary Atlas escape from Fontaine’s Department Store, which Andrew Ryan converted into a prison detached from the rest of the city. Elizabeth’s mission will have her scavenging for the materials needed to raise the building back up to the city, so Atlas and his goons can begin the civil war that occurred in Rapture immediately prior to the events of the original BioShock.

The biggest difference between Burial at Sea – Episode Two and the rest of BioShock Infinite is the gameplay. There is a heavy emphasis on stealth playing as Elizabeth, in comparison to the run-and-gun style of play as Booker DeWitt. You will find yourself crouching to avoid detection by Splicers and Big Daddies, then sneaking behind enemies to knock them out with a melee attack or knocking them out from a distance using the DLC’s new weapon, a crossbow, with three types of ammo: tranquilizers (which knock out a single enemy), gas (knock out all enemies within the gas cloud), and noisemakers (which distract enemies). Rounding out Elizabeth’s arsenal are two new Plasmids designed to aid in the stealth-based combat: “Peeping Tom,” which allows you to see enemy locations through walls, and “Ironsides,” which gives Elizabeth the power to catch fired bullets and load them into her weapons. Two Plasmids from the previous episode, “Possession” and “Old Man Winter,” also return to your loadout in Episode Two.


At times, the stealth-based gameplay of Burial at Sea – Episode Two feels very similar to that of the Batman: Arkham games, particularly in one section where Elizabeth can get to several high vantage points by latching onto freight hooks running along the walls and columns of a tall room. A disadvantage, however, is the player remains in first-person throughout the game. The stealth system in the Batman: Arkham franchise works much better because you control Batman in the third-person, which allows for easier detection of enemies from behind. In Burial at Sea, the player has to frequently spin around to keep tabs on every bit of their surroundings.

Burial at Sea – Episode Two’s combat system is also much more slowly paced. In addition to the sluggish movements of the stealth gameplay, strategy changes in this DLC in a way that requires more time to examine surroundings and determine the best way to progress. This especially requires careful management of your very limited supplies of ammo and EVE. Players who are more used to the fast-paced action of BioShock Infinite’s previous installments may need some time (and patience) to get used to the new stealth elements.

Die-hard BioShock fans will especially enjoy appearances by many of the major characters from both BioShock and BioShock Infinite. Characters from Infinite (besides Elizabeth) include Booker DeWitt, the Lutece twins, and Daisy Fitzroy; prominent characters from the original BioShock such as Yi Suchong and Andrew Ryan himself also play key roles in this DLC. I was honestly disappointed that Ryan did not appear in the DLC more; he communicates with Elizabeth only a couple of times through a television monitor, and you never see him face-to-face. Ryan’s appearance was more or less a cameo, but it is better than excluding Rapture’s founder from the game completely.


I’ve noticed on several discussion threads that there is quite a split among BioShock fans over the ending of Burial at Sea – Episode Two. I am torn as well, not so much over the DLC’s bittersweet conclusion but rather over the way in which it is tied together. Without spoiling the details, the ending of Burial at Sea attempts to connect the stories of BioShock and BioShock Infinite together – Burial at Sea ends where the story of the original BioShock begins. Long-time fans of the BioShock series may either have issue with how the ending affects the canon, or they will see it as Ken Levine cleverly connecting the cities of Rapture and Columbia through more ways than tears in the fabric of space-time. I’ve heard arguments from both sides lurking Reddit in these past few days, and no matter where you stand in this debate you can’t say that Levine didn’t foster amazing discussion among fans of the BioShock series.

FINAL VERDICT: While BioShock purists may have mixed feelings about the ending, Burial at Sea – Episode Two is overall a refreshing wrap-up of Ken Levine’s own BioShock games. As Irrational Games dissolves, its developers moving to other companies and 2K Games taking over the development of games in the BioShock franchise, this simple four-hour campaign is a testament and fitting tribute to all that Levine and his team accomplished since the original BioShock’s launch in 2007. Playing this DLC not only ties the worlds of BioShock and BioShock Infinite together, it also brings fans of Irrational’s work together for one last hurrah – somewhere beyond the sea.


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