May 302014

Welcome to another edition of Channel Chaser! I’m going to take a detour from my usual fare of sci-fi and fantasy-based TV shows today to take you on a trip down memory lane…well, maybe for some of you. Most of you probably weren’t born yet. In any case, I’d like to talk about an old-school sitcom, and one of my favorite shows of all time: the medical war dramedy MASH.


MASH takes place on the front lines of the Korean War in the early 1950s, in the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit. Unlike many war shows, MASH may deal extensively with war and its effects on people, but does not focus on actual soldiers. Instead, most of the crew at the 4077th are doctors and nurses, with no experience in combat, whose job it is to patch up wounded GIs flown and driven in from the battlegrounds.

Even for the first-time viewer, it is obvious that MASH comes from an anti-war frame of mind and that its humor is primarily derived from satirizing the futility of conflict and the idiosyncrasies of army life. What might not be so clear is that the show is not actually meant to be about Korea. MASH was actually filmed in the 1970s and 80s, following the movie of the same name, and uses the Korean War as a frame to subtlety discuss the issues of the Vietnam War, which was ongoing at that time. This is a subtle historical detail that people who watched the show when it was current understood, but viewers today might not pick up on.

MASH is, first and foremost, a show about the characters involved, and with 11 seasons under its belt it still remains one of the longest-running and most successful shows of all time. The span did make it difficult to maintain actors, however, with several key characters leaving the show and being replaced by new cast members over its run. While this does accurately reflect army life and the transitory nature of wartime, it does sometimes break your heart to see your favorite character say their goodbyes.

MASH’s main character is undoubtedly Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, played brilliantly by TV legend Alan Alda. A skilled surgeon, Hawkeye is a good man and is well known for kindness and morality, as well as his flagrant defiance of army regulations and penchant for practical jokes. Humor, while often inappropriate and poorly timed, is Hawkeye’s only defense against the horrors he witnesses daily.

In his drab and dirty tent, appropriately dubbed “The Swamp,” Hawkeye is joined by a couple close confidants who share his dislike of war and fondness for jokes. First is fellow captain “Trapper” John McIntyre, whose character is almost exactly like Hawkeye in every way other than being a bit more physically inclined. Trapper left the show quite early in its running, and Hawkeye gained a new best friend in Captain BJ Hunnicut. While BJ was just a good to Hawkeye as Trapper, his character was radically different; he was much more quiet, calm and reserved than the frequently loud-mouthed and rambunctious Hawkeye, and often acted as a voice of reason when Hawkeye flew off the handle or got carried away.

Antagonism in MASH is provided by an assortment of army brass who come into conflict with Hawkeye and company over their views on the war, along with recurring characters such as Colonel Sam Flagg, a paranoid and delusional CIA agent. Hawkeye’s immediate superior and roommate Major Frank Burns provides more regular villainy. While on the surface Burns is all bluster, authority and patriotism, not to mention a rabid and highly prejudiced war-hawk, he is shown to be an incompetent doctor and a deeply insecure man who is frequently the butt of Hawkeye’s humor.

Burns eventually leaves the show to be replaced by another major, Charles Emerson Winchester. Unlike the country hick Burns, Winchester is a wealthy and cultured gentleman who looks down on everyone around him as peasants with an incredible arrogance that infuriates Hawkeye. Despite this, Winchester is shown to be a superior surgeon just as skilled, if not more so, than Hawkeye and friends, giving his attitude some basis in reality.

Other quirky characters in the 4077th include a chain of commanders, first the folksy, timid and long-suffering Henry Blake, and later the hard-nosed but good-hearted Sherman Potter, company clerk and naïve farm boy Walter “Radar” O’Reilly, cheerful and optimistic chaplain Father Mulcahey, and cross-dressing corpsman Max Klinger who wants nothing more than a psycho discharge.

In all honesty, women are kind of underrepresented in MASH, with the only regular female character other than a random and shifting group of nurses being Major Margaret Houlihan. Initially the not-so-secret lover of Frank Burns, “Hot Lips” Houlihan is an inflexible army brat that shares many of Burns’s less than desirable traits and despises Hawkeye and company. She eventually pulls away from him, however, and establishes more of her own identity, coming to respect Hawkeye’s surgical skills and even calling him a friend. This probably makes Margaret the most dynamic character on the show, since none of the others change a whole lot. Then again, if they did, the humor they provide would probably be lost as well.

Even after almost 30 years, I find that MASH’s comedy has lost none of its potency, both as social satire and pure laughs. The combination of puns, practical jokes and ludicrous situations present in the show still leaves me rolling on the floor. Unfortunately, MASH eventually pulls away from humor and concentrates mostly on more serious human drama in the final seasons. While I can appreciate the change of pace, without comedic elements the magic just wasn’t there for me anymore. Also, you’d be surprised how much a laugh track helps with making things sound funnier.


My rating: 4.5/5

Even though MASH’s charm eventually dries up to make room for more tear-jerking and emotional commentary on war, it’s still one hell of a show. I would pretty much drop anything I am doing to watch this anytime, anywhere, and coming from me, that’s really saying something. In fact, I think it might be time for me to watch it all again. Seasons one through five are pure TV gold, with six and seven being close runners-up. I dare you to watch it and not fall in love.


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.

May 282014

It’s been an interesting few weeks since the English dub of Attack on Titan began airing as part of Cartoon Network’s Toonami programming block. Through all the discussions, arguments, and analysis, one thing has been made overwhelmingly clear: the show’s established fanbase is watching very closely. Hopes and expectations are high for the show’s localization, and not without good reason. Fans sense that this is an important dub, and rightly so. After all, Titan has the potential to act as the new public face of anime in the US.


The nice thing about writing about the same show multiple times is that I can re-use images from past columns. Laziness, huzzah!

From time to time, an ideal combination of circumstances let a particular series or movie reach beyond the existing community and bring in a wave of new anime fans. It’s happened before with Akira, Cowboy Bebop, the Dragon Ball franchise, and several of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. Take equal parts accessibility and originality, add fuel for heated debates with fellow fans, and serve it up with the biggest, broadest release possible. Suddenly, there’s a whole new wave of first-time attendees at your next local anime convention.

Attack on Titan is poised to have a similar impact, with plenty of the necessary ingredients for success already present. It’s a mean, nasty, polarizing series, but it’s perfectly crafted for getting viewers hooked on it and talking about it. For starters, look at the sizable cast of characters. Between the central trio, the class of cadets, and the veterans of the Scout Regiment (or whatever your preferred translation is), there’s a wide range of personalities and backstories. It’s nearly impossible not to find at least one character to get attached to and root for. The series then takes these people and throws them into a story filled with end-of-episode cliffhangers, plot twists, and “holy crap, did that seriously just happen” moments. The big-budget action sequences and constant threat of character death give Titan the same kind of appeal as hit shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. It makes you want to talk other people into watching it so you can have loud, animated “did you see that” conversations after each week’s episode.


You know it’s a serious anime because so much of the promotional and fan art is completely adorable.

Couple this inherent appeal with an English dub and cable television run, and it becomes obvious that Attack on Titan has the potential to make waves in the US. Just look at what the subtitled simulcast did within the established anime community: it’s impossible to go to a convention these days without getting lost in a sea of khaki uniforms and maneuvering gear. Beyond that, look at the manga’s commercial success: Attack on Titan volume one has spent forty-nine consecutive weeks on the New York Times bestseller list for manga as of this column’s writing. FORTY. NINE. WEEKS. If the franchise can so thoroughly captivate the existing fandom, surely it can do the same to a fresh audience.

So, yes, Titan is important as a potential flagship title for anime in the US, but how is it doing so far? Four episodes have aired at this point, and not without ruffling some feathers here and there. The first episode featured an abridged version of the opening credits, which led to more than a few complaints from fans (and rightly so, it’s a great opening theme). Thankfully, the full version has been running from episode two onwards. The series also starts off with younger versions of the main characters, which always gets a bit rocky when it comes to English dubs. Playing a child convincingly is simply more difficult than providing the voice for an adult character. Apart from these speed bumps, though, I have to give Funimation a great deal of praise for their work on Titan.

The dub has a raw, intense quality to it that matches the show’s atmosphere perfectly. Rather than striving for pitch-perfect delivery, it lets the cast’s voices crack and strain through the multitude of shouted lines. Humanity is truly, royally screwed in the world of Attack on Titan, and the characters sound genuine in their moments of despair and desperation. This is not a subtle series. It’s the kind of show that wants you to stand up and yell at your television on a regular basis, and the English adaptation plays straight into that. There is a slight shift in tone, but it’s one that brings a more American sensibility to the cast, especially once the main characters join the military. Lines are delivered with a grim kind of wit that was less apparent in the original version. Think of the Japanese cast as the freighter crew in Alien, and the English actors as the marines in Aliens. The terror of impending death remains, but it’s coated with a bit of shaky, transparent bravado. It gives the series a slightly more Western feel, which should help it resonate with an American audience. Personally, it makes me look forward to the appearance of Titan’s more elite soldiers; Levi in particular has the potential to benefit from an added dose of snarky badassery.

Funimation needed to get the dub right in order to give Attack on Titan a good shot at converting new fans, and I’d argue that they’ve done exactly that. Longtime anime fans can, will, and should argue over the details for years to come, but our views aren’t the most important here. The people this dub needs to please are the ones who’ve never seen the series before, and from an outsider’s perspective, the English version of Attack on Titan is pretty darned cool.


You can buy the Attack on Titan anime and manga on Amazon here


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.

May 272014

I’ll bet you’re getting pretty excited for those upcoming video game film adaptations getting hyped up in Hollywood right now. Getting to see The Last of Us and Assassin’s Creed on the silver screen probably sounds so amazing, you probably can’t wait another second to watch them!

Well, what if I told you that you can watch a The Last of Us movie online right now, and an Assassin’s Creed movie…

…And Assassin’s Creed II, and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and Assassin’s Creed III

…And they’re not ACTUALLY Hollywood-produced masterpieces, just the cutscenes from the game all strung together in Windows Movie Maker?


This is a trend I’ve noticed catching on in recent years, yet I haven’t seen many people discussing it critically: various YouTube users uploading video game “movies” that are often the game’s cutscenes pieced together in sequential order, sometimes with some gameplay in between. What baffles me is that these “movies,” despite not being actual films, typically rake up a million views or more. And I can’t understand why these bland cutscene “movies,” often three-to-six hours in length, get so popular.

To test the waters a little bit, I started by watching the “movie” version of one of my favorite action games, Batman: Arkham City. I figured this would be one of the better cutscene movies out there, considering Rocksteady developed a game that essentially lets you play through a Batman film. However, even with the game’s tone and excellent story, I simply cannot call this three-hour YouTube video a film. Every time a new scene begins you can see the save icon. You also quickly notice that camera work in video games can be very primitive compared to the motion picture; staring at Batman’s back for the majority of a video game makes sense when you’re actually controlling him, but seeing the Bat-Back for three hours without being in control is pretty boring. There’s also a lot of issue with pacing. The player who recorded the footage used in the Arkham City “movie,” I admit, did a good job pressing the right buttons at the right time to keep Batman’s motion fluid but even with the great care we are still stuck with watching Batman scaling a building or gliding across the map. If it were a real movie, those dull moments would have been the first things to be cut. The fight scenes the user left in were also boring; the player knew the game so well that he was able to win every battle with Batman taking minimal damage, eliminating any kind of tension or struggle that makes movie fight scenes bring you to the edge of your seat. You literally watch someone play a video game in these “movies,” and knowing that definitely impacts any entertainment factor there.


So why does this “movie” have 800,000 hits (and its predecessor, a movie by the same YouTube user made of cutscenes from Batman: Arkham Asylum, have 1.2 million)? A simple theory that is probably the best explanation is that these video game “movies” serve as a means by which gamers who can’t afford a particular game can still enjoy the game’s story. Indeed, video game storytelling has come a long way in the past decade; even though you may not be able to perfectly reproduce many of the technical aspects of filmmaking in a video game, the scripts themselves are now often on-par with the latest summer blockbuster. I’ll admit I have yet to play The Last of Us, but after watching the intro of the game through its cutscene “movie” on YouTube I now realize why the game got so much praise for its story. Watching these cutscene “movies” can give you a taste for a game you have yet to play, or they can even give you the full story if you so choose.

And it seems that is truly the intention. As a matter of fact, the user who uploaded The Last of Us – The Movie said it himself in an annotation on the video: “Remember, this is first and foremost a GAME, and should be played to be fully experienced, this is for those that don’t have a chance to do so or for those who want to re-live the story,” he said.

But perhaps these “movies” can do more than telling us the story of a particular. With major movie studios now picking up more and more video game properties for adaptations, maybe these several hours of cutscenes can inspire us. Sure, the cinematography of a game may look crude compared to actual movie cinematography. But with the story intact then our imaginations can build around it; we imagine ourselves in the director’s chair calling the shots. “What if the camera zoomed so that television monitor the Joker appears on covers the whole screen?” I thought to myself watching the Batman: Arkham City “movie.” “What if we held the shot of the timer counting down in the church’s steeple a little longer as Batman plans an escape?”

We may not get our ideas out to Sony, Fox, or Universal, but we can still dream about what would make the perfect movie based on our favorite games so great. And clearly, there are millions of other Assassin’s Creed fans doing the same thing watching those hours of cutscenes.


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.

May 232014

Welcome back to Channel Chaser! I don’t want to sound like a broken record because I feel like I’ve been talking a lot about TV shows based on comics recently, but there’s a few new shows out there that have me really excited. More than that, I’d like to make a rather controversial case about DC, one of the flagship comic labels of modern times.

I know I might be out of line with most people on this, but personally, none of the DC-based movies that have come out recently have really wowed me. Man of Steel, the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, and Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern have all failed to impress. DC’s rival Marvel, on the other hand, continues to churn out quality films time after time.

The problem Marvel runs into is that its success does not apparently translate well into episodic television. When they tried to expand their brand into TV land with Agents of SHIELD, things didn’t go very well; honestly, the show is pretty awful.

DC, on the other hand, has made some impressive strides on cable. While Smallville, which ended several years ago now, was a bit shaky, later additions such as the CW’s Arrow have shown a lot of promise with their fast-paced plots and interesting, dynamic characters.

I’d like to politely suggest to the people running DC these days that they readjust their focus and concentrate on doing what they apparently do best: episodic television. Let Marvel have their massive movie franchise and instead compete with them on a playing field that DC clearly dominates so far.

What’s my evidence? Well, it just so happens that DC released promotional information for a slew of new shows based on their characters. Here is what we can expect, in a nutshell.


1. The Flash (CW)


The Flash tops my list of shows to look forward to right now for several reasons. For one thing, it’s about time that Flash got recognized as a hero in his own right rather than a side character in a few animated movies and shows. Secondly, The Flash will be brought to the screen courtesy of the same team who created the CW’s existing DC hit Arrow, which makes me very optimistic about its quality.

The question now is how will the series handle Flash’s heroic journey? Clearly the Reverse-Flash is involved in Barry Allen’s life and killed his mother for some reason, so there’s going to most likely be some kind of conspiracy-theory element to it judging from Barry’s obsession with tracking down meta-humans. Also, seeing Weather Wizard appear as the primary villain of the trailer hints at more possible future encounters with the other members of the Rogues, although apparently with real super-powers.

It appears that Oliver Queen will be heavily involved in the companion series and frequent crossovers will occur between The Flash and Arrow. This is part of the reason I’m so into the idea of a television DC universe; cool things like this can happen. Here’s to hoping that The Flash can deliver in practice what it puts forth on paper.


2. Constatine (NBC)


I personally don’t know that much about Constantine other than the terrible Keanu Reeves movie from several years ago, so the quirkiness of the trailer took me a bit off guard in that sense. The idea of a human man who fights supernatural creatures like angels and demons is obviously old hat at this point, as Supernatural has been doing it for almost ten years now pretty much as well as it can be done.

That being said, the unique and offbeat angle Constantine seems to be taking could be what sets it apart from similar shows. Beginning the story more or less in the middle of things with Constantine rejecting his responsibilities and attempting to hide his gifts from the world is certainly not what I expected, but it could make the character much more compelling in that the viewers will be very interested in knowing what has made him this way. That and the fact that the actor who plays the titular Constantine seems to be using all the snark and sass that make Sam and Dean of Supernatural so fun to watch makes me a bit more optimistic about this show.

Given the comic book’s history, there is also plenty of possibility for an appearance from one of DC’s other favorites, Swamp Thing. We’ll have to wait and see on that one. My only concern is that there may not be enough supporting roles and Constantine may have to carry the show on his own. It’s possible, but it certainly would make finding a successful formula a lot harder.


3. Gotham (FOX)


Okay, now this is the one that makes me a little nervous. While the premise of following the everyday side characters of Batman, especially James Gordon, and showing the life of young Bruce Wayne after the death of his parents seems like a classic formula for success, it’s the timing and circumstances that worry me.

Part of the appeal of The Flash and Constantine as TV shows is that the characters will be introduced in such a way that you don’t have to know anything about them beforehand to get into the action. Gotham is an entirely different story; if you don’t know anything about Batman, it just seems like another police procedural that just happens to feature some random Batman villains. Also, we as a comic-reading audience know that the end of the show is a foregone conclusion because the Gotham City police fail to stop crime before Batman appears.

If Gotham doesn’t do something to distinguish itself from the ranks of other cop and crime shows and insists on forcibly injecting Batman’s rogue gallery into a place where they don’t quite fit, I’m not sure how long the show will hold onto viewers. Then again, people seem to like cop shows in general, so I guess stranger things have happened.

I hope this brief glimpse into the possible future of the DC universe makes the case for why the comic book giant should trying going all-in on the TV medium. Stay tuned for part two in this series where I discuss a few more heroes who I think could make good additions to the world of television!


Update: Part two of this article series is up! You can read it here.


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.

May 212014

More college semesters are ending by the week, and soon high schools and elementary schools across the country will follow. That means there’s only one thing on the minds of youths right now: SUMMER VACATION! As I’ve shown through lists like these before, video game music provides the perfect theme for any holiday or season, and the summertime is no exception. Lay down a beach blanket, inflate that volleyball that’s been sitting in your basement since last October, and let these tracks enhance your beach going experience during these next few months:


“Tropical Resort,” from Sonic Colors

It’s the first level of Sonic Colors, and its theme welcomes you into your summer vacation just like it welcomes you into the game. The theme of “Tropical Resort” is upbeat and fun, just like something you may hear playing poolside at a hotel in Orlando, just next to the Hawaiian-style buffet.


“Wave Man,” from Mega Man V

A slightly more relaxed track, Wave Man’s stage music from Mega Man V is the perfect song for those times when you’re lounging on the beach, waves rolling onto the shore as the sky glows a beautiful orange-yellow during the day’s sunset. For an evil Robot Master, Wave Man sure knows how to take it slow, as they do in Kokomo.


“Splash Wave,” from OutRun

Press play on this track, close your eyes for a moment, and imagine you’re cruising along the coast of southern California in a bright red convertible. The breeze whips through your hair, and there are no clouds on this perfect day. You feel it, don’t you? “Splash Wave,” as well as much of the rest of the OutRun soundtrack, can double as the theme songs of your summer beach party or road trip.


“Koopa Troopa Beach,” from Mario Kart 64

Just lay back and let those steel drums take you to a secluded patch of sand on the South Pacific (hopefully not one riddled with banana peels and spiny shells). It was tough to pick one single track from the Mario franchise to represent summer fun (runner-ups include “Beach Bowl Galaxy” from Super Mario Galaxy and “Delfino Plaza” from Mario Sunshine), but in the end “Koopa Troopa Beach” takes the win, if anything then for the perfect instrument selection that makes you feel like you’ve touched down in Jamaica.


“Treasure Trove Cove,” from Banjo-Kazooie

A more fast-paced tune than “Koopa Troopa Beach” but still full of steel drums (as well as flutes and xylophones), “Treasure Trove Cove” is just the right kind of upbeat melody to play through your head while you make like Banjo, exploring a tropical paradise. Whether on a coastal town or exploring a reef, this song is just the right theme for the curious vacationer discovering an interesting, foreign tropical landscape.


“Sandbox,” from Hot Wheels Stunt Track Driver

I’ll bet you never expected this classic from my childhood to appear here. But you know what, the music that plays in the Sandbox level of Hot Wheels Stunt Track Driver is the song that has defined summertime for me since I was six years old. That sweet, twang-y surf guitar and that awesome drumbeat are enough to scream “fun in the sun.” Fire up a poolside barbecue and crank this tune up, and you’ve made your own picturesque scene straight out of a commercial for Old Navy Bermuda shorts.

There you have it! Now crank up these tunes as you drive straight to the beach after your last day of school gets out. You’ll be kicking off your first summer beach party in the most epic way.


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.

May 212014

Anime fans, like anyone else, can be more than a little stubborn when it comes to the subject of favorite and least favorite genres. We like to think that we know what we like, and we’re absolutely certain of what we don’t. Every once in a great while, though, a series comes along that challenges us to rethink our supposedly set-in-stone opinions. This article is the story of Love Live! School Idol Project and one (very) skeptical anime columnist.


Eli is the best character, and I will RESPECTFULLY DISAGREE with anyone who says otherwise.

When the first season of Love Live! came out at the beginning of 2013, it flew entirely under my radar. At the time, I was spending my time on “smart” titles like Psycho-Pass and Space Brothers. Clearly, I thought, some silly idol series wouldn’t be able to hold my interest. After watching a few episodes of The Idolm@aster back in 2011, I was convinced that the genre simply wasn’t my cup of tea. In many ways, my stance on the matter was reminiscent of the Dr. Seuss book Green Eggs and Ham. I would not watch it here or there. I would not watch it anywhere. I would not watch this idol show. My answer would always be no.

My eventual decision to give Love Live! a chance was the result of many small influences, a process that began long before the series ever aired. Genuinely good shows like Kids on the Slope and Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad had previously convinced me that music and anime could play well together. Not-quite-idol shows along the lines of K-ON! and Tari Tari also proved entertaining enough to erode my ironclad refusal just a bit. The final blow came when I reviewed Wake Up, Girls! for my old web show at the beginning of 2014. The movie-length first episode was the first time I’d seen an idol series tell a compelling story. It was good enough to lift my personal ban on the genre, even though I stopped watching WUG after writing the review.


But seriously, go watch Kids on the Slope. Do it right now.

Fast-forward to spring and the inevitable flood of anime preview guides. When it came to the new season of Love Live!, most of my go-to critics had a healthy amount of praise to offer, even the ones who didn’t care for the genre as a whole. FINE, I thought. I’ll try season one, but I’m not going to enjoy it. I do not like J-Pop and ham. I do not like it, Sam-I-Am.

Damn it all, I enjoyed it. There’s a scene near the end of the first episode where the main characters do a musical number in the middle of the street, and I surprised myself by not rooting for them to get hit by a car. It didn’t take long to go from “Wow, I don’t hate it” to “I actually like this show.” Love Live! quickly establishes a balance of contagious enthusiasm and self-deprecating humor that steamrolls any minor faults or logic issues. (But seriously, who’s performing all the pop music instrumentals for their songs?) A conspicuous amount of effort goes into developing the characters beyond the usual genre archetypes, and that effort pays off in the emotional punch of later episodes. The series didn’t need to be this good to be a hit with genre fans, but that extra bump in quality is what lets it win over outsiders like me.


Normally the show’s “voice of reason,” Umi’s occasional lapses in sanity are an absolute riot.

So, yes, I enjoyed the first season. Yes, I’m probably going to marathon the second season in order to catch up to the simulcast. Even so, it still feels a bit odd to admit that I’m a fan of an anime series about teenage pop stars. I may be going kicking and screaming, but I’m slowly accepting the fact that I genuinely enjoy this television equivalent of caffeinated sugar. So whatever your Green Eggs and Ham genre is, give it a shot. Look for the best example of whatever you refuse to watch and jump right in. As for me, I will not buy the Blu-ray set. I will not buy the Blu-ray… yet.


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.

May 162014

Welcome to another installment of Channel Chaser! Seeing as there’s been a lot of buzz in recent years surrounding TV and movie expansions of the Marvel and DC Comics universes, I thought it was high time I talk about one such show: the CW’s latest comic book spinoff, Arrow.


Arrow is the story of Oliver Queen, a wealthy playboy who returns to the city of his birth after being shipwrecked on an island for five years and struggling to survive. After being reunited with friends and family, he launches into a one-man quest to save Starling City from corruption, hunting down guilty parties from a list of names his father gave him.

While Oliver’s efforts are initially confined to getting vengeance on people who worked with his father in failing the city, he is eventually convinced to broaden his efforts and take on all crime in Starling, and is confronted by a series of ever more powerful opponents from the pages of DC Comics. These include Malcolm “Dark Archer” Merlyn, Slade “Deathstroke” Wilson, and Sebastian “Brother” Blood.

One thing I found particularly fascinating about the series is watching Oliver’s transition from a renegade vigilante into the hero he is known to be. I was especially shocked to see that throughout the first season, Oliver has absolutely no qualms about violence and frequently kills his targets, eliminating anyone who gets in his way whether they are innocent or not.

I felt this made the idea that the island had shaped Oliver Queen from a wimp into a walking weapon much more tangible, and avoided the typical superhero-story clichés of the heroes never actually killing their enemies. Similar shows like Smallville were incredibly cheesy due to the fact that, because Clark Kent was Superman and the ultimate “good guy”, he couldn’t actually be shown ending anyone’s life, and his enemies almost always met their ends due to some incredibly improbable accident of their own making.

I never thought I’d say it, but the use of flashbacks to Oliver’s time on the island was actually very well done. After watching Lost for almost six years, I kind of developed a bias against heavy use of recall shots, but that’s an issue for another article. It was especially interesting to be able to see in real time the disparities between what Oliver tells his friends and family about his experiences on the island and what it was actually like; namely, that he was not all alone and was instead embroiled in conflicts and plots on a global scale. Aside from the obviously stretched point that all these things just happened to conveniently take place on the same deserted island, the flashbacks are an integral part of understanding the motivations of the cast, and are rarely ever wasted.

Speaking of the cast, the characters of Arrow are in large part strong and believable ones, including the secondary lineup of villains like Deadshot, Firefly and Count Vertigo, even if some of them are killed off a bit too early for my taste. In particular I’d like to single out Stephen Amell for his performance as Oliver Queen; his portrayal of the brooding billionaire’s son who is haunted by his experiences and refusing to open up to people after years of betrayal and isolation is very compelling, as are his obviously conflicted motivations for doing what he does.

In addition, veteran actors Paul Blackthorne and John Barrowman excel as Detective Quentin Lance and Malcolm Merlyn, respectively. Blackthorne makes the traditionally boring stereotype of an honest cop struggling to get by in a city of corrupt officials fresh again thanks to his complicated relationship with Oliver and the Arrow, as well as his strong sense of family values and gruff, uncompromising exterior. Barrowman’s villainous streak is exciting to watch as well as he creates the character of a broken man who will stop at nothing to get what he sees as justice.

Since I’m a fan of comic book shout-outs, I’m also in love with how Arrow is creating its own version of the DC Comics universe, introducing elements like Ra’s al Ghul, the League of Assassins, S.T.A.R. Labs, and the Suicide Squad, just to name a few. The best part, though, was the introduction of Barry Allen in season two, who is later shown taking part in the accident that will turn him into the super-fast superhero The Flash. Apparently part of the CW’s long-term plan is to start up a Flash spin-off show that will frequently cross over with Arrow. All I have to say is, sign me up!

Arrow isn’t without its weaknesses, however; in terms of story, I feel like the transition from the gritty and realistic first season to the much more fantasy-inspired second season is a bit hard to swallow: it started with that weird earthquake machine and continued with the Mirakuru super-soldier serum. It feels like the show is just trying a little too hard to be as epic as the comics it came from sometimes. In the beginning of the show the pacing was a little slow as well, though it picks up around the middle of the first season.

My biggest beef is with the female characters of the show. While Sara Lance and Felicity Smoak are both worthy of attention, I feel that none of the other women really are, unfortunately. I’ll say it: Katie Cassidy is not a good actor. Laurel Lance is an inherently unlikable character for me, as are Thea and Moira Queen, although those two do look up slightly in the second season.


My rating: 4/5

Overall, Arrow is a very solid addition to the lineup of comic book-inspired TV shows. Aside from some minor issues in casting and pacing, I was on the edge of my seat almost the entire time watching it. Here’s to hoping the CW continues to nail the bulls-eye with their future forays into the DC universe!


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.

May 142014

With the first season coming out on DVD this month and a fancy Blu-ray box on the horizon, Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions has wandered in and out of my mind a few times recently. I was in the middle of describing Dekomori’s endlessly amusing “Mjolnir Hammer” attack to a friend when something odd occurred to me: anime is bursting at the seams with references to Norse mythology. If a character in a fantasy series has a big hammer, there’s a 50-50 chance it’s called Mjolnir. The term “Valkyrie” gets thrown around constantly in sci-fi and mecha shows. Numerous characters from Ah! My Goddess take their names from Norse mythology. Heck, there’s even a series called Ragnarok. This all begs the question: what is it about the old Viking faith that anime and manga writers find so fascinating?


I’d make a “Flight of the Valkyries” joke here, but Belldandy and company are actually based on supernatural creatures called Norns.

The short answer is that Norse mythology is full of the kinds of conflicts that make for epic, action-packed storytelling. You’ve got gods taking on all kinds of powerful monsters. You’ve got a warrior’s heaven where you drink and fight all day, every day. You’ve got an inevitable apocalypse drawing ever closer. You’ve got iconic, archetypal characters with compelling flaws. Just throw in some giant robots and make everyone a teenager and you’ve got yourself a giant robot series.

Adopting folklore from a foreign culture also saves the trouble of having to come up with names for characters, places, and objects. Belldandy and her sisters in Ah! My Goddess are named for a trio of mythical characters who determine the fates of humans and look after a holy tree called Yggdrasil. By some incredible coincidence, the manga and anime characters maintain a computer system called Yggdrasil, which controls reality. It’s almost as if Kosuke Fujishima thought, “Hey, this is a neat concept that’s already full of mythical-sounding names. I should totally use it for my manga series!” As far as I know, he has yet to be sued for copyright infringement by a time-traveling Viking, so it looks like the idea worked out. (The case would be dismissed anyway; ancient mythology is in the public domain.)

Of course, Norse mythology isn’t the only ancient tradition that sees its ideas and characters borrowed on a regular basis. Church-sanctioned vampire/demon hunters are a staple of supernatural anime, and portions of Arthurian lore get ripped off all the time. So why all the cultural exchange? It’s the same reason many Wild West movies borrow the plots of samurai films: people are often fascinated by foreign cultures and eager to adapt new ideas into their own fiction. If that weren’t the case, I wouldn’t be writing this column about Japanese animation in the first place.


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.

May 132014

Before I was a video game fan, I was a theme park junkie: before I picked up my first Game Boy, I begged my parents to take me to Walt Disney World. Today, I am a nerd in two areas: rides and games. And now, I’m seeing those two distinctly different realms of geekdom beginning to converge. Iconic geek culture properties are quickly seeping into theme parks: Universal Studios is selling more tickets than ever thanks to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and now at Disneyland you can walk through Iron Man’s Hall of Armor in between meet-and-greets with Thor and Captain America. In terms of video games, Disney in particular is incorporating video game technology in their parks now, creating interactive queues with touch screen games as well as physical elements like buttons to push and ropes to pull, making different interactions happen with the environment.

This got me to thinking: theme park companies are embracing electronic media and geek culture properties in more ways every day now, so what would happen if we turned the tables around? What if Nintendo made a theme park, applying the incredible stories of their games to modern-day ride technologies? Could it make a thrilling and immersive experience that is on par with Disneyland or Universal Studios?

As a matter of fact, a theme park based on a Nintendo property already exists in Japan: PokéPark, the Pokémon theme park, and it’s… pretty underwhelming to say the least. But it can be used as a “case study,” if you will.


As you can probably already tell just by looking at this picture of PokéPark, the rides look pretty cheap: a tiny little log flume, bumper cars, a Ferris wheel… it isn’t so much a theme park as it is the cheapest possible amusement park with Pikachu and the Pokémon logo slapped on some signage. For Nintendo, a company that takes pride in offering high-quality games and hardware, the park has to be embarrassing. Where is the fantastic world you see in the Pokémon games? Why can’t I walk into this theme park and experience the thrill of entering your first Pokémon Gym, or get scared by Haunters walking through the Pokémon Tower in Lavender Town? Why can’t I soar through the skies on the back of a Charizard, or witness a thrilling stunt show involving a real-life battle between trainers and Team Rocket? Sorry PokéPark, but sitting on the back of an Entei riding an otherwise generic carnival carousel fails to capture my imagination in the same way as the games your rides are (loosely) based on. No wonder why the park was only open for a year.

Here we see the dilemma Nintendo, or any video game company, will have with theme park design. It’s one thing to create a fantastic fictional world in the digital space, but how do you translate something like that into the real world, where you’re managing a finite amount of space? Clearly PokéPark was far too small for the grand ideas I had in mind for a Pokémon theme park (it was built on the site of an old cargo station). To really build Hyrule Castle, or even a go-kart track that stays true in both look and feel to Mario Kart, would take some serious urban planning which I’m fairly certain Nintendo does not have experience with.


But, perhaps, if Nintendo really got serious about theme park attractions, collaboration with the theme park Goliaths at Disney or Universal could be just what they would need to make an attraction based on Mario or Zelda that is immersive, true to the games, and thrilling. And here’s where collaboration could come in handy for both companies: one thing PokéPark did that was actually pretty cool was hold several events where you could receive exclusive Pokémon on your Game Boy Advance. The wireless functionality of the 3DS offers plenty of room to expand on that kind of integration. Imagine a theme park that can interact with your 3DS, where you can physically walk into a battle with a wild Pokémon then catch it in-game, or where the opening of a real-life chest will send you special items in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds! Guests would practically welcome long lines for rides if they could pass the time using a 3DS to interact with the park’s attractions.


That’s no Streetpass, that’s a wild Haunter you walked into while riding the Haunted Mansion!

Wow, these ideas practically do write themselves! Let me introduce you two: Disney, this is Nintendo. Nintendo, Disney. Now get on this!


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.

May 122014

When it comes to the new generation of game consoles, racing sim fans have had plenty to complain about. Xbox One owners have arguably been in the best shape thanks to Forza 5, but the continued lack of dynamic weather and night racing has been a perennial point of contention. The PS4 crowd has had it even worse, with Driveclub slipping from being a launch title to a better-late-than-never release date of October 2014. The conspicuous absence of a next-gen GranTurismo title certainly hasn’t been a comfort. As for the Wii U, well, I suppose there’s always Mario Kart.

Into this relative dearth of console race sims comes Project CARS, the latest title from Slightly Mad Studios. If the developers can make good on their ambitious promises, CARS stands poised to win over gamers from a variety of platforms when it comes out this November.


Billed as a hardcore driving simulation, Project CARS starts out on the right foot by avoiding the trap of console exclusivity. By developing for PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Wii U, and even Steam OS, the folks at Slightly Mad have wisely avoided the hardware wars and opened their game up to the broadest possible audience. In addition to being good for gamers, this decision saves CARS from having to beat the “home team” on any given platform. For instance, even if PC gamers hold fast to iRacing, there’s a chance for success if GranTurismo fans can be lured away on the PS4 front. It’s the publishing equivalent of spreading your bets around on a roulette wheel.

Of course, all the savvy business plans in the world can’t sell a bad game. Thankfully, Project CARS appears to be the polar opposite of bad. The graphics are comparable to other A-list titles, and there appears to be a healthy selection of production and racing cars. The big draw for Forza junkies like myself will be the dynamic weather and day/night cycle, which can be fine-tuned by the player in custom races. There also appears to be a welcome emphasis on allowing people to approach the game in their own way, be it through a lengthy career or quick multiplayer matches. Trailers suggest that there will be a mix of established racing circuits and open-road locations, which should provide a nice variety of driving challenges. The final result of these promising elements will remain a mystery until launch day, but the potential for a good race simulation is definitely there.

One somewhat ironic concern I have is that Project CARS will lack, well, project cars. While a multitude of tuning and setup options will be available, Slightly Mad Studios has said that car upgrades will not be a part of the game. One of my favorite things to do in the Forza series has always been taking a mild-mannered road car and turning it into a homicidal track monster through extensive modifications. I understand the desire to focus on balanced competition, but I’ll miss spending hours creating the hatchback from hell.

By launching into a console market that has yet to see a fully realized current-gen racing game, Project CARS has given itself a chance to shake things up in a good way. At best, it will give gearheads on a variety of platforms a new franchise to enjoy. Even if it’s not successful, though, CARS should have a positive effect on the genre by encouraging the big names to up the ante on their own titles. Personally, I’m just looking forward to finally being able to play in the rain.


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.