And Now, Games to be Watched

Are you finally living on your own, but desperate to recreate the experience of listening to a drunken roommate or sibling scream at bundles of code, as interpreted through a low quality microphone? Then you can only be suffering from a lethal case of nostalgia poisoning, and should seek help immediately – the heady aroma of old socks and cheetos should snap you out of it (okay, that’s my one gamer slob joke, just to get the stereotype out of the way). If, on the other hand, you’re one of the many people with an interest in videogames but without the ailing and befuddled millionaire spouse or back pocket oil field necessary to support the hobby, I have good news.

On this newfangled series of tubes there’s a whole genre known as the “Let’s Play,” or LP. They can range from screenshot-with-commentary (a familiar format around these parts), to silent video walkthroughs, to highlight reels. But the most popular use is to show off a game in its entirety with player commentary over top, either “blind” to create the experience of an average player or experienced to show off the ‘ideal’ experience.

WHAT?! I hear you saying, running several blocks to flip the nearest table while screaming about the importance of the interactive experience. Behind the noise are those arching one kempt eyebrow, wondering what the point would be in watching someone else play insert-stereotypical-casual-game-here when you could be downloading for free. The thing is, at their very best LPs are like the ultimate fancy tv sports package – the players are engaging and knowledgeable about the game, talented enough to keep the viewer from suffering through repeated failures but easygoing enough to endear themselves. Some of them even offer that delicious bonus known as context, show off things the average gamer couldn’t find for themselves, or suffer for the sake of your so-bad-it’s-unbelievable curiosity.

Since I’m forever harping on the ‘good stories can come in any form’ chestnut, I thought I’d offer five of my favorites from this glorious internet born oddity, each with a different type of appeal to scratch that co-gamer itch. Because I just got tired of tying people up to sit next to me when I booted up the game machine.

Know a great specimen I missed? I’d love to hear about it down in the comments.

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Green Jacket 06 – Corpses Are a Diamond’s Best Friend

Want to start at the beginning?

You thought we might’ve been onto something last week, but you thought incorrectly! Instead of anachronistic samurai we’re moving on to dead mob bosses, who are only slightly less used as plot devices than dead (or soon to be dead) Nazis. Today’s episode is “Rainy Afternoons are Dangerous,” and I am not filled with confidence about strong strides of improvement in the writing. Want to play along? Lupin III Part I is on Hulu, and past posts are under the Recaps tag. Or just jump in, and let’s get started.

Say, did you know that water is really difficult to animate? The process of making it react and lay convincingly against real world objects is a nightmare, so having lots and lots of rain is one way to show that you’ve got a really snazzy budget (yes, I am saying that’s the entire reason for the apparent monsoon running through Green vs Red). You know what’s not the greatest place to show that off? A television show that’s working on a limited budget and has bottom of the barrel ratings. Our intrepid team isn’t to be stopped, though, and while the actual raindrops look more or less like the scratching-the-film trick used in such stunning cinematic masterpieces as Xanadu, the water’s impact on the streets, nice details like rain running in rivulets off of a post, and residue dripping off of Lupin do look pretty good.

Less convincing is the setup: Lupin, the master thief and practically precognitive master of his surroundings, was out running in the rain and got a note reading ‘HELP ME’ taped to his back. This note is still legible despite the rain (unless it perhaps said KICK ME to start with), and the tape didn’t get soggy and unstick itself. If you want to play with rain physics, show, I’m going to start thinking about everything else too. By the way, Jigen can tell from a distance and without directly looking at it that it’s a woman’s handwriting. You might call it lazy animation, but I prefer to think of it as proof that the gunman’s developing powers of meta-awareness. And hey, let’s be fair. Awesome Lupin stories have had their share of stupid setups (I see you there, Tokyo Crisis. With your totally 90s use of psychic powers in large eyed adolescent girls).

A knock at the door reveals “Kids’ Meal,” the least indicatively named gangster of all time. He’s Fujiko’s lackey, as we’ll discover, so I choose to believe she forcibly renamed him as such for not showing her the proper amount of respect. Fujiko doesn’t fuck around, y’all. Anyway, Kids’ Meal is here to pick Lupin up and take him to the damsel in distress. Jigen isn’t up for this nonsense himself, but he says he’s totally cool with their open relationship Lupin gallivanting after a pretty girl yet again.

go
for-reals
free-reign

Is it not as much fun if he’s not mad at you?

Hey, does that seem weird to you, given that Jigen is forever grouching about women in general and Fujiko particularly? Don’t worry about it. This week’s episode is completely confident in its ability to write Jigen, and also seems to quite like him as a character. And Dead or Alive is one of the good Lupin films. Pay no mind to the cord-like protrusion from the back of my neck. Continue reading

BUT WEREN’T THEY TRAGIC: Verisimilitude to Melodrama in Five Easy Steps

For those of you who haven’t read Paradise Kiss, you’re missing out. It’s been reprinted in the last few years, you see. It’s a beautifully told slice-of-life story about adolescence on the brink of responsibility, and the screw ups you make trying to find a life outside of what your family’s expected. For those of you who haven’t watched Paradise Kiss…you should probably just read it.

ParaKiss, as the title is sometimes shortened, is penned by Ai Yazawa of Nana fame. She’s often praised (quite rightfully) for her superb hand at writing well rounded female characters and real-world relationships. The five volume manga tells the story of Yukari, a girl who’s spent her life trying to please her mother’s demand for academic success despite the fact that it’s neither easy nor interesting for her. One day she’s snared by a group of teens from the nearby performing arts school, who beg her to be their model for the school’s upcoming fashion show. She’s totally uninterested…until the group’s handsome leader George puts it a bit more persuasively. Yukari finds herself in a whole world of firsts, questioning whether the romantic world of fashion is truly what she wants to do with her life, or if it’s just a way to hide from the real world. The story is intimate and raw, and its overarching metaphor of the fashion club as the main characters’ lives – beautiful, apparently effortless garments made from thankless, toiling work in an unknown basement coalesced behind a creative spark and an attractive front face – is a surprisingly effective punch to the gut. This is no ‘lives of the rich and beautiful.’ Yukari definitely has lucky breaks based on the people she knows, but that only gets her in the door, while her work ethic carries her forward. Nor does her beauty signal all well on the romantic front: she’s emotionally immature, in way over her head with the distant and issue-laden George, and the story isn’t afraid to show the shallow ugliness that can come from a self-centered outlook.

Okay now, pop quiz, everybody: what are the major movements of a romance story? You have the initial, usually chance, meeting; always tinged with some kind of strong fascination, whether or not they think they dislike one another. After a courtship or familiarizing period of varying awkwardness (about 2/3 of the way through the story) the couple will get together in some manner – this can be sex for an adult aimed story, or a more chaste form of physical/emotional intimacy. In the third act the relationship will be tested by the outside world (circumstances or a rival) and/or the characters own flaws that have ruined relationships in the past. However, the new couple’s love is strong enough to overcome these factors, and there’s a happy ending. It’s a rock solid formula, one that’s flexible enough to accommodate multiple premises and character types while still offering the reader a sense of comforting familiarity.

Problems usually come up when the fantasy collides with a sense of reality, and the latter’s likely to give out long before the former. This, I think, is what’s at the heart of a lot of romance-related cynicism. It’s not just the predictability, but the fact that without careful plotting and writing the stories are much faster to fall into cliché than in genres with more varied constructions. Paradise Kiss the manga is masterful about its approach to the archetypes of romance, marrying them to the extreme verisimilitude of adult slice-of-life. Yukari’s tempestuous relationship with George follows the roadmap, for the most part, to a T. They’re drawn irresistibly to one another; there are concerns about a virginal versus experienced partner, intimations of another woman and George’s bad-boy emotional issues. It’s a set up for the kind of happily ever after that would have a brooding man with too many abs on the cover. Only…this happens instead.

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Green Jacket 05 – Sword vs. Death Dolphin

Want to start at the beginning?

You know how you make a crazy person look good? Ensure that everyone around them looks twice as nuts. “The Coming of Goemon the 13th” is about as straightforward as titles get, if with a bizarre aura of retrospective about it. Modern viewers will know Goemon as the living plot device and/or the world’s manliest moeblob, as well as an integral part of Lupin’s adventures. Integral in the sense that if he were left out there would be a pitchfork happy riot, anyway. The trouble with a character who springs from a gimmick (anachronistic samurai! Why not!) is that the writers will always have to think twice as hard about how they fit into the flow of a given narrative. Sometimes this manifests with audience POV-type characters like Fry of Futurama, or fish-out-of-water comedic relief like Starfire of the animated Teen Titans. Inevitably, though, there will be a rash of jokes near the beginning that quickly peter out excepting when the writer needs to explain something to the viewer or thought of a funny one-liner. It’s inconsistent, is what I’m saying, if common enough that you’re likely to unconsciously write it off as status quo.

But that’s really a discussion for another week. First, let’s look at the introduction episode, the one where the writers thought the character would be coolest, and isn’t it nifty how they shake up the established dynamic. Want to watch along? Lupin III Part I is over on Hulu, and older recaps are t0 your right. Goemon Ishikawa XIII is a man who does his training in the traditional way – in the woods, with no one around to help in case of an accident or equipment malfunction. Today, he has an unexpected audience.

audience
Fangirl the Third

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Professional Words, Unprofessional Nerves (November 2013)

Instead of an editorial this week, I wanted to take a moment to highlight two published pieces of mine, as well as a short (and somewhat surreal) author interview. Worry not, I’ll be back to Lupin on Friday and ocer-anaylzing the world of fiction by Monday next.

Courtship by Wire:

“I woke up one morning and thought that you might be a serial killer. I never told you why.”
Published September 2013

Flash Fiction. Proof that the painfully awkward misunderstandings of first love are by no means limited to the real world. Not all of us become convinced the person who gives us the warm fuzzies is secretly plotting our death, though.

 

Genre Surfing:

“The radio on his belt grows from faint hiss to incoming frequency in the middle of dinner, detailing a horror story of shattered lives. I fill in the emptied spot at the table.”
Published November 2013

Flash Fiction. Wrap yourself up in stories long enough, and you start thinking of everything that way. It’s a lot easier to turn family into late-night TV than to wonder if they’re ever coming home again, isn’t it?

 

The Interview:

“Subtlety is bizarrely easier to grasp once you’ve let it all hang out.”
Published September 2013

A series of oddities and observances, all the stranger for being divorced from the questions that the lovely editor originally sent to me. But they run the gamut from style questions, to the world of writing at large, to my unwavering obsession with HP Lovecraft’s hilarious fear of seafood. If you’ve any lingering questions, please feel free to ask them around here – I consider this blog a sort of informal, ongoing AMA.

A fantastic week to you all, and glad tidings additionally. See you Friday!

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Back to my usual swanning about
(thanks to Rainbow Jacket for the screencap)

Green Jacket 04 – Just Start Here

Want to start at the beginning?

A great anime once grew from a novel about a wrongfully imprisoned man. This isn’t it, but there is some pretty absurd facial hair growth in time for Movember. This is the Lupin III Part I Greencap, and I warn you dear readers – you may wish to prepare yourself. Today, four episodes in, our titular thief finally steals something. Prepare the smelling salts.

By the way, the title sequence is going through a bit of an identity crisis. It’s kept the kidnapped beatnik musical track, but also added a voiceover of Lupin introducing the main five. It’s as though someone found the prior episodes to be confusing and non-indicative! It’s also a shocking spoiler for forty years ago, introducing Goemon even though he won’t be joining the can for another two episodes. Editing is hard, I guess. But all my snarking aside, this is an important episode! Let’s call it the ‘no-really-this-time’ pilot.

Episode 4, “One Chance to Break Out,” begin with Lupin and co. preparing to sneak into a heavily guarded industrial building.

look
Not sure if he’s going for bad blackface
or seriously misunderstood how athletes apply their greasepaint

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Cyclical Narrative, Reboots, and Fear of the Unknown, or: Kaworu and Homura are Time Travelling BFFs

If you don’t like it, do it again. Rewrite it, reboot it, or remember a time when things were better than they truly were. The world’s in an uncertain state all over and the art of humanity is ever ready to reflect its maker’s mental state: in this case, a desire to start over in the face of our mistakes. And boy, have there been a lot of spins on the time travel formula as of late. It’s not as if there weren’t any before (Back to the Future and Star Trek’s seminal “City on the Edge of Forever” spring immediately to mind), but the tone has definitely changed. The message of the two stories above, for instance, is overwhelmingly a case of ‘don’t change the past, because even with good intentions you can’t possibly comprehend what you’re doing.’ There’re stories like Donnie Darko, which explore a theoretical happier occasion only for it to collapse as reality reasserts itself. And there are time loops like Groundhog Day or Wolf’s Rain, centering on a character or group’s growth pursuing a goal (and usually having a motivational shift of varying degrees due to said growth). It’s the last one I want to talk about, because I seem to keep tripping over it these days. There’s discussion of spoilers for Madoka and Evangelion below, so tread with care.

Again

Yeah, this again

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