Jul 302014

The anime world loves a good parody. Whether it’s a casual Gundam reference or a full series dedicated to lampooning magical girl tropes, there’s a seemingly endless market for poking fun at the classics. At its best, this style of humor can serve as both entertainment and criticism, and can help shake us out of our complacency when it comes to putting up with genre clichés. For all of its good points, however, this school of comedy eventually raises a difficult question. How closely can a series imitate a genre without becoming a part of it? In other words, when is a parody no longer a parody?


Double the seats, double the comedy.

The driving force behind this particular article is Gekkan Shojo Nozaki-kun, streaming in the US this season as Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. The series features a fairly typical romantic comedy heroine, with the twist being that the object of her affections is a manga artist. While his work may be popular for understanding the hearts and minds of teenage girls, it turns out that our hero Nozaki is a bit oblivious when it comes to the emotions of real people. A poorly worded confession of love lands the heroine a job as Nozaki’s assistant, a task that sees her running into a supporting cast of eccentric characters. Each new face is based on a common character archetype, but their individual quirks play against our expectations.

The flamboyant playboy is constantly embarrassed by his own cheesy one-liners, and ends up being the inspiration for the female lead in Nozaki’s manga. The charming, princely “gentleman” is a girl, and her legions of swooning female admirers are a massive inconvenience for everyone around her. Onward the series goes, having a riotous amount of fun with our expectations as a seasoned audience. Most folks would leave things there and enjoy the ride, but this is Kawaii Overthink, dammit. I’m here to dig until I hit bedrock.



The question that needs to be asked is what happens if and when our plucky heroine Chiyo finally gets around to making her feelings clear to Nozaki. Would injecting a genuine, romantic storyline rob Nozaki-kun of its parody status and change it into a (very funny) romantic comedy? Can it still spoof the genre when we suddenly start to care about what happens to the characters, rather than simply waiting for the next punchline?

In order to find the answer, I’m going to reach out from the world of anime and manga and call on the 2004 zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead. That’s right, it came out ten years ago, and now you and I both feel old. The film functions as a parody of classic zombie movies, injecting a biting sense of humor into a fairly standard undead apocalypse. At the same time, however, Shaun of the Dead tells a story that stands on its own merit, creating likable characters and placing them in mortal danger. For all it does to poke fun at the genre, the film still uses many of the established rules in order to pack an emotional punch. Even the film’s tagline embraces this hybrid status: “A romantic comedy. With zombies.”


I’m still waiting for a crossover between this and Highschool of the Dead.

Should Nozaki-kun ever choose to ratchet up the dramatic tension, I expect it will end up occupying a similar middle ground. Once the story exists to do more than simply set up new jokes, I’m not sure we can call it a pure-blooded parody, but adding a bit of romance doesn’t simply undo all the series has done to mock its own genre. The end result might be best described as a kind of self-aware romantic comedy, one that makes jokes at its own expense even as it seeks to move the plot toward a satisfying conclusion. You can call that kind of genre hybrid whatever you like, but I’m going to call it one of my favorite shows of the summer season, regardless of what genre it ends up in.


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.

Jul 292014

When I bought my Nintendo 3DS earlier this year, I made sure to install some of my favorite classic games onto it so I can enjoy some 8-bit goodness wherever I go. With games like the original Super Mario Bros. and 3D Space Harrier installed on my 3DS, I literally have some of the best titles from the glory days of the arcade in my pocket. Games such as these have sentimental value today, and at under $7 per download on the Nintendo eShop how can you resist grabbing them for yourself?

These purchases are justifiable; they’re amazing classic games remade for the latest game consoles at cheap prices.

But why would somebody want to buy yet another version of The Last of Us at full price, one year after the original version of the game was released?


This trend is catching on lately, and it baffles me. I was at first confused when Sony announced The Last of Us: Remastered for the PlayStation 4 at E3 earlier this summer, and now it isn’t just Sony doing this. Nintendo just announced a disc release of NES Remix and NES Remix 2 at San Diego Comic-Con.

Why is it that game companies are now being so quick to remake their most recent releases?

It’s not like The Last of Us looks all that different on the PlayStation 4. If you look at some graphics comparisons between the PS3 and PS4 versions of the game, there are a few shadow lines that appear less wavy and more defined. And that’s about it. The remastered PS4 version also boasts 1080p HD graphics compared to 720p on the PS3, which doesn’t make all that much of a difference on today’s televisions.

Naturally, the demographic The Last of Us: Remastered and NES Remix Pack that should be marketed to is those gamers who have not played these games yet. In this situation, The Last of Us: Remastered could be a great deal, as it includes all of the original game’s downloadable content at no extra charge, and it is priced at $50, which is less than the original release sold for. Nintendo’s NES Remix Pack could see similar success if they employ a similar technique to rope in intrigued first-timers to the games. Currently both NES Remix games are priced at $15 each on the Nintendo eShop, presenting Nintendo with a challenge: can the NES Remix Pack discs be sold for under $30, so gamers can justify buying these (admittedly fun) games?


With video games seeing higher price tags by the year, there are many gamers who today are looking for bargains wherever they can get them. Perhaps this is where this strange business model actually becomes brilliant. If a recent game were re-released one year later, promising slightly better graphics and all additional content at no extra cost, cheaper gamers would immediately see the offer as a true bargain (assuming these gamers skipped the original release of The Last of Us in order to buy a PS4). The market is there for sure; not everybody bought The Last of Us on its initial release. Now the time has come for those penny-pinching players to take on the game that was the hot topic of the PlayStation community for much of last year. Similarly, Nintendo’s NES Remix games have been gaining popularity through word-of-mouth. Those cheaper gamers with a Wii U will soon be able to experience those games as well through Nintendo’s new bundle.

As much as I love playing my old-school classics on the 3DS, other gamers clearly want the latest experiences gaming has to offer, and at a price that gives them the most content in the shortest of budgets. The industry is starting to change to accommodate those needs. If it helps to keep all gamers up-to-date with their games library, then let’s keep the remakes coming.


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.

Jul 282014

With the Destiny beta officially wrapped up, gamers are left with just over a month to wait before the full game comes out on September 9th. This gives the folks at Bungie to use what they’ve learned to improve the final product, and gives us a chance to reflect on what we’ve seen thus far. But after blasting countless aliens and looting innumerable shiny orbs of light, what exactly have we learned?

Let’s start with the overall experience. Since it was first announced, Destiny has been touted as a game that would allow people to play however they wanted. Solo campaign players, co-operative loot hunters, and competitive gladiators would all find something to enjoy. In many respects, the beta helped lend some credibility to those lofty claims.

A handful of Story missions hinted at an interesting tale of humanity reclaiming the ruins of a lost golden age, and the gameplay felt balanced both solo and with a co-op friend or two. Open-world Exploration and a targeted Strike mission offered a respectable variety of tasks to complete in search of new weapons and equipment, and the Strike felt different enough from the Story missions to justify calling it a separate game mode. The competitive multiplayer of the Crucible showed that Bungie still knows how to build interesting environments in which a dozen people can try to kill one another. Each aspect of Destiny felt worth playing, yet the game didn’t seem to penalize players for focusing on their favorite modes. It really did seem possible to approach the Destiny universe in whatever way you wished.


What was most interesting about these different modes, and what helps Destiny stand out from the crowd, is how they interact. Story, Explore, and Strike missions all take place in the same open-world environments, and the game is constantly engaged in matchmaking to place multiple players in the same iteration of an area. In the middle of a Story mission, you might run into someone who’s out gathering materials or looking for sidequests. The two of you may end up engaging the same group of enemies, or even work together in a “public event” – a randomly generated encounter in which multiple players take on a swarm of enemies or a high-level boss. It’s also possible that you’ll simply be two ships passing in the night, existing in the same world but not feeling the need to interact at all. It’s an interesting game mechanic that helps add some variety to familiar areas and makes the world feel more alive. Destiny’s open world feels like more than just a place to farm experience; it feels like an actual world.

In broad terms, then, it’s safe to say that it really does do what it says on the box. But the details are what turn an ambitious concept into a great game, and the beta suggests that plenty of thought went into the gameplay of Destiny. Adding classes and character progression to a first-person shooter always results in a difficult balancing act. Offer too much customization, and shooter fans will gripe that they’re spending too much time in the inventory screen and not enough time fighting baddies. Offer too little, and the role-playing crowd will gripe that the game unfairly favors quick reactions over carefully considered character loadouts. It’s a dangerous middle ground to try to occupy, but Destiny looks to be up for the challenge.


Choosing between the Titan, Warlock, and Hunter classes for your first character may feel like taking a shot in the dark, but all three ultimately have a respectable balance of strengths and weaknesses. I played up to the level cap with all three classes, and only once noticed what seemed like a genuine imbalance. The Hunter’s super attack requires an additional button press compared to the Warlock and Titan, which felt like a significant disadvantage in fast-paced Crucible combat. On the other hand, perhaps a wider variety of competitive modes in the retail release will reveal a way for the Hunters to get some shiny, golden payback.

Character and weapon customization is simple and fairly intuitive, not to mention forgiving. Leveling up unlocks new passive and active character abilities, some of which are mutually exclusive. Do you want incendiary grenades or homing grenades? Do you want your special melee attack to restore health or give you a speed boost? The good news is that players can try each new ability without making a blind commitment, as swapping back and forth is as quick and painless as putting on a different helmet.


The three classes also have full access to every gun type in the game, so your weapon loadout can either complement your natural strengths or make up for your weaknesses. Titan’s super attack lacks range? Equip a sniper rifle. Hunter too focused on precise attacks? Use a rocket launcher. Warlock requires too much tactical thinking? Heavy machine guns make life simpler. One could argue that the freedom of choice makes the classes feel almost too similar, but one could counter that it’s a small price to pay for the freedom to experiment without having to make a new character every time.

Out of all the things worth noting from the beta, one stands out above everything else: Destiny can accomplish its ambitious goals without breaking your console. In over fourteen hours of gameplay split between the Xbox One and Xbox 360, I encountered a whopping total of two minor technical issues. The first occurred when I managed to break a cutscene by opening my inventory, and the second happened in a two-player Explore session during Bungie’s “everyone play at the same time” stress test. In both cases, I was simply booted out to the main “Orbit” menu and was able to continue playing without having to shut my console off. Other than that, the beta ran more or less flawlessly, with party and matchmaking systems that put many finished A-list titles to shame. By way of comparison, the beta for Titanfall caused my Xbox One to crash and misbehave on a regular basis. Considering that the final version of Titanfall works just fine, it’s safe to assume that Destiny will be a well-oiled machine come September. In the meantime, humanity’s foes should ready themselves, because I’ll be back tossing explosive space magic at their ugly alien faces on day one.


You can get Destiny for your console of choice from Amazon here.

Article by Paul Jensen.
Jul 252014

Hello all, and welcome to this edition of Channel Chaser! Now I don’t know about all of you, but when a new TV series is announced, I instantly make it my business to find out everything I can about it before it actually comes on. Maybe this is spoiling things a little for myself, but it’s just sort of compulsive. I can’t stand being kept in suspense!


The biggest news coming out of the land of television at the end of last week was that the BBC’s sci-fi classic–and one of my favorite shows–Doctor Who will be returning at the end of August. The items of speculation are the several tantalizing teaser trailers that have been released by the network, featuring Peter Capaldi as the brand-new Twelfth Doctor, as well as some juicy hints dropped by the show’s writing staff. And I must say, there is definitely a lot to talk about. You can check it out for yourself here:

As fans of the show will know, last season’s finale ended with the departure of Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor as the last of the title character’s established 13 lives expired. Fortunately, however, due to some timely intervention from the Doctor’s people, the Time Lords (notice the pun there?), he now has a whole new regeneration cycle to work with and to carry the show on for however long it can continue.

The first and most obvious thing that can be garnered from the various teasers is that Capaldi’s Doctor is older, wizened and much more serious in tone than his child-like and enthusiastic predecessor, putting him at stark contrast with the past Doctors in the show’s revived timeline. The one exception to this rule could be Christopher Eccleston; while he was only on the show for one season as the Ninth Doctor, his character was quite a bit darker, lonelier, and more dangerous than David Tennant or Matt Smith. We could be seeing a return to this kind of Doctor from Capaldi’s performance.

This obviously throws companion Clara Oswald for a loop, given that she has a semi-serious crush on the Doctor and is shocked by his transformation into a completely different person. She notes that she cannot trust the Doctor anymore and, when asked by the Doctor if he is a “good man,” she honestly replies that she no longer knows. Then there’s the Doctor’s assertion that they will be traveling “into darkness” and trying to right his wrongs. Foreshadowing doesn’t get much stronger than that, folks.

Many people are taking this shift in tone, as well as the change in age of the Doctor’s character, as hints that Doctor Who will be returning to its roots for this new series. Indeed, show-runners have said that Capaldi’s storyline will not be as contingent on his past lives as recent Doctors have been. Coupled with the fact that, just like the First Doctor all those years ago, the Twelfth Doctor apparently has no idea how to fly the TARDIS, we can probably expect some old things to be made new again in various inventive ways.

Speaking of old things, both the Daleks and the Cybermen–long-time franchise villains–can be spotted in the teasers, so it’s a safe bet that we’ll be seeing more of them, especially considering the opening narration of the trailer is voiced by what sounds like a Dalek.

If you look at a few other small teaser videos, one also features a cold, tinny, metallic voice claiming to know the Doctor’s heart and the hatred he keeps inside. Viewers have speculated that this could herald the return of another series bad guy, Davros–the mad inventor who created the Daleks. Given that Davros was heavily implied to have died during the Tenth Doctor’s “Stolen Earth/Journey’s End” storyline, I don’t know how this is possible time-wise, but it sounds about as reasonable as anything else I’ve seen on this show. I’d say there’s a good chance of another Davros confrontation, but hopefully it won’t be quite as disappointing this time around.

Another more unsubstantiated claim is the rumor among fans that the Doctor’s Time Lord arch-nemesis, the Master, may return in this season. This would be the third appearance of the Master in the revived Doctor Who, and the big question is who would be portraying the villain. Some hearsay places Charles Dance, Game of Thrones’s Tywin Lannister, in talks for the role, but others say that John Simm, the previous Master, has agreed to once again return to the show in some form.

For me, both of these actors would be excellent additions to the cast. Simm has already proven that he can be a fantastic bad guy with his show-stealing performances alongside David Tennant, but a young Master against an old Doctor could be a bit strange. That’s where Charles Dance comes in. Maybe it’s just me, but I could totally see Tywin Lannister traveling the stars and making evil plots to trap the Doctor. The guy has “evil mastermind” written all over him at this point.

One even wilder theory I’ve heard, however, is that the identity of the Master could be a bit more shocking–Capaldi himself! Fans of this particular conspiracy theory cite the abrupt change in the show’s tone, the oddly sudden regeneration of the Eleventh Doctor, and the Twelfth Doctor’s more suspicious persona as evidence that the Time Lords sent the Master to impersonate the Doctor, and that the actual new Doctor has yet to be revealed.

As much as I think this would be an awesome plot twist for Doctor Who, I’d like to put the kibosh on this theory right now. First of all, it would be a really big stretch to carry a deception of that magnitude through a full season of the show. Honestly, audiences probably wouldn’t like being cheated that way, and we also would have heard something about casting before now that would hint at another Doctor. Also, as Capaldi has already been announced as the Twelfth Doctor, it would mean the producers and writers of the show would have to straight-up lie to their viewers, something I can’t imagine they would really want to do. I suppose anything is possible, especially on Doctor Who, but personally I’m not buying this one.

What we do know for now is that the first new episode will open in Victorian London and feature recurring characters and detective do-gooding trio Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. It should be interesting seeing characters who have gotten used to Matt Smith’s cheerful and optimistic Doctor meet this newer, darker version of the character, and the Paternoster Gang’s return will also provide some needed grounding for fans.

Until then, I personally can’t wait to see Peter Capaldi in action as the Doctor, and I hope I’ve helped you all to feel the same. Catch you next week!


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.

Jul 232014

Any public form of entertainment has its own set of rules for the audience to follow. Go to a movie theater and you’ll be expected to shut off your phone (yes, including YOU, guy in the front row) and keep quiet during the film. Go to a sports event, on the other hand, and you’ll be encouraged to scream until your lungs collapse in order to distract and intimidate the opposing team. Audience etiquette helps set the mood for an event, and contributes to what is hopefully an ideal viewing experience. With that in mind, is there a “perfect” setting and code of conduct when it comes to watching anime?


(Visual approximation of the author after a six-hour anime binge)

This is a question that’s been floating around in the back of my mind since overhearing an interesting conversation at this year’s Anime Expo. As I camped out in a relatively quiet hallway between panels, two first-time attendees were discussing a screening they’d just been to. One of them remarked on how involved the audience was in the experience, reacting loudly and frequently to the events on screen. It was, he pointed out, a far cry from watching anime late at night, keeping the volume low out of courtesy for his sleeping roommates. I wandered off before he was able to decide if one was more enjoyable than the other, so I suppose it’s up to me to draw a conclusion. This one’s for you, Skinny Guy In Cargo Shorts.

Like any form of storytelling, an anime series will seek to immerse the audience in its world, briefly transporting them away from their everyday lives. Its settings become real places, populated by real people with real emotions. If the show is successful, the audience will react to fictional events as though they’re actually happening. The better the illusion, the more we care about the characters. To that end, the ideal viewing environment is one that helps the viewer dive headfirst into another world.

In this respect, watching with other people has the potential to help or hurt the experience. On one hand, having someone else follow you down the proverbial rabbit hole can make the illusion seem more real. Your mutual desire to see the heroes escape a dangerous situation unscathed heightens the tension in the room, allowing you to feed on one another’s enthusiasm. If you’ve ever watched a sport you’ve never seen before with people who follow it passionately, you’re probably familiar with this effect. The first time I watched High School of the Dead was at a convention screening, and the audience’s enthusiastic response to particularly cheesy one-liners or gruesome zombie kills made the show far more entertaining than it had any right to be.


If you’re watching this series alone and sober, you’re absolutely doing it wrong.

On the other hand, being part of an audience can just as easily pull a viewer out of a show’s fictional world. Something as simple as checking a cell phone or striking up a side conversation can shatter the wall holding back the floodwaters of reality. A distracting audience won’t stop a good anime series from being good, but it can hinder the viewer’s ability to fully enjoy the experience.

Of course, most of this applies to just about anything that comes out of the magic box we call television. Whether it’s Game of Thrones or Attack on Titan, watching with the right people can make a big difference. But are there any qualities unique to anime?

For one thing, having someone who’s familiar with the medium sitting nearby can be a big help if you’re only just getting started. I was the first person among my friends to discover anime, which meant I spent a lot of time scratching my head over obscure references and cultural nuances. For instance, when a harem comedy spoofs Neon Genesis Evangelion, it’s awfully hard to understand the joke when you haven’t freakin’ watched Evangelion yet and don’t know anyone who has. More so than with television that comes out of our home country and culture, an anime viewer can benefit from a ready and eloquent source of information.


Just try not to be the only “normal” person in a room full of full-fledged otaku.

Some anime genres can also be more obvious about their intended viewing environment than their western counterparts. Slice of life shows like Aria and Non Non Biyori depend heavily on audience immersion in order to be enjoyable. If the series’ atmosphere can’t transport a viewer to its fictional setting, much of the appeal is lost. I’ve found it unusually difficult to watch anything particularly slice of life-ish unless I’m able to do so alone. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some of the more high-energy comedies almost beg for a rowdy, wisecracking audience. The most fun I ever had with Cromartie High School was playing a drinking game which stipulated that if the show made a joke and no one could explain it, everyone had to drink. In the interest of not giving my limited readership alcohol poisoning, I should probably discourage you from ever playing this game, but you get the idea. Screaming, “What the hell just happened?” is more fun if you’re not the only one doing it.

This, I think, brings us to a halfway satisfactory conclusion. One anime series can be light years apart from another in its tone and atmosphere, so I doubt there is a one-size-fits-all “perfect viewing environment.” Match the right audience with the right show, however, and you’ll make a good thing even better.


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.

Jul 232014

Three years after its release, Portal 2 still proves to be one of the more popular games on Steam. Fans keep the experience fresh through submitting user-designed test chambers, and more gamers are experiencing the game for the first time thanks to Our Lord Gabe Newell’s many Steam Sales. Those who have played the game for a while, however, are by now used to the formula: shoot blue portal here, shoot orange portal there, fly across the room and reach the exit.

Those days are over now. Last week, the user-created Portal 2 mod Aperture Tag: The Paint Gun Testing Initiative, became available on Steam. The mod, created by Eugenio “Motanum” Roman, adds a unique and fun new challenge to the diabolical and dangerous test chambers of Aperture Science.


That new challenge comes in the form of your unnamed protagonist’s weapon. It is not the usual Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, but rather a new gun that is capable of spraying surfaces with the blue Repulsion Gel and orange Propulsion Gel introduced in Portal 2. Inspired by the student game Tag: The Power of Paint (which inspired the gel mechanics in Portal 2 in the first place), players will need to solve test chambers by bouncing up walls and over gaps, as well as jettisoning off ramps and past deadly spikes. A new energy field grill makes an appearance in the mod; walking through it will force you to have access to one, both, or neither of the gels for a specific part of each test chamber. Other testing elements from the Portal series make a return, including cubes and buttons, floor switches, lasers, and turrets. Portals themselves also appear, but as secondary elements activated by buttons and switches.

The test chambers are very well designed, and gradually increase in difficulty much in the same way test chambers in the original Portal games do. I was able to quickly solve most of the earlier puzzles but began scratching my head frequently on the final leg of the game. I admit I had to consult a walkthrough a few times for the last few test chambers, having a few “ah-ha!” moments upon doing so. This is about the same experience I had playing the first Portal and Portal 2, so to me Motanum was spot-on with designing the perfect learning curve. You even get to re-visit a couple test chambers from the first few games, and are encouraged to solve them not with the Portal Gun, but with your Paint Gun. These levels were crucial to helping the player understand the new mechanics, and were a lot of fun to play.


The scenery is also incredible, expanding on the vast depths of Aperture Science that were first greatly explored in the original Portal 2. Unlike in the main games, where Chell takes an enclosed elevator to the next test chamber, in Aperture Tag the player travels via vacuum tube. Vacuum tube travel was severely underutilized in Portal 2, and it’s great to see the element used to its fullest here: through the clear tubes you see everything. You soar over the old 1950s testing spheres, through walls, over catwalks and between the many rooms of the evil science facility. Later in the game, Motanum took some creative liberties that surprisingly fit well inside Aperture: the final test chambers are themed to different environments, from pine forest to ocean, desert to space. Real as they look sometimes, a few missing wall panels remind you that the environment you’re traveling through is artificial, a product of the diabolic minds running Aperture.

Unfortunately, the story of Aperture Tag does not live up to its full potential. A new personality sphere named Nigel (smashing?) escorts you through the tests. And, well… That’s all I can say about the story, really. Not because of spoilers or anything. Nigel simply has no personality to him. The voice actor sounds rather dull, and we don’t know anything about Nigel’s personality aside from how he wants to follow Aperture’s “protocol” with test subjects. It is clear Motanum attempted to make another GLaDOS or Wheatley for the player to enjoy, but poor writing and character development makes Nigel the least interesting part of the game.


But a bland story that makes a couple cake references shouldn’t stop a Portal fan from trying out Aperture Tag. If you’re tired of solving puzzles with the Portal Gun, you really should take the Paint Gun for a spin. It shakes up the Portal formula just enough to get you scratching your head again.

FINAL VERDICT: If you plan on checking out Aperture Tag, don’t do it for the story or you won’t be impressed. Play the game if you’re looking for a set of expertly designed test chambers that take a secondary game mechanic from Portal 2 and make it your primary mechanic, offering a whole new way to make science happen.


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.

Jul 182014

Hello again, and welcome back to Channel Chaser! Last week I talked about how so many TV shows out there right now seem to be tied to visions of the apocalypse, or the end of the world. So for my review today, I felt it was only fitting that I address one of my favorite shows, and one that I strongly believe had a role in starting this trend in the first place: the SyFy Channel’s Battlestar Galactica.


To make a very long and complicated story short, Battlestar Galactica (or just BSG if you like) tells the story of the humanity as it is driven from twelve colony worlds in deep space and hunted down by the Cylons, a race of sentient robots who have rebelled against their human creators.

Aside from full-frontal tactics, the Cylons have also managed to create sleeper agents that mimic human form and infiltrated colonial society, leading to the total destruction of all but 50,000 human survivors. Forming a rag-tag fleet around the last surviving military vessel, the antiquated Battlestar-class warship Galactica, the humans head out into the universe to find a new home: a fabled lost colony called Earth.

It’s interesting to note that BSG is not an original product. In fact, the series that began in 2005 is actually a reimagining of a 1978 sci-fi series created by legendary TV writer Glen Larson. While the idea behind BSG was one of the most ambitious space operas ever conceived at the time, Larson’s show suffered from cheesy special effects due to budget problems and claims that it ripped off other genre classics like Star Wars. In the end, the ’78 series was mostly forgotten until Ronald D. Moore and David Eick rebooted it with a miniseries in 2003, followed by a four-season run from 2005 to 2009.

The modern BSG differs greatly from its predecessor, the biggest change being in its shift to a much darker and grittier drama series–some describe it as a soap opera that only happens to take place in space. It features a large ensemble cast, with several main characters disappearing and then re-introduced across the seasons, or just dying during the story’s progression.

BSG began with no truly seasoned or big-time acting talent, with the exception of veterans Edward James Olmos as William Adama, the grizzled commander of Galactica, and Mary McDonnell as colonial president Laura Roslin. Most of the other actors in the show, such as Katee Sackhoff, Michael Hogan, James Callis, Tricia Helfer, and many more, had never done anything of note previously, but their standout performances during BSG’s run more or less launched their careers in television. Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to watch any TV show where you didn’t see at least one BSG alum in an episode or two.

If you ask a lot of TV fans and critics, many of them consider BSG to hold the prestigious title of “the best sci-fi show of all time,” and for good reason. This was a show that finally made science fiction “cool” for a lot of people who normally would be turned off by strange-looking aliens, goofy costumes, and techno-babble. It was a show that had enough futuristic elements to be fun and interesting to watch, but not so much that it detracted from the primary focus: the characters.

And what characters they were. While the original ’78 series had a distinct lack of feminine personalities, many of the characters were re-written from men to women for the 2003 makeover to give the cast more diversity.

The most fascinating thing about them, though, is that BSG managed to move beyond the traditional stereotypes and roles that abound in contemporary television and make the characters actual living, breathing people that you couldn’t help but care about. I just can’t stress enough how real these people were to me while I watched the show.

Don’t get me wrong, the characters themselves were all very different in personality – from the hotheaded, insubordinate pilot Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, to the cunning and yet cowardly genius Gaius Baltar and the straight-laced but deeply troubled Lee “Apollo” Adama – but the one thing they all had in common was that they had very authentic flaws, and were completely unpredictable. The one thing that wrecks a show quicker than anything else is when you start to be able to predict how certain characters would react to given situations. That was the beauty of BSG: you never knew for sure what anyone on that screen would do, and that gave the characters a human quality and believability that is very, very hard to come by.

Another fascinating element of the show was how the Cylons–the ostensibly cold “villains” of the piece–were shown to be just as human as the actual humans. A dominating philosophical question throughout the show is that of just how human the Cylons have managed to become; they take human form, bear human weaknesses, and suffer from human emotions and frustrations, and yet they are still treated like animals by the supposed heroes. So who are the real villains here?

If BSG has one flaw, it is that it attempted to get a bit too heady and philosophical for its own good. This caused the story to sag at certain points, but overall the show expertly blended interpersonal drama with just the right amount of action, adventure, and awesome space battles to create something that never failed to surprise and amaze viewers.


My Rating: 4.5/5

Aside from some sluggish storytelling in the first half of the fourth and final season, Battlestar Galactica is a work of television art that truly deserves its title as the best sci-fi show ever. The fact that so many other shows have attempted to follow in its footsteps only serves to prove that it has, and will be, a trend-setting series for a long time to come.


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.

Jul 162014

It’s a good time for sports anime. Yowamushi Pedal is set to return in the fall after an initial 38-episode run, while volleyball series Haikyu!! is finally kicking off its first big tournament story arc. The Free! juggernaut continues to roll onward, drawing in a variety of fans in its target demographic and beyond. The genre is even being used as a sandbox for unique animation styles, exemplified by Ping Pong: The Animation. Here in the US, often seen as a difficult market for sports shows, jerseys from various fictional teams can be seen in increasing numbers at anime conventions. What is it about this generation of titles that sees the genre in such excellent health, especially on our side of the Pacific?


I can’t possibly imagine how a show about competitive swimming found so many female fans.

Quite a lot of things, actually. Writers and character designers have been making deliberate (and increasingly successful) attempts at appealing to a broader mix of male and female viewers. Animation has gotten more impressive over the years, a vital improvement for a genre that relies on the fluid motions of skilled competitors. Watch Kuroko’s Basketball back to back with 90’s classic Slam Dunk if you want a stark visual demonstration of how things have changed over time. Whether or not you like the new style of character design, it’s clearly optimized for bringing in viewers with an affinity for dreamy dudes. Combine that with some solid action sequences and you’ve got something for just about everyone.

The simulcast method of distribution has also helped things here in the US. Sports anime and manga have never really had much trouble finding an audience in Japan, but things were far less simple for American licensors back when physical releases were the only option. Some notoriously bad sales numbers made the big hitters reasonably wary of the genre, and rightly so. Putting a series out on disc with a full English dub is expensive, and frequently not worth it for a niche title. By comparison, it’s much less of a risk to put a series up online with subtitles, especially for a subscription-based service like Crunchyroll or Funimation. Because it’s less of a financial risk, we get more sports series, and the genre has a chance to find more viewers. As a piece of purely anecdotal evidence, I’ve never bought a physical release of a sports anime, but I’ve gotten hooked on several after watching an episode or two online.


Speaking of watching things online, GO WATCH PING PONG. Do it now.

It’s not entirely surprising that the sports genre is starting to find a foothold in the US. Much of the over-the-top, special-technique-shouting, underdog-versus-champ appeal of shonen action shows is on full display, but with one unexpected advantage: believability. It seems absurd to bring up realism when talking about genres where characters have near-superhuman abilities, but it’s actually quite important when it comes to holding an audience’s interest.

We’re willing to take a lot of things at face value when it comes to characters’ unique abilities. We accept that Onoda can keep up with experienced bicycle racers for the same reason we accept that Goku gets stronger when he yells a lot and turns his hair yellow: we like thinking about what it would be like to have special powers of our own. Where realism comes into play is in how the characters use those abilities, particularly in how they deal with their enemies. It’s impossible to count the number of time an action anime hero has let the bad guy live to return in another story arc, all while the audience screams, “Just SHOOT the bastard!” Because some villains are too good to get rid of, writers have to jump through all kinds of ridiculous hoops to stop the protagonist from killing them, even when that’s what any rational person would do.


If you watched Yowapeda, you now have the “Love Hime” song stuck in your head. You’re welcome.

Sports anime avoids this classic problem by way of its very nature. Unless you’re making a series about gladiators or bullfighters, sports are an inherently non-lethal form of conflict. It makes sense for a defeated rival to come back for a rematch because that’s how sports work in real life. As a result, the viewer doesn’t have to hold back the obvious questions that come up when the good giant robot pilot fails to finish off the bad giant robot pilot. Instead, we can just sit back and enjoy the clashes between the heroes, their rivals, and their mutual archenemies. This isn’t to say that sports series are inherently better at storytelling than their action counterparts, simply that they have one less hurdle to clear. In a world of production deadlines that offer limited time for revising a script, that’s certainly a significant advantage.

I doubt sports anime will ever truly take off in the US, if only because it’s forced to compete with the appeal of watching real teams on live television. Nevertheless, it’s a genre filled with exciting and addicting shows, and the constant search for new source material has given some otherwise obscure sports a chance to shine. Now if only I could talk Japan into making a series about Formula One racing…


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.

Jul 152014

Yesterday morning sure was an interesting one for me: I walked into my local supermarket and was about to pass by the cheap-o movie rack. I never think too much of it because supermarket movie bins tend to sell the worst of the crop; while Walmart occasionally has a few hidden gems in its five-dollar movie bin, supermarkets seem to display movies likely left behind when the world’s last Blockbuster went out of business. So naturally this display was not worth my time.

That is, until I found it.

Though it was bundled with another movie I’d never heard of, I instantly recognized the details on the cover: that stylized pink-and-silver 1980’s logo, and a smiling Fred Savage wearing the Power Glove.


I found The Wizard. Wide-eyed and mouth gaping, I grabbed it and ran to the checkout counter. For the first time last night, I sat down and watched this 1989 cult classic video game-themed movie in its entirety.

Thanks to reading plenty of reviews and the simple fact that I am a retro gaming aficionado, I do know quite a bit about this film going into it despite the fact that I was born three years after its release. The gist: Fred Savage’s character and his mentally challenged brother run away from home, and eventually meet up with a girl who is also running away. The trio travels across the country to California, and along the way discover Savage’s little brother is an expert at video games. While avoiding some goofy cops looking for them, the three make it to California and enter the boy into a major video game championship tournament in Hollywood.

The biggest thing I know going into The Wizard is: this movie was made to sell Nintendo products. For 100 minutes of my life, I expect nothing more than a bunch of screen time for the games themselves, and of course, that infamous line: “I love the Power Glove. It’s so bad.”

But how horrendously cheesy The Wizard really is, is a mystery to me. A mystery that is about to be solved in less than two agonizing hours…


Here goes nothing.

Seven and a half minutes in, and so far there is no sweet NES-era gaming. I guess we need a plot first, so we see Fred Savage get angry because his challenged brother may become institutionalized while his father attempts to eat overcooked casserole, because comedy:


This is going to be a long movie, I can tell.

It isn’t until 15 minutes of plot development that we finally get our first glimpse of a Nintendo game, Double Dragon. And sadly, that’s all we see for a while. The first two-thirds of The Wizard focuses more on developing a terribly bland plot that is so straightforward it doesn’t need developing in the first place. Savage’s little brother Jimmy lost his twin sister in a horrific accident that left him emotionally scarred. He wants to run away to “California,” and so Big Brother Savage takes him to California. And yet, this simple story drags on for at least an hour, with the help of our comic relief, this guy:


who is trying to find Jimmy and Fred Savage before Savage’s father and older brother do:


Aren’t they a lovely couple?

What is odd is how much of the comedy comes out of nowhere and often centers on video games. When that weird pervy guy and Savage’s father aren’t beating up each other’s cars, you often see Savage’s father or older brother unable to get their eyes off the television screen their Nintendo Entertainment System ™ is currently hooked up to. And this scene happens so often the joke somehow becomes even less funny than it wasn’t the first time.


Of course, The Wizard is perhaps best known for two scenes that introduced American children in 1989 to the latest in Nintendo gadgets and hardware. The most infamous scene, of course, is when Jimmy meets his gaming rival, Lucas. Lucas shows off what was then the flashiest Nintendo peripheral, the Power Glove, uttering the phrase that instantly became the wonky motion controller’s unofficial slogan, “I love the Power Glove. It’s so bad.”


Though you have to sit through so much bland plot to get to it, the video game tournament at the film’s climax is also fun, in a cheesy 1980’s sort of way. Watching this scene, with its audience of hyper-energetic kids and the (creepy) hyper-energetic adult host on stage, you can see where television networks likely got some inspiration for the video game-related game shows that were popular at the time, like Video Power and Nick Arcade.


And of course, the biggest event during the tournament was the reveal of Super Mario Bros. 3 to American audiences. In 1989 the announcement of a new Mario game in this movie must have been a huge deal. To me, however, I just see the flaws in the scene. There was no way Jimmy could have known how to find the Warp Whistle if it was his first time playing; it was obvious that the action in the movie was meant to show kids an example of some of the secrets to be found in the game. It was still a fun scene nonetheless, and it too will be remembered for its corny but cool lines (“Ladies, gentlemen, children, siblings, animals…”).

But a few smiles here and there near the end of The Wizard were simply not enough for me to enjoy it. At the time of its release, the movie was criticized for its blatant product placement. As a now 25-year-old family film, those obvious Nintendo commercials feel more like a nostalgic trip into the world of classic Nintendo today than a sales pitch. Besides, those quick glimpses of Ninja Gaiden, Mega Man II and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are far more interesting than the dull jokes and boring plot. That’s right, watching other people playing video games is more entertaining than the movie itself.

Though it is a neat little piece of Nintendo history, I can’t say I love The Wizard. It is so bad.


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.

Jul 102014

Welcome to another edition of Channel Chaser! Today I’d like to start things off with a question. Is it just me, or are the premises of new TV shows looking bleaker and bleaker every time I see a new trailer?

Let’s consider some of the latest new dramas and currently popular offerings available, for starters. Among many others, we see shows like TNT’s Falling Skies and The Last Ship, HBO’s The Leftovers, FX’s The Strain, the CW’s Supernatural, and much, much more. What do all these shows have in common, you may ask? Well, the thing that sticks out most to me is the relatively obvious thread of “it’s the end of the world!”


It seems to me that a lot of TV nowadays has become tied up in and fascinated by the imagination of apocalypse, and it baffles me how so many of us–myself included–can get entertainment, and indeed pleasure, out of witnessing the systematic destruction of human society most of these shows involve. What kind of psychological condition can explain something like this?

Well, as it turns out, it’s a pretty simple answer: basic human nature.

Now I’m not trying to be morbid or cynical and suggest that we only enjoy these kinds of tales of misfortune because it makes us feel better about ourselves: far from it. The issue is far more complicated than that. The point I’d really like to make is that apocalypse, as a genre, is one that is extremely successful for a variety of reasons, and on both sides of the TV screen.

Interestingly enough, the classical definition of an apocalyptic narrative is one that is conveyed from an otherworldly or higher power to a human recipient through the medium of a vision, dream, or some other kind of transitory state. The idea that apocalypse meant the literal “end of the world” only came about much later, and only a small portion of literature that could be classified as apocalyptic has this quality about it.

So if you really think about it, you could pretty fairly call almost any TV show an apocalypse, in the traditional sense, even if it wasn’t about the imminent collapse of order and society. A TV show is generally a story, or a vision if you will, that is conveyed from producers, directors, and writers through the medium of a box to a human recipient–a.k.a., the audience. Sorry to get so philosophical on you, but I hope you understand my fascination.

Anyway, to return to my original point, one of the primary reasons for the prevalence of apocalypse in our entertainment is that, from a writing standpoint, it’s always a lot easier to destroy then to create. In other words, it takes less effort to tear apart an already existing world than to totally create a new one from scratch as many more ambitious shows attempt to do. The scenario of apocalypse is also incredibly useful for catching the attention of a viewer. Usually, in an apocalyptic TV show, there are clear battle lines drawn early on in the story: the us–against–them mentality. Whether it be aliens, vampires, or something perhaps less personal, like a deadly disease, it is generally very easy to distinguish who is good and who, or what, is bad.

People like watching an apocalypse because it’s not confusing–at least, not in the traditional sense. They like knowing who their heroes are supposed to be and having a solid, recurring villain or two to identify against. You can throw in whatever kinds of plot twists that you like, but in the end, an apocalyptic narrative is a battle between the forces of light and darkness.

It’s true that some shows do a much better job than others of making this somewhat bland dynamic interesting. I like to single out Supernatural for special praise in this regard because of its relatively equal treatment of demons, a force obviously on the side of evil, and angels, the stereotypical “good guys” who are shown to be every bit as fallible and morally ambiguous as their dark counterparts. Even the human characters are constantly tested and turned one way and the other until it’s not really clear who’s on the right side.

Apocalypses are about sorting and order; the separation of things that are different and placement into much more comfortably homogeneous categories. They make us feel good because they offer an escape: one not just from reality into TV fiction, but from a world where things more often than not aren’t in their proper place and don’t make sense when we want them to.

As the renegade bandit John Pope from Falling Skies could testify, the end of the world also offers a tantalizing chance at total freedom that most people will rarely ever get to experience. Certainly the collapse of civilization doesn’t seem to be something that could be in any way positive, but the idea of no longer being bound by systems and rules we don’t agree with fascinates us as viewers. What would we do if we were put in the shoes of these characters? How would we react to the situations they are thrust into on our behalf?

I know a lot of people think that apocalypse stories are old hat at this point, and I’m not going to necessarily disagree with that assessment. My point is just that apocalyptic storytelling exists, and enjoys widespread success, for a very good reason: it draws in audiences, it’s easy to create and continue spin stories around, and it makes big money. So don’t expect it to be going away anytime soon.


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.