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It’s time to look at the most popular posts on the blog over the last year. I was a little more apathetic about updating this year and my traffic suffered accordingly, dropping off by ~4,000 hits. The top posts haven’t changed too much, but here goes:
Remixed Objection, No Yakuza 3?, L4D2 (Again), and Pokémon Cosplay [Game Overview] (402)
I know precisely why this link is top of the list. It features a stunning picture of Jessica Nigri very liberally cosplaying a Pikachu. It seems sex sells. Surprise!
The Great American Ballpark Tour: Citizens Bank Park Review [Wednesday Morning Quarterback] (391)
My ballpark review was featured in an article talking about the ivy on Citizens Bank Park’s walls and the site was flooded with viewers.
Great Dwarf Fortress Stories [PC] (347)
I guess Dwarf Fortress is still niche-y and hard to find content about online. Surprise, haha.
Mother 3 Review [Big N] (304 )
I’m still super proud of this review. It was something I worked really hard on and I think it’s one of my better reviews.
Game Overview: The Villains of Final Fantasy Week 6 (114)
I can’t believe how many hits these things still get despite it being far from what I do on this blog any more. Interesting.
Otakon 2010 [Photographic Memory]
The Villains of Final Fantasy Week 10 [Game Overview]
White Guilt and The Help [FB]
Otakon always gets tons of hits come con time, but the popularity of both The Help and talking about how quasi-racist it was got that post tons of hits on my blog that have tapered off since release.
2011 Hit Totals By Month
I can understand the hit drop off in 2011 based on how much I kept up with blogging. We’ll see if I’m more on top of things in 2012.
My favorite cosplay from the con
Otakon was this weekend, but my stolen camera prevented me from photographing any of the cosplay. The example above was taken by Eric.
This week was comic book heavy. There was a huge sale at Eric’s shop that I took advantage of along with some Amazon orders to finish off small runs of series I was reading.
Barney’s Version – It’s weird to see movies prominently set in Canada. This Can-Lit adaptation is pretty good. I can see why Paul Giamatti won a Golden Globe for this. Again, solid, but not great. I think this one was probably better as a book.
Be Kind Rewind – I liked Eternal Sunshine, so I figured I’d give this Michel Gondry film a try. It’s another passable movie. It’s got heart, which I love, and Jack Black not Jack Black-ing it up too hard, which I also love, but, and this may just be me, Mos Def’s earnestness came off more like he might be developmentally challenged, not sincere. Not a terrible way to spend 102 minutes, but not the best way either.
Better Off Ted – I thought this show was really funny when it was on. It still is, but I can also totally see why it was canceled. Not bad for when I want to watch something no streaming when I’m eating a meal or something.
Weeds – This season has been really good! I love how much this show evolves and I actually dig the new NYC setting. I’m interested in where this Doug plotline is going (for once!) and I’m also impressed by how much Hunter Parrish is killing it yet again as Silas. This week also brought back a character from the early seasons, which is part of what makes this show so great. There’s an established past that can be referred to even though the present keeps evolving…you know, like real life.
One of Our Thursdays is Missing – A REAL BOOK?! Yep! The Thursday Next series has always been remarkably funny and clever to a sneaky degree. Sure, some knowledge of literature is assumed, but it’s mostly stuff that any educated person would come across naturally. Any other gaps can be filled by Wikipedia. Funny in a way that books rarely are anymore, this one is really pulling me in.
Slaughterhouse Five – Still making progress, but sidelined by OoOTiM (see above), this story remains one of my favorites.
Daytripper – Twin brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá created this fantastic, beautiful, somber series about the important moments that define our lives. Like real life, they frame the beautiful with the somber. Each issue is framed with the death of the protagonist, an obituary writer for part of his life, and an obit about where his life is when he “died”. Beautiful art, good writing, and a plot that is deep and engaging while remaining light and digestible.
Air – A series that’s supposedly acclaimed, but whose premise falls entirely flat to me. It’s about a stewardess who is afraid of heights and shadowy conglomerations trying to get air technology that doesn’t use oil. Just…boring. I didn’t really like the art either. Really did not resonate with me.
Thor: The Mighty Avenger – Finished off the eight-issue (over WAY too soon) run of the delightful and excellent series by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee. Fantastic lines, beautiful art, and light, happy dialog that reminds us our heroes don’t have to be angsty or violent to be interesting. It’s just sweet and fun and if you don’t like it, it’s entirely possible that your heart has turned to stone.
Amazing Spider-Man – I gave the book another try after thoroughly disliking #665. The latest, #666, remains far too wordy and doesn’t let the characters or art breathe, but I also read some back issues around where Peter joins the FF that were absolutely delightful. More importantly, they were funny. That’s what Spider-Man books are all about. Sure, there’s plenty of Peter angsting and brooding, but there should also be jokes. Funny jokes! I’m on-board for Spider Island (or, should I say, #SpiderIsland (no, don’t ever say that))! Hope it doesn’t disappoint.
Ultimate Fallout – The book lost a little focus and fun this issue between Tony Stark’s mystery rich people secret society and Kitty’s angst (overusing that word today, I know), but I still enjoyed the writing of the latter while I was intrigued by Jean Grey and The Hulk. Not the best issue, but I can’t wait for the reveal of the new (Ultimate) Spider-Man in this week’s book.
Irredeemable – This book continues to get better and better. I’m all caught up in continuity and I’m just loving the drama and struggles between The Plutonian and the remaining, surviving heroes. The most recent issue had quite the cliffhanger as the end of the arc, which is disappointing to me only in that my favorite character may be out of the story for a few issues. Mark Waid’s book remains one of my favorite reads at the moment.
Incorruptible – The companion piece to Irredeemable has the world’s worst supervillain reforming and becoming a superhero after witnessing The Plutonian’s mass murder/destruction of Sky City. Max Damage (dumb name, I know) is initially clueless about being a hero, but his development (and the addition of Alana Patel, The Plutonian’s ex-girlfriend, to his cast) makes for a really interesting story. I love the unstable partners (Jailbait and Headcase) and the recovering alcoholic police lieutenant on his side. Irredeemable has a grander scale and a more interesting ensemble, but Incorruptible’s more focused nature makes for an equally interesting character study. I wish the two intersected a little more, but it’s not the biggest problem.
FF and Fantastic Four: Dark Reign – Guess what? I like Jonathan Hickman’s writing. You’ll see more of that later on in this blog, but I enjoy it. FF is currently mired in some backstory that has me intrigued, but most fans bored, while the old issues I read in Dark Reign were funny, satisfying, and tied in nicely with later Fantastic Four/FF books.
Ultimate Fantastic Four – Nearly done with my run through this series. Main continuity beats it in terms of quality, but the situations inherent to the Ultimate Universe are still interesting.
Secret Warriors – More Hickman, this time writing about Nick Fury exiled from SHIELD. Makes sense why he started the Brotherhood of the SHIELD book, but I’m wondering now if the two are related, especially since HYRDA called themselves “The Spear” in an early issue of this book. I’d love for Hickman to just revamp the Marvel universe’s perceptions of SHIELD and, considering the huge revelation of this book’s first issue, I’d say he probably succeeded at that. Yet another book for me to collect!
Moon Knight – Bendis’ attempt to revive the oft-canceled series about a multiple personality disorder superhero has been remarkably good. I don’t want to spoil any of it, but I doubt you can be disappointed with the first two issues of this. I haven’t read beyond that (there’s one more), but it’s a lot of fun. I’m digging it.
Cowboy Ninja Viking – Just trying to finish off the book. Two volumes. Most certainly canceled due to lack of sales, but not with enough lead time to get a satisfying conclusion. I really feel like the second set of issues didn’t deliver on the fun promised by the first five.
Morning Glories – I get such flashes of Lost every time I read this book, which is a good thing. Sure, the whole “violence at a prep school” thing has been done to death, but it’s quite interesting here in this context. I’m at the edge of my seat wanting to find out what will happen next issue.
Wolverine/Deadpool One-Shot – The first story in this book was funny, involving Deadpool, Wolverine, cross-dressing, and a robot, but the second story was a little too madcap and stupid.
Y: The Last Man – The reread continues after much delay! I really dig this story and how well it deals with the post-apocalyptic aftermath of the elimination of the Y chromosome.
Team Fortress 2 – I’m tantalizingly close to realizing my Scout achievement goal of 2004 kills (3/4 of the way there is closer than you’d think!). Getting back into this game was definitely a shock to me.
Catherine – The central conflict of this game is choosing responsible, bossy Katherine or impulsive, immature Catherine. It’s impossible to go into this game without any baggage (unless you’ve never dated anyone) and mine is screaming out at me every time I play this game. Sure, I abhor cheating, but Katherine’s bossiness and smothering, maternal nature reminds me so much of my Ex that I can’t stand her character. Throw in tons of blatant (and subtle) masculine/feminine symbolism and Freudian levels of horror and fear toward women and you’ve got a game that is more interesting to think about than to play. The block puzzles are neat, but they’re not doing it for me. Probably doesn’t help that I’m not very good at them either…
Most impressive ensemble goes to the gaggle of Doctor Whos, but this was definitely my favorite Otakon cosplay ensemble.
The USA’s second largest anime convention came and went and I took pictures of it. Yes, Otakon 2010 happened, but, no, I didn’t want to actually pay admission to go in since I don’t watch as much anime anymore and I didn’t know any of the artists that were appearing, so I freeloaded along with my brother and took pictures of the cosplayers who were coming into or leaving the convention center on Saturday.
As long as there are anime conventions there will be Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon cosplay.
I’d only ever been to one similar convention before, MegaCon in Orlando, but I was thoroughly impressed by the degree of cosplay on display. Maybe it’s because it’s an anime convention and not a general comics convention, but it seemed like the majority of the attendees were in costume rather than just shlubbing it like I did back in the day.
I refused to leave until I saw some Phoneix Wright cosplay.
We spent two hours or so just hanging around the front and side doors (we weren’t allowed inside without badges) snapping pictures of cosplayers who didn’t mind the attention, marveling at all the costumes. I don’t have much more to say beyond that, so here’s a gallery of my favorite costumes from Otakon 2010 (sorry dialup users!).
Good to see such faithful Bebop cosplay is still going strong
I have no idea what anime this is from, but this girl is quite good looking, so I snapped a shot. For bonus points, check out the old man behind her looking at her ass. EDIT: It appears to be a Disgaea 3 Gunner costume.
"I can't get over how FAST they all are, it's not even fair. I'm calling zombie bullshit on that, you know? They're not...ALLOWED to be so fast." Plenty of L4D cosplay, which makes me a very happy Dan.
The Tenant Doctor Who on the right was actually a fairly good looking lady. Great costume, too.
Anyone who visits this blog knows I love Pikachu cosplay.
A crew of servbots! Not super complicated, but it works. Makes me want to play Dead Rising...
One of the most impressive costumes of the show. This is an amazing Ashitaka from Princess Mononoke.
A MUCH more elaborate servbot cosplay.
All he was missing was a chocobo in his 'fro, but he had the L'Cie brand on his chest and an accurate magicite thing (I forgot what they were called!)
Very accurate gun and costume for Gurren Lagann.
I love all Ace Attorney cosplay! We need to see more Apollo Justice too!
Fantastic Burton Alice in Wonderland Mad Hatter
It's a shame this girl had the huge Buster Sword with her becasue this shot is so far away from her elaborate costume and ridiculously blue eyes (HAD to be contacts)
Great Red-Haired Shanks cosplay.
Bayonetta. Her heels aren't guns, but still a good costume.
Nick's got a bile jar!
The most fearsome pirate on the seven seas, Buggy the Clown
Mihawk cosplay. Nice sword and costume!
A great cast shot of One Piece. I took this one mostly because I noticed Water 7 Nami in there.
I could never pass up Rockman X cosplay.
SUPER SAIYAN! I love the level of dedication to make blond eyebrows too
Mugiwara (Straw Hat) no Luffy. He asked me if I wanted him to pose. I said "Of course!"
The heroes of Code Geass
I was wondering why she didn't move out of the shot until I realized she was Namine. Great cosplay pair.
Doctors Who throughout the ages.
BONK! Great Scout costumes!
Better Scout Cosplay
I love that she's even got herself a turret!
Another convention staple, Yuffie the ninja.
"I think I hear a hunter!"
A fantastic Lucario costume that is crazy detailed. Too bad the Internet ruined such things for me by making me immediately think furry.
I also photographed a sniper. Wait a second! It's a spy disguised as a sniper!
Dark Sora? Elaborate and awesome all the same.
Amazing attention to detail with the full L'Cie brand there too. Wow.
Growing out those sideburns takes real dedication.
Not cosplay, but my favorite part of the convention. So cute!
Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.
When I was a kid I became saddled with the unfortunate notion that Japan did pretty much everything better than the United States. I don’t think I would have gone so far as to call myself a Japanophile, but it was definitely close. Their video games were all sweet (FF VI and Chrono Trigger!) and their cartoons sure beat the heck out of the asinine stuff I was sometimes watching on the Disney Afternoon. This may have had something to do with the fact that I was watching Bubblegum Crisis and Ranma at a time when the best cartoon I could watch was Timon and Pumbaa, but it would be foolish to think that the allure of the unknown didn’t factor into it too.
This persisted up until I got to high school and I realized, “Hey, I’m never gonna get laid if I keep this up…” Your mileage may vary with that statement, but at my school the anime crowd consisted of one fat lesbian and a bunch of greasy, socially maladjusted dudes. Clearly a situation not conducive to meeting the ladies. So what did I do? Push a lot of it to the hidden background and pretend like I played video games and watched anime a lot less than I did.
Here I digress for a few moments about the absurdity of anime culture in the states compared to Japan. We grow up rationalizing that the obsessive, smelly, cosplaying kids we see on this side of the the Pacific would fit right in the Land of the Rising Sun, but the truth is otaku is almost a dirty word in Nippon. The most hardcore devolve into hikikomori and become paralyzed with social anxieties preventing them from even leaving the apartment. Yes, I know it’s naïve to associate the hikikomori exclusively with anime, but it’s also totally fair to say that a good degree of them do obsessively collect or exhibit some sort of obsessive otaku behaviors. Meanwhile, the term is romanticized in the West as a badge of pride. My brother uses DJOtaku as a handle online and even to actually DJ. It’s bizarre in the way that the Japanese attach firmly Western ideas like Christianity or Western names to their anime characters. It kind of fits, but then you realize that this nun-training school is part of a hentai dating sim and it leaves you scratching your head.
And so my love-affair with Japanese media remains mostly a secret, but even I have become disillusioned with it. The over-reliance on moe, the bizarre obsession with girls who look like they are eight (I realize this is part of moe, but this is creepy enough to warrant its own entry), same-y plots, and damn-near interchangeable characters make the whole thing feel kind of like a waste of time. Among all of this unoriginal crap that was flooding my brain, I managed to run into Azumanga Daioh. Guess what: this is the most realistic, if you can call slapstick realistic, seeming representation of Japanese high school life. It’s also entirely incomprehensible to anyone who just doesn’t get Japanese humor. Aside from all the insanity, what did I learn? Japanese high school sucks.
Let’s start right from the entrance requirements: Japanese high schools are not compulsory. Here in the States the local governments provide school for us knuckleheaded Americans to attend as required by law (unless we decide to stop going at age 16). The Japanese, on the other hand, have to test into their high schools, rather like some of us do for private schools. Then they suffer through three years of rote memorization all while stressing out over college entrance exams, attending school on SATURDAY(!), spending time obsessively devoted to their clubs, and, if they’re trying to get into a sweet university and they’re not brilliant, attending cram school to help study for those entrance exams. Meanwhile I coasted through public school, hit on girls as often as I could, and spent my afternoons swimming, hanging out with my friends, playing video games, and maybe doing some homework. One seems clearly better than the other, but then again, who am I to judge? Plenty of Americans probably can’t find Japan on the map much less remember the quadratic equation. I counter that we also don’t deny raping and pillaging China and Korea, so I’ll call us even for now.
So now you see that if you weren’t in a private boarding school with super-strict academics, your life was probably a lot easier-seeming than your counterparts out East. Enter the Persona series, which for the past two iterations has, yes, simmed having to attend JAPANESE high school. Persona 3 has you attending high school in an urban Tokyo-analog. Then you move onto Persona 4 which takes place in rural Japan where everyone is quick to tell the protagonist, heretofore referred to as Dan, since that’s what I named him, that “Boy is life gonna be boring now that you’re out here with us country bumpkins after living the high life in the city.”
I say all this to point out that Persona 4 comes at the non-Japanophile from an unexpected angle. It is an unapologetically Japanese 80+ hour RPG about going to school in the countryside. Yet, as I write this, I am listening to Vinny Caravella and Jeff Gerstmann comment on the game, MSTK 3000-style, in one of Giant Bomb‘s most successful video features, the Persona 4 Endurance Run. So not only did I play this game, I take about 20-60 minutes each day, on average, to listen to people play the same game I spent 80 hours on and crack jokes about it.
Persona 4 is good because it, rather like Azumanga Daioh, represents high school in rural Japan pretty darn well. I say this, of course, as a man who has never attended high school in rural Japan. In fact, my most legitimate experience with Japan comes from working in Okinawa, so take from that what you will. In my mind, it does a pretty good job, abstractions aside. As a student who also has to grapple with the forces of evil, Dan also must balance his social life, do his schoolwork, and work a part-time job, which mirrored my high school experience in America, minus the forces of evil. The plot boils down to this, Dan shows up in Inaba, Japan right before a series of bizarre murders begin to happen on a fairly regular basis. Dan, being the mostly conscientious type, doesn’t really jive with murders, so he and his buddies decide to bring the murderer to justice.
There is one thing I also don’t remember being a part of high school: I don’t remember my posse constantly reminding me of the exact same thing, over and over, using different wording. There’s a disturbing trend in modern games where the player is treated as something of an imbecile. I can’t say I mind the Zelda-esque bold letters to denote something important is being said, but could that possibly be because I find the rest of the dialogue so full of repeated nonsense that my brain starts to shut down from exposure to stupidity? At least I know when to pay attention, right? I would blame the localization staff, but I realize that all the redundancy is actually a problem with the way the game was originally made. They’re just aping all of that empty, redundant dialogue with their translation. It’s also not a case of “Japan thinks the West is stupid,” because this game was clearly meant for Japanese audiences. No, this is what modern game designers do. You can’t trust the player to read the manual any more, that I get. Besides, video games are a visual AND a kinetic medium, as I’m sure you’ve heard me say before (just like you’ve heard me say games are too easy), but it doesn’t mean that you have to talk down to us. The Persona games, 3 more than 4, are way hard when it comes to the battle mechanics, but the storylines and dialogue are at about middle school level.
Don’t even get me started on the dubbing work…I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, if you’re bringing a game over from Japan, leave the Japanese vocal track on there. I don’t care how much money you spent trying to localize and dub it, it just sounds bad. Japanese vocal actors, seiyū, are big business in Japan. Consequently, they’re way better at their jobs. Even if they’re not, I have no idea what poor Japanese acting sounds like, but I’m infinitely familiar with poor English acting (hint: I’ve got experience listening to every thing I’ve ever heard with English dubs). So here’s the pro-tip I’m sure they didn’t even ask for, don’t stick me with just a dub of your game. It makes me mute the volume when they speak. I know Atlus knows better too, because they do leave it on sometimes.
The folks at Atlus do respect gamers when it comes to their battle system. Persona 4 is joyously hard in an era where few games challenge me. I’m not a masochist, I just don’t want my game session to be so simple I can sleep through it. I get that Pokémon is a game for children, but why can I battle, listen to music, and play another video game entirely and NOT LOSE. There is a point, after you’ve finished the quest where Pokémon turns around, takes off its belt, and says “So you think your Pikachu is cute? You think that belief in the heart of your pokémon is going to tump my belief in cold, hard statistics?” and promptly starts beating down the weak, but this is after 60 hours of questing.
No, Persona paces itself brutally. You think you can get away with not having a social life? Your party will be weaker along with the Persona you summon. Think you can have a social life, but not worry about raising your personal statistics like courage, knowledge, or understanding? Guess what, you can’t raise your social links without certain statistical prerequisites met. This results in a game that forces you to do everything it asks of you and to do them at least kind of well, if you kind of want to survive. Grinding got you plenty far in Persona 3. You could buy SP (the MP-analog) recovery items at will. In Persona 4, SP is a commodity. There are three main ways to restore it: 1. Blind luck, 2. SP recovery items (now available through chests as a random drop or as a reward for helping people out), and 3. One of your social links. It seems like the third option would be beneficial, except that social link needs to be damn near maxed out for the cost of SP recovery to be manageable (oh yes, he’s your friend, but he don’t heal for free. Nope, daddy’s gotta eat too). So this SP system manages just how long you can survive in the dungeon because the monsters are pretty tough and won’t go down with physical damage alone, not without a strong fight. In fact, some are even immune to physical damage. You could try picking on weaker enemies in earlier dungeons, but their EXP yield eventually drops to drops in the ocean the further you get away from them in level.
I like Perona 4 because of its hard, no-nonsense battle systems. I like it because its story, embarrassing as it might be in front of girls you want to impress, because it deals with social anxiety, isolation, angst, and belonging, a little less than Persona 3, but you get what you can. I like it because it looks at Final Fantasy’s huge budget and beautiful CG graphics, flips it the bird, releases on PS2 when the PS3 has been out for two years, and uses a heavily stylized interface with anime style graphics and anime cutscenes. I also like it because I like being called Mesa-senpai and Mesa-kun. Not in real life, mind you, but it’s funny in-game.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go watch some Naruto while eating curry and Pocky and building my Ichigo Kurosaki costume for Otakon.