Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Cover Up: Canonical Conundrums

How do you even begin to quantify what is and isn't "canon" in fan fiction, I wonder?

Don't worry friends, I'm not talking about 50 Shades of Gray - if I ever want to go down that road, we damn well know I have far more interesting BDSM themed films to talk about. No, I'm talking about The Protomen and the decade or so they've been pouring into what could be the most impressive piece of edgelord fan fiction since Dante wrote L'Inferno.

Back in 2005 the nine-piece group release The Protomen: Act I, a "classically" styled rock-opera depicting an alternate vision based, somewhat loosely, on the 200X continuity as featured in Capcom's classic 8-bit Mega Man franchise, particularly the events of the first three games, ending with Mega Man (Rock) and Proto Man (Blues) - two "sibling" machines - facing each other in combat. The new twist was that the whole thing was interpreted through a lens of an Orwellian Dystopia, with the villainous Dr. Wily playing the role of Big Brother, and the heroic Dr. Light playing out the role of a fallen social pariah - vilified by Wily's propaganda and playing the role of an honest to God terrorists who's second mechanical son walks through the flames of the unnamed city, unsure why the people refuse to take up arms and liberate themselves. It's not until he comes face to face with Wily's most dangerous machine - Light's first wayward son, and the martyred brother he always saw as his inspiration - that the reality of his eternal struggle is made clear, forcing Mega to kill Proto, and leaving the hero unconvinced that humanity is even worth saving as a result.

The whole thing is, as you can guess, just a bit silly. But it's delivered with such sincerity and a carefully measured mix of lyrical narrative, liner notes painting poetic vistas of the INGSOC interpretation of Wily's Robot City, distorted freedom rock and almost pained, bitter soliloquies from one of the NES' early attempts at moral ambiguities, it all hangs together in a way that it probably shouldn't. The Protomen: Act I may be fan fiction, but it's goddamn good fan fiction, experimenting with familiar pieces in ways that I simply couldn't have fathomed possible until I saw it for myself. The first album has some pretty basic continuity issues (is Dr. Light a southerner or isn't he?!), lacks enough context that it may not make a lot of sense to anyone who doesn't already know something about Capcom's all ages original franchise, and buries the finely tuned vocals and snarling guitars under so much faux-analogue distortion that, honestly, the 2013 remix of The Will of One is a dramatic improvement for simply letting the individual elements play out as they were recorded, without any additional "robotic" choppiness laid on top. It's a damn good tune, if you can forgive wearing its youthful heart on its sleeve. Being an unrepentant manchild with a fascination for games nearly as old as I am, this may as well have been crack for my soul.

But they weren't content just to be "that band that's like The Megas, but better". They spun the concept out into The Protomen Act II: The Father of Death, which is an ironically named album because the events actually take place before "Act I", serving as both an expanded foundation for the grim and violent reality they extrapolated from an all-ages game franchise, and allowing them to mash up a more or less original version of "Tom" and "Al", playing the story out as equal parts 1984 and Streets of Fire with the heroes being terrorized by what's best described as HAL from 2001 in a leather jacket. It also burrows deeper into the idea of heroes and triumph being relative, with Tom -unable to avenge the death of his lover Emily at the hands of the machines Albert himself corrupted - becoming a dangerous recluse in the forbidden areas outside of the town, who eventually lures a young man out to join in his fight to take down The Man, and the tower that controls the machines that have enslaved the world without anyone fully realizing how it had happened in the first place. In short, they turned him into two parts Nikola Tesla and one part Osama Bin Laden. It's fucking incredible as a concept and was produced by the guy who convinced the world that Meatloaf was a rock star, jettisoning the grungy mixes of Act I for a largely genuine-sounding fusion of Spanish inspired analogue rock and synth-powered adolescent fury, with each tune building closer and closer in tone to the inevitable sound of Act I until the closing track serves as a prophetic bridge into even the narrative itself.

Basically, The Protomen are to Fan Fiction what Passion of the Christ is to Snuff Films. It perhaps isn't quite the same thing, but goddamn, does it show how badly most other people are doing what they've always been trying to do.

With Act 1 having been released in 2005 and Act 2 having come out in 2009, that means faithfuls have been officially waiting a decade to see the grand finale. They've teased a few tracks, and we've even had a few spinoffs - like the positively decadent, 70s stage-musical level Built to Last on the MM25: Mega Man Rocks Anniversary Album - but their last two full albums have been nothing but cover tracks. 2012's A Night of Queen is, in and of itself, a lovely little tribute to one of the most iconic and influential artists of the 20th century. I like it, but as a friend who's been a die hard Freddie Mercury fan than I have pointed out, the arrangements are actually a little too close to the originals in most cases to be considered all that notable. They're quite good actually, but goddamn few artists out there are Queen level good, which makes very close approximations - no matter how impressive or sincere in their love for the material - seem ever so slightly redundant.

Their latest album - which is now available exclusively on cassette, vinyl or digital-only (no CD, goddamn them) - is one we've known was in the cards for some time. Called THE COVER UP: THE MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK, it too is a fine of covers - though only one was from Queen's collection this time out. The goal was an admirable one - to take the sounds of the mid-1980s and compose the single most amazing movie soundtrack licensing would never have allowed - and to that end, it does a damn good job. One could argue that using songs already associated with intensely 80s films - Princes of the Universe, No Easy Way Out, and Danger Zone may as well be "the theme from..." their respective cinematic vehicles - was a bit of a cheap move, but I'd argue the substantially reworked nature of two of them more than make up for their somewhat shameless inclusion on the list. Hell, the Spicy Tex-Mex version of Rob Tepper's ultimate montage tune was what convinced me to nut up and buy the vinyl in the first place.

What was less expected what the question of exactly what the album means to the broader scope of The Protomen's decade long fusion of Mega Man and insanity. Four dialogue heavy tracks with seamless transitions from the music, as well as a distorted message at the end of the final tune all paint a curious picture that seems like it's part of the larger narrative... but it doesn't quite add up. Tom sounds like Michael Biehn instead of a young Johnny Cash, and there's a romantic subplot with a "fearless reporter" who's never given a name. There's also a question of what "it" was that Albert was so desperate to get back that it eclipsed whether or not Tom survived. So what the hell?

First, let's look at the cover:

Even if you despise these tunes,
I defy you to hate this album cover.

"The Soundtrack to the Motion Picture ." In other words, in the universe that The Protomen have crafted, there was a film detailing Tom being framed as Emily's killer, and that makes the title of "The Cover Up" all the more delicious, as it's basically telling us outright that Al had it banned. But is that all there is? Did the movie just make up some crazy reporter who fell in love with Tom, and moved beyond the Danger Zone to broadcast the truth to those who wander outside the reach of The Arm? Well, maybe - and some unspecified members of the band have reportedly said that the soundtrack is being released on cassette specifically under the notion that Joe, the ill-fated hero of Act II, found this tape in his father's belongings, and that the romanticized vision of what the world was like before Wily's totalitarian regime is what spurned him to rebellion in the first place. It's a really cute idea, to be honest, and if that's as far as it goes - a distorted, romanticized alternate take on the grim underbelly that formed The Father of Death - I'm pretty okay with that.

But it's just as possible that this stretch of Tom's life - the 18 years that occur in the musical interlude How The World Fell Unto Darkness - holds mysteries that have yet to be explored in full. It would be difficult for Act III to work in flashbacks to previous events and keep a forward momentum of any sort, but if the groundwork has already been explored in subtle, clever ways here, that means they can mention "The Reporter" and "The Truth" being revealed without it feeling like a dramatic ass-pull. To that end, the tracks themselves even work in subtle nods to when in the canon they're taking place:

- The end of track 6, "Last Stop", features the sound of sirens blaring and dogs barking in the distance as Tom pays his respects at Emily's grave. This is in direct reference to the track in Act II, 'The Hounds', in which Al confirms that he has no choice now but to betray light and continue on his own path to victory.

- At the end to "Calling in the Air Tonight", the song changes briefly to a progression of notes that marks the shift in Act II's 'When the World Fell Unto Darkness', signifying both Tom being run out of town, and Al rebuilding it in his image. This more or less confirms that the track is playing concurrently with Act II.

- Track 15, 'Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)', is significant for two reasons. The first is that traditionally The Protomen would play their reworked piano intro as an introduction to 'Breaking Out', which occurs when Joe finally gets fed up of Wily's society and leaves to the forbidden areas outside the city's walls.

- No less important is the garbled message that the reporter gives, stating that "He saw it coming" - and "He's been gone for nearly 18 years and yet his dream is still alive". Could this be a pirate radio broadcast that our mysterious reporter has been making for some time, now that she knows the truth about Tom and Al? And could that distorted, intercepted message be the very static on the radio that brought Joe to Tom in the first place?

Even if we ignore what look to me to be blatant instances of drawing parallels between the two albums, the track list as it's organized would make some sense as a retelling of the events of Act II as-is, starting roughly with 'The Good Doctor' and ending shortly before 'Keep Quiet'. Let's examine the evidence, and by that, I mean let's sperg the fuck out over it for a few minutes:

- (Track 1) Pick Up - Emily is startled from her silence by an unexpected call that never answers. Clearly, eyes are on her, and she knows she has no choice but to run or risk her life by staying.

- (Track 2) Because Tonight - Tom surprises Emily with a romantic evening, prompting her to stay by her lover's side a while longer before she flees town. They've previously discussed where their souls promised to meet should they ever lose one another, so shit is about to go down and they know it. They're just trying to ignore it as long as they can.

- (Track 3) Princes of the Universe - An explicit, alternate take on 'The Good Doctor' in which Al convinces Tom that they hold the ultimate power in the universe; the power to change the world with the power of machines.

- (Track 4) Mr Roboto - Tom and Al give "birth" to the first artificially intelligent life form in their laboratory. 'Kilroy' breaking down could easily be Emily's death as described in 'The Father of Death'.

- (Track 5) No Easy Way Out - Tom, on the run from the cops and with no friends left to turn, grips with whether or not "giving in" to thoughts of suicide and allowing Al's sins to go unpunished is best for everyone.

- (Track 6/7) Last Stop/Calling In The Air Tonight - Tom visits Emily's grave, knowing he doesn't have it in him to join Emily yet. Knowing he has no further low to reach, he carries on...

At this point, it gets a little fuzzy, but let's assume this is still canon...

- (Track 8/9) I Drove All Night/Total Eclipse of the Heart - After knowing that something big has been discovered, Tom returns to the outskirts of the city to meet up with the unnamed reporter... and gets lucky. I'm flatly unable to find any reading of this track combo that isn't this. Which'll be really, really weird if my theory pans out in the long run.

- (Track 10/11) Hunted/The Trooper - After coming clean about Emily and confirming feelings for The Reporter, the two are attacked by The Trooper, likely the same "Mr. Roboto" twisted by Al's manipulation to be a violent servant.

- (Track 12) I Still Believe - After surviving their run-in with The Trooper, Tom realizes that it's never too late to change his own fate.

- (Track 13) Results - Revolver Ocelot Albert Wily is furious that The Trooper was unable to secure "it" during his last mission. Exactly what "It" might be, well...

- (Track 14) Danger Zone - Far from the prying eyes of Wily's City, Tom continues to experiment and perfect the design for weapons capable of undoing and destroying the sins he himself released.

- (Track 15) Silent Running (On Dangerous Grounds) - The Reporter continues to speak the truth to those who will listen, spreading propoganda among the people in the hopes that they will see Light as an inspiration and rise up against the corrupt, literal-iron fist of their Robot Masters.

This is all to be treated as conjecture - personal theory, no more and no less. But there's two very interesting questions that have so far gone unanswered, and likely either won't ever be clarified, or will be the basis for the twists that propel Act III, when - and perhaps if - that ever comes out.

The first question is who is this reporter risking her life by uncovering the truth of the violence, censorship and manipulation that put Wily in control of the city? The most obvious answer is that, in one form or another, this is The Protomen's version of Roll.

"Who is Roll?" - someone who stumbled onto this page expecting pornography or bootleg mix tapes by mistake must surely be asking themselves.  Well, the short(ish) version is that in Capcom's original "200X" continuity, Proto Man (aka Blues) was the first machine Dr. Light built that was capable of independent thought and reason - in short, an autonomous, mechanical human possessing human reasoning. Having created a working prototype, Dr. Light built two additional siblings - Mega Man ("Rock" in Nipponese-go) and Roll (...just, Roll) - as his lab assistant and his house keeper, respectively. Yes, Dr. Light supports keeping skirts in the kitchen and sweeping floors. Make of that what you will. The reason Proto defected was because there was a design flaw in which Proto's core would eventually expire, and trying to rebuild him would inevitably erase his consciousness - effectively, Proto was mortal, and went out to live his own life while he still could. Wily found him near expiration and modified the mechanical man to survive past his due date, at which point Proto swore allegiance to Wily for his help. The Protomen expanded on this idea and made it more a matter of Wily breaking and rebuilding Proto, letting his own doubt in humanity be the reason for his allegiance, but the broad strokes are more or less the same.

Roll is the third sibling to Light's mechanical family. With "Act I" centered around the feelings of betrayal over Light never having told Mega the truth behind what happened to Proto - much less the angst that "breaks" Mega once he's forced to kill the brother he never knew and always looked up to as a legend - the total lack of their mutual sister is a suspicious one, to say the least. Proto Man was actually introduced into the canon after Roll,

The second question raised is "What was Wily trying to recover?" The dialogue between Light and maybe-Roll imply that the two don't know each other, and it's entirely possible that in this interpretation of the story, Roll is actually Wilys creation - not Lights. If this guess is even remotely true, it brings up the possibility of Roll being in a replicant-esque existence, unaware that she herself is a machine, perhaps built to such a high standard that most people would never know to begin with - Roll by way of Maria, minus the fact that Maria was kind of an evil robotic psycho.

But again, at least some members of the band swear that The Cover Up is the "Hollywood" retelling of the real story as presented in Father of Death. With that in mind, it's possible that track 8 marks a break in continuity - that rather than Tom being arrested at Emily's grave, he got back in his car and escaped Wily's police entirely, going on the run with The Reporter. This would place everything that takes place up until the last track in a separate non-canonical timeline in which The State vs Thomas Light never happened, though more or less everything else that occurs through the album does. We all know that motion pictures "based on a true story" tend to take the headlines and fuck up everything in between, so could this be a clever meta-commentary on Hollywood's usual methods? Considering everything that's gone into this album existing in the first place, I wouldn't put it past them.

Regardless of what this record "means", I'm satisfied by its existence. I'd recommend to anyone out there who can appreciate just how gloriously silly and occasionally beautiful post-MTV movie soundtracks could be, and doesn't mind a badass cover of The Trooper replacing every instance of "The Russians" with "The Robots". That's how The Protomen Roll, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

The dog is named after Geddy Lee and pals.
Just in case you were still wondering.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How Hard Did Viz Screw Up The Original SAILOR MOON?

Hard enough that the upcoming Japanese re-run of the original 1994 TV series are going to be from Toei's own HD Remaster. To the best of my knowledge Toei hasn't done an HD master for a vintage TV show since the Dragon Ball Kai project, and have been content to release legitimate classics like Slam Dunk and Saint Seiya on hastily upscaled Blu-ray, so this really is a surprise. Not to mention hopefully a sign of things to come, but I refuse to get my hopes up, since I have a sneaking suspicion that this was largely done at the behest of a certain international licensor who's had egg on their face for some time now over this particular series...

The fact that Viz has only ruined released the first 40 episodes of the original series fucked upscaled means that there's now a very real possibility that North America will get their hands on this same HD master, as well. They'll have to eat a big ol' pile of crow in the process, and probably have to spin their lies about the original film elements no longer existing like a goddamn PR centrifuge, but the potential for schadenfreude here could be so delectable that even people who don't care about the video quality could find something to love.

To every fan who called bullshit, to ANN's interview where Zac tried so hard to let them admit fault it hurt, and to every fan who was willing to support this show no matter what happens: Thank you. This existing gives Mrs. Kentai hope, and that's worth its weight in any precious metal you like.

Gamer Gators vs Social Justice Warlords: The Final Post

Pls Marvel don't sue

WARNING: Yup, it's another one of these posts.
Next time, we'll do something more fun. I promise!

Months ago, I promised an anonymous reader that I'd write a proper addendum to my stance on the ever-present internet controversy known as #gamergate. I haven't done that yet. Mostly because trying to simply explain what Gamer Gate is - or at least, what it's become - over the last 6 months is an exhausting process. But we've reached that all important moment of mainstream saturation - as I write this, LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT is set to air an episode dedicated to the scandal under the title "Intimidation Game" tonight, forcing  Ice T to not only explain what "SWATing" is, but do so with a straight face as he describes it as something that men only do to women - so I figure it's time to make myself clear, and wash my hands of ever talking about "gaming culture" on the Kentai Blog so I can actually talk about "Games" from time to time.

Plus, I've got a 102 fever, my ankle's sprained so hard it's double its usual size, and I'm packing to move across town so this is something I can do without pulling shit out of boxes to take screencaps. I may get back to writing video comparisons in March, then. Sorry friends, but trust me, I wish I had the strength to do that stuff right now...

The argument that Gamer Gate - sorry, but I refuse to type in #hashtag #bullshit whenever I can help it - is a misogynistic hate movement dedicated to running women out of gaming is, to be frank, ridiculous. For one thing, the only person supposedly "run out" of anything was Samantha Allen, who... came back a month later after complaining that nobody wanted to buy her articles on Anita Sarkeesian anyway. So if the goal here was to get those pesky women out of our many video games, we've clearly done a really, really bad job of it.

A wild Gamer Gator in their natural habitat.

Despite all the media coverage being about women in gaming as developers and critics being harassed, threatened and so on, it's curious that recognizable women in the actual game industry - writers like Rihanna Pratchet (Square Enix's Tomb Raider), recently retired producer Jade Raymond (Ubisoft's Assassins Creed), and company executives like Bonnie Ross (343's Halo) - have seemingly never been the target of abuse, despite them having a profoundly more direct impact than a handful of independent developers that are - to be blunt - friggin' nobodies, even in their own tiny corner of the industry they inhabit.

It's also odd that a group supposedly dedicated to hating women would have so many female supporters - or any female supporters, really - such as Jennie Bharaj, CameraLady and LizzyF620 - the last of whom only withdrew any ongoing support because she was doxxed to the point of having the names of her children and the floor plan of her house publicized. This is to say nothing of female voices - such as feminist scholar Christina H. Sommers, and games journalist Liana K - who don't have anything to do with Gamer Gate themselves, but acknowledge that the root cause of the ongoing internet struggle comes from a place of frustration against an industry that's turned a blind eye to numerous problems for years now.

So yeah, that whole "Gamer Gate is a 4chan conspiracy to remove women from gaming" thing? A huge pile of bullshit. That said, It was easier for outsiders to buy than the truth - that a hundred thousand neckbearded manbaby /v/irgins would rise up against soft hobbyist news sites like Kotaku and Polygon - because the only people not willing to hold Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian up as martyrs for the advancement of video games were known right wing advocates, like the proudly pro-military Adam Baldwin  and unashamedly right-leaning journalist Milo Yiannpolous, neither of whim ever claimed to be gamers themselves and were interested in the story solely for the fallout it could otherwise cause the "Feminazi Menace", should the ugly truth behind their shenanigans get pulled into the daylight for all to see.

Pictured: A survey of the political leanings of actual
Gamer Gate supporters as submitted on The Escapist.

That said, gamers never asked for our representation to be people who had shrugged off gay marriage as a new tax fraud loophole, or had written at length about how transgenderism is a mental disease; they came to gamers when they smelled a chance to point out the grotesque hypocrisy present in "Third Wave" feminism, and having found that they were actually listening, gamers responded. The notion that Gamer Gate was some inherently Right Wing organization is about as laughable as its supposed Misogynist focus, but again, it's something I see crop up now and again, and I can't understand how people can do so little research that it's a myth that persists to this day.

The horrible irony being that most people - myself included - fall under the umbrella of believing in the tenants of Second Wave Equality Feminism - that is, believing that women should have the same basic rights as men. But because of the crazy bullshit that comes with the Third Wave, most people (again, myself included) don't see themselves as feminists, because that opens yourself to being compared to straight up psychos like Valerie Solanas. (Look her up if you don't already know who shot Andy Warhol.) "Egalitarian" means the same thing, and it doesn't have the baggage of too many crazy people attached to it. It's a semantics game, I know, but it's an important one, because to argue that any egalitarian isn't technically a feminist seems... disingenuous. They're certainly not a misogynist, at any rate.

Meanwhile, Joss Whedon, Will Weaton, Graham Linehan, Tim Schafer, Stephen Colbert, Patton Oswald - all the nerd icons you'd expect to be in your corner when this shit hit the proverbial fan and painted consumers sick and tired of being dicked around by the people in charge of trying to keep them informed of the very stuff these guys make a living producing! - swallowed the left leaning media's take without questioning it. I'll spare the individual point-by-point summary of who's said what, suffice to say that while I still love some of the work these guys produce, this whole experience has reminded me that meeting your heroes is always a terrible idea. (Unless your hero is Toshio MAEDA. That guy kicks ass!)

The saddest part is I almost don't blame them for making one statement decrying any related misogyny and moving on; it'd be commercial suicide to do anything else. Even if they had spent the necessary time reading up on this shit (which I doubt), it wouldn't help their bottom line. What really bothers me is seeing guys like Linehan - the guy who created Jen and Roy on The IT Crowd, a manipulative, hysterical female stereotype and a selfish, woman objectifying pig, respectively - talking like he actually cares about this sort of thing, instead of realizing that this is the next big moral panic and not wanting to be left behind when every sitcom is pushing positivity and he's still making fun of nerds (though the way things are going, we nerds have already peaked in the public eye). Seriously, Linehan? Next time you want to insult people over slut shaming, make sure the person in question didn't do it to themselves as a joke about all the shit people have been flinging at them. You, of all people, should know what self-deprecating humor is.

Backers for this... project were locked out of the forum - one of the rewards
they literally paid money for - just for being open Gamer Gate supporters. 
Too disgusted by bog-easy game footage to check if that ever got resolved.

Gamer Gate is, and has always been in some capacity, an asymmetrical consumer revolt and a culture divide between the Authoritarian and the Libertarian - not the left and the right. The focus has been on questionable practices in the strictly insular industry of video game journalism, which is intertwined with game criticism as a default. For all the eye-rolling this honesty tends to get, those who have been keeping tabs have seen many websites update their ethics policies, clarify connections between writers and their subjects, disclosing affiliate links in "reviews" that serve largely as advertising, and in at least one particular case, apologize for grossly misrepresenting private matters. In short, there's a long way to go, but Gamer Gate has pushed for transparency and honesty with the websites its members read, and by and large these websites have been left with little choice but to acknowledge that there were issues to fix.

No, Gamer Gate hasn't instantly solved publishers fixing scores or developer bonuses being tied to Metacritic averages, but it has established that alternate voices in the industry exist, and now that the problems are laid bare they're finally getting heared: Tech Raptor, Games Nosh and Niche Gamer aren't as big and polished as the competition, but they have their place in this discussion, and the fact that they've done so without any major reader-shaming and censorship of controversial titles keeps them a positive force in my eyes. Niche Gamer in particular has a boner for what /v/ affectionately calls "Weeb Shit" - Japanese RPGs and games focusing on cute girls, in other words - and Tech Raptor has provided several exclusive interviews with various game developers on a wide variety of topics, as opposed to the usual canned press-release info most of the larger sites like to deal with. Don't spend enough time at Games Nosh to really get what they're about - but hey, I've only got so many hours in a day.

I'm also thrilled to see EuroGamer's recent change in policy abolishing scores in favor for a broader "Essential / Recommended / Avoid" award as needed, which means one of the most respected English language sites on the subject isn't contributing to the Metacritic bullshit that serves only to support publishers and fuck developers. And thank God for that, because I'd read Digital Foundry even if the rest of the site was recipes for fried baby. The Escapist continues to sit somewhere in the middle - full of minor ethical breaches itself and trying to distance itself from their own Bob Chipman's violent rants on the subject ("There are no bad tactics, only bad targets." - The man who defended Other M.) but they've allowed discussions to happen of their own accord, and that's something that probably would have nipped a lot of this insanity in the bud. Meanwhile, PC Gamer continues to trim any comments regarding the Anita Sarkeesian skin in Towerfall Ascension.

They just sorta'... stuck the plaid and hoops on a finished character, didn't they?
Wow, it's almost like this is a totally arbitrary and pointless distinction to make!
(Also, is this white washing a Punjabi, or the opposite? I honestly can't tell anymore.)

And what of the old guard? Joystiq is already confirmed to be jettisoned by AOL as dead weight, though some of their subsidiaries may come back via crowdfunding as independants, if all goes well for them. According to a piece by Clocked Gamingz, despite the Alexa traffic looking higher for Kotaku, Polygon and Gamasutra, the kick-rate has gone up dramatically with no long-term growth since September or so, when these sites would expect a massive uptick as reviews on the Christmas season's new hot titles trickle out anyway. Coupled with the fact that many of these sites have either lost advertisers, or are using less lucrative solutions - such as Google AdSense - that means they are, in no uncertain terms, making less money than they were before Gamer Gate, regardless of whatever higher total volume they may have on individual articles being linked from third parties. I'm of two minds on the "Burn It All Down" mindset we've seen up to this point; it's clear that most of these websites are comfortable with their business model, and I'm not comfortable supporting them. So in effect, I'm boycotting them - and even have to do a double take when I realize that Fan Gamer's awesome shirts are likely made by Polygon corporate... but, we all have to pick our own battles, I suppose.

Unfortunately, because of the perception that it was an anti-female movement, it's largest detractors are not game journalists themselves, but feminist activists. Anti-GG detractors, often noted by supports as "aGGros", often have curiously little to do with gaming. The majority of Gamer Gate's opposition are, curiously enough, non-gaming related websites and individuals who want to see the revolt stamped out. Why? Because the origins of the revolt - a sex scandal over a female developer sleeping with a journalist who covered her game, to say nothing of the mass censorship over the details which in turn led to the Streisand Effect kicking in - left a pretty foul taste in a lot of people's mouths. And I'm willing to bet the overwhelming majority who have written "gamers" off as dangerous sociopathic losers did so based on one or two articles published by the mainstream media, which have been horrible at covering this with any of the background or nuance that show a years-long tension between gamers and the media that literally profit off of the indentity they now want to shrug off in favor of a "new" market which, as far as I can tell, simply does not exist. Or, if it did, I imagine Brianna Wu wouldn't have so much trouble trying to sell Revolution 60 on Steam.

This abomination got $100,000 more on Kickstarter than Shovel Knight.
There is no God and we're all going to die alone. Proof, right here.

I can actually understand the skepticism that hung over the initial #burgersandfries controversy for a lot of people, and when the mass of the discussion is happening on 4chan, it's not going to be pretty. But kicking it off of /v/ was perhaps the worst thing they could have done to keep it quiet, as forcing anonymous to find new avenues of discussion only brought the controversy to a dramatically wider audience. And, yes, some of the people who are supporting it do so to spite the proponents of "Social Justice" insofar as they see it as an outside force trying to domesticate a very specific subculture to the whims and expectations of an audience that doesn't much care for the medium they claim to want to "improve".

That's basically the core issue I take with both the gaming media, and the "Social Justice" brigade that champion them: They claim to want inclusivity, to want games to reach the next level as an art form, but the reality is they want games to match what they think meet those criteria, regardless of the consumers and creators already in the industry believe already has merit. When Grand Theft Auto V was pulled from store shelves in Australia over literal complains of misogyny, plenty of people defended the move as a sign of positively towards women in gaming. This is despite the fact that the game in no way encourages you to kill women - it's just an option a player can take part in if they so choose, the same as killing a hot dog vendor or a mime. If you play GTAV and only kill black guys, then yeah, the game could be a racism simulator... but that says more about the player than the actual game, doesn't it?

By the same token, while games like Killer Is Dead and Hyperdimension Neptunia are routinely scoffed at and derided for appealing to blatant heterosexual pandering, games like Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age Inquisition are lauded for including homosexual scenes that are... pretty much the same goddamn thing. Pandering fanservice that doesn't actually affect the game's mechanics or story in any dramatic way. To be clear, I'm all for publishers serving fish and sausage for those who have their own preferences, but to argue that heterosexuality is inherently bad while homosexuality is inherently good only proves they're hypocrites uncomfortable with the thought of sex unless it's pushing a specific agenda. If you want to see just how willing to explore within the medium they are, try and find any positive articles about the dating-simulator/puzzle hybrid Hunie Pop that aren't from Tech Raptor or Niche Gamer. The Steam version doesn't even have any sex scenes, but the fact that the publishers themselves offer a patch to put them back in left plenty of familiar faces less than thrilled at the thought.

Hey, be grateful I didn't grab a screenshot of the horse vagina mods.

And so, all we have left to discuss the elephant in the room: Did Gamer Gate threaten, doxx and harass a handful of vocal critics including Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu? Well, the answer is "possibly". That's as far as it can go, because so far as I'm aware the actual people who have sent things that extend beyond typical online trolling - people who doxx, people who send death and rape threats, people who send child pornography and so on - are pretty small in number, since I can only think of a few people to get any such treatment. There's also no way to know if one prick was doing it to multiple people, since again, it's all anonymous burner accounts anyway. Heck, a Gamer Gate supporter found one of the guys who's been known to threaten Anita Sarkeesian - a South American game journalist named Guy Celebrando, who was literally making news stories for himself - but without Sarkeesian being willing to press charges and involve international police agencies, that's as far as it'll ever go. It's also difficult to keep track of this shit in part because, more often than not, those doxxes were done via eMail, which are impossible to verify from a third party position the way message boards and social media are. A truly deranged person could send themselves a threatening eMail, and short of the feds tracing the IP to the source, how would anyone know?

So would someone who truly despises Sarkeesian, Quinn and Wu also be a Gamer Gate member? I could see that. To argue that those people aren't members of Gamer Gate gets dangerously close to the No True Scotsman Fallacy, after all. But they could , just as easily, be third party trolls with no interest in gaming at all. It's already been confirmed that both the Gay Nigger Association of America and the Billy Waggoner Crew were paid by someone to stoke the fires on both sides, and when Sarkeesian's death threats were treated as front page news, it seems that Something Awful goons were patting each other on the back over the whole thing... not that anyone ever discusses this. Because people are fucking retarded.

False Flags? In your Gamer Gate?
It's more likely than you think!

And how do we know for sure that False Flags were going on? Because Camera Lady - one of the most important investigative members in this mess - is, herself, a GNAA member. She uses those connections to confirm information before giving it to the public, but that doesn't mean she isn't associated with a pack of professional scumbags. Take that knowledge for what it's worth. Also, Anonymous recently took down ISIS online recruitment system. That's not relevant, I just think it's really funny for some reason.

To try and put this into perspective,  one of the most recent pro-GG doxxes to happen - Lizzie - was on 8chan's Baphomet (/baph/) board. For those who don't want to literally trudge through Darkweb Troll Territory, something you may not know is that while Gamer Gate and Baphomet both have a home in 8chan, the demographics that visit them generally can't stand each other; Baphomet calls them moralfags, and GamerGate calls them loose canons (and also faggots - because y'know, 8chan).

So it makes sense for Baphomet to doxx Lizzie, right? Well... actually no, it doesn't. Baphomet hates Gamer Gate, but they've also more or less agreed to ignore GG as a means to avoid the mutually-assured destruction of 8chan, be it from outside sources of from within. What Baphomet does do is cause trouble to have fun. Doxxing and dogpiling people with a history of internet drama and "lolsuits"? They're fair game. Lizzie has nothing to offer to Baphomet, and as such her doxx was deleted as a False Flag - in other words, someone trying to make it look like the usual /baph/ crew, when it obviously was not. But much like the hashtag, anyone who posts on /baph/ is technically a member of Baphomet, so we're back to that No True Scotsman thing again...

But hey, fuck it, whatever: Let's just play Devil's Advocate and assume that all of those assholes doxxing and threatening and whatever really are hardcore dyed-in-the-wool Goober Gapers, or whatever dumbass thing the opposition wants to call them now. To that, let me direct you to Chris von  Csefalvay - an actual scientist who graduated Harvard, and typically uses his Super Power level brain to catalog white collar crime - has estimated that Gamer Gate has had no less than 150,000 unique, individual users discussing the hashtag between December 1st and 6th. Yes, that'll include trolls, people who disagree with it and a different mix of people than you'd have seen earlier on, but this isn't even the busiest period the tag has had, and it doesn't include those who are involved at the eMail campaign or 8chan/Reddit level who may not use Twitter. In other words it ain't perfect, but it's the metric we've got, so I'll take it.

Even if we round the actual numbers up, the dangerous sociopaths - the threats, the doxxes, the really ugly shit everyone is so upset about it on both sides - are an estimated less than one in ten-thousand. Meanwhile, most people in the mental health field assume that sociopaths make up roughly 1% of the population. In other words, by their behavior alone, Gamer Gate has proven themselves to be less crazy than humanity as a whole. Mr. Csefalvay also points out that while he's experienced death threats before, this is the first time he's ever has his wife threatened for the heinous crime of being tangentally related to a guy who did some research - and none of the people doing that are doing so in support of Gamer Gate. So hey, the guy who's doing hard science is being berated and threatened not by the supposed violent hate group, but by the people who's antagonism towards it would look like shitty behavior if it was proven not to be one. Imagine that!

Pictured: Shit people who dislike Gamer Gate actually say.

But go ahead, ask Will Weaton about that. He'll tell you that nobody has been threatened, doxxed or harassed by Anti-Gamer Gate people. That just doesn't hold up under scrutiny, he said, before he had to withdraw his comment on the matter. I guess THIS is just one massive, elaborate hoax, then? I won't deny that 90% of that is harmless shitposting stupidity - which is true of anything on the internet - but it's amazing how the opposition to Gamer Gate, who are upset at what they see as a tribalist mentality against women, immediately drop all of that "inclusivity" talk and start talking shit to strangers they have no actual knowledge of, other than they want to talk about Gamer Gate in some capacity. One of the most beautiful ideas they've floated to point out this blatant hypocrisy was Operation Lonely Hearts, in which someone who made a heart-shaped twitter icon claimed to be for equality in gaming. Gamer Gate supporters said hey, so are we - so, they started using the icon to prove they were on the same side. The creator was furious, and those who disliked Gamer Gate abandoned the symbol, which they felt had been tainted. So you see? The opposition to Gamer Gate is about including everybody... unless they don't like you.

It's not like our opposition are composed of saints, either. Sarah Butts*. Randi Harper. Ian Miles Cheong. Google that shit and come back, if you like. Short version: Dog molester, meth addict and literal Nazi, respectively. The last one especially gets me because, dude, you're fucking Chinese, how does that even work? I try not to judge people on shitty personal behavior alone - we all have our vices, we all make mistakes, people can change and whatever - but... no. Fuck these people. I'm sorry, but you do not get to play moral guardian when you're fucking your family pets, blowing dudes for meth in a Burger King bathroom, and telling some Jewish kid he wished his grandparents died in the Holocaust. That's not including the countless anons who sent weapons to streamers telling them to kill themselves, SWATing attempts, and a laundry list of additional bullshit that's fallen far more heavily on Gamer Gate supports than it has its detractors by raw numbers. But who cares about those gross nerds, right? Fuck'n Goober Gapers, always hating anything with a vagina...

* No, that's clearly not Sarah's real name. But Zoe Quinn's real name isn't Zoe Quinn, either, so when in Rome?

This is the thing that's struck me as absurd for quite some time. Yes, the Holy Trinity of Professional Victims - Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, and Anita Sarkeesian - have had some pretty terrible things said about them. No, they didn't "deserve" to have their lives threatened. That's sick, regardless of how you feel about them as people or professionals. That said, they're the ultimate benefactors of this nonsense, and it amazes me that so few people outside of Gamer Gate seem to realize it. Every death threat may as well be a signed check lobbed a their heads - not that any of these San Francisco based trust fund babies actually need the cash getting dumped their way. Look, I'm a white male raised by two women and I'm currently living in California and an obsession with Asian film and food culture - I can certainly deal with a little expected societal guilt here and there. But good lord, the second I hear the words "privilege" coming from people who make five times as much as I do, it makes me want to puke into their freshly punched faces.

Sums up her main talking points nicely.

Do you guys at home realize that Feminist Frequency - the company (now a non-profit "educational" organization) for which Anita Sarkeesian is the figurehead - made over $440,000 last year? Or that out of that money, over $397,000 was strictly in donations? And that if their Tropes vs Women in Video Games budget is anything to go by, over 40% of that money goes back into Feminist Frequency's collective bank account as salary? And that every convert she creates leads to more converts wanting to throw money at a nice, smart lady who 4chan said mean things about?

This actually explains why after 3 years of shitty half-hour videos detailing the horrors of sexism in video games, there's extremely little in the ways of examples of female characters done right, or even examples as to how to "fix" these commonly used stereotypes while keeping the player engaged: She makes a fortune complaining, while acknowledging that things are better would put her out of a job.

...oh fuck me. This actually reminds me of an amazing quote from Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake...

"You saw those children, didn't you? Every one is a victim of a war somewhere of the world.

And they'll make fine soldiers in the next war.  Start a war, for its flames, create victims...
Then save them, train them... And feed them back onto the battlefield.

It's a perfectly logical system. In this world of ours, conflict never ends.
And neither does our purpose... our raison d'etre."

- Big Boss,  1999

And yet, this would imply that Anita Sarkeesian is capable of taking out The Boss in CQC - and I flatly reject that notion... unless, of course, The Phantom Pain pulls some crazy bullshit and solidifies my pet theory that "John" from Snake Eater, Portable Ops and Peace Walker is not the same man who was foiled at Outer Heaven, and later killed at Zanzibar Land. HOLY SHIT-- Could Sarkeesian be The Fake Big Boss?! Wait, wait, that's the fever talking. Big Boss is a fictional character. Anita Sarkeesian is an actual Social Justice Warlord. Goddamn it.

There's also the growing anecdotes to suggest that Jonathan McIntosh is actually writing all of that garbage and Sarkeesian is literally the flesh and blood sock puppet - but that'll either come to full, or won't. Whatever. Did I mention that Intel gave these jerkoffs $60,000 a year, for the next 5 years, just to wash away the association of being Gamer Gate's first major "victory" against GamaSutra? Because I'm still pretty fucking salty over that. Not that I'd ever buy an AMD these days, screw that, but... still. Goddamn it!

It isn't just Sarkeesian, either - though she's by far the most successful at it. Zoe Quinn talks about "hiding from Adam Baldwin" in Europe like some modern day Anne Frank, despite the fact that she was talking about that vacation months before Gamer Gate was a thing. I won't deny that some shitty people said some shitty things about her, but make no mistake, she's proven herself to be a compulsive liar willing to throw her close friends under the bus at the earliest opportunity, and the fact that anyone would support her knowing about The Fine Young Capitalists is still mind-boggling to be. She's since formed the Crash Override Network, an anti-harassment support group. What support did she give Lizzy when she was doxxed and her children were put in danger? Oh, right - she asked people to stop spamming her twitter and send eMails, instead, and seemed to do nothing else with that particular case. Stay classy, Quinn, and remember, online trolls are the real danger. How are you treating that boyfriend who's rich off of selling weapons to Israel, by the way? Better than the one you cheated on and psychologically tortured for months on end, I hope?

If you can't tell, I have a pretty low tolerance for self-made victims. I'd talk about how Brianna Wu clearly never left her home when she was in a "safe place" during her Gamer Gate threat-propelled exodus, but she's such a nothing at this point I don't even want to talk about her. I don't want to talk about any of this. It's such a glorious, depressing mess - like a tire fire made out of dreams... all I can do is remind myself that we beat back Jack Thompson, and he came back with a new name and the same tricks. And now here we are, convincing people that not all games are bad, and gamers aren't bad people, all over again.

I've always said the 90s sucked, and goddamn, the bullshit I had to listen to even when I was too young to understand half of it over how "video games = violence" pissed me off to no end. To see it resurrected with "video games = sexism" now is not only stupid, but it's infuriating watching those same dumbass tactics stick, in part because the industry that's supposed to support the consumer - the gamers - decided that they agreed with it. They cultivated it, they supported it, they never questioned it, and now it's set to backfire on them in the best way possible.

You notice how Polygon, Kotaku and pals haven't mentioned the SVU episode? Yeah. I think they finally realized that maybe pushing a bullshit snapshot of your audience as literal ISIS level cyber criminals wasn't such a good idea after all. Public perception of gamers has always been pretty fucking appalling. So now on top of fat, skill obsessed, socially inept virgins, we'll be jealous misogynists and SWATing, kidnapping criminal masterminds. I'm not one to take too much stock into that sort of thing - personally, I'd rather just play games - but watching this degrade over the last several months, watching them not only let it happen, but force it to, has been pretty goddamn sickening all the same.,

The subculture that gamers created rejected them, and the mainstream will only see us as subhumans, perhaps even worse than they always have been. What choice do we have? You want a culture war, corrupt journalists and Social Justice Warlords? You've taken 4chan. You've broken the trust we had in Tim Schafer. You've forced the hand of the great Nerd Monoculture - something that lumps film, comics, games, toys, and a dozen largely unrelated things into a way that makes branding and marketing simpler - to call us all sexist scum just to keep their careers safe. All you had to do was be honest and this would go away, and instead you looked down from your ivory towers and laughed at the petty gaming peasants wanting "transparency" and "unbiased criticism". To paraphrase The Great Humongous - all this killing, all this bloodshed, could have been avoided. You could have just walked away.

Look around you. The children are going to be taught that games are sexist patriarchal propaganda, your mom is going to assume that anyone who owns Call of Duty is a goddamn serial killer, and the industry itself has become such a bloated carnival of wasted opportunity and mismanaged budgets that the only thing that can happen is a market crash on par with Atari's heyday. This is not the end... this is just the end of the beginning, for the dark times that emulate that grotesque little spot where Doom and Night Trap were somehow considered controversial are coming back, and with the fresh mask of "feminism" being an excuse to remove the violence, dumb fucks might actually listen this time.

Honestly, what did you think would happen? And who do you think will be left standing when all we want are the products that enrich our lives to be better, and all you have to gain from it are ad revenue and minor celebrity?

"I won't scatter your sorrow to the heartless sea.
I will always be with you." - Big Boss, 1984

Ugh, whatever. So long as The Phantom Pain still comes out this year, this industry can burn around me for all I care. The beauty of gaming is that there's such a vast and fascinating array of games from different decades, on different platforms, catering to new and emerging markets that you could spend the rest of your life just playing stuff that came out in the 1980s - and a lot of that is still good stuff, damn it.

But then something happened a few days ago. Something I can no longer ignore, and fills me with fury and dread over the mere thought:

What you can read HERE is a proposed lesson plan from the Anti Defamation League - "Is Gaming A Boys Club?" Women, Video Games and Sexism -  meant for Common Core curriculum use for 11th and 12th graders. It uses interviews with Anita Sarkeesian as sources without any further input from actual educators - or people who weren't literally hand writing analysts before jumping on to the Feminist Education. This is quite literally anti-gaming propaganda, and just to put a strawberry on the cake, it's literally an organization run by wealthy Jews. Odd that they would side with Feminist Frequency - producer and "co-writer" Jonathan McIntosh hasn't been subtle about how he feels about Israel, and Sarkeesian herself is Armenian, if I'm not mistaken - but whatever. The important thing is that the ADL actually wants Sarkeesian's harassment - and with it, the narrative that Gamer Gate was a direct response to her, as opposed to years of journalists supporting personal friends and agendas over transparency and the very consumers that made them professional bloggers for toys in the first place - and that pisses me right the fuck off. Like, shaking and sweating bullets pissed... or maybe that's just the fever talking. Probably a little of both.

I can't stress enough how crazy the following true statement is: There is a pro-Jewish organization that wants to force high school kids to write video game publishers about a stick-figure concept of feminism for school credit. This sounds like the punchline you'd find in some crappy Paint comic about the Happy Merchant, and yet it's actually happened. Fuck my life!

The only silver lining here is that the ADL is offering the material to whatever school is so far up its own crack it'd take it; it's not actually a part of Common Core, and with any luck the standards of public education are just barely good enough that they decide one woman's feels just isn't tangible enough to base an entire lesson plan around. But I don't really know what standards for Common Core is, being neither a student nor a parent myself, so for all I know Gamer Gate will be discussed in anthropology courses next to Suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement decades from now as major breaks in the political landscape.

So, what is the answer? How do we take back everything we've lost? I don't fuckin' know anymore. I think the best thing to do will be to get some sleep, watch Law and Order, have a few cheap laughs at my own expense from the end of a bottle of soju, and then decide what I should do. I've written a few eMails, kicked a few bucks to charity, but I'm not a Twitter Trench kind of guy and I only eMail advertisers when I think there's something specific that needs to be addressed. Am I a Gamer Gate supporter, insofar as I see their goals as a positive thing? You bet your ass. Am I the Leader of Gamer Gate, sending eMails and propoganda daily? Eh, not so much. But if I'm going to watch an honest to god Feminist-Jewish Propaganda piece convince children who never played video games to try and change them for a world view based on a manipulative opportunists ideal of what games could be in her own hands, you can bet your ass I need to spend more time doing something...

Sadly, that can wait until I move. Apartment hunting is like bureaucratic torture

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dead or Alive, You're In HD: Takashi Miike's D.O.A on Blu-ray

Holy crap, ladies and gents, it's been a while, hasn't it? I must apologize for dropping off the face of this little corner of overlong glorified shitposting I call the Kentai Blog, but in my defense, I've been serving an epic run of jury duty (which ended today - huzzah!), got promoted with a host of new responsibilities I was in the process of learning, and I'm currently trying to figure out if the rental unit I'm in is worth the price versus the massive pain-in-the-ass that comes with moving. (It's not.) In short, shit be cray-cray, and I literally don't have time or energy to do much of the long-winded but sincere nonsense I'd like to throw up here on a semi-regular basis.

But hey, let's do something I can do in my sleep and talk about Takashi MIIKE - more specifically about the bizarre lack of earlier Miike films on Blu-ray. That'll make for a short, rage inducing post... unless, maybe, there's something worth talking about?

"I am the director of love and freedom." - Takashi Miike, 2006,
in response to agreeing to be part of Mick Garris' Masters of Horror.

I must confess I'm at a bit of a loss as to how few Takashi Miike films have found their way to Blu-ray, especially here in North America. I know, I know, his heyday was without question that magical period from about 1998 to 2006, gaining noteriety with the Western world for his outlandish and gruesome, but almost always at least somewhat  satyrical excess-experiments like Ichi the Killer, Visitor Q, and  Yakuza Horror Theater Gozu. I love all of these films, but I'll admit I have a soft spot for his earlier movies as well, including the whimsical escapism of The Bird People in China, the mean-spirited excess of Fudoh: The New Generation, and the... well, the whatever the fuck it is you'd call MPD Psycho. If I had to go out on a limb and pick the last truly great Takashi Miike film, it'd probably be his "Oni El Topo" time and space rejecting tale of furious revenge, IZO, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't find even somewhat more mainstream efforts - like Yatterman, and Yakuza: Like A Dragon - to be thoroughly amusing, even if they lack the same level of analogue unpredictability and fury that made me fall in love with his work so long ago.

Asia has been fairly kind with Miike films on Blu-ray since about 2006, Sukiyaki Western Django being the first title I can personally remember getting released in HD (though, of course, the extensive bonus features are only available on the limited edition R2 DVD). North America has been substantially less kind - a handful of titles like the legitimately unexpected Zebraman 2, the under-appreciated teenaged tough-guy ballad Crows Zero, a truncated version of 13 Assassins, and somehow,  Hara-Kiri 3D: Death of a Samurai, which remains perhaps the only film in his catalog I have absolutely zero interest in ever seeing. (Seriously, why did that happen? And when is America going to make an equally tasteless 3D remake of Kramer vs Kramer next?)

Perhaps not all hope is lost - after all, Arrow Video announced that their first "Arrow USA" title will be none other than Happiness of the Katakuris! - but it's the one bright spot in a sea of DVD-only releases for one of the most prolific and fascinating film makers of the last decade. A pity, really. Miike's output has grown increasingly more family-friendly and "mainstream" by Japanese standards, making it that much less appealing to international licensors to begin with, even if it raises his profile at home. Stuff like Ninja Kids! never had a prayer or getting much interest outside of Japan, to say nothing of films like For Love's Sake and God's Puzzle. Even his fittingly tongue in cheek adaptation of the Pheonix Wright: Ace Attorney handheld games have never had a US release, Yatterman got a subtitled DVD only several years after it was released via Discotek, and anyone interested in seeing his brutal Lesson of the Evil will have to import an English-friendly Hong Hong Blu-ray. Without a doubt, the biggest hurdle here is getting anyone interested enough to prepare new HD masters; many Miike films never even had proper 16:9 DVD presentations, and when Discotek was going through a run of Miike films they never actually released D. O. A - FINAL, not because they couldn't get the rights to it, but because there were no high-enough quality materials available!

Honestly, the only notable BD release of a Miike catalog title we've seen stateside was AUDITION, the 1999 fusion of middle aged romance and flesh-crawling horror that helped to put Miike on the map outside of Japan, and remains perhaps his most accomplished and beloved film from a "serious" critical perspective. I'd personally argue that Visitor QSukiyaki Western Django or Juvenile A: Big Bang Love were far more transgressive and "important" works, but Audition hit the sweet spot between arthouse polish and schlock-horror extravagance, so it's unsurprising that it's the film that ultimately gets all the affection that's less showered on by his notably more camp-heavy efforts. Besides, Visitor Q was shot on DV and it ain't going to look any better upscaled to 1080p than it already does on DVD.

The Shout Factory Blu-ray, unfortunately, wasn't very good; they were given access to a 35mm Internegative and carried out their own HD telecine, but didn't go out of their way to restore the film much from there. Dirt baked into the print is common, telecine judder occasionally borders towards the point of distraction, grain is heavier than it feels like it should despite middling compression keeping grain soft and clumpy, and perhaps most notably is the colors, which regularly veer far closer to the red and purple end of the spectrum than even prior DVD releases. Perhaps most notably, the Shout Factory BD is the only master I'm aware of that features cue marks at every reel change, suggesting prior DVD masters - such as the 16:9 PAL release by Tartan from about 12 or 13 years ago - were made from an fresh Interpositive, or at least were given more TLC during the telecine process, which wouldn't surprise me since Tartan released a shoddy looking disc the first time and then restored the film in a bid to convince consumers that they had, finally, found a basic set of standards. That said, the Blu-ray presentation remains the highest quality release out there, warts and all... it's just a shame that the only "classic" Miike film we've gotten to see in HD to this point was such a middling affair.

Ichi the Killer got a Blu-ray release. When I first saw it, I gave it the benefit of the doubt and assumed it was just a poor HD master. I've since come to the conclusion that it's actually an SD upscale, and can find literally nothing to refute this theory. This initial realization left me perhaps too critical of some of Media Blasters' legitimate (if regularly underwhelming) BD releases since, but... well, if Sirabella hadn't pulled a fast one on this, I probably wouldn't have been so quick to assume he'd done the same with Versus. I wish I could say the BD was the best presentation by default, but frankly, the Netherlands DVD has MORE DETAIL. As such I'd recommend the R1 DVD Special Edition for US buyers, used if possible, just because you shouldn't ever support trash of this magnitude.

It's with these exceptionally low expectations that a friend informed me that a German studio by the name of Mad Dimension (if I'm not mistaken, at least) had released Takashi Miike's clearly tongue-in-cheek "ultimate yakuza movie", D.O.A - DEAD OR ALIVE 犯罪者 in a Limited Edition BD + DVD Mediabook set. It includes German dubbing and subtitles, no English translations here, but the limitless power of The Internet means a few certain trackers are already hosting a custom English subtitled release for those who, like myself, don't speak a word of Deutsch beyond 'spaetzle' and 'schlampe'. So I spent the better part of a day getting my Nautical Freelance software in order - I've honestly been too goddamn busy to steal movies I already own, which feels like a weird thing to say - and, truth be told, expected a pretty crumby upscale of the 1999 Japanese Digibeta...

Instead, the results are - while still pretty far from perfect - substantially better than I dreamed they would be. This is clearly a new, High Definition transfer of pre-print 35mm elements, which very much mirror the various DVD releases we've all seen to date; Dark club interiors are often oppressively so thanks to poor original lighting, certain entire scenes (such as the final showdown, or the heavily blue scene in which the gangsters visit their mother's grave) remain heavily photochemically graded, as they always have been, Resolution is somewhat muted by the soft photography and less-than-ideal HD telecine, but there's an added level of depth and clarity over prior SD masters none the less, and the coarse grain (which we'll talk about) never has any serious compression issues or digital artifacts - like banding or edge ringing - to complain about. "Sparkle" - that is, minor spots and scuffs on the print - is moderate in volume, but not particularly distracting.

So far this is sounding pretty good, but there's two issues that are constantly present on very different sides of the divide. It may sound like one existing would contradict the other, but, hear me out...

The HD telecine is heavy on chroma noise, with Aikawa Show's gray suit constantly infected with a sort of buzzing swarm of green and red shimmering, as are the darkened backstage scenes set at the strip club. I have no idea what Telecine hardware was used, but I know the fuzzy-yet-coarse results of a less than optimal device when I see it; I won't point fingers or take any wild guesses, suffice to say that the film elements themselves appear to be in decent-enough shape, which puts the presence of gross, irregular chroma artifacts like we're seeing here solely on the Telecine hardware. To put this another way, don't you hate it when you're watching a 35mm print and all the dark scenes have weird, rainbow-colored grain? No, you don't, because that's not a thing on celluloid - or at least not one I've ever seen, not even at the New Beverly's Tuesday Grindhouse Double Features. It's simply a limitation on the telecine hardware when the scanner picks up low-lit material and can't quite find a bead on what the color information should be, at which point it manifests as seemingly random chromatic spittle. It's basically the same thing we saw in the Media Blasters HD release of Burial Ground, it's just dramatically less pronounced - and thank fuck for that.

But that's not all! Despite the whole film having a heavy noise structure covering the image, there has been some... interesting noise removal applied. I say "interesting" because I don't quite get what's going on here. Some scenes - such as the shots on the police station roof - have been blasted of anything resembling grain. Others look like they weren't processed at all. Darker areas tend to be left alone, but brighter spots of the scene - particularly anything green or blue, such as police uniforms - tend to have a total lack of harsh noise, at the cost of some temporal smearing. I won't lie, the noise is so sharp and funky looking that the DVNR'ed footage might actually look better than the raw telecine... but the DVNR is applied so infrequently and to such specific frequencies that at times you can see flesh tones and white shirts smeared while the rest of the screen is crawling with heavy, coarse analogue artifacts. A perfect example is the shot of the guy in the green jacket holding the sword; his forehead and shoulders are smoothed clean, while the rest of the frame is positively crawling with video noise. It just looks weird once you see those frequency cut-offs, and as the image as a whole is still crawling from neck to tail in coarse video noise, it didn't really "fix" anything, it just made the divide between the more-smeared scenes and the more-noisy scenes that much more obvious.

Why did they even bother applying DVNR strictly to high-frequencies? Was it a way to get some wayward frequencies to behave before encoding, or perhaps a way to even out skin tones during color correction? I couldn't tell you for sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if that was the rational explanation. The transfer isn't ever unwatchable or cringe-worthy, but the inconsistent combination of smeared temporal areas on one scene and omnipresent video noise the next makes it hard to think of it as anything other than a wasted opportunity. Truth be told, I wouldn't be surprised if a consistently, and slightly less temporally-focused DVNR filter would have done  this rough 'round the edges some more favors than harm... then again, knowing me I'd have bitched about how waxy and soft the final results.

Do I recommend the transfer for the $30 it's selling for? Eh, it's a tough sell, but I've spent more for worse and I know it. Anyone who wants to get the original two disc set can find it HERE for about $30 before shipping - you'll have to speak either German or Japanese to get anything out of it, but if you're reading this site, I'm guessing you're also bright enough to use a software BD player that'll load external subtitles. It's not quite rocket science, after all.

I have little doubt that a 2K scan of the original negative would have yielded sharper, less gritty and more natural, filmic results, but in the interim the HD master we've got is - at worst - merely a B-/C+ affair. It's not an upscale, it's not inconsistent with prior DVD releases, and while it isn't great, it isn't a disaster, and as sad as that is, these days that's all I can hope for when it comes to a second-tier cult film from 15 years ago.

Here's hoping the even more outre sequels get the same - if not better! - treatment. And sooner, rather than later.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Playing With Toys: Wii U, Amiibo, And Pretentious Idiots

I know, I've been quiet for a while. Been busy with a lot of stupidity which includes my old Samsung LCD getting super funky on the ol' back-lighting, necessitating that I put that multi-year warranty to good use on a replacement. The good news is I'm finally going with a supposed "Near Reference" Plasma panel in the Samsung PN51F8500... right as the tech itself is being phased out in favor of the cheaper-to-produce, and even more prone to image-retention OLED. Smooth. The IR doesn't bother me nearly as much as the ABL, though, so I'm not certain if this is simply an adjustment period for me, or if I'm ready to throw in the towel and just buy a goddamn projector...

But hey, that means I can get back to vidyah that isn't LAN co-op! Not that I typically mind, you understand, but jeez has Saints Row IV been a glitchy mess. A damned fun one, at least, when it isn't randomly crashing or refusing to trigger the next story event. It's not like the PC won't get a lot of use soon anyway, what with MGSV: Ground Zeroes finally getting a Steam release, which means I'll waste 20 hours on a 2 hour campaign finding all 9 of the nigh-microscopic XOF patches to unlock a hidden mini-game that's literally an in-joke that'll only make sense to people who are familiar with the Sega CD game Snatcher. Remember Snatcher? No, I don't either, but a buddy of mine absolutely loves that. Which reminds me I really need to play Policenauts, too.

Anyway, let's talk about Nintendo for a little while. I had planned to do this at some point anyway, pushed it back to deal with real-life shenanigans, but when I saw someone saying something so stupid I felt the need to point out how amazingly wrong they are, that bumped this subject up in the queue. Sad that I have to shuffle my blogging plans around because of idiots, but such is life...

Recently, executive producer/writer behind Feminist Frequency - the now (in)famous business-slash-NPO-slash-charity  of Anita Sarkeesian's "Tropes vs Women in Video Games" YouTube series I've made my thoughts quite clear on - spoke about the thematic value of the most obvious Amiibo-supporting title, Super Smash Bros. For Wii U and 3DS (or "SM4SH", as I'd like to think of it). At the risk of misrepresenting anyone, I'll simply repost what he had to say, along with pearls of wisdom cast before the gaming swine by Polygon's Ben Kuchera:

On /v/, this is what we call "Going full McIntosh".
You'll have to figure out what Dubs are on your own.

Now, loathe as I am to consider myself a "critic" of anything in particular - much less the tenuous socio-political implications that video games have on the broader culture, I'm going to point out that attributing this mindset to SSB as a franchise is... kind of a stretch. Now yes, you could try to make the argument - but it holds even less weight then Kuchera arguing that Tetris is "political" in any particularly notable way. And the fact that the latter is a guy who's quite literally paid by a media corporation to have an opinion and understanding about video games is enough to drive me to the brink sometimes.

Before we even get to Super Smash Bros., let's talk about Korobeiniki - or "The Tetris Song", as it's more or less thought of anywhere that isn't  Russia. It's a 19th century folk song, and has lyrics not present in the 8-bit game in which a pair of peddlers talk prices on wares, but in a way that's totally a thinly veiled conversation about when they're going to drop their furs and pack their sausage for the winter. It predates the Russian Revolution by a half-century, and was likely chosen because it's a commonly known and royalty free tune, like Old McDonald or Amazing Grace or whatever. Calling it "Soviet Inspired" is factually wrong in this context because Soviet =/= Russian, from a broader historical perspective.

As for the "Theme" of Tetris? Kuchera, stick that back up your pretentious ass. It's a block-matching puzzle game. It's literally shuffling blocks from one side of the screen to the other - hell, it has less of a theme than Pac-Man! It's like arguing that Tic-Tac-Toe or Hangman has a deeper "theme" when it's literally just scribbles on a notepad played between bored classmates. Does Kick the Can or Duck Duck Goose have a theme? No. But it's still a game. The only "theme" to be found in Tetris is whatever theme the viewer chooses to place upon it themselves. It was created as a sort of mathematical version of Tennis by a guy who worked for the Soviet government as a computer programmer - nothing more, and nothing less.

Go ahead, Kuchera. Theme me.

Nowadays, with video games consistently aping big-budged Hollywood movies, it's easy to assume that everything means something: Grand Theft Auto is a smug satire of the thug life, both aggrandizing and shitting all over the notion of the "made man". Tomb Raider was reborn as a tale of violent self-discovery and empowerment through suffering. Metal Gear Solid explores the facade of patriotism through the eyes of paranoia and jaded apathy towards anything but personal ideals. Now tell me, friends, what the fuck does Candy Crush Saga "mean"? It means fuck your free time and punch your credit card number into Facebook, because that's not a stupid idea. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Tetris? That's just a cigar, folks. Yes, the fact that Americans were happy to consume a piece of Russian entertainment during the cold war is an interesting foot note, particularly in a market where stuff like "Rush'n Attack" was about the only representation of our Cold War enemies you'd typically see - but the game itself is so thoroughly simple and pure as an entertainment device - a "game" with no moral or purpose other than to amuse the player - that no level of self important douchebaggery is going to elevate it any further.

You want proof that the game itself has no actual political agenda? The iconic Church of Spilt Blood that appears on the title screen was never a part of the original 1984 game; that was actually added by US distributors Spectrum Holobyte for the IBM PC port, who thought that marketing it as "The Soviet Mind Game" was simply too bold an opportunity to pass up! American publishers found a way to make the game political, and that's far more fascinating than the fact that, derp, a Russian made game also has a Russian song playing on the title card. I bet those crazy red bastards even wrote the code notes with backward "R" that sounds like a "ja"...

If anything, the far more interesting story is the fact that the later-credited "co-designer" Vladimir Pokhilko, who formed his own Moscow based software company after the Iron Curtain fell, eventually crashed and burned his own business which drove him to such desperation he not only murdered his own family, but left the following note behind before killing himself:

I've been eaten alive.
- Vladimir

Just remember that I exist.
- The Devil.

So... yeah, you want to talk some crazy Tetris shit? It's out there, friends. Too bad Kuchera was too busy polishing his own e-peen over how damned clever it'd be to make connections that don't exist, instead of taking the five goddamn minutes it'd take anyone who knows how to fucking Wikipedia to come up with the far more interesting facts behind it.

I suppose I've shat on Kuchera's ignorance long enough. It's time to MOTHER FUCKING SMA--

Oh. Hey, 1998. You never call anymore...

Some of you may not know this, but the origins of this series actually came in the form Dragon King: The Fighting Game. HAL Laboratory creators SAKURAI Masahiro and IWATA Satoru spent their free time between other projects developing a prototype for a unique four-player sumo styled brawler, but the simple polygon structure of the N64's underpowered hardware left actual player characters kind of... underwhelming. Realizing a console-based fighting game needed some kind of hook, Sakurai suggested using Nintendo franchise regulars, and the game was released with both a low budget and little advertising. Basically, it was a fun little experiment that Nintendo thought was just finished enough to sell to the general public, though the higher-ups weren't quite sure why anyone would want to bodyslam Samus with Pikachu on top of Donkey Kong's house.

The game was what it was - a hobby of cobbled together assets that, somehow, gelled into a unique sumo-tournament... thing. The game became a massive hit solely through word of mouth. Realizing they had something unique on their hands, HAL Laboratory greenlit a sequel as a launch title for the Nintendo Game Cube, with Sakurai as the head of development. He's been watching over the franchise for 15 years now, getting as much love and hate for it as you can imagine, It does amuse me to no end that Sakurai's response to people complaining that their personal favorite characters wouldn't appear in the latest Smash game was "they're mostly children". Yep, Sakurai's response to Ridley fans hoping he'd be a playable reskin of Charizard was that they were babies. Have I mentioned how refreshing how it is that the majority of Japanese game developers seem to have absolutely zero fucks to give at any point?

Yes, the title is, technically, a fighting game* - but with the newest entry there's no actual story to pick apart. Zero over nothing. Old fans have their prior games to reference is they need to justify any of this nonsense, but the only narrative we're given in 2014 is "Nintendo mascots beat each other up, fight a pair of giant gloved hands, lather and repeat". The "conflict" doesn't mean anything because there's literally no context behind it. Why did Captain Falcon pommel Kirby into a bloody pulp? Is there some DEEPEST LORE connection between them that shows that Falcon's mother was eaten by the ravenous pink demon, and this conflict atop Final Destination will somehow quell the age-old vendetta he's been seething at for years, with his time as an F-Zero Champion being little more than a ruse to find a wormhole back to Dreamland?!

 No, because that would be stupid, even by Smash's non-canonical fuckin' around standards. Mind you, there is actually a story in this franchise - Subspace Emissary this, Tabuu that, blah blah blah - but the fact that neither the Wii U nor the 3DS version of the latest entry contained any reference to it proves it's inconsequential to the success of the game, and as the game's current sales are somewhere in the ballpark of 6.5 million copies, it would seem that gamers don't give a shit about the narrative either. No narrative in this context means no theme, either. Unless you want to argue that the unlockable Madoka Magica skins in Pangya Online somehow mean a simplistic moe golf game is actually about galactic entropy. (And if you really want to go down that road, let me make some popcorn first.)

Smash Bros. exists for the simple reason that Nintendo knows there's just enough nostalgia in the average gamer who grew up on Mario and Samus and Fox that the chance to play a low-time investment party game with other nostalgic young adults would basically give them a chance to print money.

The only "theme" being presented in Super Smash Bros. is that of raw, glorious capitalism. If there was any doubt, the very presence of the "Amiibo" toys should convince you otherwise. The competitive mode of the game consists of you, the player shuffling a small plastic toy around the game board, wagering more in-game money for additional rewards, and picking which other small plastic toys to fight next. I'm not exaggerating to make a point: That's the actual mechanic of the game. Shuffling small toys around on a game-board and gambling on your earnings. Honestly, the game couldn't be any more nakedly commercial in nature if it tried. "Violence solves conflicts?" Bitch, please. The only fleshed out theme Super Smash Brothers 4 has to offer is "Nintendo likes money. Please grab your ankles and prepare to have more of it sucked out of your wallet."

Costing $12.99 a piece, an Amiibo is a non-scale, 3" tall mini figurine with a microchip in the base. You tap the figure to the side of the Wii U's bizarre touchscreen controller, and it loads a custom version of that figure in the game. So, if you buy the little Mario, swiping it will give you access to a "Level 1 Figure Player". The FP is an AI that uses a move set you select, can use the power-ups you get from completing the main mission, and the more time you spent fighting either alongside or against it, the more the FP levels up - all the way to 50 - improving statistics and gaining new abilities all the while. Basically, the Amiibo plays as a memory card for a robotic friend you can either team up with, or beat the snot out of. It's a somewhat interesting use of the technology, and a bit less cruel in scope to the Skylanders or Disney Infinity toys, in which you literally have to buy the small plastic toy to unlock the full character in-game: Every single Smash character will, inevitably, have an Amiibo you can use to train and customize an AI version of them, but you don't actually need to buy the figure to play as said character - you just play it as the stock version, as you would in any prior entry. It's all just a bizarre way to extend the life of the game for people who happen to like Nintendo enough to buy mini-figures of the characters in the first place. It also lets you do 2-player co-op if you're such a sad sack you own a Wii U and no-one to play it with.

For reasons we'll discuss later, I picked up the Link Amiibo - not the stubby and adorable "Toon Link" from Wind Waker, but the more mature design based directly on Skyward Sword. God help me, I'm probably going to get more of them, but I started with the one figure that had confirmed unlockable content with a franchise game. I fear in the pit of my soul that this will become a pretty regular "thing" at one point or another, so if you happen to like a given franchise, you might want to consider picking them up for future use: Nintendo has straight up said that they intend to keep the most popular characters available at all times, but I'm sure the rights to Marth, Sonic and Mega Man will expire sooner or later, and it seems doubtful they'll bother keeping Animal Crossing or Xenoblade figures produced indefinitely.

It's dangerous to go alone!
You should probably buy a gun.

There's been much talk about the quality of the toy itself, and while I have to point out that almost none of the mass-produced figures look anywhere near as nice as the prototypes shown off at E3 2014, the toys are... still decent, I guess. For the price anyway. $13 will get you one about one blind-box toys these days, and in that context, the quality is more or less up to snuff: The sculpt is accurate but has a slightly flat, chunky look to it that's more reminiscent of the cheap toys I bought in the late 90s than the sharper, more nuanced sculpts you'll find from companies like Good Smile, Bandai and Neca today. Typically though, those toys will cost you anywhere from $30 ~ 70. If we stick to the obvious (and fair) comparison if blind-box trading figures made in Japan, it looks perfectly average - not incredible, and not bad. But most toys that come with a piece of ramune flavored candy don't have a microchip in them that'll unlock new content, so again, you're basically getting what you pay for here.

The overall design has some fundamental flaws: The soft PVC parts can lead to Link's sword being bent inward, like he's leaping into combat with a particularly angular dildo flopping all over the place, and while the prototype had a thin transparent rod of plastic to support his dynamic leaping pose, the actual figure has a transparent yellow brick jutting out from his knee, almost like he's been frozen taking a massive 8-bit piss all over himself. The "leaping" pose also looks a bit more like "stumbling" when you look at it dead-on, but at least they tried to make it interesting. Seams between the separate pieces are pretty obvious, and while my toy in particular didn't have any major issues, I do know that the machine-printed eyes can sometimes be juuuust a little off-center, producing a horrifying wall-eyed abomination far more disturbing than Dark Link could ever hope to be.

Keep in mind that I'm an asshole who firmly believes that most of the Play Arts Kai toys aren't worth the $100 they sell for. If you already know what a Nendoroid Puchi is, you're not going to be impressed. If you're not already one of those pricks who imports overpriced Japanese toys that cost two and three times as much as their comparable American counterparts, you'll probably think he looks perfectly fine. Even coming from a place of snobbish nerd eye rolling, I have to admit that the minor details - such as a small peek at Link's chain mail through the armpit of the tunic, the Hylian crest on his shield, and the airbrushed folds on his hat - look better than I expected them to. He's still not as sharp as the prototype, but the attention to detail is impressive enough for a mass-produced toy that costs less than a base for a generic "fire" or "crushed rocks" figure base for a Bandai S.H. FiguArts toy.

This is what a grown-up plastic toy looks like.
Too bad it's from Other M, but whatever...

No less important is the almost surprising level of chunky heft that the figure carries with it. See, I know I'm a 30 year old man who could, if he really wanted to, pay the $200 to get a "good" Link figure; that means I'm largely out of the target demographic for these toys, which was children. Not man-children like myself, but the kind of children you get into trouble for showing your penis to. Nintendo fans may often enough be written off as "Nintenyearolds", perpetual babies who continue to re-play the same franchises every 5 years on a new console with similar results, but the non-articulated PVC figure is just chunky and firm enough that I could hand this to a reasonably behaved 5 year old and not be terrified that he was going to crush it with his sticky little hand. Adult collectors who simply want high quality PVC figures of Little Mac and King Dedede might walk away disappointed, but this could well be many kids' first look at a fixed-pose Japanese style PVC figure, and with that in mind they're getting a pretty fair glimpse into what to expect, toy-wise. I've said this several times now, but I do consider Nintendo a toy maker rather than a "publisher" as I would a company like Square Enix or Ubisoft or what have you, and while I can't help but be let down slightly by the result compared to the superior prototypes, I admit they've given children - young and old, though I assume most of these are going towards 30 somethings who grew up with Mario and Samus - about as decent quality a stocking stuffer as we could have asked for.

These actually cost the same price in Japan, give or take the daily exchange rate, and as anyone who's bought anime and game merchandise over the years will tell you, the Japanese give you exactly what you pay for. You want a sexy looking Samus figure to tower over your adoable Amiibo? You're going to pay about $80, before shipping - well, more like $125 now that she's out of print. You want a poseable 1/6th scale Link with real cloth outfit and tons of accessories? $215 - if you were to get him for the full MSRP. I've long thought that Revoltech and Figma represent the sweet spot for me for most things - a fully articulated figure with tons of optional parts, clocking in at a not-quite 1/12th scale - but even then, the prices for those figures have been slowly creeping up closer and closer to the price of the larger, higher-quality, fixed pose PVC statues I oft adore, but can't justify the total cost for (much less the shelf space). The upcoming MGS2 style Solid Snake by Figma costs roughly $75 MSRP, and honestly, I don't know why: The rest of the toy lines I've been buying have already gone up by about 10-15%, but this is closer to a 35% increase. A licensing oddity, or a glimpse of things to come?

But anyway, only half the appeal of the Amiibo has anything to do with the toy itself. Within Smash Bros., the concept is kind of cool; it basically gives you a blank slate to customize a moveset and bonus stats using items collected in-game, and as you rank up and win matches with your little AI drone, they give you everything they win in the field as well. Neat, right? The toy lets you build a custom toadie, not unlike the "Pawn" system in Dragon's Dogma when you think about it.

How's it all work? Couldn't tell you. No, honestly, despite having bought Smash weeks ago I haven't had a chance to try out the Amiibo functionality. Just literally haven't had the time or energy to try, not with Ground Zeroes coming out on PC.

But I bought Link specifically for his HYRULE WARRIORS functionality, and that's - arguably - a far more noteworthy use of the tech anyway... and also, the use I fear is going to crop up in the future, to the point where I'm considering buying characters I'm less fond of just so a year from now I'm not
"forced" to over-pay for some stupid thing I want to unlock that I could have had for MSRP back when. But let's take a look, anyway:


Basically, the Amiibo here is a physical device to unlock new DLC - specifically, a new weapon for Link, in which you whip around like a maniac and grind moblins into a snortable rupee powder. While the game already has multiple characters, each weapon introduces an entirely new play style in any Dynasty Warriors game, and this is no exception, providing a moderately quick, but not overpowered mode of transportation designed to take out small clusters of enemies in no time. It's not quite as awkward as the Epona weapon from the first DLC pack, and it's a hell of a lot more fun than the Fairy Wand, but overall the new weapon is... amusing. Not game changing, not necessary or the Best Thing Ever, just a charming and fun little diversion if you happen to get sick of Link's OP as fuck 8-bit sword. It's not necessary in any way to feel like Hyrule Warriors was a complete experience, but it's a fun little bonus for Twilight Princess fans, and what is Hyrule Warriors if not the ultimate Legend of Zelda fanservice delivery system?

Part of me feels like I have to talk about Hyrule Warriors itself, since... well, that's the actual game. This is the add-on, and talking about hats without a discussion of Team Fortress 2 seems misguided, at best. At the same time, the game is such an absurd pastiche of two very specific franchises that I can't imagine anything I have to say would convince anyone to give it a shot one way or another: Either you are super into Hyrule Warriors, or you'll never get within twenty feet of it. Much like Re-Animator: The Musical or pork belly flavored ice cream, people that really, REALLY like both of the things on display are going to love it, and people who either dislike or aren't familiar with one (or both) of these things are just going to stare blankly, unsure what to make of it. The game system is a straight up clone of any given Dynasty Warriors, while the theme and universe on display is The Legend of Zelda. No more, and no less.

Dynasty Warriors games are a curious beast in that they plop you down on a massive map, square off areas that you have to conquer by destroying hundreds of opponents, and then drop bosses into the mix once you have a set number of blocks in the map on your side. You can build up meters for limited special moves that'll do massive damage, but you only have a few per match, so you have to pace yourself. Dodging, blocking and counter-attacking all have their ups and downs, and you have to shift how you play based on the enemies you're fighting, or the rules of the map at that time: It looks simple and perhaps a bit bland at first, but it's got enough variety that it never feels particularly boring or repetitive, unless you're re-playing a specific map over and over to get an "S" rank and unlock some specific goodies. Allies drop in once you've liberated key forts, but the AI is mostly useless; it's basically just you, and possibly a friend doing all the heavy lifting. Hyrule Warriors is one of the few games on the Wii U to use the gamepad screen for P1 and the TV for P2, so there's a unique, free-roam aspect that's more akin to playing a PC game in tandem over LAN rather than a classic "Split Screen" mode, as was the case on the Mobile Suit Gundam and Hokuto no Ken themed entries on the PS3. They're not the prettiest or the most polished games out there, but they're goddamn fun to grind at for an hour or two at a time, the aesthetics powering the less-than-stunning game engines are consistently very attractive, and the fact that most of these games have dozens of hours of content to unlock by re-playing maps under different conditions make them a hell of a bang for their buck. If you're into that sort of thing, of course.

The game quite literally mashes up stuff from every Zelda timeline out there with nary a concern for "Continuity": The core figures in every game have been given fresh new designs, and they come up with a universe-breaking excuse to feature characters from Twilight Princess, Ocarina of Time, and Skyward Sword in a way that almost makes sense. The story mode is pretty weak, but honestly, if you're playing a Dynasty Warriors game for the story you're probably new to the franchise anyway. They're simply massive, chaotic, and oddly cathartic grind-fests that offer new outfits and weapons for those who git gud, The myriad of cameos and throwbacks peppered throughout will delight fans well enough, but if you like Zelda games and don't care for Dynasty Warriors gameplay, you're going to be infuriated before things get too far in. Similarly, if you like Dynasty Warriors' mechanics but find Nintendo's take on Germanic Fantasy to be a bit dry or too silly to put any weight towards, odds are you won't really get why morons like me love the shit out of it to begin with. It's naked pandering, but it's done with care and finesse, so why fight it? If the game sounds amusing, just fucking buy it already. It had exactly one job - to be fun on some fundamental level for DW and LoZ fans alike - and it's done just that.

Here's why I love the game: Fishwife = Bestwife.
Don't let Lovecraft's racism against fish sway you otherwise!
(Also, don't let Lovecraft's racism in general sway you on anything.)

Wait, did I say "every" Zelda timeline? That's a lie. Majora's Mask characters and weapons are locked behind a DLC expansion, and the only references to Wind Waker is the presence of the titular wand, rather than any of the chibi-esque character designs featured in the beloved Game Cube game itself. There's also a distinct lack of representation from the Zelda handheld titles, which - while not my favorite entries -  have enough of a cult following I'm surprised they didn't work in a boss or two just for laughs. Tingle is absent as well, a surprising choice, but perhaps - much like the rest of Wind Waker - it was deemed too silly for the somewhat lean and angular visual style the new character designs were going for?

Anyway, the Spinner is an amusing aside, but it's a little disappointing that none of the other Legend of Zelda figures seem to do anything specific. Swiping Zelda or Sheik Amiibo figures - whom is, and this is a 15 year old spoiler incoming: Actually just Zelda disguised as a Middle Eastern Transexual Ninja** - will net you a new random weapon once a day worth 3 stars. Any other Amiibo will give you a weapon worth less than 3 stars. Anything below 4 stars is basically trash, so while I applaud them for doing something with the technology, it's a little disappointing all the same. It also uses the system's internal clock, allowing you to use each figure only once a day, so your plot to sit there for an entire weekend to get a hundred shit weapons and sell them for pocket change is probably far less useful than you'd hoped. I'm also told that the "Toon Link" figure will unlock the Spinner weapon, too, which is... surprising. Neat, even. Just a little odd.

Ganondorf's Amiibo isn't out yet, so I'm hoping we'll get at least one more new unlockable weapon in there before Koei-Tecmo are done making new downloadable shit for the game. It's done very well in the West for a Dynasty Warriors title (which usually tank outside of Japan anyway), but wasn't a smash hit in its home country, so I have no idea if Nintendo will try to milk one more sequel out of this or not. Nintendo's loss of traction after the Wii U failed to sell has given them a desperate mindset, willing to try anything to see what sticks, but I'm not sure if a moderately successful fanservice game is worth doing a sequel to in their eyes: For all the bitching people do about every Mario, Zelda, Metroid and Smash game being "the same exact thing", it's worth noting that Nintendo typically only creates one game per a system's life-cycle. There's literally been a new Assassins Creed every year the PS3 existed, but there was only one Metroid game on the Wii, only one (new) Zelda Game, and while even I admit that the "New! Super Mario Bros." franchise is getting to be a parody of the concept, there's still just one game on the Wii U, plus a massive DLC expansion that basically was a full-length sequel. There's enough Zelda fans out there to justify doing a sequel that focuses on Majora's Mask, Wind Waker and the various wacky handheld spinoffs - hell, Spirit Tracks was a game in which you build trains. Can you imagine summoning a goddamn train to pound Midna right in the-- wow. That sounded way more dirty than I'd intended. What I'm trying to say is I'd be down for a sequel. There's enough nonsense to pull a couple more fanservice clusterfucks out of it, and so long as they're as fun as this has, I'd have no complaints.

How was Veran not hidden in as a bonus character?
She's got the tits for it and everything...

In short, Amiibo are kinda' goofy and childish and not the best thing ever... but, at least they remind me that the Wii U is, at its core, a toy. Toys are meant to be played with, and Nintendo offering you bonuses for literally buying more toys is a charming level of honesty I wish Sony and Microsoft had the humility to acknowledge. The PS4 and the Xbox One have tried to convince the world that they're movie players and social media tools and "turbo-charged" computers that just happen to have a couple exclusive games. It's been a year, and at this point neither system has anything that twists my nipples hard enough to even consider it. Hell, I'd rather buy a Vita - at least that's become the universal dumping ground for Weeb bullshit. Unless you're a massive Halo fan and want to literally re-buy all four of the last games,

But the Wii U? Sure, it's still an Xbox 360 with an iPad bolted into the controller, but it's also been ramping up exclusives left and right with first and second party developers to produce the one thing a video game console should have: decent games. This year alone we've had regular franchise mainstays like Donkey Kong Country, Mario Kart and Smash Brothers, on top unexpected exclusives like Bayonetta 2, The Wonderful 101 and... well, I'm still mad that they aren't going to translate that awesome looking Fatal Frame sequel. But we did just get a new Shantae game, so it's clear God hasn't totally given up on us, even if Sonic Boom was a thing that happened.

It's officially 2015, and we're going to get a new "main" Zelda game, a new Starfox game, a new bizarro shooter in the form of Splatoon, and we're still waiting for more details on new exclusives like Xenosaga and Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem, and lord knows what else going on in HAL Laboratory and the like, and I have no regrets.

Nintendo makes toys. Toys are fun. Discussing video games is fun, too, but not as fun as actually having decent stuff to play. At this point, Nintendo is delivering good stuff left and right, and if part of the deal to unlock everything in a game means I buy a cheap plastic toy, eh, I can live with that.

See that? Nintendo made me feel so good about video games I didn't have to talk about Hatred! Crazy, right? I figure that'll last a week...

*The 4P battles, unusual and simplified move-sets, elements of platforming, randomized stage-hazards and weapon items have long placed this outside the realm of "typical" fighting games. I'd argue it's a new genre entirely - "competitive party brawler", maybe? - but the fact that the franchise was balanced enough to allow from professional level competitive play means that it's examined in the same circles as Street Fighter, Guilty Gear, Mortal Kombat and other "traditional" 2P VS fighting games.

So yes, technically, SSB is a fighting game. The same way that, technically, Twilight is a horror franchise, Afro Samurai is an anime franchise, and Michael Jackson was black.

** Sheik is, by far, best Husband. Don't argue because you know you've already lost, particularly if we're talking OoT when there was magic involved giving Zelda an actual masculine body.