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Review: Uncomfortably Happily by Yeon-Sik Hong

I picked up this volume pretty much on a whim. While I’ve read plenty of manga, manhua is relatively new to me, and it seemed like a good time to dive in. The story of two artists leaving bustling city life behind for a secluded, yet picturesque existence on an isolated mountaintop was immediately appealing; I’m a sucker for anything about the beauty of nature (except for actually going outside in real life, since there are bugs out there, but let’s gloss over that for now.)

So I was expecting a kind of manhua version of Non Non Biyori, or Laid Back Camp; a comic that immerses you in the wonders of the outdoors through beautiful artwork, and leaves you feeling serene and somehow, purified. Uncomfortably Happily is that, to a certain extent, but there’s a lot more going on here. It’s also about the dangers (both physical and psychological) of trying to earn your daily bread as an artist, and the difficulty of living in the moment even when you’re trying your absolute damndest to do so.

Hong’s style is well-suited to the material. While the characters are very cartoony (and quite adorable), the backgrounds are elegant; detailed, yet not fussy or over-rendered. The story covers the change of several seasons, and through Hong’s linework, you can very nearly feel the change in the temperature on your skin. When the trees are all covered in snow and Hong and his wife huddle around their little charcoal stove, you can feel that warmth, that inviting coziness, so effortlessly. At some points the art loses its detail work and becomes very stark, but always in the service of creating powerful images that communicate the characters’ inner lives better than any dialogue could.

This is an autobiographical comic and it feels like it, filled with tons of little details that would probably only occur to someone who had lived in this exact scenario. I’m always a little hesitant to use the term “autobiography” in regard to comics, because a lot of so-called autobiographical comics that I’ve read feature a lot of fiction weaved in with the real-life remembrances (and there isn’t anything wrong with that, necessarily, but it does make me wonder if the term “semi-autobiographical” isn’t a safer designation.) I have no idea how much of this comic was drawn directly from Hong’s experience, and how much might have been exaggerated for drama, but regardless, it feels real; it feels like a glimpse into a year or so of someone’s life, disappointments and all.

Sometimes I think about retreating to some rural cottage somewhere, breathing clean air and going swimming in a crystal-clear stream every morning. It’s a nice idea, but for some reason, I think I’d always assumed that in that venue, my problems would just disappear, and Uncomfortably Happily shows all the reasons why natural beauty, as wonderful as it is, is not a cure-all for your problems. In fact, sometimes it felt a little uncomfortable to read this book, since the gap between the pastoral paradise Hong wants and the reality of his life is so jarring, it made me conscious of how unrealistic my own fantasies were. Nevertheless, nature can be a cure for what ails you, but it’s not going to do the work all by itself; you need to meet nature halfway, by being at peace with yourself (or close enough to it) that you can actually take in the wonder of what you’re surrounded by with clear eyes.

Uncomfortably Happily is $29.95, published by Drawn and Quarterly. Originally published in two volumes in Korea, this thick edition has the complete story. The paperback edition isn’t as robust as I would like; after one reading, the spine already looks pretty worn. Nevertheless, it’s an attractive looking book and deserves a place on your graphic novel shelf. And if you don’t have a graphic novel shelf, for some strange reason, you can always just put it on your regular bookshelf (preferably next to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden), and call it a day.

X-Men: TAS, Episode 1: Night of the Sentinels, Part I

Let’s start with a note on format: I’m taking screenshots from the official Marvel DVDs of this series. While I was glad to support the show by buying the official release, these DVDs don’t have much going for them beyond that. The special features are virtually nil. I have all of SheRa: Princess of Power on DVD, and those sets have tons of extras, including episode commentaries, featurettes, and even the entire series bible; my X-Men discs are just kind of sad in comparison. I don’t know what necessitated putting out such a bare-bones release here (maybe some legal restrictions?), but I hope someday, we get something better.

I’m impressed with how this episode has aged overall. The visuals are often too dark and muddy (a problem that plagues much of the show), and the backgrounds are often very perfunctory, even by the standards of the time; the only area where care seems to have been taken with the bg art was Xavier’s mansion. Still, this episode has to introduce 10 different characters, plus the entire world of the X-Men, and does it pretty darn well, all told. It’s also patently ridiculous at times, but the ways in which it’s ridiculous function better as satire than I’m entirely comfortable with.

Anyway, enough preamble, time for Night of the Sentinels!

We open with a news report about mutant violence and hysteria, which seemed overblown to me at the time. As a child, while I was aware of racism and bigotry, I thought of those as being largely problems of the past; understanding and acceptance of different types of people had improved within my lifetime, and I had every reason to believe that this was something that would only continue to improve as I got older. I thought that if super-powered mutants ever existed in real life, the response to them would be much calmer than this show portrays, because people have to be smarter than this. On some level, I think I’ve always been a little mad at the world for disappointing me about that, ever since.

“I’m telling ya Lorraine, we shoulda known something was up with that kid when she kept wearing that raincoat even when it wasn’t raining. Now she’s blowing up VCRs, and we can’t tape General Hospital? That was the last straw!”

Jubilee’s foster parents are agonizing over what to do about their mutant foster child, and it’s surprisingly hard-edged. Her mother even asks if the father regrets taking Jubilee in, and whoah…isn’t that the kind of thing you’re never, ever supposed to say as an adoptive parent? Granted, she didn’t know Jubilee was listening, but still, introducing the idea “maybe your adoptive parents don’t actually want you,” seems like a pretty dark place to go right out of the gate. This show is really dark for a kids cartoon, notorious for it actually, but I’m still surprised sometimes at the ways in which it’s dark.

Jubilee whines that she used to be a normal kid, and I wonder if she ever was, really. She was a gamer girl in 1992, and weren’t all girl gamers at that time vilified and harassed constantly? I read it on the internet, it must be true!

Five feet tall, I can believe, but 90 lbs.? Yeah, and I’m Scarlett Johansson, pfft. Someone lied on their Mutant Control Agency paperwork.

We get our first look at the mutant-hunting Sentinels, and by God, are they ridiculous looking. They were terrifying when they were first introduced in Days of Future Past, but that was in the context of the whole world becoming an unbelievably horrific place; seeing a bright red-and-purple giant robot strolling down a suburban street just looks ridiculous. Also ridiculous is the amount of collateral damage Sentinels are authorized to allow while capturing mutants; apparently it’s totally fine to destroy houses while in pursuit of target mutants. Part of me wants to laugh at this, and part of me realizes it’s actually not funny; you mean, ideological zealots don’t care who they hurt or what they destroy in the process of rounding up “dangerous” people? HAHAHAHAH what a huge exaggeration that has no relevance at all to current societal problems!

One tiny little dog does not approve of the giant robot in his neighborhood and hassles the Sentinel; remember this dog, he’ll be important later.

Jubilee takes out her frustrations on some space aliens at an arcade in the mall, and someday, when I watch this show with my daughter, I will probably have to explain what an arcade was. Jubes breaks the machine with her mutant powers, and tries to blow it off by being too cool for school, but naturally it doesn’t work. The arcade owner really should just chill; once the Sony Playstation comes out in a few years, electric-type mutants with poor impulse control are going to be the least of his problems.

“Dude, it was a Robocop cabinet, I did you a favor here.”

Jubilee runs out of the arcade and collides with Rogue and Storm, who were clearly on a shopping spree. In fact, considering the fact that they have about ten packages, I wonder how much of an allowance Xavier gives them for “personal expenses?” Meanwhile, Gambit is introduced flirting with the cashier at a stationary store; this wouldn’t be noteworthy, were it not for the fact that it’s so clear they’re both thinking about knocking boots that it’s actually kind of disturbing. Like, I have seen hentai less sexually charged than this scene between Gambit and this nameless cashier lady.

Sentinel bursts into the mall, causing havok, and captures Jubilee. Rogue and Storm take exception to this, and Storm changes in a flash of lightning from her normal clothes into her X-Men uniform. It bugs me a little bit whenever Storm does this, because it looks too much like magic, and mutant powers are not supposed to be magic. Technically she could be using lightning to incinerate her outside clothes to reveal her uniform underneath, but eh, I still don’t like it. Rogue’s initial response to all the mall shoppers running and screaming for their lives is “Must be sale,” said in a very deadpan way; this is why the entire world loves Rogue.

“Ah keep tellin’ ya Sugah, if you didn’t keep frying your clothes like that, we wouldn’t need to go to the mall once a damn week!”

“As if you don’t LOVE IT.”

“Ah do.”

Rogue and Storm retrieve Jubilee from the Sentinel, which involves Rogue decking it with an escalator, than flying up and punching the snot out of it. Jubilee is amazed that other people have powers more useful than breaking  VCRs, and seems to be somewhat in awe. Rogue eventually sends the Sentinel flying into the card shop where Gambit is busy flirting, nearly nailing him. I’m 90% sure she didn’t mean to do that, but I guess we’ll never know.

The Sentinel blasts Rogue and Storm out of commission for a little while, leaving Jubilee to run into Gambit. He actually catches her in his arms, making this the best thing to happen to Jubilee all day. Granted, her day so far has involved being betrayed by her foster parents, getting yelled at, and getting attacked repeatedly by a giant robot, so it’s kind of a low bar to clear, but still; Gambit has her in a princess carry. You cannot put a dollar price on that.

Suddenly this trip to the mall was not such a bad idea. Now, onward, to Dippin’ Dots!

Unfortunately, the version of this story where Gambit and Jubes have a romantic date at the mall will have to be continued in my fanfiction, because the Sentinel catches up and proceeds to blast the shit out of Gambit. When the Sentinel looks like it’s about to finish Gambit off, Jubilee belts the sentinel with her fireworks power. I like the fact that Jubilee’s first proper use of her powers is done to protect Gambit; that’s my girl.

Dear Sentinel 9872, this scan has revealed insufficient information. Please do a more thorough scan, and send all of your findings to my phone Mutant Control Agency Headquarters.

Jubilee bolts outside and runs into Cyclops, who easily takes out the Sentinel by using his optic blast to sever the Sentinel’s head from its body. Now forget you ever saw him do that, because if you remember, you’re going to spend all of Night of the Sentinels Part II wondering why he doesn’t just do that a few more times, and many Sentinel-related problems could be avoided. Jubilee succumbs to some knock-out gas the Sentinel emitted before its unfortunate decapitation, and blacks out. Scene shift to the Mansion, yaaay. The backgrounds in the mall were just too depressing.

Jubilee wakes up and destroys the lock on her door, since that’s what you do when people rescue you from a rampaging giant robot; break their stuff. She begins sneaking through the mansion, only to run into Beast, doing some kind of experiment. Beast muses aloud that it would be really fascinating if his experiment were to suddenly explode, so Jubilee wisely books it out of there. She then gets a view of Morph, the male character created for this show with Mystique’s shape-shifting power. Hmmph. I feel like I should have a lot to say about Morph, but I’m not sure what that is yet. Maybe I’ll wait until next episode…oh, wait, never mind.

Beast’s Log: –Still no progress creating an anti-dandruff shampoo that doesn’t dry out the scalp. Shampoo +Conditioner hybrid is still years of testing away.

Professor X and Jean appear, with the professor upset that the existence of the X-Men is going to be revealed to the world “like this.” Err, what were you expecting exactly, Charles? Did you expect to send out a press release that said “Today I’m proud to introduce my private militia, the X-Men,” and get favorable media coverage? It was always going to go down like this. Jean realizes that something is amiss, and the Professor puts out an alert that “an intruder” is afoot. Kind of rude to call Jubilee an intruder when she’s a guest, but I understand that it’s important to find her before she hurts herself.

“I always thought the public launch of the X-Men would be a joyous occasion. I had even hoped for…cake.”

“I can bake you a cake, Professor.”

“It’s not the same, Jean.”

In her zeal to get away, Jubilee accidentally crashes a Danger Room session meant for Gambit and Wolverine, which is definitely not something you want to be in the middle of without superhuman agility. Gambit tries to get her to safety, but he has Wolverine to deal with, who’s still oblivious to Jubes’ presence. Interesting choice to introduce Wolvie over halfway through the episode, by the way; you would think they would have put him front and center. Since Jubilee doesn’t know yet that the Danger Room is for training, and Wolverine is only pretending to beat up Gambit, she blasts Wolverine with her fireworks, sending him flying. Apparently, whenever Jubilee is protecting Gambit, her mutant powers increase by about 50%; that’s a girl with her priorities straight.

“Hah hah Wolverine, you just got beat up by a 90 pound girl!”

“You really believe she’s only 90 pounds, Bub? And I thought I was the one who just hit my head.”

Storm takes Jubilee outside for a heart-to-heart about who the X-Men are. Jubes is less than enthused about being taken to Xavier’s School for the Gifted, pointing out that “gifted” is a euphemism. That’s a really politically loaded comment that I’m afraid to touch, and I don’t mind admitting it. Storm tries to console Jubilee about her situation, but Jubes gets her bitch mode on for some reason and points out that the people at the mansion seem a little old for school, like they might have been left back because they failed. Wow! Is that how you treat someone who just rescued you, kiddo? I like you, but you pick all the wrong times to get vicious.

Storm then does a gratuitous display of her powers, allegedly to show Jubilee the importance of learning to control your abilities, but mostly to get back at Jubes for being a snotty little brat; no one would hold it against her.

“How big an allowance does Professor Xavier give you if you join the X-Men?”

“It’s $200 a week. In 1992 dollars.”

“WHERE DO I SIGN?”

Inside, everyone gathers in the war room, planning their next move. Wolverine asks if anyone’s called Jubes’ parents, and it’s important that he’s the one to ask that; when he finds out that they haven’t heard back from her family, he effectively becomes her parent, right then and there. All you need to do to get on Wolvie’s good side forever is blast him in the spleen with some explosive energy, he respects that sort of thing. Professor Xavier has somehow hacked information out of the disembodied Sentinel head (don’t ask), and found out that the Sentinel had Jubes’ information because it had access to her profile from the Mutant Control Agency.

The gang then discusses what the MCA is, and I feel like I need to quote this:

Cyclops: Professor Xavier, could the government be plotting against mutants?”

Xavier: No; the Mutant Control Agency is a private organization with occasional support from the government.

….

…Wow, what a critically important distinction, Professor. I’m sure Cyclops feels so much better now. Of course, it’s a little rich that anyone’s surprised that an organization called “The Mutant Control Agency” has an interest in controlling mutants, but that’s one of those things we just have to shrug off. It would make a lot more sense if it were called The Mutant Outreach Program or something, but we gotta make some allowances for this being a kids cartoon.

While the X-Men are all busy discussing the MCA and its “hidden” agenda, Jubilee hops a bus to go see her foster parents. Great security there, X-Men, but I guess hacking that giant Sentinel head was pretty distracting. Gyrich from the MCA is asking Jubes’ parents about her friends, curious if the X-Men are among them, but they claim not to know about Jubes friends because she’s only been with them “a year.”

Your kid has lived with you for an entire year, and you still don’t know who any of her friends are? What the hell is wrong with you people? I know I’m supposed to have some sympathy for these folks, being caught in a dangerous situation they were totally unprepared for, but damn, are they making it hard to care about them. Jubilee then promptly gets captured by the Sentinels, because without Gambit there to motivate her, her powers are still weaksauce.

Back at the mansion, Professor X comes up with a plan to sneak into the Mutant Control Agency and destroy their files, so that hundreds of mutants will get their anonymity back and hopefully be safe from the Sentinels. Gambit suggests doing it himself, and hey, that’s a great idea! And no, I’m not just saying that because I obviously want to marry him like his character. Gambit is a professional thief; getting in and out of places without being seen is his specialty. Even if the Sentinels were to show up, he’d pull some ruse to distract them and then get away, the other thing he’s really good at.

But no, Professor Xavier decides that for a stealth breaking-and-entry mission, he does not want the free services of the best thief in the known world, but instead wants a team of Beast, Wolverine, Morph, and Storm; Storm, the woman who cannot go five feet without announcing her presence. You know, Cyclops is going to get hammered later for how this mission goes south, but really, this was all the Professor’s fault from the very beginning; he put lives in danger the minute he refused to send in the best qualified person.

I think the implication is supposed to be that Xavier doesn’t full trust Gambit yet, whereas he does trust the others, but still; stupid, stupid decision.

Cyclops confronts the professor about his concerns about the mission, namely that attacking a civilian organization is not the way to teach people that mutants are not to be feared. It’s really interesting that we’re already getting this schism between Cyclops in the Professor this early on, although it’s never fuly developed here the way it is in the comics. The Professor really has no response to Cyclops, so he cops out with “we have no choice,” and leaves it at that. I kind of feel like all of Professor X’s terrible decisions in the entire series were front-loaded into this one episode, because I don’t think I’d remember him as fondly if he were normally like this.

“Look, all I’m saying is, if you want people to learn to like us and even trust us, this is not the way. This is not how we win hearts and minds.”

“That’s an excellent point, Scott. My well-reasoned counterpoint to that is that I am the boss of you, and you will do what I say.”

The crew finally catches on to the fact that Jubilee is missing, and Wolverine decides to go after her, despite the fact that he’s just been assigned the MCA mission. Cyclops and Wolverine have power struggle/testosterone spewing competition, then Wolvie storms off; if you make taking a shot every time this happens part of your X-Men:TAS drinking game, you’ll probably have a very good time, but that’ll be the end of your liver.

Mission time! For some reason, everybody’s tagging along on this mission (except Jean and Prof. X) even though only Wolverine, Storm, Beast and Morph are supposed to go inside. En route to the MCA complex, the group has an interesting discussion about what makes mutants the way they are. One of Beast’s suggestions is “television!” which is delightfully meta; see, it’s a good thing this program that you’re watching is teaching you how to deal with being a mutant, because it might be turning you into one. Discussions like this, by the way, are what put this show a cut above typical action cartoon fare, at least in my mind.

Wolverine catches up with the rest of the team, having lost Jubilee’s trail. He sheepishly says that he “got bit by a dog, too,” and AHA! Remember that little dog from the beginning of the episode, the one who was hassling the Sentinel like “stay way from my house, dude!” That dog bit Wolverine, apex predator; canine has balls of steel. Great guard dog, 14/10.

You know who has really good night vision and wouldn’t need to use binoculars to scope the joint out? GAMBIT.

Storm whips up some clouds to lower visibility (I guess she has her uses), and the guys head into the complex. There’s an interesting little bit where Morph gets thrown over the fence, then uses his shapeshifting power to impersonate a guard and take him out. What’s neat is when Morph copies the guard’s appearance, he also copies the weapon the guard is using, then uses said weapon to shoot the guard. Then when he shifts back, the weapon disappears.

This is interesting to comics geeks because this isn’t how Mystique’s shape-shifting works; she can copy anything, but it’s cosmetic when it comes to devices that people may be carrying. If Morph can make his copied objects functional, that actually makes his powerset more like a cross between Multiple Man and Mystique, but he’s going to die in about ten minutes, so I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

Storm electrocutes a guard (nice job being gentle on the puny humans there, team), and Wolverine uses his claws to destroy the door inside. Beast already lifted the key from one of the guards, meaning there was no need to destroy the door, but look; Wolverine needs an excuse to use his claws on something. It’s actually a bit of a problem for this show that Wolverine is constantly brandishing his claws but can’t do much with them, because if he used them on a person, things would very rapidly get too bloody for the Y-7 rating.

“I can’t decide which one I love more; nineteenth-century poetry, or assault and battery.”

“No one’s asking you to decide, Bub.”

The inside team encounters a laser trap. Beast quotes nineteenth-century poet Coventry Patmore, of all people, then uses his agility to disarm the trap. I’m curious what went on behind-the-scenes here; who on the staff was a big enough fan of Coventry Patmore to include his poetry in an episode of X-Men, but was still okay with Beast’s dismissive quip “A minor poet for a minor obstacle,”? Maybe someone had to read Patmore in college and this was their revenge? In any case, it’s delightfully incongruous with the rest of the episode, like about 50% of everything Beast does.

Outside, Cyclops is worrying how the inside team is doing, wishing he had some way of keeping tabs on what they were doing. Gee, if only there were someone on the team who had the power to keep everyone in constant telepathic contact, that would be mighty convenient. Come to think of it, aren’t there two people with telepathic abilities, both of whom stayed home for no apparent reason? At some point, you have to wonder if Professor X is trying to sabotage this mission.

Morph says “It looks like clear sailing from here,” so of course a bunch of gun-toting guards are just waiting to ambush the X-Men. This is why I’m not too broken up about Morph’s imminent death, by the way; who but a moron tempts fate like that? Plus, he teased Gambit not once but twice during this episode, and that’s not acceptable.

Storm opens the door, enemies await on the other side, and we’re done with this episode! Next time, we’ll see the conclusion of this storyline, and commiserate a little more about how everything bad that has ever happened is actually Professor Xavier’s fault.

 

Tomb Raider II, Level 2: Venice

So my last Tomb Raider-related blog post was, uh *checks watch,* seven years ago. Look, you can see this as me being lazy and abandoning a project for too long, or you can see it as me valiantly attempting to combat the view that popular entertainment is disposable by refusing to bow to the quiet tyranny of time; the choice is yours.

The Urban Problem

I have a lot of problems with Venice, in fact with this whole Venetian level set, and it makes me feel kind of bad. I know these levels are largely beloved by fans, and I wish I could feel the same. But from the first time I played this level, back in 1998, I found it tedious and frustrating, and I’ve never been able to shake that feeling. Even now, when I have the level mostly memorized and can zip through it pretty fast, I still find it frustrating.

The first problem is that urban environments present practical problems for Tomb Raider, as a franchise. If we’re supposed to be in a city, where are all the people? Well, there are lots of gun-toting Bartoli henchman, but where all the non-packing, non-insane people? Putting in neutral NPCs would probably create as many problems as it would solve, but it still feels weird to be running around a city where no one lives; it’s kind of antithetical to the whole concept of the series, really. The whole set up of Tomb Raider implies that you don’t run into any people, because they all died thousands of years ago; when you’re in a modern city, and there’s still no people, you’re reminded of the artificiality of the situation pretty bluntly.

Yes, in the back of your mind, even in the first game, you always know you’re playing a video game; it’s not like making TRII Venice look more populated would really change that. But I think it’s safe to say that Tomb Raider achieves a higher level of immersion when set in, err, tombs, versus modern environments. Interestingly I think they pulled this off better with the London levels in Tomb Raider III, since in that level set, it felt like it was about 4:30 A.M. there and Lara was exploring mostly abandoned buildings anyway, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first vehicle you can ride in all of Tomb Raider and I…don’t like it too much. Maybe this is just me, but I feel like I’m constantly getting on an off the damn thing when I don’t want to, and it happens a lot less with later vehicles.

The second major problem is I think the level’s primary puzzle is a bit too clever for its own good. Maybe I’m just mad that I blew up Lara about a zillion times on the mines trying to clear this level as a teen, but I still think the boat puzzle is too hard to figure out without the aid of a strategy guide. I mean, this is the first TR level in history where they even give you a vehicle, and you’re supposed to figure out a)that you can completely destroy it and b)you can jump out of it at the last second before an explosion? My memory is a little hazy, but I think at the time, I thought you were supposed to improve your speedboat piloting skills to the point where you could navigate between the mines; obviously, this didn’t work out so hot for me.

On one hand, I complain that this puzzle is too unintuitive. On the other, I know that if this game were made today, NPCs and in-game prompts would probably give you about 47 hints about what you were supposed to do, and there would be no satisfaction when you solved it. Maybe I’m just never happy?

Eventually I destroyed one boat pretty much by luck, and forgot the second one existed, so I completed the level the wussy-way; swimming through the gate and completely missing the harried boat ride through half the level. Imagine my surprise when I started the next level and Lara was in yet another speedboat.

Is it possible that very few players were stymied by this puzzle, and I was just being dense? I guess it’s possible. Besides, I have to admit, when you do know what you have to do and you succeed with the timed boat challenge– complete with taking your boat to places where boats are definitely not meant to go– it is pretty darn satisfying.

The Joy of Awning Hopping

It’s hard for me to see past the negatives with this level, mostly because of bad memories from 20 years ago messing with my perception. However, if I give Venice a fair shake, there are some really nice elements here. Jumping from awning to awning is much more fun than it should be; same with jumping up to the fancy glass windows, shooting them out and then running inside. Somewhere out there, there is custom level that’s all about jumping on awnings and shooting out fancy windows on raised overpasses, and I really need to be playing it right now.

I also like the secret placement; sure, burying two little dragons in the black depths of an underwater catacomb is a little harsh, but if you haven’t figured out by this point in the game that they’ve been handing you buckets of flares for a reason, that’s on you.

Once you get this mysterious door open, that’s when the fun starts. I can never get enough of scouring dark catacombs for shiny things, especially when there are lots and lots of shiny things.

Have I mentioned that love collecting flares in this game? I feel like they’re the closest thing to money in the game, so my hoarding instinct takes over;  I’m pretty sure I’ve finished the game with 60+ flares in my inventory. It’s like a game-within-a-game to see how well I can get along with stumbling around in complete and total darkness without using the obvious tool. Hey, did you know that in a pinch, you can use your pistols instead? Lara’s pistols illuminate the area around her briefly, so if you fire them like they’re tiny little machine guns, you can almost see where you’re going for a little while there. Sadly, this does not work underwater, which is where you tend to need flares the most, but oh well.

Speaking of the swimming element, it’s cool to be swimming along, pull up on a dock, shoot some henchmen, jump back in the water and get on with your day. In practice I always get Lara shot about twice as often as she needs to and end up getting frustrated, but that doesn’t change the fact that the idea of it is cool.

Is there some kind of theme park attraction where you’re in an entirely floating city, and you can climb up on the dock to buy ice cream or something, but then jump back in the water to swim to the next attraction? Because that sounds like it would be insanely fun. I may have to stop playing Tomb Raider for a bit and petition all my local waterparks to implement this feature.

Best: Hands down, the best part of the level SHOULD be doing the timed boat race, which is really innovative and feels exhilarating when you pull it off, but as you now know, I have a love-hate relationship with that puzzle. So instead, I’m going to say that the best part is the whole sewer-like area you enter after getting the first speedboat; you may burn through flares like mad, but it’s a blast finding all of the hidden items and secrets. Those uzi clips nearly buried in the sand in a dark corner underwater…*chef’s kiss*

Worst: The excessive number of enemies in the first area, especially the one that pops up after you pull the switch in the boathouse. We’re just getting used to fighting human enemies in TR2, and you throw like five of these bozos at us? Plus mean dogs? No thank you.

Rating: Two Uzi Clips Out of Five

This is my honest opinion; please don’t hurt me.

Coming Next: Bartoli’s Hideout, where I’m going to try to put aside all my issues with Venice as a whole and just play the damned level.

(Screenshots from Katie’s Tomb Raider Screenshots; used with permission.)

Fall 2017 Anime Impressions

Since I’ve been watching more anime than usual lately, I figured I may as well take advantage of it and talk about the new shows like a proper Aniblogger. Here are my takes on some of this season’s offerings; keep in mind I only watch shows that are available on legal streaming services. This is less of an anti-piracy stance, and more of a “I am too goddamned old to be dealing with malware on my computer from dling torrents,” stance, but let’s all pretend it’s because of my unimpeachable moral compass.

Urahara– This show puts me in a bind; I really like what I think it’s trying to do, but it’s just not working. The washed-out color palette, the intentionally wonky hand-drawn backgrounds, the surrealist feel, the enemies that turn into candy when defeated? I love all of that. But somehow the designs and the art style just don’t seem to work together, and the story has all the urgency of watching paint dry. It’s just so nonsensical that it’s impossible to care about anything that’s happening; it also doesn’t help that the magical girl designs are the absolute worst part of the show.

Right now it feels like a half-baked version of Flip Flappers, a show that often felt surreal but managed to maintain a sense that what the characters were doing actually mattered on some level. I’m probably going to stick with it, just because I like some of the things the show is experimenting with, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for bailing out; it’s pretty much an incomprehensible, silly mess right now.

Anime-Gataris– There was something off about the art in the first episode that made me wonder if this was the studio’s first anime, but it turns out Wao World, the studio responsible for Gataris’ animation production, is prolific. The production company, DMM Pictures, is new, but I’m not sure how much that actually matters. The director, Kenshirou Mori, has relatively few credits, but one of them is the first episode of Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. So, not exactly a newbie.

Normally I stay away from this kind of inside-baseball approach to anime, because I don’t know much about what goes on in production, but something about this show really made me want to try to figure out what the hell was going on. It looked like the show was made by people who had watched anime and taken a lot of notes, but had never actually made it before; there was something just slightly off-kilter about the colors, the shading, the backgrounds, etc. Even the piece of stock animation that Arisu uses to summon her butler looks like it was made in 1998. By the second episode, things had smoothed out a bit, but I’m still wondering if the weird look the show started with was a real phenomenon, or if I’m just hallucinating.

In terms of the story, there isn’t much to discuss. It’s a show about people talking about anime, so it runs on in-jokes and nods to otaku culture. The main thing it has going for it is that it’s making nods to very recent shows, so it’s more topical than these in-jokey shows tend to be. I’m going to keep watching it, but it doesn’t have a lot to offer unless you’ve been actively following anime for the last year or so.

The Ancient Magus Bride– I have to admit, I was distracted during this show because I couldn’t help wondering what Anime Feminist was going to think of it. A young girl sells herself into slavery, to a huge monster dude who calls her pet names and treats her like a dog? Including forcibly bathing her? How could the show itself possibly compete with the entertainment value of feminists having a complete meltdown over it?

Turns out, the person who reviewed it for AniFem has read the manga, so was able to reassure feminists that the sundry “red flags” in this episode are not truly indicative of the story’s overall quality. You would think this experience would lead AniFem to question their policy of “Screen all first episodes for problematic content and judge them accordingly,” but apparently not. Remember, I may defend AniFem’s right to exist, but that doesn’t mean I have to think that anything they publish is any good.

Oh right, I just wasted time talking about another anime blog and not the show itself. So far, it’s high quality overall, but it’s a bit of a cypher to me…I need to see more before forming an opinion, which is rare for me because having opinions tends to be one of my strengths, really. I think I was just too distracted by wondering about how this show was going to be perceived to pay enough attention to the substance of it, and that’s on me, not The Ancient Magus Bride.

Blend S– One of the Immutable Laws of Karen is that I will watch any anime that takes place in a coffee shop; keep in mind that I have watched not just one, but both seasons of Is the Order a Rabbit?, making me quite possibly the only straight woman on Earth who has done so. Maybe it’s my love for coffee in general, maybe it’s pure nostalgia for Polar Bear Cafe, but this is The Law; I must watch all of Blend S, because it takes place in a coffee shop. It doesn’t matter if it’s terrible.

Fortunately, it’s not terrible. The premise sounds like it’s going to be toying with some S&M vibes (since the main character is roleplaying a sadist as part of her gig at the cafe), but right now it’s very reminiscent of the lighthearted workplace comedy of Working! and its sequels. The whole S&M hook is really just a tease so far, since the humor is about as adult, as err….well, Working! The only slimy thing about it is how Maika’s boss continually hits on her, which is only really objectionable if you’re on the “anime must never depict anything that would not be acceptable IN REAL LIFE” train. I don’t know why anyone gets on that train, it’s a boring-ass train.

Recovery of an MMO Junkie– Another anime about people who spend much of their lives inside an MMO, although this one has an unusually adult take on it. Instead of teenagers and college students, the characters on this show are definitely old enough to drink, so they can drink screwdrivers in front of the computer while they wonder why they’re wasting their lives grinding for levels. (No one has actually done this one the show yet BTW, but it seems like something they would do.)

It’s gender-swapped, with the female character playing a male avatar in the MMO and vice versa, and it looks like it’s mainly going to focus on the romance between the lead characters. Normally, I would expect betrayal when they find out about each others’ true identities, followed by inevitable reconciliation, but this show is sophisticated enough about MMO culture that I trust it to go somewhere more interesting with the relationship. It would be really cool if after the reveal, both players just went “Oh, well that’s not surprising,” and just continued playing as normal.

A Sister’s All You Need– This show turned people off with an introductory scene that tried to portray little sister fetishism as disgustingly as possible, and succeeded, with stomach-turning results. Some concluded that the show was simply gross, but I think I get what they were doing by taking the little-sister trend to it’s logical (if unsettling) conclusion. And the show features interesting relationships between insecure writers, who are all insecure for different reasons, and that’s right in my wheelhouse.

This show actually reminds me of The Pet Girl of Sakurasou, which also received some early backlash for having a “gross” premise, which turned out to be entirely overblown. Now, it may turn out to be just another forgettable show trying to earn some points with shock value, but it could also be the little sister show that actually examines why people develop this obsession, which would be interesting. I would call it “a deconstruction of Oreimo and it’s ilk,” except A)I don’t actually know what ‘deconstruction’ means and B)that sounds so pretentious I would have to slap myself. Let’s just say that this show has the potential to do something different with its premise, and hope that it does.

Konohana Kitan– This feels incredibly bland to me. I think it’s trying to be that kind of episodic occult show where the supernatural-creature-of-the-week is the focus, and the main characters are more there for consistency than anything else. (See: Mushi-Shi, The Morose Mononokean.) However, too much attention is given to the little fox girls in the foreground for the show to have that kind of oblique feeling, which would be okay if the fox girls weren’t such boring characters.

It’s cute as hell, and if you like anime girls with fox ears and/or tails, this could be your Show of the Decade, but I’m not sure if it has much to offer besides moe/fetish appeal; it doesn’t have the sophisticated appeal of an occult anthology show, nor does it have strong enough characters to work as a slice of life show.

Love Is Like A Cocktail– As a big fan of I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying, I was anticipating this one; anime about stable, married couples are rare and intriguing. However, it’s hard to get excited about something that’s three minutes long. I get that these kinds of shows are designed as shorts, and they’re not meant to sustain full 22-minute episodes, but I still think three minutes is a little lean; I would prefer half-length episodes, like Muromi-san and Encouragement of Climb.

It’s cute, and having each episode themed around a drink works nicely, but it makes me wish there was more to it.

March Comes in Like A Lion, Season 2– So, hahahahah funny story, I thought I had completed the first season of this show, only to realize that I somehow stopped watching it towards the end and had no memory of doing so. That may sound like it bodes ill for Lion, because if it were a good show, surely I would remember whether I had finished the season or not? However, I think of this show as being kind of like the Marcel Proust of anime: it’s very artfully done and nuanced and everything, but sometimes you just can’t take it anymore and need to put it down for about five months.

Anyway, now that I’ve had a nice break, I look forward to catching up on Lion and finding out what’s new with Rei and his deranged sociopath of a stepsister.

Food Wars! The Third Plate– By now, you probably know whether you enjoy the Food Wars! brand of attractive and talented people having elaborately illustrated foodgasms over curry, or not. I found the formula was getting a little stale for me by the end of The Second Plate, but it’s still amusing enough to keep up with, for now. I find myself beginning to genuinely dislike Soma though: like, why you gotta challenge EVERY chef on the show to a duel? Can’t you just be secure in the knowledge that you cook good food,? Did you watch too much Top Chef as a toddler and it totally distorted your view of eating meals?

That’s all for now; I may pick up a few more fall shows, in which case I’ll write an Impressions: Part Deux post. However, it’s entirely possible that that will never happen, in which case I would like you to forget that we ever had this conversation.

Spring 2013: Red Data Girl

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So, I decide to get back into anime blogging a bit, and what’s the first series I pick at random? Red Data Girl, a spring series about a meek shrine maiden who’s the human host for another shrine maiden, only with nicer clothes. And she needs other people to use Google for her because computers break around her– especially when she cuts her bangs.

Look, they can’t all be winners. Continue reading Spring 2013: Red Data Girl