We Are the Knights Who Say aNIme

Alex watches too much TV and then thinks about it for longer than is healthy.

For some time now I have been thinking about delving into the world of anime and manga, so many people seem to love it and I thought it was high time to see what all the fuss is about. But even with this sense of determination, an ever-lengthening list of TV shows to watch and a fear of accidentally watching some weird tentacle based hentai has up until now kept me away from the genre. Recently however, a combination of Netflix and insomnia led me to bite the bullet, hoping curiosity would not kill the cat with an invasive tentacle, and watch “Knights of Sidonia” an anime show localised by almighty Netflix and based on a popular manga series of the same name.

The series revolves around the life of Nagate Tanikaze, a young man brought up in secret by his grandfather in the bowels of a giant space ship who, following his grandfather’s death, emerges into the society on the levels above. The ship “Sidonia” is gigantic and fashioned from the remnants of planet Earth, which was destroyed long before by mysterious and creepy space creatures called “Gauna” (who coincidentally feature a lot of tentacles). These Gauna still pursue the remnants of humanity across the universe and it is unknown whether any other ships aside from this one have survived. The ship is protected by the pilots of a fleet of transformer-like fighter jets armed with the only weapons capable of piercing these betentacled weirdos and reducing them to what looks suspiciously like Aero chocolate bubbles. Our hero has mysteriously somehow been trained by his grandfather to be an excellent pilot of one of these fighters and the story follows his journey to becoming a heroic defender of the ship and its inhabitants. There is also a talking bear with a robotic claw who is a chef, and it’s just NEVER mentioned that she’s a bear and there are no other animal people at all. If that fact alone doesn’t sell the series to you I don’t know what will.

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I have to admit I found some of the early episodes quite slow and was on the verge of abandoning ship, but it is at this point a few episodes in that things really start to get going as some genuinely unsettling aspects of the Gauna are revealed and the first hints of a deeper mythology to the show are introduced. I was also really impressed by the world that has been created aboard Sidonia as more of it was unveiled as the series went along. There are some really cool sci-fi ideas, like humans having genetically engineered the ability to photosynthesise to reduce food consumption, as well as some interesting and surprisingly dark exploration of the dangers of day to day living on a spacecraft, like gravity malfunctions or evasive manoeuvres killing thousands of residents in graphic splattery detail completely out of the blue. The universe of this show is futuristic and high-tech, but with a very utilitarian and grubby feel to it that is reminiscent of the workmanlike future in Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” or the noir tower blocks of “Blade Runner”, which is an excellent thing in my opinion.

I was also struck by the similarity between this show and the more recent version of Battlestar Galactica; the remnants of humanity flee through space from a mysterious enemy bent on their destruction, protected only by brave fighter pilots as they search for a new home. The flight suits of the Sidonia pilots also bear quite a resemblance to the Viper pilots of Galactica, I’m not sure if this is intentional as I suppose there are limited options when designing a flight suit but I would like to think it is a little nod to Starbuck and her cohorts. I don’t think this similarity to a blockbuster American show is a bad thing, and it is in no way a rip off there are just similar themes. It puts the tropes and traditions of anime into a recognisable story format for those like me who have no previous experience with the genre. This blend of American style adventure story telling and Japanese sensibilities really does create something new, interesting and accessible; for newbs like me the story is engaging and you pick up the anime bits and bobs along the way and for seasoned fans it has all the style elements you enjoy in a great sci-fi setting. Also story-wise answers are given quickly to thematic and background related questions, which is a refreshing approach considering the infuriating lack of answers at the very end of shows like BSG or Lost in recent years.

The arc of the series comes to a satisfying end that certainly leaves scope for more, and I do hope it gets a second season as it’s only in the last couple of episodes that a great deal of things come to light that suggest the history of Sidonia is not as simple as this cat and mouse game with the Gauna would indicate and it would be great to see these avenues explored fully.  So overall this is a cracking bit of sci-fi with a great theme tune and a good genre jumping on point for the anime-curious like myself.

7 Heigus Particles out of 10.

Alex

 

 

 

Adam’s Ever-Changing Top Five Anime Series Of All Time

Adam attempts to list his favourite anime series. It probably won’t go well.

I said in a previous article that I am terrible at top-fives. That remains true (I started this article in MAY!). I say I’m doing a top-five here, but it is in no particular order, and I’m going to tack on a ‘honourable mention’ list of other series at the end because I struggled so much with the 5th choice so decided to effectively cop out.

I have watched anime for several years now, eleven-ish years to be vaguely accurate from when I properly started getting into it, more years than I care to acknowledge (sixteen years?) if we count watching Dragonball Z repeats on Toonami and the Pokémon series (and for some reason Sailor Moon on Fox Kids. I don’t really remember why I watched it, I do remember learning the lesson that girls often store important things like keys and gems in their bras). At university I joined the Anime Society, went to a few conventions and eventually ended up the Treasurer in my third year, along with our lead games contributor as the President and my whisky drinking partner as the Secretary. I made a good number of excellent friends there (unless any of them are reading this right now in which case fuck all of you especially you Ian), and watched a wide variety of classic and bat-shit crazy Japanese animation. I typically don’t find time to watch as many as I would like anymore, although I do binge occasionally. However, there are a few that have always stuck with me and I always revisit.

 

Cowboy Bebop

Bebop

I wrote a really fawning article about Cowboy Bebop a few months back when we first started this site up. Bebop really is my favourite anime series of all time. It was first broadcast in 1998 by Sunrise and directed by Shinchirō Watanabe. It follows a crew of bounty hunters Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, Faye Valentine, Radical Edward and Ein, aboard the spaceship Bebop as they take jobs around the solar system. Each character has their own unique mysterious background that gets fleshed out eventually, but not to an overly expositional level. Just right. The tone shifts from quirky to more serious noir-esque episodes, and it is very slick and stylish. Themes range from life and death, drugs, tech cults, terrorism, people being kicked in the face, existentialism, a scene where a man uses a lift while on horseback, chess and bloody crime syndicates. All of which is brilliantly underlined by the stellar music, which is a excellent mix of jazz and blues that always suits the tone right up to the final confrontation, all arranged by Yoko Kanno.

 

Neon Genesis Evangelion

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Evangelion is a high concept Japanese mecha series that took the standard giant-robots-fighting-monsters theme and dumped in a whole load of psychoanalysis, existentialism and religious symbolism. The NGE series and concluding films came from Studio Gainax, written and directed by Hideaki Anno in 1995, and still prove controversial today. It is in fact being continued (yes, continued) in the beautifully animated ‘Rebuild of Evangelion’ tetralogy of films from the same people. The story follows Shinji Ikari, a 14-year-old unassuming kid, called upon by his absent father’s shadowy organisation NERV to pilot the monstrous Evangelion against attacking ‘angels’ in an attempt prevent a repeat of ‘Second Impact’, a devastating cataclysmic event that nearly wiped out all of humanity.

The plot becomes as wrapped up with Shinji’s relationships with his fellow pilots and the adults around him as it does the relentless angel attacks, culminating in one of the oddest choices for an ending I have ever seen for a series – a thematic ending that essentially plays out in the lead character’s psyche. The film that followed, ‘The End of Evangelion’, then provided the meat to this inner turmoil, although is almost just as odd in its own way. This was surprisingly my gateway into wider anime at around age 15. Surprising because it is ridiculously high concept, complex and twisted. A few friends introduced me to the NGE series, and every now and then we still binge-watch it for fun and get together to watch each ‘Rebuild’ film as it comes out (although I wasn’t particularly impressed by the mess of the third instalment ‘You Can (Not) Redo. I’m hoping they stick the landing with the final part).

 

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

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Stand Alone Complex is a cyberpunk series based on Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell series, directed by Kenji Kamiyama and set apart from the original 1995 film of the same name. As in the Ghost in the Shell film, Stand Alone Complex follows Japanese Public Security Section 9, a special ops team led by Major Motoko Kusanagi, as they investigate various hackers and cyber criminals, and prevent terrorist attacks in the city of Nihama. Set in 2030, everyone is heavily cyberised to the extent where most have cyberbrains, allowing them to seamlessly communicate and access the internet without any external devices, can upgrade their processing power and store their memories externally. High-end prosthetics can make people incredibly powerful, and some (including the Major) have entirely prosthetic bodies effectively owned by the government. ‘Stand-Alone’ episodes are single stories, seemingly unconnected, while ‘Complex’ episodes tie into the main plot in some way. The first series deals with a cyber criminal known as ‘The Laughing Man’, the so-called Stand Alone Complex and a fan of Catcher in the Rye. The second deals with a terrorist cell known as the Individual Eleven and vanishing mediators. Trust me, it all makes sense when you watch it. Kind of.

What I enjoy most about this series, besides the kick-ass female lead (hence my disquiet when the constantly in-development western live-action adaptation announced that the studio were allowing them to have a female main character, like it was an achievement rather than something that should have been taken for granted that it was happening), is the believable level of future technology (though admittedly probably a couple of decades premature). Following two more world wars, technology has again leapt forward due to a need for radiation scrubbers and replacing the lost-limbs of those injured in the combat. Given where we are today, I found a lot of the cyberisation to seem very achievable. Music was once again arranged by Yoko Kanno, and while very different from the score in Cowboy Bebop it is brilliant in its own right.

 

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

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Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is the second series based on Hiromu Arakawa’s manga, produced by Bones studios, but unlike the first (which was also pretty good, but had to improvise more than half of it’s storyline) this one started in 2009 when Arakawa was within sight of the end of her story, with the final issue coming out just a month before the final episode of Brotherhood aired. Fullmetal Alchemist centres around two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, following their mother’s death. They perform the forbidden human transmutation, a form of alchemy that theoretically could create a human being,  in an attempt to revive her. It turns out it is forbidden for a reason – alchemy requires ‘equivalent exchange’, so you can’t make something from nothing and the chemical components they have arranged are inadequate. In the attempt Edward loses his leg, while Alphonse loses his entire body. To then successfully bind his younger brother’s soul to a nearby suit of armour, Edward also has one of his arms ripped from him. Now older, Ed (now with prosthetics) and Al travel the country of Amestris to find the secret of the Philosopher’s stone, a substance that is said to boost alchemy and therefore hopefully allow them to restore what they have lost. Ed becomes a State Alchemist, or ‘dog of the military’, and the brothers befriend many other alchemists and members of the military in their quest, my favourite being Roy Mustang the Flame Alchemist. They soon encounter the Homunculi, a group with superhuman abilities named after the 7 deadly sins and working for a shadowy figure known as ‘Father’, with nefarious plans that threaten the lives of everyone in the country.

I think the only place the series slips is in the rushed way they cover the first few beats of the story. I can only assume they wanted to move through it quickly, as it all happens in the original series, to get to the parts of the story published since that series diverted from Arakawa’s plot. However, I think this does the story somewhat of a disservice, especially as there are a couple of really integral parts that aren’t given the time they deserve, as they carry a huge amount of emotional heft and inform the actions of a few major characters down the line. It’s a small complaint though, as the episodes are still there and the rest of the show is just superb. The animation is great, and the plot is really strong. I actually own both the manga and the whole series on blu-ray, and it is stunning.

 

One Piece

One Piece

Eiichiro Oda started his One Piece manga back in 1997, and it is still going. I think I remember reading a quote from him a few years ago indicating that he was only halfway through his intended series, and while it’s length had gotten away from him he still intended it to end as he had always planned. There is currently over 750 chapters published in Weekly Shonen Jump, and the anime adaptation has had over 650 episodes with surprisingly few filler episodes considering how long it has gone on for. Despite all this, it is largely quality AND quantity. I think I watched a huge number of these episodes when I first got into the series back when I was supposed to be revising for my final year exams for my degree, shockingly not affecting how well I did considering how I would often binge 10+ episodes in a row.

One Piece centres around Monkey D. Luffy, a pirate whose  goal is to become the Pirate King and to find the elusive treasure One Piece, hidden at the end of the oceans by the the previous Pirate King, Gol D. Roger. Like many people in the world, Luffy has gained a special ability through consuming a ‘Devil’s Fruit’, one off substances that bestow one-of-a-kind powers but turn the individual into an anchor – the sea saps their strength and they sink immediately, difficult for a pirate. Luffy is a rubber man, and uses stretchy powers to deflect bullets and canon fire, and to create devastating attacks that basically involve flailing his limbs. Throughout the series, Luffy gathers various crew members with and without abilities, all of whom have some other similarly lofty goal like ‘map all the seas’ or ‘become the world’s greatest swordsman’,  while butting heads with other crews and the World Government and their Marines. Being a Shonen Jump series, pretty much everything is achieved and defeated using punching and friendship. However, One Piece is particularly strong and wildly inventive, with pretty much every new character and arc being different and interesting. It has to have been to have gone on so long!

 

And that’s that. A bit longer than I intended. Honourable mention goes to:

Trigun – Love it, but a similar situation to FMA Brotherhood. The anime series started and finished years before the manga was even half way. What I wouldn’t give for a full length ‘Trigun Maximum’ series, now that the manga is over.

FLCL – Wacky and excellent.

Black Lagoon – Hail of bullets, bounty hunters and Revy is just excellent.

Hellsing – Particularly the Hellsing Ultimate OVAs, again a more faithful adaptation of the manga. Nazi vampires.

Death Note – Really clever plotting, the first arc is fantastic. It lost me a bit in the middle, but still ended pretty strongly.

Outlaw Star – Paga Wa San Fa

Attack on Titan – Pretty grim stuff. Good grim stuff though.

Bleach – Yeah, yeah. I know it has it’s problems. A lot of people complain about this series and its storyline. The characters always resonated with me and I liked the core story, though I will admit it has become bogged down in constant fighting with limited plot. Also the anime series was awful for filler arcs. I wish it had stopped earlier, and then come back when more manga had been written. I know it isn’t as simple as that though.

Naruto – I used to really like Naruto, but at one point (actually for similar reasons to why people have gone off Bleach) I just stopped caring. Especially compared to One Piece, later on a slew of new characters were introduced that were just terribly fleshed out and I just didn’t care what happened to them. In the last couple of years almost every character has become totally superfluous, with the series being less about ninjas with a few super powers and more about a couple of gods throwing ridiculously powerful things at each other while everyone else tries to stay out of the way. Kakashi is a badass though.

Fate/Zero – A prequel to Fate Stay Night, but I found the story to be much more compelling.

And while this is a series ‘Top Five’, I would be remiss to not mention films like the original Ghost in the Shell, Akira and most of the Studio Ghibli films, in particular Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (but certainly not limited to those), as all being superb and worth checking out.

 

Adam

 

 

People Are Making Apocalypse Jokes Like There’s No Tomorrow

Alex watches too much TV and then thinks about it for longer than is healthy.

Picture the scene: A man kneels in the rubble of a broken future, surrounded by the shattered remains of once towering monuments to progress. Crumpled wrecks of hover-cars litter the streets of this sprawling metropolis. The guttural roar of hordes of re-animated, radioactive, cannibal corpses can be heard echoing in the distance. The man is dishevelled and wearing the tattered remnants of a futuristic jumpsuit, he clutches a bloodied child’s cap with an antenna on top to his chest and repeatedly whispers “His boy Elroy… His boy Elroy…” to himself whilst rocking back and forth.

This would be the opening scene of The Jetsons if it were rebooted today, as our thirst for all things post-apocalyptic is seemingly as unquenchable as a zombie’s hunger for delicious brains. This is by no means a complaint; I love a good post-apocalyptic setting in any entertainment format and this version of the Jetsons would be way better than the disturbingly pristine and non-multicultural future shown in the original. It is interesting though that the list of titles set in one wasteland/ post-apocalyptic world or other is an exceptionally long one at the moment, so the question is: Why are we so keen to see all that we know in ruins?

Visions of the future are a cornerstone of science fiction and have always been a reflection of how we see ourselves in the present, so with all this apocalypsing going on clearly we don’t think a whole lot of ourselves at the moment. Over the course of a century due to the effects of countless wars both hot and cold and an ever expanding and increasingly downbeat media culture our view of the future has changed radically; going from the outlandish and exotic visions of the Victorian age, through the utopian, swiftly into the dystopian and finally into our despondent apocalyptic certainty. Even a dystopian future dictatorship is too much to hope for today, as being constantly hammered by news coverage of the worst humanity has to offer and the burgeoning wealth of evidence that we have pretty much ruined the planet has drained us of what little hope we had.  Scary stories of the evil that men do sell papers and get precious mouse clicks but they leave us fairly certain that this whole sorry business will come crashing down within the hour leaving us scrabbling in the dirt wishing we’d paid more attention to Ray Mears. The future is no longer bright because we no longer feel we deserve it, perhaps we don’t and should hurry up and invent some sexy Cylons to destroy us.

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The second element to the popularity of the apocalypse is pure escapism. Our lives for the most part are mundane, easy and fairly rigidly structured; we work, we get drunk and moan about work, we wish we had done something more significant with our lives. Rinse and repeat. It is therefore unsurprising that a world without the structures that dominate our existence, in which there would be no need to read job adverts that dress mindless drone work up as something equating to Secretary-General of the U.N. or to reply with the soul destroyingly up-beat set of lies we call a CV ever again, is immensely attractive. A post-apocalyptic CV would be a good read though “I hunter-gather well as part of a group, I bring a can-do attitude to the murder and pillage of rival groups and I have a great deal of experience in the manufacture of homemade weaponry/ jewellery inc. ears on strings. Thank you for considering me for a role within your proto-society.”

A return to nature stripped of all our creature comforts and annoying bureaucracy has always been an appealing fantasy but fails to account for poor physical condition and complete lack of wilderness skills, let’s be honest a management consultant from Slough is not going to turn into some badass Chuck Norris-esque survivalist hero overnight. Suddenly becoming a brilliant woodsman is not the full extent of the fantasy though, both before and after an apocalyptic event humanity as a whole may act like a bunch of jerks but we still have some faith in the decency of the individual. The brilliant Walking Dead and astonishing The Last of Us are excellent examples of this key element of our apocalypse fetish, whilst the whole world might go to hell we are inherently good people and would manage to hold on to at least shreds of our humanity in the grey moral quagmire of a world without structure. The post-apocalyptic hero is the embodiment of our schizophrenic view of humanity, in broad terms humanity is a blight on the world and should probably be gotten rid of but on an individual level people are generally pretty decent and deserve to survive (except those who leave passive-aggressive notes). We hope that when faced with great adversity we would be brave and compassionate. However I doubt that we behave as paradigms of humanity in our daily lives, so it is perhaps depressing that it would take the end of the world to bring out the good person we hope resides in us somewhere.

Guilt perhaps also plays a part in our world ending desires. Our grandparents and great-grandparents faced war on a scale that is hard for us to imagine, our parents lived through the cold war and its constant nuclear paranoia, many people in the world at the moment face hardship we will never experience even a smidgeon of, the most devastating thing that will happen to most of us today is the internet not working briefly and we’ll still get irrationally angry about it. The wasteland would provide us not only with an escape from every day boredom and people who leave notes but also the chance to prove our worth as humans or at the very least to find out what we’re really made of.

We may continually envision the destruction of our future world in cathartic penance for the wrongs of our present one, or wish it would all end because life is monotonous, but our apocalyptic visions are not entirely without hope. In fact the very essence of every post-apocalyptic story is hope; after whatever monumentally stupid human action or act of nature destroys our world, where nothing should survive, there will somehow against all the odds still be humans left to continue being jerks to one-another. If that’s not hope for the future I don’t know what is. So get your pip-boys ready, keep your ears peeled for super mutants and pack your moral compass as it doesn’t look like we’re done working out our issues in the wasteland just yet.

 

Wasteland Essentials:

Film: A Boy and His Dog (1975)

Game: Fallout 3

Book: World War Z (Max Brooks)

TV: The Walking Dead (2010-)

 

Alex

Video Game Reviews – Game of Thrones Ascent (Free App)

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Nath sometimes reviews games. This is one of those reviews.

If you own a smartphone and you have regular access to the internet you may be very well aware of the free apps you can download that may be useful in every day life. However, if you’re like me you scour the app store for the best free games you can download. I decided to write up a review of some of the best free games I have managed to find and play for hours on end.

The first game I chose is called Game of Thrones: Ascent (from Disruptor Beam). It started off as a Facebook game but it has recently been ported on to iPhone and Android devices. First and foremost with this app, you will need to be patient and make very smart choices from when you start the game. As you can tell by the name, it is a game based in the Game of Thrones universe and I believe every fan should have a go at this game.

It is an RPG-Strategy game, where you start off as a knight in service to Robert Baratheon. The tutorial shows you some basic commands in order to win battles with enemies. After this win, Robert Baratheon grants you some land where you start building your little kingdom. The tutorial carries on with some basics, such as buildings, upgrades, sworn swords and fighting types. You also name yourself as lord as well as your keep. Did I play this seriously? Of course not. If you have ever played Final Fantasy XI or World of Warcraft and you came across a player called Youreatowel, that was me. So I named myself Lord You’re A Towel and called my keep The Towel Rack.

Soon after you name yourself and your lands, you are given a tutorial on the type of lord you want to be. You can be a lord that specialises in battle, trade or deception. Also you can pick your alliance and each alliance has it’s own perks. There is no real difference between the three types of specialities, however I went for battle and then looked for the best alliance for battling. I found that siding with the Baratheons gave me some excellent perks for battle so I went with them.

You then have a tutorial on sworn swords. These are characters that you send out into the world to perform quests for you. They can also specialise in battle, trade and deception and each quest may be better suited to one discipline.

Once this is done, you start building your realm and equipping items to better your house. There are also quests that focus on your house, the storyline of Game of Thrones and various other side quests. There are also player to player battles where you steal gold off other houses and take part in huge multiplayer events. Needless to say it is a fantastic app for any Game of Thrones fan. Now I bet you are wondering why you may need patience and to make smart choices. Each action such as building, making equipment and questing takes time, some times under an hour and others almost whole days. You just need to be patient with the game. Smart choices come down to what type of lord you want to be and how you train yourself and your sworn swords. You make one mistake, you can’t undo it without paying a fee. Silver is easy to come by in the game, but you do have the option of buying gold. Gold allows you to purchase certain items and units and speed up actions. However I haven’t bothered with it so far so you should be fine.

It should be noted that the game does require an internet connection to play the game as everything is stored on servers. It will eat up a fair bit of your data but its totally worth it. That’s one downside, there are a few smaller ones that you may encounter but you should be fine. In total I would give the game 9 out of 10 decapitated heads.

Nath

Spoilers: How Not to be a Dick

Kit had some things spoiled for him. Now he’s annoyed.

So this article has been inspired by a Facebook post by somebody I know, who shall of course remain anonymous in this article as this is just an angry rant about it.

I like many other people watch the rather fantastic show Game of Thrones and as many of you will likely know Game of Thrones has a reputation for pulling off plot twists and the fact it’s one of the few shows where virtually no character is safe. There is death and killing everywhere, sometimes you see it coming but usually you don’t. The downside to this, as with any show with a plot twist, is it opens up the potential for spoilers, which leads me to the focus of this article.

In my experience there are a couple of general rules about spoilers:

– If something is brand new, check if everyone who may hear or see what you say has seen it.

– If they haven’t, either give them the option to leave, or save your thoughts for a point where they won’t see it or hear it.

– Basically don’t be a dick.

There are excusable circumstances where genuine mistakes are made. For example, not realising someone hasn’t seen Star Wars or anything else that’s been out or a long time. One of the upsides to the growth in popularity of fantasy, comics, Sci-Fi and all things geeky is when things are put into a new, more accessible format be it superhero films or comics and books being turned into TV series. This does however, lead to those who are familiar with the original format knowing all of what is going to happen. For most people this is actually a lot of fun, you get to see your friends get to know something you already love and see their excitement grow. You get to see their shock when a favourite character dies or their excitement when a battle is fought and won and when the new format, be it movie, game or TV show doesn’t quite hold up to the original you can recommend the book, comic, original show or whatever it is and see your friends enjoy that instead.

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Unfortunately, there’s another kind of person. The spiteful sort that enjoys ruining everyone’s fun and holding their apparent superior fan status above everyone else. This was the sort of message I saw. To paraphrase “Stop complaining about Game of Thrones spoilers, go and read the books” before proceeding to post spoiler after spoiler.

Now, saying the original is better is fine. But ruining it for everyone after?

No, dick move pal. Fuck you.

Personally, I’d love to read the books, I’d love to read many books, but there are so many out there and day to day life working and having at least some kind of social life (sitting in a room with my friends pretending to be elves or super heroes like the geeks we are…) means I only have time for so many books! Now it just so happens that HBO decided to take George R.R. Martin’s work and break it down into a very convenient hour-long weekly episodes. Now that suits me perfectly! I get to sit down and watch it with my (much) better half every week and it’s great! And saying people shouldn’t care about spoilers and then providing them? That really is having your cake and eating it. For everyone who saw this post who wanted to read the books, they’re still spoiled!

GoT-Spoilers

What it comes down to is basic etiquette, don’t be a dick and ruin things for people just discovering something that you care about. This sort of thing will happen more and more with the rise in geek culture, with Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Arrow and many other shows succeeding on TV. I’m sure we’ll see much more of this, and when it does, be the sort of person who enjoys sharing their favourite things, not the sort of asshole who will ruin them for others.

Kit

Video Game Review – South Park: The Stick Of Truth

Adam infrequently reviews games weeks after they are released because he has a job and can’t complete them fast enough. Potential very minor spoilers included.

South Park: The Stick of Truth was released in the EU on March 7th, developed by Obsidian and published by Ubisoft. It is PEGI 18 rated for swearing, violence and sex. The most notable thing about SOT, as a licensed game based on a beloved TV series, is the direct involvement of the show’s creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Putting aside how badly other licensed games often turn out without this, I remember (in the before time, in the long, long ago) playing the N64 game slinging snowballs made with yellow snow at turkeys, or trying to drive through Spooky Vision on South Park Rally on the Playstation. Both of those games were pretty terrible, and had very little involvement from Parker and Stone other than voice acting. SOT however, feels like a labour of love.

It is very much like playing a 10 hour episode of the series, and the game is a sort of mash up between parodies of Lord of the Rings, Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, and Game of Thrones. Character creation is fairly standard, choosing your basic look (which changes almost immediately so doesn’t really matter) and your character class (Fighter, Mage, Thief and Jew. Yep). You are the new kid in town, amidst some vague mystery surrounding your mute character, and your first quest is to start making friends, keeping track of them using a mock Facebook that acts as your various menus. Here you are recruited by the human faction (led by the Wizard Cartman) to defend the Stick of Truth from the elves (led by Kyle). You are taught magic, which is entirely based on different types of fart, and sent on various quests to gain loyalty from other factions and investigate the deeper story that begins to unfold. In typical South Park fashion it becomes hilariously over the top, the stakes manage to get higher but everyone in the town actively dismiss it, leaving the kids as always to sort the mess out.

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I said this game was a labour of love. It is also a love letter to the 17 seasons (over nearly 20 god damn years, there’s terrible ‘old’ feeling again). The story covers so many moments and characters from the entire run, from Professor Chaos to ManBearPig, anal probes to underpants gnomes (who shrink you and fight you underneath your parents while they are having jerky, unsettling cartoon sex). Even every item you pick up is some form of callback to a random episode of the show. By the end of the game I had, amongst other things: 4 Alabama Man figures, 6 Nazi armbands, the Biggest Douche Award, a driedel, a torn condom, a Guinea Pig Costume, Mr. Twig, a used syringe, lice, a Stupid Spoiled Whore doll and 9 copies of The Poop that Took a Pee. They all serve zero function other than to sell for cash, but they are fun all the same.

In the spirit of the show, Stick of Truth is predictably offensive. So offensive in fact, that over here in the EU we got a censored version off the game. What this meant was that at several points in the game, when Ubisoft decided the game went too far, we got a censored screen poking fun at the censorship and us for not being able to play this particular segment. Here is an example:

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This happens at two major points in the game, and several times at each. The first involves anal probing (the image above was taken from one of those scenes), and the second involves a visit to the abortion clinic. The latter involves your character, in disguise as a girl, trying to access records at the clinic. But to gain access, you end up being seen by Dr. Poonlover, who offers you a booster seat, and then apparently performs an abortion on you. Not that that makes any sense, but as I didn’t see the scene I can’t tell you how graphic it is. This is shortly followed by a scene where you perform an abortion on Randy (also dressed as a woman) in what the censor screen called a fun mini game. I assume it is the same as a moment very late in the game where you carry out a short mini game on a machine, which seemed really weird and out of context without the earlier go at it.

I’m going to be honest, while the language used in the censor screens was funny, the fact that censoring had occurred at all bothered me a great deal and took me out of the game experience somewhat. First, I don’t understand why the EU version was censored, (and on consoles only, the PC version remained intact) while in the US it was fine to ship in its entirety. It seems so arbitrary. Second, in my mind there is plenty left in the game that is just as bad as what is censored. In the same abortion clinic level, you fight Nazi zombie foetuses. You fight crawling, biting foetuses which spout random authoritative German, and explode like a balloon full of blood when you defeat them. You see an old man’s dick near the end of the game. You miniaturise yourself and crawl up someone’s arse, chopping down semen and broken condoms, passing pool balls, flash lights, bats and using a dildo to clear a path through shit. These things aren’t censored at all, and I find it really odd that anything is. I’m not defending the content, but my issue is censoring at all. This is an 18 rated game. That alone should mean the title ships intact, especially if it was fine to sell in America. It wasn’t the ratings board who censored it, it was the publisher and I just think that makes no sense to me. And censoring some offensive stuff and not others makes even less sense. I found this to be a real shame, because any of it would have been fine in an episode. I can only assume that being interactive makes the player more complicit in the action, maybe they thought it would make people uncomfortable. What would have been a better way to handle it would be like that infamous Call of Duty level, just whacking up a screen saying ‘your character is about to perform (insert obscene act here). If you would like to skip it, press O. If you would like to play it, press X’.

The game itself is very satisfying, if a little short. Quests do get a little bit repetitive and fetchy, but continue to be thematically entertaining. The gameplay is pretty easy, and if any fights give you any trouble you are probably trying them too early. This happened to me once on a side quest, but its unlikely to happen in the main quest as you level up pretty appropriately. The visuals are probably the best part, looking exactly like the show without trying to do anything flashy. I did experience the odd glitch in the game, but nothing game-breaking. Overall I would definitely recommend this game, despite the censorship and length, although if you aren’t a South Park fan a lot of what makes the game so fun will likely be lost on you. Hands down my favourite part is the mission to Canada, entirely because of the way the mission and the location are presented. I won’t spoil it though, but I think anyone would agree that it is perfect and makes total sense for the South Park take on ‘the land in the north’.

Score – 7 Anal Probes out of 10