Friday, June 16, 2017

CosmicSparky Bar Tips. Start-up and Bauchant Review

Here's a little history lesson about yours truly. One day when I was say four or five years old, my father was tasked with watching us kids. Upon my asking for something to drink he gave me some “juice” and oh what “juice” it was. As the night wore on I asked for further refiles of the divine liquid which filled me with an energy I'd never known before sending me into a sleep fit for a grizzly bear. Upon further investigation, dad realized he'd been supplying me with wine coolers all night. Whoops.

From those humble beginnings as a tot I steadily grew my love for booze. Early on it was samples of my brothers wine or Guinness (a beer I loved then yet can't abide now), later it was whatever I could get my mitts on. Upon reaching legal drinking age I blossomed into a full scale beer connoisseur, taking in everything in sight be it import, craft, or Milwaukee swill. There was always a dream to one day have my own stocked bar at home, fit with all the fine liquor a man could ever need. I achieved that dream over a year ago and now I think it's time to start sharing some tips and reviews with you fine people in a new feature for the site.

My first tip about having your own bar is don't freak out about the equipment. Much as drink snobs will demand you only serve certain drinks in an exact glass type, or only shake instead of stir, let's be real. Even if you have the right glass type, it may be dirty, same for your shaker. Not to mention that a glass can't save bad booze, or ruin the good stuff. I advise you just acquire your drinkware slowly. More than anything I recommend buying gift sets when possible. Not only do they cost the same as the booze would anyway, but before you know it you'll be swimming in glasses. I also advise investing in a jigger as shot glasses don't have consistent sizes outside of certain geographical areas.

Secondly the two anchors of your stash should be a good vodka and some decent gin. Both are incredibly versatile, functioning in anything from simple mixed drinks to more complex cocktails which means there's always a use for them. More importantly, you don't necessarily have to break the bank to get a decent bottle. Granted there's tons of them out there but since we're not reviewing them today let's just throw out some quick tips for shopping. If you're looking for vodka and have no clue what you want, try to aim for something Polish, preferably distilled from potatoes. Overall these are smooth, and easy to blend with whatever drink you have in mind and can be gotten fairly cheap. With gin it's best to go English, as a nice London Dry can work wonders even within the twenty to thirty dollar range.

One of the most oddly difficult challenges you'll face when stocking the bar is Rum. By and large, rum drinks are way too complicated, which is made worse by the existence of multiple styles such as white, dark, spiced, and even flavored brands like Malibu. If you feel like you must have one to start with, I'd suggest a white as they usually have more versatility than their darker counterparts. Of course if you simply want to pound it down with Coke, then by all means get something spiced.

My last tip for today which will lead into our review is about the difference between Triple Sec and Curacao.. I won't give you a full lowdown on the difference between the drinks, there are far more knowledgeable folk out there to keep that straight. Most bartending guides will rightly tell you to have some form of orange liqueur on hand as the sheer amount of drinks utilizing them is staggering. Problem is the vast array of brands with significant differences in quality means you can easily lose your mind and overstock the bar with variations of these staples. Often folks will make opt to just get one of the more pricey varieties with either Grand Mariner, or Cointreau, but I'm here to tell you there's a better, less costly option out there. Let me tell you about Bauchant.

Bauchant Orange Liqueur is an orange and honey cognac form France. It's 80 proof (that's 40% alcohol), and unlike it's more popular brethren can be purchased in the twenty to thirty dollar range. Most importantly, it is an outstandingly smooth drink that can blend with nearly everything, helping to remove the need for multiple orange fluids.

I'd never seen the stuff until it recently began to creep into nearby stores and the owner of one such establishment who comes across as some kind of rat pack reject recommended it. His guidance doesn't always lead somewhere good but in this case he was on the ball.
The smell, flavor, and even the color of Bauchant is properly balanced to function in drinks that demand Curacao or Triple Sec. It's also great to play around with recipes in the winter as the honey and cognac give it a slight warming effect.

Honestly I can't praise Bauchant enough. There's a chance of better orange liquors existing on the market, lord knows I wouldn't mind getting the similarly priced Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao. That being said, There's such a fine balancing act of flavor, quality, and budget at play here that I can't imagine a proper bar without it.  

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Uchu Sentai Kyuranger Episodes 13-17

Much has been made over the years of that old cliché about teaching a man to fish versus simply giving him the aforementioned fish. The notion is that teaching someone how to accomplish something will lead to a certain level of self-reliance, but in practice this isn't always true. Think of the number of times you've taught elderly family members how to use new gadgets only to have them purge the information over and over again. Even individually we can completely lack the ability to cement certain process or skills in our minds. This foible isn't solely reserved for individuals, just look at Kyuranger for instance. Much like grandma and her DVR, it should have all the skills and knowledge to put on a decent show, yet it fails time after time. I think the missing element is understanding. Sure, Kyuranger has everything it needs to be a fine Super Sentai, but it has no understanding of how to use any of it's elements.

Let's talk about Kotaro, the sky blue ranger who gained his powers just a couple weeks before episode 13, yet at the end of that tale he's sent off to a training camp. Imagine that as a writer you plot out a multi-episode arc to introduce, and empower the 11th member of this team only to almost immediately sideline him. What was the point of even introducing the kid if he's going to spend the next chunk of the series isolated from the group? Kotaro's not the only ranger that will be pushed aside in this article, but that comes later.

That same episode also fails to understand the notion of threat and circumstance. Early on, Hammy is turned into a zombie, causing the team to wonder what best to do with her. Does this virus spread through the team? Maybe turn half the crew into zombies? Nah, about a minute and a half later she's cured and all is well. As for the rest of that episode, I'm not even sure what the point was aside from some forced bonding between Kotaro and Stinger.

The following episode failed to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each character in relation to the missions they undertake. The team was forced to split up, sending one group to infiltrate a prison while the other entertains the warden. One might think this a good time to use Balance and Naga's skills as thieves, or Hammy's ninja training to bust into the prison, yet they're placed on the distraction team so the lucky guy and the cook can bust out the prisoners. Not that it matters as all of these characters we're secondary to a string of flat comedy and a cross dressing dog man.

Episode 15 illustrated a lack of understanding towards character flaws and basic moral lessons. Naga's primary struggle through the series has been in his attempts to understand emotion, the way the writers illustrate that struggle here is by having him suddenly go native on another world for no reason. Seemingly they just forgot he's only supposed to be confused by emotions, not everything else.
Within that same story, the team works on making a girl less shy by convincing her to tell her tribe they're worshiping a monster as a false savior. The Kyuranger's themselves could just as easily beaten the monster down in front of the elders, yet for whatever reason they feel the need to fix some girl since she has the audacity to be shy. They're not even helping with a truly notable childhood problem like a learning disability, they're just badgering a girl for being standoffish.

Episode 16 is that sort of thing that should serve as some kind of cornerstone for a series. It's filled with the kind of developments that can make or break a series by altering character relationships, and increasing the threat level. Of course the writer rush through all of these developments in 20-minutes instead of allowing anything to progress naturally.
After part 13, Stinger and Champ headed off together in search of Sting's brother Scorpio who's the new evil boss of Earth. Turns out this evil bro was also the one who killed Champ's creator and Stinger knew this the whole time, only neglecting to mention it for the sake of drama. Anyhow, the pair splits from the team and we occasionally witness brief bits of their adventure before finally reaching their goal.
Over the course of 20 minutes, the twosome meets and fights with Scorpio, who then reveals himself to be spying on the evil organization Jark Matter from within, Scorpio has some bonding moments with stinger, gets the teams plans to rebuild a legendary battleship, reveals that he's not a spy and turns against Stinger, adds in that he's also going to take over Jark Matter and be the ultimate villain, Stinger can't deal because he's a total pushover, tells Scorpio he might as well kill him, and Champ takes the hit and ends up destroyed, but that's all right cause Stinger's just going to take him back to HQ to get repairs.
Any one of those plot points could have been interesting had they been given time to properly develop. Having each one of them tossed at us in a row accomplishes nothing short of whiplash. Even Champ's destruction fails to resonate since we know fully well he'll be rebuilt, and there was never much of a connection to the character to begin with since at best he got about two lines of dialogue per episode.
On the matter of rangers being intermediately shipped off, there's a problem. It's a passable way of balancing out the vast array of characters, though not unlike the team selection process it's a double edged sword. I mean it's not much of a big deal if Champ or Kotaro get sent packing for a few weeks, but what about when one of the few decent characters has to take a hike? This show's flabby enough without people like Naga or Balance to provide some actual entertainment. Plus I'm well aware we'll never get rid of Lucky in such a fashion, seemingly because we don't deserve good things.

Alright, so episode 17.....well this one was almost good actually. For the first time since this series began it felt like I was actually watching Super Sentai. The focus was on Garou and Balance and mostly stayed on their relationship. The monster was sort of memorable for a change. Of course Lucky got a new upgrade, but even that didn't completely overshadow everything else. My lord there was even some comedy that worked for once.
While I admit this one was ok, it's nowhere near enough to course correct this show. For most other season, this would rank as a fairly forgettable adventure, it's just that so much of this show has been lame that even a slight step in the right direction feels miraculous.

So I've made a decision in regards to Sentai coverage for this site. I will continue offer up recaps and reviews of Super Sentai material but from now on I'll be looking at other series, films, individual stand-out episodes, perhaps even that new Korean spin-off. Kyuranger on the other hand is not something I'm interested in viewing any further. I may pop in a and check on it at a later date but for now there's more than enough material to talk about until a hopefully better show comes along.
What about you fine readers out there? Are there any particular facets of the franchise you'd like me to take a look at? Would you prefer I continues torturing myself with Kyuranger? Any recommendations from the readership are always appreciated so drop a comment.

That's all for today, kiddos. I've gotta be responsible and clean the house before work. Keep your peepers open for some new features starting up soon, hopefully this week. Stay cool.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Star Wars Book Club: Guardians of the Whills Review

Last night I had the displeasure of attending a high-school graduation ceremony. Gotta say, it's been quite a while since I've endured such a perfect storm of pomp, empty platitudes, bad music, painfully contradictory life advice, and weak analogies. Still, I suppose it's worth putting up with to see one of your own move ahead into something new, much the same way Star Wars moved onto something greater with the release of it's first side-story film last December. How's that for a lousy analogy?

A common complaint against Rogue One was that the cast of characters were underdeveloped. I found it odd for people to point this out as if it were a new phenomenon within this franchise. Admittedly this particular film did have quite the sizable cast squeezed into one movie, which leaves the heavy lifting of further character development in the hands of expanded universe novels. Today we'll be taking a look at one such novel with author Greg Rucka's Guardians of the Whills.

Guardians is a very short, young adult novel focused on Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus. Formerly guardians of the Jedi temple in the holy city of Jedha, the pair now spend their days protecting their fellow citizens from the hardships of imperial occupation. However the two begin to question whether their efforts are honestly making life better for anyone, yet they lack the power to accomplish much else until a rebel fanatic named Saw Gerrera reaches out to them.

The story plays a fairly subtle game in regards to revealing it's true narrative. Early on I feared that it would meander like far too many of the books we've covered thus far. Thankfully once the primary conflict revealed itself, I found it'd been in place the whole time. Likewise the flow of events felt very natural, never too rushed or forced. For that reason alone I feel it's best to not reveal too much, as the steady flow of events really helps to push the book along, making for a fun read.

Author Greg Rucka has previously proven himself able to properly capture the voices of characters from the screen, his portrayal of Leia in Before the Awakening being the prime example. He puts that skill to great use here, especially when it comes to Chirrut. It's so easy to imagine the dialogue and mannerisms here being delivered by Donnie Yen that it's an absolute treat to read.
That strong use of character voice is all the more important when you consider that this is one of the most talkative books in the franchise so far. Like many young adult books, descriptions of environments are kept light and sparse, leaving those pages to be filled with back and forth bickering. It's good stuff too. The friendship between these two aging heroes feels natural and comfortable, like there's a truly immense shared history between them.

The universe building here is slight yet intriguing all the same. We don't get a ton of information on our leads pasts, leaving room I'm sure for another novel someday. What we do get however is a good look at their life shortly before joining Jyn Erso's mission in the film. Along with that slice of life are glimpses into daily activity in the holy city along with hints of the different religions that worship the force. Peppered throughout the book are various prayers and poems from these sects, including a Sith prayer of all things. I'm continually pleased to see that there's more to faith in this universe than those stuck-up Jedi.

Honestly, I'm having a tough time finding things to criticize here, as Guardians made for such a pleasant surprise. Possibly the biggest flaw is also one of it's largest strengths, which is how streamlined and simple it all is. Unlike Thrawn or Twilight Company, this one doesn't go off on large tangents that add little outside of a page count. At the same time, I would have liked a little more detail on different topics. Still, that's a difficult balance to strike and I think this one accomplished it better than most.

The absolute biggest compliment I can give this book is that it really does accomplish the mission of adding value to what we've seen these characters do on screen. The extra depth given to this friendship, and each individuals outlooks on faith and the universe make their big moments within the film all the more meaningful and compelling.

I'm gonna have to give Guardians of the Whills a huge recommendation. I actually took the opportunity to read this in one day, and all the way through I knew it was easily top five material. Frankly it was good enough that it's casting a shadow over the title I'm currently reading. Don't let it's small size or young adult banner get in the way of reading this one, as it is easily one of the most enjoyable entries in the new continuity

1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
3. Bloodline by Claudia Gray
4. Guardians of the Whills by Greg Rucka
5. Ashoka by E.K. Johnston
6. Tarkin by James Luceno
7. Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
8. Battlefont Twilight Company by Alexander Freed
9. Moving Target by Cecil Castelluci and Jason Fry
10. Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka
11. Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka
12. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
13.Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
14.The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

Before I head out, got a few small announcements to make. There will be some new types of articles and changes to some long standing features coming this month. Recently I've felt like I'm finally getting on top of things so June is going to mark the point of kicking this year in the ass. So stay tuned for some new goodies, along with some work for another site, and of course more Star Wars and lackluster analogies.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Star Wars Smuggler's Bounty May Unboxing: A New Hope 40th Anniversary

Anniversaries are a hell of a thing. They're an understandable achievement when it comes to something like marriage or the continuing existence of a business because it takes work to keep such a venture going for so long. With items like art, an anniversary doesn't seem quite as notable. I mean let's face it, the original Star Wars would still be turning 40 this year regardless of whether or not it spawned a massive franchise. Even so, May marked the four decade mark for A New Hope and Smuggler's Bounty themed itself in kind.
If luck or or decent shipping had been with me, this unboxing would have been written up last week, but alas a combination of DHL and USPS sluggishness held back delivery until a mere hour before work on Thursday afternoon. This gave me just enough time to check on what it is I spend my duckets on before heading out to deal with the world. Was I lucky enough to nab something extra special? Let's dive in and see.

I took this month's photos in front of our entertainment center to give some sense of the massive scale of this box. This thing is huge! A cardboard titan that fuels the imagination as to what treasure could be housed inside. On top of that, is the illustration of Leia, promising the potential of an item commemorating the space princess lost to us back in December. Clearly there was some real potential within this crate, so what's inside?

As always, the standard issue patch and pin come first. Usually I have very little to say on this front but there's no way I can resist pointing out how lame this patch is. It's supposed to be Luke in his X-Wing flight gear but it looks more like some derpy kid dressed up for fun. You know what I'm talking about, your neighbors cousin who would show up every couple of months and couldn't take the hint that you didn't want to entertain him. Now that your mind is swimming with awkward childhood memories, I can at least say the pin is a decent, albeit fairly standard looking Chewbacca.

As always, I tried to blindly pull items from the box in order to sustain the mystery and surprise for as long as possible. Such an attempt proved challenging this time as one giant item dominated over the others. I figured this was the Pop that had already been spoiled to me by advertisements. I'd have to forgo my usual ritual to get this thing out of the way so I flung open the box, and that's when things took a turn for the bleak.

Let's talk about that Pop first. Continuing a theme from the previous Empire Strikes Back box, we're treated to another deluxe Pop. This time it's Luke in his landspeeder. No complaints here as this is a nice item. The paint, detail, sculpt, and size make for a winning collectible. Plus it continues a potential series of deluxe items for the main characters. Most likely, I would have been more thrilled with the item had it not already been spoiled. Still an awesome exclusive all the same.

The rest of the box is where the problem lies. First up is a Pop Home item, Han Solo and Greedo salt and pepper shakers. Now I've previously defended the inclusion of Pop Home Mugs as they have a variety of potential applications be that a drinking vessel, food bowl, or pot for small plants. Salt and pepper shakers on the other hand only have one function and who in this day and age even uses these things when proper pepper grinders are readily available? These were practically designed to show up at yard sales within the next few years.

Next was a little package that I first thought might be a wallet or something similar. Nope, sweat bands......honest to god, fucking sweat bands. Talk about a gross miscalculation of what costumers want from a Funko box. People subscribe to these services because they're into collectibles that can be displayed in some form or fashion. Items like Pops and Dorbz are easy to show off, t-shirts can be kept, hung, worn and still kept moderately fresh, or even turned into a damn quilt down the line. Even those salt and pepper shakers can be showcased in some way. Sweat Bands have no worth as a collectible and they're only purpose as an article of clothing is to become smelly and disgusting before being tossed in the garbage.

So what else was on tap in this massive anniversary box? Nothing at all. What's worse is looking at the outside of the box we were teased with the potential for a Princess Leia item even though she's nowhere to be found. Every single Funko box I've received thus far always includes the character on the box, even if they're just on the shirt. So why hint at Leia, only to leave a surprising amount of empty space inside? There isn't even the usual information sheet about this months items. Just one great Pop and a some junk.

I try to give Funko a boost whenever I can. By and large I like the company and their products. I've largely enjoyed they're subscription boxes as even the weaker offerings tend to have enough quality to make up for any misgivings. I just can't give them a pass here though. This was a poor offering to begin with, made even worse by failing to live up to the potential of the theme.
On a personal note, I'd already been planing to cut off my subscription in the hope of using that money elsewhere (and saving shelf space) so I really hoped to go out on a good note. Instead I'm leaving with a bitter aftertaste. I can only hope that whenever they decide to make a Return of the Jedi box, someone will have the good sense to make a deluxe Pop of Leia on her speederbike to accompany the two guys.

That's all for this month's unboxing folks. Over the Summer I'm planing to try out a couple different services that have caught my eye. Later in the year, I'm actually thinking of trying out Funko's Disney box as there are plans for a Haunted Forest box. For now though I offer the advice to anyone interested in Funko subscriptions that Smuggler's Bounty still fails to be as solid or consistent as the Marvel and DC options. Now you'll have to excuse me, I've got about ten things to do in the three hours before work. Tah.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Canadian Snack Food Part 1

If nothing else, I can say that 2017 has thus far been a year for changes. Most of those have been cosmetic mind you, new carpet, slightly altered work schedules, while others are major shifts like a niece moving away. There's been just enough goings on to make it hard to stay on top of everything and that level of activity requires fuel, so praise be that my sister was kind enough to bring back some snacks from a day trip to the great white north.

Honestly, saying “some snacks” is more than a little deceptive as she brought home a massive haul of goodies for gorging. So much so that even a couple weeks later, I still haven't tried everything. So without further ado, let's dive into part one of the great Canadian junk food sampler.

Doritos Ketchup, Intense Pickle, and Zesty Cheese.

Above all else, I informed my sister that she could gain proper sibling of the year cred if she brought back the three main Canadian varieties of Doritos chips. Given my usual luck I assumed one flavor would go missing in the shuffle, but for once in life I got to have it all, and am largely pleased with the results.
Ketchup chips, despite being a mainstay of Canadian foodstuffs, can still be a bit of a tough sell in the U.S. I've always found them to be delightful but as many like to remind me, my tastes are somewhat abnormal. While a good ketchup potato chip is always a fine snack, these Doritos provide an extra kick. There's so much ketchup flavor at work here, it absolutely coats your mouth, nearly eliminating any moisture within. Suffice to say I was in love from bite one. Sadly these are a limited time item which means it may be quite some time before I can recapture the joy of this little baggie.
Intense Pickle somehow worked it's way into being a full time flavor while failing somewhat to live up to it's name. Oh it's intense, that can't be denied, but not so much with pickle flavor as with vinegar. I can eat a few at a time but these aren't something I'm eager to revisit.
Then there's Zesty Cheese which has the side-effect of reminding me of Trailer Park Boys as the bag really does look like Zesty Mordant (that's Zesty Zesty if you wanna know). After getting over the giggles I dug in to find one of the best Doritos varieties of all time. The flavor here is meant to evoke cheeses like parmesan or romano, and my god are they ever delicious. What's more the flavor only seemed to improve in the following days. It's as if the rode to staleness actually ripens these babies. From now on, any trip up north necessitates a few bags of these little wonders.

Hickory Stick

A frequently touted heavyweight of the northern snack scene, Hickory Stick are seasoned Julianne style potato crisps. If I recall correctly, attempts were made to bring these stateside though I can't imagine how they would have failed. While these seem more greasy than regular potato chips, the seasoning gives em a wealth of flavor, bordering on barbecue with hints of herbs. More than that, the shape demands more attention so one doesn't accidentally shove potato up a nostril. No mindless snacking here. This is a potato snack of sophistication. Very recommended

Hawkins Cheezies

While studying for my shopping list, I found Hawkins Cheezies to be spoken as something akin to a religious experience. These were touted as more than a simple cheese snack, but a way of life. As a man well versed in cheesy goodies I was more than a little skeptical. After all, there's a large quality gap between some run of the mill cheese puff compared with a Better Made Cheese Ball. With Hawkins however, I found something wholly separate from the usual suspects. Upon opening the bag I was assaulted by a dank, foot-like smell, as if someone had hidden a nice chunk of legit cheese in the bag. The flavor followed suit. Indeed, Hawkins taste nothing like the usual Cheeto, Herr's, or whatever brand you call friend. No, these taste like real deal cheese. I'm marking these as a rite of passage for any snack maniac out there.

Crush Cream Soda

Going by the name alone you might not think much of this item, but think about it, have you ever seen Crush Cream Soda? Chances are slim as the company for one reason or another only produces this variety for Canada. Perhaps there's some sort of trade-off however as my sister said she saw no evidence of Strawberry Crush up there. If that is indeed the case then I'd say we got the better end of the deal. Don't get me wrong, this is a pretty solid soda. With it's bright pink coloration and cotton candy leaning flavor, I'd place it above several other mass produced cream drinks. At the same time, even a passable Strawberry sodas are too few and far between to pass up for an OK cream. Let us hope then that her observation was merely a stroke of bad luck.

Firework Oreo (Christie)

Before anybody starts stomping and raving that Firework Oreo are readily available in the U.S. Take note that in Canada, everyone's favorite cookie is produced by a company called Christie, utilizing a slightly different recipe. Having had both versions of this special Oreo I'm not sure I can claim a hands down winner. On one hand I preferred the Christie take on the actual cookie, while I'm fairly sure I prefer the Nabisco take on the cream. Perhaps a team up is in order to produce the perfect take on this classic treat.
As for the actual firework portion of these cookies, it's an alright gimmick, albeit one that doesn't really add much. The taste is pretty much the same, and if you eat too fast, then your saliva won't even break through the cream to activate the popping candy. This is one area where the Canadian version has the upper hand as their cookies allow for better milk absorption, which in turn equals more popping,

That's all the snacks I can report on for now. Gotta get some sleep before work after all. Look for more on my snacking smorgasbord soon, and something else most likely by this weekend. Stay cool.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Star Wars Book Club: Thrawn Review

Long ago, when I was but a wee lad spending my nights in the upstairs front bedroom of our old family home, I would occasionally pass the time perusing the built in bookshelf. Seeing as I'd yet to learn how to read, I generally admired cover art and tried to discern the plot lines of the many titles then beyond my reach. One of my favorite pieces to stare at was the cover of Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, a title I'd later learn was a high water mark for the old Expanded Star Wars universe. Two elements of that old book cover left me wondering what happened within those pages, one was some old guy with light shooting out of his fingers, the other was a blue skinned man, who I later learned was a fan favorite named Thrawn.
Seeing as I never indulged in Zahn's previous work, imagine my excitement when it was announced that along with Thrawn appearing in the Rebels TV series, Zahn would also write a novel establishing the characters history within the new continuity. Not having gotten to that series yet, this was finally my chance to see what makes this character so special. There was no waiting for a good ebay price on this one, no sir, I nabbed this up quickly, actually interrupting progress on another book. Was it worthy of such excitement? Let's find out.

Despite what the title may lead you to believe, Thrawn is actually a tale of three individuals. One of is obviously blue boy himself, but equal time is spent with young Imperial recruit Eli Vanto. Another large chunk of attention is spent on young bureaucrat Arihnda Pryce. It is through these personalities that the reader is treated to a very cold and calculating look at life in service of the empire, and all of the twisted decisions that come with climbing to a position of power.

It all begins with a group of imperial officers investigating the camp of an unknown alien, only to suffer repeated raids by the being in question. At the forefront of this investigation is cadet Eli Vanto whose knowledge of fringe space gives him a measure of understanding towards what they're facing. Eventually the alien is taken into custody and brought before the Emperor. During this meeting an agreement is made that Thrawn will serve the Empire and educate the Emperor on the dangers lurking withing unknown space. In return, the Empire will aid in the protection of Thrawn's people, the Chiss, from such threats.

From there on it's off to the academy where Thrawn can learn the finer details of Imperial military service alongside Cadet Vanto who is kept nearby as an aid and translator. This relationship is at the heart of the whole novel as the actual plot is a bit thin. After the pair graduates from the academy, it's off to a series of different missions to track down pirates, smugglers, and malcontents. The real meat is witnessing how Thrawn climbs through the ranks while training Vanto to be an equally astute strategist. The reasons for this interest in the boy are kept hidden for quite some time.

Arihnda Pryce's plotline shares the theme of climbing the ranks, though her's is a much less steady approach. Early her family owns a mining facility until corrupt officials steal it away. From then on it's a journey through the world of civil service and political intrigue to strike at those who wronged her and make a name for herself. Arihnda's story is mostly removed from the other two characters, not truly joining up until late in the proceedings. This struck me as very odd until I found that she also appears on Rebels. Without prior knowledge of her on screen prescience, the character came across as being shoehorned in for a higher page count and world building. Perhaps once I catch up with that show I'll find a greater appreciation for her on page antics.

As you can probably guess by now from my general tone, this is a tough one to review. On the one hand the prose is strong with a nice flow and pace. There's some truly interesting developments about unknown space and the dangers found there, and just reading how Thrawn continues to outwit everyone can be a real treat. On the downside it's all a bit haphazard without a strong core narrative to hold it all together. Not to mention that if these cool developments fail to lead to anything worthwhile, well then what's the point? For example, the fate of Eli Vanto sets up a potentially interesting scenario, I won't spoil it for you, maybe he'll show up in of the movies, aged and greatly changed from his experiences, if not then it's just a wasted twist ending.
Perhaps the best way to sum up the issues with this novel is that it's worth is far too reliant on other parts of the universe. The ending is cool yet may lead to nothing, Arihnda's story probably only matters to those who know her from Rebels. There's supposedly a meeting that occurred between Thrawn and Aniken Skywalker that happened sometime in the past, but we either don't get the details, or they were so uninteresting as to slip my mind.

So yes, Thrawn was an odd one. I mostly enjoyed my time with it, yet I sort of resent it for meandering so much and wasting my time when it could have proved to be more efficient and effective like it's lead character. In the end it's going to miss the top five in the rankings by just a slim margin. My advice is that it's a good read for dedicated Star Wars nuts, just not those who only want to read the best of the best. Let's update the rankings.

1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
3. Bloodline by Claudia Gray
4. Ashoka by E. K. Johnston
5. Tarkin by James Luceno
6. Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
7. Battlefont Twilight Company by Alexander Freed
8. Moving Target by Cecil Castelluci and Jason Fry
9. Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka
10. Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka
11. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
12. Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
13.The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

If you've noticed that updates have been a little slower lately, that's about to change. Currently I'm in the midst of home projects, longer work weeks, and a new animal addition to the household. Most of the items should be taken care of by the end of this week. After that I've got so much to share with you all, whether that be more Star Wars, Canadian Doritos, or my attempts at model building. See you soon.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Uchu Sentai Kyuranger Episodes 8-12

Way back when I started this site, I ad very little in the way of primary goals in mind. One thing I did understand however was that I wanted CosmicSparky to be a more upbeat, less complaint addled place than the majority of nerdy internet spots. Of course this means I have to be careful about which topics I chose to cover. Generally I try to pick items I'm passionate about so I can experience the fun of sharing what I love with others. Every so often somethings comes along that can't be treated nicely, think Iron Fist or one of the more lackluster Star Wars books. Generally, if I can't provide a positive take or something or at least have a great deal of fun tearing it down, then I simply don't write about it. With that explanation out of the way, you'll hopefully come to understand why Kyuranger has become such a difficult item to write about. Despite my usual enjoyment of Super Sentai, this series has provided almost nothing I crave from the franchise. I took time off from the show in April hoping upon my return that the initial growing pains would be taken care of. Has the show finally developed into something worthwhile? Let's take a peak.

We catch up with the team still trying to liberate Earth. The operation at hand is based on destroying various consumarz, the giant towers that suck up planetium and hollow out planets. The entire crew is needed for this task so naturally three of them have been sent off on some completely unrelated errand. The remaining six break up into smaller groups because Spada wants to stop the evil bosses and keep people from starving. I'd take his side on this matter if not for the giant evil towers that will soon destroy the Earth, making the plight of the people pretty much moot.

During the team's separation, several of them are beaten and taken hostage by squid and octopus themed assassin's whose names I failed to register. Even the rescue team fails in their efforts against this duo. Eventually it comes down to commander Xiao to reveal that he has his own shiny spandex suit and save the day. That is until the start of the following episode when it's discovered he can only stay in his superpowered form for a limited time. While most of the crew is rescued, Spada is captured when he once again refuses to follow orders.

This new hostage situation brings on some backstory for Xiao. Before he was the commander of the rebellion tasked with finding the nine saviors, he was just an underling who found a way to force transformation. His tenure as a purple warrior lead to a confrontation where the former commander, Big Bear losses his life. Decent sob story, right? Well don't get settled in for long term emotional struggle because it's just a few pep talks from Lucky before Xiao is made into an official Kyuranger with his own dragon robot and everything.

You'd think a show that had introduced ten heroes in almost as many episodes would be content to take a breather, maybe take some time to develop one or two of them into three-dimensional beings. You couldn't be more wrong. Before you even have time to make a sandwich, there's yet another ranger joining the team. This time it's Kotaro. Who's that you ask? Good question. Kotaro is one of the kids Stinger held captive back when he was undercover within Jark Matter. There's no shame in assuming the kid would be a simple one off character who'd never be heard from again but he kept popping back up. More than that he had a wish to become a kyuranger, and if we learned anything from the previous episode, heroism in this series is just a matter of wishing really hard.
Kotaro's powers are gifted to him by the ghost of Commander Big Bear. Why's he hanging around as a ghost? Why not? The kid gets the ability to grow large, beat people with his scarf, and generally annoy the audience. Both Sentai and Power Rangers took stabs at kid rangers in the 90's only to learn it's a horrible idea and move on. Why this concept has returned, let alone in a series already overflowing with characters and gimmicks, is beyond me.

While that kid is hanging out with Lucky and getting his powers, the rest of the team is stuck on the ship as it hurtles towards the sun. Is this the moment the show takes a shot at building a tense, contained storyline? Nah, they use imminent death as an opportunity for wacky slapstick. Over eighty percent of the cast is sidelined with an ineffective comedy subplot while Lucky and some new kid hog the spotlight.

Speaking of Lucky hogging the scene, the following two episodes focus on the team trying to defeat those two assassin's I mentioned earlier while Lucky struggles with a sudden onset of bad luck. Taking all bets on whether he handles the situation with dignity or opts to throw himself around like a petulant child. Yeah.....there's the smallest trace of some tragic backstory for this twit but I dare you to give a crap when he's throwing a fit and endangering his team in some vain effort to prove how lucky he is. Adding insult to this scenario is how the other ten rangers are incapable of taking down the one assassin as a group while Lucky pretty much takes out the guy in one move, sigh.

As it stands now, the team is on a quest to use that unnecessary treasure map to hunt down pieces of a ship that will allow them to take down Jark Matter. In response the villains have sent down Singer's brother, Scorpio to deal with the dogooders. The only major shift in tone or development during these episodes is a change to the ending credit dance which now includes significantly less pelvic thrusting.

I like to preach the beauty of this franchise, of the entire Japanese take on superheroes for that matter, but this show is failing on all fronts. I've seen great, good, and some awful Sentai in my time. Kyuranger is something else, it's just lame. Even poor series like Ninninger would have one or two elements to make it mildly interesting, be that great action or a couple of good characters. Nothing I want out of a Sentai series is on display here. The story is straightforward and lackluster, the action is weak, characters are as two dimensional as they come, the humor falls flat. A dozen episodes in and it's just an overproduced clump of nothing.

I've got a proposition for my readers. With the amount of stuff I have to do in life along with other topics I could write about, would you prefer that I bite down and continue with this lame show, so long as I find an interesting way to cover it? Or would you rather I use the updates usually marked for Sentai coverage to cover other parts of the franchise such as past series and movies? Or maybe you'd like me to simply cover other topics until a better Sentai comes along? I'm eager to hear some ideas. Of course I'll be thinking on it a bit myself over the next few days as I work yet another new schedule. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

My Life in Film Part 1: 1985-1989

Hello once again my dearies. There have been a few neat changes in my neck of the woods. I among several others have a whole new work schedule which so far is not only making me significantly happier, but also restoring my productivity. It's creepy how much more one can accomplish when they don't need to jack their natural sleep schedule outta whack every weekend. What this means for you all is my butt is working on a wave of new articles for here and elsewhere.
Today I'd like to start up a limited series of posts based on the “my life in film” challenge. I first encountered this years ago on The basics of the project are pretty simple. Look at every year of your life and figure out your favorite film per year. Ties are allowed in special situations but it's best to aim for one above all others.
The notion of picking a favorite flick for every year of life sounds easy, right? You'd be amazed at the range of difficulty that comes with this undertaking. Some years are nice and easy with a huge personal favorite standing out above the pack. Other years require a fine toothed comb just to find a movie you simply enjoy. Possibly the worst are those special years with tons of classics all competing for attention. Thankfully through the course of study it's easy to come across cool flicks you might have missed. With the rules outta the way let's take a look at the first five years of my life in film.

1985: Honestly......a little bit of everything but probably Silver Bullet.

Rather fittingly for the year of my birth, 1985 practically stands as a love letter to my kind of cinema. There's a crazy number of little favorites from throughout the year in damn near every genre. Classic cheesy 80s action titles like Commando, Cobra, and American Ninja. Timeless horror tales like Return of the Living Dead, Fright Night, Dawn of the Dead, Re-Animator, and Lifeforce. If you're in the comedy mood there's Clue and Real Genius, not to mention Back to the Future. There's even a few gorgeous fantasy stories like Legend and Ladyhawke.
Before starting this series I thought of making a single post about the scope of 1985. Looking at that list of titles above reveals so much of what mattered to me as a child such as musclebound action stars, gory creature features, and wild ideas. Essentially the whole year shaped my views of what entertainment should be which means picking a top dog is an almost impossible task. I mean ties are allowed but some kind of 10-way tie is clearly going overboard.
Of all the big and little classics of the year the one that I come back to more than any other is strangely, Silver Bullet. Yeah I'm talking about the Corey Haim, Gary Busey small town werewolf movie based off a Stephen King novella originally intended as a calendar. Seems like an odd pick given the range of movies available for me to choose from, doesn't it?
For the longest time I couldn't quite explain why this movie matters so much to me. There's certainly better stuff out there to watch. I think the real reason it has stuck with me for so long is that I've always been able to personally relate with the tale in some way or another. As a kid that would be looking at Marty as another kid who doesn't quite fit into regular life (it's the way ya feel growing up as a home schooled night owl with very few friends). As an adult I get to see myself as Red, a guy who does his parenting as an uncle and suffers from trouble with the ladies. Combine that with small time charm and a variety of odd side characters and it all starts to feel like home. Beyond that, this was a Monstervision favorite of mine growing up. A constant source of comfort, sort of like a baby blanket in movie form. Very fitting for the first entry on this list.

1986: Tie between Blue Velvet and Big Trouble in Little China.

Maybe it seems cheap to proclaim a tie so early in the list but in this case I really have no choice. Like 85 before it, 1986 has a fine selection of favorite flicks like Ferris Bueller, Jason Lives, and Highlander, but above and beyond all those are essentially my two favorite films of all time.
Big trouble in Little China has the nostalgia advantage as it was another tale I watched countless times on television. Every single element of this movie just works for me. I love Kurt Russel in the role of Jack Burton, a bullheaded, arrogant trucker. I love his buddy Wang as a lighthearted romantic warrior. Lo-Pan is a perfect villainous blend of sinister and sarcastic. It's pure entertainment through and through. It's hard to imagine something else competing so strongly for my affection, let alone in the same year.

I didn't see Blue Velvet until I was probably sixteen or so. I'd seen and enjoyed David Lynch's work before so the chance of catching this one Encore or something similar was impossible to pass up. From frame one I was hooked. The small town full of mysteries, the positively wacko characters, and possibly the best damn villain ever put to the screen.
While both movies are completely different in tone and style, they each illustrate a huge portion of my world view. I adore adventure, interesting personalities, secrets just below the surface of normal society. I've always held a fascination for outlandish concepts along with harsh and cruel reality. All the more, I've always had a knack for finding myself in odd situations surrounded by absolute weirdos so both stories feel comfortably real. If you ever find yourself wondering about the mindset of this odd guy whose articles you read, just blend these two films together and you might understand things from my point of view.

1987: The Lost Boys

Now this is something of an easy year to pick. Granted 1987 did bring us such glories as Predator and Evil Dead II, but for this guy, nothing beats the bright neon board walks and overstylized vampires of The Lost Boys.
Another childhood TV fave, Lost Boys never fails to impress me with it's sheer bounty of style, comedy, drama, gore, greased up saxophonists, motorcycle races, big hair, loud music, classic lines, and I could go on for quite a while at this. Every element of the story is so simple, family moves to mysterious new town, boy meets girl, other boy makes friends with eccentric comic store employees, it just keeps layering on itself like a perfectly balanced horror sandwich. In essence, it's a spooky tale for all seasons or moods.

1988: Another tie Akira and Bloodsport

That's right, it's another tie already. Give me a break, the 80's are looked on fondly for a reason. Consider that a hardcore action junkie such as myself can look at the year that gave us Die Hard and pick not just one, but two other films. Such was the bounty of that decade. I assure you there will be far less ties once we hit the 90's.
Akira has a history to it. Back when my family first got cable we made fast friends with the Sci-Fi channel, which was spelled correctly in those days. Every so often the network would showcase anime like Robot Carnival, Vampire Hunter D, and of course the heavy hitter that was Akira. The first time I saw it I didn't like it. Sure everything looked cool but the story made zero sense to me, the voice acting was lame (the original dub with ninja turtles mind you) and damn was it ever gross. Even so I viewed the movie many more times over the years still coming away dissatisfied yet willing to watch again for whatever reason. One day I was lucky enough to catch an airing with the second dub and suddenly something clicked. I somewhat understood what was going on for once and I loved it.
For what it lacks in character development or sensible storytelling, Akira makes up for with pure balls. It's a massive tale of science run amock, political intrigue, warfare, human evolution, and disillusioned youth that somehow squeezes into just over two hours of screen time. Many have song the praises of the original manga's larger scope and more concise ending but I say nay. For those guy, the movie is all that truly matters.
On the other end of the spectrum yet equally important is one of the essential entries in the Cannon Films library. We're talking about Bloodsport. A film with narrow focus, low class, and more fun than a kiddie pool full of jello.
I see no reason to attempt to defend Bloodsport. It's a delightful experience each and every time. However, I do want to mention an observation of mine and ask that you fine readers test my theory on your own time. During a moderate sized gathering of friends or family, settle in and start watching Bloodsport. Eventually someone will walk by and comment on what a dumb movie it is only to then sit and join you. Slowly but surely, more and more folks will join in much the same manner and before you know it, there's a whole room of people watching and having a great time. Everyone on the planet knows this movie is silly, yet deep down they just want to watch Van-Damme scream and kick ass.

1989 Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

The end of the 80's was undoubtedly the decades weakest offering movie wise. From Batman, to Ghostbusters 2, and even Star Trek V, 1989 was full of movies that could be a part of your life, just not towering classics. One feature slowly wormed its way into my bloodstream over the years. One that happened to mix the time traveling antics of sci-fi with pure Californian stupidity.
Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure was never that big of a deal to me as a kid. I sort of liked it, would watch it once in a while though I was more likely to catch the second on TV. Much like Akira something eventually clicked as I entered my twenties.
For whatever the movie lacked in strong narrative, or decent production it more than made up with heart. Bill and Ted were heroes in a time when heroes didn't need to be smart or good at anything. Such was the brilliance on display in their adventures. Where other movies will focus on the best and brightest, this was a story of how humanity would one day be lead into a golden age thanks to two good-hearted dimwits. It's a movie to watch when you need reassurance that you don't need to be smart, strong, or even sensible on your path through life. You just gotta rock on and be excellent to each other.

And that was the first five years of my life in film. Next time we'll move on to the 90's and a few really unexpected favorites. Other than that I plan on having another post up before the week is out. Until then I'd love to hear some of your favorites. What was the best movie in the year you were born? Drop a comment. It'll make ya feel good and maybe earn you a cookie.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Musings On the Opening of Night Court

Growing up I watched a ton of TV. To a certain extent that statement is still true but as a kid, the glowing cyclops might as well have been an extra parent. More important than just the amount of time I spent combing the airwaves was the sheer breadth of content I consumed. Most kids would merely be satisfied to simply ingest the programming of Nickelodeon, Fox Kids, and Cartoon Network, all of which were part of my diet yet I also made the time for adult dramas, classic comedies, horror, and frankly far too many shows that weren't intended for me in any way. At least I don't imagine there were many eight-year-olds who religiously viewed Roc. All shows were welcome...except for Touched by an Angel, I know a shit sandwich when I see it.
Obviously the massive amount of TV helped (or hindered) in shaping my world view. Everything from race, religion, history, was largely pieced together thanks to Mr. Ed and Captain Kirk. I even gained a few life skills while I burned my retinas out. No shit; I learned how to slow dance thanks to every sitcom episode where some nervous kid has to learn how to dance.
Still; it's the more specific influences from TV shows that I find interesting. It's one thing to gain a love for trashy cinema thanks to Monstervision and USA's Up All Night. It's another thing entirely to shape ones opinion of a location from ten seconds of footage, which is exactly what happened to me in regards to New York City and the opening of Night Court.

For those of you who've never had the pleasure, Night Court was a nine season comedy on NBC that focused on the antics a Manhattan municipal courts night shift. There was a cast of goofball employees and a rotation of strange cases to judge along with the occasional bit of drama. It all still holds up quite well to this day, but I'm not here to sell you on the show. No; I'm here to talk about the opening credits. Primarily a choice few seconds of them. See, while most of the opening was made up of the usual character footage, the first chunk of footage was all about NYC. These shots always enthralled me yet also strangely convinced me that the big apple was a place I never needed to see in person.

What better way to kick off than the classic skyline shot? For decades this was the angle to showcase New York, that is until two rather notable elements went down. Back in the 80's however, few shots better summed-up the character of the city. The bridge, the towers, pollution both light and environmental. Shots like this are what made me such a sucker for cityscape photos. I can't help but wonder about every little point of light in those buildings. Somebody's in there. What where they doing at that precise moment in time? Yeah, I get a little meta about photography.

Next we hit the streets with what is possibly my favorite shot of the whole thing. This group of people socializing, and being that it's the 80's they're naturally smoking. Everything looks sort of run-down and cold yet they seem to be having a good enough time. 90's sitcoms like Friends often made the mistake of romanticizing New York far too much. What's on display here is so much better. These people obviously aren't rolling in cash or sipping lattes. They're just having a good time with some smokes.

Then we have the subway. Being someone who was raised and still lives in prairie country, subways have always fascinated me. It's one thing to even have public transit but these are so much more than the buses you might find around here. Whole interconnected mazes that comprise their own mini-world beneath ours. Doesn't help that I'm a sucker for lighting so the fluorescent tubes draw me in.

Another classic portrayal of the roughness of NYC was this guy. Just this brief glimpse of one man introduced so much detail and mystery. Guy's got a bag, possibly full of his earthly possessions. He's properly equipped for the shitastically cold weather, and let's not forget the bagged bottle. The basic assumption is that he's plowing through a fifth of whiskey, vodka, or whatever. I've always had this odd feeling that he's chugging cough syrup. Also gotta point out the tacky sign for chicken and sausages. Standard issue crap street food.

There's plenty to unpack with this shot of the street vendor. Never could tell what the bald guy was buying but seeing as there's a selection of candy, road maps, and skin mags on display, he was probably in for a solid night.

Having firmly established the spirit of the city, the editors finally kick in that one shot that brings in the theme of law and order. Two beat cops, lazily strolling down the sidewalk. What makes this part so special is that there's nothing special about it at all. It's just a perfect example of bored guys doing their job. You'll notice the short one is actually checking his reflection in the metal siding.

Later seasons added some more footage in between actor credits. Most of this isn't anywhere near as dear to me as those opening seconds but here's my favorite of the bunch. Once again it's a newsstand, and yes it has that lighting I love so much. These were another fascination of mine due entirely to my location. The only time I'd ever see something like a newsstand was at an airport or hospital. The idea of just strolling past these tiny stores on the sidewalk further cemented my notion that big cities may as well be other planets.

These tiny bits of footage convinced me early on in life that large cities while infinitely fascinating, simply weren't for me. The sheer honesty of the photography showed a place that was eccentric and sometimes fun while at the same time rough, messy, and sometimes downright ugly. My experiences in places like San Francisco or Chicago have only further cemented that outlook for me. I'm not a country guy by any measure mind you. I still need streetlights, neighbors, and a place to buy late night beef jerky. Simply put I'm a middle of the road type. Places like New York City will always intrigue me yet if I ever feel the need to visit all I have to do is turn on some Night Court.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Star Wars Book Club: Bloodline Review

A few years back I decided to finally embrace the idea of April Fools Day albiet with my own twist. Instead of basic pranks and gags I aim for something closer to public art. We're talking the kind of thing that will make someone stop in their tracks and scratch their head. Something of both a perk and issue with this is that it may take weeks or months for the project to be discovered. This makes it so the day itself isn't necessarily so important though the usual advent of good sprin weather tends to spur me on. Sadly this past week has been something of a rollercoaster veering wildly from sunny and pleasant to snowy and wet. Unable to set up my projects thus far I've taken time to catch up on some reading which means it's time to tell yall about more Star Wars.

For nearly the entirity of this feature one book has sat comfortably atop the quality rankings. Of course I'm talking about Lost Stars by Claudia Gray, the star crossed lovers epic of the new expanded universe. Despite the books own flaws such as some overdrafts and a flabby ending no other novel in the franchise has found such a solid a balance of scope, world building, characterization etc. It didn't seem like anyone stood a chance of dethroning that work, until the same author took another shot at the galaxy far far away. I mean who better to take down Claudia Gray than Claudia Gray?

The setting for Bloodline is six years before the force awakens. Our focus is Princess Leia and her service for the new republic senate. Things aren't so good in the senate as very little is accomplished other than bickering between the two primary political parties. Leia belongs to the populist party, a group that believes in individual planets rights to oversee their own affairs. On the other side is the centrist party that hopes to restore a more centralized powerful government that impose it's will throughout the galaxy. Does that sound familiar?
Summing up the story cleanly would prove to be something of a challenge though the core of it revolves around Leia's growing yet difficult friendship with centrist senator Ransolm Casterfo. Initially disgusted by the man when she discovers his hobby of collecting Imperial artifacts the two soon forge a bond while investigating a large criminal organization with deeper ties to something far more sinister. The scenes between these two characters are easily the strongest element of the book with Casterfo proving to be one of the finest new personalities from these books. He's a completely three-dimensional being whose flaws are never too outlandish nor are his positives too garish.

On that aforementioned investigation into the criminal underworld, it really kickstarts a story unlike most others in the franchise so far. There's bombings, assassinations, secret armies, and since it all plays out from a political perspective it comes across as a more unique adventure than the usual planet hopping antics we're accustomed too. Frankly it's a nice change of pace from the basic adventure tales that have so far made up the majority of new cannon. Think of it this way. If novels like Heir to the Jedi and Ashoka equivalent to Flash Gordon or Zatoichi than this is The Pelican Brief.

Two other key characters throughout this tale are Joph Seastriker and Greer Sonnel both of whom are decent additions though neither can match up to Leia or Casterfo. Greer in particular sticks out like a sore thumb due to a strange health subplot that doesn't show up until late in the game. Joph on the other hand is more of the typical Luke Skywalker stand in. He's young, craves adventure, blah blah blah. He's not a bad character by any means, might even qualify as good if he weren't sharing the spotlight with more interesting personalities.

One odd problem through this book comes from the writers background as a young adult author. By nature of her usual genre, Claudia Gray is used to inserting small bits of overemotional asides. In a book like Lost Stars where the cast was made up of teenagers this was acceptable. Bloodine however is about a middle aged politician so such outbursts come across as odd. It's an issue that fades away as the book goes on but a notable problem all the same.

There is another annoying element to this book that probably isn't the fault of the author. Obviously by this point in the timeline Leia has given birth to her son Ben. At this point the kid is off training with his uncle but that relationship between mother and son which would seem pretty important is hardly touched on. I'm thinking this is most likely due to the higher ups in the Star Wars story group advising Gray to steer clear of this major plot until more of it has been properly hashed out during the movies. It's just sad to read the first book about adult Leia and have it largely ignore one of the biggest developments in her life.

One more weakness is the villains. Simply put, they're not the best though that's not as big an issue here as it is in a book like Ashoka as this is more of a character driven drama than that more outright adventure.

Cutting to the chase, was Claudia Gray able to topple her long standing winner? No, not at all, but she did give it a damn fine shot. Having read so many of these books, there are very few I would call out as quality reading, but this is a legitimately good book. There's so much information about the state of the universe and the formation of the resistance to make this a must read for Star Wars nuts. Beyond that, there's enough quality storytelling to make it a worthwhile venture for more casual fans. Let's put it in the rankings.

1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
3. Bloodline by Claudia Gray
4. Ashoka by E. K. Johnston
5. Tarkin by James Luceno
6. Battlefont Twilight Company by Alexander Freed
7. Moving Target by Cecil Castelluci and Jason Fry
8. Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka
9. Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka
10. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
11. Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
12. The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

That's all for today, folks. I'm trapped in yet another extended work weekend. On the downside that means you won't hear from me for a few days, on the upside it gives me time to work through the next novel in the series. While on the subject, how many of you out there are keeping up with these books? Any major favorites thus far? Are my rankings absolutely crap? Drop me a line, it'll keep me company at the guard shack.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Uchu Sentai Kyuranger Episodes 4-7

You all may have noticed during the hiccup of March updates that I've barely touched on Kyuranger. Truth be told I've been sort of avoiding it. After the debacle that was Iron Fist I needed better superhero television in my life. After some recovery time I've been able to look at Kyuranger again and well...I still don't much care for it. Ok, so I should probably elaborate just a little.

When last we covered this show, the group was still searching for one more team member and trying to figure out how to turn the seemingly villainous orange ranger to their side. Episode four was all about the missing part of their team as Raptor, the ships pilot/secretary became the pink ranger complete with a set of wings.....for some reason. We were also given a little bit of advancement for her character along with Sparda. In her case it's that she's very much a daydreamer and with him it's that his protective nature can get a little out of hand. If that doesn't seem like a lot of details it's because this episode was also home to some much needed exposition.

Turns out the evil empire Jark Matter makes a point of mining each planet they conquer for a material called, get this, plantium. It's the life blood of every planet and once enough is siphoned off, everything goes poof. The planet in the most imminent danger just so happens to be Earth so our heroes have an excuse to hunker down in Japan and give the budget a break. Maybe I was expecting too much but when the idea of a galaxy faring team was first presented I didn't expect them to sit around Earth for what is so far over half the series.

Speaking of budget, that's also given a little wink wink joke when the kyu roulette is introduced. The celestial energy the team uses may not be infinite so every mission they have a roulette to see who will make up the team. Normally I'd be for this as a means of ensuring different characters get their chance to shine while finding unique pairings. Problem is certain characters are always included, like Lucky, the annoying pox that he is. Viewers who prefer a more tertiary character like Raptor get to suffer as their favorite is ignored week after week while Lucky hogs the spotlight.

Episode five brought Stinger back to the forefront so he could finally be wrapped up into the team. Turns out he was never a bad guy, he was just under cover for the rebellion, or maybe he is a bad guy since he still seemingly killed the black rangers creator, but he definitely doesn't kill kids so in this shows logic he must be good enough. Yeah....I don't get it either.
There is some deeper storytelling at play here however as Stinger has his own personal quest to deal with. His older brother sold out their people to Jark Matter and became a top assassin for the organization. Family feuds may not be all that original for space opera but I'm willing to give this show a bone when it earns it.

Episode six was pitched as if it might be a focused on Hammy. The primary drama was about her aim to be team leader, and her irritation at Lucky for getting so much so easily while she works and trains like a dog. The lesson of this tale? She doesn't realize how great Lucky is. Oh god dammit! Is this shit for real? When given the opportunity to present some actual drama and talk about the issue of a character who just magically wins at life the show just rubs that character in our face all the more. And the excuse? Lucky is only the most lucky person in the universe because of how positive he is and that positive energy attracts luck. I'm about to throw up. Even the notion of picking a team leader is cast aside because Lucky doesn't think they need one since everybody on the team is a star according to him. Don't ya love it when team praising platitudes come outta the guy who gets all the attention? What a load of horse cum.

Episode Seven was an honest to god attempt at a fully featured team story line. A monster steals Balance's birthday and the whole group has to try and make things right. This almost works except for a completely unnecessary cameo by the current Kamen Rider that only serves to eat up time. Not to mention contued focus guessed it, Lucky.

You've probably noticed I hardly mention the monsters and frankly it's because they're boring. So far there hasn't been a real baddie to latch onto. I suppose that's only natural for a show that doesn't even have time to properly feature its own heroes but the result when combined with the relative ease of each mission is that nothing feels like a threat, There simply isn't much at stake here which makes the action scenes boring.

Nearly two months into the series and Kyuranger still just isn't working. It feels like a show that wants to be the new classic Sentai yet it refuses to put in any of the work. Instead it throws explosions and shiny shit at the screen like a spoiled rich kid hoping to earn your love with sheer dumb spectacle. This is all the more obvious when I watch my DVD's of older series like Kakuranger, a show with likable heroes who find themselves in interesting situations against challenging monsters. That was just a basic show but it succeeds by making an honest attempt to be entertaining. Kyuranger has nothing standing in it's way yet continues to stand in place and wave around sparklers.

I'm gonna give the show a couple more weeks as the episode ten mark usually involves an upgrade in threats and a shift in story line. That's a matter for another day though. I've gotta attempt to sleep before going to work and setting this years April Fools projects in motion. I take my April Fools pretty seriously around here.