Nov 282014

Hello everyone, and welcome to another edition of Channel Chaser! With all the buzz going around this week about trailers and reveals for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII, I figured today might be a good time to address one of Disney’s more current forays into the famous sci-fi franchise: the new, animated series Star Wars: Rebels.


Visually very similar to the past series The Clone Wars, Rebels takes place somewhere between the prequel trilogy and the original movies, with the relatively new Galactic Empire tightening its grip on the galaxy. The story begins on the planet Lothal, an Imperial stronghold, where orphan Ezra Bridger uses his street smarts to make life a pain for the local stromtroopers and officials. Not that it’s really too hard to do–the Imperials in the show are about as bright and accurate as their live-action counterparts.

Through a series of complicated events, Ezra discovers that there are others fighting the Empire like him, albeit in bigger ways: namely, the five-member crew of a renegade starship called the Ghost. These rebels include ace pilot Hera, explosives and graffiti expert Sabine, cranky astromech droid Chopper, the Wookie-like Zeb, and former Jedi turned criminal Kanan Jarrus. Inducted into the Ghost family, Ezra explores the galaxy while battling the Empire’s tyranny wherever it presents itself, eventually discovering that he has the Force skills needed to possibly become a Jedi himself one day.

When I first heard about the series, my initial reaction was mixed. Sure, it sounded like an intriguing premise, and I do love Star Wars, but it was the Disney label that I just couldn’t get over. I mean, it’s supposed to be a kids’ show, right? How great can it be? I was not at all excited about the prospect of my treasured childhood memories being watered down for the sake of today’s P.C. programming standards.

That said, I have been known to be wrong on occasion, and I’m happy to admit that this was one of those times. The hour-long pilot movie was quite promising, if a bit kid-oriented, and the following episodes explored a few interesting ideas such as the origins of familiar Imperial tech like the TIE fighter and the Empire’s brutal, if still off-screen, methods of oppression. It wasn’t until the last few weeks that I really got pulled into the show, with installments like Ezra’s undercover infiltration of the Imperial Academy and an exciting two-parter where the rebels attempt to help an Imperial deserter escape custody.


Putting the slowly improving storyline aside, I’ve also become more and more interested in the characters as well. I find Ezra and Kanan’s relationship to be the most interesting, of course, due to the whole padawan and teacher dynamic they have going on, but it surprises me how much dark subtext exists in their backgrounds for a kids’ cartoon. For Ezra, it’s the loss of his family. For Kanan, it’s the implied horrors he witnessed with the extermination of the Jedi that even now make him resistant to wielding his lightsaber in public. The Empire apparently wiped out Zeb’s whole race, too, making him the last of his kind in the galaxy.

It’s pretty heavy stuff, right? But never fear: Rebels has more family-friendly entertainment in spades, from the somewhat-flirty relationship between Ezra and Sabine to Hera’s motherly role and Ezra, Zeb, and Chopper’s constant bickering, pranks, and antagonism. I’m actually very impressed by how well Disney managed to capture the essence of Star Wars with this series, in that it’s light and fun if you don’t want to think too much about it, and really deep and meaningful if that’s more your thing.

There have also been some vague hints at the directions the show could take so far, all of which could be very cool. Ezra’s lack of control over his Force powers and his pent-up anger make him a possible candidate for going Dark Side at some point, as foreshadowed when he loses his temper and sends a massive space monster on a rampage through Imperial forces. Some familiar faces have shown up in the form of rebel droids C-3PO and R2-D2, and one wonders if more could follow in the coming episodes. And while there’s been nothing to support this so far, it’s a safe bet that the Ghost crew will come to play an important role in the rise of the Rebel Alliance, some of whose future members we have already seen.

Of course, no great series can survive without some good villains, and this is one point where Rebels has not quite delivered to my satisfaction as of yet. Instead of Darth Vader, who must be out taking care of some other really important evil business while all this stuff is going on, we get the Inquisitor, a demonic-looking alien warrior who uses the Force and looks cool doing it with an awesome double-bladed lightsaber. I’m assuming due to his title and his comments thus far that his job is to hunt down possible Jedi for the Empire, but he just doesn’t seem like that much of a threat, what with getting beaten up by the main cast all the time. He’s clearly interested in recruiting Ezra for the Empire, though, so that could be something.

There’s also Agent Kallus, the stereotypical bumbling bad guy who always lets the heroes slip through his fingers and then shakes his fist, yelling, “I’ll get you next time!” It has been hinted, however, that he was responsible for the massacre of Zeb’s people, and the two share an intense hatred, so it’s nice to at least see some kind of emotional connection between the two sides. Hopefully we’ll see more of this in the coming episodes.


My Rating: 3/5

So far, Star Wars: Rebels has far surpassed my admittedly low expectations and proved itself, in its finest moments, to be a truly enthralling story and a great addition to the Star Wars universe. Whether it can keep this up, however, is another story. I’ll be very interested to see how the show develops the many plot threads it has laid out. If they do it as well as they already have, we could have a new Teen Titans-level animated series on our hands. If you’re a diehard fan, you might like it. For families just looking to get into the universe, you’ll definitely like it. Do yourself a favor and check it out before it makes the jump to light-speed.


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.

Nov 242014

I came to an interesting realization after spending some time this weekend playing Pokémon Omega Ruby, the sixth-gen remake of Pokémon Ruby for the Game Boy Advance: during the early 2000s, Nintendo was really obsessed with nautical exploration. You could surf the massive seas of the Hoenn region in Ruby and Sapphire on your Game Boy, then for more seafaring fun all you had to do was pop a copy of The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker into your GameCube.

And for each of these titles, sailing massive oceans had its pros and cons. The biggest downside, of course, is that you are forced to spend way too much time in a massive blue landscape without much to look forward to besides reaching a small island at some point.

And yet, there is something about sailing across the sea that brings with it a great sense of adventure. Which is why, despite the negative criticism I have seen from other reviews, I don’t mind the massive amounts of sailing and diving that must still be done in Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.


Perhaps this is because, I’ll admit, that I had never played the Game Boy Advance originals. I did play the first two generations on the original Game Boy, and I picked up my Pokémon habits again in college after grabbing Pokémon Black, but sadly Ruby and Sapphire came out at that time in my childhood when suddenly it was “uncool” to play Pokémon. Oh, how I now wish I had grabbed a copy back then, because playing the remakes makes me understand why this game is so revered among die-hard fans of those powerful Pocket Monsters.

The story is easily the best I had ever experienced in a Pokémon game, because there is much more of an imminent danger in this world due to these games’ legendary Pokémon. Depending on which version you pick up (I played Omega Ruby), the main antagonists are either Team Magma (Omega Ruby) or Team Aqua (Alpha Sapphire). Both teams try to “better the world” in their own way; Team Magma wishes to expand the world’s continents while Team Aqua wants to expand the oceans. Both teams attempt this by resurrecting an appropriate ancient Pokémon: Groudon for Team Magma, Kyogre for Team Aqua. The awakening of these powerful beasts both lead to impending doom, unless your player can tame them. The plot is engaging, thrilling, and shrouded in mystery (many more legendary Pokémon exist in the Hoenn region, and following the clues to their whereabouts makes for some amazing side quests). The villainous leaders of Team Magma and Aqua are also very memorable, because after unleashing the power of Groudon and Kyogre the two have a change of heart and see the error in their evil schemes.

The gameplay is also nearly perfected. As the next set of games in Generation VI, Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire include many of the newer gameplay features that were present in Pokémon X and Y. Notably, Mega Evolutions make a triumphant return, with the addition of even more Mega Evolutions for Pokémon such as the Hoenn starters, Slowbrow, Sableye, and even Latios and Latias. Groudon and Kyogre get their own special evolution as well; called “Primal Reversion,” Groudon and Kyogre can convert into more powerful, prehistoric versions of themselves when they hold a special orb. Unlike Mega Evolution, however, Primal Reversion cannot be controlled by the player – it automatically happens when you send Groudon and Kyogre into battle as they hold their respective orbs. This takes a little bit of strategy out of battling, but it doesn’t affect too much. Primal Reversion does not prevent you from Mega Evolving one of your Pokémon holding a Mega Stone, for example. If anything, it is a fun new feature that makes two overpowered legendaries even more powerful, which is insanely fun to play with.


Additionally, Mega Stones are much easier to find in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire than in X and Y. In Pokémon X and Y, players are given a one-hour window each night to find Mega Stones, which can only be picked up during that time. This I found to be frustrating and pointless. Thankfully, in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire Mega Stones can be found at any time of the day, which makes Mega Stone hunting feel more like what it should have felt like in the first place – a fun side quest, not a timed mission.

Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire both do something else that X and Y do not: these games cater to die-hard Pokémon fans, and it sure feels that way playing them. The Hoenn region is far more expansive than Kalos. I have already put in at least twenty hours into the game and only now am I reaching the Elite Four. Plus, the number of side quests these games have to offer is staggering; I’m already planning what legendary Pokémon I should go after next once I tackle the Pokémon League. The difficulty I remember from the original Game Boy games, I noticed, has also not gone away. It took one Ultra Ball, in one attempt, to catch Xerneas in Pokémon X. My battle with Groudon in Omega Ruby was much less successful, to the point where I wasted my Master Ball on him, the very first legendary I encountered. I appreciate this level of challenge, as it encourages me to strategize more and build out my team to make it stronger and more powerful.

There is also a little less handholding in these games. Half of my final party in Pokémon X included Pokémon that were given to me at points in the game: Greninja, Charizard, and Lucario. In Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, you are only automatically given two Pokémon during the main story: your starter, and either Latios or Latias. A one-Pokémon difference is actually huge; I found myself spending more time in this game than in X and Y contemplating which Pokémon should be added to my party, and which should be removed.  In these games I am forced to think more, which I appreciate in any RPG.


Secret Bases, a fun feature from the original games, also make a return. Now known as Super Secret Bases, you can spend hours searching for these hidden rooms along routes, which you can transform into your home-away-from-home. I spent so much time trying to get through the main story that I have not spent a lot of time creating my own base, but I am starting to plan more as I look at catalogs of furniture I can buy. Though not necessary to complete the game, Super Secret Bases are a fun feature I look forward to enjoying later on.

There are some downsides to Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire; in particular there are areas where the game does show its age. In Pokémon X and Y, I really enjoyed how the Poké Mart was a part of the Pokémon Center, where you traditionally go to heal your Pokémon after battle. But in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, we have returned to having separate buildings for healing and buying items.  It is inconvenient, but certainly not a game-ruining feature.

The most frustrating thing about these games is the insane number of HMs you have to teach to your Pokémon. There are eight in all: Cut, Fly, Rock Smash, Surf, Dive, Strength, Waterfall, and Flash. As is the norm with HMs, these special moves are used outside of battle and are needed to progress through the game and access other secret areas, but can’t be easily deleted once taught to a Pokémon. If you want to have a winning team in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, you need to designate a random Pokémon as your “HM slave,” in order to teach your main team better moves for battle. Some of these HM moves should have been downgraded to regular TMs for use outside of battle, like Secret Power, which is a move used to discover Super Secret Bases.

But again, these are minor inconveniences. Overall, Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are games that you will enjoy if you grew up with any generation of Pokémon. Each game in the Pokémon series is an amazing adventure, and these games give you one of the greatest adventures in the Pokémon universe. There are many great battles, amazing stories, and so many side quests to undertake that this game will keep you busy, and smiling, for days.


Final Verdict: Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are games for the hardcore Pokémon fan. You get to once again explore one of the series’ most famous regions, but now with updated graphics, music, and with Generation VI gameplay. Though some aspects of the game could have been updated for a smoother experience, the core mechanics that have made Pokémon stand the test of time still remain, and will still bring a smile to your face. An adventure in Hoenn is one of the greatest you will ever experience, and now you can enjoy it again in a way that is almost perfect.


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.

Nov 242014

The holidays are coming. Across the Internet, anime and manga retailers are starting to roll out the big discounts. In a related phenomenon, anime and manga fans are starting to inflict horrible agony upon their wallets. Holiday gifts be damned, we’ve got box sets to buy! While you sit and wait for your favorite series to go on sale, let’s take a look at This Week in Anime.


Here Come the Titans

One story this week stood head and shoulders above the rest: the anime adaptation of Attack on Titan is coming back for a new season in 2016. This was arguably a foregone conclusion given the franchise’s mega-hit status, but at least we’ve finally got something approaching a release date. There are few details on offer at the moment, but it’s safe to assume that the new season will pick up where the first left off.

Given that it’s currently 2014, one might reasonably ask why it’ll be as long as two years before we get any new content. After all, the manga series is already far enough along to allow for another 20-something episodes of anime. If Naruto, Bleach, and friends can crank out episodes nonstop, why not Titan?

I’m as eager for new giant-killing goodness as anyone else, but part of me looks at the faraway release date as a good thing. Part of Attack on Titan’s appeal is that it looks damn good. Watching the anime, you get the sense that much more than a week of work went into each episode. If the production staff wants until 2016 to put a new season together, I’m inclined to give it to them.

Part of my opinion comes from my other life as the owner of a next-gen game console. Lately, it feels like I’ve been seeing more and more titles rushed out into the market before they’re done. Multiple A-list games have been buggy, unbalanced, or suspiciously sparse on content. With one of my hobbies increasingly plagued by impossible deadlines, I’m happy to see Titan take its time. As long as the finished product kicks ass, I’ll wait as long as I have to.


Weekly Spotlight: Toradora!


To heck with timeliness, let’s talk about an old favorite this week. Based on a series of light novels, Toradora! came out back in 2008. Yes, it’s already six years old. A lot of folks, myself included, still use it as a starting point for judging shonen romantic comedies. (Kimi ni Todoke makes a good yardstick on the shojo side of things.) It’s not the outright best or most original, but it’s a perfect example of how to make a good show in a tired old genre.

So what makes Toradora! worth coming back to? For a start, the chemistry between the main characters is fantastic. Ryuji and Taiga play the “opposites attract” scenario about as well as it’s ever been played, and can hit the funny bone and the heartstrings with equal force. They’re backed up by a supporting cast full of characters that could easily carry a series all by themselves. The five members of the core cast all have endearing quirks and believable flaws, and they help lend credibility to the show’s twists and turns.

Toradora! recently got an English dub after years of being available with subtitles. It’s a damn good one, too. After watching the first few episodes out of curiosity, I ended up going back through the entire series. For bonus points, it’s available streaming on Crunchyroll if you don’t want to buy the latest collector’s edition. If you’ve got a friend or relative who’s a sucker for a good rom-com, it could make a good introduction to anime. I’ve yet to see anyone get through the first two episodes without wanting to see more.


This Week in Anime is hastily cobbled together by Paul Jensen. You can follow his ramblings about anime and manga on Twitter. Check back every Monday for new articles.

Nov 212014

Welcome back to Channel Chaser! If you’ll recall a while back, a wrote an article detailing my wish list for the CW Network’s newly-founded DC comics universe, as established by the TV shows Arrow and The Flash. While not all of my hopes and dreams have been confirmed as of yet, a closer look at both of these shows, as well as their promotional materials, can give you some big hints as to what might be coming down the road.

Let’s take this promotional poster for The Flash, for example. Have a nice long look, because there’s a lot to absorb at first glance and some of it is pretty cleverly hidden.


Now here’s the same poster with the potential Easter Eggs highlighted.


Okay, so what do we have here? Well, actually a lot. First, there are the obvious ones: the Queen Consolidated logo, which showcases the prominent ties between The Flash and Arrow. Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen has made at least one appearance across the shows already, as has Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen, and with other characters such as Felicity Smoak visiting Central City as well, it’s pretty much guaranteed that it’s not going to end any time soon. If tentative titles are to be believed, there is also an upcoming Flash episode called “Flash vs. Arrow”, indicating that there may be a clash between the two heroes. It’ll be interesting to see how the skilled but limited Queen manages to keep pace with the speedy meta-human.

Also, S.T.A.R. Labs and Palmer Technologies logos are quite visible in the cityscape. As every fan of the show knows, S.T.A.R. Labs’ role in The Flash is already well-established, and there are possibilities that other figures associated with the company may pop up in the near future, including but not limited to Cisco Ramon and Kaitlin Snow’s transformations into the heroes Vibe and Killer Frost respectively, as well as the all-but-inevitable return of Ronny, Kaitlin’s supposedly dead fiancé, as the meta-human hero Firestorm. It’s also the home of Victor Stone, a.k.a. Cyborg, but seeing as he’s supposed to be in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman movie, I think the CW will steer clear of recasting the role.

Arrow devotees will also note the role of Ray Palmer in that series: the billionaire industrialist who eventually becomes the size-shifting superhero The Atom. Sure, it hasn’t been foreshadowed a lot yet, but…”Bigger Isn’t Always Better”? Come on. The only question is when and how the transformation will take place. It’s always seemed to me like Arrow is trying to steer clear of the whole super-powers thing, leaving that mostly for The Flash to develop, so is it possible that we’ll be seeing more of Palmer and his alter ego in Flash than in Arrow? We’ll have to wait and see on that one.

Also, between the cryptic message “Grodd Lives” scrawled on the pavement, the broken cage from The Flash’s pilot episode, and the recent reveal of Grodd himself in the episode “Plastique”, it’s only a matter of time before Gorilla Grodd shows up as a big bad guy in that show. I’ve always thought Grodd’s whole concept was kind of a goofy Planet of the Apes-type thing, but there’s no denying that he’ll make a powerful foe one he’s been properly introduced. I can only hope that The Flash brings Grodd in tastefully and with a minimum of ridiculousness.

Okay, now onto some more obscure ones. Another company that features prominently in the poster is Kord Industries, which has been hinted at throughout Arrow as well as a business and technology giant. This is of course the company owned by Ted Kord, also known as the tech-powered superhero the Blue Beetle. Fans have been begging for the Beetle to be brought in for a while now, and as one of my personal favorite superheroes, I have to agree. By introducing Kord, or perhaps his futuristic partner hero Booster Gold–hey, anything’s possible because apparently time travel is a thing in The Flash–we could get a nice counterpoint to Barry’s inexperienced and somewhat naïve do-gooder. I’m kind of sad that it seems like the Beetle we get probably won’t be Jaime Reyes, but I can understand how the whole alien storyline that DC gave his character is probably too big of a can of worms for the CW to open at the moment.

You can also see the symbol of Stagg Industries in the background, owned by DC villain Simon Stagg. Stagg is somewhat of a lower-key version of Lex Luthor, in that he’s a brilliant business tycoon who uses immoral means to get what he wants. He’s also locked in battle with the hero Metamorpho, a.k.a. adventurer Rex Mason, who Stagg once betrayed and left for dead. Unfortunately for us, Stagg already showed up in The Flash for a grand total of about ten minutes on screen in the second episode, and was killed at the end of it–a pretty lackluster showing for such a great villain. This throws a lot of doubt on an appearance by Metamorpho as well. I guess you can’t win them all.

Also, the presence of AmerTek’s logo hints at the introduction of John Henry Irons, better known as the hero Steel, and the comic book ties between Steel and Stagg make it even more likely. It seems that the CW is pulling out all the stops to fill up their universe with all the unused DC characters that they can.

And for those of you who want to get really, really subtle, there’s always Big Belly Burger. It’s no secret that this fictional fast-food chain has already showed up a lot in both Arrow and The Flash, but did you know that in the original comics, Luthor Corp owns the restaurant? Yes, the Luthor Corp: as in, Lex Luthor. Again, while it seems unlikely that Luthor will feature on the CW due to the ongoing Superman movie series, nothing is certain as of now.

Fans have also been clamoring for some Batman characters to be introduced to the shows, with non-film or Gotham choices like Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Batgirl, and Dick Greyson’s so-far absent hero Nightwing running at the top of speculation. While this would be the biggest leap of all the spoilers I’ve gone through so far, I still don’t think it’s completely outside the realm of possibility.

Personally, I think that they should give up on DC movies and just throw all the characters into these and other new shows to build the TV universe. But that’s just my opinion. You can take it or leave it, DC. But it’s worth thinking about.


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.

Nov 182014

Starting anew sure is hard.

I think you can understand where I’m coming from, since you know I had to take a long hiatus from writing The Minus World for the past couple of months as I started working full-time. In the beginning I put in long and stressful hours, and I often doubted whether I was even capable of effectively producing the local evening news two times a night, five nights a week. Heck, I still feel that way sometimes. But I have made progress in my work and am much more capable now than I was two months ago, which is why I finally have the time to return to writing this column, which I am indeed proud of.

But the hardest thing about this job isn’t the job. After returning home from my last semester of college and finally feeling comfortable living in New Hampshire again, I was suddenly whisked away to northern Vermont. I’m now living up here, alone, without any close friends to keep me company. And that is the most challenging part of starting any career.

I quickly grew desperate to leave my apartment and do something on the weekend that I knew I would enjoy. As if I received a calling from above, I had my chance just a few days ago. A typical story idea e-mail from my newsroom assignment editor tipped me off to an anime convention happening in the Burlington area, Bakuretsu Con. I was nervous about going to a convention on my own, since I had always gone with friends. But I knew I had to go. Even if I didn’t meet anyone, I reasoned, I could at least wear one of my cosplays, play in some video game tournaments, and get a few Streetpasses on my 3DS. At least I knew I could not possibly walk away from this convention empty-handed.


Once I got past that initial anxiety, this convention turned out to be much like any other one I went to, albeit a lot smaller. Bakuretsu Con takes place across three floors of a Hampton Inn. Exhibition halls and meeting rooms are rented out for panels, merchandise booths and a gaming lounge. Some hotel rooms are even rented and utilized too; one room housed the con’s manga library, for example.

Despite the size, I felt the same sense of community that every other one of these events has given to me in the past. The event coordinators and panelists especially made this feeling possible. One Bakuretsu Con admin moderated the weekend’s several video game tournaments; he was very welcoming and incredibly entertaining (the Mario Kart 8 tournament on Sunday would not have been nearly as exciting without his commentating on every race). A local community college student held a panel on video game music that actually led into some intelligent and thoughtful discussion on a subject I am very passionate about. Her panel, at a tiny convention of no more than 450 people, was infinitely better than OverClocked ReMix’s panel at PAX East earlier this year, which only amounted to a shameless sales pitch and a Shaq-Fu tournament. Every person I interacted with at Bakuretsu Con was incredibly passionate about the gaming industry. It felt good to have such passion go into events from both the coordinators and the fans, after months of being deprived of the chance to celebrate nerd-dom.

It may take some time before I join a new social circle living in a new place, but mustering up the courage to leave the comforts of my apartment this weekend to attend a convention on my own was in every way worth it. It was a solid reminder to me that, no matter where you are in this world, there will always be a place to geek out. There will always be a place where you can meet people who share the same passions as you, from video game music to Mario Kart and Pokémon. And whether you’re at Anime Boston, GameDays, PAX East, IndieCade or even little Bakuretsu Con in Colchester, Vermont, you are no stranger. You will always feel welcomed when you’re in an environment full of passionate gamers, comic book nerds and anime fans. You will always feel part of this community, a community that truly stretches from coast to coast.


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

Nov 172014

Hey, it’s a week! Anime happened! That can only mean one thing: it’s time for This Week in Anime.


Free to a Good Home

Funimation recently announced the English dub cast for Free! Eternal Summer. As one might expect from a series with a very vocal fanbase, they’ve played it fairly safe and brought in plenty of well-known veterans for the job. (Too bad, I was hoping we’d get Shark McShark as Rin) Whether the casting matches your tastes or not, it’s a respectable lineup that should do a decent job, even if some of the characters’ vocal patterns will be tough to replicate in English.

What interests me more than the dub lineup, though, is Free’s unusual licensing situation here in the US. The first season was only picked up by Crunchyroll, while Funimation and CR both ran their own simulcasts for the second. Funimation only has the home video rights for the second season, which is why they aren’t starting the dub process with the earlier episodes. Crunchyroll is the only US company with the rights to the first season, but they don’t normally dub anime, let alone release it on physical media.

It’s possible that the two companies will work out an agreement that lets the same actors, director, and so on work on dubbing both seasons. It’s also possible that Crunchyroll will make a go of it with a different lineup. Heck, we might not see the first season on disc at all. It’s a weird, fascinating situation that appeals to the industry analyst within me. I got as much fun as I’m likely to get out of this series the first time around, so I can just sit back and enjoy the drama. If you’re a fan who wants to own the show on disc, I suspect your interest is a tad less academic.


Weekly Spotlight: Shirobako


After talking about the murder-tastic Parasyte last week, I figured I’d make a sharp left turn and cover a much more upbeat show this time around. Enter Shirobako, an anime series about people making an anime series. If you still have a “make the Inception noise” app on your phone, now would be the time to use it.

The heroine in Shirobako is Aoi Miyamori, who’s recently found a job at an anime production company. Aoi is a production assistant, which is industry code for “person who does everything the senior staff can’t be bothered with.” It’s a stressful job, especially when your fellow PA is an incompetent doofus, the director is a chronic procrastinator, and the key animators are a bunch of over-sensitive drama queens. If you’ve ever worked in any kind of video production environment, you’ll be able to relate to most of the frustrations that Aoi runs across.

This brings me to my one caveat regarding Shirobako: it’s good in a very subjective way. If you’re an anime fan with production experience (me), you’ll love it. It captures the constant mayhem that goes into meeting a strict series of deadlines, but still maintains a reverence for the magic of the finished product. If you’re not in this very particular niche, your mileage will vary. Industry jargon gets thrown around all the time, and it can be tough to keep up even when you understand everything that’s being said.

Shirobako isn’t going to work for everyone, but it’s worth watching a few episodes to see if you fit into its fairly narrow target audience. Veteran fans and folks who are close to the subject matter will find a lot to enjoy.


This Week in Anime is hastily cobbled together by Paul Jensen. You can follow his ramblings about anime and manga on Twitter. Check back every Monday for new articles.

Nov 142014

Welcome back to Channel Chaser! As I was looking back in my massive catalogue of watched TV shows for a review to do this week, I happened to notice in my daily Netflix surfing that the most recent season of the FX series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has finally been uploaded. I was at first very happy, and then immediately flabbergasted about how I could have overlooked on of my very favorite shows in this column for so long.


To start with, the background: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia–or It’s Always Sunny or just Sunny for short among diehard fans–is a sitcom-style show that follows the lives of “The Gang”, a group of five adults who run a perpetually unprofitable dive bar called Paddy’s Pub off of South Street in Philadelphia. True to the name, almost all of the episodes take place either in the pub or in different areas around the city. This may not mean much to most people, but as a longtime resident of Philly, the familiar setting really helps to ground the stories for me in very believable terms, especially when the characters reference places, events, and sports teams in the area.

I said Sunny was a sitcom, and it basically is, although perhaps “black comedy” would be a more accurate description. The show shares a lot of qualities with Seinfeld, possibly the forerunner of all modern sitcoms, in that it is essentially a “show about nothing”: that is, it’s about relatively unimportant occurrences in the humdrum, everyday lives of the characters that directly mirror things that happen to most real people every day, albeit with greatly inflated impact and consequences. Episodes frequently center on the members of The Gang discussing a controversial current topic, from guns to gay marriage to religion, and eventually getting into tremendous arguments over their vastly differing points of view.

In fact, the fan-coined descriptor “It’s like Seinfeld on crack” was eventually adopted by FX as the show’s official tagline. And for good reason: while Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer may have been a bit odd, self-interested, and tasteless at times, the crowd of Sunny takes these less-than-desirable qualities and ratchets them up to an eleven on the scale. The Gang consists of Dennis Reynolds, an incredibly vain and sociopathic man; his sister Dee Reynolds, who is snobby and superficial; Ronald McDonald, better known as Mac, outwardly a tough-guy “man of action” but inwardly a cringing, child-like coward; Charlie Kelly, a filthy, illiterate slob; and Frank Reynolds, father of Dennis and Dee (and possibly Charlie, too) and a scheming con-artist. I’m honestly not sure if The Gang or the Bluth family from Arrested Development should win the title for most dysfunctional cast.

As you would expect from such a motley crew, The Gang’s opinions on the various contemporary issues they are confronted with range from sadly misinformed to horrendously prejudiced. While they always claim to have a unified front, any one of them is willing at any time to stab one or more of their fellow Gang members in the back if it means they will come out on top, and they are all perfectly okay with performing degrading public acts of humiliation just to get what they want. Sunny approaches all these topics with a no-holds-barred, profanity-charged political incorrectness that makes you gasp, laugh, and cringe all at the same time. The supporting cast compliments this idea very well, with recurring characters like Carmen the transsexual, former priest-turned-homeless-drug dealer Matthew “Rickety Cricket” Mara, and the shockingly open actress Artemis DuBois.

The humor in the show is always edgy and usually very tongue-in-cheek as well, and the style of the series chips in to support this, from the incongruously cheery background music to the incredibly blunt and uncreative episode titles such as “Who Pooped the Bed?” and “Mac Bangs Dennis’s Mom”. Direct contradiction between what the characters say and what they do, and frequently even between what they say at one point in an episode and another, also supplements this feeling of confusion and dysfunction.

While Sunny does almost always focus on current affairs in its choice of topics, some of my favorite episodes are ones in which The Gang members get to show off their individual talents–or the lack thereof–in creative endeavors mostly designed to relieve their boredom when they should be working. These include two home-made sequels to the Mel Gibson Lethal Weapon franchise, featuring Mac in questionable blackface, an in-house drinking game involving public humiliation, emotional battery, and physical harm, and a staged musical titled “The Nightman Cometh,” which may or may not be based on Charlie’s repressed memories of being molested as a child.


It’s also worth noting that the actors involved in the show use real life situations to parallel and further relationships in the show. For example, despite their great animosity and antagonism toward each other on-screen, Kaitlin Olson (Dee) and Rob McElhenney (Mac) are actually married. So are Charlie Day (Charlie) and Mary Elizabeth Ellis, who plays the still-unnamed Waitress. In the show, Charlie is obsessively in love with the Waitress and stalks her constantly while she insists that she has no interest in him and that she will never, ever, go out with him.

But the most intriguing and enticing thing about Sunny for me is that, in spite of all of this, at the end of the day, the characters just don’t care. Even though their plans almost always fail miserably and they admittedly can’t stand each other most of the time, there’s just something fascinating about a group of such dysfunctional people who at the end of every episode can shake it off and say, “It’s okay, screw it. Let’s just go get drunk.” In the end, The Gang always has each other, and while nobody on the outside may understand their convoluted–and probably unhealthy–relationship dynamic, it’s strangely and perversely uplifting to know that they’ll just be back at it in the next episode like nothing has happened.


My Rating: 4/5

While its subject matter can frequently be offensive and its humor is often rude and crude, the uncensored feel and pure anarchic energy of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, combined with great character performances of its all-star cast (especially Danny DeVito–did I mention he’s in this show?) make it one you pretty much have to try at least once. Now going on ten seasons, Sunny is still going strong and shows no signs of slowing down. I know I speak for a lot of fans when I say that it will be a dark day in Philadelphia when no one gets the reference, “Hey, want to go down to Paddy’s?”


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.

Nov 112014

This Week in Anime is back! (Pay no attention to last week. It never happened.) This week, I’ll be discussing one of the biggest elephants in the room when it comes to anime and manga. Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say that this particular elephant is on its way out of the room. I’m talking, of course, about the Naruto franchise, which is slowly coasting to a halt.


End of an Empire

Naruto was one of those rare titles that extended beyond the usual boundaries of anime and manga fandom. Ask a random stranger on the street, and he or she could probably at least tell you that it has something to do with ninjas. Even your grandparents are probably aware of its existence. Regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of the franchise, it’s a major part of the subculture we all enjoy.

Persons more qualified and knowledgeable than myself have the multi-year retrospectives covered quite well, so I’ll instead use this space to talk about Naruto as a gateway series. Its transcendent popularity means that Naruto was many fans’ first contact with the world of anime and manga. That sounds like a throwaway factoid, but it’s actually more important than it seems.

Early experiences with a medium or genre can play a big role in shaping the way in which we interact with it further down the line. They help define what kinds of shows we seek out and influence our expectations. Gundam Wing was the first anime series I watched from beginning to end, and it made me a die-hard mecha fan for years. I eventually branched out into other genres, but that giant robot background still shows in the things that make a series enjoyable for me.

To that end, Naruto has influenced the tastes of a large segment of the US fandom in the same way that other folks point to Dragon Ball, Gundam, Cowboy Bebop, or Attack on Titan as their points of origin. You can see its fingerprints on our voracious appetite for super-powered battle scenes, not to mention our willingness to sign up for long-running shows that span hundreds of episodes. New landmark titles will come and go, but fans who started with Naruto will likely continue to hold a preference for its take on the action genre. It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing, merely a point of interest in the US anime market.

With the franchise starting to wrap up, Naruto will slowly fade to the background like other A-list series before it. You can already see its influence fading as Attack on Titan, Sword Art Online, and other popular shows start to make their own marks on the medium. The fun thing now will be waiting to see what else steps up to fill Naruto’s shoes.


Weekly Spotlight: Parasyte: The Maxim


There are a lot of ways to hook someone on anime, but one method is to lean on the medium’s sheer “Holy Crap What Was That” factor. Using animated characters instead of live actors opens the door for some bizarre, violent, and downright trippy visuals without instantly breaking the budget. Epitomized by the movies and OVAs of past decades, anime at its darkest and most brutal can sometimes be anime at its most compelling. Case in point: this season’s best mix of horror and action, Parasyte: The Maxim.

Adapted from a relatively old manga series, Parasyte features a species of (what else?) parasites that take over human host bodies. They can alter their host bodies on the fly to create claws, wings, tentacles, and all sorts of horrible biological weaponry. Naturally, their driving motive is to make lunch out of normal humans. Enter an “Average Joe” main character who has his right hand taken over by one of the monsters. He manages to retain his own free will, so the two of them are forced to coexist.

Parasyte is messed up and horrifying in the best possible way. Plenty of horror series start off by knocking humanity off the top of the food chain, but few do it so insidiously. The show plays with both paranoid psychological tension and gut-wrenching violence, all while drawing the viewer in and making us question what we might do in a given situation. If you’ve got the stomach for it, it’s a great combination of emotional thrills and intellectual stimulation.

That’s all for this week. Until next time, don’t trust your right hand. It may be trying to eat your brain.


This Week in Anime is hastily cobbled together by Paul Jensen. You can follow his ramblings about anime and manga on Twitter. Check back every Monday for new articles.

Nov 072014

Welcome back to another edition of Channel Chaser! This week, I’ve decided that it is long overdue that I throw my hat into the ring on the current debate surrounding one of my favorite TV shows, the British sci-fi series Doctor Who.


With the show’s eighth season coming to a close, fans are more polarized than ever before over a number of different issues: from the characters, to the writing, to the show’s overall tone and direction…you name it, and it’s probably up in the air. This is kind of inevitable, given that Doctor Who is one of those rare long-running shows that changes its entire cast on a regular basis, leading to all kinds of uncertainty and stress as new actors try to mesh with each other and make the series their own, but it seems that Peter Capaldi’s introduction as the Twelfth Doctor has sparked the most intense round of argument yet.

As I see it, the detractors of this past season are divided mainly into three camps: people who don’t like the new Doctor, people who don’t like Danny Pink, and people who just don’t like the direction the show is heading in. I’ll address concerns about the Doctor first, because that seems to be the issue with the smallest amount of debate.

I’ll admit it: I really didn’t like Peter Capaldi at first. I respected how the show-runners were trying to shake things up by introducing a character so vastly different from the Doctor’s more recent incarnations, but I was so pained by the departure of Matt Smith–my favorite Doctor, in case you hadn’t figured that out by now–that for a while I really didn’t think I could give Capaldi a chance. It didn’t help that his lead-in episodes “Deep Breath” and “Into the Dalek” were nothing special. But then I saw “Listen”: a masterpiece of an episode that convinced me that Doctor Who still had what it took to be a great show. It had everything: action, mystery, suspense, and some serious character development for both the Doctor and companion Clara Oswald.

Sure, there have been some other not-so-great episodes like “In the Forest of the Night”, but that’s the same as in every series of Doctor Who. The first season with a new Doctor is always a challenge for the fans, and I feel that people are overreacting to it even more than usual because the Doctor is no longer the goofy, spastic, and loveable chatterbox that he’s been for years now.

I really believe that the writers were using this season to take Doctor Who back to its roots and remind everyone that while he may have good intentions, the Doctor is not human. He may have developed an understanding and compassion for humans over time, but at the end of the day, there are a lot of things about us that he can’t figure out. It also kind of goes with the idea that a consequence of his whole new regeneration cycle–Smith’s Eleventh was technically supposed to be the last–all the progress he has made as a character is erased and he sort of has to start back at square one in terms of personal development. It’s actually a smart move because if they left him as he’s been for the last few years, where would the show go from there?

My last word on this is that, to steal a quote from The Dark Knight, Peter Capaldi may not be the Doctor we–or anyone in his fictional universe, for that matter–need right now, but he’s the Doctor we deserve. When you get too complacent with such a fundamentally alien character, as Clara did with the Eleventh Doctor, you’re guaranteed to get burned at some point. That aside, I find Capaldi’s dry, quiet sense of humor and reserved personality a refreshing dose of realism on a show that frequently gets carried away with its own nonsense.

Honestly, this season might be more about Clara than about the Doctor. The long-running companion has developed in leaps and bounds this series, something that is long overdue since her default cheerfully bossy attitude got really old in season seven. It’s all the more meaningful since the writers haven’t been making it easy for her. I really, really want to like Danny Pink…but I just can’t. Compared to similar characters in past seasons, he’s gotten virtually no screen time and no meaningful development.

It might have helped if Danny actually had the chance to get in the TARDIS and travel somewhere with the Doctor and Clara, but the writers seemed intent on avoiding it for some reason. Many opportunities that could have opened Danny’s mind a bit and made him a more likeable and relatable character were ignored or shut down, to the point where I think that his “death” in “Dark Water” is probably the best thing that could have happened to him. As it is, I feel that Danny was criminally neglected by the show’s overarching story, and I really can’t understand what Clara sees in him without more evidence than we’ve been shown so far.

In terms of the writing overall, one thing I am excited about is the return of the Master. Not that it was surprising, though: I and pretty much everyone else had already figured it out. The big twist reveal of Missy’s identity was overall kind of disappointing, especially since she’s working with the Cybermen now. I liked it a lot better when the Master was sort of a lone wolf, and Cybermen aren’t known for being great villains, so I’m not sure how it’ll play out. I am excited, however, to see the Doctor’s greatest nemesis back in action, and Michelle Gomez has been playing the new “Mistress” version to creepy, obsessive perfection so far.


I’m even more excited with the possibilities it opens up for the series proper. So Time Lords can regenerate into Time Ladies? This opens up a new level of interaction between the Doctor and the Master, as well as a new uncertainty about the Doctor’s future. Is this a subtle hint that, one day soon, we’ll have the first woman Doctor? I feel that it’s a move whose time has come, for a lot of reasons.

I’ll admit the writing for this series hasn’t been the best–episodes that could have been great like “Dark Water”, “Mummy on the Orient Express”, and “Kill the Moon” were just fair and seemed like missed opportunities. But I feel that people are being a bit too harsh in their judgments so early on in Peter Capaldi’s career. He is a good and potentially great Doctor plagued by bad writing–bad in that the writers just haven’t figured out what to do with him yet apparently. Can he be silly, like in “Robot of Sherwood”, or do they want him serious and contemplative like in “Listen”?

Oh, and then there’s that whole thing about Gallifrey not being destroyed and lost somewhere in time and space. Are we ever going to talk about that again? Steven Moffat, quit slow-rolling it and own up to Day of the Doctor, for crying out loud. Is the reappearance of the Master a hint that this may be coming? Here’s hoping.

One thing’s for sure: Moffat and the Doctor Who crew are intent on using Capaldi’s Doctor and this new series to shake veteran audiences out of their comfort zones and make them think again. Controversial? Yes. Jarring? Definitely. But how will it stack up in the years to come? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.


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