El Sijo's Blog

all Science and Fantasy topics


Leave a comment

The Best of 2016

rs_600x600-161202140354-600-best-of-2016-mhTo many people -including myself- 2016 was a bad year. But nothing is absolute; there were good things as well. And since this is a science fiction/fantasy blog (and I don’t care to remember the bad things) I present you now my favorite series of 2016:

This was a surprisingly good year in animation. In addition to expected hits like Zootopia and Moana, we had films like Kubo and the Two Strings (stop-motion, but it counts) and even Storks and Sing were much better than I expected! On television, Steven Universe continues to reign with shocking revelations both personal and cosmic; and the return of DC’s heroes in Justice League Action was long awaited. And as a Latino, I appreciated Disney finally giving us our own Princess with Elena of Avalor.

As for Japanese animation, my favorite of the year was My Hero Academia– best American-style superhero show ever done in Japan ever (I also liked One Punch Man, which was also about superheroes, but was more of a deconstruction.) Funniest Anime of the year goes to Konosuba (God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World) which deconstructed fantasy role-playing games. On the other hand, I had a love/hate relationship with Re:Zero. For one thing, it was a show for sadists, as the main characters were killed or made to suffer over and over again- but at the same time, it had an intriguing premise that begged you to keep watching to see if the heroes would ever win. (I guess I understand why people watch The Walking Dead now.) Funny how deconstruction seems to be a theme these days eh?

In live action, I didn’t see that many movies. Deadpool was another surprise in that I hate the character but I enjoyed most the film well enough. Captain America: Civil War was thankfully excellent despite being based on a terribly comics storyline. Doctor Strange was OK but I wasn’t too happy with the changes they made (I  refer more to the SFX than the ethnicity of some characters). Arrival was probably the smartest film of the year (probably too smart for its own good.) Before you ask, no I didn’t see Rogue One yet (I’m not that big of a Star Wars fan, especially when I knew the ending ahead.) I’ll catch it in DVD and tell you my opinion then.

I don’t watch much television these days -most comedies and dramas don’t do much for me- but I was hooked by two in particular: The Good Place and Designated Survivor. Both have surprisingly clever writing. And I’m quite amazed in how Good Place is effectively mocking the conventions of religion yet hasn’t gotten called in for it. As for survivor, you might wonder why its listed here. Well, since it obviously takes place in a different version of the present, I count it as Science Fiction. In any case, its a clever use of the designated survivor protocol as well as a great drama with lots of intrigue. And do I really need to say that Stranger Things is also on my list?

Finally, we had some great video games as well. Pokemon celebrated its 20th anniversary successfully with Pokemon Sun and Moon, which not only had a neat Polynesian setting (which in turn had great synergy with Moana’s) but also modernized the franchise in many ways. Final Fantasy also had a great year with both the fun World of Final Fantasy and the more traditional Final Fantasy XV. Note I don’t play shooters, so I can’t talk about Overwatch.

That’s all I can think of now, but there were plenty of other things both I (and I’m sure, you) enjoyed as well last year.


Leave a comment

My problem with Little Charmers

Little-Charmers-Cauldron-Mishap

Little Charmers is a doll line for little girls; here I’ll talk about the cartoon based on it.

The show is about three little girls living in a Magical World, trying to learn magic and inevitably getting in trouble. You can tell its true purpose is to sell the toys- every episode features the Charmers using their tools, flying on their brooms and going to their “charmhouse” right down to the same musical sequences. But this is par for the course for cartoons these days. That’s not what bothers me. It’s the (probably unintentional) message the show carries.

You see, most episodes go like this: a grownup warns the Charmers not to do something; they do it anyway; trouble ensues, and they usually end up going to a grownup to help them fix things and say they are sorry. So far so good.

But in almost all cases, the grownups will say “Oh well, I guess you learned your lesson” and forgive them. They never get punished. Sometimes they get congratulated or thanked! And it’s not like the stuff they do is always harmless; in one episode they ruined magic for the whole town, and in another, they froze it over!

But perhaps most annoying of all, they never learn! You can bet that not only they will be disobeying their elders again by next episode, but that often they commit similar errors too. It’s an insult to the intelligence of even its intended preteen audience to believe they could get away with that.

If I might be sounding too harsh, it’s because we are living in an age of enlightened cartoons that can teach lessons and still be entertaining- My Little Pony and Sofia The First are great examples of this. And other than this, the show is very good- in animation, design, music, and even worldbuilding.

To be fair, not all episodes are like that. Maybe someone took notice and a memo was passed around because some latter episodes improved. In some the problems were not caused by the Charmers, and in a few, they actually managed to solve things on their own! Possibly the best episode was the one where they turned themselves into ogres so they could win a game, only to learn that playing unfairly ruins the fun for everyone.

Overall, Little Charmers is a cute, harmless show. Just make sure you watch it with your kids and that they don’t get the impression they can away with a “sorry” in real life.


Leave a comment

My Fifty Years as a Fan

50

As I post this, I’m now 50 years old. Mine has been mainly an uneventful life; yet I feel very grateful for my existence. I have friends, I have family, I have my health- and I have Fiction. As far as I can remember, Fiction in one form or another has formed part of my life, helping me escape the dullness of my reality. So today I want to take the chance to celebrate it. (Warning: this is going to be long. 😛 )

It all began for me in the 60’s as for most people: with TV cartoons. In particular, there was one about a little turtle (sorry, can’t remember the title) who wanted to fly. After many attempts, it succeeded in the end… because it got KILLED and became an angel! O_O What?? I know, it was a joke, I get that now but boy was I PISSED as a Kid! And I actually did something about it, too: I took a book that (conveniently) had printing only on one side of the pages, and used it to draw my own version of the story in which the turtle fulfills its wish without dying. Yep, that was my first fanfic! Oh, and I was in the story, too- making it a self-insert as well! How appropriate. XD

Next came comic books. In Spanish, at first. There were two types: translations of American companies such as DC or Gold Key (no Marvels- probably due to some copyright or distribution issues) as well as original ones made in Mexico featuring characters such as Kaliman or Fantomas. Comics in English started being sold here in the late 70’s; I was floored by my discovery of the Marvel Universe (I already knew Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four and The Avengers from the cartoons, but had no idea there were so many more!) From then on I actually would spend my lunch money once a week on comics. 😛 I ended up becoming known as the local “comic book kid” and my collection, by the time I stopped, had soared to about 700. I still have it btw.

In the 70’s I also discovered Anime. Well actually I had seen “cartoons” such as Speed Racer before, I just didn’t realize they were from Japan- much less the potential in them! That changed with the Giant Robot show Mazinger Z in 1972. While barely known in the US, in Hispanic America it became very popular, to the point people still remember it today. It became my favorite anime then and while I have seen better ones since, I still have a lot of appreciation for it.

I met some fellow geeks in high school- wow, I wasn’t the only one?- who introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons and therefore to the concept of role-playing. We didn’t get to play much, but I found the whole idea that you could mathematically describe even magic mind-blowing; I began collecting rpg books for its own sake.

In the 80’s, something unexpected occurred: one of my hobbies led me to a profound revelation. I used to read Fantasy novels- not many, but I was a fan of Piers Anthony, especially his Incarnations of Immortality series. In them, concepts such as Death or Nature were physically embodied by humans as if they were jobs that had to be passed on. The bad guy was The Devil, who was supposed to not be an Incarnation at first. But in the last two novels, it was revealed that not only was the Devil a human too, but so was God, and the Devil had been trying to undo the injustices caused by the current, uncaring Divine Officeholder all along! I was raised Catholic and I got very nervous as I realized where the novels were heading; I even considered dropping them. But after some thinking, I realized that was silly. What kind of faith you have if you allow something made for entertainment challenge it? Even more: I realized that I had never actually thought about religion. Like most people, I just accepted what those who raised me taught me to believe. But people are free willed, and we should decide by ourselves what we believe in.

In 1996, I played my first RPG video game- Super Mario: Legend of the Seven Stars. OK I mostly bought it because it was a Mario game, but I so greatly enjoyed the experience that buying the guide/then the RPG/then playing for hours till I found everything became a habit for years. Too bad they don’t make game guides anymore (online walkthroughs aren’t quite the same.)

The coming of the new millennium… was not a nice time to me. Because of the recession, I lost many of my resources- Blockbuster Video, my local movie theater, local bookstores- all gone. Worst of all were the comics. The things DC and Marvel did to characters I had followed for years left me aghast. DC started it with the “Secret Identity” event where the rape AND murder of Elongated Man’s wife was a major plot point; and Marvel’s lowest point came with the “One More Day” story where Spider-Man makes a deal with Mephisto (aka as Satan) to save his aunt’s life, erasing his marriage from history in exchange! By the time DC decided to revise its history *yet again* with 2005’s “Flashpoint” event, I threw up my hands and gave up on comics altogether. Not on the characters- I still follow Marvel and DC in movies, cartoons etc; just not in the comics. I keep hoping some day things will improve… but from I’ve heard, that’s not the case, yet. Oh sure, there are exceptions, I hear good things about comics like Batgirl or Miss Marvel. But not enough.

Things improved with one thing, tough: the Internet. It put me both in contact with old friends (such as Liz, a lady from the States I had befriended via an animation newsletter in the 80’s) and an the RPGClassics Agora, a website where I posted my first online stories and spent a lot of time chatting with people of similar interests. However problems both personal and with my computer led me to reduce my activities for a while.

Finally, last year, something happened. After being paid to do a video on my computer, I found the experience so enjoyable I started my own Youtube channel. That felt so fulfilling I started this Blog as well- another experience that’s been greatly rewarding. 🙂 And recently, I started my own webcomic- that one has been harder to pull off, but I still enjoy it. (You can see it here, if you want: http://raitokomikku.thecomicseries.com/comics/1/ ) Oh btw, I also made a special video to celebrate some of the events mentioned above. You can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1L9a0FV8OoA&feature=youtu.be

So what’s next? Well, who knows? That’s half the fun- taking things in as they come, enjoying what you can, learning from what you can’t. I guess that’s the lesson I learned after 50 years of life, and now share with you all.

Before I finish, I want to send a message to some very special groups of people: To TV Tropes.com, especially to my fellow players in the Justice Avengers Forum Game; and also to the Basic Action Super Heroes RPG Facebook group, where I hang out and post ideas often. Thanks to all of you for your support in recent times. May we have fun together for many years more! 🙂

 


Leave a comment

Kyokai no Rin-Ne: Japan’s Ghostbuster

Rin-Ne

This 2015 Anime series is based on a Manga by Rumiko Takahashi, one of Japan’s greatest female artists. Like many of her series, this one features an ostensibly male protagonist, but female characters loom large as well. Humor and The Supernatural, also typical Takahashi story elements, are central to the show.

The story is about a teenage boy named Rinne. His grandfather married a Shinigami (soul collector) so he’s one in part as well. His job is to help spirits stuck on Earth due to their regrets to move on their next life. For that, he needs to buy magical items- and he’s broke. Enter Sakura, a girl who discovers his secret thanks to her ability to see ghosts. She basically gets him to let her come along on his cases in exchange for paying for the items he needs.

Not every ghost needs to be exorcised by force, though; in fact one of the good aspects of the show is how creative they get when helping the ghosts overcome their regrets. Sakura is also helpful in this, as she’s more empathic than Rinne.

Other notable characters include: Tamako, Rinne’s grandmother who looks young and HATES to be called grandma (always punishing the offender with a double-noogie); Rokumon, Rinne’s cat familiar who can change between cat, cat-with-human-face and Giant Flying Cat Head forms; and Tsubasa, a human exorcist who uses more violent methods than Rinne and has an unrequited crush on Sakura.

Curiously, for a Takahashi series there is no (immediate) romance (or romantic conflict) between the protagonists. In fact neither even considered the possibility until other people started messing with their lives. Still my money is that they will end up as a couple anyway.

This show is low on action but high in humor, clever ideas, and touching moments. I recommend it not just to Takahashi fans, but also fans of Anime, Humor, and Ghost Stories.


Leave a comment

God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World

Konosuba

KonoSuba!, known in English as “God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World”, is a Japanese Animated parody of Fantasy Role Playing Video Games -specifically, of the ‘player becomes the hero’ genre. It’s not the first I’ve ever seen, but it is one of the funniest.

The main character is a teenager named Kazuma, who dies trying to save a girl from being hit by a truck- only to be mocked in the afterlife by a goddess named Aqua, since the girl wasn’t in danger at all! She then offers him a choice: either he can go to Heaven (which she claims is boring) or he can go to a Magical World and fight the Demon King for her. He may take with him anything he asks for. But then, much to her shock, he chooses HER! She has no choice but to accept.

It turns out this world runs by “video game rules”; for example, they both start as low-level adventurers and thus don’t even have enough money to pay for an inn! They are forced to form a party, but their two new members aren’t too useful- one, Megumin, is a Mage who only uses a very destructive spell- that leaves her so tired she can’t even walk afterward; the other is Darkness, a tough female warrior that cannot hit even an unmoving target and also happens to be a masochist.

And so begins a series of misadventures that are silly most of the time and unexpectedly serious at others. And I know what you’re thinking: one guy, three girls- this is a Harem Anime! Not quite. Not only there is no romance here, the main characters cannot stand each other at first. Though they do grow more friendly over time. They even specifically deconstruct this genre in one episode in which another Hero trades parties with Kazuma. Predictably, he comes to regret it.

 While not spectacular, I do recommend this series for being funny and well-written. The only warning I must give is that it does contain some naughty humor -there are jokes about stealing panties in some episodes, for example- but nothing major.

You can watch it subtitled on places like Crunchyroll.com


Leave a comment

More Steven Universe stuff in BASH!

GemasAugust2015

Now that Steven Universe has begun producing new episodes, I’ve decided to start converting characters from the show in Basic Action Super Heroes rules again (see earlier blog entries for the main characters.) I realized however that it would be easier if I started by designing the Gem race Archetype first. So, here it is! I hope you find this useful or interesting.

Please keep in mind that there are likely still many facts about the Gems yet to be revealed. I plan to update this as time goes.

(Once again, thanks to the Steven Universe Wiki for the data!)

Background: The Gems are an alien race of sentient gemstones. They have the ability to form a body around themselves, but as long as the gem itself isn’t shattered, they cannot die.

Thousands of years ago, the Gems developed advanced technology and began traveling to other planets, robbing them of minerals to make more Gems, not caring how this harmed other lifeforms.

Until a Gem named Rose Quartz opposed the Homeworld Gems in their attempt to plunder Earth. After a terrible war, Homeworld abandoned its plans for Earth, but Rose’s surviving warriors -The Crystal Gems- were left exiled on the planet.

A few years ago, Rose met the human, Greg Universe, and they fell in love. They had a child, Steven, but because he needed her Gem to survive, she was forced to discorporate to allow him to be born. Since then, Steven has been raised by Greg and the other Crystal Gems.

Recently, the Homeworld Gems have become aware of the Crystal Gems’ presence on Earth again. There have been several clashes between them, and more are likely to happen.

GEMS

Stats

Brawn: variable Agility: variable Mind: variable (variable points)

Powers

Healing 1 (1 pt)

Immunity 4 (starvation, asphyxiation, lack of sleep, changes in gravity) 4 pts.

Shape Shift <Concentration, retains colors, -1 pt> 3 pts.

note: all Gems can project light from their gem, and contain small objects in force bubbles; these uses are worth no points.

Weakness

Devastating Weakness (to having their gem damaged) -4 pts.

Advantages

Immortality

Instant Change (must fuse with another Gem)

Membership (for the Crystal Gems)

Pocket Dimension

Disadvantages

Duty (for the Homeworld Gems)

Freak (skin color, embedded gem)

Outsider

Skills

Technology/Invent (mainly Peridot class Gems, but also others)

Basic Cost: Stats (variable) + Powers 8 – Weakness 4 = 4 points or higher.

Variations: Apparently every Gem has individual powers or skills above those listed. Design them as if they were Heroes (or Villains) using any points leftover.


Leave a comment

Castle Town Dandelion

Dandelion

Just when you think you have seen everything, you find something new. Or at least, a combination of pre-existing genres in a way that feels novel. This is the case with the Japanese Manga (and Anime) Castle Town Dandelion.

The genres being combined here are: Family Sitcom; Superheroes; Soap Opera; and Reality Show. Yup, and somehow, it all works!

To be specific, the series is about the royal family of a (modern day) country. Except each of them has a different super-power for some reason (apparently it runs in the royal bloodline.) Then the King decides that they should live in the suburbs, because he wants his kids to grow up as normally as possible. And then he decides that the next king should be decided by public vote, resulting in his children -some of whom are preteens!– running for office against each other!

It sounds convoluted, but it’s not. Dandelion is mainly about its cast and their relationships with each other and their friends. Toss in some (rather inventive) superpowers and a *lot* of zany events and you have (multiple) fun stories each episode.

The name of the family is Sakurada, and its members are:

* King Soichiro: The father of nine (!) children. He was forced to become king at an early age due to his parents’ deaths; that might be why he has made such odd choices for his family. His power is the ability to see people’s “auras”, allowing him to know what they feel.

* Queen Satsuki: His wife and mother to the kids. She comes from a normal family.

* Aoi: The oldest child. Her power is supposed to be the ability to learn anything instantly. It’s not but I’m not giving away the truth- she has quite an interesting motive and reaction to it.

* Shu: Second oldest child. Can teleport at will. Wanted to be a soccer player, but a childhood accident affected his legs too much.

* Kanade: Shu’s twin sister, younger by a few minutes. She and Shu have a rivalry going on. Her power is the ability to create any object, but this costs her money (?) Presumably, she’s teleporting materials from somewhere and must pay for them.

* Akane: The focus of many of the stories, Akane is the fourth child with the power to control gravity. Unfortunately she also suffers from crippling shyness, which of course means she gets embarrassed the most.

* Haruka: Fifth child, a boy with the ability to calculate probabilities instantly. He’s also Misaki’s older twin.

* Misaki: Sixth child, with the power to create seven clones of herself- each with a different skill and personality based on one of the “seven sins”.

* Hikari: Seventh child, a girl with the power to make living things older or younger (for 24 hours.)

* Teru: Eight child, a boy who can gain temporary super-strength. Acts like a Shonen anime hero.

* Shiori: the youngest child, her power allows her to speak with animals- and even objects!

The stories are usually pretty simple; they either set up a joke or explore a certain character. The only thing that bothers me, and keeps me from otherwise recommending this for the whole family, is that some jokes are a little risque. Mostly these are the “Oh no we can see Akane’s panties!” jokes; but there’s also a joke where it sounds as if Misaki has a crush *on Haruka*. This is probably a parody of a certain type of Japanese adult fiction, but the joke might fly over Western audiences.

Unlike the Manga, the Anime has already produced a final episode so we see which sibling wins (not going to spoil it here.)

Overall Dandelion is just a slice-of-life comedy that focuses on a family; it just happens to have superpowers, royalty and politics messing things up. I recommend it for fans of comedy, anime, manga, and superheroes. Not recommended if panty or incest jokes bother you.