Jun 302014

More than 1.2 million views now grace the video that intrigued the video game community this past weekend, a new attempt at a world record speed run of the original Super Mario Bros.

Whether or not you can consider this attempt by YouTube user “Lord Saradoc” as an officially recognized world record attempt, however, is up for debate. Many wisdom-filled commenters pointed out, and Saradoc himself admitted, that many glitches in the game were exploited to achieve his record completion time of 4:57.69. Some video game record keeping organizations, such as Twin Galaxies, explicitly state that many of the techniques Saradoc used (such as “using the pipe before the [lava] pit” in World 8-4 and “jumping against a wall or pipe”) result in immediate disqualification from their record books.

Perhaps I’m being a bit too technical analyzing the run and whether or not it can be declared an official world record. Regardless, that run is so fun to watch. Exploits or no, I know I will never have the skills to complete Super Mario Bros. in less than five minutes.

The bottom line here: video game world records are coming back with a vengeance, and are more entertaining to watch than ever before.

We are in a different era of gaming records, however. We can still find out who has the world record high score in Pac-Man (Six people achieved a perfect score of 333,333,360 since 1999), but largely due to online conveniences like Twitch and YouTube, world record speed runs are becoming increasingly popular. Whether we can call some of these exploit-riddled runs “official” world records or not, it takes a player who knows a game inside and out to be able to make mind-blowing record times. Speed running has reached a point where it can practically be considered a sport.

I first noticed this with the rise of “Games Done Quick,” a bi-annual event where speed run record holders participate in a weeklong marathon of games, during which money is raised for various charities. Broadcast live on Twitch, many speed runs are viewed by a modestly sized live audience, who breathlessly pay attention to the players’ craft. If the speed runner successfully executes a difficult exploit, the crowd often gives some quick applause before the action picks back up again. The polite clapping then ceases so as not to break the player’s concentration. There is so much respect from the audience for each speed runner. Their mannerisms are akin to watching pro golfers tee off at a major tournament.


I remember the first speed run I watched in full. It was at some point during high school I stumbled across a record completion of Super Mario 64. I was at first irked by the player’s use of exploits – clipping through Star Doors, ground-pounding on the endless staircase to jettison up it and reach the top – but after seeing him deliver his last blow to Bowser, I sat there as the credits started to roll thinking, “Damn, that was cool.”

The debate will continue for decades, for sure. Some argue if a glitch is in the game, speed runners should exploit it for faster times. Others say glitches should not be used in record attempts, as the speed runner is not playing the game as it was originally intended to be. Regardless of whether or not we can accept these speed runs as world records, there clearly is a newfound respect for those players who found the strangest and most hidden glitches to take advantage of in speed runs. And even if someone gets a record time on Super Mario Bros. “by the book,” that too takes skill, pushing the right buttons at just the right time to pull of the perfect jump and shave off a few seconds of play time.

So keep an eye on the speed running community. It’s rapidly growing, and can give you some of the best entertainment gaming can offer.

Or they’ll make you jealous knowing you’ll never get past those stupid Hammer Bros. on World 8-3 of Super Mario Bros., let alone complete the game in record time. It can go either 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.

Jun 262014

I’d like to start this article off with a momentary diversion from television into movie-land, as well as a bit of personal confession. Does anyone else remember a movie from a few years ago called Get Smart?

It’s okay; I don’t really remember it, either.

When I heard that this rather weak and forgettable movie was based on the plot of a television show from years ago, I was at first pretty skeptical. Fortunately, I’m glad I took the chance to find out, or I would have missed out on a true gem of entertainment.


The series Get Smart was part of the comedy boom in the mid-1960s, created by writer and producer Buck Henry and veteran comedian Mel Brooks. The premise is ostensibly a spoof of every serious spy thriller made up until that point; a secret battle between agents of two organizations, CONTROL (the good guys) and KAOS (the bad guys). Maxwell Smart, otherwise known as Agent 86, is a CONTROL spy who travels the world to foil KAOS plots along with his female counterpart, Agent 99, and with support from the Chief, head of the CONTROL organization.

In a parody of James Bond’s propensity to use complicated gadgets concealed as everyday objects, Smart and his fellow agents use various devices along similar lines, but ludicrously exaggerated for comic effect or just altogether useless: these include, but are not limited to, the Inflato-Coat, which produces a fake pair of arms to elude handcuffing; the Cone of Silence, meant to keep conversations private but that only succeeds in preventing users from understanding each other; and the Smart’s trademark shoe-phone, with a false sole concealing an old-fashioned rotary telephone meant for contacting headquarters. The conflicting nature of the gadgets often leads to humorous consequences; in one scene, Smart uses eight different pieces of apparel rigged as telephones, including his belt, his tie, his wallet, and his shoe to speak to several other agents at once, practically undressing on a public park bench while still trying to act casual for passers-by.

In another example of spy-genre spin, the agents of CONTROL and KAOS, despite being on opposing sides of a global conflict, are shown to be surprisingly familiar with each other, and in some cases even friendly. In one episode, Smart apprehends a beautiful female KAOS agent just as the Chief arrives on the scene, and both recognize each other from their earlier meetings as agents, beginning a long and personal conversation and seeming genuinely interested in each other’s well-being. As Smart dryly observes, “That’s the wonderful thing about the espionage business; you make friends that last a lifetime.” Other insertions of humor come from CONTROL agents going undercover in bizarre and uncomfortable spaces, including inside restaurant food carts, grandfather clocks, and upside-down in string bass cases, as well as jabs at government bureaucracy and incompetence; in one instance, Max even uses information from captured KAOS agents about how much paid vacation time they get as leverage in CONTROL’s own union negotiations.

An even greater attraction to the series is its unique approach to the characters involved. In the film adaptation, Carell’s Smart often falls flat due to his field incompetence stemming from his desk job as an analyst, and his sappy crush on Hathaway’s 99 who is clearly his superior in every way; this makes for a character who is more often pathetic than actually funny. In the original series, however, Smart is portrayed as a capable spy who has mastered combat arts and often provides helpful solutions to problems. The humor comes from his arrogance, clumsiness and generally painful naivety: for example, being confused about the use of a suicide pill because he can’t figure out how to get his enemies to take it. Smart is shown as a boob who frequently overestimates his own capabilities and often succeeds in his missions completely by accident and in spite of himself.

Get Smart is also notable due to the pervasiveness of its catchphrases in contemporary culture. Over the course of the series, Smart utters many phrases that carried his fame into perpetuity; these include “Sorry about that, Chief,” “Would you believe…?”, “The old ____ in the ____ trick; that’s the (#) time this month,” and of course, the ever-popular, “Missed it by that much.”

The series is not without its failings, however; despite the fact that much of the humor can still make viewers chuckle even after more than 50 years, parts of the show can be extremely dated and off-putting for viewers; this ranges from the relatively token involvement of women in the show (as Barbara Feldon’s Agent 99 has her moments, but is overall just meant to be a pretty face) to its uncomfortable treatment of minorities, specifically Asian people and Native Americans. Additionally, the series can be repetitive in its use of humor, as over five seasons the recycling of jokes in new situations can become a bit tedious.


My Rating: 3.5/5

Overall, despite being dated in many respects, Get Smart continues to entertain even in a changed modern-day world. And that’s definitely something you should believe.


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.

Jun 252014

The last time we talked in-depth about manga publisher Seven Seas on this website, the topic was their surprise hit Monster Musume. The quirky supernatural harem comedy has continued to be a sales success, with volume three matching its predecessors in terms of taking up long-term residence on the bestseller lists. In my previous article on the subject, I suggested that this snake-tailed, bird-winged underdog might help to encourage the acquisition of other quirky licenses. Well, it’s time for me to say “I told you so” with a smug grin on my face. Behold!


Eye see what you did there.

That’s the Japanese cover of volume one of Nurse Hitomi’s Monster Infirmary, and Seven Seas recently announced that they’ll be bringing the series to the US in early 2015. Along with Monster Musume and A Centaur’s Life, that makes three titles featuring supernatural “monster” characters. You could try to argue that Musume’s sales success and Centaur’s critical acclaim didn’t play a role in Hitomi being licensed, but doing so would be… monstrously difficult. (I couldn’t resist.)

This is an interesting case because it adds a sense of truth to a common refrain amongst US manga and anime companies: if a series does well, they’ll look for more like it. It’s a pattern that’s occasionally questioned by disgruntled fans (“Title A sold well, so why did no one license Title B?”), but if you ever wanted a concrete positive example, Nurse Hitomi’s Monster Infirmary is it.


If only these had been released back when I took a mythology course in college.

Honestly, I’m glad this little niche is doing so well. There’s a very worthwhile theme that comes up throughout Monster Musume and A Centaur’s Life, and I hope it shows up in Nurse Hitomi as well. As the menagerie of monster girls and guys go through well-executed harem comedy and slice of life storylines, the reader begins to pay less and less attention to how they look. We never forget that they have four legs or fish tails, but the “weird” factor ends up taking a back seat to plot advancement and character dynamics. That shift from novelty to normalcy makes a serious point: no matter how strange or different a person may seem, they probably have the same goals and concerns as the rest of us. If it takes a busty snake girl or a bird-brained harpy to drive that lesson home, then so be it.

That about wraps it up for my analysis this week, so I’ve decided to use the rest of this space to conduct a little experiment. As I mentioned before, my past prediction that Monster Musume’s success would lead to more unusual titles being licensed ended up being correct. So here’s the question: did I just make a lucky guess, or do my manga industry predictions have the power to shape the future? Time to ignore everything I learned from superhero comics and use my powers for personal gain.

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I really enjoy Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru, which is available digitally through Crunchyroll’s manga service. The thing is, I’d really like to see an English print release of this delightfully bizarre series. Now for the experiment: I hereby predict that SoreMachi will see a print release in the US by the end of 2015. In hardcover format. Including the original’s colored pages and the author’s afterword notes. And free pizza somehow. Now all I have to do is sit back and see if my prediction will alter future events. Your move, Seven Seas.


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.

Jun 242014

You may have heard by now that Nintendo and Mercedes struck a marketing deal that will bring the new 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA class vehicle into Mario Kart 8 as downloadable content later this summer. This is an interesting move by Nintendo, adding a real-world car to the cartoony and whimsical world of Mushroom Kingdom kart racing. But here’s one way of looking at it: what if this opens the door for other real-life cars to join the roster of racing karts in Mario Kart 8? As such, this week we compiled eight other real cars that should also have the chance to tear up the Mario Kart tarmac with a few Mushroom boosts:


1. De Lorean DMC-12


If there’s any iconic movie car that needs to make this list, it’s that cult classic sports car from the early 1980s that famously served as the base for Doc Brown’s time machine in Back to the Future. It might not have the greatest stats out of all the cars you select, but it will give you a retro vibe that will have you cruising through the Electrodrome in style. If you really want to take that over the top, there was even a gold-plated De Lorean produced in 1980 that could serve as an even sweeter variant of the car (I’m seeing dollar signs in Wario’s eyes…).


2. Tesla Model S


Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk is quite the dreamer; there is no doubt about it. From making the world’s most popular electric car to designing a high-speed transport system to pioneering privatized space exploration… Surely he’d have the spare time to also come up with how to incorporate the antigravity mechanics of Mario Kart 8 into the Tesla Model S. With that science fiction element in the gameplay, this futuristic car would make a perfect addition to the Mario Kart 8 circuits.


3. A Harley-Davidson motorcycle


This is for the bike racers out there. What more iconic brand of motorcycle is there besides Harley-Davidson? If we’re going to get a real-world brand of bike into Mario Kart it has to be Harley. It doesn’t matter if it’s an old model or new, if you get Waluigi on one of those bikes he’ll be shouting George Thorogood songs as the sun sets over the Bone Dry Runes.


4. A golf cart


This is the real-world equivalent of those racing karts that have great acceleration but very low top speeds. Plus it would be hilarious to see this thing try to veer through tight and steep turns without rolling over, or even seeing how a large heavyweight character like Bowser or Donkey Kong could try to fit into this thing.


5. Rolls Royce Phantom


This is what the real gangsters drive. Nintendo should especially put some of the earlier Phantom models into the game in order to add that nice hint of classic mobster to anyone getting the Luigi Death Stare.

Come to think of it, Luigi is Italian… I may be onto something here. “Leave the body, take the Tanooki suit.” I like that.


6. The Oscar Meyer Wienermobile


Mario Kart 8 has plenty of quirky-looking racing karts, from Wiggler-shaped ATVs to mechanical horses driving a buggy. But it doesn’t have a giant, drivable hotdog. That’s where the Wienermobile comes in. If there’s any real-world vehicle that is quirky enough to fit in with the rest of Mario Mart 8’s fleet of uncanny race vehicles, it’s this classic car that has been promoting Oscar Meyer on American highways since 1936.


Plus, Nintendo can’t pass up the opportunity to add a variant to the game, turning the Wienermobile into the Wii-nermobile. Come on, Nintendo! That pun is too good to pass up and you and I both know it!


7. Thrust SSC


If you want a good OP racing kart, you can’t go much further than the jet car that has held the land speed world record since 1996. It even looks beast enough to be OP. That hunk of metal has two massive jet engines tacked onto its sides! TWO! From the looks of its design, you probably could change Thrust SSC’s stats to have great speed but terrible handling, giving it some balance by only showing its fullest potential on straightaways.

But need I remind you that thing has TWO jet engines on it? You’ve got an extra stat there: the intimidation factor.


8. 2003 Chevy Impala


It usually doesn’t drive more than five miles per hour above the speed limit. No, it can’t turn on a dime. It’s a heavy hunk of metal that’s also far too wide, which makes you nearly sideswipe everyone, ever.

But it’s my car, dammit. And that’s why I want it to be in Mario Kart 8, so the Mii version of myself can kick butt in an accurate representation of my commute.

I know it might be hard to convince Nintendo about this one, which is why I took a quick sample photo to prove the Impala can indeed work in the game:


Your move, Nintendo.


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.

Jun 232014

Several high-profile racing games are slated to come out this fall, including The Crew and Forza Horizon 2. Each offers its own focus and unique features, but one subject has been touched on repeatedly as these titles approach completion: community. With both touting their particular takes on social interaction and player collaboration, an interesting question comes to the fore. Interacting with other players is simple enough, but cooperating in an inherently competitive genre is something else entirely. Even in a team situation, only one person can cross the finish line first. Can a racing game ever be truly cooperative?


Get back here and let me help you!

Perhaps it’s best to start by looking at genres more traditionally associated with cooperative play: Role-Playing Games and First-Person Shooters. RPGs encourage gamers to cooperate by implementing a player class system. In theory, no one class has a skill set that allows it to succeed on its own. Magic users need fighters to distract the enemy, and the fighters in turn need healers to help them soak up damage. Because it’s impossible to win alone, working with other people to achieve common goals is the natural style of play. An FPS may also throw some class-based skills into the mix, but it’s more often a simple numbers game that forces players to collaborate. You and your partner might both be firing the same kind of bullets from your assault rifles, but neither of you can personally deal enough damage to kill all the bad guys before they kill you. In order to deal with coordinated attacks from a large number of enemies, players must work together to maximize their offensive abilities. Whether in an objective-based or deathmatch situation, having an ally can double a player’s chances of victory.

The trouble is, neither of these approaches works with a group of racing drivers. A particular car may specialize in top speed, handling, or endurance, but these aren’t the same as the different skills of RPG classes. I may have a super-lightweight track car, but I can’t use that extra grip to help someone in a dragster make it through a series of tight corners. My teammate might show up in a dump truck, but he can’t use it to hold up our opponents unless it’s the widest dump truck in human history. By the same token, the coordinated tactics of an FPS team lose much of their potency when firepower gets swapped out for horsepower. Two machine guns with 100 bullets apiece can put 200 rounds into the enemy, but two cars with 300 horsepower apiece don’t get to combine for 600 horsepower on the straights.


Besides, are Porsche Guy and Muscle Car Guy ever going to get along?

Even in situations where two racers might work together, one particular problem will always persist. When victory is measured by reaching the finish line first, teammates will always compete with one another. Take a look at motorsport history and you’ll find plenty of legendary rivalries between drivers who were employed by the same team. One RPG player may land the final hit on the boss, or one FPS player may get the most kills, but the spirit of the game remains primarily cooperative with a bit of competition for added flavor. In racing, it’s the opposite. We’re always competing, even if we occasionally work as something resembling a team.

In the past, the best way to get drivers to collaborate on the virtual road has been by changing the rules to resemble something other than a professional circuit race. Objective-based gametypes have been successful in fostering cooperation in the past, and The Crew seems to be following this tried and true route. Modes that require forcing a particularly tough vehicle off the road or driving over lots of collectable items in a short amount of time have “cooperation required” written all over them. An E3 walkthrough video shows how this would work, and is mercifully free of voice actors pretending to be the people playing the game:

Another option for getting racing gamers to collaborate is to let them do so off the track, and Forza Horizon 2 seems to be championing this approach. Players can form Car Clubs, which seem similar to FPS clans or RPG guilds. Think of The Crew’s titular groups, but on a larger scale. Racing is certainly part of these communities, but what catches my interest is the concept of the Car Meet. The idea is to create an in-game social space for showing off and talking about paint schemes and tuning setups with other Club members. Look at photos and videos of a race circuit during the buildup to an actual race: competitors are hanging out and chatting about the extremely fast driving they’re about to do. Doing this in a video game is a fascinating idea, and I’m curious to see if it will encourage more collaboration than the faceless multiplayer lobbies of previous console generations. Maybe the solution to cooperative racing games something as simple as letting us get out of the damn car.

Deep down in my turbocharged V8 heart, I suspect that games about driving fast will always be a primarily competitive experience. After all, there’s only room on the top step of the podium for one person. Still, the ideas espoused by The Crew and Horizon 2 are exciting, and I’m eager to see how much they can shake up the genre. Not as eager as I am to drive an Audi R8 on a rainy night in Forza, but eager nonetheless.


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.

Jun 202014

It’s an unfortunate fact that not every television program is built to last. But while some shows deserve have their plugs pulled due to inferior content and poor writing, many other vastly superior programs are cancelled through no fault of their own, and despite their maintaining a massive cult following.

Presented here, for your consideration, are five cult shows that I most wish were still around.


5: Star Trek: The Original Series


Everybody’s heard the joke that the so-called “first five-year mission” only lasted three years before NBC gave Star Trek the axe in 1969. The tragic part was that in every conceivable way, Star Trek was a show ahead of its time; it was one of the first purely science fiction television programs ever created, and with a cast that purposefully bridged gaps of race, nationality, and politics.

In addition to its diverse cast, Star Trek was also among the first TV shows to seriously address contemporary issues through a fictional lens; it discussed and challenged notions of racism, gender stereotypes, nationalism and cultural conflicts. This was not enough for NBC, who moved the show to a bad time slot and slashed its budget in a deliberate attempt to get it cancelled and make room for other up-and-coming shows. Fortunately, Star Trek’s legacy spawned one the longest-lasting and most recognizable franchises in history. Beam me up, Scotty!


4: Arrested Development


Switching from sci-fi to the sitcom, we come to Arrested Development; ostensibly, the “story of a family that lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together.” Interestingly enough, creator Mitchell Hurwitz did have a choice; he might very well have been able to continue Arrested Development on Fox, but chose instead to attempt to move the show to another network, a move which never materialized. Regardless of intention, 2006 marked the end of the comedy that many hailed as a “new classic.”

Arrested Development seemed to have a lot going for it; each character, from poster-boy responsible son Michael Bluth, to his con-artist brother Gob, manipulative mother Lucille and power-crazed father George Bluth Sr., had serious flaws, but somehow managed to remain lovable (or at least, someone you loved to hate). The documentary-style shooting and ornery, contrarian narrator also provided a lot of extra laughs, making this lost gem a definite must-see. Just don’t go looking for that fourth season on Netflix; trust me, you’ll be sorry.


3: Life on Mars


It sounds like a bad Twilight Zone episode at first glance; Sam Tyler, a cop from 2008 New York, is hit by a car and wakes up in the year 1973, confronted by an alien culture and a different set of rules as he clashes with cops who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and struggles to find his way home. Out of this bizarre premise, however, comes a series that is truly a work of art; everything from its production design and writing to its deep characters, star-studded rock-‘n-roll soundtrack, and even its liberal use of ironic humor is spot-on for an instant hit. Oh, and the tantalizing interjections of outer space objects into Tyler’s throwback world don’t hurt, either.

Despite everything it had going for it, Life on Mars proved to be too out there for ABC, which cancelled the show in 2009 following declining ratings and an awkward hiatus with just one season under its belt. Don’t be fooled by the procedural cop-show veneer, though; Life on Mars is a stellar, one-of-a-kind show headlined by an all-star cast including the up-and-coming Jason O’Mara as the dazed and confused detective Sam Tyler and veteran actor Harvey Keitel as his hard-nosed, ball-busting boss, Lieutenant Gene Hunt. Watch out for that finale, too; it’s guaranteed to blow your mind.


2: Jericho


From High Street to main street; that was what defined NBC’s post-apocalyptic thriller Jericho, set in a small town in rural Kansas that survives a massive terrorist attack that wipes out 23 major U.S. cities and leaves the country in chaos. Local reformed bad boy Jake Green teams up with kindhearted schoolteacher Emily Sullivan, his community-minded family and friends, and shady secret agent Robert Hawkins to help pull Jericho through the troubled times and protect it from destructive forces both within and without, including a neighboring town bent on conquest and the formation of a new government that may be trying to subvert democracy in the U.S.

While the show gained a massive cult following that inspired NBC to bring back Jericho for a short-lived second season after nuking its spot in 2008, the network finally said “nuts” to dedicated fans who mailed them peanuts by the package-full to demand the show’s continuation. In spite of this, Jericho’s saga has continued in several comic books, and a deal with Netflix to renew the series may be on the horizon. So don’t count the citizens of Jericho out just yet; they’ve been through tougher things than cancellation.


1: Firefly


That’s right; it’s cowboys in space! But really, it’s much cooler than it sounds. Following the renegade ship Serenity in the aftermath of a disastrous interstellar war, the show depicts former freedom fighter Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) on a quest to keep his crew intact and his ship in the air by any means necessary, all while avoiding the totalitarian grasp of the Alliance, who seek the fugitives and stolen cargo he carries.

With a quirky and charming supporting cast and a fascinatingly backward vision of the future, Firefly seemed like a sure-fire success; but thanks to network incompetence, Fox aired the series episodes out of order, causing massive confusion among audiences and contributing to the show’s premature death after only 11 episodes. The supporting fandom was so big, however, that the show spawned a blockbuster spin-off film and numerous comic books, and Firefly continues to rank as one of, if not the, best science fiction TV shows ever created.


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.

Jun 182014

No Game No Life has pulled in its fair share of attention this season, and not without good reason. The series has plenty of appealing qualities, and feels as though it’s been expertly crafted to appeal to anime fans. The rich color palette offers a visual break from shows with more typical art styles, and the “gamers save the day” premise is a guaranteed hit in its target demographic. Add in some self-aware humor and plenty of creative world building, and the series’ popularity seems all but inevitable. For all the thought that went into making it a hit, it’s refreshing that the creators have also been taking the time to throw in some thoughtful social commentary.


I want a fancy crown armband to wear while lording my racing game skills over my friends, because I’m a jerk like that.

Much of No Game No Life’s clever observations are presented through the central protagonists, Sora and Shiro. They’re not the first NEET/hikikomori characters to take the lead in an anime series, but their actions touch on a point that other shows miss entirely. Rather than defining them, the Blank siblings’ awkward eccentricity is shown as being a side effect of their genius-level intellect. Shiro in particular helps make a fascinating observation: being really, truly smarter than everyone else can be extremely isolating. The small amount of information we get about Shiro’s backstory (and Sora’s to a lesser extent) shows the difficulty of functioning in a society where most people’s minds work differently from one’s own. While most shut-in characters never get a satisfying explanation for their behavior, No Game No Life has done the heavy lifting necessary to justify its heroes’ mental states. The result is some solid human drama amidst the otaku humor and oversized, magical chessboards.

With the protagonists believably out of place in modern society, the series quickly spirits them away into what seems like paradise. A pair of brilliant, skilled gamers in a world where games are used to resolve all conflicts should be on the easy track to success. It’s a fantasy that appeals to the geek in all of us: all the time we’ve “wasted” on our hobbies suddenly turns out to be the ideal training for saving or ruling the world. Of course, there’s always trouble in paradise. But rather than stick to tired old “catches” like defeat meaning death (hello there, Sword Art Online), No Game No Life uses its world’s fatal flaw as an opportunity to further examine human nature.


Bonus points for having an anime sibling dynamic that isn’t particularly creepy or pandering.

Cheating is supposedly forbidden in No Game No Life’s universe, or is at least ground for an instant loss in any contest. It seems like a common sense regulation, the kind we’d take for granted in any competitive field. However, much like in real life, there are always unscrupulous types who are willing to anything to guarantee victory. In the case of No Game No Life, we have supernatural beings that use their magical powers to cheat against human opponents. After all, your opponent can’t call you out for breaking the rules if they don’t understand what you’re doing. The obvious effect on the series itself is that Sora and Shiro have to adopt unconventional strategies to beat their magic-wielding opponents. What’s more subtle is the commentary on human nature: utopias only work until someone finds a loophole, and people with an unfair advantage have no interest in giving it up in the name of fairness.

No Game No Life didn’t need to make any of these observations in order to be a good show. “Quirky heroes taking on magic-wielding opponents in absurd variations on normal games” is an entertaining premise on its own merit. If all No Game No Life had going for it were Sora’s impassioned speeches to his sentient chess pieces in episode four, I’d still like it. However, these small nuggets of commentary give the series a reason to tell its stories beyond just amusing the audience. Every anime season is chock full of shows that don’t have much to say beyond, “Watch the next episode and buy some merchandise!” In that environment, a series like No Game No Life is more than just fun; it’s a breath of fresh air.


The manga version of No Game No Life comes out this October. You can pre-order if from Right Stuf 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.

Jun 172014

I’m going to preface this review by admitting something: apart from a decent voice for singing in the shower, I have next to no musical talent. Then, whenever I listen to the many amazing collaborative projects by the people at OverClocked ReMix, I pray to the stars I could somehow be as epic with an instrument as those musicians. This can especially be said about me as I listen to their amazing remix albums, all loving tributes to some of the most timeless video game soundtracks ever produced. Their latest project, a long-awaited tribute to the music of Super Mario 64, came out this week. I gave it a listen, and overall it is, as expected, a finely crafted album that gives a unique spin on the game’s famous soundtrack by composer Koji Kondo.


Super Mario 64: Portrait of a Plumber really does freshen up the game’s original soundtrack, in more ways than just updating the MIDI sounds of the 64-bit era source material. I find the original soundtrack of Super Mario 64 to be a bit lacking melodically in some areas, with some stages sporting some great tunes while many other stages recycle or remix the main theme of the game. This album takes many of those variations of the main theme (such as “Snow Mountain” and “Slide”) and makes them sound more their own. There is a much more improvised and Christmas-sounding version of “Snow Mountain” by Jeffery “Electric Concerto” Blaisdell, for example, and even a couple remixes of the regular main theme itself that add an extra level of creativity to the now almost 20-year-old soundtrack.

A particular favorite remix of mine on this album is an urban jazz version of the “Slider” theme by Jordan “Sir Jordanius” Etienne, entitled “Hush Hour.” I’ve been attracted to his jazzy remixes of game tunes ever since his swanky version of Hornet Man’s theme from Mega Man 9 appeared on the site, and this track too fails to disappoint. Rock, piano, and techno are much more common genres to find in the video game remix community, which is unfortunate for someone like me who listens to a lot of Sinatra, Brubeck and Miller. In Super Mario 64: Portrait of a Plumber, Etienne proves once again that the timeless sounds of jazz can be applied to contemporary game music to make some sweet, sweet ear candy.


Of course, there are plenty of other tracks on this album that are worthy of note: “Sunken Secrets” is a lovely acoustic and electric guitar arrangement of “Dire, Dire Docks” by Cain “Fishy” McCormack; Justin “Nutritious” Medford broke out an intense dubstep remix of “Koopa’s Road,” and remixer “The Coop” plunked out a ragtime-esque cover of the infamous “Merry-Go-Round” tune. There is also a remix of the “Haunted House” theme that I particularly enjoy; entitled “Boo’s Cues,” this tune by Brian Fratto and Justin Medford took the drawling, moaning notes of the original theme and turned it into something far more dramatic. Their remix of the song sounds like something worthy of inclusion in the Luigi’s Mansion soundtrack.

I do admit that there are a couple songs that did not rub me just the right way. Remixes of video game songs that include lyrics, for example, are often hit-or-miss for me. One remix of the Super Mario 64 main theme has lyrics in Portrait of a Plumber that, to me, detract from the piece. The remix by Brad “prophetik” Burr, entitled “junkie,” starts off as an incredible acapella version of the main theme but then attempts to add humorous lyrics about how addicting both the game and its main theme are. Listening to the song, I found myself trying to appreciate the acapella in the background while attempting to shut out the lyrics. Perhaps one day OC ReMix will release an instrumental version of this piece to satisfy my acapella needs. After all, they did just that for the many remixes with lyrics in the Sonic CD tribute album they released last year.


FINAL VERDICT: Super Mario 64: Portrait of a Plumber is another album from OverClocked ReMix that takes its original source material and knocks it right out of the park. Fans of Super Mario 64 will appreciate the fresh spin this album’s many remixers took on the classic game soundtrack. There are many genres covered by the tracks on this album, and it’s likely that not every song will suit your tastes. But it is clear that a lot of heart and soul from the Mario fanbase was put into this album. I guarantee will have at least a handful of songs you will want to add to your iTunes library, especially considering it’s free to download!


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.

Jun 132014

Welcome to another edition of Channel Chaser! Today I’m planning on marking down another first for this column: my first time talking about an animated show.

Cartoons, both those meant for kids as well as some aimed at more mature audiences, have been growing in popularity for a long time–just look at cult classics like Family Guy, South Park, and similar shows to see how large an impact they have made on our culture. Oddly enough, the show I want to bring up today gets a lot of its humor from culture itself, and that is FX’s spy-themed series Archer.


The way I like to describe Archer to people who don’t know anything about it is that it’s essentially Get Smart, but with X-rated humor, and honestly I feel this is pretty accurate. The main character, super-spy Sterling Archer, shares a lot in common with Maxwell Smart, including general incompetence, an abundance of dumb luck, and a tendency to be easily sidetracked, among other things. Similarly, Archer’s agency, a government entity known as ISIS, is plagued by an overabundance of bureaucracy and a critical lack of responsibility and common sense, much like Smart’s CONTROL.

The truth is, I often wonder why Archer’s story is delivered through the medium of animation. While it does add to the level of visual interest a bit and can help lessen the ludicrous nature of the situations the characters find themselves in, I can’t help but think that if the show was a live action one rather than a cartoon, it might be even more entertaining for the audience. It certainly doesn’t seem to be a show like South Park, where it would probably not exist if not for animation. Still, I suppose it might be difficult on the budget given all the rather “explosive” predicaments that happen in the show.

One thing I have noticed about Archer is that, to a certain degree, it does set itself apart from other animated shows. Similar programs like Family Guy and South Park seem to use a lot of the same tactics to satirize social situations or elements of popular culture, but I find that other shows often focus on situational humor to the detriment of the characters. In other words, most of the things that are funny in South Park and Family Guy are the situations the characters are placed in, leading them to react in predictably awful, but humorous, ways. Their essential nature as characters never really changes.

Archer, on the other hand, does a much better job of seeking to develop characters just as much as story. Actually, there’s not a whole lot of story going on in Archer, and most episodes can stand more or less on their own aside from some minor recurring characters and passing references to past episodes (that’s excluding the latest season). It helps that the show has a fantastic cast of voice actors, with solid contributions from comedy vets like H. Jon Benjamin, Judy Greer, Chris Parnell, Aisha Tyler, and Jessica Walter. Whenever I watch Bob’s Burgers now I find myself deeply disturbed at how the manly, sophisticated voice of the well-dressed badass Archer can possibly come out of the mouth of Bob Belcher, a slovenly short-order cook (Benjamin voices both roles). I suppose some characters just define a person, regardless of their other work.

Archer’s humor is a strange blend of sitcom, black comedy, pop culture references, and wildly inappropriate sexual innuendos that, bizarrely, seem to flow together perfectly. I can’t describe just how funny it can get when the characters go off on a tangent from the task at hand to finish a petty, stupid argument over some issue of semantics or cultural debate. Any fan of the show will know what I mean when I say that the show unapologetically breaches the comedy “danger zone” with a frequency that both astounds and disgusts me, but also gives me no end of enjoyment.

What makes it even more interesting is that, while Archer draws somewhat on pop culture for humor, many of the jokes are self-referential, giving the show an air of confidence and pride in itself that is instantly appealing and bringing attention away from things that don’t make sense.

Part of Archer’s charm is that the characters seem to be just as baffled as the viewers by the inconsistencies and ludicrous situations they have to deal with, and often break the fourth wall through offhand, one-line comments. For example, when confronted in one episode with the fact that certain elements in the show, such as technology and espionage methods, are hopelessly anachronistic and do not firmly anchor the show in any particular era, Archer angrily demands, “Yeah. What year even is this?”


My rating: 4/5

In the words of series creator Adam Reed, Archer started as an attempt to portray stereotypical spies like James Bond as they really were, stripping away the bravado and glamour of their heroics to reveal that underneath, they are actually just chauvinistic, reckless alcoholics on a power trip, and I like to think Archer has stuck to this pretty well. The latest season, Archer Vice, may be a bit of a detour from the norm, but the show is still in fine form; although I am looking forward to the next one where producers have promised the original spy format will return. I can’t wait to see the ISIS gang back doing the thing only they can do…badly. Should be a lot of laughs left to have.


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.

Jun 112014

It’s been an interesting few weeks at the movies for anime fans. Hollywood has taken a shot at making not one, but two big-budget films based on Japanese properties. Godzilla aimed to bring the classic kaiju franchise back on the wave of Pacific Rim’s success, while Edge of Tomorrow adapted the sci-fi novel All You Need is Kill. While our domestic efforts at telling imported stories have certainly been hit or miss over the years, these most recent efforts were refreshingly solid in their execution. That’s welcome news, but this is Kawaii Overthink. Time to nitpick and scrutinize!


Yes, this technically has nothing to do with anime. No, I don’t care. READ AND SUFFER, AUDIENCE!

Let’s start off with everyone’s favorite giant radioactive monster. Much as we might wish otherwise, I’m sure many folks can still recall the last time an American studio tried to make a Godzilla movie. Even as a kid, I remember thinking it was pretty dumb, although some of the fast food toys are probably still stored away in a dark corner of my parents’ basement. Thankfully, 2014’s Godzilla is several orders of magnitude better than its 1998 counterpart. The writing is better, the acting is better, the effects are better, and Godzilla actually looks like Godzilla.

The new film chooses to emulate the serious approach of the black-and-white original, focusing on the terror of giant unstoppable monsters instead of being a boxing match between two guys in rubber suits. It captures this darker tone well, and some of the cinematography is downright excellent. The parachuting sequence shown off in many of the trailers looked fantastic on the big screen. Godzilla also might be the first giant monster film to make me believe that the characters were actually in a city that was in the process of being demolished by Big G and friends.


All movies in this franchise are more fun if you add your own dialogue for Godzilla.

For all it does to nail the feeling of apocalyptic helplessness, it was disappointing that Godzilla didn’t have more to say. The original film is famous as a commentary on the dangers of splitting atoms, but I wasn’t sure what point, if any, the new one wanted to make. Some lines are thrown around about humans being powerless against nature, but that’s hardly the sort of biting critique that I’d want from a serious Godzilla reboot. Perhaps the movie could’ve flexed its intellectual muscles a bit more if it spent less time following the adventures of G.I. Jim (or whatever his name was) and more time with the various scientist characters. I enjoyed Godzilla, but I just wish it had either the brains of the original or the sense of fun that we saw from Pacific Rim. As is, it ends up lost somewhere in between.

Next up is Edge of Tomorrow. For anyone unfamiliar with the source material, the central premise has the main character fighting an alien invasion with a suit of power armor. He’s killed in combat, only to wake up intact a day earlier. This starts a loop of dying and resetting as our hero tries to figure out what’s going on and eventually save the planet. Think of it as a combination of Groundhog Day, Aliens, and Starship Troopers.


Also known as “Emily Blunt Kicks Ass and Takes Names: The Movie.”

While it borrows a premise and some characters from All You Need is Kill, Edge of Tomorrow more or less goes its own way with the story. It’s an adaptation in the loosest sense of the word, taking an interesting idea and approaching it in a way that appeals more to an American audience. I’ve always felt that this is the best way to make a movie out of a book, and Edge of Tomorrow definitely benefits from being able to take its own approach to the basic concept. It’s a film that manages to combine a coherent plot, exciting action sequences, and a healthy sense of humor. The major characters are likable and engaging, and the hero’s frequent deaths become a surprisingly successful source of grim comedy. The only addition that feels out of place is an obvious nod to World War II and the invasion of Normandy that doesn’t really go anywhere.

Edge of Tomorrow understands something that Godzilla missed: it’s easier to care about the outcome when we’re given reasons to like the people involved. As it throws out a steady sequence of cartoonish deaths and reasonably witty dialogue, the film subtly pushes us into caring about characters that could easily have come across as dull or predictable. Sure, we’ve seen the snarky action hero, tough-as-nails female soldier, and overbearing sergeant before, but Edge of Tomorrow makes them feel fresh and charismatic. We start out laughing as Tom Cruise’s character dies over and over, but we’re cheering for him to survive by the end. For a film about repetition, it’s perhaps fitting that Edge of Tomorrow is worth seeing more than once.


Tom Cruise is the master of the “this won’t end well” facial expression.

From classic Westerns that borrowed the plots of samurai movies to shockingly bad live-action versions of anime series, we’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of Americanized Japanese stories. I’m happy to say that the class of 2014 falls into the first of those three categories. For whatever faults they have, Godzilla and Edge of Tomorrow are both solid efforts. They show that when we actually try, we can turn out some solid adaptations here in the States.


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.