Kitsune-Kon

So I have decided, in a fit of winter cabin fever, I have decided to attend Kitsune-Kon in Appleton, WI this weekend (21-23). I feel the need to interact with people and Appleton is my old stomping grounds, so it works out well. Anyways, I hope to see some interesting or fun people there, and I hope everyone else who attends has a good time. Maybe I’ll do some “boffer” and smack some people around.

When I return, I should have some pictures and stories, though, again, I wish I could get my friend over here so we could go together. Maybe next time.

K-on!(!) OR Another Post Where I Hate on Something Everyone Likes

 

Okay, first of all, I know it’s been a while, and I apologize. I keep getting close to getting a job, and then I’ll get rejected, and it’s screwing with me psychologically, like I’m in limbo. Excuses, excuses, but that’s the fact, Jack.

Anyways, I’m going to talk about something a little off my usual beat. I’m a man. I’m also an anime fan, and one that is at the mercy of a friend who doesn’t really care about my taste in shows or genres. So if she wants to watch some goofy, moe-moe, slice-of-life, highschool girls show, I’m whipped enough that I’ll usually watch it with her. Which brings us to K-on!(!).

K-on! was popular a couple years back, though I believe its significance has faded somewhat as new anime has taken its place, but it’s about a group of disparate highschool girls that form a band in the “light music club”. The anime showcases their daily lives and adventures and focuses a lot on the friendships between the four girls, Yui, Ritsu, Mio, and Mugi. It’s one of those shows where there are maybe two male characters in the entire cast, and they barely show up, but it is damnably cute and earnest for the most part, and the music is pretty catchy.

Granted, the music is not actually a huge part of the show. It seems like most of the season is spent with them getting ready for a concert, but you won’t actually see them play until the actual day, and even then you don’t really hear the whole song. The opening and especially the closing songs are great, though, with a special emphasis on “Don’t Say Lazy”. The real focus of the show is the interactions between the four main characters. Yui’s air-headed natural talent and determination, Ritsu’s tomboyish antics, Mio’s dedicated level-headedness, and Mugi’s… well, Mugi is a bit of an oddball, really, but she’s amusing.

Now, as usual, I have to find something to complain about, and, like Sword Art Online, the thing I dislike is to be found in the latter half of the show. In this case, it is the heretofore unmentioned fifth wheel of the cast, the slightly younger Azusa. Azusa is introduced near the end of season 1, a talented guitarist who finds the girls to be far too laid back to be true musicians, but ends up getting drawn into their group as a friend and band member anyway.

Simple enough, right? It should be, but, for reasons I cannot understand, the show slowly ends up being almost solely about Azusa. I find this offensive. The whole draw of the show, the reason people stick around to even see Azusa, is because of the strength of the original four girls as characters. The fact that they become, essentially, window dressing to this new character is a detriment to the show.

Secondly, Azusa herself is not a particularly appealing character. Her schtick is mostly to try and get the other girls to focus on practicing instead of doing their silly slice-of-life antics. Okay, fine, but it ends up making her into something of a stick-in-the-mud. They try to balance this out by making her “cute”. Personally, I never really bought it. They put cat ears on her once, made her say “nyan” (something she hated by the way), and almost every single fan of the show fell for it. It was one, solitary moment, and we were supposed to buy into her “cuteness”. I’m sorry, but her bad attitude and stand-offish-ness made much more of an impact on me than the nickname “Azu-nyan”.

Finally, although the show’s emotional focus rests squarely on Azusa’s narrow shoulders, especially near the end of the second season, the anime itself doesn’t really seem quite sure what to do with the character most of the time. There are several episodes that feature separating Azusa from the rest of the group. The main four will have their (more entertaining) adventure, and Azusa will hang out with Yui’s sister and her friend or end up home alone. This happens a lot, and, while it helps to not have Azusa around to be a wet blanket to the main girls, there’s still episode time wasted on checking in on Azusa. It’s tedious and unnecessary.

I understand what purpose the character is supposed to serve. She’s the one left behind when the others graduate, and she’s left alone to carry on the legacy of the band and the club. Okay, fine, but I think it would’ve served that end better if Azusa had integrated better with the rest of the cast. She’s an outsider, by her own actions, for the entire show. And yet, despite that, when the K-on!! movie came out, a big part of plot was writing a goodbye song for Azusa. Once again, she is given far more importance than she deserves or has earned.

I know it seems like a silly thing to complain about. It’s such a light-hearted, goofy, harmless show. Still, I consider it a problem, and one that needn’t have come about. All the time spent with Azusa I would rather have spent with Mio (my personal favorite) and Ritsu, or Yui, or Mugi. Or even their teacher, Sawa. I liked those characters. Those were the characters that got me into the show. I don’t care about Azusa, and I don’t think that her story is the one that’s worth paying attention to.

Overclock your Remix

 

There’s a reason that my music tastes are still stuck in the 90’s and early 2000’s, almost completely unaware of any current music trends or groups or artists of the current day. I don’t listen to the radio, I don’t want to listen to the radio, and I don’t care about what people are listening to. That’s not necessarily a slam against other people’s music tastes, it just doesn’t appeal to me. It certainly isn’t an implication that my taste in music is superior, because it’s actually about as niche as you can get.

I’ve made it clear by now that I like video games, especially RPGs, and so it may not be surprising in any way at all that I like video game soundtracks. This was true even when they were still pretty low-quality, like the original Chrono Trigger soundtrack, or Final Fantasy VII, but it has gradually gotten much better. There are orchestral versions of older soundtracks, and some of the newer OSTs are really good, most notably NieR, which arguably has the best OST of any game… well, EVER.

However, this post isn’t about official albums, as good as they might be. This post is about one of my favorite sites on the web, the video game remix community known as OverClocked Remix. OC Remix is probably the premier website for these kinds of projects, and it shows, with over 2500 remixes, and dozens of albums… everything from Sonic the Hedgehog to Street Fighter to Final Fantasy to Gunstar Heroes, in styles ranging from trance, techno, western, rock, hip-hop, and orchestral.

Best of all, all of this music, all this content, is 100% free. No membership fee, no download fee, no cost whatsoever. Now granted, with so many games and so many styles, there’s no way that everything is gonna be to anyone’s taste. I’ll be the first to say that I don’t like everything on the site. In fact, even stuff based on games that I like doesn’t always match up to my expectations (the Chrono Trigger orchestral album is quite disappointing). Despite that, there are literally hundreds of great songs on there, and, again, no cost, which is also nice.

A good way to explore OC Remix without randomly downloading songs or surfing around Youtube is to check out http://ocr.rainwave.cc/ . It’s essentially a radio station that plays all OC Remixes. This should give you a good feel for the variety of music available and the different games that have music remixed for them.

Furthermore, the newest OC Remix subsidiary, OverClocked Records, now provides a way to easily purchase actual albums of original music by the OC artists. So if you listen to some music and find a new favorite artist, it’s only a few short clicks to be able to support the actual musician and their original work.

So there you go, if you like video game music, remixes, or just finding new musical artists, take a look at OC Remix and see what’s available.

Warehouse 13 – Where’s the Artifact that Makes a Series Worth Watching?

 

I’m a couple years late on this one, complaining about a series that is on the verge of ending anyway, but there’s never a bad time to explain and learn from failure. Good speculative fiction shows are hard to come by, needing to strike a good balance of milieu, characters, special effects, and story, all while swimming upstream against the public sentiment against sci-fi and fantasy as a niche genre. Taking all that into consideration, I’m willing to give a little bit of leeway and goodwill to a series that seems to have potential.

Warehouse 13 has squandered that goodwill and any potential it might have had.

If you haven’t seen Warehouse 13, it is a “Syfy” original series centered around the eponymous warehouse, which is used to store and contain various objects of various kinds all of which contain some innate power, anything from Timothy Leary’s glasses, which allow the wearer to view the world in a distorted, psychedelic way, to Jack the Ripper’s lantern, used to hold the notorious killer’s victims spellbound in place, and everything in between. Some of these “artifacts” are as large as a building, some are in multiple pieces, and some are innately evil. Our heroes have to go out and retrieve these objects and get them back to the Warehouse for storage.

It’s a cool concept, with a lot of possibilities for different kinds of artifacts and how they could be used, the other forces that would be trying to obtain them, even internal power struggles amongst the higher-ups about the usage of these artifacts. What we ended up getting instead was a mediocre, silly, dumbed-down show with painfully stupid characters.

It’s even more of a shame because, in retrospect, it started out pretty strong. Aside from the premise, which I liked and still like, there were a couple of good characters. Artie Nielsen (Saul Rubinek) is perfect as the grizzled, knowledgeable veteran with a literal bag of tricks. Mrs. Frederick (CCH Pounder) is the subtly menacing supervisor of the Warehouse team, managing to make a middle-aged woman into a seriously intimidating presence. Claudia Donovan (Allison Scagliotti), joining partway through the first season, was a delight as the young, street-smart computer genius well-supplied with a snarky attitude and a burgeoning father/daughter-type relationship with Artie. The primary protagonists, Peter Lattimer (Eddie McClintock) and Myka Berrng (Joanne Kelly) were never spectacular, but early on, they were, at least, relatively inoffensive.

Slowly, however, so slowly as to be somewhat difficult to notice watching in real time, the show’s tone changed… it turned from a serious show with light humor to essentially a comedy with fake, forced drama once or twice a season. It started with the gradual exaggeration of the characters’ most “comedic” traits: Pete’s childishness, Myka’s anxiety, Artie’s grumpiness, and Claudia’s, well… Claudia became the obvious pet character of the series, the closest I’ve seen to a Mary Sue in a live action television show.

By midway through the second season, it was almost impossible to take Warehouse 13 seriously anymore. It’s just not believable that the government, or anyone, would trust people who act this clownish with items that can literally be as powerful as a nuclear weapon. Pete and Myka are ridiculously incompetent, not only are they not trained investigators (a problem from the very start as they are, inexplicably, Secret Service agents), but they’re the worst Secret Service agents ever, able to be outfought, out-maneuvered, out-shot, and out-done by ever tin plate villain to come down the pike.

Almost every conflict ends up being resolved either by dumb luck or Claudia’s increasing Mary Sue powers. Actually, that’s not true, sometimes conflicts end very badly for our heroes. People die, friends depart, homes are destroyed, but, in one of the most absurd parts of the show, the reset button is always, always hit. Every season they throw in a cliffhanger, and every following season opener, everything that happened previously is completely erased by plot magic.

That and the appalling lack of concern with continuity or internal canon are the biggest non-character-related problems with Warehouse 13. When was the Tesla (Warehouse agents’ taser-like stun gun) invented? Who’s a single child and who has siblings? Who was married and who wasn’t? Does Myka not eat sugar or does she love Twizzlers? The answer is whatever the show requires. It may sound like nit-picking, but it’s the kind of thing that really wears on me.

I’ve given enough reasons why this show upsets me, but there is one other atrocity – related, of all things, to the Twizzler question above – that Warehouse 13 commits. It has the most blatant, offensive, full-frontal product placement I have ever seen. It started with Myka suddenly loving Twizzlers, but, by Season Three, characters would literally stop in their tracks to talk about the features of the car they’re driving. It’s like having a car commercial in the episode. Mind-bogglingly disrespectful to the audience.

Ultimately, the disrespect for the viewers is the overarching problem of Warehouse 13. The show-runners didn’t believe in the intelligence of their audience and didn’t care. They appealed to the lowest common denominator and ruined what could have been a great series. I’m not sure who to blame for this… not the actors, but was it the writers? Was it network interference? Or was it the producer, Jack Kenny? I’m not sure, but someone dropped the ball. Someone is to blame for this, not that it matters anymore. The show was still successful, and is only this year ending with it’s fifth and final season.

I still wish I could’ve seen the show that Warehouse 13 might’ve been.

Batman vs Superman vs Me

 

Despite my lack of interest, I couldn’t help but hear that the Zack Snyder movie, “Batman vs Superman” has possibly been pushed back to 2016. This is the sequel to the recent “Man of Steel” release, and would be something of a landmark in DC universe-based live action movies, with both cornerstone characters appearing in the same film. There’s no doubt in my (and many others’) mind that this is probably an attempt to start a DC version of the hit “Avengers” movie from Marvel. There’s only one problem with this idea…

Everyone is pretty sure it will suck.

It’s not an entirely fair assessment, and it’s one of those things that I hope I’m wrong about, but I can’t really conceive of a way this move could be anything more than mediocre. It has nothing to do with casting or directing, and everything to do with the respective franchises. Batman and Superman are both so iconic, so set in the public’s conscious, so defined by their “superhero” status that it’s hard to make them easy to relate to as humans. What you end up with is two guys jumping around in silly costumes. Nonetheless, DC has to try. “Avengers” and its subsidiary movies and characters, Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, were so successful, such box office hits that DC is struggling to catch up.

My solution would be for them to do something radical, something unexpected, but something that plays to their strengths: Make an animated movie.

Let me back up a second and go over what, in my opinion, are each company’s standings in various media… Marvel is probably at least somewhat ahead with comic books and Marvel is way, way ahead with live action movies, despite the relative success of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films. DC has a slight edge, maybe more, in video games, but where DC really shines, where it has its most iconic moments and characters and successes is in animation. Marvel has had its share of cartoons, like the X-men and X-men Evolution series, but compared to the popularity of Batman the Animated Series, Justice League (and Unlimited), Teen Titans, Young Justice, and Batman Beyond, its clear to me that DC has them beat with animation.

So let’s use that. Let’s make a really great, really striking, really mature animated movie, whether it be Batman vs Superman or Justice League or anything else of theirs. It’s more palatable watching two characters in silly costumes jumping around when they’re not live action, and, again, it would exploit DC’s proven record in creating top-notch animated content. The closest DC ever came to doing this is with “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm”, a genuine theatrical release based on Batman the Animated Series. Unfortunately, at the time, it didn’t do very well at the box office, though I think that, as it’s aged, it has gained more and more fans. As well it should, Mask of the Phantasm was a fantastic movie, with great performances and a solid story.

Even that, however, is only a fraction of what could be done. While I don’t think it’s necessary to copy anime in this case, there are lessons to be learned from their sensibilities with animation. It doesn’t have to be something only for children. It can be violent, adult, even sexual to an extent. It wouldn’t be easy, it might fail anyway, because, culturally, Americans think of animation as something for kids, but therein lies the opportunity. DC could re-invent and reinvigorate the entire animation genre, make a whole new business out of it. The possibilities are endless, but it has to start somewhere. Why not with Batman and Superman?

It would be a brave move. A bold move. It’s high risk, high reward, but it’s the one field where DC has proven it has credibility. Get Kevin Conroy, pull Mark Hamill out of retirement to do the Joker again. Take advantage of the assets you’ve built up in the last couple decades… they know it works. That’s why they use the voices from the animated series in DC Universe Online, in Arkham Asylum, in Batman: Gotham Knight (aka Batmanime). I can’t promise it would work, but at least it would distinguish them from their competitors.

Back in School

 

I know a lot of people look back on their high school lives with a certain fondness, and, to an extent, so do I. There are a lot of good memories from those days, a lot of friends, a lack of responsibility, but… nonetheless, I’ve recently reached an important milestone where I’ve spent more of my life out of school than in it. It’s been over a decade since I graduated, and I’m pleased that school is no longer the pre-eminent memory of my life.

And yet… and yet, I find myself having to constantly relive high school over and over and over again almost every time I watch anime. My friend, “T”, has made me watch three separate shows in the past week, and all three of them are high school-based anime: Chuunibyou Ren, Noragami, and Kannagi. All in one week. And that’s just the beginning, Bakemonogatari, Chaos;Head, Lucky Star, Azumangah Daioh, School Days, Yuyushiki, K-on, half of Clannad, Chobits, The Daily Lives of High School Boys… the list goes on and on. That’s barely a fraction of the school-based anime I’ve seen (in all fairness, in nearly half of those shows, while they feature high school students, school does not feature prominently in the story, but the point remains).

Granted, it’s not as if I don’t know what I’m getting into a lot of the time. Many of these are openly about school, so I can’t really be surprised by it. It is one of the cliches, however, that wears me out with anime, and makes it hard for me to enjoy even some of the better shows. Noragami, for instance, a show about a minor god in human form fighting “Phantoms” and trying to gain followers, actually looks pretty good, but the high school aspect of it makes it less appealing than it might otherwise be. Chuunibyou is a great show, funny with likeable characters, but there’s only so many school festivals and clubs that I can take.

It’s strange, actually, when you think about it, because anime, as compared to Western animation, is usually more serious, more graphic, more sexual and violent, and, contradictorily, it seems fixated on teenagers and even relatively mundane teenage life. They may be fighting monsters or going into cyberspace or dealing with insane psychological issues, but they still wake up every morning, walk to school with their friends, interact with that one perverted classmate and the teacher in the eternal mid-life crisis, and go home. I suppose the sheer repetition and similarities between shows is what grinds on me the most about these anime.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that anime needs to change or the culture around it needs to change, because it certainly is a cultural thing, some part of the psyche that appeals to them and to us, I just wish that every show that came down the pike didn’t feature some teen sitting near the back of the class by the windows (and they almost always do). It makes me more aware that a lot of my favorite anime break that trend and show something beyond school: Steins;Gate, Ergo Proxy, Spice and Wolf, Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne… it’s actually such a relief when I start a show and it’s in some fantasy or sci-fi world because the cliché is less apt to show up.

I guess this is a bit of a rant, and I don’t mean to detract from high school-based shows at all. There are a lot of them I had quite a bit of fun with. It’s just hard to watch that day after day. When you sit down and pay attention with a bunch of other kids in a classroom, it starts to feel like being back in school.

And that’s exactly what I want to avoid.

Keyes-Chain

 

In nothing is my abject nerdiness so apparent as when I reveal how I find most, if not all, of the authors that I prefer. Since I began reading, I was one of those kids who loved reading the Star Wars expanded universe novels. My passion for them has waned somewhat as the expanded universe has gone in directions I don’t particular care for (probably will be more on that later), but I still enjoy reading the older books. You may have heard of some of them: Timothy Zahn’s “Heir to the Empire” trilogy, Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston’s X-Wing novels, the New Jedi Order series… there’s a ton of them.

Timothy Zahn and Michael A. Stackpole are two such authors that I became a big fan of through their Star Wars novels, and now I have large collections of their original books. The third big author that I discovered through this method is Greg Keyes, sometimes known as J. Gregory Keyes. He is the author that wrote “Edge of Victory I”, “Edge of Victory II”, and “The Final Prophecy” of the New Jedi Order series. These books are some of my favorites in the entire 21+ book series, and I especially appreciated Greg Keyes’s respect for original characters made by other authors.

As much as I like his Star Wars work, however, my appreciation of his writing only increased when I read his own novels. Greg Keyes tends to fantasy more than science fiction, comparable in some ways to George R. R. Martin in that they are more low-fantasy, somewhat grimmer and grittier than, let’s say, a J.R.R. Tolkien or a Terry Brooks. At the same time, he has philology knowledge and language is a feature of some of his stories, though to a much lesser extent than Tolkien. Mr. Keyes also has firsthand knowledge of sword-fighting, fencing especially, so expect to find some of that as well. He has written some Elder Scrolls books that I have not read, but he has three separate original series that I strongly recommend.

His first, and my personal favorite, is the “Chosen of the Changeling” duology. Unfortunately, this cannot yet be found on Kindle, but I have the paperback copies and they’re well worth it. The world Keyes creates in these books is one where gods of greater and lesser power can be found in nearly everything, from streams and rivers, to mountains and trees, to buildings and animals and even weapons. The cultures that are focused on are actually more Asian than European, which is quite unusual in a fantasy novel, but it provides a nice contrast to the usual fare. The series is somewhat continued in the short story collection “The Hounds of Ash and Other Tales of Fool Wolf”, which can be found on Kindle.

The second series is “Age of Unreason”, a four book alternate history featuring such well-known figures as Benjamin Franklin, Isaac Newton, Peter the Great, Louis XIV, and others. This series is a political and fantasy one where the history of the world is significantly different due to the use of magic and alchemy rather than technology. Some force is manipulating the major governments and figures of the world in an attempt to stall human progress, and the crux of the series is finding out who and why. Admittedly, this series has actually fueled my interest in that era of history.

Third, and the most recent major series by Greg Keyes, is “The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone”. This, perhaps, is Mr. Keyes most conventional fantasy story, though using the term conventional is a definite disservice to the author and his work. What I mean is that it would probably be the most familiar to anyone new to Mr. Keyes’s work, it’s a more western style fantasy, but the story is dark and sprawling and has a lot of great characters and interesting ideas. It is the easiest of his original series to find, either digital or physical, and would be a good jumping off point for anyone interested.

At any rate, I fully endorse reading any of his books. Greg Keyes is a great author, my current favorite, managing to make unique, fascinating worlds that defy a lot of the conventions and cliches that can plague fantasy. Take a look, check it out, and enjoy.

Make the Story Sing – Unsung Story

 

Even with as short a time as I’ve been working on this blog, I think I’ve made it apparent that I’m a video gamer, specifically one that likes Final Fantasy games (there will be more posts about the series, no doubt about that). Some of my favorite Final Fantasy games, and some of my favorite non-Final Fantasy games, have included the involvement of a certain man, one Yasumi Matsuno.

Matsuno has several claims to fame, though his first really mainstream, big name release was Final Fantasy Tactics. FFT introduced players to the world of Ivalice, which has shown up in several other Final Fantasy games, such as Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Final Fantasy XII (both of which were also directed, at least partially, by Matsuno), as well as Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings and Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift. Another Matsuno game, Vagrant Story, has also been linked to Ivalice, but not explicitly.

Other fantasy-style games by Matsuno include Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together and Crimson Shroud, which is one of the – if not the – best game I’ve played in the last couple years. These games tend to share some features, or perhaps flavor would be the better term… they all have darker, often political, storylines and take place during a medieval, middle ages-esque time period. There are some variations, of course. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is a much lighter game, comparatively, and Final Fantasy XII has a fairly high technology level, but for the most part that’s the common ground. Also, Matsuno likes working with Hitoshi Sakimoto, who composes the music for most of his games. This combination of relatively grim, medieval games with Sakimoto-composed music makes Matsuno’s games quite distinctive.

These stories and games don’t appeal to everyone, and, in fact, Final Fantasy XII was one of the most divisive entries in the series because of its different “flavor”, but I enjoy them. I think they’re more mature, more grounded, more serious, bring up more interesting moral quandaries, and I like Sakimoto’s music (more than Uematsu, who, while good, is becoming the John Williams of video game composers). There’s not a single game Matsuno has worked on that I’ve played and disliked. He’s solid.

Anyways, the reason I bring this all up is that Yasumi Matsuno has started a Kickstarter project for his next game, called “Unsung Story: Tales of the Guardians”. This is another medieval-esque strategy RPG by the acknowledged master of the genre, but free of Square Enix, which can only be a good thing, and featuring stories that span the “77 Year War”. What this means is that players will be taking on the roles of either side over the course of decades of the war, seeing how it plays out, altering the outcome of events, learning the history and changes in fortune of the long conflict.

I’m excited.

Granted, I have been on a Matsuno kick lately, but this game looks pretty damn cool, and I’m looking forward to playing it. I myself have contributed to the Kickstarter, and, if you’re at all interested, I encourage you to donate as well. As usual, there are bonuses for contributing ever more amounts of money to the project, so pick your number and your prize and throw them a bone. More information can be found at the official website: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/482445197/unsung-story-tale-of-the-guardians

As of now, they’ve not quite reached the halfway point of their goal, but they have another thirty days to go. Let’s make this game a reality.

El Psy Congroo – A Quick Look at Steins;Gate

 

As much as I like anime, I know for a fact that I’m nowhere near an expert in the medium, and I’m not nearly as versed in the history, culture, or current and upcoming shows as many other people are. I’m a guy that respects anime, that enjoys some of the stories, that likes the art work and the voice-acting. My exposure to new shows is somewhat limited, so I can’t state definitely what is the best or worst anime even of the last year, much less ever. All I can offer is my opinion, and I have very strong feelings about one particular anime that I saw in 2013.

In addition to liking anime, I like science fiction, and I’m always fascinated by time travel. As an aspiring writer, I enjoy stories with good, complex, likable characters. “Steins;Gate” fulfills all of these criteria, and it is my pick for best anime I watched in the last year (even though it actually came out in English in 2012). “Steins;Gate” was, originally, released as a visual novel on Xbox 360 as part of a triad of games starting with “Chaos;Head” and ending with “Robotics;Notes before they were all adapted into anime.. I’ll discuss “Chaos;Head” at some point, but for now I’m going to focus on the middle entry of the series: “Steins;Gate”.

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This anime focuses on Okabe Rintaro, a self-proclaimed mad scientist of the “Future Gadget Laboratory”, which is less of a laboratory than it is a small apartment where Okabe and his friend Daru make silly, mostly useless inventions while Okabe’s childhood friend Mayuri hangs out and watches. Their current project is, of all things, a microwave that you can activate remotely from your cell-phone. The plot kicks off when Okabe witnesses a fellow scientist (an actual scientist), Makise Kurisu, lying in a pool of blood. Our mad-scientist hero texts Daru of his discovery and, partially due to their microwave experiments, the text message somehow alters the reality that Okabe lives in, and the past is not as he remembers it.

From that point, the plot spins out as our protagonists discover the rules of this new invention, experimenting, speculating, and trying to help people, but things go horribly wrong, and the consequences of mucking about with time become very apparent and very dangerous. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the show gets somewhat violent and intense and quite emotional. There are plot twists and revelations a-plenty and the final solution is brilliant.

The art is great, the music is fantastic, and I love the story and characters. “Steins;Gate”, to me, is probably the most overall solid, enjoyable anime I’ve watched in my lifetime. It is, in fact, one of the few anime that I’ve actually purchased recently, while most of the shows I watch have been on Crunchyroll, Netflix, or Hulu, but I liked it enough that I payed to own the series.

I guess that one of the things I like the most about the show is that, for an anime, it’s surprisingly subtle and low-key. Okabe himself can be over-the-top in his mad scientist persona, but, for anime, that’s actually pretty minor. Anime does tend to be overly colorful or hyper or silly in various ways, either plot-wise or character-wise, and it’s actually a nice change of pace to have a show more grounded stylistically. Moreover, despite the fact that it’s based on a visual novel which allowed you to pick which of the female characters Okabe would choose, the “harem” element is very much downplayed in the anime, which is a huge relief to me. The harem cliché is another topic I’ll get into in a later post, but for now let me just say that any show that doesn’t use it gains a point from me.

That’s the short version, I guess, of why I like “Steins;Gate” and why it’s my favorite anime of the last year. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and I’ve heard a few people say it’s overrated, but, for my money, it earned its spot. I encourage you to at least check it out. You may not like it as much as I did, but I doubt you’ll find it to be a complete waste of time.

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The Mystery Behind Radio Drama

 

I’m a multi-tasker. When I write, read, chat, play video games, or do any kind of work, I like listening to music, or, even better, having a movie on in the background. Even when I go to sleep, I turn on Netflix on my phone or 3DS, turn the sound low, and drift away to some well-beloved movie or TV show. If I could find a convenient way to listen to movies in the car, I’d do it in a heartbeat. You know what I mean… there are some movies you know so well that you don’t have to look at the screen, you can imagine what’s happening without even seeing it.

The next best thing, and something that I’m increasingly fond of, is the underrated “radio drama”. Now radio drama is not to be confused with an audiobook. An audiobook is, well… a much lesser thing. They are usually abridged, and consist primarily or entirely of someone reading at you. A radio drama is a full cast audio production with music, sound effects, and multiple actors and actresses playing out the parts in the story, very much like a movie without a picture.

Radio drama takes many different forms, and, for a while, it was the pre-eminent form of entertainment in the days before television shows were common. The original “Dragnet” series was a great example of radio drama, and, if you can get a hold of the show, is still worth listening to today. Old-time radio was big business with shows like “The Shadow”, “X-1”, and, to a lesser extent “Duffy’s Tavern”. I remember laughing playing one of the Grand Theft Auto games and finding on one of the fake, in-game radio stations a parody old-time radio serial, showing that the art form was still remembered even in modern pop culture.

It lives on in other forms as well. Where I live, there’s a local affiliate program that plays radio drama called “Imagination Theater”. These consist of Sherlock Holmes stories, as well as several original franchises, like “Kincaid the Strange Seeker” and “Harry Nile”. I have no doubt there are similar programs in most major cities, all playing their own programs. If you can’t find any on the radio, you might have better luck on iTunes or online. My favorite is “Decoder Ring Theatre”, a Canadian production featuring two original shows: “The Red Panda Adventures” and “Black Jack Justice”. I highly recommend it, especially since it is currently free (throw them a bone, though, and become a monthly donor if you enjoy the shows).

Last but not least is the occasional book or movie that has been adapted into a Radio Drama and marketed as an audiobook. No doubt they actually did air on radio at some point, but they’re hard to find now. Audible has a good selection of these. There is a radio adaptation of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” (I prefer the older BBC productions, as goofy as they can sometimes be). The “Star Wars” radio drama is one I highly recommend, both for the quality of the production and the expansion of the script, showing scenes that weren’t in the movies. My favorite, though, and probably the best produced audio drama I’ve ever heard is “Left Behind: An Experience in Sound and Drama”. Say what you will about the source material or concept, I maintain that it is an excellent, well-acted and produced piece of work.

Anyways, I’m not really sure what I accomplished with this post except to share my love of radio drama. If you’re a multi-tasker like me, or just like something fun to listen to at work, check out some of the links I provided or do some digging around on your own and find something that suits your tastes. There’s a lot of great work being done out there, and I believe it deserves more credit.