Lucien Cooks: Beef Stew

I’ve been kinda bored of the typical things that I have been posting on for so long.  Talking about SJW bullshit is boring.  I still enjoy doing reviews on this site, and that isn’t going anywhere.  And I’m sure I’ll find stupid SJW nonsense to talk about.  However, there is currently a beautiful woman staying with me.  She is a dear friend, and having company in my guest room at my new apartment is a fantastic thing.  But more than that, I now have someone living with me who is compelling me to put my cooking talents to work.  See, I love to cook.  I love it so much.  I am so fucking good at it.  No joke, I keep impressing myself to trying out things that are ridiculously complicated just so I can push the limits of my skills.

So when I got my new crockpot, my girlfriend told me that I should make beef stew.  I love beef stew.  Like, a lot.  Now that I am on my own, I get to have the ingredients that I want to have in it.  Can’t wait to do that for beef stroganoff and nix the mushrooms.  Seriously, mum, why do you insist on putting those in there?!  Mushrooms are so gross.  But I digress.  I looked up a simple recipe, and got to work this morning chopping up the ingredients and putting them in.

Now, for these posts, I won’t be giving you an ingredient breakdown for the recipe.  After all, I got all this shit from the Internet.  It’s easy to find.  Instead, this is going to be me basically posting it and talking about what I did specifically in making the dish that digresses from the recipe.  The thing is, I’m not great at following recipes.  I basically get the gist of them down, then almost-immediately start experimenting when I do it my way.  After all, so much of recipes is tedious and unnecessary.  Like, I don’t blend things after adding each individual egg.  That’s stupid.  So these posts is going to show you my creations, and talk about the experience of making it.  If that sounds boring to you, feel free to peace out now.  With that said, let’s show you the results of my beef stew!

Oh yeah!  This turned out so well!  Better than I could have ever anticipated!  The first comment I got on this when I posted it on Facebook is that I need a fork and knife for this stew.  And yeah, it is pretty chunky.  You know what, that’s fine by me!  I cut up my potatoes a little larger than was necessary, won’t lie.  See, I’m a giant.  So tiny cutting on food is a totally alien concept to me.  Being right under the cusp of seven feet tall, it takes a lot to feed me.  Especially since I stay active.  Now I have enough to feed me for at least a few days!  Hell yeah!

Let’s talk about where I deviated from the recipe.  First off, I nixed the celery.  Neat fact – I don’t like celery.  Like, at all.  It’s stringy and tastes bad.  That’s my honest-to-Groj thoughts on the stuff.  It’s gross.  And since this is my stew, I can put in whatever I want!  Loving that. Also, did you know that you can buy carrots pre-cut!  That’s awesome!  I can be lazy and it totally works!  Lazy culture may bug me sometimes, but getting to save 10 minutes chopping up carrots goes a long way.  They cut them like Ruffles, but whatever.  Tastes good to me.

Also, I guess I was supposed to cover the meat in flour.  I didn’t do that.  I just threw the flour in there on top of everything.  There are days where I wonder if my stupid-ass decisions with making food where I totally forget steps or just do things wrong don’t end up in most of my food sucking.  For whatever reason, it works out.  Life is strange like that.

I put the crock pot on high for about 5 hours or so.  I honestly wasn’t keeping that diligent of track.  The whole idea is that this is a recipe that I’ll be able to make in the future and just leave in the crock pot on low when I go to work in the morning.  The idea of coming home to food just tickles me pink.

Thought about this, but I am going to rate my own creations.  In the future, when I have more people around eating stuff I make, I’ll add their verdicts here as well.  My girly-mate is out at the moment.  This was a fun recipe.  And I want to hear about how your cooking projects have turned out as well.

Final Verdict
8 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: Little Nightmares

I’ve talked before about how one of my favorite Indie games is the 2D puzzle-platformer Limbo.  A game that combined creepy atmosphere with some pretty enjoyable puzzle elements and an aesthetic that was all its own.  I still enjoy that game whenever I am bored and just looking for a nice zen way to pass time.  Here we have another puzzle-platformer, not quite 2D with a creepy atmosphere and an aesthetic all its own.  And just like the other one, while it isn’t perfect, for the genre it is in, it is very good.  And creepy as fuck.  Let’s talk about it.

Beginning with a literal nightmare, you wake up as a tiny person.  What is this person?  Why are they tiny?  Where are they trying to go?  This game has absolutely zero dialogue of any kind, so you never know the answers to those questions.  I could and may one day do a Critical Examination post on what my interpretation of the world and the creatures within it represent, but that’s for another day.  Suffice it to say, nothing is as it seems in this world.  Even your tiny, adorable, defenseless character has some darkness about it that you will never truly understand.  Which can lead to some genuinely horrifying moments as your tiny person descends into whatever darkness has possessed it as well.

As with Limbo, this is a game that is less about overt fear and more about the subtle implications.  This game is creepy as fuck.  Some of the things you come across made my spine tingle.  However, this game is very good about keeping things within enough nebulous to let your imagination do the heavy lifting.  I like that.  With so many horror games relying on jump scares, it’s nice to see a game that eschews that for an experience that is totally based on the creep factor.  So the place can make the fear come to life.

Which isn’t to say that it’s all about atmosphere.  This game has some creepy-as-fuck monsters living in its world.  From the long-armed blind creature that seems to be taking tiny people for some unknown purpose, to the hog-like chefs who are eager to chop you up, and the lady herself who is running this joint, the designs of the monsters here is just fantastic.  And since you are a tiny person with no weapons of their own, all you can do is hide.  You are completely powerless in the face of what is after you.  Running and hiding.  That’s it.

Since this game is a puzzle-platformer, you may be wondering how those elements hold up.  And I gotta say, pretty well.  Since this game is 3D in many places, it makes you have to think vertically about challenges, and how certain environmental elements can be used to solve puzzles which are all about progression.  Every environmental puzzle is about getting from A to B.  But sometimes you have to back to A, then to C, then back to A and you finally have a way to get to B.  Can it be a little confusing a times? Sure.  However, one thing I really like is how the game does NOT hold your hand.  Right from the start you have to figure out the control scheme and using the lighter you have on your own.  With so many games choosing to hold players hands, this is a very nice touch.

It is worth pointing out that this game is very short.  Only a few hours long.  For the short length, it may be a little overpriced, but I think I got pretty close to my money’s worth, so I’ll let that slide.

Overall, this is a solid entry into its genre, and creepy as fuck to boot.  There really isn’t much more to say about it.  If games like Limbo appeal to you, then check this out and get ready to be unnerved.

Final Verdict
7 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Another Pseudo-Intellectual Wants to Talk About Video Games (A response to Ian Bogost)

I just love all these people with degrees from prestigious schools and 2-digit IQs telling me what video games are lacking.  It’s so charming.  These people who want to pretend like they got it all figured out, and then use the latest buzzwords to be able to bolster their arguments that sound like sophistry at best.  Is this lexicon verbose enough for you?  Our latest pseudo-intellectual wants to make sure that he sounds very smart while he talks about how videos really shouldn’t have stories, all the while ripping off arguments that Roger Ebert was proven wrong about 10 years ago.  It’s charming, in its own stupid way.  Here’s a link to the article, now let’s rip this bitch to pieces.

A longstanding dream: Video games will evolve into interactive stories, like the ones that play out fictionally on the Star Trek Holodeck. In this hypothetical future, players could interact with computerized characters as round as those in novels or films, making choices that would influence an ever-evolving plot. It would be like living in a novel, where the player’s actions would have as much of an influence on the story as they might in the real world.

First off, I don’t want games to be the Holodeck.  I’m not into VR.  Second, for the most part, the part about making an ever-evolving plot has already happened.  I’ve played it out dozens of times.  Whether it be something very linear, or something where I have choices and agency, I am able to help shape a narrative with the games I play.  Already there, skippy.  I look forward to what will be your solid reasoning for why that isn’t the case.

It’s an almost impossible bar to reach, for cultural reasons as much as technical ones.

Neat fact – immediately after this sentence, there is nothing about this for ages.  He goes on and on about how environmental storytelling works, but right when he makes a substantive point, he doesn’t go into greater detail.  I mean, if you are going to say why this bar is impossible to reach, shouldn’t you then follow that up with something about why this milestone is so impossible?  But let’s get into what he says about environmental storytelling and how it shapes a narrative.

The approach raises many questions. Are the resulting interactive stories really interactive, when all the player does is assemble something from parts? Are they really stories, when they are really environments? And most of all, are they better stories than the more popular and proven ones in the cinema, on television, and in books?

Well, yeah.  That’s easy to prove.  You use Bioshock as an example, a game with a very developed and rich lore with characters who you come to care about strictly from hearing about their trials in the city.  I’ve never met them, but there are some characters in the audio logs who was I sad to see go when you learn of their ultimate fate.  It was just another twisted end to a frankly depressing game.

Or let’s talk about my favorite game of 2015 – Life is Strange.  In that game, you look at pretty much everything around you and it tells stories.  You can see Chloe’s decent into a punk rock girl after her father died.  You can see her family with all their financial troubles and personal ones.  You can learn that David isn’t quite the asshole he seems, finding his book on recovering from war that he has read many times.  These things provide a richer canvas to the game’s narrative, which you grow to care about.  It’s what makes the fact that your choices ultimately don’t matter in the end that much more frustrating.

I think I see your problem – you are trying to make a direct comparison between video games and other visual mediums like film and television.  But you can’t do that.  I don’t play a game with the same mindset as I read a book or watch a movie.  I expect elements to be interactive and give me at least some agency in being a part of.  It doesn’t have to be everything.  As I said, I don’t want the Holodeck.  I just want a narrative that I feel immersed in.  My favorite games are ones where I feel like I was a part of the action.  It can still be linear and accomplish this, so long as the characters are well-developed and the world immerses me enough to want to see the story through.  Gaming is an interactive experience, not a purely visual one.  I didn’t like Metal Gear Solid IV because it felt like I had no agency.  60% of the time I was just watching the film play.  That’s not how games work.  For someone who purports to have a very rich understanding of the medium, this fact seemed to escape you.

In retrospect, it’s easy easy to blame old games like Doom and Duke Nukem for stimulating the fantasy of male adolescent power. But that choice was made less deliberately at the time. Real-time 3-D worlds are harder to create than it seems, especially on the relatively low-powered computers that first ran games like Doom in the early 1990s. It helped to empty them out as much as possible, with surfaces detailed by simple textures and objects kept to a minimum. In other words, the first 3-D games were designed to be empty so that they would run.

Okay…why did the male adolescent power line come up?  What did ANY of what followed in that paragraph have to do with men?  Are you clumsily setting the stage for where you blame men for video games being whatever way you don’t like?  I can see that coming from a mile away.  That is bad writing, dude.  If you want to take the Anita Sarkeesian route of saying men are pure evil in video games, then at least TRY and make it feel more natural.

The dude goes on and on for paragraphs about how environments in games aren’t realistic enough and that npc’s are all basically just going off a script, which I guess is supposed to mean that you can’t seem them as real.  Well…duh. I don’t see the vendor in Persona 5 selling me DVDs as a real person.  I’m not supposed to.  Half of this dude’s diatribes reek of a person who doesn’t actually have a lot of experience in this medium.  Or someone who is playing games with an agenda.  Seeing as how he brought up men in this article, I get the feeling him and Anita share similar social views.,

Environmental storytelling offers a solution to this conundrum. Instead of trying to resolve the matter of simulated character and plot, the genre gives up on both, embracing scripted action instead. The player’s experience becomes that of a detective, piecing together narrative coherence from fragments conveniently left behind in the game’s physical environment.

Well yeah, games that use environmental story-telling do have some convenience to them.  So do books and films.  After all, it sure was convenient that Tony Stark found out about the dead interpreter in Civil War, isn’t it?  Or it’s convenient that no one asked who had actually heard the main character say “Rosebud” in Citizen Kane when no one was clearly in the room.  All works of fiction rely on convenience to one extent or another.  Find me a piece of fiction where there aren’t some plot conveniences to move things along.

In 2013, two developers who had worked on the BioShock series borrowed the environmental-storytelling technique and threw away both the shooting and the sci-fi fantasy. The result was Gone Home, a story game about a college-aged woman who returns home to a mysterious, empty mansion near Portland, Oregon. By reassembling the fragments found in this mansion, the player reconstructs the story of the main character’s sister and her journey to discover her sexual identity. The game was widely praised for breaking the mold of the first-person experience while also importing issues in identity politics into a medium known for its unwavering masculinity.

Oh boy.  The pseudo-intellectual is about to talk about Gone Home.  This basically confirms to me that he is full of shit.  Every wanna-be intellectual and their SJW sister have talked about how this game is representative of some great milestone.  In this case, he says that it showed that games are basically on the level of young-adult novels.  Groan.  And the fucker actually makes the argument that this game represents the high water mark in gaming story-telling.  Give me a fucking break!

There are 1000 games, probably more, with narratives 1000X richer than that walking simulator could have ever hoped for.  Hell, I don’t even have a problem with the walking simulator genre and I see it as a lesser option.  When I think about the emotional levels the Mass Effect series got (before the STUPID ending to 3), or the moral implications of The Last of Us, and I see this clown telling me that some hipster-approved work.  Hell, Limbo, a 2D side-scroller was able to make a game world with more emotional weight, without any exposition of any kind.  Just from the environment you play in, you can see the story of a great civilization’s rise to power and then fall.  An art game called Journey did much the same.  Did this ass-clown actually play games, or is he just quoting the line from his contemporaries?  He is probably a grad with a fancy degree, who spent all his academic life citing other people in papers.  Thinking for yourself is hard, after all.

The result is aesthetically coherent, fusing the artistic sensibilities of Edward Gory, Isabel Allende, and Wes Anderson. The writing is good, an uncommon accomplishment in a video game. On the whole, there is nothing to fault in What Remains of Edith Finch. It’s a lovely little title with ambitions scaled to match their execution. Few will leave it unsatisfied.

Good writing is uncommon in video games?  Oh fuck off, you hipster culture critic.  Look me in the eye and tell me that Beyond: Two Souls or Uncharted 4 have bad writing.  And you better be able to bolster it with some strong argument.  By the way, dude, I was unsatisfied at that game.  Know why – because the ending was crap.  The game was FINALLY getting to the really good stuff, then just stopped.  It just ends.  And don’t tell me “it’s open to interpretation!”  That is a line used by people who have no other argument.  I heard that crap about the Mass Effect 3 ending by pseudo-intellectuals just like this.

And that’s really it.  He doesn’t go into any other genre or aspects to games story-telling.  I guess, in his mind, the only kinds of games that can tell stories are first-person ones.  That is beyond asinine.  When I play art games like ABZU, or JRPGs like Persona 5, both with very good narratives and stories that suck me in, I am realizing why this guy is full of shit.  Another person who had to write some bullshit about games and then peace out without even looking at anything else but the one thing he wants to focus on.  No wonder this guy came from modern university.  His argumentation is garbage.

Funny, he looks at three games to try and make his point.  I can talk about dozens to make mine.  Yeah, this dude sucks.  I cannot believe a publication like The Atlantic takes this bullshit seriously.

Until next time, a quote,

“If you don’t feel it, you won’t remember it.” – Bob Dickman

Peace out,

Maverick

SIONR: The Failure of Final Fantasy XV and a Road Trip Game Done Right

It’s no mystery that I view Final Fantasy XV as a game with a good idea, but a bad execution.  The problem is that the game devs decided that they were going to go the typical Final Fantasy game route and make it about saving the world.  Failing to realize that what drew people in was the theme song that was horribly misused in the actual game.  This game was marketed as Noctis and his friends going on a road trip in a fantasy world that is very similar to our own.  And I think that was a great concept.  If they had just gone all the way with it, that game could have been one of a kind.  For a while now I have been thinking of how this idea could be done correctly.  Let me share what I came up with.

For starters, there cannot be a plot outside of the road trip.  It would have to be a very small story.  No saving the world.  Maybe thwarting some threats that are posing a danger to the places that the party comes across in their travels, but that’s it.  You can even have the world’s politics play a part in it, but that has to come secondary.  It’s just an element of setting, not a core plot element.  But it should still be a part of things.  After all, you want the world to seem believable.  If the game’s world doesn’t feel like one that you can live in, then it is not doing its job in immersion.  However, none of the choices you make in a road trip game can affect politics on a large scale.  Maybe you can change a village or town or even part of a city’s mind about your group.  Maybe make it some kind of ethnic conflict.  But at the end of the game, the politics are what they are and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Next up, the stuff where the car is basically driving itself and you are just along for the ride actually didn’t bug me.  However, in order to do this concept better, I have some tips.  First – make a larger music selection.  Give the world some personality.  Make radio stations that play various kinds of music and add to the world by injecting some diverse opinions into the mix.  Maybe have one station who is very much a friend to your characters nation and political views, while having another that is very much opposed.  Run the gamut of political ideas, all while having lots of music that makes you feel like this is a real place.  Not just stock music options and soundtracks to other games.  Hell, the didn’t even do that right.  I mean, if you’re going to get soundtracks you can buy, why not have the whole thing?  And why not make it like when you are making an iTunes playlist and pick the songs you want to hear?  So many small details about this game that could have been done better.

Second – ditch the open world.  I am honestly getting tired of huge worlds that feel like there is no one living there.  Instead, why not make it so you have large levels at various places in the journey?  Open levels on your journey, rather than vast spaces that feel like not one person has ever lived there.  Since you are traveling in your car, that would allow you to make the set-pieces of driving and taking in scenery, characters talking, and the ambiance that much better.  However, too many games have vast open spaces that are just so boring.  I may be in a minority here, but a game that did this concept flawlessly was Uncharted 4.  Instead of being one massive open world, they allowed you to explore large contained areas at your own pace.  For a game about a road trip, with the idea being characters exploring what they come across, that seems much more fitting.

Third – immerse your character in the world.  Take a few cues from Persona 5.  Let your characters buy food at the restaurants they come across.  I wanna be able to buy their world’s version of a juicy burger at the gas station diner.  Or have some fancy meal at an upscale restaurant in some tourist trap city.  Maybe even take in a bowl of ramen or whatever the noodles of that world are.  Little touches like that go a long way.  When I am chilling at a hotel room or something, let me watch movies, read books, of something else that gets me involved in the area.  Maybe have doing that stuff help your character level up stats or something.  Give some incentive for taking the time for this.  Persona 5 had hilarious rip-offs of big movies that were terribly acted on purpose, but it was still so fun to do because you had fun laughing at the ridiculousness of a Batman knock-off talking about desserts.  Give the player incentive to learn about the world.

Fourth – side-quests, and don’t just make it busy work.  Have party members want to do stuff in towns, or developing relationships with random npc’s leading to bigger payoffs with fun missions that can either be difficulty challenges or give you special stuff.  Take some cues from The Witcher 3 and make the side-stuff just as interesting as the main stuff.

Finally – make the game feel like it’s a story about the group on the road trip growing as people.  A kind of coming-of-age story.  Maybe make them a touch older and have some ideas about the nature of growing up and having to be adults.

Final Fantasy XV had a solid concept, it just didn’t go all the way with it.  More than anything, that’s what frustrates me as a gamer.  A wasted good idea is the very worst, and too many games are guilty of it.  But what about you?  Agree or disagree with my assessment?  Let me know down in the Comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me.” – Walt Whitman

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: What Remains of Edith Finch

From the creators of The Unfinished Swan, a very depressing but poetic story comes another tale that is equal parts depressing and poetic.  There is just one major flaw holding it back.  It is nowhere near the artistic rendering that its predecessor was, but that doesn’t do too much damage to it. The problem is that doing a review of this game means that I get to go into more the artistic merits of it than the gameplay elements.  This is a game for those who like unconventional games that take your mind to very strange places.  If that isn’t your jam, trust me, best to just pass.  So now let’s put on my hipster hat and go into a game that I can already see the anti-SJW crowd calling a “walking simulator.”  A title that this game whole-heartedly does NOT deserve.

The plot goes that Edith Finch is returning back to the family home.  It’s a dark house that has as many stories as it does dead bodies in its cemetery. A tragic story of a family that Edith has returned to so she can uncover.  And along the way, she comes to some realizations about this home and what it represents.  Does the mystery come together in a fitting climax where all the disparate elements make sense and you have an emotional catharsis much like the previous work of this company?!  Well…no.  But props to how close they got.

As I said, this game is not a walking simulator.  To call it that is to be underselling how this game plays.  Sure, the story of Edith is pretty much just walking from place to place with basic environmental interactions.  However, each of the narratives that tells the story of one of the Finch family dying incorporates all kinds of gameplay dynamics.  My favorite being where you have to manipulate the sticks on the controller to do different tasks at the same time.  Can get confusing, but that fits with the narrative.  While this game lacks the novelty in the pain elements from the last game, it does at least have something going for it.

When I saw the original promo for the game SJWs fawn all over, Gone Home, this is what I thought I was going to get.  A game where you explore an abandoned home, but there is a definitive creepy edge to it.  While I wouldn’t call this a horror game, its use of atmosphere is truly fantastic.  Without a single jump scare, this game makes the house it is set in very ominous.  As you uncover all the secrets and build up the narrative, the place gets less and less inviting.  Which just makes the fact that it never really builds to anything that much more frustrating.

The best thing about this game is the first three quarters of the narrative.  Sure, the exposition can be a little much, but you learn to roll with it because you think it is building to something.  Which brings me to the thing that I need to talk about.  I will try and avoid outright spoiling the ending, but I will spoil the elements of how it comes together which may set your expectations.  If that’s something you want to avoid, go to the Final Verdict now.

Here’s my problem – the ending.  This game has some pretty great build-up.  Right as we are FINALLY getting to see where it was all building to and if it would be something more, the game just stops.  In the most anti-climactic way ever, it just stops.  I was so frustrated by that.  I mean come on!  We are finally going to know what the mysterious force surrounding this house is, and you stop?!  What the hell!?  I was actually really stoked to see just what it was that had come into contact with this family.  It is hinted that the actual stories being told in this game give the forces at work power, but since you never get to find out what it actually was, you never know!  I hate that this game has so much great narrative tension build, only for it to crash and burn.  Part of me thinks that the development of the game got a little rushed at the end, or maybe they had written themselves into a corner and decided to go with the “you never know what it was” thing, but I honestly think that works against this game.

All-in-all, this is a decent game.  As games purely for art’s sake go, it’s fine.  But I think the lackluster ending really does damage to the whole narrative, and that is a real shame.  That doesn’t make this a bad game.  Just not one that I would recommend.  Do with that what you will.

Final Verdict
6 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Top 20 Favorite Anime

A long time ago, I did a post where I discussed my top 15 favorite anime series.  However, now that it’s been a few years, and I have become more familiar with more series, and have rewatched some of the ones on my list previously, my opinions have changed somewhat.  So now I am going to put out the definitive list.  Here are the top 20 favorite anime that I have.

20. Black Lagoon
What do you get when you combine an 80’s action hero, Studio Madhouse action, and one of the most dark and violent gunplay styles ever made?  You get this series.  Telling the story of a band of mercs for hire – the Lagoon Company.  This series has some of the best dub work of all time.  It has violent shootouts, insane villains, and absolutely zero subtlety.  It’s like someone wanted to bring the 80’s out of its hiding place and put it in the 21st century.  With an amazing cast of characters, all of whom are complete scumbags, you have a series that is morally gray in the extreme, and too much fun to watch.  I miss this style of cinema, but anime is keeping the flame alive.

19. Rahxephon
After the success of Evangelion and what a cultural icon it became, there were a TON of imitators out there.  Most of them never even went past the line of derivative, with people seeing them for the schlock that they are.  However, then you get series like this one.  Which took the formula for Eva and actually went further with it.  In fact, I would say that it perfected it.  A show about aliens who look like us, machines that are golems made of stone, and a focus on music and the power of sound, this was a very grim series that I would argue was better than the series it was riffing on, in more ways than one.  Were it not for the ending which is kind of dull, this show would be able to easily stack up to the more famous predecessor.  But quality animation, a fantastic score, and really good voice acting makes this series shine.

18. Darker Than Black (Season 1)
Another series where the second season just royally fucked the quality, this series was about darkness all around.  In a world where some nameless calamity has stuck the Earth and imprisoned it under a cloud that has stars symbolizing people with special powers, our tale follows a clandestine group who does dirty work for a shady organization who is exploiting those individuals.  Action that keeps you pumped, dark subject matter, and a kind of grotesque nature keeps you guessing.  This series is cold, but for at least the first season you can see where it’s coming from.

17. Digimon Tamers
Given how this franchise had been so light-hearted by comparison, this series in the franchise took a decidedly darker turn.  For a marketing vehicle, this iteration of the franchise was meta, had complicated characters who you like, and took some incredibly dark turns that as a child I was in love with, and as an adult I still can sit down and watch and feel very moved by.  How a show this dark was able to get onto a children’s cartoon block is beyond me, but I am glad that it is, because there is nothing like it.  Whether it is just for the nostalgia, or to just enjoy a children’s show that wasn’t afraid to push the boundaries of what is acceptable, it still holds up to this day.

16. Samurai Champloo
What do you get when you take the creator of one of the greatest anime ever made, add in hip-hop, and enough meta to make Deadpool proud?  You get this series, of course.  A stylistic, badass and overall too fun series about a bunch of travelers, I love this show so much.  It’s not complicated.  This is entirely style over substance.  But that style is just so damn cool!  The creator of Cowboy Bebop comes back to tell a story about three travelers in the Edo Period of Japan, trying to find a Samurai who “smells of sunflowers.”  From the awesome sword-fights to the fantastic voice-work in English, nothing about this series doesn’t stick with me.  Sure, there are some episodes which just die, but overall it is still a ton of fun to watch.  Steve Blum steals the show as Mugen, but the rest are still so cool.  If you can handle some history-twisting, this series is for you.

15. Gundam Wing
I am dying to know when FUNimation is going to re-release this series, now that they have  the Bandai licenses.  Here’s hoping they don’t do a shitty redub of it.  The voicework in this series is classic.  Telling the story of five youths who head down to Earth to get revenge for the murder of a leader of the Colonies, along with strike back at the clandestine Organization of the Zodiac, Gundam Wing is all about big robots and big battles.  But more than that, it looks at ideas about war, the nature of good and evil, and how the changing tides of history can leave people behind.  This series is classic, and while the animation hasn’t aged as well as you’d think, it still is pretty awesome.  I’ll admit that my nostalgia goggles are on pretty tight for this.  It is the first series that I watched as a kid that got me into anime.  But I still love it, and in my opinion it holds up to this day as a gateway series into anime.  Seriously, though, FUNimation, don’t do a redub of this.  It can only suck.

14. Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad
When I watch this series, the whole time I think about what life was like growing up.  But more than that, this series does something that so few stories about growing up does – feels real.  When I see the grungy basements that the band is playing it, I feel like I am there.  I feel like I could watch these shows and hear these instruments.  It tells the story of a young man who is lost growing up, and just so happens to run into the lead guitarist of a band.  From there begins a story of growing up, music, and the hardships that come from knowing that youth is temporary.  Were it not for a totally forced plot later about a mobster which had no reason to be in there, this series would have been nigh-perfect.  But I still feel each string of the instruments when I watch it to this day.

13. Baccano
What do you get when you combine a total lack of chronological order, supernatural powers, and the backdrop of early 1900’s gang warfare?  You get a show that is so damn fun to watch!  This series is a marvel.  It’s a marvel how such an unapologetically violent series can exist but be so fun to watch.  This series is brutal.  You have dismemberment, a gleeful enjoyment of murder, and characters who are pretty much all terrible people but you love all the same due to how deliciously evil they all are.  It tells the story of a train massacre, along with a drug war that goes on because of a substance that grants people immortal life.  Between the phenomenal acting in the dub, and the cool style that it has, this series isn’t about the narrative.  It’s about the crazy ride aboard a train that you can’t look away from for one second.

12. Outlaw Star
Some series are substance over style.  Others are style over substance.  Outlaw Star, on the other hand, is nothing but style and not a lick of substance to be found anywhere.  But dear god is it cool!  Gene Starwind finds himself going from a do any dirty job business owner to a starship captain outlaw who has a mysterious vessel and a mysterious woman who can pilot it in his care.  What this show lacks if any form of substantive elements it makes up in some of the most fun that a series has ever had with its premise.  This is science fiction escapism at its best.  This show knows exactly what it is and doesn’t shy away from it.  Hell, it embraces what it is, and does nothing but have fun with that every step of the way.  If you like all the trimmings of a space adventure story (no joke, they don’t miss a single beat), you need to watch this anime.

11. Vision of Escaflowne
First off, let me say, FUNimation – shame on you for making a redub version of this series.  If you hadn’t have included the original version in the blu-ray, I would be hunting you down.  The redubbed version is just bad, no matter how you scratch it.  A series that also retreads ground that we have seen before, but damn if it isn’t all the execution.  The story of Escaflowne is as predictable as it gets.  You have a girl taken to a mysterious world, who ends up becoming involved in a greater plot that involves fantasy elements in a world with animal people and fighting robots.  Original as my pizza pops idea, but as I said, all in the execution.  This series is incredible to watch!  From the gorgeous visuals, to the fantastic voice-work, it has it all.  Not to mention the soundtrack, which is so damn beautiful.  You know exactly where it will go from beginning to end, but each step of getting there is worth it.  Just wish the ending to the series wasn’t as flat as it is.  I guess they meant for it to go further, but ran out of budget.  Oh well.

10. FLCL
This series is one that I saw when I was much younger, but when I rediscovered it as an adult, it grew on me so much.  The best coming-of-age anime that I have ever seen, this short series tells the story of a young man who is dissatisfied with life, but has his boring days broken when a woman on a vespa with a guitar smashes him over the head and nothing in his life is the same.  While this series does play with elements of eldritch horror and mecha anime, at its core it is about our young hero and his issues with growing up.  He is a lonely kid, and I see so much of my own struggles growing up in him.  Plus, it looks at the problems associated with sex, love, and emotional honesty in a way that feels mature.  The guy who made it studied under the creator of Evangelion, but I would argue that this series does complex emotions better, simply because they capture what it’s like to be a kid better.  If you saw this when you were younger, check it out again and see what you think.

9. Death Note
One of the most widely-known anime series, Death Note tells the story of a man’s rise to power.  Light Yagami is a bored high school genius, who one day happens to come across a notebook dropped from a death god called the Death Note.  He then goes from a soon to be lawyer to little Hitler and he fights to remake the world in his image.  This series has zero subtlety.  None.  But dear god is it fun!  The game of cat-and-mouse between Light and L is too much fun to watch.  Too bad that the entire conflict just dies after that point, up until the very end of the series.  Looking back on it now, I don’t have the same love for this series that I do for others on the list, but it is still an incredible show that has one of the best dramatic arcs to follow.  At least for the first 25 episodes.

8. Wolf’s Rain
This series is probably the most thematically dense of any of the anime on this list.  This is a cold and cryptic series that fuses religious allegory with bitter tragedy.  It tells the story of a young pack of wolves, on their journey to find Paradise, all while the world is slowly descending into chaos and the end of everything is near.  Between the truly incredible visuals, the voice acting that is at the top of its class, and one of the most gripping tragedies ever told, this series will make you cry, think, and question all at the same time.  It isn’t for everyone, as the material is dense and there is virtually no exposition to let you know what is going on.  However, if narrative rich in symbolism and with a lore that you have to pay attention to in order to figure out is your game, then check it out.

7. Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo
I find it so weird that the most true to the original story version of this series is done in an anime set 3,000 years in the future.  That is just so strange to me.  It follows a young man named Albert, who comes into the acquaintance of a mysterious Count.  What follows is a tangled web of lies, manipulation, and a revenge story that will keep you hooked.  But not only that, it also has a style that is all its own.  This series animation is strange, to say the least.  But that strangeness is what sets it apart.  The style in it fits so perfectly.  This series is almost impossible to analyze, because it is nearly perfect.  Were it not for how bad the last two episodes are, I would almost call it a perfect anime.  Some flaws, but too much fun.  Not to mention having a villain who is just so awesome.

6. Stein’s Gate
When time travel, fate, and the changing of reality collide, you get Stein’s Gate.  Telling the story of a young man and his band of misfits who stumble upon the ability to change time, a young man learns the true price of changing reality, and what it takes to set things right.  So much of what I love about this series centers around the main character.  A lot of people see it as a gripping thriller about time travel, and that is true, but that isn’t what keeps me loving this series the way that I do.  Every single one of these characters all feel like people I could know and love, but as I said, it’s not what keeps me coming back.  The real reason that I love this series the way I do is the character of Okarine.  His anti-social nature and awkwardness in the face of life and the hardships he comes across resonate so much with me.  His fight to be a good friend all while battling his own awkwardness feel so true to me.  Not to mention the fact that he lives in his own head, desperately trying to make sense of it all.  It’s a cold story, but seeing how far he will go to save his best friend hits me right in the heart.

5. Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
A lot of people have made comparisons between this series and Death Note, and while I do see those, I believe that this is the better series.  Why?  All because of the main character.  The story goes that Lelouch is a disaffected youth living in the occupied nation of Japan.  He has no thoughts about life and is looking to strike back at the Holy Britannian Empire who he blames for ruining his life and crippling his sister.  As fate would have it, he gets his shot when a mysterious woman gives him the power of Geass.  Now it’s a battle of wits to destroy the people he hates, and manipulate the world on his ultimate chess board, that grows bigger and bigger with every battle.  Light is an interesting character, but his corruption is ridiculously immediate.  Lelouch, on the other hand, is one we can watch grow and slowly become turned by his own power.  To the point that he has to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to bring about total peace.

4. Mushi Shi
Anyone who knows me knows that my first love is animation.  I love to watch animation that has quality and a look all its own.  It’s why I love the film Bambi to this day, even if it is cutesy to a sickening degree.  The animation is a step above.  To that end, this series is much the same.  Telling the tales of the wandering Mushi Master Ginko, this series is just so peaceful.  It’s kind of like a lullaby.  I can watch this series anytime that I need to just feel better about my day, and it works wonders.  But dear Groj, the animation!  This series is a visual marvel.  Each episode seems to play around with a different style, and man do I love it for that.

3. Fullmetal Alchemist (Original)
I honestly don’t think much of Brotherhood, so I’ll head that off.  But the original series is a brilliant character study into the Elric Brothers, and their tragic tale of trying to get their bodies back.  This series is nearly a flawless tragedy.  Telling the story of two brothers and how their quest to get their own lives back destroys the lives of countless people around them.  This series is a near-perfect character study.  Edward and his brother are so likeable, which makes the fact that they are doing irreparable harm to the lives of everyone around them that much worse.  This series is also almost perfect, save for the ending.  I am one of the few people who calls bullshit on that ending.  How does sacrificing memory for Al’s life even make sense.  This series would have been a perfect tragedy if it ended with Al giving his life, and Edward realizing that in the end, he has to accept that some things cannot come back, and he has to move forward with his life.  But it is still a transcendent anime that is another perfect gateway series.

2. Avatar: The Last Airbender
How America was able to create an anime this good is beyond me.  This series did something that few anime have done before – transcended the gap between kids show and adult.  This series is incredible.  There isn’t a single bad episode.  There isn’t a single wasted character.  There isn’t a single frame that doesn’t fit in one way or another.  When you learn the insane amount of research that went into this little masterpiece, then you realize that anime can be more than just a niche market.  The story of Aang and his journey to learn the four elements and save the world combines incredible animation, lovable characters, and so much fantastic story-telling in all the best ways.  I honestly can say that this series is perfect.  Right down to the ending, it gets everything right.  For those wondering what I think of its sequel series, then it can be boiled down to this – Season 1 and 3 are amazing, while 2 and 4 go from terrible to boring.

And my favorite anime is…

1. Cowboy Bebop
Everyone and their brother has said about how awesome this series is.  Most people will call me a sheep for loving it the way that I do.  But so be it.  This series is perfect.  From the very beginning where you see Spike going to what is likely his doom in order to escape his life in the mob, the end of the first episode that sets up the tragic nature of the series.  Taking elements from tons of genres and blending them all together, this series cannot be defined by any one genre.  The story of the Bebop and its crew of misfits goes from pensive look at tragic characters, to beautiful elements of action set-piece, all of which are set to the best music that anime has ever or will ever have.  This series is astounding.  People sing its praises, but you know what, it’s earned that.  No series has ever done it like this, and I doubt another series ever will.

So, what are your favorite anime?  Let me know down in the comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“I’m just in a dream that I can’t wake up from.” – Spike Spiegel, Cowboy Bebop

Peace out,

Maverick

Top 10 Traumatizing Things in Fiction as a Child

I haven’t done a top 10 list in ages, and because I am so original, I want to piggy-back off this concept one of my favorite YouTubers put out – traumatizing things in fiction as a child.  As a kid, I had a love-hate relationship with fear.  I loved getting afraid of things, just so I could become more enamored with them.  Today I have a relationship with fear that it’s just being wasted.  Gory horror films do nothing for me.  Deep psychological thrillers, or horror films that actually take the time to build atmosphere (there are so few) are my jam.  As a kid, the stuff that scared me tended to grab my attention.  But that doesn’t mean that it didn’t fuck me up all the same.  Here is a list of the top ten things in fiction that REALLY messed with me, growing up, in a scary way.  Won’t be including any visual aids for this.  Sorry if that’s a deal-breaker.  I just have some of these attached to memories I’d like to forget.

10. Turning into lizard creatures
Star Trek Voyager
In one episode, Lt. Paris had discovered that it was possible to go to warp 10.  He wanted to test this, and he just so happened to take Capt. Janeway along for the ride.  What followed was them turning into these weird lizard creatures. But it wasn’t what you’d expect from Star Trek.  They weren’t some big bulky thing that you can clearly tell is a costume or prop.  They turn into these small creatures that look real.  It was so unsettling to me as a child.  For whatever reason, it just scared me out of my wits that I would turn into one of those things one day.

9. Pig head girl
Goosebumps
This one just fucked with my head.  An episode of Goosebumps featured this city that people could warp into.  It was a two-part episode where you had one of the main characters being turned into a pig because of her greed.  That image just fucked with me so hard.  Looking back on it now it’s ridiculous.  But at the time it just fucked me up so hard.

8. Back monster scene
Phantasm II
As a kid I had this bad habit of going over to my uncle’s house.  He is hardcore religious, and had a pool.  But he also had another thing that he did – watch movies that were SO not appropriate for children.  And as a kid who liked to do things I wasn’t supposed to, I would sneak over sometimes and watch them.  One such film was Phantasm II.  In it, we have a scene with a woman who is covered by a black cloak.  They pull it off her face, and see that her mouth is taped shut.  What else is under that cloak?  They pull back more to reveal that there is a monster inside of her back, eating her.  That scene stuck with me so hard.  Scared the living shit out of me.  But I couldn’t tell my parents about it because I would have gotten in trouble.  The things I dealt with in silence.

7. The covers
Scary Stories (series)
Remember what I said about things that scared me enticing me to know more?  Well, this was one such instance.  I am so fucking pissed that they redid the covers for the new editions of the stories.  The reasoning?  Because they are too scary for kids.  Bullshit!  That is fucking stupid, and people who think that way are stupider.  Yeah, they are scary, but sometimes things that scare kids also intrigue them.  We like a little fear.  I read all of those books because of the covers.  And the neat fact is that the stories themselves were usually about sources of fear who are just misunderstood.  I hate this idea that we have to make the world less difficult for children.  Yeah, because kids can’t handle some scary imagery.  Give me a fucking break.

6. The Witch
Hansel and Gretel
I honestly don’t know which version of this story I saw as a kid, but I remember that there was one version with this character who just fucked up my head so hard.  Something about her screaming at these two children who she had chained up in a cage just messed with my head so fucking hard.  I wish I could remember which version I saw.  This story has been done to death.  Another relic from a time gone by – when we could scare the shit out of children and it was okay, so long as the story has a happy ending.  Don Bluth became a household name in the 80’s because of that philosophy, and he is absolutely right.

5. The threat of nuclear annihilation
I honestly don’t remember what specifically it was that got me scared of this.  Maybe it was a movie, or the news, but I remember that the idea of a nuclear weapon attacking my house scared the piss out of me.  To the point that I slept in my parents bedroom for ages.  We had these mattresses that you could move around, and I was sleeping on one in the corner of their room for a long time.  Now that we could be facing down World War III with North Korea, and the fact that my home state is in their launch radius, that thought has come back to me.  Only this time I think I’d grab some marshmallows and enjoy the roast.

4. The Oompa Loompas
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
I’m talking about the original, not that weird Tim Burton shit.  In this film, the only thing I found truly frightening as a kid growing up with those orange-faced bastards.  They are fucking creepy!  Their creepy faces and their creepy green hair and their creepy songs.  I hated them so much.  To this day I’m not a huge fan.  If I will say what the remakes did better, it is the different songs.  One good spot on a terrible movie.  That’s something, right?

3. Slappy the Puppet
Goosebumps
Oh my Groj, this fucking puppet.  One of the times that something didn’t entice me through fear and just freaked me the fuck out was this puppet.  Everything from its creepy face to its creepy voice, the thing was just so scary!  The guy they got for this puppet was just amazing.  To this day, that creepy face makes my skin crawl.  I’m well-aware how fake it all is, but it’s all in the performance.  The guy they got for that was just too good.

2. Chernabog
Fantasia
The quintessential example of fear compelling me to fascination.  As I am sure many who read my site know, Fantasia is not only my favorite Disney film, but my second favorite film of all time.  And nowhere was that quality better exemplified than in the final number.  In it, we see a powerful demon by the name of Chernabog summoning forth all of the damned for what must be one hell of a party.  That creature mesmerized me.  I loved everything about it.  It had size, presence, and a creepy smile that just played into how scared and captivated I was at the same time.  This character has become a staple of what I love about that film.  Just made me want to go to the party that much more.

And the thing that freaked me out the most in fiction as a kid…

1. Expanding feet
Full House
A disclaimer – I didn’t like this show growing up.  It was stupid, but I was young enough to be stuck watching it when the rest of the family was.  And one scene that really fucked with my head growing up was when the youngest child in the family had this scary dream about her feet expanding really huge, and seeing it.  That shit fucked me up!  For weeks I had bad dreams about that concept, and to this day I feel a little weird when I see it.  Old trauma, maybe?  In any case, in a series devoid of any real tension or darkness, that one element has stuck with me.  Hell, it’s the only thing I can actually remember about the series, outside of the Nostalgia Critic’s review of it.

So, what stuff from fiction fucked up your life as a kid?  Let me know in the Comments

Until next time, a quote,

“Like I said before, I think kids like being scared because it pulls them much more into the action. If they didn’t like being scared, they wouldn’t go out for Halloween, or watch High School Musical” – Nostalgia Critic

Peace out,

Maverick