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The Return of the King

The gulf between this and 1977's Hobbit is staggering.
With a troubled production and a chasm of tonal difference, you can't really expect anything more from this film than what it is. From word 'go' it was doomed to fail.

I have a strong fondness for the prior animated feature, the Hobbit. Songs were well-incorporated, episodes of that grand book were well-translated to film, even if they were quite hokey or cheesy at times. Regardless, the Hobbit has timeless charm and is definitely worth your time.

Now, take that same formula, but instead of the vibrant, colorful scenes of the Hobbit, let's incorporate the desolate browns, greys, and reds of Return of the King. The film is just far worse to look at than the Hobbit. Songs were incorporated in the first film, so songs are present here, even though all the songs are significantly less memorable, oftentimes interrupting to the point of being disruptive.

Post-hoc reasoning and explanation are the bane of storytelling. If you want to foreshadow the confrontation of "Sauron's right -hand" and Eowyn, you have to set it up. You need to lead with "No man can harm him" and also inform the viewer beforehand of her plan. When she just shows up, and Merry is all like, "Oh, yeah, he're a little exposition about who she is, why she's here, and why you should care!" The same is true with Aragorn's appearance on the black fleet, and several other cases in the film. The story is thus disjointed and unsatisfying.

The fairytale / storybook tone employed by the 1977 Hobbit just does not fly in the epic, saga-ending world-ending scenes of Return of the King.

That being said, if you're interested in the movie, I'd say watch it. What are you doing with an hour and a half? It's got some unique portions of the books that weren't covered in Peter Jackson's film. The voice acting is good. "When there's a whip, there's a way" is the one pretty good song in the movie, and that's worth seeing. But on the whole, this film is not good.

G.O.D: Mezameyo to yobu koe ga kikoe

Actually Incredible
When you start diving into the catalogue of Super Famicom games that stayed in Japan, there is a real set of absolute masterpieces over there, but in over 20 years since the last release on that system, it would seem that the cream of the top has risen to the top. After finishing the absolute cream of the crop, you start to pry a little deeper, and unfortunately, most games are just okay. Not great. Not terrible. Just okay. You start getting stuff like Laplace's Demon, Arabian Nights, Wozz, Emerald Dragon, and at the very bottom of the barrel you have the JoJo game *shudder*. So, you end up with this attitude where you think you've played them all, that nothing will ever touch the greats like Chrono Trigger, Terranigma, or EarthBound.

This game came as a shock to me. The team that worked on it was a group of eclectic people couple with a few eccentric personalities and industry veterans. I figured it would just be another one of those games. And then I started playing it.

Let me front-end this review with this: it's not as good as the greats. The combat is slow and feels unbalanced at times. The soundtrack is overall good, but has some stinkers and is unfortunately kind of limited.

That being said, G.O.D. plays like those aforementioned greats. It tells a dramatic and compelling story that stretches out across an entire world and lasts for over 30 hours. The story consistently keeps you on your toes and lets you know where to go next. There's no wandering around wondering where to go next to get the next story trigger. The humor in the game is sharp and consistently great. Honestly, this game rivals EarthBound as the funniest SNES game. It's got nonsense and absurdist humor, fourth-wall-breaks, real-world references, parody, it is really, really funny. The combat, while fairly unbalanced, is complex and challenging, with special powers and memorable bosses. The pixel art is consistently good. The characters are memorable.

Honestly, if you like EarthBound, you've already player Mother 3 and you're craving more, this is your next game.

Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War

A True Epic
Genealogy of the Holy War has long been well-regarded among Fire Emblem fans. It was the last game produced by industry legend Gunpei Yokoi, and thus regarded as his swan song. Technology had really caught up to the video-game visionaries of yesteryear, meaning FE4 would be the complete package and cutting edge in graphics, sound, and sheer size and scope of a game. The game featured gameplay innovations that were highly influential on the future of the series, perhaps most importantly the weapon triangle (Axes beat lances, lances beat swords, swords beat axes). But beyond its place in history, Genealogy of the Holy War is an exceptionally deep game on its own terms.

"Deep" is the best way I can describe FE4. It has a deep story, deep lore, deep mechanics, deep strategy. The game is demanding of your time and attention if you want to complete it. That's not to say that it's overly long. Time to complete is usually less than 40 hours, although this is longer than pretty much every other Fire Emblem game excepting #3 and #10. What I mean to say is that Genealogy of the Holy War has a lot of moving parts - many, many characters with unique skills, abilities, movement, etc.; mammoth maps with varied terrain and enemies; a tedious and bulky item and money management system; An elaborate and complex love- and second-generation system. On top of that, the game is not especially welcoming to newcomers. I beat the whole game without knowing the 'weapon triangle' even existed, and though I knew that progeny characters would be better than default characters in the second generation, I had no strategy in pairing or passing on weapons.

That being said, I'd recommend playing this game with a guidebook of some kind. There are online resources like fan-made wikis and video game walkthroughs, but this game has a plot twist that's really good, so you don't want that spoiled. A guidebook could help you pick up key items and recruit characters that you wouldn't have know about otherwise, and make plans for the second generation. Playing on an emulator with save states and a fast-forward button may also be helpful as you explore different routes and move more quickly through the game - the game does have its own built-in saves though if save states aren't your thing.

Genealogy of the Holy War is deep, so like I said, it may not be for all players. I struggle to give it a score out of 10 because I have very mixed experiences with it. At times it was slow or frustrating or the music was grating. After playing, I'm disappointed because it feels the game punished me for things I couldn't have known how to do properly because the game never told me about them. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed the sprawling scope of this massive story. It really feels like playing a gargantuan continent-spanning decade-spanning epic holy war, though when you get to the end you realize you've played fewer than 40 hours. The translation kept an air of seriousness yet adventure, and the music and graphics haven't aged a day. Now that I've played and messed so many things up, I kind of want to go back and play the whole thing again and play it right! I rarely feel that about a game. I can easily recommend this game, though I know not everyone will like it. Some people just won't feel good about massive maps or constantly dying and having to reset the game or just the entire style or format of a game like this. Honestly, this game is like no other, and for that, I'd recommend you try it, because you just may love it.

Oh, and if you do enjoy grid-based and strategy-based JRPGs, there's a ton I can recommend from this era. Shining Force II for Genesis is really welcoming for newcomers. Shining Force III, Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen, Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together, Bahamut Lagoon, Treasure Hunter G, Front Mission: Gun Hazard, Mystery of the Emblem, Super Famicom Wars; This era was definitely a good time for the genre.

Poketto monsutâ Howaito

An Embarrasment for the Pokemon Franchise
I, like pretty much everyone else my age was a huge fan of Pokemon as a kid. It's hard to describe what a cultural phenomenon it was in the late 90s, and the hype train rode through the 2000s. However, even back then, I smelled something rotten in Pokemon. I didn't notice it until Emerald. I realized that the developers were releasing lower-quality titles at first, then they'd release basically the "full version". It started with Green, Red, and Blue, while Yellow was one with more content; you started with a Pikachu, like Ash from the show, and you could get all the starters over the course of the game. The same thing happened in Gen 2: Gold and Silver were good, but Crystal had the most content. Ruby and Sapphire were followed by Emerald. Diamond and Pearl were followed by Platinum. Now, to be fair, remakes of the games, like Fire Red & Leaf Green and Heart Gold & Soul Silver eschewed this technique.

Nevertheless, making a lousy version of a game only to make fans buy a second "full version" feels slimy, right? Try to wring as much money out of the waiting parents' wallets. I mean, splitting your game into two isn't so bad. It encourages two friends to get the two different versions so they can trade exclusive Pokemon between them. But releasing a third is almost like the modern industry standard, where AAA games get released as unfinished products, only for you to wait for more DLC.

Game Freak threw the formula out of the window with Pokemon Black and White. There's very little you can say objectively about Pokemon. Most of the games are pretty similar, and the Pokemon designs will mostly just come down to preference. Some people swear by the Gen 5 designs, while I don't like most of them. What isn't subjective is the fact that Pokemon Black and White have very little content in them compared to all other main-line Pokemon games (except for maybe Gen 1). I mean, just compare the number of towns. In Sinnoh, there are 13 towns to pass through to get to the Elite 4. In Hoenn, it's 15. Unova is only 10. It's a lack of content.

A year and a half later, out come Black 2 and White 2. And you kind of need to play the first two games to be caught up on the story of the next two. The thing is, Black 2 and White 2 are completely good games. They stand strongly alongside other mainline titles. They add in so much more content that it feels like a full game. Black and White, on the other hand, feel like Pokemon games that are missing 1/3 of the actual game.

You can't really criticize Black and White on the terms of gameplay or story, because it's Pokemon, it's the same as always. But for shear lack of actual game, for lack of content, for such a lackluster and small game, these titles should be considered the black sheep of the Pokemon franchise. These games should be remembered for what they are: Game Freak knew that even if they pushed out a lackluster product, people would not only eat it up anyway but also buy the sequels as proof that the 5th Gen isn't less than any other. This was the game that soured me to Pokemon, and after White 2 I never played another Pokemon again, and I almost certainly never will. Maybe it's for the best. Pokemon is a childhood thing you outgrow. Maybe I should be thankful for this unfinished game, because it finally woke me up and I finally moved on.

Ninja Gaiden Trilogy

Wily Wars 2: Electic Boogaloo
Ninja Gaiden for the NES was dang hard. Like, way hard. But it was great. It was a fast-paced action-heavy action-platformer in the same vein as Mega Man or Castlevania, but the tremendous difficulty here almost puts those games to shame. Seriously, this game is tough, but rewarding. It had good music, epic boss fights, cutscenes that were really spectacular for the time. You played as a Ninja in side-scrolling levels fighting demons or aliens or whatever, and you could pick up special weapons like shurikens to help you on your quest.

Now, the title of my review is Wily Wars 2: Electric Boogaloo. That's because I recently did a review of Sega Genesis's Mega Man: the Wily Wars. Like Super Mario All-Stars, it was a re-release compilation cartridge of multiple NES games, but while Super Mario All-Stars served to faithfully recreate the gaming experience and enhance the visual and audio components of its source material, Wily Wars was a series of uncanny ports that threw off the controls, visuals, and sound, creating a sometimes-improved-sometimes-worsened variation on the original game. That's exactly what happened two years later to Ninja Gaiden Trilogy.

The Ninja Gaiden Trilogy is basically the same game you know and love. Thankfully, unlike Wily Wars, the gameplay was replicated nearly completely faithfully. The disappointment comes in with the audio and visuals, and the control. In the audio department, the Trilogy opted for all-new music rather than updated versions of the old tracks. Sure, some of these tracks are fine and even great, I feel they don't match the NES quality. With the visuals, a lot of sprites and backgrounds got updated, but not in a very meaningful way. For instance, the NES versions had parallax scrolling, but the "enhanced" re-release didn't. A lot of the sprites, despite looking updated compared to its NES predecessor, still look very old for a video game released in 1995.

Last, the control. On the original NES, you had two buttons: B to attack, and A to jump. To use a special weapon, hold up and attack. On SNES, despite a wildly different controller, they keep this layout. They could have had a place in Settings to change your control, to use, say, B jump and Y attack, with A or Y or even L or R being the special attack.

Now, Ninja Gaiden Trilogy is not completely worthless. If you've never played the NES games, you wouldn't even be able to tell these differences. Some of the music is, in my opinion, better. There is a password system that curbs the difficulty, though a battery save would have been more welcome.

The last problem with the game is that the cart is extremely expensive, over $100. For that, you can buy an NES and the three NES carts.

Super Mario All-Stars was great, fondly remembered and still holds up today. It makes the imagination run wild with possibilities. Castlevania Compilation? TMNT Compilation? But we ended up with a botched Mega Man compilation on Genesis, and a botched Ninja Gaiden compilation. Not a terrible game, but such a disappointment.

Mega Man: The Wily Wars

Super Mario All-Stars It's Not
It's hard to say what a change from 8-bit to 16-bit brought to the gaming world. Today, graphics and sound really haven't changed all that much in the last 10 years, but to make the leap from 1985 to 1995 was enormous. Sound got better, music got better, graphics got better. So, in 1993, Nintendo decided to port four NES Mario games to the Super Nintendo with some updated graphics. Thus, Super Mario All-Stars was born.

The games weren't completely perfect. They changed up some physics. But, generally, it was four classic Mario games with updated sound and graphics. Of course it sold like gang-busters, becoming the second-best-selling game of the Super Nintendo.

At this time, Capcom was closely tied to Nintendo, but they were looking to branch out to Nintendo's main rival, Sega. They ported their Street Fighter II arcade game to Sega, where the product sold well. Capcom's Blue Bomber would get a game for the Genesis, but Sega outsourced the project, and, according to artist Keiji Inafune, development was slowgoing and difficult. After all was said and done, the game was not even released in North America. It was only released in Japan and the PAL regions. It came to North America through a subscription service called the Sega Channel. It was called Mega Man: The Wily Wars.

So, what is Wily Wars? The premise is that sometime after Mega Man 3, Dr. Wily built a time machine to go back in time to defeat Mega Man. The game includes Mega Man 1, 2, and 3. Once you complete those, there's a fourth section, Wily Tower, where you can pick any 8 of the 22 Robot Master weapons from the first three games. This game sounds like a great idea! Unfortunately, it didn't turn out great.

The biggest problem behind the Wily Wars is that it's not a faithful port. Physics are a little messed up, the sounds and music have a tinny Genesis sound rather than the crisp NES sound. Enemies and bosses have more frames of invincibility. For people who are familiar with the NES originals, playing this game will probably be a chore. The bonus content, Wily Tower, is good, but the Metal Blade is so overpowered that it kind of breaks the game.

What breaks my heart is that this game could have been an all-time classic. If they had had more time or maybe hadn't outsourced it, or maybe even ported it to Super Nintendo rather than Genesis, this could have been a killer app. You look at the sprite work, and it really looks like a graphically souped-up Mega Man, but the whole package doesn't come together. What a disappointment.

If you're not familiar with the NES games, you could try this game first, because you won't know the difference. Unfortunately the PAL region one will play on the Genesis only with a Galoob Game Genie, but even then it's super-slow because it's 50 hz instead of 60. Meanwhile, the Japanese one's in Japanese. I suppose you can get it on an emulator, but be careful which one you pick - in some it won't save that you've beaten the game, meaning you never unlock Wily Tower.

As John Greenleaf Whittier said: "For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: 'It might have been!'"

Live a Live

Play this game; you won't regret it.
If you're a fan of SNES RPGs, Live A Live is a surprising little gem that seems to have flown under most people's radar. This game is basically 7 RPGs in one, with an 8th to tie them all together. Each separate game takes place in different times and settings across history. This, in general, is a huge plus; it's unique and lets the game get a lot of mileage out of its battle mechanics, because it explores them across different settings and characters. Unfortunately, that does lead the game to being a bit inconsistent. Live A Live is a game of high highs and low lows. To me, the game is at its best in the Western part, the Sci-Fi part, and the Medieval part, with the Present-day, Ancient China, and Pre-history falling in the middle, with the Near-Future, Ninja, and Final Chapter being significantly less fun.

In some levels, the battle mechanics really shine, while in others, they're either tedious, boring, or unbalanced, and I think that's really what drags down my less-preferred chapters. One thing I will give this battle system: after each fight is over, you go back to full health. I think this was a brilliant design system. The worst part about grinding in other games is not just the battle itself, but having to go back to the town to heal, only to come back to grinding. By putting you back to full health every time, the developers can make each battle hard, and you can end up dying to some random enemy. You can't just win by button-mashing in most cases, so that does keep the combat relatively fresh.

However, when the combat works, it works. Especially the parts where you're over-leveled, it just feels good to lay a smack-down on enemies, and a wide variety of moves for each character and skillful animations keeps momentum going. Besides this, the game keeps up a good pace by splitting the game in nine sections, meaning even if you don't particularly enjoy one section, a new one is right around the corner to tickle your fancy.

This game absolutely knocked it out of the park when it comes to genre. One of the reasons I liked the Western chapter so much is because it feels substantially like you're not just watching a Western; you're Clint Eastwood in a Western. Each story borrows heavily from its genre and conventions. The Sci-Fi chapter is very similar to Alien. The near-future chapter borrowed from contemporary shonen anime. Each setting is brought to life by distinct and savvy music. The music from the China section specifically evokes imperial China, The Ninja chapter traditional Japanese music, and the main theme from the Western is so evocative of the "For a Few Dollars More" and "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" main musical themes. These 16-bit soundtracks sound good even today. One thing I would say about the music is I wish there were more! There are some odd patches of silence during the game, times when it felt like music should be playing. Though, consider this: my only complaint with the music is there wasn't enough of it.

Besides the music, the writing for each scenario is tight and well-constructed, unlike so many SNES-era RPGs that had convoluted plots. The characters have motivation that makes sense, there's drama, suspense, and it's funny in a good handful of places. I have to tip my hat to Aeon Genesis, they did a great translation.

Oh, and one last really, really frivolous complaint: I don't like a handful of the default names. Most games I play have pretty good default names, but I found myself customizing names in several of the games. Trivial, I know.

If you're a fan of RPGs, especially for the SNES, maybe this one slipped under your radar. Give it a try, it's really good.

Tenchi souzou

Undeniably fanatastic, but . . .
Terranigma is a great game, and it's a shame it never got a release in North America. It's probably in the top 10 SNES RPGs, or even in the top 25 games on the system (which has arguably the best library of any console). The controls are tight, the story moves at a brisk, enjoyable pace, the soundtrack is absolutely gorgeous, there are funny moments, dramatic moments, and somber moments. This game should be played by just about anyone, especially fans of RPGs or action-adventure games like Link to the Past. If I had one criticism to level at the game, leveling is kind of unbalanced, and sometimes you have to grind, which is totally jarring when you're moving through a brisk, story-driven game. But this is relatively minor, Terranigma really is a must-play.

Now, I'm about to go into a spoiler, and I really don't want this game spoiled to you. I'm giving you a chance. Go out and play it. This next section is for people who have already played the game. You probably won't even get what I'm saying if you haven't played it. Terranigma is one of the best-kept secrets of the SNES, are you really going to ruin it for yourself. Leave, go play it, and come back to this review. Please? You think it's not a big deal, it is. All right. Everybody gone? Okay, here we go.

I hesitate to say that the story of Terranigma is great. It's made up of a bunch of great parts, but look back on it as a whole, and you're like, "huh?" I would relate it to this one episode of the Simpsons. Sideshow Bob takes Bart to a fictional "Five Corners" (analogous to the U.S.'s real-life "Four Corners") where five state boundaries intersect. Bob will stand in the first state, stick his gun over state line, pull the trigger in the second, it will pass through the third, strike Bart in the fourth, and he will fall dead into the fifth. No chapter or event breaks the narrative in Terranigma, but the sum total doesn't really make any sense. Last chance to back out, I'm spoiling the whole plot.

Okay, here's the premise. The planet is a sphere with an exterior face (represented by Light Gaia, or God, growth, progress) and an interior face (ruled by Dark Gaia, or the Devil, death, destruction). Over time, life evolved on Earth (much like on our world), but Dark Gaia rose up to oppose this life. After a climactic battle in Antarctica, neither side was victorious, and the continents and life were sunk into the sea. Good so far? Good. Now, what does Dark Gaia want? I suppose the destruction of life. So hasn't Dark Gaia achieved that? No, you'll tell me, because all life was in stasis, not death. Okay. But what's the difference? Light Gaia didn't seem to be resurrecting them anytime soon. No life on the surface world seems like a win to me.

Well, let's chalk this up to Dark Gaia pathologically wants everyone ever dead. Okay, so Dark Gaia takes a human from the Light world and either corrupts him or reincarnates his spirit into a dark being, the protagonist Ark, but Ark doesn't know anything about this. Dark Gaia makes spiritual projections of himself to serve as villagers and re-creates a village from the Light world just to raise Ark. He even re-creates a princess, Elle, to serve as Ark's lover? Why . . . ? I suppose this is to lull Ark into a sense of security and heed the word of the Elder, but why does he need her to be a copy of a real person? I guess you could argue that Dark Gaia cannot create, only mimic. But later, when your talk to the villagers of the Dark World, they become spooky scary spirits, but not so with Elle? Why?

Okay, so, in short, Dark Gaia, the Devil, tricks Ark into thinking it's his duty to resurrect the surface world. Interesting Dark Gaia wants to resurrect the surface world only to kill it again, but I've already mentioned that. Dark Gaia's ultimate goal seems to be to awaken his prized pawn, Beruga, a mad scientist who froze his body and made concoction that can turn people into zombies. How people becoming zombies is a benefit to Dark Gaia, I have no idea. Anyway, Dark Gaia puppeteers Ark into resurrecting humanity and helping it with scientific progress, only to develop the technology to awaken Beruga. His task accomplished, Dark Gaia, appearing in a dream as the Elder, tells Ark that he has completed his mission, and he can just go die. Ark discovers he was tricked.

Ark is told by the forces of good to find the five Starstones and take them to Antarctica, to the site of that epic battle. When he takes them there, his original Light world self appears, tells him that our protagonist, Ark, is the chosen one, and kill him. WHY? We are told that Ark was created from the Light world in the Dark world so that he could be an agent of both Light and Dark, and that's why he is the legendary warrior. It seems he wasn't just taken from the Light side, or this guy that appears and kills you would be one and the same as you. Our protagonist isn't wholly from the Dark side though. So who is this Light side Ark? Why does he kill you? Is it because you awoke Beruga? If the damage is already done, why does Ark need to be killed? It makes no sense.

Of course, our protagonist, Ark, is reborn as a baby through the power of Light Gaia. Let's not even question this. Dark Gaia sends out Elle from the Dark side to kill the baby. However, when Elle sees that it's Ark, she refuses. Why does she have a will of her own? Is she not a creation of Dark Gaia? Anyway, she sacrifices herself to defeat Yomi, Ark's little demon and traveling companion. Luckily, Ark gets Yomi's counterpart from the Light side, so no problemo there. Oh, yeah, Ark grows up into a full adult and becomes the legendary hero, this is the power of magic, I'm not even questioning that.

Ark and a ragtag team of buddies he has met along the way attack Beruga's fortress and destroy his airship with the biological weapon. Ark then must face Dark Gaia himself. After an epic final battle, Dark Gaia is defeated, "sealed" away. Ark realizes, as a creation of Dark Gaia, he will disappear. He awakens in his home town, the lovely place he grew up knowing, and as he falls asleep, he dreams he's a bird, flying over the surface world. Now, this ending is great. Great music, great dialogue, an altogether fitting conclusion. But, when you look back, you say, "But wasn't Ark originally from the Light side, and he was resurrected by Light Gaia, so why can't he go live in the Light side? I guess in my interpretation, Ark survived that final battle with Dark Gaia, but because of Dark Gaia's defeat, he split in two, the Light Ark going back to the surface world and the Dark dying in the underworld.

Anyway, like I said, the story hits really strong beats, but there are some pretty significant breaks in the internal consistency. Still a great game, you have to play it (hopefully you already have).

Megalo Box

A Modern Masterpiece
I went through a good period where I was pretty into anime, but eventually, I just got bored with the medium. Check out what's airing the same season as Megalo Box: a handful of continuing shows, a bunch of sequel series, and all of it is very "anime" - I'm talking art style, writing, most slot very nicely in with their contemporaries. Don't get me wrong, anime is not inherently bad, there's just a ton of it, and the shows start to blend together. In this horde of anime, Megalo Box stands out as a unique, raw, and awesome sports anime.

The show is propped up considerably by its distinctive art style. Beautiful backgrounds and unique character designs are the hallmark of this show. It doesn't look like its peers. If it looks like anything, it's 90s anime like Cowboy Bebop or Trigun. And I say the show looks better for it. Honestly, the art direction on the show is stunning, and is probably the top draw for the show.

As for plot, it's a pretty standard underdog story framed in a tournament arc. This approach is simple, yet effective. The show does a great job in characterizing its characters, specifically Joe, Nanbu, and Sachio, in a myriad of little ways. The characters are brought to life by excellent voice acting. The drama of the show comes from the high stakes of each match and our desire to see (the average) Joe overcome. The show has a great sense of narrative stakes and ramps up the tension in each episode, even when there's no boxing in the episode.

Beyond narrative stakes, tension and other emotions are promulgated by the intensely vivacious and superb soundtrack. The music in this show is so excellent, and well-integrated in the story.

If I had to offer some complaints, tons of anime offer these cheap shortcuts of not showing speaker's faces so they don't have to animate the lips or jaws. Many frames have little-to-no movement in them. This is distracting to me because I look out for stuff like this, it's probably not something that too many people actually care about. Besides that, the actual boxing matches could do with some better boxing choreography. Odd angles and strange pacing in the fights hampers the show. Hajime no Ippo and Rocky Balboa are both better examples of how to frame and direct the sport of boxing.

These complaints are relatively minor, and the show itself is fantastic. Honestly, it just feels refreshing to have an anime that a (mostly) original property that tells an inspired story in an inspired way with an inspired art style. The show smacks of passion, originality, and creativity, all things that I value in art. This is one of the best shows I've seen in recent memory, and I think this one is going to have a long shelf life.

Avengers: Infinity War

It Feels Like a Real Comic Book Movie
Some could argue that the booming comic book film industry has grown a little stale since its inception with 2000's blockbuster X-men. Some argue that it's just the same shtick of hero-fights-bad-guy. There are a few titles that have been absolute standouts that work in a vacuum as a piece of media, such as the Dark Knight trilogy and Logan. However, one disappointment I've long held is that the stories don't feel like a comic book.

Naturally, stuff is inherently lost in adaptation from comic book to the big screen. If you want to see what happens when we try to re-create media in a new medium, you need look no farther than 2014's The Killing Joke. The last third of the film was nearly panel-by-panel identical to the original comic, but most fans would tell you that the comic is still head and shoulders above. But, that's neither here nor there.

The essence or flavor of comic books was perfectly expressed in Sam Raimi's Spider-man Trilogy (yes, even the third one). The stories seemed to juggle subplot and characters, but the narrative weaved them all together effortlessly. Some of the most effective moments in a film were just that - moments. These films showed a deep respect and appreciation for comic books.

Then, Batman and Iron Man show up, and the stories gained a new form. Like I said, adaptations inevitably require changes, but it seemed like the studios had abandoned this style. I did see glimpses of it in films like the first Avengers and in Civil War, but for the most part, I was slightly disappointed.

Infinity War brings it back. It feels like an event comic. The story trades back and forth between several subplots, the heroes don't need to explain who they are or their backstory and motivations because we already know these characters, we've spent films with them. The villain is menacing and memorable (I'd say even more compelling than Thanos in the original Infinity Gauntlet comic). Characters die and there's already setup for them to come back. The story is somehow organically a collection of moments yet still somehow flows as a compelling whole.

Avengers: Infinity War is a big, dumb, action flick. The dialogue, shot composition, editing, etc., are all above-average, but none of it is pushing cinema to new heights. What makes it great is the feeling it can give the audience thanks to great characters and good storytelling.

Rune Factory 4

Bigger is Not Always Better
Rune Factory 3 is one of my personal favorite games, so how did Rune Factory 4 turn out worse? In many ways, the game's better. It looks better, there's no slowdown, you can play as a guy or girl, they fixed the "you can't pick up same items of different quality levels" problem of the last one, you can make valuable building stone out of your rocks, and you can befriend boss monsters, so what gives?

First off, let me say that the appeal of the Harvest Moon / Rune Factory series is on full display with this game. The whole concept is that you come into possession of a run-down farm and it's your job to tend to it, meet the nearby villagers, mine, fish, fight monsters, etc. This is the kind of game you're signing up for. And in that light, the game's good. But, compare it to its predecessor, RF3, and you start to see cracks in the design.

Rune Factory and Harvest Moon are all about freedom and allowing you to do what you want. Unfortunately, Rune Factory 4 feels the need to hold your hand in guiding you from one dungeon to the next. I'm also disappointed that the dungeons are so far from the town. It's just a chore to get out to the dungeon you're trying to beat. I guess that's why they included the airship, but I preferred not to use it. It didn't feel like a cohesive part of a fantasy world, and part of the appeal of being in a fantasy world is to travel through the world. You're no longer free to go where you want. You're confined to where you've already been until you beat the boss.

One of the weirdest changes was the removal of the grid system on your farm. I guess that makes the randomly-appeared refuse appear more random, but it was seriously frustrating when you were plowing your field and it turned out all irregular.

I was also severely disappointed by the modification of the bulletin board/mailbox mechanic, which I felt caused a loss in characterization of the NPCs. It seems random NPCs assigned you tasks in the mailbox, and it didn't feel rewarding to complete them, because they felt like tasks, chores, or tutorials.

Instead, to learn more about the characters, we're given random events, which are waaay too sparse and sometimes relatively pointless. With all the random events in the game, there should have been one like every week, but no luck there. This random event is especially frustrating when you try to get married. You save the game the night before, find out that the day is a random event, so you restart the game, invite your partner into your party, and then save again. You go to bed, wake up, and hope that the person leaves. If they don't you gotta restart again. Do that over and over. If that is not the most frustrating, gameplay-interrupting thing, I don't know what is.

Along with love, they took away the dates of RF3 and replaced them with these very disappointing dates in bland, local locations and rudimentary, middle-school style romantic banter.

And, of course, the plot. I titled my review "Bigger is Not Always Better" because this game has gigantic plot that made me think I was playing a JRPG. When the villain of your game has an airship that is a floating landmass and plots to become a god to rule the world, you should maybe think to yourself, "Isn't this game based on Harvest Moon, a simple, farm-simulating game?" The plot is not bad per se, but it's so sprawling and epic that it really takes away from the down-to-earth-iness that has been part of the charm of these games up until now.

Maybe it seems like I'm bashing the game a lot, so why 8/10. i have to admit, I'm a sucker for these games. I love the gameplay and mechanics. It's fun to own your own farm, do what you what to make yourself rich and powerful, fight the bad guy, and get the girl. Rune Factory 4 is a thoroughly enjoyable Rune Factory experience, and its modern hardware really blows the original out of the water. I went from playing Rune Factory 4 to Rune Factory, and let me tell you, the 2006 game felt like a 1996 game by comparison. This game did bring a lot to Rune Factory. Befriending the boss monsters is one of the best features, and I liked the Prince(ss) Points and the various rewards and upgrades you could make to the town. I like how the Elder Dragon was not the final boss, unlike the other three games in the main series. The NPCs were thoroughly likable and had unique dialogue every day. This game is good, like I said. But, I have to recommend Rune Factory 3 over it.

Rune Factory 3: A Fantasy Harvest Moon

Why You Should Play Rune Factory 3
I'll admit, I have a lot of bias towards this game. It was a big part of my adolescence. However, in my opinion, this is the definitive Harvest Moon / Rune Factory game.

I played Harvest Moon SNES first, then Rune Factory 3, then 4, 1, and 2. When I got Rune Factory 3 as a present and saw the tagline, "A Fantasy Harvest Moon," that came with a lot of expectations. Honestly, this game met and surpassed those expectations.

Harvest Moon and (by extension) Rune Factory are all about young adults (usually males) moving to a new town and fixing up a dilapidated farm. You have the freedom to take it at your own pace, and the games give you plenty of other stuff you can do to pass the time instead. In Rune Factory, these include mining, foraging for items, fighting monsters, crafting, forging, brewing potions, talking to townspeople, giving gifts to them, participating in festivals, falling in love, going on dates, getting married, and having children. Now, let me tell you how Rune Factory 3 incorporates all this better into its gameplay than any other game in the series.

All Rune Factory games have a plot, but, by far, Rune Factory's is more tied into the gameplay. The combat has again received a huge upgrade, with more unique and fluid moves in fighting enemies, as well as even more spells to use in fighting. The story incorporates each new dungeon as a place that the in-game player-character would actually explore. You are rewarded for forwarding the plot with relevant rewards. You can't start forging or crafting without going through the second dungeon. You aren't taught how to make a wedding ring until the final dungeon is beat. The story is built on relatable and human characters, and the bulletin board requests (along with the mailbox) are great framing devices for character progression. The dungeons are legitimately challenging and give you a feeling of accomplishment for finishing them.

Maybe it seems like my thoughts are kind of jumbled, but that's because so many of this game's mechanics overlap. If you want to beat a dungeon easier, you're going to want to forge some better weaponry. To do that, you need a forge. For a forge, you need to farm or find another way to make enough money, and you need to cut timber to buy the forge. You are also going to need ore to use in the forge. To get ore and timber, you need a hammer and an axe, which you get for free by responding to requests on the bulletin board.

A great addition to the game is the unique dialogue of NPCs every day of the year, giving you incentive to go out and talk to them every day. The bulletin board and mailbox requests, as I mentioned earlier, serve to characterize all of these people even further. If you go through all of the requests (not including simple or battle requests), nearly all of the NPCs will have character development. They'll grow and change.

This game is an ultimate experience in escapism. It's a game where work is easy, everybody is friends with you, and you become rich and powerful. Honestly, for some people, this game will mean very little, but, for others (like me), it will be a special experience where your hard work and dedication pays off in tangible ways.

Is this game perfect? Of course not. One of the most frustrating mechanics was that items that had different quality levels and also weapons didn't stack. That means that normally you can pull up nine of an item and hold that as one inventory slot, but if you have a row of yams that 2 are level 3 and 4 are level 4, you're going to be picking stuff up and sorting it out for days. Your inventory usually consists of like 30% weapons and tools, 30% food and potions, leaving you only 40% space for items you pick up. The furniture you can buy is pointless and kind of gets in your way. The bonus dungeons in the basement have a stupid abrupt difficulty spike. Axel Disaster, a spear magic attack, is completely broken in this game, you equip some high-attack-level weapon and wreck everything in sight with very little risk of being injured.

These, to me, are silly nitpicks. The game itself is the definitive Harvest Moon / Rune Factory experience. Its story and the sense of accomplishment drives you forward, and the characters are well-rounded and have humanity. It's really good. This is why you should play Rune Factory 3.

Rûn fakutorî 2

Rune Factory Steps Up
This is what I expect from a sequel. Course-correct from the mistakes made in the first, but keep its flavor and spirit.

The appeal of the Harvest Moon and Rune Factory games is that the game gives you freedom of choice. Naturally, most paths lead to you getting rich, but you get to pursue that as you wish: farming, fishing, mining, raising animals, fighting monsters, foraging. No matter how you want to play it, the game rewards you with a feeling of accomplishment.

The game course-corrects from many mistakes of its predecessor. The NPC are given more character through their weekly schedules, unique dialogue in different locations, and the bulletin board requests. The RP system is fixed and nowhere near as restrictive. The combat is better, with new weapon-oriented magic attacks. The weakest point of Rune Factory, marriage and child-bearing, becomes a focal point in this game. Unlike all other entries to the series, this game has a 'second generation', where after you marry, the other bachelors and bachelorettes marry and have families of their own. I love this, it makes the town feel more alive beyond your player's actions.

Of course, this is by no means a perfect game. Forging, Crafting, and Cooking, and even the more challenging combat are saved until later in the game. The combat often amounts to button-mashing. The final dungeon is infuriatingly time-consuming, while the final boss is kind of anticlimactic. This type of game in general is not for all players. It's a much more laid-back experience, where much of the accomplishment is felt in patience and long-term success.

As much as I like this game, I like its sequel even more.

Rûn fakutorî: Shin bokujô monogatari

The Fantasy Successor to the SNES Harvest Moon.
Harvest Moon was a deceptively simple game when it came out for the SNES back in the early 90s. You played as a young adult who came into possession of the family farm and had to clean it up and tend to it. The player was free to spend his days fishing and talking to townspeople if he wanted, or he could raise cows and chickens, cut timber and make his house bigger. There were different girls to court and give gifts to. The game was relaxing and enjoyable, and it had a real sense of progression with well-placed events and seasonal changes. I played through that game maybe 3 or 4 times as a kid.

Then, I got Rune Factory 3 as a present. The Rune Factory series includes the description: "A Fantasy Harvest Moon." Naturally, I was excited to play it.

This review is about Rune Factory 1, though, so I'll tell you about this. I played RF3, then 4, then jumped back to 1. Compared to its successors, Rune Factory 1 is pretty clunky and lacks some of the features and charm of later installments. On its own, though, I can safely say that this game is very enjoyable.

It takes the freedom of Harvest Moon and gives you even more options. There is now cooking, crafting, and forging of armor and weapons. There are more festivals, birthdays, and events. There are monsters to fight and dungeons to explore. There is a long-form storyline that's not necessary to complete but is rewarding and enjoyable. Coming right off the SNES Harvest Moon, Rune Factory is exactly what you want from a "Fantasy Harvest Moon".

Unfortunately, this game is not coming right off the SNES Harvest Moon. There had been years of sequels and innovations separating these titles, yet Rune Factory plays much like and old game. The combat is barely better than A Link to the Past, where you run around and try not to get hit, waiting for the right moment to mash the attack button. You do have a good variety of weapons, but the combat is still stale. It's sad that the villagers don't have very varied dialogue, something that later series entries incorporated. The RP system was way too restrictive on your actions. Marriage and having a family was very poorly managed. Once you get married, your wife now has only a handful of dialogues and just stands around at home every day. After 180 days, she will remark that she had a baby and you get to see an artistic rendering of the infant, but then he's never heard from again. The gameplay of farming and getting rich is surprisingly less infectious than Harvest Moon. Once I had gotten married and completed the story, I didn't feel compelled to keep farming and keep playing, so that was the end for me.

To me, these are all nitpicks, things that could be added to make the game better, not that their inclusion made the game bad. I really liked Rune Factory. Sure, it's old and clunky, but it's fun, charming, and relaxing. It's definitely worth playing.

Final Fantasy VI

Perhaps the Most Overrated Game of All Time
I had heard so many great things about this game. It has been hailed as the greatest Final Fantasy game, the greatest RPG on the SNES, or even the greatest JRPG of all time. Naturally, I went in with high hopes. Boy, was I disappointed.

To be fair, I didn't play the game all the way through. I played it for about 8 hours, and at that point I was thinking to myself, "How long is this thing gonna take?" A bit of research revealed that it would be over 40 hours. Now, I can play a lot of games for over 40 hours, but I knew I couldn't stomach another 32 hours of this game. But, I was still interested to see what so many saw in this game. So, i watched a full Let's Play of the game. I watched it at 2x speed and I was able to skip over all the repetitive grinding and equipment and item management. At the end of the game, all I could do was shake my head in wonder and ask myself, "Is THIS what all the rave reviews were about?"

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the biggest RPG fan, but two of my favorite games, Earthbound and Chrono Trigger, are mechanically and even thematically similar. However, I didn't feel any of the same investment or enjoyment while playing Final Fantasy Vi. Though featuring a large cast of characters, few (if any) feel like real people. I think part of that has to do with the sprites and the story. The Final Fantasy VI sprites have no life or personality. Compare it to its contemporaries, Secret of Mana, Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, and Dragon's Quest V. The characters, in turn, are held together only by dialogue and the writing. Frankly, it all rings hollow. If you formed some kind of connection with these characters, far be it from me to tell you what to feel. Nevertheless, to me, these characters really felt like collections of pixels, not like real characters.

The story, in turn, rings hollow. Though all of the characters' motivations are readily apparently, most of them are skin-deep. Without characters to care about, the destruction of the world seems meaningless. Many times in the story they try to be epic and cinematic, which makes me wonder: why am I not just reading a book or watching a TV series? What interactive parts of this game really engage the player?

Don't tell me it's the combat, because (though I'm told it was innovative at the time) it has aged about as well as a french fry that fell under the car seat. The still, lifeless enemies are not satisfying to defeat. Damage is done in massive increments from a few dozen to 9999 points, and the enemies don't react to your big attacks. If they just had "Ouch!" sprites for all the enemies, the game would be that much more satisfying. Many of the battles come down to one character repeatedly healing all the others, and the others only spamming a certain attack, with only one of these doing significant damage. The battles finish with the thoroughly satisfying music, but the characters just flail their hands up in the air like a bunch of monkeys. It's really tedious.

I could forgive all this if the story was good, but it turns out it's fairly predictable and not very interesting. Sure, it's huge in scope, but it seems like it's just big for the sake of being big. The massive end-of-the-world and end-of-magic stakes don't really leave any impact on me because I don't care about the characters.

If you're an RPG fan, sure, it's worth playing. One of the greatest games of all time? Forget about it.

Tiger & Bunny

Why you should watch Tiger & Bunny
With a name like Tiger & Bunny, you'd think this is a children's cartoon that teaches numbers and colors. When you find out it's an anime, you may fear that it's some kind of furry show. Looking at a poster, you may think it's just another giant-mech show. TIger and Bunny is none of these, but it's highly enjoyable, and I'd say one of the best anime for American viewers. Here's why you should watch.

The show takes place in an alternate version of Earth where super-powered individuals started appearing some 40 or so years prior. The setting is Stern Bild city, based on New York City, The show takes place roughly in present-day. When individuals with special powers appeared, companies saw an opportunity. They would sponsor heroes, televise their exploits, and cover any damages the heroes incurred. In return, the heroes would wear company logos and promote the company's products. In the present day, the current oldest-serving hero, Wild Tiger, is sponsored by a small company that is bought out by a much larger one. The new company partners Wild Tiger up with a new hero, Barnaby Brooks Jr., the first hero without a secret identity. At first, the level-headed and populist rookie and the old-timer clash in principles and procedures, but over time they learn to work together to take down super-villains.

I said earlier that this is a great anime even for people who aren't anime fans. The dub in this show is fantastic. I'd say most dubs have problems with syncing the original Japanese lip-movements to the new English dialogue. Oftentimes, the resulting delivery is very stilted to accommodate the original lip-movements. Tiger & Bunny, thankfully, has almost no moments when the dub is distractingly awkward. The voice actors in the dub are all great, and the only one I felt could have been better was the lead, Wild Tiger. To be fair though, it's hard to compete with Hirata Hiroaki's fantastic original Japanese voice performance.

The show is full of action, likeable characters, cool exploration of some areas that the Western superhero genre has failed to tread (like competing popularity between superheroes, reliance on corporations, etc.). The supporting cast is all great, and the CG in the show is incorporated surprisingly well.

Does the show have flaws? Yeah, of course. The second season was much worse than the first, featuring a lackluster villain, awkward exposition scenes, and a conclusion that somehow felt both rushed and drawn-out. Regardless, it was very unsatisfying. However, looking back on the show, I'd say I had a really good time. There were surprising great bits of humor, good characters, and a neat premise that ties this show into a nice little package, and an anime definitely worth watching.

Black Mirror: USS Callister
Episode 1, Season 4

Black Mirror Craps the Bed
Black Mirror has consistently been an excellent show, with no internal continuity or overarching plot line. It's more like a series of short films, all tied into the same idea of exploring how humans might (and probably will) interact with near-future technology. It explores morality and ethics that come from humans interacting with high-level machines. On top of all that, it's normally excellently written, cast, and acted. All these reasons hav led me to be very disappointed by the first episode of season 4.

USS Callister has basically two sets of problems: logical/scientific inconsistencies and a boring, pedestrian plot. If the story was pedestrian, a solid idea could have given it some legs. If the plot were interesting, the science maybe could have gotten a pass. But both of these problems leant themselves to perhaps the worst Black Mirror episode to date.

The plot focuses around Robert Daly, a genius-level programmer, co-founder of the world's largest VR MMORPG, and a huge trekkie (except, to avoid copyright, the show's called Star Fleet, but it's basically identical). Being a somewhat timid and anti-social man, he uses his program to create a virtual fantasy. He gathers DNA samples of co-workers and scans them into his game, creating digital copies of their bodies, minds, personalities, and memories. Daly abuses the code-clones, and makes them reenact classic Star Trek episodes as his crew, trapped in a personal server only accessible to him. All that changes when he scans a new employee at his company into the game. She manages to rally the crew and escape the pocket universe into the Cloud and the main MMORPG.

First, a long list of logical inconsistencies: the most glaring one is the DNA scan. You could hypothetically concoct a scanner that converts DNA into a piece of code made to mimic a human being perfectly, but DNA does not contain memories or personalities. Daly modifies people in the game (giving one girl blue skin, turning two people into monsters, removing digital genitals), so why not modify them to take away their desire to leave, their knowledge of programming, or give them an undying love for him? Why is there access to the game's source code from within the game? Why do the code-clones stay on when the game is off? Why would a reasonable person commit breaking & entering and destruction of property just to avoid nudes being leaked on the internet? Personal embarrassment seems less dangerous than jail time, loss of employment, and a host of other problems. Why can't Daly teleport himself onto the ship, or shut down the engines on a whim? Or, he could leave the game and rewrite the code so that the engines are non-functional. Why can't he leave the game at the end? Why would an update manifest itself as a wormhole? When the people rebel, why doesn't Daly just leave the game, delete those programs, and create new ones?

Okay, we've made it through (most of) the logical and scientific fallacies. Now, let's move on to the absolutely pedestrian plot. There is a lot of fat that can be trimmed from this long episode. There were times I veritably growled at my screen, "Get on with it!" The introduction of the girl into the world is accompanied by undue amounts of freaking out, denial, and lengthy explanations. The 'Tommy' backstory adds nothing to the plot except to vilify Daly even further, and maybe add a gut emotional punch. There's no subversion of expectations. From the point the new girl sits down at the computer and says, "I'm going to try to hack it," the audience knew exactly what was going to happen. As I watched it, I thought to myself, "Why bother continue? I already know what's going to happen." I guess they surprised me with the ending, because I figured there's no way Black Mirror would be average enough to let the 'bad guy' lose and the 'good guys' win. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

On top of all that, this episode retread new ground. Why did the episode spend so much time trying to establish sympathy for program-people, when Be Right Back, White Christmas, and San Junipero all explored 'personhood of advanced code' much more effectively. This episodes adds nothing to that conversation.

What did the episode have going for it? It had a huge chance to tackle obsession and fantasy as they relate to near-future technologies. But, for that, we'll need to scrap the whole skeletal structure of the episode. Here's my idea for how USS Callister could have explored its themes much better.

Robert Daly is a genius programmer, co-founder of the company behind the world's largest VR MMORPG, and a huge trekkie. Ever since getting into the show in the past twenty years, he has become obsessed with exploring every facet of the expansive sci-fi franchise. He fantasizes that he himself is the captain on his own USS Callister, ordering around those who have disparaged him, girls who have rejected him, etc. Either he invents the DNA-to-code scanner or obtains it some way, and decides he will make his fantasy a virtual reality. The clones he creates are perfect, but have no memory, wants, or desires. He is able to give them personality using AI of NPCs from some games that the company has developed, modified to be completely loyal to him. He becomes more reclusive as his fantasies become more elaborate. However, he's still dissatisfied that the people are not people, and have no free will or intelligent responses. He decides to make one more digital crew member, but this one he gives an advanced AI of his creation. However, the AI is sentient, and Daly must use more and more force to keep the AI that threatens his fantasy in line. This story could comment on fandoms, obsession, and our own personal fantasies, and how they may be affected by near-future technologies. That's a Black Mirror episode I would like to see.

All in all, this episode was highly disappointing. It brought nothing new to the table; gave a pedestrian, average, even insipid story; had a huge number of logical fallacies and scientific inconsistencies; and failed to show the 'two sides of the same coin' or societal critique that has been the hallmark of Black Mirror up until now.

P.S. This episode made me very worried for the fourth season, but episode two already righted the ship. While not being a 10-star game-changer, Arkangel was undeniably Black-Mirror-esque, thought-provoking, relevant, and insightful.

Mario Warfare

Parody isn't Dead
Parody in film and television seems to have become droll in the last decade or two. Most parodies seem to fail to understand the thing they're parodying, or they don't care about quality, or they don't bother to stand on their own. Around the time Mario Warfare was gracing our computer screens, Movie 43, the Starving Games, A Haunted House, and Scary Movie V were coming to a theater near you. How great it was to see a couple of passionate guys completely trounce no-effort Hollywood schlock.

Mario Warfare has plenty of flaws. The sound editing's a little off, the acting's kinda hammy, and there are a lot of jokes that don't quite fit the tone. But, I would say most of these problems actually add to the movie (except for the sound and the ADR). This parody is spot-on.

Mario Warfare pays tribute to its source material (Nintendo games) while still being incredibly enjoyable if you don't get all the jokes. The fight scenes in this film are absolutely spectacular. The choreography is so good. The only problem is that everyone seems to be able to take more damage than seems humanly possible.

This is a fantastic parody for all Mario fans, though it can get a little graphically violent, so it's not for little kids. I absolutely love this fan film, from the hammy acting and cheesy jokes and references. It's just a beautiful, passionate piece of parody!

Rapsittie Street Kids: Believe in Santa

What on Earth Happened?
This "movie" (and it barely qualifies as such) is incredibly and unbearably incompetent in its animation. Do you know RubberFruit? It's a Youtube Channel that makes animated shorts using sets and character models from video games like Team Fortress 2. Go look them up. Watch like one or two. Yes, now. I'll be waiting.

Oh, you're back? Good. Now, I can honestly say that the animation behind Rapsittie Street Kids: Believe in Santa is about 5% as good as RubberFruit. This animation is appallingly horrendous. This TV movie came out 6 whole years after Beast Wars, and manages to look about 40 times worse than that show. The character movements are all uncanny, and there are a ton of animation errors.

I wish I could say that the animation was the only problem, unfortunately, we've only just begun. The writing in this short is absolutely horrendous. The dialogue is on-the-nose, the morals are ham- fisted, and the jokes are all awful.

How about the characters? Nope, they're all awful, too. All of them have cookie-cutter personalities, and they all seem to have the depth of a half-drained kiddie pool. The story? Don't make me laugh. The story is so generic it wouldn't even make it onto Full House. The songs were likewise bland and uninspired. The pacing, the editing, the design, all of it was awful. And how about simple spelling errors? The elementary school board literally reads 'Striving for Excelence (sic)." How can you mess that up?! And the title, Rapsittie Street Kids - why?! It's revealed that they live on Rhapsody Street. Why would you change it to a bizarre spelling? Is it because the main character "raps?" Why not call it Rapsody Street?

I haven't mentioned the voice cast yet, and that's for good reason. This short has a star-studded voice cast, featuring five especially big stars: Jodi Benson (Ariel from The Little Mermaid), Grey DeLisle (Mandy from Grim Adventures), Paige O'Hara (Belle from Beauty and the Beast), Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson), and Mark Hamill (The Joker from Batman the Animated Series). These voice-acting giants seem to sleep-walk their way through this movie, and though they weren't bad per se, they didn't do anything to elevate the short.

So, what happened? How does someone manage to make such a horrible piece of junk? I can only assume that the director committed almost all of his budget to his voice cast and was left with no money for animators, writers, editors, or any kind of crew at all, so he went down to the local orphanage and promised some kid that he would adopt him if the kid could help him make a movie. That's what I'm guessing happened.

Can I advise everyone to steer clear of this? Actually, I can't. This film is so hilariously bad. It is honestly a total riot. I could not stop laughing during this short. Oh, and the memes? Yeah, this movie totally deserves meme status. Who could forget Great-Grandma's famous monologue at about the 20-minute mark?

Great-Grandma: "eokkvvaskidoriiaskdvfornevudit,"

Black Rapper Kid: "Isn't that what Santa does? It was from my heart"

GG: "tch, uh, tchtchtchsee uh uh wdelei eisideiflabskpoeeinow,"

BRK: "She doesn't get it!"

GG: "Oh, seefadgtnodnfgChristmasss ohoho!"

Yeah, as terrible as this movie is, it's hysterical. So, yeah, I'd recommend it.

Citizen Kane

The "Bible" of Movies
Almost anyone looking for a deeper understanding of film soon hears about "Citizen Kane," often as a comparative measure. "Such and such film is the 'Citizen Kane' of horror," "Such and such film is the 'Citizen Kane' of bad movies." What would be a fitting comparative statement regarding the film itself? Simple. Citizen Kane is the 'Bible' of movies.

Despite years of scrutiny and derision, it still holds weight. We see its conventions and style influencing all aspects that surround it. Some people swear by it, while others fail to see its merit. Am I talking about the Bible or Citizen Kane?

To continue the comparison, some people are bored out of their whits by Citizen Kane, much like some people are bored reading the Bible.

Okay, this may be a bit of an exaggeration. But, I must say, Citizen Kane is a monumental film. Citizen Kane, to me, is beyond the simple entertainment we get from watching your average movie. Citizen Kane is a piece of art. Acting, directing, blocking, lighting, cinematography, editing, stage production, and sound design are all on full display. The film is exquisitely crafted, and technically superior in every way.

So, where does the hate come from? Perhaps Citizen Kane's main offense is that it's so simple, so shallow, and rather anticlimactic. When people go to see a movie, generally they want to think and they want to feel. Citizen Kane does not attempt to manipulate feelings or reveal some deep human truth. It's a story of the life of a man.

Watching Citizen Kane, you may not be as invested in the characters or the story as other films, like Lord of the Rings, Vertigo, or the Godfather. It will not evoke emotions like watching Hachi, Big Fish, Shawshank, or Titanic. But, despite this, I cannot call it less than a perfect film. And I don't say that lightly; I give very few films a perfect score.

Orson Welles, they say, borrowed his favorite elements and stylistic choices from contemporary films and applied them to his masterpiece. The result was a film that is composed like a symphony, crafted like a painting, and is overall the most technically superior film I've ever seen.

I hope my review can help you decide whether or not this is for you. For those who examine film as a medium, this film is phenomenal. For those looking to enjoy a film that will engage, morally challenge, or emotionally affect them, this may not be the one for you.

The Flash

The flaws get worse as it goes on.
The first two seasons of the Flash were above-average. They captured a goofy superhero and the Silver-Age bogus science. Most of the characters were well-rounded and sympathetic. Despite this, already early on there were many cracks in the fabric. I am a fan of a lot of cheesiness and camp, and that's one reason I felt that the 90s Spider-Man cartoon is still watchable. However, the Flash has a lot of missteps in its cheese department, being hammy or eye-roll-inducing (in a bad way) instead of pleasant or entertaining. The Flash spends only about 40% of the show doing actual superhero action, and there's a lot of inconsistencies in his abilities. The melodrama was endurable, but not especially enjoyable, and the "surprise villains" were very predictable. The two seasons ended relatively the same way, on some kind of pseudo-cliffhanger, and, of course, a lot of running.

Season 3 doubled-down on everything wrong with the show, and despite the broad library of Flash comics they could have drawn from, a lot of the season was rehash of things we had already seen. The villain was basically copy-pasted from the other two seasons with a senseless twist that doesn't really have any emotional weight. The melodrama was dialed up to 11, some actually likable characters became jerks for basically no reason, there were tired side-plots, and it was a long slog to get through. I would give that season a 4.

The show goes on, so I hope it gets better, but I am not especially optimistic.

One last thing SPOILER: in season 3, Savitar tricks a character to trade places with him in his prison. Why did he feel the need to trick that character into his plan when he could have just used the Rival? I really can't get over that.

BoJack Horseman

A Show in a Class of its Own
I couldn't bring myself to give BoJack Horseman a number grade, because that would be comparing it to other shows. Someone might get the idea that if I rate the show a 10, I think it's better than other shows I or IMDb might have ranked, and that's simply not how I feel about the show.

On paper, BoJack Horseman seems pretty run-of-the-mill. A cynical, washed-up movie star and his kooky adventures with his wacky friends. But, if you stick with the show, it quickly becomes so much more than that.

Before I go any further, this show has some glaring negatives. The flash animation is highly unappealing for any avid fans of animation. Some of the voice acting is highly disappointing. Sometimes the show feels disjointed. I was disappointed with the portrayal of dementia in season 4, though it wasn't to the point of offensiveness, per se. And lastly, this show is not for everyone.

BoJack Horseman ultimately deals with self-loathing and confronting one's own self. Though many themes are layered on top of this, including nihilism, self-destructiveness, a search for meaning, etc., at the end of the day, the show confronts head-on what it's like to be disappointed in who you yourself are and the life you lead. And this is one of the greatest pieces of media I have ever seen tackle this.

If you don't feel out of place in the universe, this show is probably not for you. You may sympathize with BoJack and be dismayed at his choices, but they may not move you in any way. BoJack Horseman was crafted specifically to curtail to the thousands of young and middle- aged people who face themselves and their lives and are disappointed. The show asks if a person can ever change, and what a person's deeds are actually worth. In a time of irreligion, these are questions that plague the minds of many, many people. For them, BoJack Horseman becomes a companion, a recognition of the problem that they confront (or perhaps are running away from) every day.

The characters and situations feel organic. To some degree, the show is a deconstruction of modern adult cartoons. Mistakes have lasting impacts, and "the status quo is not God". Careful attention to continuity was given. There is a surprising lack of jokes. This is much more a drama than a comedy. A lot of jokes are animal-based puns that don't exactly gel well with the rest of the show. For instance, a guy walks into a bar, orders a grasshopper, and there's a grasshopper- person at the bar. The joke didn't connect at all to the rest of the scene. I wasn't sure if the show was legitimately trying to be funny, if it was trying to lighten the mood or set the tone for the scene, or if it was trying to give a cheesy joke to give the show some charm or endearment.

Back to the topic at hand. BoJack himself is very reminiscent of Bill Murray's character, Phil, from the movie Groundhog Day. The reason that movie has staying power is not just because it's associated with a holiday, not just because it has some good comedy, but also because of the depth and struggles of Phil. Phil is cocky and kind of jerk, but really, he's self-loathing. He can't find any meaning in his life. The movie is ultimately about Phil learning what has meaning, and he learns to appreciate the day-to-day. BoJack Horseman is very similar in that it's a self-loathing character and his search for meaning, but BoJack doesn't find any easy answers, and we're along for the ride. Though Groundhog Day may have been an allegory for someone feeling that every day is the same in their boring town, we go every day with BoJack, and every day is a new, different adventure that ultimately ends the same: with BoJack failing to see value in himself or in his life.

This show is certainly a unique experience. For some people, it will take them on a ride to, like BoJack, seek for meaning in their life. For them, this show is a must-watch that will literally ask them to look at life in a new way. For some people who are fully satisfied with their life and place in the universe, this show may just seem a depressing spiral of one man, told against the backdrop of some cheap animation and some grating voice acting. But for those who feel this show speaks to them, it was all worth it.

Star vs. the Forces of Evil

Disney XD Keeps Up its Streak
If you were to ever doubt that we're in a golden age of animation, all you have to do is look to shows that aren't top-tier. While Gravity Falls and Adventure Time will be household names for years to come, middle-of-the-pack shows are also excellent. Star vs. the Forces of Evil is a prime example of this. This show could have been so much worse. At first glance, the premise seems a little stock: a magical person from another dimension comes into the real world, and hi-jinks ensue. But watching the show, it soon becomes apparent that the creators are giving real effort into this show.

So many elements are great in this show. The voice acting is excellent, and that's no small feat. Almost all of this broad cast of voices is cast very well, and all the voices are flavorful and expressive (except for maybe Alfonso, but he's not in it much).

The writing and humor for the show is also surprisingly good. The characters have real depth and feel fleshed out. The situations they're put in seem organic and effective.

There's a couple bad points to the show. It's a matter of personal taste, but I can't stand the theme song. It's really too frantic and hyper for my taste. The show is a little slow at the beginning. Sometimes the show is a little too childish - but, what could you expect, it's made for kids. The animation at times seems a little cheap, but this is rare.

What a wonderful time we live in for children's animation! Star vs. the Forces of Evil keeps up this fantastic streak that Disney XD and Cartoon Network both seem to be on.

No Men Beyond This Point

Too Smart for its Own Good
It is fascinating to me how such a simple film became so controversial. It took a pretty basic concept (some would say a rip-off of Children of Men) and blasted onto the scene as a simple yet intriguing mockumentary on gender relations.

If this had come out ten or fifteen years ago, there wouldn't have been anywhere near the controversy. But, maybe that's what the film was going for. It meant to stir up discussion. If that was it was going for, I imagine the film was trying to say that both men and women are important in society.

But, what's great in this film is that is has so many layers. Could it be a parable for homosexuals? Is it a cautionary tale? Is it meant to put men down? Or perhaps it's meant to proliferate gender stereotypes? Maybe it's just a simple comedy? If any one of these were true, this film might not be so special, but seeing as all these elements combine, this film is very profound.

Ivanovo detstvo

Skillful, but not Especially Engaging
Ivan's Childhood is a pretty masterful example of editing, cinematography, acting, direction, and pretty much everything else that's right about film. Unfortunately, the drama or suspense is not very gripping.

This is as simple as I can put it. Film buffs will probably love this movie. It's crafted like a work of art. The average moviegoer will probably be bored during the film.

This film kind of defies convention and rating. I thought it was well- made, I just thought it wasn't very engaging.

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