Sunday, July 31, 2016

Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger Episodes 18-22

Not unlike the migratory patterns of birds, there are constants within the Sentai franchise. For instance we're currently at the point where a new character is introduced to the group and has a series of adventures establishing his interactions with the rest of the team. Last year this happened a little earlier and the general effect was a show doubling down on what it already had by adding another obnoxious personality. This year the writers took a little more time and have introduced a character far different from most sixth rangers I'm accustomed too. We are getting a little ahead of ourselves though. Before we talk about the new guy's personality, first we've gotta talk about how he ends up joining the team.

As you may recall, Zyuoh The World first appeared in episode 17 and made quick work of beating the team like they owe him money. This continued into the next episode when he introduced them to his own set of giant robots and provided such a sound thrashing it left everyone more than a little gun shy about facing him again.
The villains plan for The World were to unleashed him every time a new player (AKA monster of the week) begin to have trouble with the Zyuohgers. Naturally these means he's back in action by the end of the episode, That's when Yamato institutes a plan to fly the new guy away for a one on one fight so the others could take care of the regular monster. This is where I noted an improvement in the fight choreography. This battle was fast and mean, and the series since has featured better action than earlier in the season.
During the big fight, The World powers down, allowing Yamato to see that he's actually some poor tortured soul rather than a blood-thirsty killing machine. The following tale was all about him convincing the others to try and rescue this guy from the aliens. Obviously the others are hesitant to try such a ridiculous plan but since they've also benefited from Yamoto's empathy for all living things, why not give it a shot. Long story short, success!

All the conflict out of the way we finally get to meet the man under the tights. This is where things take a turn for the odd. For his experiment in creating a new life form, Master Genis combined his own cells along with the life force of three zyumen into a human. This required a host with very little will power of his own and thus he picked Misao Mondo, the most pathetic man in all of Japan. OK, I'm exaggerating, but this guy is something wholly different from the vast swath of Sentai heroes. He's just a bundle of social anxiety, self-loathing, and overdramatics. It's actually neat to see someone like this as heroic figure for kids as there are plenty of people with these same issues. I can even see a little of my younger self in the poor guy. He basically grew up without any friends, so he goes overboard when it comes to dealing with people only to retreat when things get awkward. If all that weren't enough he also talks to the three dead zyuman who serve as his unconscious mind. Guy's a nut.

Over the following episodes we get to watch Misao integrate himself into the group. At first he has to decide if he even wants to fight since he thinks so lowly of himself. Once most of the team is captured and put in yet another bondage situation he finally decides to help out.
It must be Tuesday.

After that we set up his relationships with the other team members. Him and Yamato bond by both being gentle individuals as well as being the only humans capable of using zyuman powers.
Misao really attaches himself to Tusk with the notion of powerful friendship between awkward guys.
We haven't gotten a direct team-up of Misao and Leo yet but there is definitely conflict there as Leo can't stand what a ninny the new guy turned out to be.
As for the girls, Amu has figured out she can keep Misao on task with a little feminine encouragement. Lord knows if they'll keep that up long enough to maybe deal with him having a crush on her. Sela so far has had the least interaction with him so there's still a blank slate for how they can bounce off each other.

Overall the introduction of Zyuoh The World has helped to straighten the show out after some stumbles during the last batch of episodes. There have been some difficulties in introducing such a meek hero but I think his presence helps since he plays of the other characters quite well. The writers still need to pair him up with other characters to fully develop his place in the team. Beyond that they have to avoid the pitfall of his story not going anywhere like Kinji last year. Fingers crossed there.

It appears that a new story arc is about to begin with a new kind of villain and the return of the bird man who's been M.I.A. for sometime now. Plus it looks like Yamato's going to get another fresh set of powers. That's a post for another day though. Right now I've got my own set of animals aggressively reminding me it's dinner time.

Friday, July 29, 2016

CosmicSparky Visits Kokomo, Indiana.

There's a certain beauty to following a line of events to it's inevitable conclusion. Back in early 2015 I took up an interest in subscription boxes which lead to trying out the whole My Toy Box service, which when combined with YouTube videos about said boxes and Funko pops resulted in a slight rekindling of my admiration for toys. Eventually I started to buy Funko Pops and a few of them were bought from a store called Kokomo Toys located in, shocking twist, Kokomo Indiana. I rather enjoyed ordering from them thanks to good prices and quick shipping, especially since being so close means items arrive at my house between blinks. After some studying I found the town was much more than just a cool toy store. If we really traced this back to square one we can blame this entire journey on Johnny Tellez. During my time working the Alzheimer home I couldn't wait to treat myself to a trip and visit this odd hamlet, with my recently renewed freedom I finally got to do just that.

A little background. Kokomo, Indiana is a town that essentially had it's head kicked in by a combo of corporate greed and violent acts of natures. For years it had been a place for innovation and plentiful manufacturing jobs, then those jobs turned tail for cheaper pastures. Adding to that insult was an equal bounty of tornadoes and flooding.
In the years since those disasters, the town has worked towards digging itself out of the pits and becoming something notable again. As you can probably guess there's still plenty of evidence leftover from their troubles. Damaged buildings, beat down & dingy little house, and more old factories than the place knows what to do with. That being said, the town still has a ton to offer. I mean we're talking about a place with both local specialty stores as well as national standbys, a mall, something like 30 parks, museums, YMCA, a sizable downtown with actual stores, on and on. There's a lot of stuff for a place I'm sure many people have never heard of.

After the fairly uneventful three-hour drive we kicked things off in what the town refers to as geek street, a block of Sycamore featuring a comic, toy, and game store. Think I saw a record store as well but neglected to check it out. First up was Comics Cubed in a nifty little corner building. Despite my love for comics, most stores based around the topic tend to give me the creepy crawlies generally due to the customer base. Sorry fellow comic fans, but you know what I'm getting at. While the store is fairly small and subsequently a little cramped they've got lots of stock and good stuff at that. It's about 85% comics with a bit of games and collectibles for added flavor. It's the sort of place I could definitely see going to for weekly releases. The owner was friendly which made up for a couple of his customers coming off a tad rude. One of my favorite parts was that they'd tie whole miniseries or runs on a book all together for a lower price than buying individual issues. Didn't get any pictures but the place is colorful and cool. So far so good.

Next up was my main event. Kokomo Toys, a holy place for toy lovers. While it didn't exceed my expectations it met them perfectly. There's so much to take in I actually had to repeat some aisles just to take in all my options. Here's a wee picture to give you an idea.

It was odd to note price differences from the ebay and physical store. For instance Funko pops have a range of prices on ebay to make up for the free shipping. In store they're only eight bucks each which is a fantastic price. Likewise I saw items that were more expensive in store than ebay but with the offerings on each front being surprisingly different there's a good reason for both to exist.
If you do visit be prepared for an odd smell. They stash a lot of old collectibles in box which makes for a sort of moist, musky odor. I didn't mind it but my more whiny companions did.
Still the selection is great and the prices are really fair. I tried to limit myself to somewhere between $50 and $75 but lord almighty I could have easily spent over a hundred. I left behind items like a Metaluna Mutant doll, Soulcalibur figures, those NECA videogame figures, Street Sharks, and most of all I passed up a still in box Draco the Dragon from Dragonheart. That was one of my all time favorite toys but with my limitations I went another way. If you're a toy person in any way shape or form, you really must check this place out sometime.

Wrapping up geek street I visited Goblin Games real quick. Actually having a local tabletop store these days it's neat to compare and contrast. This place had a lot of playing room and nice prices on their games, but not as much stock as my local joint. Not bad, but not as memorable as the neighboring stores.

Before we headed out to other sections of town we headed over to the storybook express convenience store. It's one of several buildings put together by a development company with a love for reusing old materials and making everything look unique. Don't be fooled though, the inside is still a fairly typical party store though this one has a few more excessive items like bongs and friend chicken.

Needing a wee boost of sugar we headed to Gingerbread House Bakery which was a great decision. While the donuts I had was just good, everything else was practically orgasmic. The peanut butter cups alone are worth a visit. There's a brewery moving in across the street and a pizza joint down the block which means this spot will soon be a refuge for the glutinous.

After that we checked out the opalescent glass factory. Nice stuff but as you can guess incredibly expensive. Then it was time to take in a few odd sights. We'd already seen the kokomantis, a big metal praying mantis, so it was time to seek out the two literal giants. I'm talking about Old Ben, the largest Steer in the world, who's stuffed corpse is kept in highland park next to the world's largest sycamore tree stump. Yea all of this stuff is very kitschy but god help me I love it. There's just something inherently endearing about monster livestock or oversized bug statues.

Feeling the need for proper food we decided to hit one of several drive-in's and ended up at a local joint named Rays. I'd looked into this place as it has some fame for it's big tenderloin burger. True to what I'd heard this was a good sized tenderloin and it wasn't half bad though everything there was just too damn basic. There wasn't anything special about any of it save for size. Likewise the atmosphere could definitely use a boost. Service was good though, points earned there.

Our bellies weighed down with meat and taters, we headed out to some less specialized locations like a local goodwill as we made our way to my last major stop. The night before the trip I decided to search for any good retro game stores and lo & behold I found The Gaming HQ. Very lucky I did since this was such a neat store. I've seen classic game stores with more items than this but they still had a fine selection and generally fair prices. Best of all it was really organized. Color me impressed. Similar to Kokomo Toys I could have spent plenty of geenbacks but I behaved and only brought home a couple items. What really tickled me were the glass cases with high-quality, and moderately rare games. It was essentially my old gaming collection that I'd sold off over the years to maintain a certain level of living. We're talking Suikoden, Parasite Eve, Mega Man Legends, Lunar, etc. Absolutely give these guys a shot if you love video games.

After that we started to wrap up and head back to the glove. Sure enough, I could tell I was back in my home turf when the scenery took a noticeable turn towards Tales from the Darkside atmosphere.

So what do I think of Kokomo, you ask? Well it's certainly an odd duck. For one it's got this strange mix of being a small town yet being quite large in scale. It's got all the shrinky-dink nonsense of villages across the country yet there's a population just shy of 40,000 with all the commerce needed to support that. Those people are a unique batch as well. There are tons of good ole boys and girls from the manufacturing days living out their days within the city. With so many folks like that together in one area it almost feels like a trip through time. These people lived in a time when you could just work at a factory, raise a family, and call it a day. Later in the day I couldn't help but notice how few young folk I saw. Obviously I saw a few teenagers and twenty somethings, just not many. This stuck out all the more the next day when running errands in my wee town of 9,000 people I saw more young attractive woman than I did all day in Kokomo. Maybe they were hiding down at the water park, I can't say.

Would I go back one day? Maybe. I loved Kokomo Toys, The Gaming HQ, Gingerbread House Bakery and Comics Cubed. Plus I'm sure there are many other oddities hiding among the many streets. At the same time it's a somewhat depressing area as it's a living embodiment of the American dream taking a shit and leaving people with the task of digging their way out. There's still a ton of visible damage from everything that hit the place yet there's a good supply of people aiming to make new businesses and make the it more livable.

That's enough dramatics about the failings of America for now. I did indulge in some good old fashioned consumerism, so let's look at my haul.

At Comics Cubed I grabbed an issue of The Incredible Hulk featuring my favorite swamp dweller, Man-Thing. That's another guest appearance down, something like 70 more to go.
I also nabbed this big pack of issues of The Legend of Kamui. I'd only vaguely heard of the title before, and honestly there's a lack of decent info on the internet. Still this seemed like something worth getting. Even better, it was marked as issues #1-26 for $9.99 but it actually 27, 28, 36, and 37 as well. Perhaps you'll see more about this one later on.

At Kokomo Toys I grabbed Cerberus from the Final Fantasy VIII Guardian Force series. Despite my love for this franchise I own almost no trinkets or memorabilia so this was a nice way to patch that hole. Then I picked up the new Dr. Strange Funko Pop, a Yubi Godzilla mystery mini, and since I needed to grab something classic, I picked up a Thundercats Slith figure.

Since I was behaving by that point in the day, the only things I got from the Gaming HQ were two shooters published by Working Designs (god do I ever miss those guys). Gungriffen Blaze was developed by Game Arts, the crew behind titles like Grandia and Lunar. Second is Silpheed: The Lost Planet which is those same guys teamed up with Treasure which makes it a instant buy. I also picked up a Val Lewton double Feature at the Goodwill store. These are out of print and sort of pricey these days so it's a nice find.

So that was my big reward, making up for the months of nonsense I put up with at the Alzheimer home. Now with the special trip out of the way I'm officially back to work on making something of my life, what a drag. I'm actually going to try and have another article cooked up for you all this weekend while I work on a massive pile of backlogged writing. See you again soon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Star Wars Book Club: Aftermath Review

This is a very special post today, friends. After months of toil including two of the longest weeks of my life I've finally returned to my old lifestyle. The job at the Alzheimer home is over, and an attempt at working for a local party store didn't work out. Now I'm back to just my old shelter job and doing my own thing most of the time. It's a true return to form which allows me the time to get things back in shape around here while expanding my presence on other sites and maybe even finding a paying gig here and there. Yea I'll have to hunt down another job eventually but for now I've got some clearance to work on my own projects and goals.
It's rather freeing after months of awful. In truth, I enjoyed the company of most of my co-workers. It was simply one of those business where the folks in charge are slowly grinding the place into the dirt while treating their employees like leaches. Not a good scene, especially for a place with an already strange and sorrowful atmosphere. But ya know what? I'm not here to talk about depressing locals or the shitbirds who run them. No, this is truly a time to return to the good stuff. And with that in mind, let's get back to one of my favorite features in that galaxy far far away with another installment of the Star Wars Book Club.

Star Wars Aftermath is notable for a variety of reasons, as the first post Jedi novel in new continuity, the beginning of a new trilogy, and the worst received title so far in this publishing initiative. I'm talking about some downright savage one and two star reviews just tearing this thing apart for everything from punctuation to character development. Given some fans reluctance to accept the new expanded universe it's usually a safe idea to approach every bad review with some skepticism. I mean this book couldn't possibly be as bad as so many made it out to be, could it? Truth is, this is a pretty weak tale. Not one completely without merit mind you but definitely the lamest New EU novel I've encountered so far. Let's check out why.

We open not long after the events of Retrun of the Jedi. The remnants of the Empire are struggling to regroup with a meeting of top brass military on the planet Akiva. In charge of this gathering is Admiral Rae Sloane who you may remember from New Dawn and a couple short stories. Honestly it's nice to see her again as she's so far been a more level-headed imperial baddie.

The plot description on the book itself may lead you to believe that Wedge Antilles is one of the main heroes of the tale but that's not the case at all. Wedge is captured early in the story and barely makes an impact on following events. Instead our heroes are a band of misfits on the planet surface.

Norra Wexley is...well she's kind of a drag really. The best way to describe her in one word is baggage. She left her son behind to join the rebellion in a vein attempt to search for her prisoner of war husband. She never found the guy during her service though she did participate in major battles such as the destruction of the second death star which has left her with PSTD.
Here's the thing. I have no problem with believing soldiers in this universe suffer with emotional trauma but to pin Norra's PTSD on one of the most heroic moments of the franchise is kinda lame. We're supposed to believe that while everyone else was dancing with teddy bears, she was crying in the shower. It would have served the character much more to have a more personalized trauma for us to identify with. As it is, she's just a massive buzzkill most of the time.

The reason for Norra's return to Akiva is to reunite with her son Temmin who we later know as Snap in The Force Awakens. Temmin isn't the worst character here though he suffers from behaving like he's a good deal younger than the stated fifteen years old. I mean we're lead to believe he's built up his own shop, salvaged his own droid bodyguard named Mr. Bones and frequently deals with criminals yet I couldn't shake the feeling the author was envisioning a whiny eleven year old certain interactions.

Speaking of Mr. Bones, he's a tough topic. On the one hand he does provide some genuine humor and plays well off surrounding personalities. At the same time, at lot of his lines and jokes can come across very forced and a little cringe-worthy. It's like the author decided Mr. Bones would be a crowdpleaser and tries to force it rather than letting it happen naturally.

Next up in our motley crew is Sinjir, a former Imperial agent who now spends his time drinking away memories. He comes across a bit better than the rest of the team thanks to a mix of being well-spoken, self-serving, and more than a little sarcastic. Those with an interest in inclusion might be glad to know he's also gay, though this effects the story in no meaningful way.

Then we have Jas, a female bounty hunter working for the alliance. Truthfully I'd be hard pressed to describe her personality as it's rather flat. She's a fairly standard resourceful loner. Thankfully she lacks most of the irritating lady warrior tropes. Other than that, there's not much to her.

As you might imagine, this oddball group slowly comes together in hopes of eliminating the remaining Imperial officers. As you may also guess, being the start of a trilogy they're not entirely successful. That's not what matters so much as is the adventure entertaining? It is.....sometimes.
Author, Chuck Windeg throws a few curve-balls our way. First he presents the tale in simple present tense. At first I couldn't quite peg what bothered me about this until I remembered these stories explicitly begin with the phrase “a long time ago.” Secondly, Chuck is a big practitioner of bullet points and sentence fragments. Don't be surprised to find page after page that looks something like this.

The biggest issue of all is pacing. We're already dealing with a large cast of characters in different locations, necessitating frequent shifts of perspective and hanging plot threads. This is understandable until the book doubles down on the issue with interludes that are completely unrelated to these events. Imagine reading three separate action scenes that have been left hanging for dramatic effect only to switch over to some war orphans on Naboo, or the awkward dinner of a family split between Empire and Alliance. While I enjoy the notion of learning more about post Jedi events, these sections only add to the troubles of a story that barely holds itself together as is.
What's more, only a few of these interludes are actually interesting. In one case that's a good thing as it's apparently the set-up for the second book in the trilogy. Another involving a black market deal to sell Darth Vader's lightsaber to a group of cultists is just cruel. I want more of this story, how did the saber get there? Who are the oddballs obsessed with a dead man's laser sword? It comes out of nowhere and leaves in a hurry.
And that's sort of the ebb and flow of this book. Plot threads are constantly put on hold, interesting concepts are teased only to suddenly be dropped, and the whole time the reader is struggling to care as the pacing doesn't allow for a smooth reading experience.

It's not all bad though. As I mentioned earlier, Rae Sloane continues to be a unique threat. Not altogether villainous so much as dedicated to her cause. The main cast also has the potential to become likable leads now that they've mostly sorted through dull emotional trauma and come together as a group.

As far as hints toward the greater Star Wars mythology there are two items of note. One is the revelation that during his reign, Emperor Palpatine sent out exploratory missions into uncharted space where he believed Sith power originated. One of the imperial officers suggests the remaining fleet head out and regroup there which seems likely to happen.
The other point of interest is a mysterious informant offering aid to the alliance. There's nothing much to go on currently but maybe we'll get lucky and find this to be an old foe returning to action or perhaps one of these threads leads to more info on Supreme Leader Snoke. A nerd can hope.

In the end this one is solely for dedicated Star Wars fans. It lacks the gripping narrative of Lost Stars, the fun of New Dawn, and the character interplay of Tarkin. For now, Aftermath rests firmly at the bottom of our power rankings which currently stand as:

  1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
  2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
  3. Tarkin by James Luceno
  4. Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

As you can see by the top photo, I've already got the next title lined up and waiting. I gotta tell you folks, it feels so great to be back simply working for the shelter, and having the time to catch up on writing, reading, watching, walking, just everything. The past three months of nonsense are over and it's time to make this year count for something. You'll be seeing a lot more of me soon with more articles here, elsewhere, and possibly some video content as well. Got lots to do, may the force be with us all.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Happy-ish Birthday 2016

It took thirty-one recurrences but it finally happened, I got sick for my birthday. Lemme tell you a trick as well. I don't get sick nearly as much as most folk so when some germ finally sneaks through my defenses it's infinity worse. Since Sunday morning it's been a total onslaught of slime, coughing, feverish shaking, with barely enough energy to maintain my already slim grip on reality. Even with how much better I'm feeling today, simply writing this post is taking all if my energy. Don't be surprised to find a paragraph where I lapse out and simply type the letter m over and over again.

That's how I spent mine and the nation's birthday. Covered in blankets, walking at a speed of quarter mile an hour. I didn't get out to see any fireworks, somebody screwed up the barbecue, though I didn't have the appetite for it anyway. All in all I think I can officially label thirty-one as my worst birthday ever.

Not all is lost however. I am absolutely going to have a complete mulligan birthday this weekend. We're talking polish sausage, sauerkraut, clearance fireworks, pie, and board games. Considering the first thing I have to do upon getting better is go back to work, I'd say I've earned the do-over.
Beyond that, there's also gifts. Those lovely little bits of sentiment that ease the trauma of finding yourself another year older. Not an altogether bad haul this year either, so let's take a look and focus on the good while we try to ignore the blob of ooze dripping out of my skull.

There's always that subset of gifts that are are small or spur the moment. Usually that's a small sum check in a card from gramma, other times it's a whole meal. One might say the buying party could have done better had they taken their time but I've gotta admit cornmeal catfish tastes all the better when I'm not paying for it. Oddly enough the one workplace gave me a tiny gift card for Meijer. It's a nice gesture though it'd certainly mean more if the place wasn't paying other employees more than me simply because they hired in two or three weeks later.

There's always someone who gets you something practical and necessary. This year that duty went to my dad who picked up the check for some of my yearly moped maintenance. Granted they'll never make a Hallmark commercial about a guy installing a new air cleaner but it's nice all the same.

On Saturday my brother gave me an early present with Bravely Default. This is one of the top reasons I got my 2DS. Problem is I'm already working on like 4 games at the moment so this is jumping to the front of the line with like ten others waiting to be played. I'm not saying I have to quit my job and play video games, but I might just quit my job and play video games.

My sister and brother-in-law were next in line when they delivered one present onto my deathbed on my actual birthday. The prospect of Vampire Hunter D on blu-ray would most definitely have garnered a bigger response under normal conditions. As it was, I was only able to lift it maybe an inch above my chin before letting out a thin, raspy woo.
The second half of their gift arrived late. My own set of nice colored pencils. I've been meaning to make a post about this but ever since taking up this shit show Alzheimer home job I've found coloring to be a good therapy tool. Gotta keep that brain working, ya know?

Finally we've got my mum. She took an extra day to give them to me but seeing as how she'd been nice enough to provide her dying boy with mashed potatoes and tea, we'll forgive her such oversights. First up are some proper pourers for my healthy sized mini-bar. If asked to point out one solid advantage of the new job is a fine stash of booze available at all times. Ensuring each bottles longevity by eliminating spillage is some top priority shit.
Next up is volume zero of Spider-Gwen. In case you haven't heard, this alternate universe version of Gwen Stacey who gains spider powers and loses her Peter Parker has been quite the rising star in the comic world. With what little I've read so far I can kinda see the appeal. There's enough regular elements of spidey storytelling to keep things comfortable while giving everything a different feminine touch. The fact that this is a somewhat grungy and downtrodden version of Gwen is a huge improvement over the prim and proper bore Peter Parker dated so long ago.. Personally I was never a fan of that twit so seeing an alternate take where she actually has a personality and contributes to society is pretty golden. Plus it initiates her into the club of spider-chicks I've long been a fan of.
Last but certainly not least is San Juan, a card game with a nifty feature known as simultaneous role selection. Essentially it means every turn you select a role which determines what you and everyone else gets to do, but since you picked it, you get some some kind of bonus. Maybe you build for less, maybe you pick up extra cards. It all depends on what role you pick. There's only so many games with this feature and out of all of them, this seemed like the best fit for my gaming endeavors.

So, yeah. Pretty good haul for an otherwise wretched birthday. I'm trying to work on some other posts for you guys, but being sick makes progress slow. Each paragraph practically requires a twenty minute recovery nap. Currently I've gotta figure out whether I'm going to work tomorrow. Honestly, even if my health returns I'd prefer not to go. It's supposed to be ninety some odd degrees and I'll still have all the energy of a slug. I'll see you all soon since I'm about a third of the way through another post. Until then, wish me luck. Thirty-one is already tough.