Categories
Movies and Television

Godzilla Resurgence

Very excited for this Godzilla film directed by Hideaki Anno (Evangelion). Reviews from Japan have been glowing and I can’t wait to listen to the soundtrack by Shiro Sagisu.

Categories
Gaming

Alola Forms and Z-Moves Revealed for Pokémon Sun and Moon

They are really changing things up for Sun and Moon. Ice Ninetails and Sandshrew, trials with Pokemon as the final battle instead of trainers, and lots of multiform Pokemon.

Categories
Movies and Television

Stranger Things

In a break from my usual posts recommending anime, I have an actual proper television show to talk about. Well, it’s a Netflix show, so who knows if that is technically television (or something superior)… but regardless, you should watch Stranger Things. Stranger Things is a Netflix original show which begins with the mystery of the disappearance of a child in a small town in America in the 80’s, but that mystery quickly becomes a supernatural sci-fi horror mystery. It is an homage to a bunch of stuff from the 80’s and gets inspiration from Stephen King, Dean Koontz, E.T. and more. But apart from a very interesting story and good atmosphere, there is some stellar acting especially from the children. I don’t want to spoil too much, but a great part of the show is showing a bunch of different sets of characters attempting to solve the mystery before their storylines intertwine for a satisfying conclusion.

Categories
Anime and Manga

British Grenadiers on Loop

It is no secret that I am a fan of the… genre? Category? Whatever it is, the group of anime known colloquially as ‘cute girls doing things’. Recently I realised that I had not discussed one of the greatest shows in this category, which was fortuitous as its movie recently came out. Girls und Panzer is one of the standouts in this burgeoning category of shows, and much of that can be attributed to the fact that the thing that the girls are doing is engaging in friendly tank battles.

Friendly tank battles with realistic live ammunition, where the girls are literally only protected by the fact of plot armour.

To elaborate, in this weird alternate world tank battles using WWII-era and prior tanks has become a martial art practiced solely by females, called sensha-do. The main cast attend a school that is located on an aircraft carrier (along with a small town), and to save their school from being shut down must win the high school sensha-do championship. The studio behind GuP have their priorities straight, as a huge cast of tanks are depicted, from the eponymous Panzer IV to the dependable M4 Sherman to the fearsome Maus. The sound design on these tanks is especially top notch, though I cannot say if it is actually accurate to the tank.

Categories
General

Taiwan and Japan

It’s a bit late, but I thought I’d talk a bit about my trip to Taiwan earlier this year, including my brief stop in Japan. I’ll mainly be talking about the geeky/otaku stuff, since there’s not much I can say about the scenic places that a picture couldn’t say. I’ll do a post about my trip to California later, probably (yo, Disneyland is amazing).

Sun Moon Lake
Silent Hill beckons…

Taiwan

So when I made my post from Taiwan I had just visited the premier PC and electronics market in Taipei. I mainly went into two buildings – the Syntrend mall and the Guanghua Digital Plaza. Syntrend is sort of a upscale electronics shopping mall, with official stores from Intel, HTC, Razer, Acer and more. The Intel store had a bunch of racing simulator setups and an Oculus Rift DK2 setup, as well as a bunch of PCs that the staff were just gaming on.

Intel store

It’s actually a very nice looking place, and it isn’t just limited to electronics. The floors are dedicated to different themes like Play, Look and Listen. One floor had a really nice cafe with high-end coffee (we’re talking imported beans with descriptions of their flavour and acidity), a bookstore and a bunch of camera shops. Another floor had a Star Wars exhibition. Then the floor that I particularly enjoyed was the one with the toys and figure stores. That’s where I got my Ougi Oshino figure from the Asia Goal store. Nearby was amazing looking gunpla store and a western figure store with Marvel theming.

Asia Goal figure store

Gundam Base Taiwan No. 1

Moving to the Digital Plaza market, connected by a walkway to the Syntrend building, and you get something more like Technocity in Capitol Square on a much larger scale. This place also had a bunch of floors, but rather than the open spaces of the Syntrend building you had corridors lined with shops dedicated to all sorts of PC and mobile hardware and electronics. Stores with shelves overflowing with Intel CPUs, graphics cards, keyboards and mice. You had a few selling phone accessories and a few selling video games. But unfortunately the prices for PC parts in the plaza aren’t actually that much cheaper than buying them here, despite Taiwan being home to most of these manufacturers. I did get my Nexus 6P here though, which was cheaper than buying in Australia.

So after a trip to Sun Moon Lake a fair bit south of Taipei, which I have lovingly named Silent Hill Lake (see above), I visited Taipei City Mall. An underground mall beneath the main metro station in Taipei, about 25% of it is dedicated to anime and gaming. Advertisements for JRPGs were littered throughout the area and cabinets full of figures were situated along the corridors of the mall. Unfortunately I did not find anything that caught my eye, because most of what was on display were prize figurines. It appears that high quality scale figurines are usually pre-ordered so newly released figurines don’t tend to stay on display for very long. But it was a great place to look around, with a gun otaku airsoft store and a retro used game store with a bunch of nostalgia inducing games on display.

So my next stop was the Animate store in Taipei, one of their few branches outside Japan. Lo and behold they were holding a small Kalafina exhibit inside, which was mainly the singers’ clothes, but I still quite enjoyed it. The contents of Animate actually surprised me a little, because while they have a sizable selection of manga and light novels, and a smaller collection of anime, they don’t have many figurines. Rather a lot of character goods (like keyrings, towels, etc.) occupy the shelves, including a sizable area for the top dog in anime merchandise, Love Live. They also have a fair selection of doujinshi, which also surprised me, though I’m not sure if it’s Japanese or translated into Chinese.

The Ximen district where Animate is located is a popular shopping district with lots of clothing stores and the such, but there are also a few other otaku stores around. I went into one of those and managed to pick up a figure I didn’t manage to get at Asia Goal, which was the Yukino Yukinoshita figurine. Overall between those shops and Animate, you can get a bunch of stuff that closely matches the stuff you could get in Japan.

My trip in Taiwan closed off with a trip to the Taroko Gorge, which is an amazing place where the mountains tower over you and the roads are situated on cliffsides over lethal drops into cold rivers. An amazing place that frankly you wouldn’t be able to go to if crazy and brave people hadn’t blasted through the mountains and built a road through it (and unsurprisingly, the death toll to build those roads was not small).

Japan

So my brief stopover in Japan was too brief for my liking, and my exploration of Akihabara was quite limited. Leaving the station I was immediately faced with the long queue of people wanting to get into the AKB48 Theatre and Cafe, which was probably holding one of their regular shows. I didn’t even try to go into the Gundam Cafe next door, not wanting to waste too much time waiting for a seat. Instead I set off for the main street, and looked through the small shops on the road first. It wasn’t long before I bought a figure from one of those stores, a Hitagi Senjougahara (Hajime Ueda ver) figure. It was then I realised that I would definitely not have time to look through all the stores I wanted to.

Akihabara

I went into the Akiba Sofmap store, the one full of anime and games. And it was kinda disappointing, in a way. Partly because I was politely told not to take any photos in the store, which meant I didn’t take many photos at all in Japan, but mainly because the store seemed pretty standard. The figure floor was stocked full of stuff but nothing really caught my eye and I thought about buying some Japanese light novels as a keepsake but remembered I could just get it at Kinokuniya in Sydney. The anime floor did have a nice surprise with a small but prominent RWBY display, which is a pretty big deal for a Western-produced ‘anime’ from the company that many years ago just did funny videos in Halo. And I did go to all the floors in Sofmap, including the adult floors. I chuckled when the eroge floor was full of people, and the adult DVD floor was basically empty except for two other foreigners who were also there out of curiosity.

Moving on, I went to Mandarake because I wanted to see if there were any good second-hand goods to get. I was very surprised by the structure of Mandarake, which is basically each floor is essentially its own shop, and you mainly move between floors using an exterior staircase (there was also a lift). The selection at Mandarake is amazing, which given their business shouldn’t be surprising, but the range of goods is still amazing. Thinking about my luggage space, the only thing I bought was a Misaka Mikoto World Uniform Operation figure, but I was tempted by many other things. The manga/light novel floor is especially wonderful because they have so many old series mixed in with new ones, which really made me wish I studied Japanese.

The last place I went into was Club Sega, and all the prize machines on the first two floors either had Monogatari or Love Live prizes. So I decided to spend a few of my coins trying to win a Shinobu prize figure. And I quickly learned why claw games in Japan are so hard. Unlike claw games here, what you do in Club Sega at least is you are trying to knock your prize (typically in a box of some kind), off two parallel and horizontal bars that sit over the prize receptacle. I forgot to take a picture, but imagine trying to knock a box off a shelf with a crane with the strength of a newborn baby. After eight attempts I gave up, despite my lust for the Monogatari goods. They had a really cool wallscroll as well, but it was really long and trying to knock it off those bars would’ve taken hundreds of Australian dollars.

Afterwards it was getting a little late and I eventually departed for my plane at Haneda Airport, a little disappointed I didn’t have more time to explore Akiba. I definitely need to make another trip to Japan in the future.

Categories
Anime and Manga

Not much room left, but I can’t help getting more.

Categories
Gaming

Thoughts on Metal Gear Solid V

So I’ve now finished Metal Gear Solid V and it was a pretty good game. Not better than The Witcher 3 for me, mainly because MGSV is flawed in its sparseness of story in the first half and a few other quibbles about its open world design. The rest of my thoughts on the game will be after the cut, but as a warning there will be major spoilers after the cut.

Categories
Anime and Manga

SMASH x anisong

On Saturday, at the Sydney Manga and Anime Show, there was a concert. It was pretty amazing. First though, I’m so happy that I managed to get stuff signed by both GARNiDELiA and (I’m super happy about this) yanaginagi (though it was just a signboard)!

Garnidelia and yanaginagi

The concert started off with a great set by kz (livetune), unsurprisingly featuring a lot of Hatsune Miku. kz was great at keeping the energy up, directing the crowd, and chucking glowsticks into the seats. He had a great surprise towards the end of his set, playing and mixing a few of his ClariS songs including the popular Oreimo theme. And he didn’t disappoint with the finale – Tell Your World, his most famous Vocaloid song. The whole set was really fun to jump and wave glowsticks to.

Next up was GARNiDELiA, who I mainly know because of their really great second OP for Kill la Kill and from watching a few Lisani shows. So while I’ll eventually get to watching Mahouka, I still really enjoyed their other songs because MARiA and Toku know how to put on a good show. They ended with ambiguous (the Kill la Kill OP), but I think the highlight was when they sung their own version of A Cruel Angel’s Thesis.

DJ Hello Kitty was up next, and I personally wasn’t into this set as much. Partly because it was a more traditional DJ mix of radio top 40 songs like Party Rock, and partly because I was getting pretty exhausted. I don’t think I was alone in this either, considering how many of us were sat down.

Finally, yanaginagi came on stage, and I wasn’t alone in being super excited for her. I think time considerations meant her set was a little shorter than I would’ve liked, she did get both of the Oregairu OP songs in, and they’re even better when she sings them in person. Unfortunately she didn’t sing Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari, which I would’ve loved to hear her sing in person. Still, glad she came to Australia (her first foreign event) and sang, I doubt I would have had any other opportunity to see her live.

Great night, would recommend it if Anisong returns next year. Hopefully they’ll get Kalafina or fripSide to come.

As for the rest of the show, it was most what I expected. I got to hear Danny Choo talk and show off his Smart Dolls, which remain out of my price range. I got some cool prints from the artists hall, including a great Journey (the game) print. And I saw a bunch of guys dressed up as muse from Love Live – which, by the way, is really popular as it turns out. I should watch it, but I feel like as an Idolm@ster fan it would be a challenge to my allegiance to Chihaya and Haruka. I also got a few Toaru Majutsu no Index 10th Anniversary goodies, including some prize figures of Biribiri and Orthinus, so I’m pretty happy (and poor).

Categories
Anime and Manga

The Power of a Magic God

Recently I’ve been slowly making my way through my anime backlog, and recently finished Toaru Kagaku no Railgun S (A Certain Scientific Railgun). That prompted me to catch up on the Toaru Majutsu no Index (A Certain Magical Index) light novels, which are on their second “season”, New Testament.

The first “season” of the light novels ended with a really epic arc featuring battles on an immense scale, which you would hope from an arc named the World War 3 arc. It’s why a third season of the anime is on my most wanted list.

But I would love even more an anime adaptation of the Othinus arc in New Testament, because I think it is one of the greatest and most epic arcs in Japanese media I’ve ever read. I’d highly recommend it if you have the time to watch through all of Index, then read from where the anime leaves off and through to New Testament. But given that Index is 23 novels and New Testament is 11 novels at this time (not to mention that Index is licensed now and it will take ages for all the novels to be published), I’ll give a spoiler filled description of why I think the Othinus arc is one of my favourite stories thus far.

Just to be sure, spoilers be ahead.

New Testament 1-8

So the Index series ended with an immense though short-lived war between the sides of “science” and “magic”, though the sides were not actually that clear cut and the ultimate villain was really acting on their own. Regardless, the victory of “science”, led by the technologically advanced Academy City, caused some magicians to band together to try and bring down Academy City, forming a group named Gremlin. The New Testament series up to the 10th book has focused on the actions of Gremlin.

So over the first few books the protagonist, Kamijou Touma, and his allies battle with Gremlin as they cause trouble in Hawaii and Eastern Europe. Eventually it is revealed that the ultimate plan of Gremlin revolves around their leader, Othinus, who is a magic god, a magician who has reached a level of power so great that they are capable of an infinite number of actions. However, that infinite possibility means that her actions are equally likely to fail as succeed. The plan of Gremlin is to complete an artifact that would ensure every action taken by Othinus would succeed – a 100% success rate.

Her main opponent is Kamijou Touma, a student of Academy City who possesses the mysterious power Imagine Breaker, which lets his right hand completely negate almost all supernatural phenomena (magic or science based). In the course of New Testament it’s revealed that Imagine Breaker is essentially a backup plan naturally created by the hopes/fears of magicians – a power that could reset the state of the world if a magician changed the world too much. At any one time Imagine Breaker inhabits one person, moving to another if that person dies.

After many battles with Gremlin members, Touma manages to confront Othinus and the creation of the artifact is stopped. Unfortunately, due to complicated reasons Othinus manages to achieve a state where all her intended actions have a 100% failure rate, meaning she can simply do the opposite of her intention to always succeed.

And so, despite Touma’s success in destroying the artifact, Othinus destroys the world.

New Testament 9

The next novel begins with Othinus and Touma finding themselves alone in a completely black void, Touma having been protected by the power of Imagine Breaker. This entire novel is basically a single fight, as Othinus attempts to break Touma’s spirit, because given Touma’s history of victory in the face of overwhelming odds she states that she would not be able to directly kill Touma.

So she sends Touma into different versions of the world he knew. In one he is considered the number one enemy of the world, hunted by every single person on the planet. In another he finds himself in the body of a stranger, who is “Touma” while not actually being Touma. In another he finds himself in a world of peace and happiness, one that exists because Touma never existed. This last world almost leads Touma to commit suicide, only for a special entity to make Touma remember why he fights.

And so after enduring numerous different worlds designed to break Touma through despair and pain, Touma finally confront Othinus directly. Which is where we find out the true scale of this battle. Touma quickly dies to Othinus, but we find out that this is not the first time that Touma has died to Othinus – for some reason she does not want to truly kill him. This cycle of Othinus and Touma finding themselves in the black void, Othinus trying to break Touma, and Touma dying fighting against Othinus, has been happening again and again. An Endless Eight if you will – but each cycle much longer than a summer holiday, and each cycle designed to break down Touma.

Touma loses almost all of his memory each time he dies, but he slowly instinctually remembers his previous actions, especially his fights against Othinus. And eventually, after some thousands of cycles Touma figures out what to do.

He realises that this whole thing was not the first time Othinus remade the world – that Othinus became a successful magic god before meeting Touma and remade the world several times. The Norse God Odin, various gods of war, and many other myths were actually representations of Othinus from previous worlds.

And her reason for remaking the world so many times was the same reason that Imagine Breaker exists – she had lost sight of her original world, and had been trying to remake her original world. She had been trying to undo the changes she made with each new world, but her power only let her create new changes, not undo them.

Finally, in the 10,031st (a number of significance in the series) fight between Othinus and Touma, Othinus gives up on trying to restore her original world. The endless cycles and the ease with which Touma died in every fight had finally worn her down. She resolves to finally kill Touma for good and create a new world – but Touma dodges her attacks. Endless repetitions of the fight were like fighting an over-levelled boss in a game thousands of times. Touma had read Othinus’ moves and was able to fight her one-on-one.

But in the end, he couldn’t avoid a spear Othinus sent through herself into Touma, fatally wounding Touma. Before his death, he tells Othinus to use Imagine Breaker to restore her original world. With his death, Othinus is finally alone.

As is usually case, she only realises what she’s lost once it’s gone. She realises that what she wanted was someone who understood her, having been vilified in basically every world she created. And so, rather than choosing to return to her original world – one she barely remembers except as being a hated villain in, she chooses a different world to return to – Touma’s world.

New Testament 10

After that eternity of battle, Touma wakes up in his original world, just before Othinus chose to destroy the world. Realising what Othinus has done, and realising that his allies still viewed her as the ultimate enemy capable of destroying the world, he intervenes and escapes with Othinus.

Which results in both Touma and Othinus being targeted by essentially every major power in the world. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances of the spell that allowed Othinus to achieve a 100% failure rate, Othinus loses her ability to use magic.

The rest of the novel is a very interesting series of battles as Touma has to fight every major friend and ally he’s made over the years as he and Othinus trek across Denmark in order to remove the spell that makes Othinus a magic god, which would eliminate the threat Othinus presents to the rest of the world. In this way Touma believes he can save Othinus.

It’s a really fun novel after the epic previous novel, as Touma gets the living hell beaten out of him by friends and the weapons of the major powers, and either reasons with them or uses his wits to beat them. It’s like a “best of” Kamaijou Touma – fighting familiar foes in ways and for reasons that exemplify the character.

I won’t say how it ends, but I enjoyed it all the way through.

What I like about the Othinus arc

Firstly, it’s the scale of the Othinus arc – it combines events on a world scale with an epic battle that occurs on a massive time scale. And unlike Endless Eight, the cycles are designed to mentally break the protagonist. In NT9 Touma is made to question every reason he gives for fighting to save the girl(s) of the arc (and the occasional guy). And it’s after reaffirming his reasons for fighting that he is able to make the entire world his enemy in order to save the girl who he was fighting just moments before. Which is the second reason I really like this arc – it is the ultimate representation of what Touma does and his reasons for it; that he will fight to ensure that any girl in front of him finds happiness, even if the entire world will fight him.

It’s also the arc in which Touma relies more and more on his friends, including the first battle in NT (and maybe the whole series) in which Touma, Index and Misaka Mikoto (best girl) cooperate against the same enemy – the trio I would say are the flagship characters of the series.

Also, of the many redemption stories in the Index series, I was most attached to this one. Accelerator’s redemption story was spread out over multiple arcs and might not even be finished, while characters like Fiamma of the Right don’t have the depth of story that Othinus has had dedicated to her.

Finally, NT10 is basically shounen battle fanservice, as familiar characters are pitted against Touma while the major powers of the world unleash some of their ultimate weapons to take down Touma and Othinus. Even if Touma’s allies and friends don’t fight him at full capacity, just the number of fights Touma has with them is interesting in and of itself.

I’ve spent a lot of time writing about this arc. The Index series is probably not the best shounen media out there, and it can be easy to get lost amongst its descriptions of how magic and esper powers work. There are some stories that aren’t that compelling – the Baggage City story in NT4 was a little bit of a slog. That said, it remains one of my favourite titles because of arcs like this. A dark experiment or threat that shows little mercy, a girl in trouble, and one idiot ready to take the world on to make sure everyone goes home happy.

This post also appeared on Number 17. Feel free to comment on it there.

Categories
Technology

Moto 360 First Impressions

Two days ago I finally received my parcel containing the Moto 360, Motorola’s first Android Wear smartwatch. This is a quick first impressions post, but basically I really like it so far… and you probably shouldn’t get this. It’s definitely a first adopter product.

Why did I get a Moto 360?

As some of you may know, I have continued to wear watches even as smartphones have become ubiquitous as our new timekeepers. It partly stems from a nervous tic I had of glancing at it, and even after suppressing that tic I still feel uncomfortable without a watch when I leave the house. So it seemed like a no-brainer to get a watch that had more functionality than my current watch (which has a whopping 2 complications – timer and calendar date). The Moto 360 stands out of the current line-up of Android Wear watches for being circular, and for being charged with Qi Wireless Charging. The latter is useful since I have a number of Qi chargers already and a Qi power bank.

How is the Hardware?

It looks really nice. With a circular metal rim only interrupted by a single button, it definitely looks more like a watch than any current or announced Android Wear device. The screen, while not as pixel dense as this generation of smartphones, is good enough that the watch faces don’t have an noticeable screen door effect. The in-built light sensor seems to be essential for a smartwatch with colour display, I’m not sure why other Android Wear devices have not included one. The back of the watch is unfortunately plastic, which was perhaps a necessity due to the heat generated by wireless charging, but there have been a few reports of cracking due to the Moto 360 having a circular protrusion over where the watch straps connect to the watch, rather than a flat edge. However, it does still feel nice to wear.

The size of the watch is one thing that has been discussed with concern. It isn’t as big as promotional pictures make it out to look like, but it isn’t anywhere close to the size of a usual woman’s watch, which may dissuade female purchasers. On my wrist it doesn’t look out of place, and compared to my current Swiss Military watch it is only a few millimetres larger at most.

The other thing is battery life. I haven’t had it long enough to test, but with the latest update people are reporting up to 2 days of charge with the Moto 360. This probably won’t be an issue for me as I’ll charge it every night (with wireless charging it’s as easy as dropping it onto the cradle), but obviously for a watch that is a very short battery life. The Pebble in contrast offers up to 7 days per charge, though it uses a monochrome e-ink screen. To achieve these battery savings, the Moto 360 will detect the orientation of the watch. When it detects that it is not facing your face, it will turn off the screen (this can be toggled). Face up, it will show a dim screen with the watch face (but no moving second hand); when tilted towards you it will fully light up and also show notifications. For the most part it works well.

How is Android Wear?

Android Wear is clearly still in development. There is still no official API for watch faces, and despite Google warning people not to make watch face apps until they do release that API, people have created apps that do just that. I haven’t dabbled in them yet, but there are watch faces that let you put the Goldeneye 007 watch interface or a Pipboy-style watchface on your watch. Notifications on your phone will appear on the watch, along with Google Now cards that are relevant for you at the time. For example, being near a bus stop will show you the bus routes that go through it. Some notifications will support actions on your watch, like pausing and skipping music, or replying to a Tweet.

Of course, with a small screen and no keyboard, the only way to write text is using voice commands. While Google Now has really good voice recognition, it still has its limits. You can use voice commands to do other things, like show your heart rate (the Moto 360 has a built-in heart rate monitor) or record a note. You can do some of these things by swiping up while the Google Now voice prompt is on-screen, and then selecting the command from a list, but it is not as easy as having an app drawer.

This is related to the issue with Android Wear apps that don’t show up as notification cards. IFTTT and Unified Remote (beta) have Android Wear support, but to get to those apps you need to either say “Start If This Then That”, or go to the bottom of the command list and go in to the “Start…” menu to open the app. It’s a minor hassle, and probably not one easily solved. I think that even with it’s crown and app drawer, the Apple Watch may not be the solution to this either. At least, when you do open IFTTT or Unified Remote, you can shut down your PC or mute your phone with the press of your watch. It is truly the future.

There was also one time when the watch hitched up, and refused to respond for 10 seconds or so. Not sure why.

The Moto 360 also has an advantage software-wise with Moto Connect, which allows you to customise the official watch faces that do come with the watch. There is a decent selection that you can use the Moto Connect app on your phone to change colours and sometimes the functionality of the watch (e.g. add extra time zones for multi-dial watches).

Current Thoughts

Right now the Moto 360 offers enough functionality for me to easily use it as my regular watch. But I already wore a watch regularly, and having an extra thing to charge daily is not a hassle for me. But this is not going to make you want to wear a watch, yet. The future holds more updates for Android Wear, which are rumoured to include the ability to store and play music on the watch without a phone connected, and support for NFC (so if Google Wallet finally becomes widely available, you might be able to pay with your watch like with Apple Pay).