Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas Fallout 2016

Yet another Holiday season has come and mostly gone, we still have New Years after all. It's been one astoundingly odd year so it's only fitting that my family Christmas was also a bizarre take on classic traditions. Here's the thing, I was one of several family members who had to work a security post this weekend. That meant Friday had to be something of a makeshift Christmas Eve complete with fine eats. Saturday was work and yuletide horror flicks, Sunday was more work accompanied by the antenna TV holiday marathon. And finally Monday served as our proper Christmas with gifts and eggnog.
Oh, and before we get away from the topic of traditions, I finally followed through on something I've wanted to do for a few years. We were watching the Santa Clause Conquers the Martians episode of Mystery Science Theater which is well known for the Patrick Swayze Christmas song. They mention decorating a bar stool and I remembered that I still had one set of lights and some gold pearls on hand. A few minutes work and behold my new Saturday night err (sorry bout the Road House lingo) Christmas thing. Certainly it would've been easier to wrap the chair in lights just like a tree but I decided to do some sort of draping action. Definitely going to keep this up for years to come.

Sad as it may seem, it took me two whole paragraphs to get to the point of this post. I'm actually here to show off all the goodies I received for Christmas. Maybe this is somehow in bad taste given all the need felt in the world today, but if you were looking for socially conscious articles you wouldn't be visiting cosmicsparky to begin with. Honestly, I usually donate some good toys to the various drives, but every time I shopped around this year yielded lame toys at bad prices. For someone who likes to maximize their spending to giving ratio, it didn't work out. Suppose I'll be making some New Years cash donations instead. Alright, let's get on with the gifts.

Probably the most prominent gift as far as future use is concerned came from my sister. She's gotten hooked on Society 6 this year and didn't miss the opportunity to utilize the site for her gift giving. She got me this trow blanket of space sharks with laser eyes. Admittedly this is a pretty fine representation of what's going on in my head most nights but what about the blanket itself? Being winter I'm usually crazy cold going to bed which results in too many sheets and being a sweaty mess in the morning. I was actually able to stay warm and dry using just this one piece of cover, huge win there.

A few days before Christmas I got package in my name, which is never a surprise for me, except this wasn't something I'd ordered. My brother and Sister-in-law got the full line-up of Cowboy Bebop Funko Pops for me. It was a little expected as Funko is something of a shared hobby between him and I. Still; these were the only Pops I got this Christmas so it's a good thing they're fine pieces.

Onto a few smaller goodies. My oldest sister and niece both went with arts and crafts as their gifts. That's where the Unbreakable quote picture frame and Christmas tree dice plate came from. Most of the family doesn't work on crafts for other people so it's a rare occurrence to receive presants like this. It's pretty cool to show off some items entirely unique to my Christmas, so you'll understand if I blow a large raspberry in your direction. Should note the tree plate is also painted on the other side so it can be hung as a decoration.
Got one Star Wars novel, look for that review sometime next month as I have another one to work on first. Also got a new wallet which is probably for the best as my old one was getting funky. This one has a zipper and while I appreciate the approach towards security, the added noise is gonna drive people nuts whenever I obsessively check the contents of my wallet.

More on the entertainment front we have Rise of the Tomb Raider thanks to my other brother. Really looking forward to playing this but I've gotta wrap up Final Fantasy XV first. Guess that makes for some extra incentive to get my butt in gear. Also got the first season of Agent Carter, and Death Wish on blu-ray because no celebration is complete without Bronson.

Lastly there's always one hobby that takes the taco. Last year it was a comical amount of Funko products. This year everybody doubled down on giving me board games. It's a little odd since so few of them like to play with me but who am I to complain? My sister and brother in law gave King of New York, while my mother is responsible for Kanagawa and Android: Mainframe. Those three titles would be enough new gaming goodness to hold me over for a while but there's more. I also participated in the boardgamegeek secret Santa exchange again this year where I actually had a good Santa who gave me Elysium and Arkham Horror: The Card Game. Beyond that, I also picked up a stack of clearance priced expansions from Amazon while doing my Christmas shopping. I'm practically drowning in cardboard chits by this point.

Numbers wise, I didn't receive as much stuff as last year but I'd say there's a healthy spread of practical and impractical gifts in this years haul. No duds or socks so that's a major plus. What I find odd is the utter lack of horror based items. Can't say it's a problem however since I've already got something like 25 movies to cover over the coming Saturdays.

So that was my haul, how about yours? Anything surprising, or maybe even terrible? I always enjoy hearing about the wealth of gifts out there. As for the site, you should see at least one more post before the new year, and then we'll most likely start 2017 with Sentai and Star Wars. I made some pretty good progress this year on multiple fronts despite all the circus antics and dying icons. I have big plans moving forward and I wish you all the best luck in turning 2017 into something worthwhile.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Star Wars Book Club: Smuggler's Run

Boy howdy was it ever a great weekend to be a fan of Star Wars. I'm sure you all know of the massive opening for Rogue One. Even though that film is the hot topic at the moment, and I would really love to talk about it, I don't want to be the guy who drives a topic into the dirt, that's what the rest of the internet is for. Instead I spent my time after the film to finally wrap up the second season of The Clone Wars as well as finish yet another novel. This time we're returning to the Journey to The Force Awakens line that previously brought us the abysmal Weapon of a Jedi. Will this installment fair any better? Let's find out.

Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka is the tale of what Han Solo and Chewbacca do right after the events of A New Hope. Taken alongside Rogue One I was treated to the bread that makes a sandwhich out of the original film. I actually had a little more trust going into this as I've encountered Rucka's work before, and while not always to my style, he at least seems to know his craft.

Right outta the gate I have to give this book a massive compliment for it's pacing. A common complaint of mine towards these new expanded universe novels is how much time they waste getting to the point. Even some of the better paced installments will often take at least one odd detour that slows everything to a crawl. That's not the case at all here. In fact this book almost goes too fast. From beginning to end it stays on point and never wavers from the main plot.

Adding to the increased pace is a story line that almost matters in the larger shceme of things. Taking place immediately after A New Hope, we learn that Han didn't take the opportunity to leave and pay off his debt to Jabba the Hut as originally intended. Instead he's brow beaten into taking a desperate mission for the rebellion when one of their key members is in risk of being captured by the empire. In the process of this mission Han and Chewie are officially labeled as members of the rebel alliance, helping to explain why he's still with the group when Empire Strikes Back begins. I'm still not completely satisfied as to why Han never took a quick chance at paying Jabba and getting at least one monkey off his back. Maybe one day we'll be treated to a story of him failing in that regard.

Another nice element to this tale is it's service as something of a love letter to the Millennium Falcon. As one of the great vehicles in fiction it's comforting to read passages about the smuggler and wookie's love for their ride/home. It reminds me just a bit of the importance of Baby in Supernatural. It's more than just a means of transportation, it's a member of the family.

Something that doesn't work as well this time are the villains. During the mission, Han and Chewie are pursued by an unremarkable quartet of bounty hunters along with an Imperial Intelligence officer by the name of Beck. None of them are all that impressive. Beck has potential but the book is too short to allow for much growth on her part. There is a chance of her appearing again down the line so I guess there's always hope she'll be a proper threat someday.

Similarly to the villains, supporting characters are pretty flat. Whether it's traveling bar owner Delia, or the rebel Ematt whose name I had to look up, he made that much of an impression. Basically this is a straight up Han and Chewie tale with no room for anyone else to have much of a personality. If you're alright with that, the other characters shouldn't pose much of a problem.

Overall there's little holding this one back from being a decent read. It successfully captures the voices of it's leads and provides quick and fun entertainment. The only real issue is the lack of anything more meaningful to the tale. Recall that even the fairly weak Heir to the Jedi had moments of emotional insight for Luke, nothing like that here. None of these events shape the characters. It's just a straightforward adventure. Even so, with one crazy short book, Han Solo has knocked both Luke novels down a notch. Way to go you old pirate. Let's adjust the leader boards accordingly.

1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
3. Ashoka by E.K. Johnston
4. Tarkin by James Luceno
5. Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka
6. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
7. Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
8. The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

I've already got another book on the way so expect another review shortly. In The meantime I'm really hoping to get some more articles out here and other avenues. I know it feels like I've been a bit absent recently but I just keep getting caught up in other projects. In fact, I recently completed a write up on my experience helping out the Freakshow Film Festival back around Halloween. Check it out if you'd be so kind. I should be back with something before Christmas, so keep your eyes pealed.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Dekalog Three, The Sadist Christmas Special Ever

Happy holidays, everybody. I'm finally back after what feel like why too long. Once again I found myself with positively too many things to take care of within any rational amount of time. Most of it is my own fault for taking on too many side projects. Plus there's some extra wasted time thanks the security job having the distinct disadvantage of making me physically ill these past two weeks. I believe it's a reaction to something in my guard shack which means I have to devote some of my down time to fending off illness and finding solutions to stop it from happening. Oh, and did I mention I'm deep in Final Fantasy XV...yeah, like usual I've gotten myself wrapped up in too much at once but I'm starting to get on top of it all.

I suppose being overwhelmed is something of a holiday cliche by this point. Many folks tend to find themselves burred up to their eyeballs with excessive tasks, often impeding their enjoyment of the season. That's a recurring theme in plenty of holiday entertainment, but let's face it, that's usually just trivial stuff. What about when you're having a genuinely crappy holiday? Well that's a theme I want to tackle by talking about possibly the most depressing Christmas special of all time, Dekalog three.

Chances are there's a good many of you with crossed eyes at the moment, wondering what on Earth Dekalog is or how there manages to be multiple of them. Dekalog was a late 80's mini-series for Polish television from acclaimed director Krzysztof Kieslowski. It spanned ten episodes, each a morality tale based loosely on one of the ten commandments and focused on residents of one apartment complex. There's also a mystery man who appears in most episodes as an observer to major events. While most of the praise for this series is well earned, it's not without a few weak points, episode two in particular is something of an artsy fartsy misfire. When the series is on point though, it's stellar and they don't get much better than three. I've been revisiting/finishing the series recently thanks to a nice Blu-Ray release from Criterion, sadly I can't offer up any screen caps from it on my puny laptop. Let's not worry too much about eye candy and just focus on the story.

It's Christmas Eve in Warsaw. The largely catholic populace is in full swing celebration with visits from Santa, midnight mass, all that jazz. Rather fittingly the first line of dialogue is spoken by a drunken man who can't find his home. We're introduced to two seemingly unrelated individuals. Janusz is a family man doing his best to make this a proper holiday. Ewa is a lone woman who pays a melancholy visit to her dementia/Alzheimer suffering aunt. The two people make eye contact during midnight mass offering a big clue towards their shared history.
Turns out the two of them had an affair years ago, before a mystery call to her husband sent the whole thing belly-up. Tonight she claims that same husband has gone missing and she needs Janusz's help in tracking him down. Thus begins a whirlwind tour of a cold and quiet night through Warsaw, as the pair visits morgues, drunk tanks, and the like in search of her husband.

During the long search we get some not so subtle hints that there's something else going on. It seems Ewa wants to keep her ex-lover out all night, but for what purpose exactly? The answer to that is pretty damn brilliant but more important is the onslaught of emotional baggage the two of them huck at each other, especially when they play chicken with a tram car. I mean these people have a hell of a time shaking off that nasty break-up.

It all sounds petty depressing, doesn't it? Believe it or not this ends up as one of the more uplifting entries in the series. Things get dark, that's for certain but by the end it seems as though everyone's a little stronger for the ordeal. That's why I think it sits among some of the top tier Christmas entertainment. Much as we'd like our holidays to be nothing but merriment and joy, there's always a strong chance of things turning to shit. The best seasonal tales reflect that, whether it be a man tormented by spirits and regrets in A Christmas Carol, or a violent hostage situation in Die Hard. Overcoming great challenges either emotional or physical is such a more universal and touching theme than magic babies or flying livestock.

Did I just go way off topic? Yes? Ok, so what I'm getting at is how Dekalog Three may be the perfect Christmas special for anyone having a hard time. There's a harsh reality to the whole feature that's relatable to almost anyone yet the setting of post communism Poland makes for something alien which perks your interest. You can empathize with the flawed characters yet learn by judging their mistakes and foibles.

One of my favorite touches, after the pair has already visited so many grim locations, most recently a drunk tank manned by an abusive official, they end up at the train station where the plot twist will reveal itself. Before that happens they meet a station worker stuck with the shitty duty of working overnight into Christmas morning, but does the situation have her beat down? Heck no, she rides around on her skateboard to stay awake. The sight of a young upbeat individual interacting by two regretful people at the end of a long night really helps to illustrate different ways of coping with a bad holiday.

So yea, if you can manage it, check out at least this episode of the Dekalog, so far it's my favorite with one and five running closely behind, though I recommend those only if you wish to curl up in a ball for a while. It could be just the item to offset uplifting tales like Scrooged without resorting to the bevvy of killer Santa movies. Not that those are bad, mind you, I love me some killer Santa but it's always nice to have a high class alternative.

Well it seems like things are starting to run on schedule here again. I should have several updates up before Christmas morning and this isn't the only place you'll find me this month. Currently I'm putting the finishing touches on a post for Dread Central, and am writing up an article that will hopefully launch me on yet another site. Keep your eyes pealed. Until then, be good little boys and girls and don't play chicken with trams.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger Episodes 32-38

Every so often I start up an article with the full intent of finishing it only to have the basic outline wallow on my hard drive for weeks, if not months. Such is the case with this Super Sentai recap that I originally started writing weeks ago when everybody was losing their shit over the election which I tied up in a fancy bow as a theme for our recaps. Problem is, when you don't finish an article and wait until your mind is more concerned with ingredients for Thanksgiving stuffing, you sort of lose the point. Oh, wait, maybe that can be our theme. This whole recap is pure stuffing; a senseless yet tasty combo of old bread and anything that's not tied down.

Alright, so when we left off last time the villains have decided to get off their butts and be bad guys again instead of letting Bangley take over the whole series. With this goal they send out a monster that amplifies peoples hidden emotions which not only caused strife among the team but revealed more of how they really feel about Misao. Poor guy had to toughen up and face the fact that he's a bit of a handful.
The best part of this situation was how the monsters ability had zero affect on Leo. Our painfully honest lion stood back to offer commentary on all the horrible thoughts his friends keep in check. Likewise, Tusk had an unforeseen side as he revealed he likes Misao much more than he tends to let on. One would think this would deepen their friendship but Misao's personal brand of puppy love is still aimed squarely at Yamato.

Another stand alone adventure came along as our cat themed rangers, Leo and Amu had to train in the art of Sumo in order to defeat the newest alien threat. This has to be one of the most enjoyable episodes in some time even though it feature hideously built men in sumo thongs. While one may think Leo would be the cat to save the day, it actually comes down to Amu. Though she was far too weak to beat the baddie in a match of brute strength, she faked some romantic interest to move in for the kill.

The silly stuff out of the way it was time to get back to the bigger story at hand. Bangley continued his hunt for Cube Whale to the point of making copies of the rangers and even kidnapping Yamato because as we all know this isn't a proper recap unless one of these kids finds themselves in a creepy bondage situation.

Bangley furthers his plans to break Yamato's spirit and prove the futility of friendship. In a big dramatic moment, most of the team is seemingly murdered by a laser beam, causing Yamato to loose all hope. Of course this is still a heroic show for kids so everybody was fine.
Several major developments came out of this two-part tale. First and foremost is the death of Bangley, and might I say thank god for that. The big B may have been an interesting addition at first but he soon overstayed his welcome by becoming something of a one trick pony. His prescience wasn't a total waste however as it gave Kubar some character development, especially when he steals Bangley's mind-reading hand for himself to use in some still secret revenge plot. The final development was the appearance of a new robot form made up of all the cube animals thus far. Don't get too excited though as the show introduces another new animal just two episodes later.

Of all the neat surprises we actually got a Halloween episode this year. As far as being a Halloween tale it was a bit of a let down. The main focus of the story was on a preteen girl who develops a crush on Tusk. We eventually learn she's just prone to being in love with anyone since she later moves on to Amu. While not the best fit for the holiday, there was still plenty of nice, spooky scenery and it proved that both Amu and Leo can totally pull off cross dressing.

After that we've got a two-part story where the group finally meets back up with Larri the gorilla and Bard the bird. There's a whole sequence of events in the group getting the cube octopus as well as the bird guy becoming a 7th ranger. Essentially he get's Yamato's costume with different trim and more of an orange tone. He doesn't stick around for long so I suppose he'll be a sporadic teammate.

More important that just getting a new ranger is finally learning why the bird guy hates Zyuland so much and why he prefers to keep the link between realms shut down. Years ago he was a link cube guard just like most of our heroes. One day he encountered an injured young boy who had stumbled through the gateway. Though his duty as a guard was to take the kid to the palace, Bard decided to nurse the child back to health first and in the process developed a friendship. The higher-ups of Zyuland didn't treat the kid quite as nicely, first locking him in a cell so he could never return home, and eventually chasing him off a cliff during an escape attempt. The whole thing was covered up and never spoken of again. Angered by this turn of events and fairly certain it wasn't the first incident of this kind, Bard left his home behind. Seeing Yamato and the others fight side by side has somewhat rekindled his hope for both species one day working together, just not enough to stick around permanently.

Holy crap, we're finally caught up. As you can guess the show is making something of a return to form after dragging a bit during the previous batch of episodes. More than anything, the writers have done a better job of inserting character development in unexpected places. For instance during the two-parter with Bard, Misao finally figured out how to best help the team and stop screwing up so much.

With only a few months left to go before this series wraps I've been wondering whether or not to continue with Sentai coverage on this site. At first I'd been thinking it was time to quite the recap game when Zyuohger ends but I've noticed there seem to be less and less websites offering this sort of content on the web. Now I've shifted into trying to find a way to still cover the franchise while leaving more time to write about other topics (rather important since I hope to expand my contributions to other sites). Over the remainder of this series, I'll be experimenting with the formula a bit more in an effort to find something shorter, faster, more concise, and hopefully more frequent. I want to hear what you folks out there crave the most from your recaps. Do you demand the basic beat by beat run through? Or would you prefer something more vague and snarky? Lemme know and I'll keep on writing.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Star Wars Book Club: Ashoka by E. K. Johnston Review

Recently I took advantage of my new additional income and spoiled myself with the Barnes and Noble Criterion sale. Usually I avoid that release line like the plague as I find the majority of their film picks to be pompous, overrated, art house nonsense. Once in a great while however they bring out something amazing. Case in point are the various Samurai/Chanbara box sets like Zatoichi or Lone Wolf and Cub of which I am now a proud owner. I still went a little artsy and picked up Dekalog as well but that's a matter for another time. The reason I bring this up is that the aforementioned Samurai flicks have a sort of narrative structure that lends itself nicely to these cool November nights. Small tales of lone warriors caught up in conflicts by the thin connections they make with other people. It's a storytelling style that's on full display in the recent Star Wars novel, Ashoka by E. K. Johnston.

For those unaware of who Ashoka Tano is, I won't hold it against you. She's got an odd placement within the Star Wars universe as until now she's only existed in the animated sections that more casual viewers may have ignored. The short and skinny version is that she was Anikin Skywalker's apprentice during the Clone Wars before a series of events drove her out of the Jedi order. In truth I haven't seen everything with her just yet but I had a fairly solid concept of where she left off in The Clone Wars series and how she returned during Rebels. This novel is based on her experiences between the two shows which change her from a lone survivalist to a rebel organizer.

A key strength to this installment is how much more focused it is on the main character and getting to the story quickly. It's very welcome to break from the new cannon's obsession with pointless side quests and baggage that hold back proper pacing. In fact it doesn't take long at all to catch up with Ashoka as she flees one planet in favor of a small moon based farming community which soon comes under threat. From that point on it's primarily about her efforts to help the locals wage gorilla warfare against their oppressors. As stated in my intro it feels a lot like a Zatoichi flick with the hidden warrior aiding a town under siege all while debating their choices and place in the world.
However, the novel hits a little snag When our heroine leaves that conflict in the hope of saving her own skin and possibly making things easier for her new friends. This leads to an oddly paced third act where she reunites with former allies, does a few good deeds, and attempts to build new lightsabers. It's not a total mood killer, but since this one was doing such a fine job of staying on task up to this point, it's worth noting as a problem.

When the novel keeps on point though it works very well. The supporting cast is well written and the connections to the rest of the franchise are nicely done, mainly focusing on Bail Organa's attempts to recruit this surviving padewan into his growing rebellion. I can't stress the value of seeing one of these books actually contribute to the greater whole of the franchise rather than simply filling in space on the time line.

Still there a few issues to deal with. I already mentioned the pacing dip in the third act. Action scenes aren't exactly up to par, and a few of those side supporting characters sort of fade out near the end. There's also the usual problems of grammar and typos. There's apparently a moment when some someone calls Ashoka by her real name when he's never known her as anything other than Ashla. I didn't notice it myself but someone pointed in out online. Likewise I believe I saw the narration refer to Ashoka as “he” at one point.
A small issue I had was Johnston's halfhearted attempt at inserting diversity into this tale. Very late in the book we learn that one of the female characters is homosexual, no problem there. However, it's introduced within like the last twentysome pages, and adds up to nothing. I'm all for being more inclusive in such a wide narrative universe but you've gotta aim higher than busting out jazz hands and yelling “diversity.” Aftermath did a much better job in this regard by not only introducing a gay character but having it influence his interactions with others and having the option of expanding on that characteristic during that trilogy.

The biggest weakness here are the villains. The first one we're introduced too is so inconsequential, I've already forgotten his name. The guy was merely some heartless Imperial number cruncher with little to contribute to the tale. Later on we're given a more threatening force with The Sixth Brother. A member of the Imperial Inquisition, a group of vicious force users tasked with hunting down serving Jedi and gifted children, Sixth Brother serves the purpose of escalation yet largely fails to provide additional depth to the story, and is easily struck down during the final battle.

I'm noticing this review is sounding more negative than I'd intended. Perhaps it's because this is the best Star Wars novel I've read in months which make any problems seem all the more damning. It's an entertaining yarn and I'm sure fans of the character will be delighted to learn about her activities between TV series. Even so, it lacks the grand drama to dethrone Lost Stars and doesn't have the urgency or fun of New Dawn. That being said it's still worthy of bumping into the top three on the ranking. Let's place it there now, shall we?

1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
  1. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
  2. Ashoka by E. K. Johnston
  3. Tarkin by James Luceno
  4. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
  5. Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
  6. The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

Man it feels good to put something in the upper tier after months of lackluster adventures. There may yet be hope for the new expanded universe. Where do we wantr to go from here folks? There's a brand new novel this week called Catalyst which leads into Rogue One, or should we step back and check out other titles like Twilight Company? Lemme know which titles you want me to check out. I've gotta go enjoy myself now that I've made the foolish choice of picking up an extra shift this week. Be back soon.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Halloween Aftermath 2016

As incredibly difficult as it is to believe, it's November. We've already gone through one of the great holidays and are on course for even more. I'd wanted to return to you all on Halloween night with something to help boost the collective spirit of the holiday yet as you're about to find out I was busy with so many things that ended up making this Halloween one for the record books.

Since my last update I took to enjoying plenty of comfy time basking in the glory of decorations and horror films. Last Friday night however, things had to step into overdrive as we made a special trip out to the Unicorn Tavern in Lansing. You see the 28th was the 15th anniversary of my grandmothers passing, and as the Unicorn was pretty much her go to hang-out for countless years we decided to pay tribute by sitting down and taking in a few drinks accompanied by her old photos.

The Unicorn is something of an oddity for old town Lansing. While many of the bars there have been slowly converted to hipster holes with micro-brewed specialty liquors, this place is still straight up dive with crap beers on tap, loud music, and bathrooms fit for a horror film. Combined with some cheap Halloween decorations and it felt like a fine inclusion to our festivities.
Truth be told it was extra sad when my gramma passed so close to Halloween. She used to love coming over on that night to watch us hand out candy and what not. Paying tribute to her felt like the right thing to do this year so I'm really glad we all managed to find the time to get together for that.

The following day I had to work, which is already enough responsibility for my lazy butt that close to Halloween. That wasn't the only duty for the day as I had to host a Q&A about an hour after my shift ended. You all my recall that the local Freakshow Film Festival I reported on for Dread Central back in July asked me back for a special after party for the premiere of a local made short film. So yes after eight hours of guarding I had to rush to get gas, go home, clean up, and head downtown.
I arrived to find the show had begun later than planed so I passed the time in the lobby chatting with both clown hosts, Molotov was apparently on his way out while Dr. Colonal Nutjob was settling in as the new host. Also in the lobby was the lead actress from the short who didn't want to watch the original Halloween as she wasn't into horror films. This statement came across rather oddly from a person who you've seen devoured by a vampire, especially one who later praised the crazy Japanese horror flicks like Uzumaki.

Once the movie was over we headed down to a local event hall called, wait for it...The Hall. Maybe a fifth of the film attendees took in the after party which made it slightly easier for me to do my thing. Thankfully the the crew I was interviewing got pretty talkative after the first few questions leaving me the responsibility of standing there and not looking terrified. I plan on going into greater detail in a new dread central article so keep an eye out for that.
After the questions I actually got to hang around the party and socialize for a while, take in some booze and pizza. I was out until 3:30 in the morning which left me no time to clean pumpkins that night. On the plus side, I'm now the owner of a sighed poster and DVD for a pretty weak twenty minute vampire film.

Sunday came around and guess what? More work, followed by a night of endless pumpkin carving. That second part is nothing new as I've marked Devil's Night as the official carve-a-thon for the past decade. It wasn't my best line-up of lanterns, though it was a massive improvement over last year when many of my pumpkins had preemptively rotted. If you've ever cleaned out moldy, rotten fruit guts you know what I'm talking about.

At last, the night I dream about all year long was here and man did it go over smoothly. Everybody pitched in and contributed to the celebration. The weather was so nice that our usual stash of nearly 300 baggies wasn't enough and we had to send out my brother for more. My mother helped hand out candy, my nephew helped scare people, even one of the nieces went trick or treating so we'd have some Starburst of our own. Everybody played a part and it went over so well. Complete strangers were taking pictures with us or of our pumpkins and decorations. It's that one magical night when my house becomes a hot spot and I savor it like fine wine.

Before I forget, have a look at some of our masks. I was able to snap up some real goodies. My best find by far was that a line of masks called The Nightmare Collection had been put on clearance allowing me to get both the Amphibious Alien and Grim Jester for a steal. The alien weighs a ton and practically takes a pit crew to put on but overall it worked well. My fat head won't fit into the jester so that will be modified or turned into a decoration.
My brother got a mask from Trick or Treat Studios Krampus collection. He'd actually ordered the less expensive window peeper mask because this one was out of stuck, obviously the order got messed up at some point so let's call that a fine bit of luck. Sadly the thing is so heavy that the one pathetic strap doesn't hold it in place making it more of a decoration. Also want to point out it had tags for how to care for a latex mask. Jesus, Trick or Treat, get your shit together.
My nephew wore the animotion scarecrow mask which worked out great. I've tried get one of these before but they never fit my head quite right. The kid didn't have that issue. You may also notice a devil themed luchador mask I get in straight from Mexico City for anyone who needed a quick costume.

The rest of the night while a bit more quiet than I would have liked but was still good. Took in some new spooky flicks, ate crap tons of pizza and pumpkin ale. When I consider all the adventures and new goodies I experienced this year, it was definitely one of the finest seasons in recent memory. There were a few extra items I wish I'd fit it but it wasn't for a lack of trying. This was a jam packed Halloween which after all the work I've had this year, this was the kind of celebration I needed.

Currently I'm in the midst of the great undecorating spree. There's a good 8 or 9 totes overflowing in the basement with more items still waiting to be taken down. Not to mention I still have my Luigi's Mansion to beat, the Fury of Dracula board game to play, and excess horror flicks to fill my Saturday nights for weeks to come. As if that wasn't enough to keep me occupied, I visited Barnes and Nobel and splurged on their Criterion sale, now I've got 25 Zatoichi movies to work through.

As for the site I've got several articles planed and lining up for you all. First I've gotta catch up on Zyuohger recaps, then I've got the newest Star Wars novel to talk about, and let's not forget about all that fine seasonal food hitting the aisles.

I hope Halloween treated you all well. Even if it didn't live up to your expectations we're still in the heart of the holiday streak. There's a giant turkey followed by a jolly fat man charging our way. Plenty of opportunity to have some fun. Talk to you all soon.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Marvel Collector Corps October Doctor Strange Unboxing.

As if October weren't jam packed with enough fun as is a mystery box arrived. The timing was rather perfect as it made up for some frustrating mail about health care. Silly as it may sound, mystery toys can almost completely make up for bullshit paperwork.
So what magical mystery box have we this time around? Well it just so happens to be the Marvel Collector Corps themed entirely around Doctor Strange. While I would have preferred a more directly frightening theme like Monsters or Tomb of Dracula, Doc Strange is still spooky enough to work for this time of year, and it doesn't hurt that I am stoked for that movie to come out. Setting aside the hype, could this installment make up for my slight disappointment in the past two boxes? Let's dig in and find out.

Starting off we've got the usual patch and pin Duo. The pin is hands down one of the best if not the best they've ever offered. The eye of agamotto perfectly illustrates that this is all about Doctor Strange while avoiding the usual floating head syndrome.
This month's patch on the other hand isn't quite as exciting. Granted I can't complain too much since I just keep all the patches stashed away. Still, this one just looks too much like the art Marvel uses for cheap kiddie products like notebooks an dinnerware.

After that baseball cap from the Spider-Man box it's a treat to receive a proper t-shirt again. Overall it's a solid design not unlike the Deadpool shirt from way back in February. Good lines, nice colors, a definite step up from the weak Spider-Gwen design. I've actually seen folks mention they won't wear these as they think they're too old or what have you. If you're one of those people I can attest that Pop-Tees are quite comfy as undershirts too. I mean it's always nice to have options and feeling confident in your nerd cred while wearing some official monkey suit is priceless.

Our comic this time around is issue #1 of the newest volume of Doctor Strange written by Robbie Thompson. Nothing really wrong with the book so much as it's just kind of basic. Outside of a nifty two page spread where Strange and Merlin walk back through time, navigating through giant versions of each other. If more of the book came across as that crazy and inventive I probably would have enjoyed it more.
Likewise the art doesn't seem quite right. It's not poor by any means so much as it seems misplaced. It's sort of a sketchy vibe to it that doesn't completely mesh with this style of story except for as noted before, that awesome two-page spread.

This month's extra marks a return to Pop Home goods with a Mug. While not as unique as the Starlord mug from last year, Funko once again made the wise decision to leave an indent in the old doctors hair for proper mouth placement. Hell, maybe they didn't do it intentionally but it works fine all the same.
Won't be surprised to see folks complain about the inclusion of another mug. Admittedly it sucks that we have to forgo more toys in order to have this but it's still a decent item that works well for those of us who enjoy large quantities of coffee.

At last the centerpiece of any Funko box. This month's pop is Stephen Strange himself meditating in his astral form. In a bizarre change of pace this pop actually stands on it's cape which leaves it a little lopsided. Generally I'm not one for keeping pops in box but this is one specimen that's gonna stay mint since I can imagine the cape weakening over time. Other than that is issue this is still a pretty righteous pop.

Overall this was a pretty solid box of mystery. Question is whether or not it's enough to keep me coming back for more. I've been feeling the pull to try out another subscription service. It's not that this is a bad service. If anything it's that the box is suffering from the law of diminished returns. Obviously there's certain items I always want to see included like the pop, pin etc, but with that expectation comes a certain level of repetition. Granted Funko tries to mix it up with fabrications, mugs, and such but they're usually in the same wheelhouse while other times they've offered something weak like the hat. It's a tough act to maintain and lord knows if they'll ever find the perfect balance of consistency and surprising extras.

That's all for tonight ladies and gents. Sorry if this seemed a bit more rushed than my usual unboxing but I've got a massive laundry list of things to wrap up this week in preparation for the big day, not to mention that Q&A session on Saturday. I plan to return with one more post before the month is out. Until then, you all keep enjoying the wonders of Halloween. See you soon.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Halloween Adventure 2016: Awaken Haunted Attraction vs. Darksyde Acres.

There's a number of ingredients to making a perfect Halloween season. One has to amass and balance just the right amount of seasonal snacks, booze, attend special events, pick out a fine costume, watch ludicrous amounts of horror films, and have at least one good adventure to a haunted attraction. Last year I failed to check off that last item much to my dismay. This time around I wouldn't let the opportunity pass by. In the heart of an extended work weekend I studied nearby haunts and restaurants in order to figure out a proper Autumn adventure. Question was, would we visit an old favorite, check on the improvements of another, or maybe venture into something completely new?

Note: Apologies for not having many pictures. My phone died early that night with no car charger so you'll just have to take my word on some of this.

Oddly enough, the Lansing Metro hasn't always had the best selection of spooky places. More often then not we're forced to take long treks east or south to find something worthwhile. Over the years I've been to giant record setting indoor haunts like Erebus, multi-event farms like Shawhaven, and even basic backyard haunts like the Duck Lake Haunted trail. My brother-in-;aw and I both agreed we wanted to try something new this year, luckily I found out there was a brand new spot called Awaken not far from here.

We set out on a journey to Leslie Mi. A small town just shy of 2000 people. Major props to the town for embracing this holiday as much as they have. The streetlamps were decorated by different folks with a competition where people could vote for their favorite. Didn't get to see them all but there were some fine entries all the same.
Before hitting the frightful festivities we had to fill our bellies while indulging in a little family history. The Crossroads bar and grill was formerly known as Ginnies and owned by my grandmother. We stopped in to check out the burgers and have a brew. It was odd to think the place once belong to my family but I decided not to lord that fact over the wait staff. The burgers were good, not the best I've ever had mind you, but definitely solid food in a comfy environment.

We found Awaken just a short ride out of town located in a former car dealership. That point in the night was quiet so we were practically treated to a private show. The first thing I noticed that set this place apart was the lighting. I've been in far too many haunts were you can't see an inch in front of your face but here each area had proper lighting which allowed us to see the work put into each scene. This wasn't a place wasn't the basic black walls with loose fabric. No sir, there were some sturdy materials in there made to look like bricks, tile, wallpaper, you name it. More than that items are placed in a sensible manner. There's no attempt to create atmosphere by simply piling junk in a corner. Each spot had a little story of its' own like the bedroom of a doll obsessed killer, scientists labs, barbershops, etc.

You might think the good lighting would make for a less scary environment, that's not the case at all. If anything the better lighting lulls you into a false sense of security. On top of that the scenes are so well designed you can't predict where all the scares are coming from. One spot in particular was outstanding in this regard, It was essentially an alleyway with zombies and a monster dog. There were just enough dark corners for performers and animatronics to be hidden while other actors shouted from windows and such to draw your attention.
On the occasions when you could accurately predict where the scare was coming from an additional element like a change in lighting would throw you off and make the moment scary. Across the board the place was impressive in both production and exaction.

On the downside, being the events first year combined with a rushed start-up left the place with somewhat less content than I'd hoped for. As it is you still get plenty of bang for your buck, but a little more would send it over the top. We were able to talk to one of the head honchos and he hopes to expand by at least 50% next year which could mean great things. Both my brother-in-law and I are planing on returning next year if only for one reason, it was actually scary. Sure most of these places surprise and shock with noises, jump scares, etc, Here, the effect didn't immediately wear off. The scares were so plentiful and well-done we actually stayed pumped for some time.

Bellies still full of burger and senses heightened by fright we decided to extend our adventure all the way to Jonesville to visit Darksyde Acres. This place has been around for something like fifteen years. I've heard of it over and over again but never took the time to visit.
The drive down was something of a thrill in itself. After normal stretches of highway and city we hit thin winding dirt roads positively encased by trees and darkness. Upon emerging we found the lights of a vast farm surround by a trailer community presumably made up of farm workers. Honestly it's a pretty amazing setting, but what about the event itself?

The haunt was divided into three primary sections. The first started off decently enough. There were a few good jump scares here and there. A bit featuring 3-D paint and black lights was a good touch but near the end of this portion things started to turn sour. There were stretches where we simply couldn't see anything. The last room of this chunk was pitch black and you have to feel around while someone taunts you for not being able to find your way out. This wasn't scary so much as annoying, not the feeling a place like this should inspire.
The second section was a maze made out of old wood and populated by chainsaw wielding goons. In theory this was a decent setting, in exaction not so much. You could easily see the monsters long in advance which meant they're best method of trying to scare is to fire off a chainsaw right next to you. Once again this is not scary so much as irritating. Doubling down on the issue is the layout. This isn't so much a true maze as it is a messy path for them to force you through until after enough dead ends they take mercy and reveal the way out.
The third and final portion was thankfully much better, featuring the best material. This chunk had the best mix of lighting, set dressing, and scares. The hallway of mirrors with a ghost girl was a legitimately well-designed set-piece as was the usage of a performer on stilts. If more of the event had been like this I would have had a much better opinion of the place but after the lame middle section the mood had been lost for me.
On the positive side there is a lot of content here for the price and some if it is good, just not enough for my liking. No doubt I've been to worse haunts, I've also been to much better and this night I'd already seen better at Awaken.

Also feel I should talk about the performers. Both places featured healthy sized casts and overall I think the crew at Awaken did a better job. Some of the Darksyde crew such as the stilt man or the mirror ghost had excellent timing but they were offset by many other actors who weren't scary so much as loud. Not to mention pet peeves of mine, body odor and bad breath were in abundant supply. By and large the Awaken cast had excellent timing, respect for personal comfort, and proper hygiene. More than that, I can remember more of them individually such as the mad doctor, doll room girl, and a rotten bunny. Wouldn't have minded hanging back with bunny girl actually. I can be scared and a Lothario at the same time, it's a free country.

As you can probably guess my endorsement this year goes to Awaken over Darksyde Acres. Not trying to tear Darksyde down. They do have some good people and scares, they just gotta fix the middle portion. Awaken on the other hand may have been quick but it was a strong show that I'm excited to return too. Essentially the double feature amounted to a great short film versus a bloated Summer flick. The latter may give you lots for your buck but there's something to be said for straight quality over quantity.

All in all it was a good night. Even the radio was in fine spirits, playing Freaks Come Out at Night as we drove through the dark woods. It was the sort of experience that helps elevate this time of year above all others. Since that's as mushy as I'm willing to get, let's wrap this up. Has anyone else out there had a good spooky trek yet this season? Any cool local haunts you like to include in your festivities? If not, I hope you're still having a good October. Get out there and drink in the Ghoul-Aide.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Star Wars Book Club Special Halloween Edition. Galaxy of Fear: City of the Dead.

We've got a very special edition of the Star Wars book club for you folks tonight. Instead of the latest and greatest in current cannon storytelling, we're stepping back into the old expanded universe for a spooky tale from the Galaxy of Fear series called City of the Dead.

Some of you may recall from my last update at the local book sale I was lucky enough to pick up this second entry of Galaxy of Fear. This was a series from the late nineties that attempted to cash in on the popularity of franchises like Goosebumps that had made horror a big ticket item for kids of the day. Can't say as I blame them for trying, as a kid of the time both Star Wars and spooky stuff were premium entertainment. A combination of the two should have been a slam dunk.

The basic outline for the series revolved around a brother sister pair. They're Tash, the older, wiser, sister with good instincts and an interest in Jedi and the ways of the force. Younger brother Zak, is the impulsive, sports savvy, gearhead. After the destruction of Alderaan leaves the kids without a home, they're taken in by their mysterious uncle by marriage. Uncle Hoole is a Shi'ido, a race of shapeshifters and an archaeologist. The more active caretaker for the kids is DV-9. more affectionately known as Deevee. Think of a more sassy version of C-3P0 and you'll have a decent understanding of what Deevee is all about. Together the group travels the galaxy getting into horrific misadventures related to the mysterious Project Starcream.
Not that Starscream.

Apparently the first novel involved the group dealing with a man-eating planet only to have their butts saved by original trilogy heroes who drop them off on a planet called kidding, True to form for Star Wars, the planet is uniform, this one characterized by fog, Gothic architecture, and cemeteries. The whole place is essentially a Universal Monster flick. They even have a tradition of welcoming visitors by dressing up as ghosts and scaring the shit outta people. Sounds like a fine vacation spot.

Let's get something out of the way right now, this is not a particularly well done book. It suffers from many of the cliches native to this type of story. Kids frequently encounter terrifying situations only to have nobody believe them. Dialogue is on the nose, character development is basically nonexistent. Every chapter wraps up with a cliffhanger. If you've ever read Goosebumps, you know the drill. Galaxy of terror took that drill and refuses to give it back.
As with most things, it's not all bad. In fact, there were a few details I found surprising. For instance every chapter ends with a cliffhanger, yet unlike most kids horror it's not always a fake scare. A part will end with zombies coming out of the ground, and the next picks up with the zombies attacking. It wasn't a dream, someone in a costumes, or a simple misunderstanding, just real monsters on the prowl. The other improvement is that the story isn't entirely bloodless. Generally in these sort of tales the threatening force either fails to take out any kids or miraculously returns them to reality upon defeat. Here though a kid actually flat out dies. No way to save him, he's just dead. Having a real threat significantly ups the stakes.

Something that really through me for a loop was Tash's interest in the old jedi Masters. It's a hobby of hers to hop on the holonet to learn everything she can about their religious exploits. In the new continuity, the Empire redacted and banned everything about the Jedi, to the point that kids born just a few years after the prequel trilogy doubt the existence of space wizards. The new bent makes infinity more sense as the Empire would have a significantly easier time controlling the galaxy by also controlling information. To think that in this old cannon a kid could just look up the wiki page on Jedi without issue simply makes no sense. Reading Tash's early interactions with Luke told me I was in very different territory than what I'm used too.

Another odd element that completely blew my mind was the villain. At first I though he was someone who only existed within this book. As a freaky looking mad scientist he certainly didn't come across as anything special. After looking the series up on wookiepedia I found Dr. Cornelius Evazan was actually someone from the original trilogy. Who you ask?

This asshole!

Turns out during the old expanded universe, this guy had a whole backstory and multiple appearances detailing his exploits as he studied life extension, body swapping, you name it. Once again I gotta point out some disconnect with this narrative. Here we have Dr. Evazan as a classical mad scientist raising an undead army. Now think of him as the random dick who picks bar fights with farmboys. This was a theme that bothered me within the old books. I've got nothing against learning more about the various inhabitants of the universe but something like this is just too much. Wasn't it good enough for someone in the background to just be a boring nobody? I always figured that dude was just a skeezy criminal and nothing more. Turning him into Space Frankenstain was more than a little unnecessary.

Thankfully Boba Fett fares better in his small role. He stays mostly true to character and doesn't overstay his welcome. If anything, childhood me would have loved the bits with him blasting super zombies. I thought it was funny that back then there was still an air of mystery about him. No one ever sees his face or knows his past. This really was a long time ago.

Overall, City of the Dead was a pretty lame read. That said, I'm not sorry I gave it a shot. I've always held a fondness for young-adult horror and having this window into the old expanded universe was a real trip. I'm almost interested in checking out more of the series just for the hell of it but let's be honest, I've got enough on my plate as is. Speaking of which, don't be surprised to see more frequent posts as I've got some special goodies to share with you all. That's something for another night. The Moon is bright, the wind is howling, I'm thinking Hammer flicks and nachos.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Halloween Book Sale 2016

Holidays are all about traditions both big and small. Something I've been able to count on fairly reliably for the past few years has been our local library book sale. Since it strikes in early October I make a point of searching for old horror novels to spice up the month. Like anything else that's supplied entirely by donation there's a chance of getting a lame crop and sadly this year is probably the weakest offering ever. It wasn't a total letdown though, there were still a few nice finds plus there was an entirely different item that absolutely made my day.

Let's kick things off with the books though. First up is Those who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly. This was the first title I decided to pick up at the sale as it seemed like a unique blend of vampires and Sherlock Holmes style mystery. The plot apparently revolves around a couple who are forced into investigating a series of murders within London's vampire community. Even of the book turns out to be a flop, looking at the authors wikipedia proved entertaining enough as she has a bizarre career of work consisting of original stories, licensed fair, and some episodes of animated series like She-Ra & Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors.

The God Project is an old John Saul terror tale about children dying and/or disappearing as part of some larger scheme. Over the years of going to this sale I've picked up multiple Saul novels though I've yet to read any of them. Usually the excuse is that the to-read pile is full of so much good stuff, he get's pushed to the bottom, this year there's actually a chance of me giving this a shot.

You know the kind of purchase where you simply say “why not?” That attitude is exactly what inspired me to buy the next two books. Haunted has such a limited plot explanation on the dust jacket that it at least has the chance to surprise me. All they give you is that there's a haunted summer home and the owners invite some paranormal investigator to check it out for himself, spookiness occurs. Likewise Headhunter sounds like it should be some extra bloody serial killer fare. Generally that's not my bag but if anything I'm giving it a shot solely on the quality of that cover.

Neanderthal is very much a wild card entry. From the look of it the whole thing is a Michael Chrichton style adventure, only one of the less classy ones like Congo. This sort of best-selling blockbuster style novel was very much in fashion in the mid-nineties and I always carried a little bit of a torch for them. Back then it wasn't odd to see books like The Relic or the aforementioned monkey tale turned into major movies and though I wasn't a reader back then, I had a fine diet of those movies. The hope is that this one can take me back to that time when authors competed for the next great Hollywood paycheck.

Over in the kiddie section I picked up some perfect article material. Standing out in the open among a smattering of outdated young adult titles was the second entry in the Star Wars: Galaxy of Fear series. A late in the game entry to the kids horror phenomenon of the nineties, Galaxy of Fear ran I think for a dozen entries or so. From what I know the series follows two orphaned siblings who travel the galaxy with their uncle encountering both supernatural menaces along with some classic villains. I guess in one of them, Darth Vader has to fight his evil....errr, more evil clone. If I get enough time to read this weekend, expect a full review soon.

The media section was very sparse this year. Usually I'm able to pick up a couple new additions for my VHS collection but there were none to be found. On the upside I was lucky enough to get my mitts on a Reb Brown flick I've never seen before. If you need any indication of the kind of movie this is just read that tag line, “They jumped out of the frying pan and into the firing line.” Amazing stuff.

Like I said earlier it was slim picking this year, there was nowhere near the amount of horror titles and even less decent normal stuff to read. I wasn't the only one with a smaller pile this time either, usually between myself and the few family members who come along we pick up at least one paper bag of unbelievable weight. This time we took extra people and didn't even match the usual haul.

All in all this would have been a bigger letdown if I hadn't come across a golden idol at Goodwill just hours before. Behold the very embodiment of Halloween.

This tacky masterpiece comes from pacific rim imports, and yes, everyone who came in contact with this had to mention the damn movie. I can easily cast aside conversations about lackluster kaiju flicks for such pure majesty. It's like someone juiced Halloween night itself and formed the pulp into a work of art. It only gets better when plugged in. There are three colored bulbs inside and they change at a rapid rate just shy of a strobe light. This beauty is the very embodiment of that one singular all encompassing decoration usually found in the apartment of every old lady. I mean you couldn't ask for much more than what this has to offer. It's big enough to be noticeable, small enough to be easily stored, serves as lighting, and features a devil, ghost, witch, pumpkin, cat, skull super combination not unlike a demonic Voltron!
More than anything my new decoration will serve as a mood booster right next to my bed. Anytime I start to loose that warm seasonal feeling I can just stare at this while wrapped in a warm blanket and meditate on the simple pleasures of this season. That's always important to take in that this point in the year. Sure some of our traditions may disappoint but what really counts during these final months of the year are those slight alterations to the daily grind. I've updated this site so many times, often with a theme of showing off whatever oddities I've found in the world but only in October do I write this all down by the alternating lights of a ceramic devil. That's the sort of silly touch that elevates a normal night into something special.

That's all for now folks. Gotta wrap up a few small projects before a weekend full of work. Hope you all have the opportunity to do something more fun than guarding a condemned factory. Be a pip and leave a comment, what horror flicks are you watching this weekend? What's your favorite snack this season? Think of it as your good deed for the day by giving me some slim margin of human contact during my toils. Yall stay spooky.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger Episodes 28-31

Ahoy Mateys! Surprised to see me back so soon? So am I honestly but I wanted to get another recurring feature caught up before October. Speaking of that glorious month, I can barely believe it's almost here. There's so much on my plate this year it's a little spooky, more so since I'm apparently going to be running a midnight Q&A session with some local filmmakers the Saturday before Halloween. If you're going to be in the Charlotte MI area and want to watch me bullshit my way though a public event, here's your chance. Alright, I'm exaggerating a little, I think it'll go fine, plus it should be good for everyone involved, including the Freakshow Film Festival group that I wrote about on Dreadcentral a while back. Should be a nice little achievement for the year.

On the matter of achievements, our favorite karate spandex franchise recently hit a major milestone with the 2000th episode. Consider that for a moment. Think of all the big nerd franchises out there like Star Trek, Dr. Who, any of that stuff and consider how puny they seem stacked up this monster. Combine that many episodes with all the solo, team-up, crossover movies, and video specials and you've got more content than a sane human being would ever dream of tackling. So how did they go about celebrating this milestone? Quite simple actually, they brought back the last anniversary team Gokaiger for a two part team up.

As usual of late, Bangley starts causing trouble but instead of being interrupted by our crew he is met in battle by Marvelous, pirate caption of the Gokaiger and major fan favorite among red rangers. Marv is back on Earth in search of a treasure located within the big cube that originally brought the Zyumans to our world.
The treasure is a golden cube with a message from the very first zyuohger, a whale who defended Earth centuries ago and later went on to create zyuland. He informs the team of the greatest guardian beast of all time, the cube whale.
In a nice bit of serendipity, the cube whale is the reason Bangley came to Earth in the first place. He's actually a beast hunter at heart and was merely entertaining himself with smacking around superheroes while he searched for clues about his big prey.

At first the prescience of the Gokaigers leads to conflict because....reasons. We get that old cliché where the older team was probably just here to lend a hand and history lesson for the new cubs but decided to fight first for the sake of entertainment. Honestly there wasn't even much of a reason for a team-up in the first place as this plot progression could have happened without the extra group in play. Still the point of the 2000th episode was pure spectacle and on that front they succeeded.
Once everyone was on friendly terms it was time for a double treat of Yamato's new whale form and both teams battling copies of big bads from previous Sentai series. It's all a big shiny birthday bash for this franchise and thankfully the writers were smart enough to keep the main plot moving forward instead of hitting the brakes for the sake of an anniversary special.

Getting back to normal we find ourselves in another two-part adventure as the team attempts to find and enlist the aid of cube whale. A task which turns out to be more complicated than it would seem. Cube whale is not only an illusive creature but also entrusting as it lashes out while everyone fights for control over it. Even Master Genis gets involved, sending down Naria in a newly updated G.I.F.T. While Kubar teams up with Bangley to poison the sea.

During the big three-way battle for whale supremacy we finally get a sub-plot for Misao and Sela. For whatever reason these two have been kept apart but they end up thrust together since each has an aquatic robot. Getting caught up in the aforementioned poison leaves them bedridden with a chance to bond. Misao has been screwing up more than usual due to repeat attempts at being more useful. Sela can relate due to her own attempts over the years to be a stronger person. Alright, so it's not a huge development, at least they tried to establish something between these two. It's not as substantial as the awkward guy friendship between him and Tusk or the love/hate standing with Leo, still it's something.

Something that is becoming an issue is Bangley. When he first arrived it was refashioning to have a villain other than the core group yet other than his dealings with Kubar he's become something of a one trick pony. That wouldn't be so noticeable except he's been at the forefront of villainy lately with the other baddies sitting back and taking a breather.

As the show stands right now, it can pretty much go wherever it wants too. The crossover special is over, the team has new robots, forms, etc, and there's a hint Master Genis might get off his ass and be a threat again. One dangling issue is the bird guy and Lari who were shown meeting in the woods like 5 episodes ago only to be quickly forgotten in favor of the anniversary antics.

All that will have to be straightened out come November cause from here on out it's all Halloween, all the time. Hell, I'm already into my first horror flick of the month. Sadly I've gotta start the month with work which means I'll be held up in a tiny guardhouse during a rainy weekend. Getting through that with all my sanity should be an achievement in itself.