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.