A Little Perspective From Tom Church

Posts tagged ‘tv’

A Pokemon Post

Only a few days ago, Pokemon X and Y version were released in America. And even under all of the college schoolwork and studying, even while I sleep and exercise and eat and try keeping up with my TV shows (which are all back in season), I still haven’t been able to escape the ripples it’s made in the gaming community. If I think too long about how I don’t have X or Y, I get a little anxious.

I’m curious as hell, and I’ve decided to look more into it recently; I’ll detail my finds in this post, and hopefully inform some of you guys on why this is so exciting for me. I started by watching “Pokemon: The Origin” which was a miniseries aired on Tokyo TV on October 2nd. It was a back-to-back broadcast of four episodes of never-before-seen Pokemon adventures. Except this time it wasn’t Ash and Pikachu, it was Red and Charmander.

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For those of you familiar with the Pokemon TV show that played in the 90s (and apparently the 2000s but I didn’t keep up with it), you’ll know about Ash, Pikachu, Misty, and Brock. And as cool as they were, “Pokemon: The Origin” instead chooses to focus the story on the exact events of the very first video games ever released in the Pokemon series: Red and Blue Version. Therefore, the characters are Red (the main character, the Ash equivalent), and Green (his rival, the Gary equivalent). Ash chooses Charmander, and Green chooses Squirtle.

This series was released to commemorate the beginnings of the Pokemon video game franchise and was aired only in Japan, and therefore you’ll only find it online with subtitles. However, it was absolutely worth the watch, and made me nostalgic as hell. Its notable aspects include a detailed account of the Cubone story in which its mother died and became a ghost; a look into snippets of Giovanni’s past; and even a surprise ending to the series tying it into the new X and Y series developments, a surprise which I will not spoil for any of you readers.

Okay, so getting back to X and Y: what makes them special? I’m sure that’s what everyone’s asking, and it’s certainly what I’ve been wondering. Trust me, I’ve passed up recent Pokemon DS installments without much of a second thought: Pokemon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum Versions all looked strange to me, and I did not ever bother completing them. I never purchased my own copy of any. I bought Heartgold Version and thoroughly enjoyed it, but have not played it much since beating it. And I did not play any of Pokemon Black, White, or Black 2 / White 2. I’ve tried articulating my reasoning before, but haven’t been successful; mostly, I just thought they were slower-paced, had strange Pokemon I was not willing to take to heart, and were not familiar to me.

Pokemon X and Y developers have spent a lot of time and money trying to induce nostalgia and draw its old audience back in with the new. “Pokemon: The Origin” brought everyone back to the 90s, when they’d first started playing Pokemon. In X and Y, it was revealed before the game was even released that the player would receive a new starter Pokemon, and then shortly after, have a choice of Squirtle, Bulbusaur, or Charmander as a “second starter” option. I see it as a direct appeal to people who’ve been playing for a long time, and honestly that’s pretty badass.

(quick sidenote: if you need to get caught up or have your memory jogged on how to actually play the games, I’ve done my best to describe the gameplay involved in Pokemon here, and subsequently here)

All the Pokemon hype has had me playing Platinum religiously. I’ve got a copy now and I’m trying like hell to create a balanced team of Pokemon I’ve never used before, and to beat the game so I can move on to White version. Once I’ve caught up, maybe I’ll be in a position to play X and Y. That’s a bit aside from the point I’m trying to make.

Here’s what makes X and Y special:

1) X and Y have received the highest Metacritic score for any handheld Pokemon game in recent years. Metacritic has kept tabs on the handheld Pokemon game franchise since 2003, or since the release of Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire Versions; they both scored an overall critique of 82. Since then, the highest score given to a handheld Pokemon game has been an 87, which was given to Heartgold and Soulsilver; Pokemon X and Y officially received an 88 and an 89, respectively, with user scores slightly higher, making them the best-critiqued handheld Pokemon games to date, according to Metacritic. Gamespot’s user reviews are funneling in, and Y’s average score of 8.8 is lagging behind X’s, which has so far teetered at 9.3.

2) In the past, Pokemon games have differed mostly cosmetically. After the new types (dark and steel) were introduced in Generation II of Pokemon (Gold, Silver, Crystal), there haven’t been many additions to the Pokemon formula. Berries can be grown, the Vs. Seeker allows trainer rematches, the bicycle has two gears instead of one, etc. Ultimately, aside from the addition of one hundred plus Pokemon every generation, the games aren’t too different all the time, if you think about it. They’re still fun, but they tend to bank on success with minimal addition.

X and Y are the most major upset to this trend I think I’ve seen so far. First off, there’s the fact that this game truly belongs on the 3DS because it allows free, 3D overworld movement. You don’t walk on a 2D grid anymore, you can move in any direction the joystick can command. You get roller skates as well, a small and rather basic change, but with some neat uses. This is the first Generation to introduce a new Pokemon type since Generation II: the Fairy type is now in play, some of its more notable members being Mawile, Sylveon (new Eevee evolution), and lots of those “pink” dudes we think are cute. Fairy is super-effective against Dragon. Think about that.

The option to receive a second starter (Squirtle, Bulbusaur, Charmander) eliminates some of that ever-present fear that your rival will kick your ass. The 3D battle animations are much more enthralling and thrilling. The new Pokemon are abundant and presumably fun to raise. And there is an entirely new territory to explore, the Kalos region, which I don’t know much about and don’t want to until I experience it for myself.

A last paragraph about some other innovative features introduce for X and Y: there’s Pokemon Amie, which is a function of the game allowing you to play with, pet, and feed your Pokemon in order to get more accustomed to them. The benefits range from increased experience in battle to a better chance they’ll survive a normally-lethal hit. Also, the Pokemon Bank is a paid service (price not yet revealed) that allows you to maintain virtual boxes full of Pokemon. It allows for the transfer of Pokemon from previous games to the boxes via Wi-Fi, so that the awesome teams you end up getting at the ends of playthroughs are more tangible and not so forgettable. The Internet compatibility of Pokemon games seems to only be expanding nowadays, and some people argue that this is “as close as Pokemon will ever be to a massively multiplayer online game.”

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3) These last two additions are significant enough to mention on their own. The first of which, Super Training, is a new way to level up Pokemon statistics. This seems like more of a competitive-edge type function, for people who tend to level-grind their Pokemon to battle gym leaders or friends. Personally, I appreciate that the option is there, because there were definitely games in the past where your only training options became wild Pokemon or the Elite Four. This function allows you to basically take on the role of a personal exercise trainer, and raise your team’s stats individually (not their levels). It functions like Protein, Iron, and the rest of the Pokemon “vitamin” items that were utilized in the past.

The other new thing is Mega Evolution. This means that many Pokemon in their final form will be able to surpass their final stage of evolution temporarily to look badass and deal some major damage. Mega Charizard, Mega Alakazam, Mega Gengar, and others have been officially released. This adds a brand new battling dynamic and aesthetic to the game. Pretty damn cool. Not only that, but their forms differ between versions X and Y. That means that stats and appearance are completely divergent depending on what game you got.

List of Mega Evolutions documented thus far

So there you have it. That’s about a complete a list of things I can tell you guys without spoiling the hell out of the best parts of the game. I’m sure fans of the series will love it, and from what I’ve heard, even newcomers will find it fun and welcoming (and perhaps a little overwhelming). Happy playing!

-Thom
aestheism, not atheism.

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Breaking Bad

Over the past week or week and a half, I’ve done something I never thought I could have: watched an entire show on Netflix. Many, many hours being watched in the space between homework and sleep (sometimes the three overlapped). But I did it.

I am all caught up in Breaking Bad.

I started last Thursday. Erin is a huge fan, my brother is a huge fan, and so naturally I knew I would be a huge fan. I am, and I am so glad I got into it before the series finale, which is tonight.

So for those of you who don’t know what it is, let me describe it.

For one thing, it’s like nothing I’ve ever watched. It’s about a high school chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico who is diagnosed with cancer. Fearing he will have no money to leave to his family when he passes, he begins manufacturing methamphetamine and getting irrevocably involved with serious and dangerous criminals. The series mostly deals with his struggle to keep the details of his second life from his family, and simultaneously meet the right quotas and serve the right people.

What I like most about the show is that it’s clever. It has some of the biggest “holy shit” moments I’ve ever seen. It’s dirty, messy, and gritty. And above anything, it just seems real. It feels like the kinds of crazy and unexpected outcomes are what would occur in real life; nothing goes as planned, Walter (the main character) or his other partners always get hurt, and someone always suffers.

The show’s characters really shine as well. The cast went from relatively unknown men and women to celebrities in a matter of a couple of seasons. Walter White is played by Bryan Cranston, best known for his role in the decade-old sitcom “Malcolm in the Middle.” Anna Gunn is his wife, Skyler White, and his young street partner Jesse Pinkman is portrayed by Aaron Paul. These three actors are mostly the show’s focal point, and they are all fantastic; but the surrounding cast is awesome as well, particularly the villains that Walter is pitted against, and others like Walt’s brother-in-law Hank, the Drug Enforcement Administration Agent.

What most fans like to speculate on is the moral ambiguity seen in Walt and others. As the series progresses and the characters wade deeper into crime, it is difficult to tell what their true motives and beliefs are anymore. Walt always restates that his reasoning in doing anything anymore is for his family, but playing that card so often muddles its effect and makes it seem like he’s only trying to excuse himself from any blame. It is evident later on that Walt receives some sort of sick thrill from producing and dealing drugs. The kind of power he exercises over people is arbitrary and sickening in some cases, and it truly turns some fans off. Fans want so badly to root for him, but it is made impossible sometimes.

His partner Jesse is a bit less offputting. What is interesting about Jesse is that he is technically the definition of a hoodlum, and yet I always find myself rooting for him. The reason is because he is shown to have more heart and humanity than Walt has. Walt tends to use Jesse and manipulate him sometimes, while Jesse ends up losing interest in the money and clout that Walt strives for. Jesse tries establishing relationships with women and finding some modicum of normalcy, but is always torn away by the drug business. And while he is an addict and has many low points in the series, as a fan I only want him to renounce all of his misdeeds and remove himself from the show’s negative influences.

Those two main characters properly introduced, I will now go on to say that (I will not spoil a thing for you guys!) they get into some serious trouble together. That is, to me, the appeal of the show. Fans sometimes define Breaking Bad as

“that show that leaves you lying in a fetal position at the end of every episode”

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And it’s true. Astoundingly difficult-to-deal-with curveballs are thrown at the viewers all the time, assuming they understand what’s happening. The main characters are always facing down a problem, whether they know it or not. As soon as they let their guard down, something happens to bring them back to the forefront. Walt is always in danger, and understandably so is his family. Walt is the target of gang crimes, kingpins’ hitmen, and the DEA alike. The latter means that he is in conflict with his own brother-in-law.

So why watch this show? If it hasn’t been made apparent yet, I’ll restate it: there’s never been anything like it. I remember watching the premiere in 2008 and being completely enthralled (although I didn’t quite have the stamina back then to keep up with it). If shows in the future take pointers from this show, we can expect cleverly-written, well-acted, and insanely gripping masterpieces soon to come. And with the finale occurring tonight, I’m sure that I’ll be in the fetal position, wondering what to do now that it’s all over.

For those of you who haven’t seen a lick of this show (and now want to), happy watching; for those of you who are all caught up and will be watching the finale tonight–happy watching.

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-Thom
aestheism, not atheism.

Top Ten Cartoon Pigs

I recently came to the realization that I can potentially make a top ten list for literally anything. Potato recipes, torture methods, even methods of insulting your elders. But today’s list will focus on cartoon pigs, and my personal favorites.

Keep in mind that these pigs are ones I’ve grown with and loved. I won’t list a pig if I don’t know jack about it, so I (regrettably) can’t talk about Porco Rosso, Natalie Porkman, or “Treat Heart Pig” from the Care Bears animated series.

10) Nago, Princess Mononoke

Most animated shows or movies tend to go with the “cute” pig approach, but Studio Ghibli went ahead and spun that around for their (relatively) edgy release Princess Mononoke. Nago was a giant, wild boar who rampaged into town and was eventually subdued by the locals. It was revealed that Nago was aggravated because he’d previously been shot by Lady Eboshi. His rage caused him to literally become somewhat demonic, setting the stage for the movie.

Nago is a tribute to badass pigs everywhere. He shatters the cutesy pig stereotype, and even helps represent the primeval and retaliatory side of nature in the movie. Come to think of it, he’s probably the only pig on this list with any depth at all. Cute pigs are just better.

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9) Card Wars Pig, Adventure Time

This one is important because of its tangible strategic value. No other pig has had this much tactical importance before, and I think that after this episode of Adventure Time aired, a kind of global understanding of a common pig’s tactical usefulness was suddenly conceived. This pig occurred in an episode called “Card Wars,” which was all about a holographic card game mimicking todays’ Magic: The Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh and the like. When Finn “floops” the pig, it eats all of Jake’s corn, which translates to Jake losing vital energy and support for his troops; ultimately, this episode’s blatant wisdom led to the Pig Flooping Act of 2013, and the world witnessing a drastic decline in world hunger and street crime.

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8) Inoshikacho, Dragon Ball

This porcine selection is actually part boar, part deer, and part butterfly, all in one. Its name comes from the card game Hanafuda: Koi Koi, where it is possible to match up all three of the aforementioned animals to achieve the Boar-Deer-Butterfly (Ino-shika-cho) combo. But in Dragon Ball, it’s just a big conglomerate of all three animals. In the show, Inoshikacho was actually a cute little purple pig, but it was raised under the negative influence of Master Shen, and grew up to be a rampaging douche. It just makes me wonder how it would’ve turned out with a little care and nourishment. All of us are products of our environments–even pigs.

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7) Peppa, Peppa Pig

Peppa is from a kids’ TV series that hails from the UK. And while I am not particularly familiar with her show, I am familiar with her personality and her way of handling particularly displeasing situations. I feel like Peppa has a very humanistic and sassy side to her that not many pigs have attempted to, or accurately, portrayed. Watch the video below to see what I mean:

6) Hen Wen, The Black Cauldron

Hen Wen is an unlikely sidekick on an epic adventure. The Black Cauldron is just a fantastic movie, and Taran and Eilonwy by themselves are great characters, but I’m sure you’re already aware that things go better when they involve pigs. While she’s not with Taran for the entirety of the movie, she does manage to be especially helpful: she is oracular, meaning she has the power to prophesy certain events and view Taran from afar. Coolest damn magic pig I’ve ever seen.

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5) Spoink, Pokemon

How could you not love Spoink? Erin fell in love with Spoink the minute I gave her Pokemon Ruby Version for the GBA. On her travels, she came across a gray-and-purple pig with a spring for an ass and a little pink ball on its head. And the way she doted on it caused both of us to fall in love with it (I was falling in love all over again). Spoink is cute, bouncy, and he’s also psychic, which to me is the most badass Pokemon move type. Spoink is the ultimate pig Pokemon, beating out Tepig… and… Mankey? A pig monkey? And… Swinub? A… small… uh…

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4) Pig, The Legend of Zelda Games

The pigs in the Zelda games are special. They don’t… do much, really, but they’re special nonetheless. They’re cute, and they’re funny–one of the villagers in Windfall Island actually says that one of his pigs is “special” and doesn’t respond to human contact by running away. The definition of “special” can kind of be interpreted as… negative. Ultimately, I viewed the pigs as fun-loving, perhaps small-brained, additions to the scenery, and it was always fun trying to catch one by crawling around and sneaking up on them. They were also very useful sometimes because tossing bait caused them to dig a hole and unearth very important treasures. Fascinating little creatures.

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3) Piglet, Winnie-The-Pooh

We can never forget the classics. I love Piglet. He’s a worrisome and tender little fellow who would follow Pooh to the ends of the earth. That kind of loyalty and devotion is unparalleled by any other pig in the entire cosmos. A wonderfully gentle and surprisingly quaint little fellow, Piglet is a fantastic pig.

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2) Tonton, Naruto

Tonton is an amazing pig in my eyes. She’s not only Shizune and Tsunade’s sidekick–she’s like, their mutual best friend. She’s an adorable little pig with a little sweater and even a pearl necklace and she can sniff out danger and aid in the combat by running supplies and medical equipment around on her stubby legs. She works so hard that sometimes Shizune even has to patch her up. She’s a spunky little pig.

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1) Waddles, Gravity Falls

We love Waddles. Everyone loves Waddles. The pig practically embodies the image of a cute, lovable, cartoon pig. It’s small and silly and it’s the perfect partner for Mabel, who likes to be goofy and weird and throw parties with Waddles and stuff. The episode where Dipper gives up a shot at dating his crush so that Mabel can keep Waddles is a truly glorious moment in the show’s history, and the addition of Waddles to the show is nothing short of brilliance.

MABEL, WADDLES

There you have it! Some truly awesome pigs. Here are some runners-up:

Babe (Babe)

Oolong (Dragon Ball; bit too pervy and humanlike for my taste)

The Pig character (Adventure Time; Erin says his barritone voice ruins it… but I like him)

Porky Pig (Looney Tunes)

That’s it for today. And while today’s top ten list was suited to a very specific niche in the broad spectrum of human interests, I assure you there’ll be more to come–perhaps ones that are even more general.

-Thom
aestheism, not atheism.

On Anime

Every so often, I’ll see a great episode of DBZ or something or other on TV that really takes me back to my childhood. I used to be such a big fan of the original Kanto Pokemon series, as well as Dragon Ball and even Yu-Gi-Oh, and some others. I remember how awesome it was to watch those kinds of shows, thinking for some reason that they all had certain attributes that set themselves apart from other shows, attributes that I couldn’t really identify as a kid.

I think now I understand a little bit better: those kinds of shows were animated and yet they had such gripping and intense plotlines. It seems that  American TV programs like Spongebob or Ed, Edd, and Eddy were invariably comedic shows–they were never very interesting. They didn’t have plotlines that spanned multiple episodes or anything. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Spongebob and Ed, Edd, and Eddy. I can quote those shows pretty much all day. But more recently, with the powers of Netflix and other obscure internet sources at my fingertips, I’ve also had the freedom to watch a bit more anime as well as other superbly awesome things.

I have a few go-to friends I can talk to about anime shows, what to watch and what most certainly not to watch. Most of the things I’ve watched have been recommended to me time and time again by these friends, and I don’t think I’ve ever been let down… except with Naruto, which I kind of grew to despise toward the end. I’ll still watch the occasional episode, I guess, but even that’s kind of a lie because I haven’t bothered in months. I invested a pretty little chunk of time in that show, and sadly the plot just kind of dissipated into a meaningless struggle against random dudes (at least in the filler). Apparently now he’s fighting the Akatsuki dudes, but since the Shippuden series has gone on for some 500+ episodes… well… IDGAF. If someone wants to tell me which episodes he fights the Akatsuki members in, maybe I’ll watch. I heard the battles are rad.

I’ll start with some of the childhood series I used to watch: you can NOT go wrong with starting Pokemon from the beginning. I’m sure many of you are familiar with it and love it like I do. It’s great. Also, Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z were both intense and funny at times, and I loved them both too. I really liked certain characters in that show, and even though some of the main antagonists tended to suck, I still enjoyed it. Yu-Gi-Oh was okay, but it was probably the worst of the shows I watched. It was just kind of unappealing how the characters resolved their problems with card games that had little to no effect on the real world, I guess. Plus Pegasus, the main antagonist, was totally gay.

I watched Avatar: The Last Airbender off and on in my middle school years. We never got into it to the point of watching it religiously, but it was a great show and it was always one of our go-to programs if it was on TV. I finished it on Netflix years later, and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I watch Legend of Korra now, whenever new episodes premiere, and am psyched for the new book coming out in April.

Another thing I watched on Netflix was Elfen Lied. It was short, so I thought “what’s the harm in watching a 13-episode show? No skin off my back if it sucks… right?” Actually, it was really insanely good. My brother watched it after me and flipped out too. It was really graphic, and not at all suitable for kids… but at the same time it was a really, really good dark drama. It reminded me a lot of the book A Clockwork Orange because it was so stupendously violent that it kind of scarred you–but at the same time it had a really interesting message–totally worth watching if you can handle it.

I also really enjoy Studio Ghibli movies. I watched Spirited Away as a kid, and remember being pretty scared of it. It was like nothing I’d ever seen–the plot was somewhat nonsensical, and everything was so random and fantastic that I was just kind of overwhelmed. Also, when the parents turned into massive pigs, I guess I kind of lost it. But now I’m older, I’ve rewatched it, and can say that I really do enjoy it. Recently Erin and I saw Grave of the Fireflies, and really liked it. At the same time, though, that movie is an incredible tragedy. I love it but it is the most tear-jerking, emotion-destroying thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Princess Mononoke, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro, Whisper of the Heart, and others.

I watched Fullmetal Alchemist on Netflix because my brother suggested it to me. I really liked that one too, although there were a few slow points before the final climax. It was around fifty or sixty episodes and the characters in it were really inspiring and funny. It’s all about the magic of alchemy, and it’s set in a World War I setting. It’s one of the more creative shows I’ve seen. I also saw High School of the Dead. That show is wicked. It’s 13 episodes and crazy bloody.

Cowboy Bebop is one I finished not too long ago as well–I really enjoyed this one. It’s got the best main characters and the best, loosely-grounded plot ever. It’s 26 episodes long and follows three bounty hunters–Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, and Faye Valentine–in the future. They survive by catching criminals who travel through space, and then turning them in for cash rewards. The basis of the show seems a little corny, maybe–it did to me at first–but the show itself was so radical. Definitely up there in my list of favorites.

And then there are a few that I’ve just watched a couple of episodes of–I’m working on one on Netflix now called Fruits Basket, it’s alright. And I’ve seen a few episodes of One Piece before, it seemed funny and interesting. Watched a couple episodes of Fairy Tail but gave up because apparently they stopped English Dubbing the episodes not too far in. I can tolerate English Subtitles, but only up to a point… so I quit that one. It was moderately interesting.

And I think that about sums up all I’ve ever seen. If you have any others you’d like to recommend that I watch in my free time, please be my guest. They’re very addicting and they help me pass the time and relax. Or if you’d like to dispute any of the concise little reviews I’ve already offered, you can totally be my guest on that too. Do what you’d like!

-Thom
aestheism, not atheism.

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