Thoughts on Mario + Rabbids Kingdom battle

I’m not that far in, I think I’m still in the 1-X stages (maybe 1-8?). So far I’m kinda meh about the whole thing, though it’s a decent way to spend my evenings.

This game started off totally bonkers. Mario + Rabbids is already a ludicrous proposal, but then Ubisoft went all-in with their weird meta storytelling. The opening cutscene is with a girl who invented goggles that can merge stuff together, which, already, what. She’s got a floating Roomba-looking computer (???) and when she steps out of the room, a washing machine (????) full of Rabbids (???????) crashes into the room, and the Rabbids use the goggles to merge reality with a Mushroom Kingdom poster (?????????????). Your enemies are not Bowser and Goombas and Koopas, your enemies are other Rabbids who have been corrupted by the goggles-wearing Rabbid who… has morphed into a somehow more cartoony caricature of these already very cartoonish caricatures?!

Yeah, it’s uh

It’s a plot, all right.

rabbid peach

Rabbid Peach is just the BEST

So whatever, who cares. You don’t play these kinds of games for the storytelling, you play them for the XCOM-style turn-based cover shooter tactical strategy battles. And so how are those?

They’re… just okay, honestly.

I haven’t had problems with the difficulty spikes so far, though they are definitely there and can feel like a total brick wall. The stuff that drives me up the wall is that, while the camera outside of battle lets you freely rotate it around your characters, when in battle you can only snap it to 90-degree angles. Also, your characters have a wider range than what the camera sometimes can display on your screen, and once you move your character you can’t undo or move them again, so shots can feel like a leap of faith at times.

While I do sense that there is more depth to battles than what I’ve played so far, I can’t help but feel the “XCOM, but for kids” approach has left it just a bit too simple. Or maybe this first world just takes way too long to clear, I dunno. I do like that hit percentage is greatly simplified from XCOMalikes and the UI is simple and easy to understand.

Let’s talk about the rest of the level, the non-battle parts: they suck.


You have these fairly large, sprawling levels but they’re all laid out more or less the same way: follow the trail of coins, push a few buttons to connect the pipes or rotate the cannons so you can move on, and keep walking until you reach the next battle stage. I’m not saying I would have preferred just a boring level select, but… no, actually, yeah, I’d just prefer a level select, or a hub world, or just anything that’s better than this.

It’s not fun, the world doesn’t look that great, and worst of all your lead character is that Roomba thing. It’s small and low to the ground and is constantly being blocked from view by the rest of your party, i.e. the characters that should be leading. The puzzles are more about pushing buttons than they are genuine puzzles, the environment less Mario and more Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, the camera constantly getting stuck behind something and obscuring the Roomba. And these exploration stages just drag on forever, taking almost as much time walking to the next arena as it does to clear a battle.

It’s a pretty okay game so far, though if I had to be honest, if this weren’t a Nintendo title on the Switch, I’d probably have put it on the side by now. I’m hoping it picks up the pace soon (especially these exploration stages, argh) and becomes a little more engaging.

Moriva and Thoughts On Wicked Wonders

I’m in my favorite coffee shop near Kannai, Yokohama. It’s called Moriva Coffee. I’m pretty sure it’s a chain café since all the menus are laminated, the coffee is relatively cheap and just tastes okay, and the cakes all look like convenience store fare. It’s near my work and is across from a nice little park though, and it’s never crowded.

I finished Wicked Wonders on the train today. My immediate reaction to these stories is that Ellen Klages is a very accessible writer; simple, no-nonsense prose, appealing precisely because of how comfortable it is. This was my first time reading Klages, and she has this incredible way of letting us peek into the corners of windows at these charming, wholly realized worlds, but whisking us away before we can be disappointed. I am interested in reading more of her work, and I especially wonder at how she handles full-length novels.

I didn’t connect with all the stories (Friday Night at St. Cecelia’s and Goodnight Moons), felt sort of iffy about others (Household Management, the ending to Woodsmoke), but fell deeply and passionately in love with most of them (Education of a Witch and Echoes of Aurora, omggg). I will probably at some point write my thoughts on the stories in more detail, though a quick summary of what I thought can be found on my Goodreads review-in-progress.

I do want to write about one of the stories, the ending to Woodsmoke, while I still have this first-read fresh on my mind. It obviously is one long spoiler, so I’ll put it behind the cut. Also CW for transphobia and gender dysphoria.

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Thoughts on Rin-ne Vol. 1

I kind of feel like I was cheating with this volume since I’ve seen all the first and second seasons of the anime. I already knew everything that was going to happen, and anyway the first volume of a manga series like this is just the usual introductions to the characters and universe. In all honesty I could have skipped this since it was all covered in the anime anyway, and there isn’t really much to say about it since there aren’t too many differences between the two.

One thing that makes me cackle though is how rude Rinne is to Sakura, at least in these first few episodes. He never quite gets to Ranma levels of assholery, but he calls her おまえ and isn’t impressed when she clings to him. I won’t say I’m disappointed that he eventually (spoiler) falls for her, since smitten Rinne is also pretty cute, but these early episodes when he is just baffled by her is kind of great.

This was also true when I was watching the anime, but I LOOOOOOVE Sakura. I love that she’s not the annoying shrew that Akane and Kagome were in Ranma ½ and Inuyasha, respectively. I love how she is this strong, self-determined, curious character without having to fight with everyone to prove it. She just is, and it’s great. I love her.

Similarly to how I felt about the anime, I’m not in love with the whole “Rinne is poor, that’s the joke!” that a lot of the series is premised on. It’s one thing for poverty to be a central issue for why he is a shinigami, and to explain the situation when it’s found out that he lives in an abandoned school building and lives off the offerings left to the school’s weather box, but it’s sometimes uncomfortable for “jokes” like Sakura being cut off partway through saying “Rokudo is poor.”

And finally, Rokumon is too cute for words.

Look at this cute patoot.

That is all.

Thoughts on March Comes In Like a Lion S2

Folks, my roaring headache seems to be here to stay, and on top of that I have to get ready for work tonight, so unfortunately today’s gonna have to be a quickie too.

I’m only a few episodes into S2 of March Comes In Like a Lion, and just like my feelings from the first season, I think this is just okay. I still love the animation, premise, location, and all of the side characters.

I still have far too many problems with the protagonist, Rei Kiriyama. Huge tracts of the show are spent inside of his head, listening to him drone on about either his feelings or a scene that played out just before. The former is fine, if done sparingly and eloquently, which it isn’t. The latter is the sort of thing that makes me want to tear all of the hair out of my head, because believe it or not this show is really good at landing those big tearjerker scenes, but then screwing up the landing by having Rei belch on about it.

Off the top of my head, there were two scenes that really stood out to me as being stunning, but were then ruined by Rei talking way too much. This might be getting a bit spoilery, so I’ll hide them behind the cut.

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Anime Reviews Done Quick #2

More shows that I watched in 2017 and have thoughts about:

Made in Abyss

I will always remember Made in Abyss as being the series that got a very angry self-described “elitist” fan in my Twitter mentions because I made the mistake of saying it’s one of my favorite shows that I watched in fall 2017 show when it is actually, technically, a summer 2017 show. Oh, anime fans.

The show itself is pretty solid, with a great world and cool lore. The Abyss is an enormous cavern that stretches endlessly down, and is full of monsters, magic, and old relics from past civilizations. I did find myself cooling on the show after about the midway point, when Rico was temporarily sidelined and the POV switched over to Reg, a dismally boring robot-sworn-to-protect-the-girl-no-matter-what. (I guess at least he doesn’t go through the usual existential “What does it mean to be human?” crisis that every other robot show has.)

The first season ended on a cliffhanger and I liked it enough to want to stick around to see what happens in the next, though maybe not in such a rush that I’ll bother with the manga.

Land of the Lustrous

Before the first episode, I was bracing hard for this show to suck. It’s got CG animation, there are lots of leggy pre-teens dressed in what look like school uniforms, it had this whole vibe of being a harem show. But it wasn’t! Actually it was pretty great! Also, I need to start having higher standards than “It wasn’t as gross or harem-y as I expected”!

Land of the Lustrous is about jewel people fighting off attacks from the moon people who come in on giant Buddha-like arrays to shoot bits of their body off to take back to the moon as decoration. Got it? Good. There’s a lot of great big action scenes that actually work well with the CG style, and there’s a lot of great moments of reflection mixed with gag humor for relief. Protagonist Phos’ transformation from lighthearted kid to no-nonsense warrior was heartbreaking to watch, and the show ends on a cliffhanger promising even darker events on the horizon.

My only quibbles are with the two grimdark characters Cinnabar and Bort who drag down every scene they’re in. I’m not really sold on the Phos/Cinnabar relationship either to be honest, considering how little they actually interact and how Cinnabar is just really hard to like. I’ll watch Season 2 but it’s not a high priority.

The Disastrous Life of Saiki Kusuo

One of the worst things about 2017 was watching Gintama slide further down the crapper with its awful serious story and completely abandonment of the gags that made it so famous in the first place. On the other hand, thanks to the vacuum, Saiki Kusuo’s quick (and I mean QUICK) gags can stand out that much more.

Saiki Kusuo’s art is half-assed and junk, its characters literally tropes that the main character dully rattles off. The gags sometimes don’t even really land that well, but they go by so lightning quick that you are too surprised to realize that what you’re laughing at doesn’t even make much sense. It’s not a good show, unless you are like me and have an appetite for gag anime. If you are though, man… I’ve never seen a show this fast without flying totally off the rails into incomprehensible gibberish. It’s tight, it’s fast, the jokes rain down so fast and never let up. There often isn’t even much time for setups, it just whisks you away to the next joke the instant one lands.

Unlike Gintama’s raunchy comedy with heavy use of mosaics and winking knowledge about what goes on in Kabukicho, Saiki’s is a bit safer and conventional, and more about the weird people you meet in high school. It is all very fast, very strange, and, if you’re into gag shows, a pretty good stand-in for Gintama… at least, until they get their act back together and start making gags again, dammit.

March Comes in Like a Lion

I want to like this show. It’s about a depressed high schooler turned pro shogi player. There’s a duality to the show: one side is when he’s by himself, alone with his thoughts and memories, vulnerable, and ever brooding. The other side is when the Kawamoto sisters or Harunobu appears, and the temperature of the show immediately warms up.

I should like this show more than I do. It’s got all the right ingredients! But I just can’t. Rei spends wayyy too much time talking to himself about everything. There are so many great atmospheric scenes of him looking out over the bay, for example, but instead of just letting the sweeping art (which is great, by the way, amazing animation) do the work, we have to have Rei’s endless inner monologues over it. There is far too much “show, but let’s also tell just to really hammer it home” going on. Too many brooding moments or character interactions that don’t really need commentary are almost always weakened by Rei talking over it. Ugh.

I’m only partway through the first season, and I don’t know if I have it in me to keep pushing on to Season 2. Shinji Ikari you ain’t, kid.

Welcome to the Ballroom

This is basically every sports anime ever. You’ve seen one, right? Okay, then you’ve seen Welcome to the Ballroom.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. It’s every sports anime ever, but with the twist of it being ballroom dancing, which require partners instead of teams. So instead of building teamwork and camaraderie, it’s… uncomfortable, sometimes creepy metaphors of dancing partners being like married couples. There’s a lot of blushing-and-turning-away and making wayyy too big a deal out of who’s partnering with whom. It also doesn’t help that the dance teacher is a grade-A asshole who does stuff like rip the dress off the main girl character and shout at her to use her sex appeal to win the judges over. (SHE IS A THIRD-YEAR JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT, WTF.)

The art and animation are stunning, especially when they’re dancing. Everything else is okay, I guess? But MAN. This show gets very squicky at points, so uh, hmm. Watch with caution.

And that’s a wrap! I watched more shows in 2017, and could probably write about all the shows I gave up on. But I’ll probably put that on the back burner for now and try to shoot for stuff I’ve been watching in 2018.

Anime Reviews Done Quick

I wasn’t very good at recording my thoughts on TV shows or movies at all last year, probably because I didn’t really watch that much anyway. Starting from this year, I’m going to try to do a better job of rating and writing up my thoughts on my Trakt page, even if they’re just quick blurbs. Anyway, here are some shows that I watched in 2017 that I enjoyed:

Pokémon: Sun & Moon

pokemonLook, I know, okay? I haven’t watched Pokémon since Indigo League days, and even that should be an embarrassing indictment. Sun and Moon isn’t perfect, but it helps to watch completely in Japanese with no subtitles so that I can tune out all the parts that annoy me.

And there is a lot, a lot, that annoys me. I tuned out all of the Ultra Beast episodes and most of the ones that star Lillie for what I think are very obvious reasons. I don’t really mind any of the other characters, and even find it refreshing the way Satoshi/Ash is just friends with everyone instead of constantly picking annoying fights with them (cough Kasumi/Misty cough).

I dig the new art style. The new Alola region gives me a headache (should I love it for the Hawaiian representation? or should I hate it for being basically the worst of Waikīkī and none of the respect for actual Hawaiian culture?) and some of the storytelling is… bad, but it’s cute and mostly harmless. I should probably get into this with more thoughts later on, huh?

The Eccentric Family

I ADORE this show. I can’t even really put my finger on what this show does so well that has completely captured my heart.

A family of shape-shifting tanuki in western Japan try to deal with their place in society, living among other forest animals, humans in nearby Kyoto, and the supernatural tengu. It’s funny, but not an outright comedy; it’s touching, but not overbearing, and with a hint of “that’s just how things are.” I could just chill out in this world for a few hours, not really needing a story or plot to carry me along. And that’s kind of how the show is, not really too bothered to push story so much as just let you come and hang for a bit. It’s the best.

Both seasons are incredible, though I think I prefer the way the first season unfolds just a bit more. This is one of those rare shows that makes me feel incredibly lonely once it’s over. I’ve even picked up the novels they’re based on to try to get more out of this story. It’s honestly one of my favorite shows of all time. Need more!

Sakura Quest

I didn’t honestly expect to like this show. I’m sorry, but most anime that star an all-girl cast are usually harem or fanservice stories. But Sakura Quest is surprisingly free of that, and is an earnest story of how five girls are trying to revive the rural town of Manoyama.

All of the characters, not just the main girl team, are very well-rounded and down-to-earth. It does get a bit too syrupy-sweet at times, and while the show is free from explicit fanservice there are still some questionable elements that don’t really get challenged (notably, the insistence and pressing need for the young men and women of the town to get married as quickly as possible, and the typical old man pervert who almost single-handedly undoes all the goodwill built up over the show’s run). These aren’t deal-breakers since the whole rest of the show is solid who grow and change over the course of the series. Like Eccentric Family, I found myself feeling very lonely when the final credits rolled, because this too was a world I wanted to be a part of for just a little longer.

I sense I may have to go more in-depth with this show as well… But all that said, this really was one of my surprise hits of the year, and definitely recommend checking it out.

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department

ACCA is a hard show for me to categorize, since I both love it intensely for its stylish music and animation (dat opening!!), am in love with the world and cast, and… am quite cool on the story, which is almost an afterthought.

For whatever reason, my brain puts this show in the same bucket as stuff like Cowboy Bebop, a similarly cool and stylish world with great characters and great flare, but with what I thought was a really disappointing overall story. In that respect, I found ACCA a far easier watch than Cowboy Bebop (I KNOW, I’M SORRY) if only because it’s just bland, where Cowboy Bebop’s mafia story was… really sort of cringey, when we get right down to it. I may have to rewatch both and put my thoughts together a little better.

In any case, the real reason to watch ACCA is not its political plot but the cakes. Just endless, delicious, amazing cakes. I give this show ten cakes out of ten.

I’ll probably be back later with more thoughts on shows I watched in 2017. I also need to put together a list of shows I’m looking forward to in 2018, eek… it’s going to be February before I’m finally done with all these post-year wrap-ups!

Book Reviews Done Quick

I wanted to start this year off with writing long-form book reviews, and I have gotten one under my belt already (Slow Bullets). The problem is, I read a lot faster than I can write, and I’d rather keep knocking out my to-read list than have to stop and pore over a lengthy review before moving on to the next one. I promise that if I have time, I’ll give these guys the full treatment in the future, but for now, here are the snippets that I threw up on my Goodreads page:

The Emperor’s Soul

the emperor's soulA very quick and flowing read, and one filled with a deceptively rich world (no easy feat for a book that I polished off in one sitting!) and intricate laws of magic that capture the imagination. Shai is a delightfully unreliable narrator, and I feel as beguiled and enchanted by her as I’m sure Gaotona did. A solid work of fantasy fiction.

I do have to knock off one star for the Orientalist trappings of the world. While there isn’t anything outright disrespectful in the world, I feel like exotic Orientalism as shorthand for fantasy has been done to death. I don’t feel that The Emperor’s Soul was genuine commentary or presentation of actual Asian cultures. In the post-script Q&A, the author says that his research into Asian cultures was to visit a museum in Taiwan (hmm) and do missionary work in Korea (hmmmmm). Though I read the Q&A only after reading the book, I felt like this explained a lot of the exoticism of the piece.

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 stars

Pirate Utopia

My favorite read of 2017, and my only regret is that I hadn’t read this sooner. Phenomenal world-building, good pulpy rewrites (or reimagining) of real historical events, and all the dieselpunk to last me years. Post-WWI Italy lends itself well to this sort of fantastic non-fantasy writing, and Pirate Utopia does not disappoint with its surging factions, its larger-than-life characters, and its complete disregard for what is real and what is merely possible.

If I were you, I’d skip the lengthy introduction and the character rundown at the start and just get straight to it. I’ve never read Bruce Sterling before but I stand before you now a fresh convert, completely devoted to reading every last one of his works.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 stars

The Bear and the Nightingale

I enjoyed this beautiful fairy-tale-like story, and found the world both incredibly haunting and gorgeous. I loved the characters and never felt like any of them were over-the-top or cartoonish, though they were all incredibly distinct and had huge room-filling personalities. Vasya is a refreshing take on the tomboyish unladylike protagonist, and I loved reading about all of her hijinks.

My one gripe about the story is that the last third seems to collapse forward in one great rush; the first half to two-thirds was some excellent setting and world-building, but the stakes are only finally realized just before the great battle that ends the book. From the point when Vasya gets spirited away into the forest, the writing seems to be in a great hurry to just be done with it. (I suspect it’s because it culminates in an physical battle, which didn’t really jive with the non-physical “battling” Vasya had been doing until that point.)

Without getting too spoiler-y, the way the battle ends also felt unbelievably rushed, with characters even mentioning how it seemed to come out of nowhere. This is unfortunate because it was immediately preceded by one of the most emotional and heart-wrenching moments of the book, so for the climax to try and top itself with something out of left field was disappointing.

All that said though, I enjoyed the fantastic world and am looking forward to seeing where the sequels take these characters.

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 stars

#iHunt: Mayhem in Movieland

An extremely quick read, I managed to get through it in a morning. This is both a strength of the writing (quick, snappy, modern, easy to parse) and also, unfortunately, a bit of a hindrance (events go by too quickly to carry the weight that similar events did in the previous iHunt book). The narrator also seems to commentate more on the not-Disneyland surroundings and trappings than on her life and the hardships she faces, which was what initially drew me into the previous book. Although I appreciate the commentary and found it insightful and amusing, I couldn’t help but feel that it was less personable than the previous book, and left me feeling like this should have been incorporated into a longer book. All that said, I enjoyed my time in San Jenero as I always have, and am looking forward to seeing what’s next in the series.

Goodreads Rating: 3/5 stars

And that’s a wrap, folks!

Review: Slow Bullets

Slow Bullets was my first book by Alastair Reynolds and one of only a handful of scifi books I’ve ever read, and is a good beginner-level introduction to the genre. Slow Bullets is a quick 192-page read that I finished in one sitting. If you’re looking for something that you can speed-read through to make your Goodreads annual quota (heh), this is a fine choice; however, the characters and plot are largely unmemorable and leave little impact on the reader. Though it is a fast read, your time may be better spent on something with a bit more heft to it.

From the publisher’s webpage:

A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at an end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be.

On the brink of the ceasefire, Scur is captured by a renegade war criminal, and left for dead in the ruins of a bunker. She revives aboard a prisoner transport vessel. Something has gone terribly wrong with the ship.

Passengers—combatants from both sides of the war—are waking up from hibernation far too soon. Their memories, embedded in bullets, are the only links to a world which is no longer recognizable. And Scur will be reacquainted with her old enemy, but with much higher stakes than just her own life.

Slow Bullets is written with deliberately sparse details, in keeping with the central theme of forgetting: humans (war criminals from opposing factions) trying to erase their past crimes and their animosity towards each other; mechanical forgetting in the form of the ship literally overwriting parts of its own long-term memory to keep vital functions; and galactic forgetting in the form of The Sickening wiping out nearly all technologies in entire solar systems and reverting humanity to the Stone Ages. Anything that isn’t strictly related to pushing this theme is itself omitted. There are no sprawling descriptions or expansive lore and background in this; the writing is sparse, and what isn’t included is assumed to be a detail from a story told by an unreliable narrator who, herself, can no longer quite remember.

Unfortunately, this means that the reader is left to try to connect with sparsely fleshed-out tropes and not real characters. Orvin the antagonist is played up to be uniquely, almost absurdly evil against a backdrop of other war criminals. Prad is your basic nerd archetype, a ship crew member who can single-handedly wake, run, maintain, and repair the ship and all of its myriad functions. Scur, the protagonist and narrator, is largely absent of personality and reacts mechanically to situations. The other named characters don’t exist outside of dispassionate dialogue, and the unnamed characters are like a vague fog in the background.

On top of that is a plot that drifts, much like the ship itself. At the beginning, Scur is heavily injured and tortured (perfect revenge setup!) but when we next see her, she wakes up fully whole. There are goals that drive the plot forward (finding Orvin, dealing with the ship’s malfunctions, figuring out what happened and how to contact civilization) but they seem scattered. The story is cohesive and well-structured, but the objectives within don’t seem to matter that much. Why was it important to single out Orvin, other than simple revenge? And for that matter, if Scur is whole again and has so many other problems on her plate, why even bother with revenge?

Partway through the story we learn that one of the driving forces of the galactic war had been religion. Both sides interpreted and worshiped in slightly different ways, and they manifested in the form of two separate holy texts (the Books). Although it has some pretty obvious parallels to our real world, it doesn’t really get comment on or offer insight into the religious and cultural conflicts we see. It’s flavor text for a book that is already too light on details. Instead of being an interesting take on holy wars, it is instead just another cliché being abused for the sake of it.

It’s hard not to be cynical because, as I said, the book has been so pared of detail to be focused entirely on only what drives it forward. It was a decent enough introduction to scifi, though I doubt it will be worth remembering. I am looking forward to reading Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space, as I have heard good things about it. Slow Bullets, however, will, like its cast drifting through space on the Caprice, fade from memory.

Goodreads Rating: 2/5 stars