Video Game Review: Wonderful 101

Video Game Review: Wonderful 101

 

Japanese games used to dominate the western market. There was a time when Nintendo, Sega, and later Sony were the only names in mainstream games. As the PS2 and Xbox era matured Western games quickly overshadowed their Eastern counterparts and since then they have not been able to impact the market like they had in the past. In ways, Wonderful 101 is a beautiful reminder of why Japanese games are fantastic and at the same time why they will probably never have the impact in the west that they used too. 

Wonderful 101 has its roots in a Super Sentai style aesthetic and narrative. A group of normal citizens transform into powerful Super Heroes called the Wonderful 100. Each individual hero has their special powers and weapons but when they come together and unite their powers multiply and lead to more powerful and effective attacks. The game starts you off with "Unite Hand" and "unite sword" but as the game goes on they add whip, hammer, bomb, boomerang, and more. Specific abilities are required throughout the game to defeat monsters and solve puzzles. 

The Problem with Fandom Part 1: Cultural Echo Chamber

The Problem with Fandom Part 1: Cultural Echo Chamber

Culture is a word I haven’t used much when talking about media, which is odd because no better word exists when discussing art and entertainment. We are all consumers of culture. We all give back to culture. Culture is defined by what people choose to consume and what they choose to ignore. It is used to define groups of people who consume a certain type of media that detracts from the mainstream: sub-culture. These are cultures that exist inside the larger cultural body. They are in ways isolated from normal culture but what they consume and create also gives back to the main culture as a whole.

Members of subcultures become blind to the fact that they are part of a subculture. There are a couple of key factors that lead into this kind of thinking. The chief among them is they start spending so much time and energy living in the subculture that they start to believe that everyone else thinks like they do. This happens, especially in the age of the internet, because the deeper they dive into the subculture the more they find and interact with people who think the way they do. This cements them into the subculture, gives them a feeling that they belong, and establishes a world view based around the subculture. Giving people a sense of community is great! But what this breeds is group think; the community becomes an echo chamber because the members of the community are surrounded by the people most likely to agree with them.

Podcast Recommendation: Oh No Ross and Carrie

Ross Blocher and Carrie Poppy have an odd hobby; they spend their time investigating pseudoscientific claims, spirituality, and the paranormal. They approach religious groups and the like as investigative journalists would, delving as far into the culture as possible in order to get the full experience. Ross and Carrie approach each investigation with an open mind but throughout seek evidence to back up claims by asking probing questions and challenging each claim as it’s brought to them. 

What makes the show so wonderful is that the hosts make an effort not to pass judgment on the people involved, in fact most of the people they encounter in their investigations they have nothing but nice things to say about. Instead they challenge the claim of the organization or belief. Ross and Carrie both now embrace scientific evidence and methodology but have a history of being consumed by religion and embraced things like fortune telling in the past.  That experience gives them a unique perspective during their investigations. They carry with them an understanding of the worldview of people who have completely drowned in religion with a methodology completely based on rational thought. This allows them to simultaneously relate to the experience and look at it from a cold, objective vantage point. 

What eclipses all of that is just how sweet Ross and Carrie are while they both relate to the people they investigate and tear down their fundamental beliefs. Yes, they just listed a lot of reasons why what a religious group believes is suspect but most individual people are kind and relatable beyond what they choose to believe in. It’s an important lesson that should be taken away from the show. They have an inviting attitude that makes you think that if you met them on the street, they’d instantly become your best friends. 

The best episodes are the more involved investigations where Ross and Carrie join large organizations. I see myself re-listening to the Mormon and Realian episodes in the near future to better absorb all of the information that is laid out. The various fortuneteller episodes and faith healing episodes start to sound the same but considering this is a monthly show and I crammed all the episodes in a few days of listening, that may be more on me than on the show. 

If you have ever had any interest in the organizations or topics that Ross and Carrie investigate you’ll be hooked on this show. It became one of my favorite podcasts overnight. 

Recommended Episodes: 

Ross and Carrie Go Mormon (Part 1): And it Came to Pass
Ross and Carrie Go Raelian: Joining A World-Famous Alien Movement
Ross and Carrie Play Truther Dare: 9/11 Conspiracy Edition
Ross and Carrie Get Some Exorcise: Teenage Exorcist Edition

Con-vergence reflection: The Internet Generation

Con-vergence reflection: The Internet Generation

I had the pleasure of sitting in on Charles Dunbar’s Convergence panel at Otakon Vegas, in which Charles addresses the issues around why other fandoms seem to be taking over anime conventions. Charles’ conclusion is that anime conventions are more welcoming places, that the anime fandom is just more accepting of other fandoms. Then there is the more bleak side of things, the theory that anime fandom is just a secondary or lesser fandom than some of the more prevalent media represented.

The chief cause of the weakening presence of anime at anime conventions is that anime is a medium, not a genre or a single show. So where a group of ten thousand people may not have that many shows in common, three thousand of them have all seen Doctor Who and the other seven thousand has seen the Marvel film adaptations. So the Iron Man cosplayer is going to have more positive attention than the Lupin cosplayer sitting in the corner. Anime is a unique beast in this respect. Single media conventions, like a Star Trek convention, assume that all attendees share at least a common cannon. Even the old school science fiction conventions were dominated by the mass media properties like Star Trek, Battlestar, and the like. With anime there can be almost zero connection between the forty year old fans drinking in a bar discussing the tape trading days and the fourteen year old girls running around in Hatialia cosplay. 

Panels at Anime Boston 2014

Transient

Once again I be heading north to Anime Boston! This will be my fifth consecutive trip to Anime Boston and I’m happy to announce that I will be giving the following panels:

When Moe Goes Bad
Where: Panel 206
When: Saturday, March 22, 2014 at 7:30 PM - 8:30 PM

Over the last ten years Moe anime has risen as the dominant genre in the medium. With that rise came a lot of excellent shows but following shortly behind were projects that desperately wanted to cash in on the popularity of the medium. In the style of “When Gundam Goes Bad” this panel explores the very best of Moe and highlights moments when Moe makes me embarrassed to be an anime fan.

When Gundam Goes Bad
Where: Panel C
When: Sunday, March 23, 2014 at 12:30 AM - 1:30 AM

The U.C. Gundam franchise has been held up over the past twenty years as the father of modern mecha anime. But while those original Gundam series were innovative and exciting, there is also a side of it there is extremely silly. We go over the details on when Gundam is extremely good, and when Gundam is laughably bad.

Fat, Sick, and Nearly Convinced

Joe Cross’ documentary Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead has been out for a few years now and according to his website, has convinced a large number of people of his crazy scheme. I might almost be close to convinced, but everything he said must be taken with a gran of salt. There is no magic pill to weight loss, there is no simple trick that will instantly change a person's body shape or instantly force someone to follow a healthy lifestyle. What makes it easy for snake oil salesmen is that there is a massive market of people desperate for that magic fix. I'm clearly one of them: I don't like to eat vegetables, I like sweet and fatty foods, and I'm a chronic over eater. If someone was offering a magic way for me to completely change the direction of my eating habits, I'm going to at least listen.

The documentary has two parts; the first one follows Joe on his juice fast and the second follows Phil Staples, an overweight truck driver Joe met on his cross-country trip who later reached out to Joe for help. Both of these examples show the men losing a substantial amount of weight over the course of their 60-day juice fast but there are a few factors to consider when looking at these cases. Both Joe and Phil’s juice fasts happen when neither of them lived a normal life. They didn’t go to work, they didn’t have families to deal with, or people to cook for. They did their juice fast and nothing else. They had plenty of time for exercise and lots of room to avoid influences that may have tempted them to drift from their extreme diets.

I Have a Food Addiction

I Have a Food Addiction

I have a food addiction.

It has taken me a while to realize exactly what it is that I have, but bottom line is that I have an irrational and controlling urge to eat. Compulsively binge. There maybe no real solution either, because I love to eat. Food makes me happy when I’m sad, it calms me down when I’m upset, and preparing food is a wonderful creative art that I love to partake in. The last part of that list is really where the focus should be, because the first two of that list are just more symptoms of my addiction.

Donna’s Donuts in Tewksbury, Ma

Donna’s Donuts is a 1980s throw back in everything from decor to the signs outside the building. The signs outside boost about their coffee but what brought me to upstate Massachusetts is their donuts that are shaped like various sandwiches. The three corner stones to their donut display are a Hamburger, Meatball sub, and steak and cheese sandwich crafted out of Donut.

I kept it simple in my selection at Donna’s Donuts opting to try two of their specialty donuts; the Hamburger and the Meatball Sub; and two of their normal donuts; the Boston Cream and an Apple Fritter; with, of course, a cup of coffee.

The coffee was nothing spectacular, but in a state where there Dunkin Donuts appear every five hundred feet a decent cup of coffee is worth bragging about. The Boston Cream donut was average, the cake wasn’t too far above average and maybe only a third of the donut was filled with cream. The Apple fritter had the same problem with the amount of filling but the donut itself was a fried honey glaze that melted in my mouth immediately. The combination of that donut with the sweet Apple filling was incredible.

But the real reason for the review, the Hamburger Donut. I posted photos of this donut on twitter when I was at the shop and people assumed it was a real hamburger between a donut by the photo. They’ve taken a plain cake donut, cut it open, and placed a chocolate donut in between with Boston Cream to look like cheese. The cake donut didn’t have much flavor and the chocolate donut’s flavor was kind of masked because of it. The Boston cream was delicious, but ultimately there was nothing exceptional about the quality of the donut, it’s just two average donuts combined cleverly.

The bun of the Meatball Sub donut was of the same as the hamburger donut, but the meatball sub used cinnamon donut holes which had enough flavor to overcome the taste of the “bun.” The Boston Cream complemented the pairing quite well.

In retrospect, I regret not also trying the Steak and Cheese donut because that one was a lot more creative. The filling was a mixture of chocolate donut and Bavarian cream, as opposed to just having a plain donut sandwiched in between a second donut.

If you’re in the area I suggest going for the Apple donut and the meatball sub. The Hamburger Donut looks incredible but in truth isn’t more special than two donuts sandwiched together… but that isn’t so much a bad thing. It’s not worth any exceptionally long drive out there. I hope to return soon to try the Steak and Cheese donut and some of the other flavors of their regular donuts, and to satisfy my constant craving for another one of their Apple filled perfections.

Top image from spoonfulofflour.com all other images are my own

Panels at Otakon Vegas

I will be at Otakon Vegas January 3rd through 5th and will be giving four panels! It feels like only a few weeks ago that they announced the convention and finally I will be going into the very center of Sin City and… giving academic panels about Japanese cartoons… I don’t think I’m doing Vegas correctly….

Hope to see you there!

Tortured Artist: A portrait of Hideaki Anno

Where: Panel 2/Celebrity 5

When: Friday January 03, 2014 at 1:00 PM - 2:30 PM

Starting in the early 1980s Hideaki Anno forced his way into the anime industry by impressing veterans with his sheer talent. As a founding Member of Studio Gainax and his works, including Gunbuster and Neon Genesis Evangelion, remain an influence to anime almost twenty years later. However, Anno’s career in animation was cut short by a crippling depression that had become his signature narrative element. This panel examines the work of Anno from his early days into his fight with depression where he creates some of his most striking an innovative work.

San Francisco Trip, April 2013

Back in April I took a four-day trip to the San Francisco area for work. Work took the majority of the time, and the last full day in the state I had a serious cold that was made much worse by the six hour plane flight back to Connecticut, but I still got around to see some of the area.

I only real time I got to spend in the city I walked around the Marina area, which is an extremely wealthy section of the city featuring million dollar water front condos which have a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a beautiful area, although the overcast and chilly wind but a damper on the exploring I was able to do.

On the way back up north I detoured and did the one thing I didn’t want to miss: walking on the Golden Gate Bridge. Again, the wind off the Pacific Ocean made it cold and unsettling. Imagine being 220 feet from the water protected only by a small ledge in a strong wind. The entire time I was walking towards the massive gate my feeling of being stable slowly drifted away. With that combination I couldn’t make it across the whole bridge but I walked out to the first gate, touched it, and walked back. Mission successful.

The next day, my cold in full swing, I didn’t feel up to walking around San Francisco so under the advice from some locals I drove up the mountain to Muir Woods and Muir Beach. The view of the mountains with the city in the background was stunning. Photos don’t do the view justice; nor can they capture how small you feel while looking out on the Californian hills and valleys. 

Muir woods itself was a beautiful hiking trail covered in massive trees and beautiful moss. I went into the woods a little bit, but again… sick.

Finally the winding path down the mountain led me to Muir Beach and, again, the photos do not capture the scale of the Californian coastline. It’s one of the most meaningful moments in my life looking out on the jutting coastline and thinking how many people before me had seen that ocean, how many millions of years it took to cave its shape out of hard rock.

I hope to return to San Francisco soon, not on business but where I can dedicate all my time to see the beautiful city and explore more of the countryside. But now I’m just glad I was able to see any of the west coast and I’m grateful I have a job that took me out there.

You can see the rest of my photos over at Flickr.

Bioshock Infinite

More ink has been spilled about Bioshock Infinite in the past couple of months than any other shooter in the last few years. It has inspired fans to write long pieces on why the game is one of the greatest accomplishments in human history and inspired people who are tired of hyperbole in the gaming press to come out and vent their frustrations.

IMotorized patriot bioshock infinite irrational games1600 6 1600x900 markednfinite accomplishes something that most other games I’ve played recently fail to do: it was consistently fun. Enjoyment is the starting point for discussing the merits of a game. Dishonored, game of the year contender in 2012, fails to do this maybe 60% of the time… let alone consistently. The main element that helps Bioshock Infinite maintain that consistent enjoyment is that death is not that big of a deal. At first I was against this, but as I played on it started to feel right that death was a minor setback - not something to force you go replay the last five minutes of a game over and over again. The respawn upon death wasn’t a cheat either. Players do spawn with some ammo, but doing so places them at a disadvantage if they had a stock pile of a single type they planned to rely on.

Combat is nice and fluid. Shooting a gun feels incredibly satisfying especially - with the Hand Cannon, which just blows enemies away. The Vigors serve as an extension of the available weapons, not something the game encourages use of as opposed to guns. The one thing that bugs me about the vigors is that it feels like any vigor in any situation seems to work; it is rare that any specific vigor feels better in any of the situations the game places the player in.