Monday, July 6, 2020

Anime Monday - Zoids: New Century Zero

So it’s been two weeks since I made my last blog post. Things have been pretty hectic at both home and work, and it’s been kinda hard for me to keep up with things. A lot of gaming related news has come out over these two weeks, and, while I do want to get around to talking about them at some point, it’s just a bit too much for me to cover at the moment. Putting that aside though, I didn’t want to fully go back on what I promised to do with this blog, so once again here we are with another Anime Monday! This week I’m going to be talking about an anime that is pretty special to me, and one I’m sure many others grew up watching as well. It’s Zoids: New Century Zero.

How I Discovered Zoids:

Like many other kids in the early 2000s, Toonami was my go to after school programming block. It’s where I got to watch great series like Dragon Ball Z everyday, it’s how I got into Gundam, and it’s really the main reason I even like anime to this day. Back then I didn’t really understand what anime was though, but I could tell that it was something special. It wasn’t like all the other “cartoons” I watched where everything was episodic. Instead these were shows with actual development, with each new episode progressing the story towards a definitive ending. They were complete, and each episode was a small part of a much grander journey. Even shows that didn’t have endings/would continue on in the future, still had major story arcs that had conclusions. Each part of Dragon Ball Z for example was it’s own epic adventure, and I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. So it’s really no wonder that I, and many others, tuned in to Toonami each and every day. And that’s exactly how I discovered Zoids.

I still remember the first time I saw Zoids: New Century Zero. It was the episode where they went up against “Harry Champ, a man destined to be king.” Honestly my first impressions of the series was “look at this Power Rangers rip off with their wannabe White Ranger Tiger Zord,” but for some reason it still interested me. I mean I thought the same thing about Gundam as well and ended up loving it, so why not give Zoids a chance as well? So I did. And yeah, I am so glad I did.

Before I knew it, Zoids had become my new favorite series. I watched it every day after school, and I remember even trying to build “Zoids” out of legos. I didn’t know about the model kits back then, so I made due with what I had, and somehow I completely missed the fact that it had some game releases as well. Of course, I didn’t have the internet back then to look these sorta things up, and the kids I would talk to at school really weren’t much of a help. They watched the show too, but they were in the same boat as me. We only knew what we saw on TV, and just hoped there was more out there... Without ever realizing there was... But that’s besides the point. The bottom line is, I loved the series, and I made sure to never miss an episode... At least, until things changed — but that too is a story for another time.

The Story of Zoids: New Century Zero:

Zoids is an interesting series. It’s a show that’s based on a model kit line, and because of that it’s not actually just one series. There are multiple Zoids shows, and each one is a series all it’s own. New Century Zero is actually the “third” Zoids series, but it was the first one to actually be shown in the US. While the original Zoids, and it’s follow up series, focused on war, New Century Zero takes a competitive approach to the whole thing, and focuses on teams fighting each other instead. It’s this team combat that really had me hooked from the get go, and I quickly found myself rooting for the different characters. But, once again, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The story of New Century Zero is set place in a world that’s unlike our own. In this world giant mechanical beats known as “Zoids” rule, and humans pilot them in (typically) 3v3 battles known as “Zoids Battles.” Each Zoid is typically based on a different animal, and although they are machines, they do have an AI that acts as their brains. In a way, a Zoid is like a living creature, and although humans do pilot them, it’s more of a partnership between the Zoid and the pilot. A Zoid can reject it’s pilot, and refuse to fight in a Zoids Battle if it wishes, and that’s exactly where our story begins.

The Blitz team is a newer team that hopes to become one of the best. They have some skilled pilots under their belt, as well as some nice Zoids, but they just can’t seem to catch a break. Their “lead” Zoid the Liger Zero refuses to let anyone pilot it, and that ultimately leads to a lot of issues. That is until the rookie pilot Bit Cloud enters the picture.

Bit actually has no interest in becoming a Zoids pilot — instead he only cares about Zoids parts, and being able to make money of off them. After causing an accident that broke the Blitz Team’s lead pilot’s arm, Bit find himself being brought in by them to take responsibility for his actions. This is what eventually leads Bit to come face to face with the Liger Zero, and is how they discover that the Liger has actually accepted Bit as a pilot. After a series of events, Bit does eventually get into the pilot seat, and before long he is accepted as a part of the Blitz Team as their new pilot.

After Bit joins the team, each episode of New Century Zero focuses on the struggles the team must overcome if they want to make it to the top. The team has no money, their gear is outdated, and they aren’t as experienced as other teams out there battling. To make things even worse, a shady group called the Back Draft Group is constantly making illegal deals and causing trouble, and it doesn’t take long for the Blitz Team themselves to start running into them. Although each episode is mostly episodic, there’s a natural progression to the show that allows us to see this team continue to improve. It’s not easy for them however, and the show does take quite a few unexpected turns along the way. While many episodes do follow the same formula of new teams and characters being brought in each episode for Bit and his friends to fight, it doesn’t always stick to this setup, and often we get to see the other teams develop over time as well. These characters aren’t just single episode throw away characters, like in many episodic series, but rather new characters that continue to evolve along with the Blitz Team. They too are shooting for the same goal, and they are all just as capable of achieving it. Sure, it’s not as serious of a story as the war torn “Zoids: Chaotic Century,” but that’s perfectly okay. It’s a fun ride form start to finish, and you can’t help but be drawn into it’s world and characters.

Zoids Moving Forward:

When New Century Zero ended it’s run on Toonami, they continued to rerun it a few more times before they finally moved on to the rest of the Zoids series. The first series and it’s sequel was their next go to, which was a completely different experience from what NCZ offered. Again, this was a war torn world, and focused more on Zoids as being “wild animals” mixed with war machines. It was a much darker series in general, and caught many fans off guard when it first came on. Following this series’ success they then moved on to Zoids Fuzors which... Was canceled after basically one episode. After that Zoids pretty much vanished from the US, which is a shame. Zoids Genesis would air in Japan and once again focus more on the war aspect of Zoids, and at the end of the 2010s Zoids would once again return with Zoids Wild. In this series, characters ride on the back of Zoids (rather than piloting them), and it takes a step back towards the lighter side of things. As for Zoids in the US however? It’s remained missing. None of these follow up series ever got released here, and still to this day we’re waiting for them. It’s sad really, but that’s something Zoids fans have come to accept.

Should You Watch It:

So, should you watch New Century Zero or Zoids in general? Well, that really depends on you. Zoids is a unique mecha series with mechs based on animals. Each part of the series is completely unique, and because of that it’s not ensured that you will like every aspect of it. While NCZ is a fun ride with tournament style battles (with some drama mixed in), the style of the other series is a completely different case. So which Zoids you watch really does depend on what you’re looking for, but I can say that it is a series worth looking into. New Century Zero will always be my favorite out of all of them, and it’s something I’ve personally watched from start to finish many times. I watched every rerun on Toonami as it aired, I rewatched it again in high school, and then even after I became an adult, I often found myself going back to it just for fun. It’s a nice series, and I think everyone should give it a shot. So yes, I think it’s worth watching. 
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Monday, June 22, 2020

Anime Monday - Ghost Stories

I’m not going to lie. I sat here for quite awhile trying to figure out how to even start this post. Normally I just randomly choose an anime, I talk about it a little, and then go on with my day. It’s typically pretty straight forward, and I don’t have to put too much thought into what I want to cover. Then sometimes something like today happens... I clicked on my RNG, sorted through the list that was created as I looked for something I have seen, and then my eyes stopped on something unexpected. Ghost Stories. Man, I knew this day would come eventually, but I was never actually prepared for it. I mean, how do I even start with this one? What should I even talk about? Why couldn’t it have just been a normal anime!? Yeah, this is not an easy one to cover, but I hope to do my best... And to do that, I feel like we need to start at the beginning. Back to the stories that would not only take Japan by storm, but also be the reason we have many of our top horror movies today.

The Origin of Ghost Stories:

Originally written by Toru Tsunemitsu, “Ghost Stories” is not actually one series, but a collection of horror novels. Each book is a story of it’s own, and typically deals with supernatural beings that must be stopped. These stories became insanely popular in Japan, and would become the inspiration for many other writers and film makers. The series was huge, to say the least, and it’s because of that popularity an anime series based on it was eventually greenlit. It was only natural that something this well known would eventually come to TV as well, but the result wasn’t what one might expect.

The anime version of Ghost Stories follows the story of a group of kids, as they deal with different strange occurrences around their school and town. Every episode introduces a new threat, the kids investigate, and eventually find a way to stop the ghost and save the day. It’s a very episode format, without any real danger, or even a real reason to watch it. It was a shell of the source material, and it failed to appeal to nearly everyone. It was a kids series that kids didn’t want to watch, and it was too dull for an older audience to really give it a second look.

The English Dub:

After the anime completely bombed in Japan, it was picked up in the west by ADV Films — a company that had brought many other “older” anime series to the West. Unlike with most dubs however, ADV was warned about just how badly Ghost Stories did in Japan, and they were given the go ahead to do “whatever” they wanted with the series (with a few exceptions). As long as ADV didn’t change the way monsters/ghosts were defeated, then they were free to change anything else to make it into a story of their own. So, that’s exactly what they did.

The Ghost Stories dub is an example of both a “perfect” dub and also the “worst” possible dub. A lot of people may not agree with what was done to the series when it was translated, while many people will only watch it because of it’s dub. Why? Because the dub is what one might call an “official” abridged series — without the abridge part.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with an “abridged” series, they are something that became popular online during the early days of websites like YouTube. They are series that take anime, trim down the scenes, and apply a comedy fan dub to what is happening. They are complete parodies of the source material, and aren’t afraid to do whatever they want. They aren’t official projects, and they can get away with saying nearly anything. Ghost Stories is exactly the same thing, but in official form.

The dub of Ghost Stories doesn’t hold anything back. Right off the bat there are major changes to the main characters, and the nonstop craziness begins. The main character’s brother is transformed into a mentally disabled child who has a hard time speaking from time to time, another girl was made into a very strict Christian, while another kid is now Jewish, and another simply says whatever is on his mind whenever he wants. The dub isn’t afraid to take these traits to the extreme, and in the process they try to offend as many people as possible. One character is told to run as if he were being chased by a “big black man,” and the little kid is called the R word pretty often. The Christian girl constantly jumps to the “extreme” with everything, the Jewish kid visits Jewish only adult sites, and so on. You never know what to expect every time someone opens their mouth, and that’s exactly what makes the dub so good (yet also horrible). It’s definitely not for people who get offended easily, but it’s great for anyone who wants a parody.

The only down side is that it is an older series, so some of the jokes may be lost on newer fans — such as the “YOU WANNA BE AN AIR FORCE RANGER” scene, which is a direct reference to a certain popular movie. It doesn’t really stop it form being any less funny if the reference goes over your head, but it is definitely better if you get the joke. All things consider though, it’s actually pretty shocking what they were able to get away with some of the things said, but now days a lot of it most likely wouldn’t fly.

It’s a controversy show, but again, that’s why so many people also love it.

Should You Watch It?

That really depends! Going in you need to understand what it is. It’s a basic boring story about kids fighting ghosts. The series itself really isn’t that special at all, and I really can’t recommend the “original” to anyone. The original sub has actually officially been released, so that’s one option when it comes to watching it, and they did go back and do a “proper” dub as well. Both the sub and dub are the complete original experience, without any of the alterations by ADV... But why would you want that?

If you don’t easily get offended, then I would recommend Ghost Stories ADV dub for sure. While the initial episodes do start out a little rough, the following episodes will have you laughing non stop from start to finish. You really never know what to expect next, and you’ll constantly find yourself just staring at the screen in complete disbelief over what was just said. They don’t hold anything back, and that is why either you'll love it, or hate it.

So to answer the question, "is it worth watching," then you have to really consider what you yourself like. If you have a problem with strong language and offensive material, then stay FAR away from this one. If not, then go check it out. It's a rare anime series that deserves to be watched.
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Saturday, June 20, 2020

New Pokemon Snap - A Dream Come True

When I was a kid, Pokemon was massive. It was something completely new that was taking the world by storm, and I too was being drawn into it. I still remember the first time I saw the anime, the first time my parents bought me a toy, the first time I got some Pokemon cards, and the very first time I started up Pokemon Red. These are all memories that will forever be burned into my brain, yet they were all such small parts of what Pokemon would eventually become for me. It was something I had never experienced before, and it was also something I could not get enough of. Heck, I used to worry about "what would happen next" once Ash finally made it to the Pokemon League. As far as I knew, that would be the end of it, but then Pokemon Gold and Silver came around to give me hope. But again, what would happen once those games were over? Would Pokemon continue? How long would it last?

Back then, despite it being so popular, I really didn't expect it to continue to evolve into the franchise it is now. I was living completely in the moment, and during that time it was my everything. I hoped those times would last forever, but I wasn't sure if they would. For the time being however, I planned to enjoy it as much as I could, and I was always waiting for the "next big thing" to come to the Pokemon world. That's when I heard about Pokemon Snap.

During those days, Pokemon games were still quite limited. We had the Game Boy games, Pokemon Stadium on the N64, and Hey You Pikachu (which I'm pretty sure I'm the only person who liked that game). They were all fun games, and offered different looks at the Pokemon world, but there had yet to be a 3D game where you could actually "explore" this world. The first time I saw Pokemon Snap was actually at a Toys R Us, and I completely mistook what it was right off the bat. The demo was setup for you to play, but I didn't actually have much time to stand there to play it. I just remember the screen slowly moving towards a meowth, and me using the buttons to zoom in closer and throw apples at it. I didn't know what was going on, but the fact that it was a 3D Pokemon game meant I HAD to have it. So I began asking for it.

I'm really not sure how or why it happened, but one Sunday night I was over at my grandparent's house, and my uncle and his wife came over with a sack in their hands. I can still recall my uncle handing that sack over to me, and me looking inside to see not just Pokemon Snap, but it's guide book as well. Needless to say, in that moment, I was pretty excited! Even though it had only been a few months since I had first asked for the game, as a kid that seemed like an eternity's worth of waiting. And now, that wait was finally over.

Sadly I couldn't play the game until after school the next day, but once I got home, that game would became my "go to" for many, MANY, months to come. Although it wasn't quite the exploration game I was expecting, I still loved every minute of it. Seeing Pokemon in their "natural environment," and trying to line up the camera for the perfect shots was a lot of fun. Eventually you started unlocking tools to help you, and by using them you could lead Pokemon into unique situations for even better pictures. It was a really cool concept, and I was always striving to take better pictures.

Even when I wasn't playing Pokemon Snap, I was still thinking about Pokemon Snap. Thanks to that guide book, I was able to "study" the maps, and learn as much about the game as I could. I still remember talking to my cousins about that game, as we walked with our parents to the town's fall festival, and I remember bringing the guide book with me so that we could look at it on our way up there. They too became pretty interested in the game, and whenever they came over they instantly wanted to play it. Sadly that day wasn't really the best for me however, as I got stung up by bees, and was then forced to walk all the way back home in pain. My cousins were planning on coming over to play Pokemon Snap after, but I'm pretty sure that didn't happen that day... And later on, their love for the game would actually start to annoy me.

I guess it was because the game was mine, and I had already played it so much, but eventually Pokemon Snap did start to annoy me. My cousins ALWAYS wanted to play it, and I was tired of that being the only thing we did. So one day I actually "hid" it behind my TV so they wouldn't find it, and... That was actually the last time I ever saw it myself. That day a large group of neighborhood kids came over to play, and one of them must've found it... When they left I went to retrieve the game from my "hiding place" (behind the TV), and it was no longer there.

Losing Pokemon Snap crushed me as a kid, and sadly the next time I got to play it wouldn't be until I was 18 years old. The game eventually came out on the Nintendo Wii, and since I started working at my uncle's bakery I was easily able to get the extra money to buy it. Funny enough, my one cousin (who loved the game) came over as well to play it. It was the first time either of us had seen the game in roughly 9-10 years, and it was just as good as we remembered. Sorta.

Overall, Pokemon Snap really wasn't that big of a game. You only had a handful of areas, only a fraction of the original 151 Pokemon were included, and the "secret paths" weren't so secret once you figured them out. It was still a fun game, and the scale was understandable for the time, but overall it really wasn't as "amazing" as I had once thought it was. That's not to say I still didn't love it, it's just the magic of it had at that point worn off for me. But I still had hopes that one day we'd get to return to it... And now here we are.

11 years after I returned to the original Pokemon Snap, we are now finally getting that sequel I had wished for. It's hard to believe so much time has passed. I never once thought it would take this long for a follow up, nor did I really ever think that it would actually happen at this point! The announcement of New Pokemon Snap was a dream come true for me, and once again I find myself returning to how I felt during my childhood. Like back then, a world filled with the unknown is awaiting me, and I can't wait to dive back into it.

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Thursday, June 11, 2020

First Look at the PlayStation 5

It's finally happened! Today we got our first look at the upcoming PlayStation 5, and not just that, but it's digital only model as well!

While we've already covered the PS5's specs in the past, today's announcement was more for the games coming to it, and the look of the console itself. As you can see, it's pretty unique. It will come in two models (one with a physical disc reader, and one without), and both will sport a similar black and white design. To go along with the console, a new HD camera was announced (which will most likely be used for PlayStation VR), as well as a media remote.

For a closer look at the new console, check the trailer below:

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Square-Enix announces Project Athia for PS5

Luminous Productions, the team behind Final Fantasy XV, have finally shown off their newest game -- Project Athia! While not much is currently known about the game itself, it's being built with the PlayStation 5 in mind. Check out the stunning new trailer below:

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Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart - PS5 Trailer

Ratchet & Clank are back, and this time they find themselves caught in a new adventure between dimensions! Featuring instant "dimension hopping" thanks to the PlayStation 5's power, this is said to be a title that could have only truly been pulled off using next generation hardware. It's been quite some time since we've seen our two heroes, but it's good to have them back. Plus they're joined by a new heroine this time as well!

Check out the trailer now:

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Sackboy: A Big Adventure - PS5 Trailer

The star of LittleBigPlanet returns, and this time in a game of his very own! Sackboy: A Big Adventure is a co-op 3D action platforming game, that barrows it's setting from the main LittleBigPlanet titles. While past LittleBigPlanet games were actually game creation games, this time around the game itself is the main focus here. Check out the trailer now:

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Spider-Man: Miles Morales

The follow up to 2018's Spider-Man (PS4) has officially been announced, and it appears to be everything fans were hoping for! While going into the details would be spoilers for the original game, this time around we get to play as none other than Miles Morales. Miles, who was a playable character in the first game, is now following in Peter Parker's footsteps as the new Spider-Man. And, well, the trailer looks amazing -- let's just leave it at that!

Check it out for yourself below, and go play the original if you haven't already. You won't regret it.

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Demon's Souls Returns to PlayStation 5

Remember Demon's Souls? No? That's most likely because either, A, you never owned a PlayStation 3, or B, it's because it's been overshadowed by Dark Souls... Well, that's about to change.

Demon's Souls was the original "Souls" released by FromSoftware for the PlayStation 3. The game would go on to be a success for the company, and would be followed up by the multiplatform release we are all familiar with to this day. It's been 11 years since then however, and despite the series' popularity, we've never seen FromSoftware return to it's roots. Sure, we got Bloodborne for the PlayStation 4, but that still wasn't quite the same. It's wasn't the classic fans had been asking for. Nope, that's what today's announcement was for!

Yep, after a decade of waiting, Demon's Souls is finally coming back to the PlayStation 5! While not much more has been said about the project, that's really not a big deal. Fans know exactly what they're getting with this one, and I'm sure they'll all be happy to watch the new trailer... Which can be found below:

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GhostWire: Tokyo - PS5 Trailer

At today's PlayStation 5 event, not only did we get quite a few new announcements, but we also got the first look at some previously announced games as well! One such title is Tango Gameworks' "GhostWire: Tokyo." For those of you who do not know, these are the guys behind The Evil Within, while the founder is known as the creator of Resident Evil. Unlike his previous works however, GhostWire seems to take a much more action approach to the horror genre, and plays from a first person point of view as well.

Check out the new trailer below:

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