Turtle Talk: First Impressions on Rise of the TMNT Character Designs

The short-awaited next iteration of the Heroes in a Half Shell, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Turtles, went live on Facebook earlier today where they unveiled the character designs and personalities of the main six protagonists.  As with a number of TMNT fans my age, I’ve been a fan since the 1987 cartoon, so the franchise is near and dear to my heart.  I’ve taken most different interpretations in stride (there are still things about the new live-action movies that bug me…other than them being not good), so I’m really looking forward to how this show handles the titular turtles and their large cast of friends and foes.  Since I don’t plan on this being a long post, that first picture will be the only one here.  Let’s kick things off with April and Splinter.

April’s design is cute.  Recent versions of the character have had her taking a more a proactive role in the brothers’ adventures, so I assume it will be the same for this show.  Her solo image revealed her wielding some sort of energy bat, but I’m assuming that’ll be Donnie’s tech since the other Turtles are shown with energized weapons as well.  Splinter’s design was a little disappointing for me.  The creators are obviously drawing from the new movies for the characters’ designs, but man, I wish they hadn’t with Splinter.  He just looks…weird.  I am fine with him being a comedic character as Splinter traditionally brings a decent bit of humor to the franchise.  I can’t think of a version where Splinter didn’t make me laugh.  Well, maybe the original comics, but I’d need to go back and re-read them.

As for the Turtles…well, there’s a decent bit to unpack there.  Having them be different species of turtles means they’re no longer brothers by blood, which is something I don’t think we’ve seen since Next Mutation (could very well be wrong there).  Raph is a snapping turtle, Leo is a red-eared slider, Donnie is a softshell turtle, and Mikey is a box turtle.  Changing what species each is has given the creators some interesting design choices.  Since he’s a softshell, Donnie will have different battle shells he’s built to cover his own, and the creators even hinted one will gain sentience (Metalhead, maybe?).  Leonardo now has red stripes on his face, and Raphael has a reason for being much larger than his brothers.  I’m no turtleologist (surely, that’s a real word), so I’m looking forward to how these play out on screen.

The personalities and weapons changes are where I’m having to fight against my pre-conceived notions of what the TMNT are and remind myself every version is different.  Leonardo now wields a single sword instead of two, and he was described by the creators as being a “smart-butt.”  Also, he’s no longer the leader.  On one hand, I can’t believe it because Leonardo is the leader of the TMNT, but on the other hand, I’m curious to see a Leonardo unburdened by the expectations of leadership.  Who is my favorite Turtle when he’s not leading them?  Seeing as how this will be a more comedic version, I doubt they will get too into character study, but a man can dream.

Congratulations, Partners in Kryme, your vision has come to pass and Raphael…well, he’s the leader of the group.  The hothead oldest brother also now wields tonfas instead of his trademark sais.  Aside from that, I don’t recall them mentioning anything too different.  Mikey is also pretty much the same except now he’s an artist and has ditched his nunchaku for some sort of stick/bladed yo-yo sort of thing (further reading tells me this is probably a kusari-fundo).  He is also once more the baby of the group.  Donnie’s one of the bigger surprises.  Now that we live in a world where being a nerd is kind of the “in thing,” Donatello is a far more confident member of the team.  He knows how legit his tech is, and he knows how much he contributes.  At least, that’s what I gathered from listening to the creators.

With so many comedians cast and the creators stating repeatedly this will be a more comedic show than the previous one, I am genuinely afraid this will be Nickelodeon’s Teen Titans Go!.  I can’t…I can’t even begin to tell you how much that frightens me.  I’m holding out hope, though, since all we know are what the main six will look like and some of their traits.  I’m surprised it’s coming so soon after the absolutely awesome 2012 cartoon, but I’m glad we won’t be without the TMNT on television for too long.  Plus, it’s 2D animation.  That alone has me excited.

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Okay, I lied about the one picture thing.  Here’s a red-eared slider.

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The Gifted That Keeps on Giving

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“Sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them.”

In a world where the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants vanished after “The July 15th Incident,” mutants are not so kindly treated.  The ones with non-combative powers are barely tolerated, and those with even slightly destructive abilities are treated as threats and non-persons.  It’s a world where the likes of the government agency Sentinel Services can abduct a mutant seen as dangerous and ensure no one ever sees or hears of them again.  It seems the X-Men expected this reaction, though, as they approached a handful of individuals to lead the Mutant Underground–a network established to rescue persecuted mutants and get them out of America if necessary.  Every day it seems like they’re fighting a losing battle as public opinion sours on their kind more and more, but they are heroes and they fight on.  Even if they don’t see themselves that way.

The X-Men are as important to me as a comic fan and a person as Batman is.  As a child of the ’90s, obviously the cartoon and action figures meant the world to me.  Before I started really following comics in high school, the majority of the ones I’d bought as a child in antique and thrift stores were X-Men titles.  Cyclops was my second favorite comic book character until I discovered the Flash, and even now, Slim Summers sits at a close third.  So, like with any adaptation of the Caped Crusader, whenever Marvel’s Strangest Heroes of All get screen time, I’m excited and hopeful.  I’ll go ahead and say right now, objectively speaking, Legion is probably the better show, but man, oh man, I love The Gifted so much!

As with many X-fans, I love whenever deep cut characters get used.  It’s great seeing those random and little used mutants pop up so I can go, “Hey, I know you!”  And boy, does The Gifted deliver that in spades.  The most high profile character on this show is Polaris, played amazingly by Emma Dumont.  When Polaris is the most well-known mutant showing up, you can bet the rest are going to elicit of bunch of, “Holy crap, they’re here?!”  Blink, Thunderbird, Dreamer, Sage, the Stepford Cuckoos, Ahab, Fenris, Shatter, etc.  It’s astonishing.  Actually, let’s talk about these characters for a bit.

And beware, for spoilers lie ahead.

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Making us root for people with the last name “Strucker” is the true miracle here.

I was at first annoyed when I realized the Struckers would be the main characters moreso than the leaders of the Mutant Underground, but I grew to like them a decent bit.  The irony of movie Rogue’s IRL husband, Stephen Moyer, playing a mutant with suppressed powers (I did state things would be spoiled) who prosecutes mutants until the day his son’s awakened abilities force the Strucker family into the fugitive life is not lost on me.  Amy Acker is one of my favorite actresses, so her showing up as Caitlin Strucker was an absolute delight.  Their kids were a harder sell for me, but I already liked Natalie Alyn Lind from her stint as Silver St. Cloud on Gotham and Percy Hynes White as Andy grew on me.  He’s the whiner with the obvious heel tendencies throughout the first season (save for one very surprising moment), but the kid often has a point.

I have a feeling Polaris will wind up being a very important character in the history of X-Men adaptations in the future.  She’s bipolar while still being one of the most powerful characters on the show, and from what I can tell, they don’t use her disorder as an excuse for her decision to leave the Underground and lead the Hellfire Club.  She’s about to be a mother, and the thought of raising a child in a world that will despise it just for being born is something she can’t stand.  So, she makes a choice to fight back instead of just surviving.  She chose her family by somewhat inheriting her father’s legacy to ensure her child’s future.  Lorna’s journey from a scared solider to a confident leader is one of the highlights of the show for me.

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All hail the Queens.

The other character who was a major bonus for me is John Proudstar, AKA Thunderbird, played by Blair Redford.  See, I am one of the whitest people who has ever lived, but I am one-eighth Native American (certified) and I embrace any genuinely positive Native American character in media.  I know one-eighth doesn’t seem like much, but the culture and history are important to me.  Thunderbird isn’t defined by his heritage, but it’s something that’s obviously always with him.  He’s more affected by his military service than his blood.  Here, he’s the calm leader of the group instead of the hothead who died quickly in the comics.  I assume his little brother Warpath will show up at some point, but surprisingly, I hope that won’t see the end of Thunderbird on the small screen.  He could do with a little more character growth in season two, and I look forward to it.

The other main heroes are Sean Teale as Marcos Diaz/Eclipse and Jamie Chung as Clarice Fong/Blink.  I assume they went with the new amalgamation character Eclipse instead of Sunspot since young Roberto da Costa will feature in The New Mutants film.  He’s a solid character, though.  We find out he was a much more unscrupulous individual before the show, but meeting Polaris and leading the Underground changed how he viewed the world and his fellow mutants’ plight.  Blink was created in the awesomely ’90s Age of Apocalypse, thus, I love her with all my heart.  Seeing her start as someone who wanted nothing to do with the Underground all the way to being one of the core members determined to keep the fight going gave me all sorts of warm feels.

Now that we’ve gotten the good guys out of the way, let’s take a look at the important villains in the first season.

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“I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.”

Ahab!  It’s Ahab!  Holy crap, they put in A-freakin’-hab!

Look, I haven’t read any of Ahab’s appearances, but his figure was one of my childhood favorites and one of the few X-Men toys I still somehow have from back then.  I didn’t even know it was him until the first season ended.  There aren’t really any hints to him surviving and becoming a cyborg, but being the head of the Hound program should’ve been enough for me to realize it.  (This is what happens when you don’t know everyone’s shoot names, brother.)  Garret Dillahunt portrays Dr. Roderick Campbell with a quiet disgust that just envelops the screen whenever he’s there.  You know that kind:  Smug and in control with an open disdain for anything different.  He’s not physically or emotionally aggressive in his hatred of mutantkind, but the moves he makes are downright frightening in their methods and implications.

The first and–arguably–most important recurring antagonist is Sentinel Services agent Jace Turner portrayed by Coby Bell.  He hounds (no pun intended) both the Struckers and the Mutant Underground for the entirety of the first season.  He has personally arrested and vanished a great many mutant “criminals” in trying to shutdown the Underground.  He sees absolutely nothing wrong with apprehending a kid just because he was unfortunate enough for his powers to manifest at a school dance.  Jace Turner is an easily unlikable and detestable villain–moreso than maybe even Campbell since Turner is supposed to uphold the law and defend the people instead of treating all mutants like they’re terrorists.  But, as with so many of the greatest X-Men antagonists, the show humanizes him.

And really, that’s one of The Gifted‘s greatest strengths.  Turner’s little girl was killed in the July 15th Incident, which saw a number of innocent people lose their lives in the crossfire of a large mutant battle.  Turner is even forced to relive losing his daughter in the show when Dreamer’s abilities go awry and mess with his head.  Jace Turner feels like he’s doing the right thing by removing any potentially dangerous mutant from the streets so that no other little girls will ever lose their lives to some super-powered fight.  Jace Turner is not a good man.  I wouldn’t even say he’s a sympathetic character.  But we understand why he is the way he is.

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They got me with this scene.

Turner isn’t the only antagonist given this humanization in the first season.  Even the vile Dr. Campbell is shown to have a brother whom he cares for deeply dying from a genetic disease.  One little mutation is all it took to shorten his sibling’s lifespan and make what life he has a painful one.  With those few minutes we see why Campbell is so obsessed with mutations and manipulating or destroying them when possible.  It also serves to show why he’s so fixated on mutant siblings.

I’d hesitate to refer to the Stepford Cuckoos as outright antagonists of the show since they often help, but they are certainly not allies to the Underground.  Skyler Samuels plays the three Frost sisters Esme, Sophie, and Phoebe not too different from each other, but they’re a hivemind, so that’s understandable.  Ashamed to say, but I’m not too familiar with their personalities in the comics.  It’s hard to tell exactly what the Stepfords’ motivations are as they hinder the Underground as much as they aid it, but again, you understand why they’d be that way.  We first meet Esme as she’s manipulating all those around her so that she can save her sisters before they disappear forever.  Fairly certain they were already associated with the Hellfire Club well before two of the three were apprehended, but family is important.  Which is yet another key tenet of The Gifted…and the X-Men as a whole really.

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Tell it like it is.

If you haven’t been able to tell from all I’ve written so far, family defines a lot of these characters.  The Struckers flee the authorities for the safety of their own and even find out their ties to the founding of the Hellfire Club.  Marcos was ousted by his own family, welcomed by a crime family, and soon after chose a new one in the Underground.  Blink is mortified by what’s happened to her adoptive family, and that’s what leads her to fully joining her people’s fight.  Turner lost his daughter to mutant powers, and Campbell will lose his brother to a mutation.  The Stepfords essentially are their sisterly bond.  Polaris…well, Polaris shuns the idea that she has to lead the Hellfire Club just because she’s the daughter of Magneto, but she fully embraces the role when she thinks about what sort of future hers and Marcos’s child will have to deal with.

Maybe the showrunners are trying to tell us that those driven by their family tragedies are destined to walk a darker path than those who choose to look forward to the future with their families.  But then you have Blink fighting for mutantkind due to what happened to hers, and Polaris turning to the Dark Side for her kid.  Perhaps we’re looking at the differences between individuals who use their loss as an excuse rather than a reason.  I’m honestly not entirely sure.  I mean, family is important to every person and not just characters, but it seemed like there was an awful lot of attention drawn to the families of the protagonists and antagonists here.

There’s so much other cool stuff here, too:  Elena Satine as Dreamer, Shatter’s really cool design, Caitlin and Marcos’s bromance, and Evangeline Whedon’s wholly unexpected cameo to name just a few.  Yes, I do really love Legion in all of its beautiful weirdness, but The Gifted is so very much the X-Men show I’ve wanted.  It has its share of problems, but it’s not enough to detract from what I love about it.  Modern day social and political problems dealt with via the mutant metaphor, deep cut characters taking center stage, humanized and understandable villains, enough shout-outs to please any nerd, and such wonderful drama.

I don’t think The Gifted is my number one comic book show, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of my favorites.

I think Peter Nguyen is one of the gifted.

Okay, Flash War. You Got Me.

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Kinda wrote this post…on an impulse.

I love the Flash.  Jay, Barry, Wally, Bart.  The comics, the shows, the eventual movie (I hope).  The allies and the villains.  On the surface, the Flash is a man who can run fast.  Every creator who’s worked on him, though, has taken that idea and, well…run with it.  He can control each of his molecules, he can think through any pattern of a given situation to give himself an almost precognitive power, he can travel through time and dimensions by running at different speeds.  Every bit of the Flash mythos just fascinates me.  I only really started reading Flash comics when Flashpoint happened, and I don’t think I’ve fallen in love with a character’s history so deeply since I discovered Batman as a child.  That being said, I haven’t been the biggest fan of Joshua Williamson’s current run on the book.

The initial arc with Godspeed was a cool concept, but it was painfully predictable.  The stuff with Meena and the Black Hole is also in that same vein of neat but underwhelming (so far, at least).  And, although I enjoyed it, The Button seems almost pointless right now.  Williamson has mainly shone when working with the classic Rogues–Captain Cold, Heatwave, Weather Wizard, Mirror Master, Golden Glider, and Trickster.  I also really liked his story with Reverse-Flash, but it, too, has its own problems.

So, it’s been a good bit of ups and downs, but the lows have been lower than the highs have been higher for me.  That’s why the news of the upcoming Flash War arc hasn’t interested me in the least.  I’m kind of over the “heroes vs heroes” thing.  And let’s be real, everyone:  Wally West is the best Flash.  He embodies everything that’s great about DC Comics.  He’s proof that legacy characters can work if you give them the time and effort they deserve.  Basically, I don’t see “Wally Best” versus Barry or the new Wally as a competition.  He’s just better.  Flash War did not get me excited.

But then Williamson tweeted the first page of the annual that kicks off the event.

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Boy howdy, that’s a loaded image for any Flash fan.  Later tweeted images shows this is pretty much just a wrecked portion of the Flash Museum.  When I first saw it, though, I viewed it as some sort of epic teaser image for things to come.  I kinda still do.

It’s still really murky on what exactly has happened in the Rebirth continuity.  We know there was a Titans team before Tim Drake’s version, some form of Final Crisis occurred, Superman did die.  I think.  It’s weird.  But there’s a lot of amazing stories and characters from Flash’s corner of the DCU that we just don’t know where they stand.  Sure, it looks like Eobard somehow became his pre-Flashpoint and New 52 selves, we’ve finally seen Golden Age Jay Garrick, and the Tornado Twins made their debut.  That’s still so many left out in the dark.  This image, though…gives me hope.

The pictures of Flash and Supes racing from Superman #199, Barry and Wally running together as hero and sidekick, and finally the God of Wind, Savitar.  Those pictures alone give me chills.  The Flash puppet from Flash #133 is an absurd but welcome addition.  Abra Kadabra is one of the few Rogues who’d fallen to the wayside and only returned in the opening story of Titans.  It’s a couple of other things in that image that really got me, though.

never thought we’d see any hint of John Fox again.  The Flash of first the 27th and then the 853rd centuries seemed a lost character, but I’ll be damned if that isn’t his gauntlet in the annual’s opening page.  He’s never been my favorite (who makes a move on a missing superhero’s girlfriend?), but I like all the speedsters and their histories.  Plus, he becomes Flash One Million, and my love for that story and its characters is inexplicable.

The main attraction in that image is easily the busted Impulse robot.  The only Bart Allen we’ve seen since Flashpoint is that freedom fighter from the future or whatever he was…whose real name wasn’t even Bart Allen!  So yeah, to see evidence that the real Bart Allen is out there somewhere and will hopefully return has done wonders for my soul.

Still want my Dark Flash to come back, though.

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Come home, Walter West.  Just come home.

As for what’s left in the image, I’m at a bit of a loss.  I thought the broken Flash symbol could possibly be Danny West’s, but everything else is pre-New 52, so that wouldn’t make sense.  It’s more than likely just a bungled up symbol.  It’s that yellow rod that’s bugging the hell out of me.  I’ve at various points thought it was part of Eobard’s wand, the hilt of one of the swords used by Savitar’s speed ninjas (I love comics), part of a member of Speed Metal, a piece of one of the Black Racer’s ski poles, and other random things.  Could definitely be just some random rod dislodged in the attack on the Flash Museum, but I feel like it’s something I should know.

With just that one page, images of the classic Top returning, and other various statues including ones of Max Mercury and Johnny Quick (all of them), I am one-hundred percent looking forward to Flash War.  I hope that a lot of good stuff really does come out of this.  Who knows?  Maybe Doralla Kon will make her long-awaited return!

I’m so excited, and I don’t care to hide it.

Seasonal Sawce: Fall Back Into Anime 2017, Part 2

Believe it or not, this post isn’t necessarily late.  I actually wanted to write this a year after this particular Seasonal Sawce.  Pretty neat, right?

(How many of you believe that?)

Okay, so, the following anime I watched in their entirety as they aired from October to December 2017.  Gonna be ranking them from my least favorite to my most favorite.  Without further preamble, let’s get into it!

Juni Taisen

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No, Monkey, put your hand down.  You don’t get to be in a better anime.

Oh, man.  This right here…this might be the biggest disappointment in terms of anime for me in 2017.  I saw that Nisioisin name and got excited.  I saw those absolutely awesome character designs and got hype.  I read the death battle set-up and got all sorts of ready.  I watched the whole thing and really, really wished I’d watched something else in its place.

It’s just dull.  And straight-up ugly sometimes.  One episode randomly switched between 2D and CGI animation, and there had been nary a bit of CGI used in the show previously.  There was a two-parter covering the most uninteresting characters in the show, and those episodes looked rushed and choppy.  It’s like they blew their budget on the very first episode and went, “…Who the f**k said we had to do 11 more episodes?  We thought the leftover funds were booze money!”

Pretty cool characters and powers consistently let down by shoddy animation, poor pacing, and just a general disinterest in the source material.  I’m not saying the original is better since I haven’t read it, but the Juni Taisen anime is getting a 4.5 out of 10 from me.  I know it seems a little high for how I was talking, but I’m a generous sort.

Two Car

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And thus begins the crossover with Welcome to the Ballroom.

I can’t really say I was letdown by this show.  I think.  I dunno.  I didn’t expect it to be that good, but I also didn’t expect it to be so boring.  Okay, it’s not always boring, but it could’ve used some tuning up (and I’ll check that off on the pun list for this post).  The two main characters being rivals because they’ve fallen for the same guy is fine.  That was a good joke because we never even see the guy’s face.  He’s irrelevant.  But then he shows up and ruins the joke.  I didn’t think I’d miss the two-parters focusing on different teams and their problems from the first half so much.  Boy howdy, did I, though.

Once the joke is over for the main girls, the other teams are way better and more interesting characters.  Even the two announcer girls!  And why didn’t we get an episode that was just Mao and Hitomi on a date?  Those two are gold.  Sure, I wanted some more sports in my sports anime, but I knew the focus here would be cute girls.  So…focus on the cute girls more.  Give ’em more time and more things to do.  Don’t just throw them to the side once you’ve given up.

I’ll give it a 5.5.  It’s fine for a cute girls doing sports things show, but there has got to be better out there.

Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World 2017

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Mighty needy for an anthropomorphic motorcycle.

This might have actually been beneath Two Car had it not been for a few spectacular episodes.  In particular the penultimate eleventh episode which is essentially Kino’s origin story.  That was some fine anime right there.  Aside from those standouts, though, the 2017 adaptation of Kino’s Journey is a wee bit lackluster.

Themes and messages tend to get lost in adaptation sometimes, and you’re left wondering what the point of those adventures were.  I also don’t feel Kino’s characterization was consistent.  Couldn’t put my finger on it, but she felt like a different character every now and then.  Also, she was only barely in her own show for a majority of the time.  Another group of travelers tended to take up a surprising amount of screen time.

Either a 6 or 6.5 for me.  There are a handful of genuinely great episodes, but the rest felt middling to decent.

Food Wars! The Third Plate

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Going off the rails on a gravy train!

Third Plate was on track to surpass Second Plate, and all in all, it probably did.  The second season of Food Wars! suffered from an incredibly rushed tournament arc and tacked on aftermath.  Season three here had a decent beginning, awesome middle, and then just kinda fizzled out at the end.  Yeah, Souma’s duel with the First Seat of the Elite Ten felt kinda superfluous.  I really don’t think these one cour seasons suit Food Wars! at all.

But, like I said, those middle episodes was Food Wars! at its finest.  Erina’s father returning and overthrowing the current regime, the iron wok of Central coming down on the school, Souma essentially beginning the revolution all by his lonesome…. Good stuff, man.  Good stuff!  Wish what came before and after were of similar quality, though.

It’s a solid 8.  I mean, it’s Food Wars!.  Of course it’s good.

Now, it’s actually time for my number one.  Yeah, that’s right.  Only five this time!  I love it!

Recovery of an MMO Junkie

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In which we are Sakurai, and Sakurai is us.

I like me some rom-coms, but I love me some good rom-coms!  And Recovery of an MMO Junkie is one of the goodest.  Or best, if you want to get all correct-y grammar-y over here.  All joking aside, though, yeah, I love this anime to bits.  The soundtrack, the look, the characters, the relationships, the humor, the set-up, the pay-off, the all the stuff…. I love it.  And it’s about adults!  How f**king weird is that?!

It also helps that Moriko Morioka is one of the top contenders for Best Girl of 2017.  Actually, if she represents the fall season, then we can get Karen Tendou of Gamers! for summer, Akane Hiyama from Love Tyrant for spring, and Sakie “Succubus Sensei” Satou hailing all the from winter in Interviews with Monster Girls and have them all compete in a TOURNAMENT to crown Best Girl of 2017.  I mean, physical strength gives the edge to Akane, so maybe if they have, like, a debate TOURNAMENT?  Maybe?

That aside out of the way, not only is Moriko a great main protagonist, but Sakurai is a wonderful main love interest.  Guy’s kinda smitten with her and is just the picture of a gentleman nerd most of the time.  Not the bad kind of gentleman nerd.  The actual decent person good kind.  His best friend/foil/romantic rival/wingman Koiwai is a surprisingly fun character, and all their guildmates bring their own set of fulfilled characteristics and lives to the tables.

It may not have had the most satisfying conclusion for a rom-com, but with only ten episodes and one for-funsies OVA, Recovery of an MMO Junkie did a remarkable job of presenting an immensely likable cast in a pretty real and heartfelt yet fanciful story.  This one’s a 9 out of 10 for me.

That’s gonna do it for this round of Seasonal Sawce.  If I’m being real here, I probably won’t write another post until the next Seasonal Sawce, but I always hope for better.  Gonna try and knock out at least one graphic novel a week this year, and I may or may not write about each of them.

Peace out, and stay bizarre.

Seasonal Sawce: Fall Back Into Anime 2017, Part 1

Oh man, y’all, this post is so late (“How late is it?!”) it might be missing a period or two

So, yeah, meant to have this out when everything I’m watching this season hit six episodes, but that took a bit longer than usual because March Comes in Like a Lion 2nd Season started a week later than all the others.  That was problem the first.  Problem B is that when March‘s sixth episode finally aired, holiday hours kicked in at work and…I got distracted (i.e. I’m a professional crastinator).

A small bit of housekeeping before we get into the usual proceedings:  I actually dropped two shows.  Made it three episodes into King’s Game until I called it quits, and then I somehow survived six episodes of Asta’s incessant yellching (that, dear reader, is a portmanteau of “yelling” and “screeching”) in Black Clover before giving up.  Once again, no Elegant Yokai Apartment Life since it’s in its second cour (quickly though, it’s very okay).

Six (or eight) episodes in, so here are my least hype to most hype anime this season!

7) Juni Taisen

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Let’s play Count the Dead People.

Every 12 years a competition is held where 12 mercenaries–each representing an animal in the Chinese zodiac–gather together to fight to the death.  It’s something of a war in miniature with the sole survivor gaining prestige and one wish granted.  During this twelfth tournament, each of the warriors swallows a poison jewel that will kill them in 12 hours unless they can kill the others and collect their jewels.  Everybody, clap your hands!

This is one that I was gonna pass on…and I kinda wish I had.  Other than those hella cool and attractive character designs, Nisioisin’s name is what got me to check it out.  I love the two Zaregoto books we got over here in the states years ago, the Monogatari franchise, and the Katanagatari anime, so I had to give it a shot.  I love the characters.  I really do.  It’s just after the first few episodes, the action seems to be few and far between and the plot feels like it plods along.  Plus, kinda sucks seeing characters you like die constantly and in brutal fashion.

I hope it picks up near the end.  ‘Cuz right now, it’s not doing much for me.

6) Two Car

Two Car

Gal pals on bikes.

Motorcycle sidecar racing is a unique sport in that it takes two individuals to really function as one as the specially designed bikes require the passenger to balance the machine for all of its turns and brakes and the driver to…drive.  Yuri Miyata and Megumi Meguro are two sidecar racers living on the speed mecca Miyakejima Island.  The two high school girls have one goal–win this year’s sidecar race and go on to compete in the Isle of Mann TT where their coach will be racing.  The two have their fair share of rivals and friends to overcome, though, and it won’t be easy.  Especially since they don’t like each other that much.

Found out I’ve seen a lot of Silver Link anime.  So…yeah.  That’s a thing.  Anyway, I obviously decided to watch this because it’s cute girls doing sports things!  Gotta say, I’m enjoying it quite a bit.  My major complaint is that it’s being really formulaic by focusing on one team at a time in two-episode arcs (which also slows the show down), but I’m hoping that changes real soon.  There are a few deep and heartwarming moments here and there, but I think I find it more humorous than anything else.  The one team that seems to be pretty blatant lesbians are a delight.  They get a gag at least once an episode where they misread each other in fantastic fashion but dance it off afterward.

Also, there hasn’t been a male character with a face show up yet.  That’s just funny to me.  The coach the two main girls are crushing on is a faceless dude who could be anybody.  Classic.

5) Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World

Kino's Journey The Beautiful World

Born to be wiiiiiiiiiiiild!

Kino is just a traveler.  Well, she’s a gun-toting traveler who goes from country to country riding her anthropomorphic motorcycle–known as a “motorrad”–named Hermes.  She’s just out to see the world one country at a time.  She only spends three days and two nights in each one for fear of getting the urge to settle down.  Along the way, she and Hermes encounter a number of odd cultures and even more fascinating people.  “The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.”

Were I in the habit of making these lists pre-season, this new adaptation of Kino’s Journey would’ve been very near the top.  I’ve never seen the others, but I’ve heard enough to know I’d be a fan.  So, I had high hopes going in.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t lived up to those lofty expectations.  It’s still good, but there seems to be a giant disconnect between what’s going on and what the intended message is.  I love seeing the strange countries and each one’s different laws, but I think the point of most of them gets lost in their respective stories.

I still plan on watching the 2003 version despite how letdown I’ve felt about this iteration so far.  Once again, though, I am still enjoying it.

4) March Comes in Like a Lion 2nd Season

March Comes in Like a Lion 2nd Season

All that shogi and depression just makes you feel warm inside.

Rei Kiriyama is still recovering from his loss in his last major tournament and his new mentor’s loss against the Meijin at the end of the previous season.  His school life is going surprisingly well as he enjoys his club and confides more in his teacher.  The main light in his otherwise depressed life, though, is the Kawamoto household.  Although fairly poor, the three sisters and their grandfather are full of warmth and love.  This haven isn’t as sunny anymore; however, as the middle sister, Hinata, is dealing with bullies at school.  In order to repay the sisters for all they’ve done for him, Rei is more determined than ever to win all of his matches and become a true shogi master.

Okay, so maybe “a true shogi master” is stretching it a bit for someone as normally unambitious as Rei, but it had a nice ring to it.  Dawns on me now that I didn’t talk about March Comes in Like a Lion when I watched the first season last year (guess I started it way late).  So, here it is:  I really, really like it.  It’s Shaft doing a shogi anime that thoroughly explores depression and familial bonds.  Boy, oh boy, has my heart ached quite a few times during this show.  But, I’ve also laughed quite a bit, too.  This second season has surprised me by focusing on Hina’s story and the very real and serious problem of bullying in schools.  I already liked her, but damn if she isn’t becoming one of my favorite characters right now.  The Kawamoto sisters are just the best.

If you haven’t watched the first season, then you should definitely check it out.  And then, of course, get in on that good season two ish.

3) Recovery of an MMO Junkie

Recovery of an MMO Junkie

WOW, it’s good!  (I love bad jokes.)

At 30 years of age, Moriko Morioka makes the odd decision to quit her job and become a NEET.  Tired of dealing with the stress of the real world, Moriko returns to an old love of hers–MMOs.  She joins one called Fruits de Mer as a male character named Hayashi.  She has a rough time at first, but an absurdly cute character named Lily starts helping her and introduces her to more players.  Moriko finds herself fulfilled in her new online life, but the real world comes back for her once again as she literally runs into the handsome businessman Yuuta Sakurai.  What seemed to be a one-off meeting quickly starts to become something more, as Moriko and Sakurai can’t help but find each other very familiar….

I’ma be real here, it was difficult arranging these top three.  Recovery could easily have been second or first if I’d done this earlier or later.  I’m really enjoying this show.  Moriko is definitely Best Girl of Fall 2017, and the other characters are pretty great, too.  It does a great job of showing how important relationships built online can really be in this day and age.  No one completely neglects their real lives (well, maybe Moriko a bit), but their lives online are shown to be just as fulfilling and healthy as ones outside the internet can be.  Plus, it’s got that good romance stuff in there, and y’all know how much I like that romance stuff.

It’s a standout this season for me, and I hope more people give it a watch.

2) Food Wars! The Third Plate

Food Wars! The Third Plate

COOKING IS SUPER COOL, YO.

No rest for the wickedly good at cooking as the students of Totsuki Academy must now prepare to run food stalls at the annual Moon Festival.  It’s not mandatory, but Souma Yukihira recognizes a challenge when he sees one and vows to beat the Seventh Seat of the Elite Ten Terunori Kuga in sales over the festival’s four days.  It all seems to be standard shenanigans for the culinary masters of tomorrow, but something dark lurks around the corner.  The man who honed Erina Nakiri’s God Tongue–Erina’s father–Azami Nakiri is returning to the Academy, and he plans to rule it with an iron pan.

(Look, I wanted to make a cooking joke at the end of the paragraph, okay?)

Gotta admit, I wasn’t feeling Third Plate at first.  It was good stuff, for sure.  It just felt very re-introductory.  It’s at the end of the Moon Festival arc and the beginning of the next one where this season really starts to feel like Food Wars! again.  I had genuinely forgotten what it felt like to need the next episode of Food Wars!.  The introduction of an actual Big Bad certainly helped, I think.  Azami is a despicable person, and I eagerly await his downfall.  God bless this show.

If I find Third Plate to be a true return to form for one of the best modern shonen, then what could I possibly be enjoying more this season?

1) The Ancient Magus’ Bride

The Ancient Magus' Bride

Single woman seeks good, horned demon skull-faced ancient man.

By the age of 15, Chise Hatori has faced so much trauma and seen so much darkness in her life that she’s sold herself into slavery hoping to find someone who actually wants her.  Enter the tall, impossibly old British mage Elias Ainsworth.  Elias purchases Chise for an incredible sum since she is a Sleigh Beggy–a being with limitless potential for magic–and intends to make her both his apprentice and bride.  Where before Chise’s powers brought her only misery and heartbreak, she’s now entered a world where she’s not only useful, she’s one of the most desired beings around.

If there’s one anime that tries to make love to your eyes and ears with its visuals and soundtrack, it’s The Ancient Magus’ Bride.  It’s just so pretty, and that music is so damn good!  I was interested in it after checking out the prequel OVA, but it was actually reading the creator’s other translated work Frau Faust that got me really hype for this anime.  I’ve been loving it to pieces.  It’s a pretty neat version of a “Beauty and the Beast” story, and it’s world and its inhabitants are so varied and realized.

I wasn’t sure if Magus would be my number one, but I find myself really needing every episode.

Not the best season I’ve been around for, but those top three tick so many of my boxes.  Don’t know what my next post will be, but as always…

Peace out, and stay bizarre.

The Book of Sawce, Chapter 22 – A Book That Scares You

22 The Light at the End

Eat fresh.

I’d be willing to bet you didn’t know this about me, but I love vampires.  Stories about them are just much more interesting and entertaining to me than ones about werewolves, zombies, etc.  I can probably trace my fascination with the lore back to one wonderful, kick-ass television show–Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Even now, after all these years, it’s probably my favorite live-action show.  Everything about it was awesome, but the cast especially stands out more to me than even the stories.  My favorite character of that bunch is by far and away Spike.  So, when I found out William the Bloody was based on a vampire novel from the ’80s, I knew I had to read it someday.  And here we are!  Let us now join John Skipp and Craig Spector as they show us The Light at the End.

Rudy Pasko isn’t a great guy.  In fact, he’s kinda an ass.  He’s tall, slender, handsome, and fully aware of it.  He’s also a punk artist with a massive chip on his shoulder almost as big as his ego.  Still, he didn’t fully deserve what happened to him the night he stepped on the train to go to his friend Stephen’s place after a huge fight with his girlfriend Josalyn.  Rudy was attacked by an ancient vampire who’d already massacred another ten or so passengers on the train.  This powerful entity chose to turn the angry, arrogant youth into a vampire as a bit of fun.  Although he warned Rudy not to draw attention to himself, the punk awakened and embraced his new lifestyle with murderous glee and reckless abandon.  A wholly unlikely crew of messengers, artists, and other random citizens band together to combat this new malevolent force.  The city of New York knows something’s up in the subways underneath, but no one could possibly know the unholy bloodbath they’re about to face.

No, I didn’t really plan to read a scary book in October this year.  Believe it or not, my procrastination is just that magical.  Every year I want to read and watch more “spoopy” (as the youth say) things when October rolls around, but I never do.  That’s a personal problem, though.  Like I said earlier, I love vampires.  I’m not one of those people who wears all black and only drinks red beverages, but I am pale and rarely go out into the sun.  I have a real connection to the myths, you see.  Okay, enough tomfoolery.  Let’s talk about The Light at the End.

First things first, I definitely see where Spike came from now.  He definitely has Rudy’s look in the modern day and sheer vileness in his early years as an undead.  That’s probably the thing that surprised me the most in this book.  I knew going in that it’s considered the progenitor of the splatterpunk genre, but I did not expect Rudy to be as big of a monster as he becomes.  He rapes and murders his away around the New York boroughs and subway tunnels in damn near giddy fashion.  He was unlikable as a human, but he is downright detestable as a vampire.

As weird as it is, the heroes of the novel aren’t too terribly likable themselves.  I don’t know if that was intentional or if it’s dated smartass edginess or what, but I found myself not caring too much about who lived or died.  The messengers Joseph (“Mr. Aptly Named”) Hunter, Ian, and Allan are among the best of them, but they have their own set of problems that prevented me from getting fully behind any of them.  Rudy’s pre-vampire friends Stephen and Josalyn probably have the best character arcs, and it was great seeing those finally come to fruition.  Shop-owner Danny, vampire fan-girl Claire, the two transit workers, and the other messengers ranged from just being there to being head-slappingly annoying.  By far the best of this vampire-hunting group was the Van Helsing surrogate, Armond.  It’s stated repeatedly he’s lived through some unspeakable stuff, so although he realizes he needs to see to it that Rudy is killed, he doesn’t fear him in the least.  One cool old dude.

The story itself is your pretty basic vampire stuff: Vampire’s in town, so it’s up to a handful of men and women to take him down.  The desire to see Rudy taken down is the driving force, but I do wish we’d found out more about the vampire who turned him.  Just know he’s more evil than evil and that he was Dracula’s mentor.  I did find it really weird that crosses and holy water do the trick here, but the book seems almost angry that Christian iconography can combat vampires.  It felt like the authors hated they had to use that stuff.  Couple that with almost every main character being a pothead, and you have some odd choices.  I mean, sure.  It was the ’80s.  Be rebels and punks and hell yeah and whatnot.  Seemed weird, though.

The Light at the End was an extremely easy read for me when it finally got to the hunt, but it was a bit of slow going since there are only a handful of genuinely likable characters in the book.  I can safely say it won’t make my top five from this reading challenge when all’s said and done.  I’d still suggest it to fans of vampires or just horror in general, though.

Kinda considering getting halfway through that first reading challenge before I call it quits and try a different one next year since this was supposed to be done in 2015.  Or maybe I’ll just try and soldier through to finally finish this one before 2019 rolls around.  Either way, the next book is one that’s more than 100 years old.

What will it be?  Stay tuned to find out.

2017 Summer of Anime – My Hero Academia 2

32 My Hero Academia 2

Go beyond.

Woohoo!  Finally wrapping up the 2017 Summer of Anime, and we’re wrapping it up with a bang!  Not the post itself.  The anime.  The anime is the bang.

My Hero Academia 2 is better than its first season in almost every aspect.  The character work, the pacing, the arcs.  And I’m not just being a shameless shill for tournament arcs this time either…even if the tournament arc is one of the best since Yu Yu Hakusho‘s Dark Tournament, and you should all watch it.  It did a lot for the growth of Izuku and Todoroki.  Izuku becomes more of the hero he wants to be in helping Todoroki, and Todoroki is finally able to overcome his hate boner for his dad (for the most part).  Bakugo gets a decent bit, too, but it’s mostly just him getting angrier and angrier that no one wants to be his rival (I’m reading between the lines here).

We get a bit of a training arc after with all the students doing hero interning, but it’s what comes after that that really did it for me.  As a child of the ’90s and someone who’s delved into comics, Stain is a genuinely fascinating character.  He’s the dreaded Hero Killer who goes from city to city injuring or murdering the heroes he goes after.  But when he takes down Iida’s older brother and draws the wrath of the speedy class rep, we get to find out more about him.  Stain only kills those he deems as unworthy of being heroes.  He is eerily similar to Izuku in that he sees All Might on this pedestal towering above all others, but unlike One For All’s successor, if any hero doesn’t try to live up to those standards, Stain takes them out.

In all aspects, Stain is a ’90s comic book character striving for the values of the Golden Age.  His power allows him to paralyze anyone whose blood he’s ingested, and he views killing as necessary to carry out his goals.  Visually speaking, he looks like he’s taken straight out of Todd McFarlane’s sketch book.  The wild hair, bandages on his eyes and his arms, missing nose, impossibly long and jagged red scarf, covered in spikes and blades, and favoring a hunched brooding stance.  To see such a gloriously Dark Age American character as an important and powerful antagonist who worships the morals of heroic ages long since gone in an anime is seriously something I never thought I’d see.  I love Stain.

5994027-7263167526-214-p

Somebody get this man some pouches.

After Izuku, Todoroki, and Iida run afoul of this amazing man, the anime goes back to its less life-threatening ways.  The students wind up taking their finals by fighting in pairs against different teachers at UA.  The pairings and their opponents all make perfect sense, and it was a very welcome breather arc while still containing a good bit of action and character growth.  The season then ends on one hell of a sequel hook, but did you really need it, Academia?  We all know you’ll get as many seasons as you want.  You don’t have to bait us like that.

My one complaint about season two is the beginning of what seems to be a worrying trend:  Ochako is getting relegated to the background.  Now, she was still fairly prominent throughout the season, and I appreciate what scenes she did get.  Tsuyu and Yaoyorozu also got some good moments, but it looks like the female characters who could easily take spots as main protagonists are taking backseats to Todoroki and Iida.  Not saying those two guys are bad characters.  I love all these crazy kids (except for the little grape piece of sh*t).  But diversity is important.  That’s an issue for another post, though, and I’m holding out hope Ochako becomes a major player in the story again.

Also, right quick, those two OPs and EDs are great.

So yeah, I love MHA.  I’m giving it a 9.5.  Aside from that one complaint, this second season just clicked with me so much.  And it gave this comic nerd a vastly more interesting character than I’d expected to find in one of these Japanese cartoons.

Though hella belated it may be, the 2017 Summer of Anime has officially closed!  When next we meet it will probably be a Digi-Rambling or something spoopy related.

I will catch y’all later.