Thursday, April 28, 2016

Reading Alien

Aliens are among us.

And they're reading our tweets.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Street Fighter Can Coffee Figure

Mediafire is messing up again. Sigh.

Dydo teamed up with Capcom to present a set of 5 Street Fighter V figures. The advantage of getting these figures with the cans of coffee is that you can see which one you're buying. The disadvantages are that the figures are smaller (1" to 1.5") and Dydo isn't that great a brand of coffee. But, if you like Street Fighter, you'll like these toys. They are designed to hang along the edge of the coffee can, so you'll want to have at least on unopened can on your desk to show them off at their best.

I decided to get Cammy, since I like her design better than with Chun-li's tree-trunk thighs.

I like the details on her eyes and the cheek scar.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Daigasso! Band Brothers

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Daigasso! Band Brothers, Nintendo, 2004, Grade: C
I admit that I have a weakness right now for music-based games for the Nintendo DS and 3DS. On the other hand, I'm only buying games that are available used for under 1,000 yen ($9 USD), which kind of limits what I can get. But, one day I was at Bic Camera, going through their used games section, and I came across Daigasso! Band Brothers, which I knew was music-related, but I didn't know anything more beyond that. Then again, it was 450 yen, and I figured that I could put it in my collection and just forget about it if it turned out to be something I didn't want to bother with right away.

(Main menu. Single Play, Band Play, Edit, Option and Demo Play. Demo just lets you practice using the controls on a dummy song. The three posters used here in the menu are also supplied as printed posters as part of the physical extras materials.)

So, guess what happened? Actually, I just finished playing Nodame Cantabile, which has a very simple stylus-based "touch the note" system, and I was hoping Daigasso (lit. "Big Ensemble") would be similar. Instead, the control system is a lot more like Street Fighter. At a 1:1 tempo, the notes play way too quickly to even hit them by accident, much less trying to follow along with "A", up arrow, "B", "B", right arrow, "X", etc. instructions. I'm perfectly willing to slow the tempo down to try to get the timing right, but I'm not sure I want to put the time in to be able to play any of the songs correctly all the way through; not with a playing system that's this complicated. Then again, the game does have an impressive song list, including Smoke on the Water, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat Theme, Pocket Monsters Medley and When the Saints Go Marching In, so it would be nice to just be able to have the game auto-play and listen to all 70-some songs in "MP3 player mode", if it was available. Also, the game has an edit mode, so I assume you can rewrite the songs as desired.

(Enter the music studio to start playing the "single player" game.)

Looking over the wiki entry, it seems that Daigasso didn't have all that much of a fan base, and the U.S. release never happened. Kind of a shame, but I can understand why it didn't do all that well sales-wise. So, yeah, this goes into the collection for later usage if I ever get around to playing it in the future. (As a side note, the package comes with 3-4 fairly impressive mini-posters advertising the "music studio" and the main characters that the game is based around.)

(The control system for playing the currently-selected song. And I never did like playing Street Fighter...)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Madowanai Hoshi, vol. 1 review

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Madowanai Hoshi, vol. 1, Masayuki Ishikawa. Grade: A
惑わない星 (Madowanai Hoshi, or "Not Lost Planet") is the latest manga from the creator of Moyashimon and Junketsu no Maria. It started running in Monthly Morning Two magazine with the July, 2015, issue. Volume 1 collects the chapters up to Feb., 2016. If you read Moyashimon, then you'll recognize the character designs here. The background artwork is great, and the story elements are educational, in that they teach basic astronomy (names of planets, lengths of years, gravities, wind strengths, etc.)

(Life in the underground shelter that is Japan is dominated by anime.)

Madowanai is set some time in the far future. The Earth is a cesspool, with sludge where the oceans used to be, garbage covering the planet's surface, and an atmosphere dark gray with pollutants. Japan is now an underground country, with the majority of its inhabitants working in the anime industry to keep each other distracted from reality. The "sky" and "clouds" (ceiling lighting) change color depending on the day of the week. Advertising in the malls is anime-inspired, and even the news is delivered by anime characters. Life is divided into "inside" and "outside" - that is, people that live and work within the underground shelter making anime, and those that have to work outside.

(Front cover, without the jacket wrapper.)

Enter S-zawa, a balding, older, overweight guy that commutes between the shelter and one of the domes on the surface. He's a bitter, jaded man who only wants to be left alone. He works with Oikawa, an attractive woman that also lives in the shelter and uses the dome as an exit point for going out on the surface to scavenge stuff. One day, S-zawa is doing his job, which is to "send letters to outer space," and someone actually decides to answer that letter - a beautiful woman that knocks on the dome's airlock to be let in. She's not wearing a hazardous environments suit, she's accompanied by a hovering rock, and she's in extreme pain. S-zawa had just ordered a bed chamber so that he can sleep in the dome and avoid the commute, and now this stranger is using it instead of him. The rock introduces them as "Chikyuu" and "Tsuki" - "Earth" and "Moon". Pretty soon, a few other women arrive, along with their rocks, including Venus, Mercury and Mars. These personifications are there to help save their sister, while the remaining planets refuse to get involved.

(Two of the planets rig the dome's systems to run a holodeck sim of old Earth. S-zawa is the older guy, and Oikawa is the woman in the suit.)

Oikawa wants to help, but since S-zawa is the one that sent the message, he's the one expected to do all the work, and he keeps saying that there's nothing he can do, that the planets have come to the wrong country. They should be talking to the U.S., or Singapore. After a little while, all the visiting planets want to do is sit around and watch anime. But, they do figure out how to rig the dome's control systems to project images of what Earth used to be like a long time ago, with things like "ocean," "sunlight," "trees" and "spiders." But, the Japanese are in a really bad state now, not even remembering how to write the more difficult kanji (hence, the "S" for "S-zawa", and "8月" (month 8) for Oikawa's first name, "Hazuki"), much less wanting to change their current situation. At this point, two more girls show up, but they'd rather hide in the shadows on the surface and bide their time than get involved.

(Pluto tries to kill S-zawa.)

They are the black-dressed French maid Pluto, and her companion, Charon, accompanied by little black moons wearing maid frill headdresses. Pluto figures that Earth would be better off without humans, and attempts to kill S-zawa. The volume ends with Earth changing the local atmosphere around the dome to save S-zawa and Oikawa, and then Pluto leaves with Charon, vowing to come back later to see what changes they've made. S-zawa still wants out, claiming to only be 24 years old and not wanting to deal with all this. Oikawa is stunned to find that she's actually older than this decrepit-looking guy. And, the physical planet Jupiter is looming bigger and bigger in the sky.

(Mercury asks what spiders look like.)

Summary: There's a lot of political commentary in this volume, and a condemnation of Japan as a whole. But, there's also a decent amount of science, humor, near-naked planet girls, and a homicidal French maid. What more could you ask for? Highly recommended.

(Back cover)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Heroes of Mana comments

Apr. 23-24
Dead weekend this time. Nothing in front of the 7-11 or in the Volunteer Center. The space in front of Lotteria was just used to advertise Renault cars, and the plaza at Amupla just had some small booths selling foods like hamburgers and omelet rice. I had to work most of Saturday and couldn't get to Amupla then. Sunday, I got out of the apartment a little late, and didn't get to Amupla until 4:30 PM. At that point, all of the food booths were gone, and workers were preparing to tear down an event stage that hadn't been there Friday night when I'd swung by to see what was going to happen for the rest of the weekend. I talked to one guy I recognized from the Shimamura music store on the 4th floor of the department building. He mentioned that the store had sponsored an amateur acoustic guitar contest that Sunday, but it had ended an hour earlier. On top of all this, it rained pretty much non-stop from Friday through Sunday. So, there wasn't much reason for being outside unless it was for going shopping for food and stuff. The rain prevented me from trying to re-shoot the time-lapse video of the moon rising over the volcano.

Next weekend is going to be more hectic. It's the beginning of the Golden Week holidays; Ohara (the big dance contest) should be on Saturday and Sunday if it's not rained out; there's a beer festival at Amupla Friday to Sunday; and KTS TV is going to have their big outdoor music and educational festival in front of Lotteria and in the Volunteer Center. And I have to work for part of each day during all that. My luck, the rain isn't going to stop, either.


Heroes of Mana DS (Square Enix, 2007)
I think I'm finally burning out on a number of things right now. I've been collecting the capsule ball toys for several months, and I particularly like getting the wood 3D and metal ring puzzles. However, the most recent wood puzzle series only had 2 new puzzles out of the six in the set, and I'd gotten one of the new puzzles on the first try. I hesitantly decided to go for the other new puzzle a few days later, and dropped 3,000 yen on what turned out to be nothing but duplicates of the ones I already had from the earlier series. Then, I got several games for the Nintendo DS that have really long play times with no particular paybacks. These have included Black Cat and Nodame Cantible. I got Golden Sun, but that turned out to be a repeat of the game that I bought 4 years ago (but got by mistake last month). And now, Heroes of Mana.

(Part of the opening cut scene, introducing each of the main party members.)

Heroes was the ninth game in the Mana series, and it features a new approach to the gameplay. This is a strategic RPG, where you don't really level up, and you can't repeat battles in order to build up experience and get stronger. The story is that a soldier, Roget, and some companions on a flying ship, revolt against their own kingdom, which is now invading its peaceful neighbors. Roget helps defend the neighboring countries, and is joined by a group of elemental spirits that increase his attack and defense options as the rebels eventually go face to face against their former leader.

I liked the one game I'd played, Legend of Mana (although, I'm annoyed I can't find the post where I reviewed it), which was more of a real RPG, and centered around collecting mana beasts hidden in various locations on the map. Heroes has a completely different system, and while it is novel, it's harder to play. The idea is that your ship has several power pads, which require gathering fruit from trees (treants), or ore from rocks (gaia), which are hidden on the battle map. On these power pads, you create monster generators to generate specific types of monsters (called MOBs), which again require the same fruits and rocks. One of the MOBs can mine ore and pick fruit, while others are fighting units. As you make MOBs, you send them against specific targets, explore the field map, and try to find hidden treasures. You also have several "heroes" to use for building up your main party for each chapter (the battles constrain how big your party can be at any given time). You can have your heroes fight the enemy directly, or rely solely on the MOBs to do battle.

(World map, with your ship hovering over the next village. From here you can equip armor and accessories, look at new character descriptions, save your game, or continue the story.)

Fighting follows a "rock-paper-scissors-Vulcan" pattern, involving heavy units, flying units, melee and missile units. So, if the enemy is made up mostly of heavy units, you want to pit flying units against them. Different unit types move differently over different terrains, and if you're not lucky, the wrong kind of enemy may attack your weaker forces before you can bring up the slower units to do actual battle. Each chapter has requirements for victory (defeat all enemies; defeat the boss) and for defeat (losing the ship, or losing Roget). Additionally, you're kind of racing against the clock. As mentioned above, you don't really get experience for fighting. Instead, at the end of the chapter you receive a list of treasures, including the hidden stuff found on the map, plus rewards for finishing with an "A" or "S" grade. Grading is a combination of how many fruits and ores you collect, the number of enemies you defeated, how quickly you won, and so on. Treasures take the form of better weapons, armor and accessories. So, you really want to win with max points for an "A" or "S" grade, or else the party is going to go into the next chapter in a weaker position (inadequate weapons or armor).

(Example of a battle map. The top screen shows what you've explored so far. If, on the bottom screen, you click on the ship, you can go inside and make generators and MOBs. Otherwise, you select MOBs or NPCs and direct them to a tree, a rock, or the enemy.)

Initially, I liked the idea of the game, mainly because it reminded me of the old puzzle game, Lemmings. But, I don't like strategy games (I prefer churning and leveling characters up through battles), and I started running into problems with enemies attacking me when I wasn't prepared for it. If you lose, you have to sit through the story again, and then repeat the battle. It would be a lot better being able to skip the story sections, just to speed things up a lot. There are a number of good anime cut scenes, and I like the artwork for the backgrounds and ship interior. On the other hand, the character sprites are too small, and it's difficult to tell which is which. The music is good, the voice acting is ok, and it is fun watching large groups of MOBs fighting it out while the party goes exploring for hidden treasure. The problem is that I got ambushed by the enemy one too many times on chapter 7 (there are 27 story chapters total) and losing because the NPC I'm supposed to rescue had died before I could reach him. That's when I started questioning just how much I wanted to keep playing video games when there are other things I want to do with my time instead (like practicing stage magic and making music). So, I put the game away and don't really expect to come back to it soon.

(The portals inside the ship, with one MOB generator spitting out a fruit and ore gathering unit. At the moment, I've got 1 ore and 4 fruit left to work with for building another generator or more MOB units.)

Summary: I picked up Heroes used at Book Off for 250 yen ($2.20 USD), so I don't feel too bad about not finishing it. It's not a bad game, it's just not the kind of game that I like playing (RPGs). Good artwork, music and cut scenes. The NPC character designs are a bit amateurish, and conversations just consist of static character portraits popping back and forth over the dialog boxes. Recommended if you like strategy games. As also mentioned above, I'm getting burned out, and am considering cutting back on, or eliminating, DS games and capsule dispenser toys for a while.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Attack on Titan, vol. 7 review

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Attack on Titan, vol. 7, Hajime Isayama. Grade: B
The members of the 104th are positioned in the branches of the trees at the perimeter of the forest, making sure none of the wild giants try to get past them. Jean and Armin speculate on what's going on, assuming that the enemy rogue giants should have tried breaking down more of the wall to enter the city. The fact that they didn't may be because something unexpected happened - such as Eren showing up as a rogue giant, too. Currently, they think that the enemy is going to target Eren. Meanwhile, at the trap, Eren and the others wonder what's happening with the female rogue. Some of them speculate that Erwin knows that there's a spy in their ranks, and that the female rogue is controlled by whoever killed the two captive giants, Sonny and Bean. The goal is to get the rogue operator alive and interrogate them. This is turning out to be difficult because she hardens her skin and breaks everyone's blades with it.

(Seems that whoever was operating the female rogue got out, disguised themselves as one of the 104th, and then started killing people with the swords.)

Suddenly, the rogue lets out a scream, which attracts all of the wild giants outside the forest. They rush in and start eating the skin of the female rogue. This generates enough steam and smoke to let the operator get out in the confusion. Erwin orders Levi's squad to escape with Eren back to town, while Levi stays with Erwin. Eren wants to stand and fight, but the squad members keep telling him to trust them. Suddenly, they encounter a regiment member hanging from his grappling cable, with the back of his neck sliced away. Someone else in a regiment outfit zips past, then turns into the female rogue.

(Eren turns into Toothy, and is angry at himself that he waited so long, given that most of the Special corp are now dead.)

The squad slices up the rogue pretty good, and it looks like they're going to win, but it heals faster than they expect and succeeds in killing everyone but Eren. Eren snaps and bites his wrist to shapeshift into Toothy. However, he keeps hesitating rather than attacking the female. He lets out a roar of frustration which alerts Levi and Mikasa to his location. The battle of the rogues is uneven, although Eren does get in a few decent punches. But, the female uses some kind of martial arts techniques against him before kicking off the top of his head. The female opens up her jaws and bites the back of Toothy's neck, pulling out Eren and then storing him in her mouth. Before she can run very far, though, Levi and Mikasa zip in and hamstring her, chop up her arm muscles and blast off the bottom of her jaw.

(Levi grabs Eren, and Mikasa follows them to get the boy back to safety. Behind them, the female rogue seems to be crying.)

Mikasa gets roughed up a bit by the female, and Levi ends up dealing out most of the damage. He grabs Eren's slumped body, and he and Mikasa fly through the trees to get back to the city walls. Behind them, the female rogue sits propped against a tree, slowing healing, and apparently crying. Some time later, Eren wakes up in the back of a wagon. He sees Mikasa, who tells him that the mission was a complete failure, and they're returning to the city in defeat, the rest of his squad dead. The civilians ask Erwin what happened to them, and one of the parents is convinced that his daughter is going to come back behind the main forces (she won't). Eren falls into despair, then notices two kids in the back of the crowd claiming that the Survey group is great because even with all the odds stacked against them, they still stand up to fight again (which is the same feeling Eren had had 5 years earlier).

Summary: Erwin Smith set up the trap in the forest specifically to capture the female rogue to determine who is operating it, and ask them who is behind him or her, and why they're doing this. Based on the evidence regarding the killings of Sonny and Bean, it has to be someone in the 104th regiment. The rogue, on the other hand, seems intent on grabbing Eren and taking him somewhere for some unknown reason. The main clue as to who is operating the rogue revolves around the way she fights. Which results in a lot of Carnage.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Attack on Titan, vol. 6 review

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Attack on Titan, vol. 6, Hajime Isayama. Grade: B
The female rogue, referred to in the story as a "woman-shape kojin," knocks Armin off his horse, causing the hood of his poncho to cover his face. The female rogue gently pulls the hood back, inspects his face, then runs off. Reiner and Jean ride up to help, bringing Armin's horse along with them.

(The books are running cast lists now. Right page, Special Corps: top line, from right: Eren, Levi Oruo. Line 2: Petra, Eld, Gunta. Line 3: Erwin, Hange, and Eren's father. Left page, the 104th Regiment: top line: Mikasa and Armin. Line 2: Reiner, Bertolt, Jean, Connie. Bottom line: Sasha, Christa, Annie and Marco (deceased).)

Armin guesses that the rogue to looking for Eren, and that having their hoods pulled up over their heads may save them from automatic instant death because the rogue will have to slow down to figure out if they're her target or not. The three intercept the rogue and attempt to fight her, but she's too fast, too smart, constantly protects the weak spot at the back of her neck, and can selectively harden her skin so that the soldiers' blades break on her.

(The female rogue inspects Armin.)

At one point, the rogue captures Reiner and it looks like she's squeezed him like a grape, but instead he cuts her fingers off and escapes (the rogue's featureless expression is a clue here). The three escape and the rogue keeps heading to the central squad, where Eren is surrounded by the other Special team members. At this point, they're down to 1 horse, since Armin's was killed and Jean's ran off, so Jean is terrified that Reiner will share a ride with Armin and he's going to be left alone and defenseless. When Christa arrives with Jean's horse, all three guys view her as a savior goddess. Erwin orders all of the forces into one of the bigger forests, with Levi's Special corp advancing deeper into the woods, and everyone else holding the smaller giants off at the perimeter.

(The rogue chases Levi's group, who all insist that Eren just keep running with them.)

The female rogue catches up with the Special group and pursues them through the trees, easily killing anyone that approaches her. Eren starts asking for permission to shapeshift, but the other team members beg him to trust them to protect him and just keep riding on. Levi is ambivalent either way. There's a flashback to a training session with the researcher, Zoe Hange, and Eren's attempts to shapeshift under controlled circumstances.

(The trap.)

He's put at the bottom of a well, just in case, and fails to change. Later, during dinner he reaches down to pick up a spoon, and, having a clear goal in mind (retrieve the spoon), his arm suddenly goes rogue. The rest of the team prepares to kill him at that point and Levi tells them to stand down. When Eren frees himself of the giant arm husk (which is burning hot), the spoon he had been holding is reveled to have shrunk. The assumption is that Eren can only change if he has a conscious reason to do so ("I want to change" isn't sufficient). After the ruckus calms down, the other Special members bite their own hands to experience the pain Eren is feeling, and promise to help him from here on out, if he can trust them to do so.

(Is sprung.)

Return to the present, where Eren is running out of patience as people keep dying. Then, the group reaches a clearing where Erwin has set up log launcher cannons to trap the female rogue. The sharpened logs are attached to cables, and the rogue freezes with both hands protecting the back of her neck. Levi joins Erwin, and they prepare to force the inhabitant within the rogue to come out and show herself.

Summary: To an extent, the artwork is getting better. The action scenes are good, and often the characters look like themselves. Otherwise, the real pull of this manga is in seeing Eren getting closer to learning more about giants, and in discovering the existence of characters that are willing to take the opposite side in the war against humans. The result: Carnage.