[SPOILER WARNINGS] Game of Thrones: The Return of the Hound & the Issues of Pandering

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Warning: Here There Be Spoilers!

Episode 7 of Game of Thrones’ 6th series –entitled The Broken Man– saw the return of fan favourite/hated Sandor “The Hound’ Clegane (played excellently as always by Rory McCann). The Hound hadn’t been seen since the end of series 4, when he was left to die by Arya after his devastating duel with Brienne of Tarth . His ultimate fate was left up in the air (in the TV series, he very much died in the book), with many fans clamouring for his return. So, apropos of nothing, the Hound suddenly returns so late into series 6.

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What is odd is how his reappearance both felt natural and jarring.

Natural, in that the story of him being rescued by Ian McShane’s Brother Ray (a huge waste of a great actor, especially since he doesn’t even utter the word cocksucker once!) & contemplating his own violent nature and the possibility of redemption. The form of the Hound’s arc is perfect for the character, in that he finds himself rescued by a man who shows him both respect & kindness –two things that have been utterly anathema to the Hounds existence– but finds himself drawn back to his inclinations towards killing. He is given a place in a religious community who both fear & accept him, he works labour which suits his temperament but he is ill at ease with a life of peace –acting like Damocles waiting for the sword to finally drop.

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“What a bunch of measely-mouthed cocksuckers”

Yet it is a jarring return because it does not have a natural fit within the narrative.

Narratively it comes as a break in the current tension of the story. Beginning episode 7 in a way to purposely confuse the viewer, make them wonder why they are watching the scene of harmony & construction –two things that mesh against the usually themes of the show. Whilst the viewer has gotten to wonder about this tonal schism, they are shown the scarred form of the returned villain/anti-hero but not in any role or form they are used to.

This is an intentional jarring of expectations & visual setting yet it unfortunately breaks the established flow of the narrative.

It has no basic place within the current season’s arc; coming with the feel of being placed in as a breach to fit in other sudden shifts in the narrative direction.

Personal conjecture has it that since it showed the return of the Brotherhood Without Banners –who until this point had not been seen since the 3rd series– it is purposed to unite the Hound, Brienne (who is currently on her way to the Riverlands to recruit the Black Fish to fight for Sansa Stark) & Jamie Lannister in capture by the Brotherhood so Lady Stoneheart, née the resurrected Catelyn Stark, can have her revenge on all who betrayed her or served her enemies. Which is combining how characters are last seen within the books A Feast For Crows & A Dance of Dragons. This plays into bringing the Frays back into the fold & having Jamie, whose character arc was skewed with weird trips to Dorne & conflict with the High Sparrow, go to Riverrun to aid the Fray’s in their failed siege (which also brings the other fan favourite Bronn back to our screens),

In this writer’s very (very) unhumble opinion, bringing a character as looming in the minds of the television adaption as the Hound carries the odour of pandering.

Whilst it does fit that he could have survived his fight with Brienne and fall from the cliff, his arc should have been more naturally ended. Serving as a point of evolution of Arya as she chooses not to kill him because she both respected & hated him. This possible forced merging of divergent storylines & character arcs.

Yet the Hound is unneeded for such a resolution.

He has served his narrative purpose but his fate was left ambiguous. This meant that many fans & viewers could wedge their desires for his return into the conversations around the show. After the relatively poor reception of the 5th season, one could speculate that the show’s forerunners have been saving a return of such a divisive character within the fan community for a point that will garner maximum interest as the 6th series steams towards its conclusion. Thus making the Hound’s return both pandering & exploitative.

With the show’s forerunner recent announcing that they want to end the show in 2018 with the 8th series, possibly making seasons 7 & 8 shorter in the amount of episodes for each, one can see why they would be in a rush to draw in elements of the books (both written & forthcoming) to see the entirety of the story reach a satisfactory conclusion. Yet to bring in unnecessary threads, be in the return of the Hound or strange asides to fill in character happenings, chokes the already ongoing story as well as breaks the view of the narrative. Many viewers have complained on social media about how Arya’s arc with the Faceless Men drags on to nowhere –partly because of how different it is from the books but mainly because it feels boring in how its told– & this is something that could have easily been repaired if the showrunners had actually spent time on solidifying character arcs & the overall plot instead of shifting things to suddenly pander to viewers’ supposed expectation.

Which brings this writer onto what they consider the most extreme & vexing of Game of Thrones’ pandering: replacing proper storylines & scenes with pointless female nudity.

Cast your mind back to the events of episode 7. Do you remember the suddenly interlude with Yara & Theon Greyjoy as they with their band of reavers partied it up in what may have been Barvos (it was never made clear to this writer where they were). They were at a brothel, so naturally this meant there had to be lots & lots of naked women around & Yara had to be transformed into either bisexual or a lesbian (neither of which are an issue if they have always been a constant of the character before that moment).

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Les Be friends?

Now, do you recall what the scene was actually about? What purpose it had in the greater narrative scheme or even what Yara & Theon spoke about?

If not it was probably because you were distracted by Yara sucking on some whore’s tits.

Game of Thrones & HBO in general have built reputations for themselves as providers of adult content. Unfortunately, in the US ‘adult content’ tends to mean tits & violence.

Something that garnered Game of Thrones a lot of mainstream attention is that it did not shy away from either yet once that genie was released from the bottle, HBO could no longer tone it down. They had to keep pushing such angles because that is how they viewed audience expectations of the show –that they only watched it because titties would somehow be involved.

Now, this is not a prudish complaint.

There is nothing wrong with nudity in media but it has to serve a narrative point.

One can go on about how it can be seen as either empowerment & life saving or if it is entirely exploitative & vulgar yet that is not the crux of this writer’s vexation.

The issue at hand is how the insertion of scenes dedicated entirely to sex & nudity take away from important character scenes & story arcs. It is like the story is proceeding at an excellent pace, hitting all the right points for audience engagement, when it all screeches to a halt to grab our collective heads & say “hey look! Here some titties! Maybe some arse or bush! LOOK AT IT! LOOK AT MATURE WE ARE!!! All done? Good. Now back to the plot”.

This writer cannot be burdened by writing out every example in every episode & ever series yet the ones that stand out the greatest are Podrick’s visit to Little Finger’s brothel to lose his virginity as well as the pirate Salladhor Saan telling jokes in the bath to two prostitutes. Neither of these scenes served any narrative purpose. They were meant for ahem titillation & breaking of heavy tones that may or may not drag down an episode. Yet they have no function that could not have been fulfilled in other ways that did not have nudity as their centrepieces.

Yet this supposed obsession with associating nudity with maturity can only reach so far before it simply does become blatant pandering & exploitation of audience so socially starved of the normality of sex & nudity that they come to believe that any expression of it is a healthy taboo that one can indulge in with a sense of collective joyous guilt (which is also how shite like Fifty Shades of Grey become a brief zeitgeist but that’s an article for another day). One can endlessly argue that the over moralising of nudity & sex is something so profoundly toxic to social discourse that it overflows into & corrupts so many other aspects of society yet that wavers from this writer’s point.

The complaint remains that the majority of nudity within Games of Thrones is superfluous at best & distracting at worst.

It all remains within the contention that over pandering to fan demands/expectations can lead to a creative deathspiral for creative work because you, as a creative entity, are no longer controlling where your work goes but eternally responding to the whims of a vocal but very fickle few.

Maybe there will be a grand pay-off with the Hound’s return. Maybe it all threads together vital pieces of the story & direct us towards a glorious end. Yet his reappearance does not speak of confidence within the current format of the show. That the individual pieces have the strength to stand upon their merits & there is a wanting of faith in how both the season & show may conclude.

Yet this writer does find Rory McCann layered portrayal of the Hound enjoyable, given an emotional depth rare to how such a violent & unforgiving character is usually depicted upon our screens. So there is some measure of assurance that the Hound’s return is a portent for a strong series ending rather than a horrid death-flails of a program the showrunners & writers are losing faith in.

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1st impressions: Preacher & issues with over adaptation

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Truly we live in a cross-media Golden Age, where anything from any medium can find new life and wider fandom in a different format.

Basically, if it can be adapted from a comic or a book or a video game or someone’s stupid Twitter Feed it can be transformed into a television show or movie.

The zenith of this are the television adaptions of A Song of Ice and Fire (renamed A Game of Thrones after the first book in the still running series) & The Walking Dead as well Marvel & DC’s various superhero cross-media “events”.

Unfortunately this means that with so many adaptations filling so many screens, the quality & which parts of the narratives they choice to follow as well as which characters they may change or cut various from production to production. More often than not fans of the original medium are angry &/or disappointed that they favourite scene, character or story arc has been either cut or changed beyond all recognition. After sci-fi series The Expanse had run its first season I was going to write an article about how the show completely race-washed, turning minor characters white for no other reason then TV producers prefer white people on screen because they perceive their audience to still be almost all white. I shit-canned the article because of crippling mental health issues but the arguments stayed with me.

When an adaptation diverts or completely diverges from its source material, it often creates a schism in the fan base. With the source material purists on one side decrying the changes as they wrest their shirts and beat their manboobs and the new/adaptation fans being blessed in their supposed ignorance of what they are missing out whilst being deprived of the original greatness (from the view of the members of 1st camp).

Yet there are many reasons for altering material within an adaptation that go beyond mere culturally ingrained racism. These have to go with keeping costs down, having to fit things within time/broadcast restraints as well as basic ignorance of the people doing the adapting. These harsh practicalities often mean that sections of the audience are left lamenting what they may never see or what never was yet they are crucial to how an adaptation is both produced and viewed by a wider audience. Obviously there are issues with not including important material from the source but if the adaptation is handled well, all that is cut or changed is not truly missed.

This brings us onto AMC’s last comicbook adaptation (the other being the widely popular The Walking Dead), Preacher.

Preacher was a seminal work from writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillion as part of DC’s “mature” publication line, Vertigo, made (in)famous by how far Ennis was willing to push the idea of the grotesque, violence and the absurd (three trademarks of Ennis’ work). There had been previous adaptations in the works over the years, some even making into pre-production phases, but it wasn’t until 2013 when Hollywood uber nerd (and stoner) Seth Rogen had teamed up with AMC to produce a pilot of a series. Cut to 3 years later & the results are finally on our screen.

The short of it is, that the story surrounding Preacher is about titular preacher, Jesse Custer, being possessed by an entity called Genesis, the infantile product of breeding between a devil and an angel, that has escaped from a furious God, granting Jesse the ability to verbally command almost anyone around him to do, literally, what he says. This power bring him into conflict with forces divine and mundane who either want it for themselves or wish to see it destroyed. So he travels the US with his arsekicking ex-girlfriend, Tulip, & charming rogue-cum-scumbag Irish vampire, Cassidy.

Rogen & his writing/producing partners Even Goldberg and Sam Catlin obviously have a lot of love for the original comic but does not mean that they are not willing to make changes where they feel they are necessary or interesting.

The greatest toxic stain on any adaptation or franchise are those directors & writers who both adhere vehemently to the source material yet make drastic changes which make no thematic or narrative sense for the sake of a shiny visual or action scene. Zach Snyder is fundamentally the king for doing such things, so it is refreshing to see how Preacher’s creative team have handled their changes to the source.

One thing that riled a lot fans up was the casting of Ruth Negga (known mainly for being Raina in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD), born of Ethiopian and Irish parents, as Tulip in a case of what some net-dwellers called “reverse whitewashing”. Some people genuinely can’t handle a known character being turned from white into another race yet have no qualms about it going the other way (this is why I term to be examples of Cultural Paradigm & Cutural Privilege). Yet in complaining they fail to see how well Negga captures the essence of Tulip, in her brutal creativity, capacity for violence yet her utterly caring nature. The scene in which we are introduced to her is kept lighthearted in how she teaches two small children how to make a bazooka out of household items, metal toy soldiers & cornshine but never denies that she’s a force to be reckoned with. Negga’s ownership of the character is impressive, even down to how she gets her Texan regional drawl, but never once does she feel like she has been changed for a misguided sense of tokenism.

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Original vs. TV version: let the race debate begin!

In fact, it is how much the actors who play the central characters inhabit their roles which makes Preacher such an impressive adaptation.

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Dominic Cooper (who is known for playing Howard Stark in Marvel films & TV series) plays Jesse Custer & you would swear that he was a native Texan with how well he performs the accent. There is no trace of English civility within him, replaced with a broken scene of Americanism that’s a fettered mix of faith & violence. Within the first scenes you know that Jesse is a man who is running away from something, whilst trying to do his best but not his hardest for the small & exceedingly backwards/redneck community to which he has returned after a long, unexplained absence. Cooper plays Jesse as a man seething with an underlying sense of helpless & rage, trying not to fall back into old habits but struggling with keeping the moral high ground against people without any sense of shame or even human decency to their fellow man.
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He’s joined by Joe Gilgun as the Irish vampire Cassidy, portraying him, ironically enough, as full of life. Cassidy is the embodiment of hedonism & self destructive behaviour all cloaked within the guise of roguish charm, to which Gilgun plays up with utter aplomb. His accent is flawless, especially reflecting the speed in which Irish people can talk when they’re spinning up a tale. Gilgun plays Cassidy as a man without a plan but confident that he can get out of any situation he finds himself stuck in through a combination of disarming charm, ingenuity & extreme violence -as depicted in his fight scene on a private jet. His involvement with and meeting of Jesse is a little tenuous but plays off well as Cassidy sees Jesse as both a kindred spirit & a source of entertainment who can provide him with shelter from the sun & whomever he’s happened to have pissed off.

The strong trinity of Negga, Cooper and Gilgun pushes the pilot episode through despite how it changes so much from the original comics, such as introducing the character of Eugene Root way earlier than he should’ve been but the young actor Ian Colletti portrays what would otherwise be a pathetic character as one nuanced with hope, shame & fragility at how he is perceived by those around him.

This is a series that I have good hopes for, especially by the impact made by the first episode.

The episode itself exists to set up basic context with the three lead characters without flooding the viewer with an over abundance of background information, played out against an invisible force from deep space (as seen in an incredible retro sci-fi B film opening) that is possessing & destroying high ranking members of the global religious community (including a Russian high priest of the Church of Satan & Tom Cruise delivering a Scientology sermon). The focus is primarily on Jesse as he struggles & fails to be the moral centre for a highly immoral community, constantly beset by members of his congregation, like mother issue swamped Ted, & their personal issues. This is reflected in how a young boy asks Jesse is hurt his dad because he beats up his mum, with Jesse laying out how things escalated when resorting to violence but fully knowing that the other authorities in town will do nothing to prevent the abuse & that often violence is the only answer to a bad situation. This is constantly brought up in how other characters, such as the sheriff & Tulip, bring up his past & bad reputation within the town -mainly by referring to how he is no longer acting like he used to. It’s all brought to a head by Tulip’s return to recruit Jesse into what one would assume to be a major crime & Cassidy crashing out of the sky only to stumble into a bar where Jesse drinks away his emotional pain.

The episode as a whole does not take itself too seriously but does not disrespect the audience or actors by playing up serious scenes or ideas by being silly, self conscious or giving any knowing winks of fan service. It plays with comicbook convention & loose scene/time transitions as well the hyper-realised violence &  yet does not over play the jokes. This is seen from the opening scene of an African minister exploding over his congregation you are well aware that this will be a show that indulges, like the original comic, in the grotesquity & absurd idea of violence without flashing up nudity ever 20 minutes (which is Game of Thrones greatest failing, replacing drama with tits & now cock). There is even a lack of foul language, despite the gory violence, which is a little surprising but well done in its own way.

This is so refreshing when we are caught in such a glut of cross-media adaptations, where things are being turned into movies or TV shows before their even published or dragged out or transformed beyond recognition of the original. Preacher touches the high watermarks of other series like Game of Thrones or Marvel’s work with Netflix where it keeps largely faithful to the source but isn’t afraid to venture out when new ideas are needed.

Time will basically tell if a wider audience will be willing to adopt another comicbook adaptation for the small screen -especially one from the 90’s before a large section of the audience weren’t alt-pop culture consumers. If the actors & production team keep up with what they provided in the pilot & stick to the spirit of the comics then it will be easily adored by others. Yet if they decide to swerve away from the cores of the characters & narrative, especially what sets both apart from other series out there, then it will more than likely be dropped quicker than a sci-fi series on Fox.

& We Shall Praise Eternal His Glorious Return! – Miyazaki comes out of retirement (kinda)

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After having pulled the trick before, Miyazaki announces that he is coming out of retirement to make more animation!

Kinda.

Sorta.

Not really. . .

Miyazaki, known for his dislike for computer generated images in his works, has announced that he is working on a 10 minute 3D animation to be screen at the Studio Ghibli Museum with a possible public release after that.

The production, despite only lasting 10 minutes, is expected to take 3 years to make.

In the mean time, Studio Ghibli has had the director of the criminally underrated When Marnie Was Here Hiromasa Yonebayashi has returned to the company to make his next feature film. They are also co-producing a new featured called The Red Turtle with a European animation company.

Studio Ghibli has also teamed up once against with Japanese game company Level-5 to produce a sequel to the fantastic but flawed J-RPG Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch from 2011, simply called Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom due out this year on the PS4.

Check out the trailer here:

 

In the meantime, we hope that Miyazaki will grace us with another full length feature, even though The Wind Rises was a great film to finish on.

‘No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away.’ R.I.P Sir Terry Pratchett.

I had only met Sir Terry Pratchett once.

It was 2003 & the release of his 31st Discworld novel –The Monstrous Regiment. A friend & I had gone to a book signing in Canberra -each of us with a few more books than we should’ve brought. As the queue wound its way around the store, I said to my friend it was a shame that the cover artist for the Discworld novels had died just after the release of his art book -without realising that I was now standing in front of Sir Terry. He said “He’s not dead but if he’s late with the next cover he will be”. I was so dreadfully embarrassed at such a mistake but Sir Terry just smiled, took my books from me & asked my name (I also said that the other book was for my mother). With a flourish, he signed my books and said “thank you” to me. Naturally, I could say little being so in awe of the man but I thanked him & told him how much I loved his books.

That embarrassment still haunts me to this day but it is overruled by the kindness & humanity that Sir Terry showed to this awkward & noisy fan.

So I was genuinely heart broken to hear -1st thing upon awakening- that he had died from complications related to his Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease -which he had been dealing with since 2007.

Even as I write this I find it hard to hold back my tears -a rarity for a creature such as I.

The reason for this because Sir Terry & his book -especially the Discworld series- has been part of my life since 1993.

Like all 13 year olds, I had been trying to construct my own social identity & everything within the mainstream (being white homeboy  or whitetrash) I found abhorrent. It was then that my highschool friends recommended to me the Discworld novels. I had seen them in bookstores with their fantastical & enticing covers by Josh Kirby (the one whom I had confused with Paul Kidby in the above anecdote) but never had cause to read. Since there were more than a few to choose from (13 at the time), I started with Small Gods & from that point I was hooked.

It was the simple yet incredibly clever writing that got me hooked, as well as the deep, multilayered sense of humour embedded within the text. It was also that without over describing them, Sir Terry really made the characters stand out. They had a life of their own, you knew their personalities, likes/dislikes & their background as well as you knew any of those of your own friends. Through the simpliest phrases he could conjure entire cities, countries & worlds but the works were never simple. Woven with perfect satire on contemporary issues, pop culture, history & classic literature.

The Discworld series -plus Good Omens which he wrote with Neil Gaiman (with whom he shared a deep friendship until his final days)- are the only books that I will constantly re-read for the sheer joy of doing so.

In fact, I am in the middle of re-reading them all again on my e-reader (since my physical copies are over 2,000 kilometres away from me) & am in the middle of The Amazing Maurice & His Educated Rodents as I write this. They will be the books that I read until my own dying days because they -& their creator Sir Terry Pratchett- have been such a part of my life for the past 22 years.

I never shaped my identity around him & his works, I was never the super-fan who dressed as their favourite character or learnt all the (fan-invented) words to Nanny Ogg‘s favourite song but his works helped to shape how I look at the world. In my youth I tried & failed to copy his near-perfect prose & humour for my own teenage writing but when I realised that I never could, I realised that I didn’t need to. It was pointless trying to be someone else if I couldn’t even be myself & that was a lesson that Sir Terry often wrote into his works.

As a fan I am disappointed that I won’t be able to pick up a new book when it arrives on the shelves & I am also disappointed that he didn’t end with a book about Rincewind -so things would have a lovely symmetry to them (even I did adore his last published Discworld novel, as seen here). Yet I am still happy with all the books & wisdom & general civility that Sir Terry Pratchett has left us. & even though we all knew that this day was coming, I still can’t help but have a lump within my chest as I write all this -for he was such a part of so many lives yet he was also respectful to & adoring of his vast fandom.

Even though I say words cannot express what I feel right now, I hope I’ve been able to sum it up well enough with these garbled, grieving sentences.

Which leaves me just to say: Thank you.

Thank you, Sir Terry Pratchett, for your kindness & patience with your fans. Thank you for all of your wonderful words, worlds & characters. & thank you for being such a huge part of my life.

Thank you & all the best as you cross through that black sand desert under the endless night with your oldest friend & companion.

"I NEVER REMEMBER HOW THE HORSEY MOVES"
“I NEVER REMEMBER HOW THE HORSEY MOVES”

Article: My Glorious Return to the World of TCGs

mtglogo    It was 1994, when I was 14, that I first heard about a new game called Magic: the Gathering. It was like an old Pen & Paper RPG but without the characters or involved game play; it was also like a video game but expansive multiplayer (these were the days before good networking or many PVP games & only consoles had dedicated multiplayer). So I went to my local gaming store -The Games Cupboard in Woden Plaza- & brought a starter pack so I could play with people I knew at school (wouldn’t call them friends because I was basically the social outcast amongst the social outcasts). I enjoyed playing, got more boosters & other singles & played for a while but then I just got bored with the whole TCG thing. Too many competition players with their Uber Decks killing all the fun, less casual players in my social circles & I was doing other things with my time that I found more rewarding. Not to mention the sudden glut of other TCG games appearing on the market that vied for attention & money. After holding onto it for years, I ended up selling my collection to a friend for a decent price (even though I had some very rare cards) & didn’t really think about TCGs for a long while.

So, apropos of nothing, 20 years -December 2014- after I buying my 1st starter deck I decide to get back into not only Magic: the Gathering but also try my hand at a few other TCGs -including Yu-Gi-Oh! & Weiβ (Weiss) Schwarz.

Was lucky that I have a store that deals with all sorts of TCGs there & it was one of their staff members who told me about Weiβ Schwarz as a relatively new game. Unluckily, when I went back to purchase my decks I was served by the grumpy, unhelpful staff member who refused to explain what all the new Magic card packs were.
You see, when I brought my 1st starter deck, that’s all you had. A random deck plus whatever booster packs you wanted to grab. Since then, Wizards of the Coast have released about 137 different flavours of decks -many of them just reusing the same cards with new art &/or flavour text. So you can understand my confusion when I walk into the store & ask for a “starter deck” & the clerk gets uppity about my request. I ended up going for a 2015 edition Core Deck, which would cover everything I needed. The Core Decks also come with 2 booster packs, which gives you random drops & the chance to get some good rares -which I managed to nab in the form of some legendaries & a Planeswalker http://mtgsalvation.gamepedia.com/Planeswalkers in the form of Chandra, the Pyromaster.
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I also got a Yu-Gi-Oh! Space-Time Showdown ‘super starter’ pack, being the most current starter pack available that had the most diverse range of cards within it. Now, I haven’t played Yu-Gi-Oh! In a long, long time & that was using someone else’s deck. Yu-Gi-Oh! has the distinction of being a very easy yet amazingly complex game that has thousands of cards to collect & use. They all fall into Decks and Types that each work to different themes & Styles of Play. This means it has a myriad of combos & constructions & can be daunting to get your head around. It’s something that I had entirely forgotten about until I picked it up again but also means I haven’t been able to get a game in since am still trying to build my perfect decks -which means a lot of side collecting of individual (& rare) cards.
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The 3rd game that I got that day was Weiβ Schwarz (more commonly spelt Weiss Schwarz, which is German for White & Black), which is a fairly unique Japanese TCG that, instead of originating in or having an anime to sell it (like WIXOSS), it uses different anime series or movies (with the exception of the Project Diva deck & the Hatsune Miku Vocaloid characters) as theme for the various decks. Since they didn’t have a great deal of decks to choose from (limited releases in English so far), I went with a Persona 4 themed deck -since my enjoyment of that franchise has been long established on this blog. The game also has an exceptionally complex style of play, so it was hard to get my head around -more so since I came to it solely on recommendation without explanation. I basically had to turn to an online video tutorial to learn how to play but that proved incredibly helpful -so instead of explaining the game, I’ll just post said video instead:

So, I was decked up but didn’t really have anyone to play with, so it was several weeks before I could get a game in.

A friend took me to another Tabletop Games store that had recently opened up for a game of Magic. I just had my starter deck, which didn’t really stack up well against someone’s refined specialist deck but it allowed me to go over the basics again as well as learn all the new stuff that had been placed in the game since I stopped playing (so many new things, so confusing).

That then got me looking into other styles of playing Magic -such as EDH/Commander, Modern & other special Deck Types. The other customers at the store were really helpful, offering advise & explaining new rules & cards to me.

&, although it took me a while, I started playing Weiβ Schwarz with a good group of people at another local store (the one I first got the deck from in December). They taught me all the basics for proper play & were very patient with me learning the ropes. Am lucky that I’m a quick study & had watched the video linked above a couple of times to get my head around things. Once I had a few games under my belt, I found it a very fun experience. There’s a lot to remember & pay attention to but there’s a lot of logic to how the game flows & what you can play at any given time as well as how you play. You really have to know your cards though, what their special functions are as well as the conditions that they can do certain special abilities under. So the more you play, the smoother your deck usage becomes. At the moment, everyone in store seems to be playing either Fairy TailSword Art Online or Nisekoi decks but that’s fine because each series has their own strengths & weaknesses. Some people there are more focussed on tournament play, because every two weeks there is one, but if I can get a cause game in with my non-specialised Persona 4 deck, I’m fine with that.
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So, that pretty much kicked off a new, nerdish addiction.

In order to play the Style that you want or have different Decks for different game types, you need to collect. This either means swapping with other players, buying them individually in store or online (eBay is both a friend & a curse with this) or hoping for random drops from booster packs. Buying or swapping online but with Magic & Yu-Gi-Oh! you literally have tens of thousands of cards to go through, so it can be hard to find the right combos or individual play makers to complete a set or a theme.

I was lucky that I had a few friends donate to me their old cards (which you can do to if you want, send a Tumblr note or Twitter DM to arrange), which gave me a huge range to look through. Although it did make me wish that I kept my original cards, since some of them were pretty cool & others were worth a heap of money to sell or trade.
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So far I’m finding it the most frustrating trying to build up decks for Yu-Gi-Oh! because there are so many commons & it’s becoming harder & harder to find cheap or free cards from the series that I want (such as Ghostrick). No matter. Once I get the ones that I want, I can sell off the ones that I don’t for a decent price.

I’ll soon be expanding out my collections beyond those three games (as I mentioned in my previous blog post). I’ll be focussing on some of the common TCG, such as Pokèmon TCG but have the advantage of trying the free online version before I sink any money into it.

I also want to try Cardfight!! Vanguard and Future Card Buddyfight. Both of these series come from the same creator as Weiβ Schwarz: Bushiroad. This means that all 3 games share some similarities in play style. I’ll also be boosting my Weiβ Schwarz collection, both extending my Persona 4 collection & trying out some different trail decks (mainly waiting for KanColle in May) but might grab some Japan only decks because they just look cool.

Also, despite not yet (& maybe never) being in English, I’ve found places online where I can grab some WIXOSS starter decks as well as people who’ve translated them & the rules as well. I mainly want to play after seeing the anime (& knowing that my wish can’t be granted &/or twisted).

I’m also thinking of trying the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic TCG because, fuck it, why not. It’s a different sort of TCG that isn’t based upon conflict but rather solving problems & scoring up points. Resolution, not destruction, the the goal of the game & that isn’t a bad thing overall. Plus: PONIES MOTHERFUCKERS! PONIES!!!

There’s also Android: Netrunner, which I saw some people playing the other week. It reminds me a lot of the old D20 Cyberpunk RPGs that I used to play way back in the day. Think it’s actually based a bit on those games & systems but modified to suit cards. Will be interesting to play since the role you take on has different functions & play styles.

Next month, Wizards of the Coast will be releasing the final Block for the Khans of Tarkir set –Dragons of Tarkir– next month, so am hoping to go to one of the pre-release play sessions. Where you pay the money, get a special box with a couple of boosters, some pre-sorted cards, a D20 life counter & a bunch of Basic Land cards. You then do a tournament play & if you win two of three matches against an opponent, you get two free booster packs. You also add to your official tournament ranking (of which mine ranks a single win & many loses), which is transferable to any official Magic tournament across the world. If I do attend, I’ll make sure to write a review up of it & such.

Eventually, I’ll like to get a decent camera to record matches & talk about different Decks & Styles of Play but that is only once I have the money (please remember to donate via the PayPal buttons on the widget menu).

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be adding more articles on TCG related stuff, including talking about matches, Decks, individual cards & so on.

Now, I have to get back to sorting my vast collection.

BY YOUR POWERS COMBINED!!!
BY YOUR POWERS COMBINED!!!

Tweaks, Changes & Updates (plus possible begging for donation)

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Since am reaching the end of my Masters work & our other contributors are busy, I thought it was time to add a few tweaks to the blog as well as add a new category for reviews & articles.

The latest section is on Trading Card Games (TCG) -which are also referred to as Collectable Card Games.

I’m doing this because I recently got back into playing Magic: The Gathering & Yu-Gi-Oh as well as starting slightly more obscure games like Weiβ Schwarz (Weiss Schwarz -German for White & Black). Soon I’ll be moving into Pokemon TCG & other series like Cardfight!! Vanguard & Future Card BuddyFight because there are enough people were I live who play it regularly. Also want to get WIXOSS cards but they’re still only available in Japanese (but seem to be popular over there).

This will move into reviews of the various TGC, their various flavours/decks/series as well as talking about the different decks & play styles out there. This will lead into recording How To Play guides with other players as well as filming the different types of matches.

For that I was considering setting up either a Patron or other similar donation system so I can afford to buy new cards/decks/booster packs as well as improve software & equipment to record things. I set up a PayPal donation button on the side widget if you care to donate either $1 of $5 USD to me. Every little helps really (since am living hand-to-mouth being a post-grad student & all).

I was also thinking of using this donation system to shift the blog from the free version to the full paid subscription model so can host videos & other things as well as have a customised domain name.

Also: if you have any old TCG stuff lying around that you’re happy to get rid of, please let us know & we’ll arrange compensation & postage stuff.

If any of my readers are interested in helping with this, please leave a comment below.

I’ll also be posting more retro reviews & hopefully finishing up my various manga/comic reviews as well. This is mainly so I can publish the half finish stuff that I have sitting around but also to flesh out the blogs content more.

As always, thanks for reading this tiny corner of the Net’s Geekdom & for your current & future support. Will try to get more regular updates from now on.

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Article: Why I stopped watching Cross Ange

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo is probably one of the most controversial anime series of recent seasons & one that more than a few readers have called on me to comment upon (mainly asking why I haven’t condemned it like I did Kenzen Robo Daimidaler).

The 1st few episodes of the series is all about extreme dehumanisation through violence, degradation, sexual assault & humiliation & turning a joy-filled girl into a terrified non-entity & eventually an effective killing machine.

This is all done through the worst forms of visual denigration seen outside of BDSM hentai media. In that basically the titular heroine, Ange, is beaten, stripped, abused, molested, pseudo-raped, near (lesbian raped), degraded, deprived & humiliated until all that remains of the once happy is mistrustful sociopath who is only looking to survive & get revenge on all those who destroyed who she once was.

The reason that I didn’t condemn this series like I previously (& briefly) did with the aforementioned Kenzen Robo Daimidaler) is that all the degradation has a narrative context. It exists for a purpose outside of the titillation of the (majority male) audience. That does not mean that I liked or approved of it but I understood why such acts were within the story. I did not forgive or tolerate Cross Ange for that, more like I endured it. I put up with all the nasty Fan Service & brutality because it seemed to be leading to a point of character & narrative development & had shown that dehumanisation within context shows how terribly people can be transformed &/or destroyed.

And then the series committed the Cardinal Sin of entertainment: it bored me.

At some point, all the development suddenly stopped & Ange was stuck as this angry, untrustful, violent creature who constantly had Tusk (the male love interest) constantly falling into her crotch for comic effect or otherwise getting sexually entangled with her. The Fan Service (in the form of revealing clothes, hinted nudity & lesbianism) dragged on & got worse & the plot just got itself tangled up after they began to (finally) reveal what’s going on within the narrative universe.

This is actually the least extreme example of Fan Service that I could find
This is actually the least extreme example of Fan Service that I could find

The basic conceit of the series is that humans live in a Utopia where “The Light of Mana” fuels everything & grants people magical abilities. There is no war or poverty but it all comes at a price. For within society there are women who can’t use The Light of Mana, called Norma (taken from the word ‘normal’) & there very touch actively destroys any magical field. They are scapegoated by the rest of society, degraded & hated as being violent creatures who wish to destroy the world. So as soon as they are found, they are taken from their families & removed from the world. Naturally, Ange (formerly Angelise), being the ruling princess hates them, so is in denial when it’s revealed that she’s secretly a Norma & her parents have been keeping that fact a secret from not only the kingdom but from Ange herself.

After her father is deposed for hiding the secret & her mother is killed trying to protect her, Ange is taken to the Norma prison, where she is molested, sexually assaulted & humiliated by the commanding officer of the Normas & told that she must fight the DRAGONS or die.

All the Normas are put into transforming mecha units to fight dragon-like creatures, for which they get a bounty for each confirmed killed to use on whatever they want to buy within the prison. Having never committed an act of violence before, Ange is terrified of being thrown into such a situation & her cowardice costs her team several lives. Being humiliated & isolated by the other Norma girls, Ange rebuilds herself as a vicious killer in order to humiliate those who humiliated her & eventually gain her revenge.

This character arc changes after a few episodes, when Ange begins to accept that she’s a Norma & that Normas aren’t as she was taught growing up. Being a Norma is a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that they can only become violent & anti-social because that’s what society turns them into. They are the weapons in a war that the rest of humanity is completely unaware of & one that means they can keep using their precious Mana-imbued powers.

Once they start revealing the nature of the Norma, the history of the world & the truth behind the DRAGON attacks, things start to get muddled & vexing in a form.

You’re presented with all this info as to why you’re meant to see how the dehumanisation of the Norma occurred but Ange remains a basically unlikeable & selfish character that you find it hard to support her when all of her actions are contradicting others & she keeps denying information presented to her even when the facts are to her benefit.

That becomes the problem when dealing with a narrative around dehumanisation.

It’s exceptionally easy to break a person down but it’s next to impossible to rebuild them again from that point.

I feel that’s the major problem with Ange as a character and with the series as a whole.

After spending the 1st half dozen episodes ripping Ange apart -mentally & physically- they don’t really try to rebuild her as anything other than angry & mistrustful.

I didn’t want her to return to normal, not being any mental, emotional or physical scars -because trauma is inescapable- but I did want to see her develop into someone who takes their pain, their scars & their hatred & channels into into a positive force for others.

Maybe it does go that way, I won’t know because I lost any & all engagement with it around episode 16, when they crossed over into the ‘real’ world & the truth of the DRAGONS was revealed.

From this point on, I could bang on & on about the extremeness of the hypersexualisation within the series or how the Fan Service was so blatant that it became numbing but that would be pointless. That dead horse has been flogged so long it’s not a bloody pulp beneath my mighty boots (guessing no one will get those references).

I might come back to this when they release the blu-ray version but unlike considering the back catalogue I still have to watch (over 2 terabytes on computer & dozens of DVDs/BDs).

So, lessons to take from this: dehumanisation is OK if it has narrative context & purpose & isn’t glorified in any way, shape or form; don’t bore the audience or they won’t go with you to the conclusion.

Oh, & don’t bother messaging me with your butthurt over how I didn’t like this series when I did or how you feel that it’s nothing like I depicted with the dehumanisation & so forth because I will ignore you. If you try to defend your masturbation material in the series like others have with other series I dislike, I will insult you until I get bored.

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