Monthly Archives: March 2011

Thoughts on America’s Greatest Otaku #5

Team Mangaloids enjoy smoking ninja food in a restaurant I would go to if I weren't terrified of people pretending to stab me while I eat- seriously, that's what they do at Ninja NYC.

Now that we’re past the halfway point, how is this show being received, anyway? I don’t see much talk about it online (other than the quasi-pathetic group that cropped up when the show started to say that it was not cool enough for them, for they must be so, so cool), yet according to analytics, a lot of the visitors to Otakusphere seem to come here looking for more about this show. Also, I do tend to avoid the corners of the internet where the comments would annoy the hell out of me, which is 99% of the internet, so I really don’t know what’s going on anyway.

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The Significance of Morning Rescue(?)

Not content with merely deconstructing (by which I mean, ripping the guts out of) its own genre, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is sort of deconstructing the culture that has grown up around anime fansubbing as well.

For those that know about Otakusphere but somehow don’t yet know about Madoka (a group that probably contains all of two people, but hey, I aim to please), fansub groups have been keeping the Japanese commercials for the beverage “Morning Rescue” in their cuts of the popular dark magical girl show, and the commercial has become internet-popular. Due to demand for the actual product, Jlist (and possibly other retailers I’m not aware of) have started carrying the drink for people outside of Japan to order. I don’t know the numbers, but Peter (owner of Jlist) has tweeted that the drink is selling well.

Fansubs of unlicensed shows are considered more or less morally neutral; while digitally downloadable versions of licensed shows can be considered theft (and let’s just leave it at that, without getting into the whole piracy/theft/copyright infringement definition quagmire), downloads of unlicensed shows don’t really do anything; you’re seeing something that isn’t meant for you, since you won’t be viewing the advertising the way the targeted market will (or have access to the product even if you do see the advertising), but you aren’t finding a sneaky way around an actual purchase, either, because there’s no actual product available for you to buy.

However, when fansubbers start leaving in commercials, and those commercials lead to actual sales of the Japanese products that companies paid the TV station to advertise, doesn’t that end up becoming a net positive?

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean it’s a net positive in financial terms. For every one person who orders a bottle of Morning Rescue from Jlist after watching a fansub of Madoka Magica, there are probably about a thousand people who will just watch it and do nothing- not enough to make the company that makes the drink a lot of money.

Still, you have to wonder; if the world has become flat enough, thanks to global retailing and shared interest in different subcultures, that the commercial is creating the same desire for a product that it was meant to inspire in the targeted audience, doesn’t the once-lowly fansub watcher therefore become part of the targeted audience? From Morning Rescue’s perspective, they don’t care if Madoka fans live in Japan or China or Timbuctoo; they want people to watch the show, see their commercial, and buy their product. If someone in the U.S. orders a case of Morning Rescue based on the commercials they saw in a legally “gray” fansub, are they any less valid as part of the target audience than a person in Tokyo who bought one? It’s still advertising dollars well spent.

I haven’t been covering Madoka Magica on a regular basis, mostly because my recaps of individual episodes would end up being a .WAV file featuring the sound of my jaw hitting the floor continuously. But I think the Morning Rescue phenomenon that spawned from the Madoka fansubs has really interesting implications for the future of digital anime distribution, legal and otherwise- I mean, I’m not sure what they ARE yet, but they’re certainly interesting.

Tomb Raider Level 9, Tomb of Tihocan

Lara fighting the first Atalantean CentaurI think I said at the beginning that these level write-ups would probably get shorter once I got into the game, and if anything they’re just getting longer and longer. By Natla’s Mines, we could be in Anna Karenina territory here.

Like Tomb of Qualopec, this level is more a gauntlet of traps meant to keep you from your destination for just a bit longer than an exploration-friendly locale. However, unlike Tomb of Qualopec, it feels less like an individual level and more like a mix of several unrelated ideas strewn together. Still, despite lacking cohesion, it’s actually more fun than the previous tomb level; the collection of traps and puzzles is varied enough not to get dull, and the level actually becomes something memorable towards the end.

Idea #1: The Cistern, Part Deux

Hmmm, where have I seen this before? Other than ten minutes ago?

The puzzles in the first half of the level just seem like an expansion of the previous level, the Cistern, complete with obvious-but-still-nifty water puzzles, fungi infestation, crocodiles (ack!) and rats (ick.) However, that’s not a bad thing, necessarily; because the puzzles are simple (in fact, calling them “puzzles” is a bit of stretch), you never really get bogged down in this area. I think the Cistern-area decor doesn’t get old because you’re quickly through this section before you have time to get sick of it.

As TR fans, we like to talk about the “diabolical” puzzles that tripped us up, but the sad truth is, not every puzzle can be a brainteaser; we don’t have the patience for it. While too many easy puzzles can start to bore, a few easy puzzles when all you want to do is get to the end of the section (which you clearly want to do at this point in the Greco-Roman hub of the adventure) can be satisfying in its own way.

Idea #2: Block Puzzles For Dummies

I actually don’t have a screenshot of the block puzzle, because uh…it’s a block puzzle, who cares. But I did want to point out that I hate these metal shutters that start appearing in this level, they make no sense.

Now on the other hand, the one major block puzzle is easy to the point of being kind of insulting; there aren’t really any choices to make, you just push the block onto the obvious places to push it- the order doesn’t matter- and doors open. Upon replay, I was struck by what a total free gift this “puzzle” was; we’re being herded, with a wink and a nudge, toward the end of the section.

A shoutout to the keyholes in this room for being one of the few sets of keyholes in the game you can traverse perfectly with a sideways jump; I always try to travel between adjacent keyholes/switches/etc. with a sideways jump, and it usually doesn’t line up properly and I feel stupid. At least, this one time, I was able to use the sideways jump for something more useful than wasting time in Lara’s music room.

Idea #3: Introduction to Atlantis

Now, this is more like it.

The underwater section preceding Tihocan’s actual tomb is among the game’s prettier areas, and there’s a great sense of majesty as well. It’s fitting that Tihocan’s tomb is surrounded by water, given that the Grecian section of the game is by far the most water-oriented of the four. The only downside is that it seems like the vast underwater caverns should be filled with secrets, and there’s really nothing there- I kept thinking a piece of seaweed was one of those TR2- style gold dragons, but alas, it was only some yellow-green pixels.

The statue coming to life is also a very surprising moment (although the story behind this confuses me, which I’ll get to in a minute), and I like the fact that both statues don’t come to life together; I don’t think I knew that the second one even could come to life after you’d entered the temple until this playthrough.

However, remember how that mummy in Tomb of Qualopec was implied to actually be Qualopec? Well it would stand to reason that the Atalantean Horseman is Tihocan (or his spirit, or whatever), except how can that be? I thought all the red creatures were abominations that Natla had created, and buddies Qualopec and Tihocan were decidedly not in favor of her handiwork. Okay, I know the real reason why the horseman is there is because a)it scares the daylights out of you in a good way and b)it’s foreshadowing the Atalantean hijinks to come, but it doesn’t quite make sense to me in the larger context of the story, which is generally more cohesive than many have given it credit for.

Stupid Pierre Tricks: Finale

It seems like the Stupid Pierre Tricks segment should end with some sort of glorious, no-holds-barred battle, but the last two encounters with our favorite magical Frenchman are nothing terribly exciting- although you do fight Pierre in much closer quarters than usual during the first one, making his teleportation act much more obvious than usual, since there’s just nowhere for him to run most of the time. Now, I know that not everyone is sold on my theory about Pierre, but honestly? After this level, I think the burden of proof is on anyone who thinks Pierre ISN’T magical.

The final confrontation is also kind of underwhelming- you shoot him, he forgets to teleport/run away this time, thus he dies. Hmm. I can’t even make some snide comment about how I’m glad to put him out of my misery, because I was actually kind of starting to enjoy having him around by this point…I think it’s Stockholm Syndrome.

I do like the fact that he actually reached the Scion before Lara; the implication is that he was in the area quite a while before her, since Larson knew that Pierre was headed to Greece when Lara was still tied down in Peru. Actually, the fact that he was there first brings up the possibility that he actually had plenty of time to leave before she got there, but decided to stick around just to finish her off- or was he going to suggest another activity entirely, if she hadn’t drawn her shotgun so quickly? I guess we’ll never know- thanks for ruining that budding romance, Lara.

Secretly Ridiculous

As I said previously, I’m not looking to get all secrets: typically, I play the level once just to complete it, then I play it again actively looking for secrets, and then I MIGHT play it again after looking up the locations of the secrets I haven’t found yet in a walkthrough. While I usually find at least one or two on my own, I had no idea where either of the secrets on this level were before I looked it up, and I don’t think I ever would have found either of them on my own.

I actually love the little jumping puzzles WITHIN these two secrets, but they got me thinking- what is the purpose of a secret, anyway? Secrets like the ones on this level seem to be really meant for the people who are willing to comb every pixel of the game looking for a pleasant surprise, and I just don’t have the inclination or the time. I’m kind of glad that they put that sort of thing in the game to give the truly hardcore a reason to keep playing, but it makes me feel kind of bad that even as someone who blogs TR, my dedication has its limits. For me, doing an “all secrets” playthrough would mean “all the secrets that I looked up on the internet, ‘cuz I’d never find them myself,” and I find that a little sad. I anticipate this becoming a major problem by TR3, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Look Over Us Kindly, Tihocan

I’ve always been very impressed with how much this short cutscene gets across about our heroine. 1: She can read the hieroglyphics, something the other tomb raiders probably can’t do (although Pierre’s abilities are questionable.) 2. She reads them in a slightly halting manner, because she’s not a perfect Mary Sue-type who’s fluent in a zillion languages- she can read it, but not quickly. 3. Regardless of what she may have thought coming into the temple, after reading about his noble, childless life, she seems to have some sympathy for Tihocan- it’s not all about breaking into his tomb and taking his stuff. I think at this point in the story there’s a subtle shift in Lara’s motivation; rather than just going after pieces of the Scion because they exist and she’s curious, she’s taking over for Qualopec and Tihocan in protecting the world from Natla’s horrible ambitions; she just hasn’t realized it yet.

Now a lot of the apparent empathy for Tihocan comes from Shelly Blond’s vocal performance rather than the script, but nevertheless, it’s in the game.

I also like the fact that Lara never says, “My, what are Egyptian hieroglyphics doing in Greece (or sometimes, more like Rome)? How strange!” Often in TR, they seem to give us enough credit to connect the dots ourselves without needing explicit instruction. I’ll get into the Egypt/Greece/Peru location issue, to the extent that it’s explicable, next level.

Best:
Swimming around in the large underwater area before Tihocan’s tomb is great fun, although this could rapidly become a “worst” if you spend an hour scouring the area for the secrets that aren’t there. The surprise appearance of the first Atalantean creature is also a best, although it’s in the exact same area, so I guess this whole segment of the level could count as the best. Is that cheating?

Worst:

That annoying glitch in the area where you get the gold key that prevents Lara from shimmying across the alcove unless the door is open. Although you can drop down to the spikes and survive with minimal damage, it certainly looks like you just glitched yourself to death, leading to unnecessary reloading. Most people probably find the switch first, thus never encounter this problem, but if you do encounter it, it’s annoying, and quite possibly the sloppiest glitch in the entire game. Also, as mentioned above, I hate the metal shutters- they always look out of place.

Now, this? This is annoying. Please tell me they fixed this in TR1: Revised?

Rating: Four Uzi Clips out of Five

I was actually going to give this a three due to the fact that only the last third of the level feels cohesive, but then I remembered that I bumped up the score for Tomb of Qualopec because of the boss fight and the end-level cutscene, and this level has two boss fights and an awesome little cutscene, so it’s only fair.

Next: City of Khamoon, or save me from the terrible panther mummies- seriously, they’re horrifying.

“It would appear that, fifteen years later, I will become the subject of literary analysis…hmm….”

(Screenshots in this post have been taken with permission from Katie’s Tomb Raider Screenshots.)

Thoughts On America’s Greatest Otaku Episode #4

Smiling Stephan +ridiculously huge plush Miku= Good Episode.

With episode #4, Tokyopop’s quest to get me to consume more sushi continues to pick up momentum. Seriously, that seems to be the underlying goal here, because after each episode I may not feel particularly keen on buying any Tokyopop products, but man do I want some sushi.

This episode had what could have potentially featured the most interesting challenge yet- finding a mentor to teach you an otaku-related skill- but it was kind of rendered moot by the fact that only one member of one team (Dom) actually participated. Now, I would call out the other teams for not doing the challenge, but it’s hard to tell how much time anyone had from the way it’s edited; I get the impression they may have been seriously pressed for time in Oklahoma City and Nashville to make more time for Otakon and New York later on, in which case I can’t really blame them (yeah, I’m biased towards the east coast, not gonna lie.)

Hey look, it’s Deb Aoki! I want to be like Deb when I grow up; that is all.

However, bonus points to Dre of some variety for pointing out to Stu Levy that Team Mangaloids were perhaps better equipped to tackle their challenge at San Diego Comic Con versus his team in Oklahoma. However, I don’t blame the show for this; it seems to be a reality show staple to stack the deck really unfairly like that. Remember that episode of Top Chef: Just Desserts where they took all the chocolate out of the kitchen, and the one guy who wasn’t planning on using chocolate in his dish anyway was just like “Screw y’all!” No? I have to find other humans who have actually watched that show.

Viewing SDCC was probably the most interesting part of the episode, in part because you could actually SEE it; New York Comic Con/Anime Festival was so packed this year, all you could see when you looked straight ahead was the freckles of the several people invading your personal space in front of you. If SDCC was as nicely un-crowded as it looked from this episode, I’m seriously jealous of west-coast con-goers right now, because I feel like the ridiculous crowding ruins the NY conventions for me.

As an added bonus, I finally learned how to pronounce “Wacom” from this episode- I’ve been saying “Way-com” for like, ten years now. And, my god, do I want that tablet…..

The other interesting part of this episode was meeting AGO contender Selene’s entire otaku family, complete in cosplay with anime wall-hangings galore. I’m slightly disappointed we didn’t find out more about the parents, however; are they really otaku as well, or do they just play along to make their kids happy? In a way, wouldn’t they be the most awesome parents ever if they cosplayed as Bleach characters for the sake of familial harmony even if they’ve never seen Bleach?

I really have nothing to add to this picture. That’s just…wow. A contender indeed.

On the next episode, the group goes to Otakon 2010, so I’ll probably spend the entire episode looking for a glimpse of myself in the background because I was actually there, plus Washington D.C. (whatever) and New York (yaaay!). Now, Team D&D may be my favorites, but if Diana and Dre can’t find anything suitably otaku-ish to do in NY, there will be words.

I’m getting sushi tonight, I don’t care what anyone else says. Even if they’re all like “Oh, we’re going to Outback, you can get a Bloomin’ Onion for your main course if you like,” I’ll stand my ground, because that’s how badly I want sushi right now- Bloomin’ Onion badly.

Tomb Raider, Level 8: The Cistern

Midas Water District: Tax Money Well Spent

Like City of Vilcabamba, this level makes you think just a little bit about what life must have been like for people in ye olden tymes. Unlike Vilcabamba however, I don’t get a sense of sadness from this level; it’s more like, “Once upon a time, people used sewers for municipal waste; they still do, just not this one. The End.” It doesn’t seem to be haunted by ghosts from the pasts, perhaps because ghosts aren’t particularly attracted to what’s basically a lot of plumbing.

That said, perhaps it’s appropriate that this level is much more alive than many of the others- and by alive I mean, full of things you probably find disgusting. The walls are infested with mildew, and instead of just having wildlife to deal with, here the key word is definitely “vermin”; seeing the rats swimming in the sinkholes makes me want to turn off the game and take a shower. There’s a palpable ick-factor here that even the fantastical, pulsating walls of flesh we see later in the game can’t match.

It’s almost like the holy temples are frozen in the past- Qualopec’s tomb, St. Francis Folly- the spirits that haunt them too dignified to play host to decay. In The Cistern, life does in fact go on, but it’s basically one big bacterial infection.

Forget mutated alien freaks bent on world domination, this is true horror; I wish I were kidding.

That said, it’s still a highly enjoyable level. I don’t know if it’s the lack of religious/symbolic imagery or what, but there’s something relaxing about this level. Even though there are still plenty of ways to kill Lara (see below: Crocodiles), I don’t find there to be a sense of peril about this area- it seems to lead more to calm, analytical thinking. “Ah, so if I pull this switch, the cavern will flood and I can swim over those spikes that would otherwise be impassable. Splendid! I’ll just swim on over this way and pick up some magnum ammo before I go after the key…” It’s all very civilized, really.

It’s also a level that involves a tremendous amount of swimming underwater, which I enjoy, without much danger of running out of air. Another personal thing: I’m not much of a swimmer in real life- my crawl stroke looks pathetic-but I’ve always been able to hold my breath for a long time underwater. So, when I do swim, I tend to spend most of my time chillin’ at the bottom of the pool. Exploring ancient ruins via swimming is something that appeals to me a lot, since it doesn’t seem that far afield from something I could actually do in real life, given the opportunity. Of course, the frequent deaths by suffocation that start to become common in TR2 freak me out a bit for the same reason, so I’m happy to have a chance to swim with Lara without being afraid of an imminent, watery grave.

Announcement: Crocodiles are the New Bears

I try to make a point of killing as many of these things from above as possible, however somehow, there’s always more around once I get into the water.  Maybe it’s like pulling the legs off of a starfish- kill one, grow six more?

Crocodiles are clearly the big threat on this level- so much so that you wonder why they even bothered with the monkeys and lions. Despite the more-or-less relaxing environment, if you’re into “OMG, where the **** did THAT just come from!?” sorts of moments, The Cistern has a lot of that- it’s like the oodles and oodles of crocodiles spontaneously generate from the mildew or something. There is one room where you are attacked by, no joke, three crocodiles. One crocodile would have been threatening, two would have been menacing, but three? Once you’ve gone that far, why not just put in 47 of them and make it like a clown car, only with vicious prehistoric killers instead of clowns?

Seriously, they should have done that for people on a replay game; shooting 47 crocodiles would probably use up all of your magnum ammo, but on a clear file with infinite uzis, I fail to see a downside.

Anyway, another notable feature of the local croc population is their tendency to chomp on Lara’s head when she goes for some of the keys in this level- and I’m not being cute, I mean they literally put their jaws where Lara’s head is. I don’t know if that was intentional, or it’s just the effect you get when Lara is picking up a key while a croc swims through an underwater door that just opened, but it’s disturbing nonetheless.

It’s interesting- back in the day, Lara’s horrible deaths were kind of fun because they were graphically incapable of being truly gruesome. Today, all Lara can do is fall over and grunt, and it’s really kind of a drag in comparison. I’m not a fan of gore by any means, but I kind of miss the idea of video game gore being so totally harmless- it’s the same reason I don’t enjoy any of the post-PSX Resident Evil games.

Stupid Pierre Tricks: Penultimate Edition

I confess, I’m a bit disappointed by this edition of Stupid Pierre Tricks: I kept hoping I would find some interesting method to Pierre’s madness, but it really does just seem random. You run into Pierre a ridiculous three times (hmm, weird theme with the number three…), and there doesn’t seem to be any pattern to his disappearing; sometimes he’ll disappear quickly, and sometimes he’ll stick around and soak up damage for a fairly long time, despite the plethora of corners available to slip away behind. The only thing I can really say for sure is that he doesn’t ever stick around for as long as he does in the Coliseum in this level, probably because that would make things too difficult, health-pack conservation wise.

Now in theory, Pierre’s frequent appearances should ruin some of the sense of isolation and whatnot in this level, but you know what? I’m not sure that’s actually the case. I think his frequent appearances kind of go along with the relaxed feeling of this level. Sure, in theory Pierre popping up out of nowhere could scare the crap out of you, but Pierre hasn’t been scary since MAYBE St. Francis Folly. Instead, he’s more like an old friend at this point; an old friend who shoots you, sure, but honestly, how else do you get Lara Croft to notice you?

This room is just weird- there are gorillas (why?) a fight with Pierre that tends to involve him taking way more hits than is necessary, and a really sadistic non-secret that requires backflipping off a ledge to get. I thought it wasn’t until TR3 that you needed to whip out the “backflip into seemingly certain death to adjust trajectory” strategy, but apparently I was wrong.

I think this may be like all those times when my Mom said the boys just picked on me because they liked me, and even though I thought she was crazy at the time, now I see that she was right. It’s just unrequited love, people.

Best: Flooding the main room and swimming through it. There’s something really satisfying about making such a huge change to the level just by flicking a lever, and swimming through areas you could previously only traverse with running jumps feels great, almost as though you can suddenly fly.

There’s something very majestic about swimming around this room- I would say it’s unequaled, but I think swimming near the giant submerged statues in Sanctuary of the Scion later on probably tops it.

Worst: There isn’t anything that particularly stands out as bad in this level; the only potential annoyance is if you can’t find one of the many keys you need to progress, but getting stuck on this level is relatively rare- there’s always somewhere you haven’t explored yet. Really, calling it a “worst” may be a bit of a stretch, but the beginning and end of the level seem kind of disconnected from the main cistern area; they seem like they were just tacked on for a bit of extra length.

Whether they be rusty, silver, or gold, Lara never leaves abandoned keys out in the cold! Wow, that was terrible, let’s try again….Lara never met a key she didn’t like, the better to Tihocan’s Tomb to hike? Yeah, I think I’ll stick to prose….

Rating: Four Uzi Clips out of five. It’s hard to give this one less than 5/5, since flooding the main room and swimming around in it is one of my favorite TR moments in the franchise, but if I’m honest, is the entirety of the level that high-quality? There is an awful lot of key-fetching, and as mentioned above, the opening and closing areas aren’t anything to write home about. So it’s 4/5, but believe me, I was sorely tempted to go higher.

Next: Tomb of Tihocan, or ‘since it seems like this level is totally just filler, why is it still so fun?”

(Screenshots in this post have been taken with permission from Katie’s Tomb Raider Screenshots.)

Anime and Manga Bloggers for Japan

Donate to Japan Relief, and even Homura will smile. Hey, it could happen.

I wasn’t going to say anything about the situation in Japan on this blog because I’m not sure I feel it’s my place to tell people that they should go donate to the relief efforts, which is pretty much all I can do. However, what Daniella Orihuela Gruber is doing with Anime and Manga Bloggers For Japan over at All About Manga immediately made sense to me. Obviously, I owe Japan some of my happiness, and I’m glad that Daniella put together a framework for me to donate that just felt right. I would have donated anyway, but to tell you the truth, just sending off a random amount of money to a relief organization has always felt a little strange to me.

One thing I’ve learned from Twitter over the past few days is that natural disasters seem to spawn lots of highly random pro-Japan fanart on the internet, so I figured I might as well partake of some of that while in a drawin’ mood. Now, anyone can show you pink, frilly little Madoka cheering on Japan, but honestly, how many cheerful Homuras have you seen? Actually, thinking about the kind of Puella Magi Madoka Magica art that is now available on the internet in spades, I probably don’t want to know the answer to that.

That’s about all, I just wanted to help get the word out about this nifty little fundraiser that came around at just the right time for me- consider giving if you haven’t already.

Thoughts on America’s Greatest Otaku: Episode #3

In which we learn that Japanese dolls are pieces of art, and American dolls are just “Meant to be played with.” Um, it’s rare that I get to say this, but if that’s the case, then I’m on Team America here.

This week’s episode was kind of let down after the actually-quite-good cosplay romp that was last week’s, but still watchable enough. The main problem was that the competitive eating contest didn’t seem to have much to do with being an otaku, or the theme of “Personality” either, really. Yeah, there’s that one famous hot-dog eating Japanese guy who’s way more attractive than anyone who shoves hotdogs in his face for a living has any right to be, but I don’t see eating contests as being a big part of otaku culture- am I wrong here? Plus, eating contests just look kind of gross in my opinion.

I do however like the trend of Dre and Diana winning hands down while Team S&S does unbelievably badly at everything, despite the fact that Stephan seems to be the most intelligent co-host; I guess being smart doesn’t help much when your quest is to imbibe lots of ramen and frozen yogurt (?) at a rapid pace. I guess the winning team doesn’t actually win anything, since this was the second time the same team won the weekly challenge but there was no mention of a prize.

I would have taken Professor Brau’s class.

Once again, the show is elevated by the guests, who are a batch of interesting folk who probably wouldn’t get a chance to star on an internet TV show if AGO never came to be. The contestants weren’t as memorable to me this week as last week (which is no insult to them personally; I just didn’t think they made strong cases for being the ‘greatest’ otaku, as opposed to several previous contestants), but the guests from academia and business were interesting.

Actually, the people at the Kansas City Art Institute didn’t say anything terribly interesting, I just know I would have killed for a kids’ manga-drawing class like that when I was that age. Kids these days don’t know how good they have it, back in the day we needed to walk fifteen miles in the snowpocalypse to get the lastest derivative How to Draw Manga book, etc. etc…..

Does anybody have a theory as to how this order was determined? It doesn’t look very fuel-efficient; doesn’t Tokyopop CARE ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT????

Best: The segment with Dr. Laurie Brau about culinary manga- once again, Dre and Diana get to do the best stuff, and I’m so glad that someone in academia is doing something that actually seems different and interesting and not the redundant, masturbatory exercise that most academic study appears to be. Seriously.

Worst: Watching people stuff food into their mouths- wasn’t gross enough to put me off the show, but still general-purpose gross, not to mention kind of random and unnecessary. I’m also kind of annoyed by the food choices- a chance to eat five times as much of something as usual, and Team Mangaloids picks Kix cereal? Ladies, did you forget that chocolate exists? It should have at least been limited to foods with an otaku connection, like Pocky or something.

Next, the show apparently goes back to California, because spending the first week there apparently wasn’t enough (?), and I see if the other AGO co-hosts can find a way to stand out from the mini-golf playing, pancake-annihilating shadow of Team D&D, who seem to win everything.

Go, Team S&S! May you win a no-prize in the next challenge, which will hopefully be much less gross.

Tomb Raider, Level 7: Palace Midas

A Golden Opportunity, or All That Glitters is Entombed

You know, I feel like there should be a lot to say unrelated to the Midas statue and its hand of shiny, glittery-gorgeous death, but the hand of Midas kind of dominates this area. I’m trying to think about all of the other level features, which genuinely are memorable in and of themselves, but my mind keeps going back to that moment when I first positioned Lara on the hand, and magic happened- by which I mean, LITERAL magic, because that’s what’s going on with this level.

I think it was Toby Gard who said during the TR:A commentary that the Hand of Midas was the only thing in the game where magic was the only suitable explanation- all of the Atalantean hi-jinks later on can be attributed to technologically advanced aliens- and that it was a major decision whether or not to include it at all for that reason. I think this is the second moment (the T-Rex encounter in Lost Valley being the first) where your expectations of what the world of Tomb Raider is and can be are shattered, then put back together again, and it works brilliantly.

I always kind of wondered why Lara didn’t just step off once she started turning to gold, but I guess once her feet turn, they become too heavy to lift and she’s trapped.

I’m not 100% sure if this is how it went down, since it was probably fifteen years ago and I don’t remember every single second of playing this game for the first time vividly (for shame, I know), but I’m pretty sure I stepped Lara on the hand for the first time being aware of the myth, but thinking it would never happen in a million years. “Oh, and here’s a hand in a level that references King Midas, ha ha wouldn’t it be funny if Lara just turned to gold right now, except that so wouldn’t happen because there’s no way the game would be that amaziOHMYGOD IT’S SERIOUSLY HAPPENING.”

It was quite possibly the only time in my videogaming career where a Game Over produced both tremendous awe and a huge smile.

Tomb of Giant Statue Guy

If you think about it, Midas tomb seems to be designed so ONLY MIDAS CAN GET OUT OF IT. Creepy.

This is also a very pure Tomb Raider level in one sense, since the palace is clearly a tomb; it’s not one of the major plot-tombs where the pieces of the scion are kept, but an additional tomb. However, have you ever thought about the mechanics of this in regard to the magical giant hand? Stick with me for a moment, it’s a little weird.

Okay, so Midas was a king in Greek myth, who, in punishment for his greed, was cursed so that everything he touched turned to gold. With me so far? Okay. Except, Midas was a person, who is presumably buried somewhere in the palace. So, why is a giant, disembodied hand the thing that turns you to gold? Are we supposed to think that Midas was a giant, like in Gulliver’s Travels, and his hand was chopped off sometime before his untimely death? Or was his soul put into the giant statue made to honor him after his death, so his “curse” lived on long after his body decayed?

I’m partial to the second theory- it especially makes sense if you imagine he’s entombed somewhere WITHIN the giant statue, so ultimately, the statue is just an extension of him. Obviously, the reason why the giant hand came about is because having Lara stand on an actual human-sized hand wouldn’t work (and that would mean introducing Midas’ actual corpse, which is just like, eww), but I’m always kind of fascinated by these leaps of logic you make in games without even being conscious that you’re making them- I mean, I think I always subscribed to the “within the statue resides Midas’ soul” idea while playing this level without ever for a second consciously thinking about it.

I think that may be one of the reasons why I keep coming back to Tomb Raider- I’m fascinated by the mental gymnastics I do subconsciously in order to make the world make sense to me, because I must want it to so badly.

In Which Lara is Not Nearly as On Fire as I Had Expected

The notorious pillar room, which separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls and the champion Tomb Raiders from the…people who have to reload in this room a lot. This fiery gauntlet is responsible for more people getting stuck than anything else in the entire game; at the very least, it has that reputation. You can tell the developers knew it too, because they put two save crystals virtually right next to each other so you can save right before you try it and right after you succeed. Even though there’s a metric ton of save crystals in this level, that still seems rather excessive.

To explain the significance of traversing this room to me, I have to explain something about myself: as much as I like video games, I don’t think I’m very good at them. Other than the Tomb Raider series and a few other third-person adventures, most of the games I play are RPGs- partially for the aesthetics and stories, and partially because they generally don’t require what you might call “reflexes” whatsoever. If I have to press a particular set of buttons in a timely fashion to avoid death, chances are my character is dead.

I don’t remember how long it took me to do this section when I first played the game eons ago, but I’m pretty sure I was stuck on it for at least a few days. I think I eventually used the “take damage whilst sucking down medipacks whilst on fire” technique to complete it. Needless to say, I was kind of dreading getting up to it for this playthrough.

And yet, when I first played through it again a couple of weeks ago, I was able to traverse this section using all running jumps (no pauses) in about three tries- no Lara on fire to speak of. The last time I played it just now, I did it on my first try.

I looked at Lara safely ensconced on the far platform (and, this is important: not even SLIGHTLY on fire), and wondered: How is this possible? The guys at the Tomb Raider Traveler’s Guide wrote, like, a full dissertation on how to get passed this part without having to do running jumps, because it was supposedly so difficult, and I just did it in ten seconds? HOW CAN THIS BE??

Friends, it may seem arrogant, but I think at this point I’m going to have to call it: after playing these games on and off for fifteen years, I am finally not that bad at Tomb Raider- in fact, I seem to be rather good at it. It is now my intention to bake myself a cake in honor of actually being good at a video game.

Pierre Takes a Holiday

There are no Stupid Pierre Tricks for this level, because everyone’s favorite littering Frenchman doesn’t make an appearance. Since my “Pierre is a Sorceror” theory is clearly the most promising new area in Tomb Raider Scholarship since the seminal thesis “Atalantean Culture: Natla and the Marxist-Feminist Imperative,” it seems only logical to assume he’s doing something properly magical- like sacrificing gorillas to his dark gods to renew his teleportation powers.

In all seriousness, I like the randomness of Pierre just not showing up for this level for some reason. I don’t know if it was an oversight, or they thought his presence was totally unnecessary due to the grandness of this level (in which case they were right), but it’s a check in the win column nonetheless. Of course, that almost makes it even more annoying when he shows up in The Cistern.

Running around the top tier of the level= somehow much more fun than it logically should be. It’s like you used the fly code, only you didn’t- it’s just great level design! Yee-haw crocodiles!

Best: On first blush, turning Lara to gold is the best because it’s the most instantly memorable- however, if you’ve turned Lara to gold, that means you’re dead. I’m not sure if dying should ever be the “best” part of a level. Fortunately, running around the topmost story of the level is a blast- it almost feels like you used a code to cheat and get somewhere you’re not “supposed to”, even though there’s no cheating involved. At least for me, I spend the first half of the level thinking “hmm, it would be awesome to stand there, but it doesn’t look like I can get there,” about several areas and then, TA-DAH.

Worst: Having to go back and forth between the doors with the symbols and the platform with the switches so many times. In theory, you shouldn’t have to do it that much, but something often goes wrong for me even when I’ve memorized the symbol. Sometimes I’ll memorize the combinations, have the door fail to open, then reverse all the switches positions and it will work. Then I’ll think “ah-hah, now I have this switch silliness worked out,” only to get it backwards in the other direction, somehow. Odd quirk of the game, or early-onset Alzheimer’s? You decide. I’m also not at all keen on that secret switch behind the trees- great idea, but it’s so well hidden I almost didn’t find it even when I knew it was there. Plus, why is there a death trap in a SECRET? It’s supposed to be a bonus!

Rating: Five Uzi clips out of five; it would be an extremely memorable level just for the hand of Midas gimmick, and yet, there’s so much going on here that it would be a great level even without it. Admittedly, I probably would have been tempted to lower the score if the flame pillars had actually frustrated me.

If I may be so bold as to say anything even slightly negative about this level (other than the fact that the switches annoy me, but I don’t blame the level for my stupidity), isn’t this spike-room kind of an afterthought? “You know what we haven’t seen for a while? Spikes. Mysteriously bloody spikes. Let’s put in 50,000 of them.”

Next: The Cistern, where I can’t even make a bacteriological infection joke because Scott Lee’s been there already.

(Screenshots in this post have been taken with permission from Katie’s Tomb Raider Screenshots.)

Thoughts On America’s Greatest Otaku: Episode #2

Diana made an adorable Chi, but what was Dre dressed as? For some reason I kept thinking of the Reapers from The World Ends With You, but that seems way too obscure...let me know in the comments what incredibly obvious thing I'm missing here.

Okay, before I do anything else, what is up with that Hulu commercial with the Adrian Brody lookalike with the huge nose singing in the bar while all the women cry? I have now seen that commercial three times in the process of watching and getting a few screens from this episode, and I still have no clue what’s going on there. Are we supposed to gather that the wine is what hideous-yet-inexplicably-sexy French people drink or something?

Anyway, I thought this episode was a massive improvement over the first one. Not only did the Otaku 6 show that they do in fact have personality (once their boss isn’t looking over their shoulder), but some of the people interviewed were just really interesting, even more so than last time. An Iraqi woman who was exposed to anime through Arabic dubs and now studies Japanese and publishes her own adorable doujinshi? A Japanese Aikido instructor with a sense of humor who also works as a chef at the restaurant next door, serving “country style” Japanese food of yore? Those are the kinds of characters I would perhaps make up for a story and then say “nah, too unrealistic,” so I think it’s awesome that these guys actually exist.

I-I don't understand this equation. This is one of those cases where "Please show all work" would have been helpful.

Meanwhile, since I wrote about the first episode, the manga-focused internet has seemingly exploded with hate for Tokyopop after some recent layoffs. I don’t know what to make of it; as far as I can tell, the people who are irritated with the company have some valid reasons for being that way, but there seems to be an element of people projecting any sort of dissatisfaction with Tokyopop that they have ever had since the days of Mixxzine in the ’90s onto AGO, and that doesn’t seem very fair to the people on the show, most of whom do not have much to do with Tokyopop.

I’ve seen a lot of comments to the effect of “How dare Tokyopop make this show that I have now decided to hate when they should be finishing my favorite series/not laying off people/re-translating that one title I think they screwed up ten years ago/ etc. etc.” and it’s like, guys, that’s like forty different issues that the contestants and Otaku 6 have nothing to do with. Once again, I’m not saying that the concerns about the way Tokyopop does business aren’t valid (and I’m not enough of a regular manga buyer to feel like I have an educated opinion there, honestly), but that’s an awful lot of baggage to saddle a little otaku-culture show with.

I think having a weekly theme does help the show overall, but maybe they could have picked a better expression? I don't really get what holding a toothpick has to do with it.

Pride and Prejudiced Mormons

I was kind of wondering what would happen if the cast ended up in a city where there wasn’t much otaku stuff to do, so it’s good we’ve gotten that out of the way with Salt Lake City. Personally I was kind of hoping that they would end up in North Dakota, just because I think the idea of traipsing around sparsely-populated North Dakota looking for cosplayers or something is hysterical, but that’s just me.

The cosplay challenge took away the biggest problem that I had with this show initially, which is that the Otaku 6 seemed pointless- the theme and challenge gave them a reason for being other than as automotons to ask questions in Stu Levy’s place, and Dominique certainly looked much better as Sailor Mars than Levy would have. However, I’m still confused about the structure of this show somewhat- so team D&D “won” the cosplay challenge, right? I know they’re not the AGO contestants, but it seems like they should have won SOMETHING for the challenge, even if it’s only a box of Pocky. I think the benefit of winning any of these things should have been described from the beginning.

The Post-Its give us some credit for being culturally aware this week and don't bother to tell us what Naruto is. The producers have realized that there is no one on earth lucky enough to be unfamiliar with Sasuke.

As far as the contestants go, as noted above I thought Shireen from Salt Lake City was awesome, and Di-Khiem from Denver certainly had the enthusiasm aspect down pat. I wasn’t too impressed with his song, but then he got the part about just wanting Ichigo and Rukia together and hating SasuXNaru, and then I decided he was a cool guy.

PREACH IT, my friend. You is okay.

Also, I know it's only two character portraits on shoes, but that's pretty darn good- he even got Nia's eyes down perfectly.

As far as Todd is concerned, I’m not sure if it’s fair to be including professional voice actors among the contestants. It seems that everyone we’ve seen so far is mainly a hobbyist, so including professionals seems to be skewing the focus of the show a little bit. That said, some of the contestants do seem to do art professionally (Di-Khiem mentioned that he has clients for his shoes), and it would stand to reason that some of the biggest otaku around would pursue anime-related professions. So I don’t know- it’s less that including a professional strikes me as strictly wrong, as I wish I had a better idea what their selection criteria was in the first place.

A Hetalia Cosplay group? Well, I never got on the whole Hetalia train, but whatever floats your respective boats, kids. Now what would be just insane would be if they found ANOTHER Hetalia cosplay group in a different city, hahahahahah that would never

Really, Team S&S? You had to go stealing the Mangaloids idea and interview a Hetalia group? Go find some real Persona cosplayers or something (YEAH I WENT THERE.)

Best: Next to the whole story of Gaku Homma, who was just an all-around awesome guy who is not above slicing onions with a katana, Dre and Diana’s whole segment was the best. Watching them walk around the temple talking to otaku Mormon nuns and playing whacked out, Dada-ist mini-golf while in full cosplay was unique, but the two had sufficient chemistry that they were still watchable even when they were poking around behind dumpsters and basically doing nothing. Dre’s steadfast refusal to believe that they couldn’t find any otaku weirdness in SLC was amusing.

Even if you hate this show, consider watching this episode for this guy, because he might be the world's coolest Aikido instructor.

Worst: Sully’s cosplay. Really, if you’re going to be a Pocky Elf, you have to explain where the elf part comes from, or at least what inspired the costume. We sorely needed the origin of the Pocky Elf, and we never got it. Plus, it just looked like he was too lazy to dress up like a proper anime character. Stephan’s half-Persona, half-whatever cosplay wasn’t much better; yeah it’s hot, SO WHAT? Do you think Dominique enjoyed walking around town in that itty-bitty skirt? If you can’t take the heat, dress like Luffy.

Also going to call out the Funimation segment, not because it was bad but because it looked like they were dubbing Sora No Otoshimono, and that’s just a waste of absolutely everyone’s time.

Next time: The Otaku 6 visit more cities that are not in North Dakota (boo), and maybe I’ll get closer to nailing down whether or not the Otaku6 actually win anything for having to be weird in public repeatedly. Seriously, I am really curious what venues they’re going to pick when they get to my neck of the woods in NY.