El Sijo's Blog

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Re: Zero- Deconstructing Rpgs. HARD.

re zeroDeconstructing role-playing game cliches seems to be in fashion on Japan. For example there was the recent Konosuba Anime series that I reviewed earlier in my blog. But Re: Zero adds a twist to the idea that is both intriguing- and terrifying.

Basically, the series takes the concept of “save-scumming” -the practice of starting over a video game from a progress saving point until you win- and shows us what it would be like if something like that happened in real life. The results range from humorous- to gruesome.

Subaru is your typical Japanese teenager who finds himself mysteriously transported to a magical medieval world. He assumes things would be just like in a game: that he would have great powers and a destiny to fulfill. Nope. But at least he does meet Emilia, a beautiful half-elf girl he falls for. While trying to help her recover a stolen item, both of them get killed!

And then he finds himself right back at the beginning, just as he if had “started the game over”. He does remember everything -including his dying agony- but no one else does.

There is no explanation -at least, not in the early episodes- for why this happens. And Subaru dies A LOT. In ways varying from peacefully in his bed to TORN TO BLOODY PIECES. Honestly, if the rest of the stuff in the series weren’t so good, I would have given up on it by now.

But it is good. The characters are interesting, if quirky -even the sadistic assassin introduced early on-; some are annoying yet have their tender sides. And the animation is top-notch. But above all, the thrill of “HOW is Subaru going to avoid dying again the next time?” just keeps pulling you in.

I’m convinced this show was at least partially written for sadists (and/or masochists who fantasize being in such plights) not just because of the carnage but also the emotional suffering of the characters. I suspect many fans must scream NOOO NOT HIM/HER!! while watching this show.

I’ve decided to continue watching the series, for now anyway. But I’m on the fence; it it never rises above being a “death-of-the-week” gimmick, I may quit before its run ends. And even if I watch it to the end, I’ll definitely evaluate if it was worth the stress.

I leave it to you to decide for yourself if you want to give it a chance.


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Graboids in Basic Action Super Heroes!

graboid_by_sabbaticusheeler-d8fo000

The Graboids from the Tremors! movies are considered classic among modern monsters. Here I present them in BASH terms.

Background: The origin of the creatures nicknamed “Graboids” is still unknown. A fossil found dates them back to at least the Devonian period, but it is not known how they survived until the present or why they reappeared now.

The ‘Graboids’ are born from eggs and have three stages of life. The first is a giant sandworm; the second is a bipedal form called ‘Screamers’ and the third is a flying form nicknamed ‘Ass-Blasters’ because they use a type of jet propulsion from their tails. They also have ‘queens’ that watch over their nests.

The Graboids first appeared in modern times in an American Western town called Perfection during the 19th century. However their existence didn’t become public knowledge until they attacked the town again a few years ago. It was then they were named by locals.

The government declared a specific one, called El Blanco (Spanish for ‘The White One’) to be under protection for being sterile, but allowed the hunting of others. Since then the creatures have also surfaced in Mexico and South Africa.

A graboid -to say nothing of several- would be a good challenge for a Street Level Hero campaign. They might also fit in a Sci-Fi or even a Fantasy campaign.

Only the first stage is described here. I might do the rest later.

Graboid

Brawn 3 Agility 1 Mind 1 (10 pts)

Hits 100

Powers

Armor 1 (hide) 1 pt

Burrowing 2 – 2 pts

Extra Limbs (tentacles) 1 pt

Size 3 <Reduced X: only 30′ long, -1 pt> 2 pts

Super Sense (senses vibrations) 1 pt.

Advantages

Non-Sentient

Disadvantages

Obtrusive (powerful stench)

Physically Challenged (blind)

Susceptibility (to loud noises)

Unskilled

Skills

Outdoor/Survival

Stats: 10 + Powers: 7 = 17 points


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Dark Relic

dark_relic

Made-for-TV movies, especially those on the SyFy Channel, tend to have a reputation for low quality. This isn’t always true of course; some can have redeeming qualities. This was *almost* the case with Dark Relic, a 2010 Horror/Historical Film set during the First Crusade. The premise is quite interesting: A knight named Sir Gregory and his men find a piece of the True Cross and decide to take the relic to The Pope. Along the way, they rescue two Muslims and a slave from bandits, and they join their quest (the former two because they feel they owe Gregory a debt). However, supernatural evil forces begin attacking them on their journey.

There is a lot of potential here; I particularly liked the use of Muslim characters, showing them to be honorable in their own way; people forget that The Crusaders weren’t exactly Saints themselves. There are also two major female characters, another plus.

Unfortunately, the movie has both plot holes and stupid choices. (Warning, Spoilers ahead.) To begin with, it turns out that, while the relic IS part of the Cross, it is also cursed- why? Apparently just because The Romans put a plaque on it mocking Christ. That’s it. It wasn’t a Satanist, it wasn’t God (at least, that we know of.) The curse is so strong that it attracts evil beings, makes it impossible to remove the plaque, destroy the relic, or even get rid of it! And most holy places fail to protect them, either. Gee, you’d think that God and/or Christ would help them in some way?? You know you have a problem when the characters themselves ask these things. I eventually realized the problem: this is a Horror Film first, and a Historical Drama second. In other words they never intended to give the story a chance- just to tick off all the classic horror movie boxes: slow revelation of the monster(s?) Check. Characters do stupid things? Check. Characters get killed off until only the main ones survive? Check. Oh and (big spoiler here) the Muslim hero dies without returning the favor to Sir Gregory. Did they HAVE to do that?

And they totally ripped off the Balrog from The Hobbit. Really? Couldn’t they afford to be more creative there?

It’s a pity, because as I said, there were some good ideas here. If they had let the story go where it should logically have gone, it would have been more enjoyable, in my opinion.

Still, I enjoyed other factors of the film. Despite the obvious small budget -the special effects were fake-looking and bland at best- the acting was good and you really get caught in the story, especially the interaction between the characters; and the atmosphere of dread gets more intense as the film goes on.

If you’re into horror, historical drama, and aren’t as nitpicky as I am regarding plot details or special effects, you might enjoy this film.


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El Charro de las Calaveras (The Rider of the Skulls)

 

el-charro-de-las-calaveras-aka-the-rider-of-skulls-mexican-poster-dagoberto-rodriquez-1965I’ve been meaning to watch this 1965 Mexican movie for a long time now and I finally got the chance to do so. It combines several genres that were popular in the region at the time it was made: charros (Mexican cowboys), monsters (inspired by those from American movies) and masked heroes (like their own professional wrestlers.)

El Charro himself rips off Batman’s origin- he’s an orphan whose parents were killed by criminals, so now he wears a black suit with skulls on it and a mask to fight evil “because Justice has no face”. O… kay. At least Batman still has a secret identity. Not that it really matters; Charro just goes around with that thing on and nobody reacts to it at all. But that is the *least* weird thing about this movie, trust me.

The story itself is actually three separate adventures, in which Charro battles, in order, a werewolf, a vampire and a headless horseman. Why this format? I have no idea. You get the impression this was a pilot for a series of movies or a TV show. If so I don’t think it succeeded.

This is definitely a B-Movie, of the kind that’s not intentionally silly (except for a few moments with some of Charro’s friends) but because of a general lack of talent involved- and REALLY terrible SFX. It’s a pity, because there are actually a few thrilling moments that would have worked if the rest hadn’t been so bad. Still, B-Movies have their fans, who love them on their own terms. If you’re curious about what Mexican movies were like in the 60’s, check this one out. Note: black & white film.

Recommended for: fans of B-Movies, horror, westerns, and superheroes.


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Noragami: not your typical Shonen show

Noragami

An anime show currently in its second season, Noragami (“stray god”) has all the typical elements of a shonen (boy’s) show: It stars a teenager with extraordinary abilities and there’s lots of action. To be specific, Yato is the Japanese god of calamity, armed with a magical sword that he uses to kill monsters.

However, there is more than that to this show. I’d argue that it contains elements of other genres as well. For example, there are Shojo (girl’s anime) elements in the fact that the main female character, Hiyori, could arguably be considered a co-protagonist and not just Yato’s love interest. While her supernatural and combat abilities pale next to his, she’s definitely wiser and over time grows into the emotional center of the group (emotions and relationships are more a Shojo than a Shonen thing.)

You could also almost accuse the show of having Harem Romance elements, given there’s at least three female characters who have degrees of feelings for Yato. However, each is a unique personality that exists for more than romance, and Yato himself is pretty uninterested in them (until he starts to realize he has feelings for Hiyori.)

Then there’s the show’s intriguing mythos (I’m a bit uncomfortable calling something based on an actual religion that, but then again if the creators don’t care about reinventing their national beliefs why should I?) In Noragami, gods exist because people believe in them; yet, they are invisible to mortals, meaning they are sustained on faith alone. Should they be forgotten, they cease to exist (Yato is on the verge of suffering that.) Conversely, a popular god will just reincarnate if killed, though his/her memories may be partially gone. The series makes good use of these Fantasy concepts.

A really unique idea in the show is the concept of Regalias. These are souls that a god has bound to his/her service with a magical name (which appears as a tattoo on their body.) This allows the god to transform him/her into a specific magical weapon or other object (Yato’s sword is actually a boy named Yukine.) In fact binding magic is used in many ways in the series.

Finally, occasionally the show feels a bit like a horror series. The main antagonists, the Phantoms, are mindless monsters from the spirit realm. Like gods, they are invisible to mortals but come to our world to feed on negative emotions like despair or hate, often pushing people to commit acts like suicide. They can also “corrupt” gods by touch, which is like a disease. While the show has villains, it’s the Phantoms that give it its creepy edge (and are often used as minions.)

Oh yeah, the art and especially the music also help reinforce all of the elements I mentioned above. I especially like the leitmotif that sounds when things get really bad.

Noragami turned out to be a show I liked more than I expected, maybe one of my favorite Animes ever. If you like your action shows with bits of romance, fantasy and horror, I recommend it for you.