Mass Effect 2 Launch Trailer

Well, it is just days away until the release of one of the most-anticipated games of 2010. The game I am talking about is BioWare’s Mass Effect 2. It is the sequel to the very popular and critically-acclaimed action-shooter/rpg hybrid Mass Effect which came out in late 2007. The launch trailer marks the start of the massive marketing and ad campaign to promote the game. This one includes interspersed within the trailer blurbs of review scores and positive quotes from game reviewing magazines and websites dedicated to games. All throughout the trailer we have Shephard’s erstwhile ally (and possibly, enemy) The illusive Man of the shadowy, pro-human group Cerberus narrating a brief take on what players will encounter in this sequel.

I will say that the trailer is even better than the last one released by BioWare. The other one details the dangers of recruiting the new sets of characters to help the player in their quest, but this one shows how much more epic this particular fight and game really is. Mass Effect was already quite the massive and epic sci-fi space opera when it came out and this sequel seem intent on out-doing that predecessor in every respect from the look of the trailer. It helps that its all classed up by the voice of The West Wing’s President Bartlett also known as Martin Sheen. The trailer even hints at the opening events of the sequel which has been talked about many times at other places. I won’t go into detail about it but lets just say that Shephard and the original Normandy don’t have a nice first-encounter with the sequel’s main antagonists, The Collector.

So, January 26, 2010 should be retitled Mass Effect 2 Day. For some players, it will be just like a holiday as every work must be put down and stop in order for the playing of said game to commence.

Source: Mass Effect 2 Launch Trailer in HD

Top Anime of 2001

So, by now you’ve no doubt figured out that I’m pretty lazy.  Then again, I never made any promises that I’d get these lists up very quickly.  Anyways, without further ado, here are my picks for the top anime of 2001.

1. Angelic Layer

Don’t let this title fool you.  When you first start watching it and see that it features a young girl playing with dolls, you could be forgiven if your immediate thought was it was a girly shoujo anime.  However, you would be mistaken.  At its heart, it’s definitely a series aimed at boys, with plenty of combat action, and a good mix of comedy.  There is a small amount of romance, but it’s such a minor area and isn’t given a whole lot of screen time.  The real meat of the show is in Misaki’s growth, both as an Angelic Layer duelist and as a person, coming to terms with her abandonment as a young child.  By and large the anime follows along with the manga, although there are a few minor difference and one larger difference in that the ending takes the opposite way to get to the same conclusion.  The style of this show is a bit different from most CLAMP titles.  They had not yet adopted the long limbed look like in their current series’, but it’s also not quite the same as their Card Captor Sakura series.  While this isn’t their best series, it’s a very solid offering, but it really comes down to personal taste.  CLAMP isn’t for everyone.  You’re either a fan, in which case you won’t be disappointed with this, or your not, in that case you probably won’t get much enjoyment from this.

2. Bible Black

If you remember back with my first post, I mentioned that I would include titles that are excellent representations of their genres.  That includes hentai.  Bible Black is quite possibly the most famous hentai of all time.  The animation quality is far and away better than the majority of other hentai out there.  Actually, the animation quality is far better than a lot of non-hentai anime.  But there’s more to Bible Black than just flashy pictures.  There is actually a rather compelling story to it.  However, fear not, this isn’t like those cheesy pornos that try too hard to have a story.  This knows what it is and it doesn’t disappoint.  There’s plenty of extreme action with a lot of fetish material mixed in.  Easily the most obvious one is their use of the D-girl, or chick with dick if you will.  For me, the most memorable scene is the scene with the sex demon.  I don’t wish to go into too much detail, but it all comes down to DP plus oral.  It’s something you have to see to properly appreciate.  Some things go a bit far, but if you’re looking for something to watch on a lonely night, look no further than this title.

3. Cowboy Bebop The Movie

Cowboy Bebop is one of those series that if you’re starting out and ask people what you should watch, they’ll inevitably suggest it.  As long as you don’t have to hear about it every day, then it certainly can live up to expectations.  Imagine a mix of westerns, film noir, and jazz and you’ve got Cowboy Bebop.  With the movie, you just have to imagine the tv series, but with a much bigger budget.  I would certainly recommend having watched some of the tv series first before tackling the movie.  It’s not because the movie is a continuation of the series end, for that would be impossible.  But it would definitely be to your advantage to have some familiarity with the characters, since the movie makes the assumption that you do.  Of course, another big plus for the movie is the soundtrack.  Each piece perfectly complements the mood of the moment.  It is largely because of this that Yoko Kanno had risen to such promience.  While she had several hit soundtracks from shows like Macross Plus and Visions of Escaflowne, most Americans are more familiar for her work on Cowboy Bebop.  This movie is a great addition to the series, and helps people who cannot accept the ending to the series find a bit of closure to things.

4. Fruits Basket

While I’m sure the above image has tipped people off, this is definitely a shoujo, or girl’s anime.  But, just because that’s the target audience does not mean that guys should steer clear.  To do so would be to deprive yourself of one of the better anime out there.  Each of the characters in this have some sort of tragic past.  Normally this could come across as way too heavy handed, but they manage to keep it from getting that way.  In fact, it’s awfully tough not to feel something for them, especially the ever optimistic Tohru.  Here’s a girl who would have every right to snap at people from time to time, yet she’s always ready with a smile, even if it’s a bit of a sad smile from time to time.  My main complaint with this is that they ended the series at the midway point.  At the time the anime finished, the manga was only halfway done, so instead of just inventing an ending for the anime that felt forced, they wrapped it up there.  It was an alright ending point, but it left so much undone that it prevents this title from reaching true greatness.  Especially considering what happened in the manga after the anime ended.  It’s a real shame that they haven’t ever made a second season to properly wrap up the series.  The drama gets ramped up but it comes to such a wonderfully satisfying conclusion that it just seems unfair that is hasn’t gotten the animated treatment.  But the likelihood of a property getting a second season 9 years after it last aired is virtually none.  Still, while it’s not fillet mignon, it’s definitely a Porterhouse, and that ain’t bad.

5. Hellsing

There’s no gay, sparkling vampires here.  This is vampires as vampires should be.  Arucard would rip Edward’s head off and jam it down Belle’s throat just for kicks.  And Seras can drink my blood any day.  Right from the get go, you get violent vampire action, and it rarely lets up.  The ending was poorly handled, and the animation quality starts to suffer, but the new version of this seems to be fixing the shortcomings of this version.  Still, even though it has its flaws, they’re mostly only noticeable if you’ve read the manga.  If you’re just an anime watcher, then you’ll probably be able to enjoy this just fine as it is.

6. Hikaru no Go

An anime about Go, which is this fairly complex board game possibly requiring more thought than chess, is supposed to be good?  I know it sounds like it would be as dull as watching paint dry, but you’d be very wrong.  Hikaru does indeed start off as a bit of a whiny little brat, but as the anime progresses and as his skills and love for Go increase, Hikaru no Go just draws you in.  It’s almost as if you too are in Sai’s shoes as he watches over Hikaru.  The main thing is, that other than the presence of a ghost of the greatest Go player in history, the show comes across as believable.  For a shounen title, this is no small feat.  Usually shounen is all about having super powers, and inventing new attacks to save the day.  Here, there are no magic powers helping Hikaru improve, other than the aforementioned ghost.  But even after awhile, Sai is pushed more and more into the background as Hikaru comes into his own.  Hikaru wins (and loses!) with his own abilities.  There’s no super special unknown Go move that saves the day for him.  This is an anime where your patience through the early episodes will definitely be rewarded.

7. Mahoromatic

This is a title that for me marked Gainax’s return to their roots.  After the over-hyped stinkfest that is Evangelion, and the horribly handled His and Her Circumstances anime, Gainax went back to a title that has good fanservice to complement a surprisingly good story.  Honestly, Suguru is one lucky little SOB.  Oh sure, his parents are dead, but he has three cute female friends fawning over him, an oversexed teacher with a penchant for young boys, and add in the mix a cute maid willing to dedicate her life to him.  But this is no ordinary maid, oh no.  It’s a butt-kicking android maid to boot!  The only downside to her is her distaste for anything perverted, hence Suguru’s porn stash is constantly in danger, but with all these girls around, I’m not sure why he’d need it.  But even though this is a harem title, you can tell that not everything is going to have a happy ending.  Mahoro, you see, only has just over a year left to live, and at the end of each episode we’re reminded of this fact by it counting down the days until she expires.  Plus, it isn’t a simple fact of just having X amount of days left.  If Mahoro has to use up her energy faster by engaging in combat, her lifespan decreases more rapidly.  And of course, with an invading alien race to fight off, her days are far from relaxing.  This first season though is much more lighthearted than the second one, so most episodes maintain an upbeat feel to them.  The ending foreshadows the mood that’s to be set in the second season, but it still ends on a positive note.

8. Millennium Actress

Every now and again, you come across a director that just plain makes good films.  Hayao Miyazaki is of course the first name that comes to mind for most anime fans, but another big name in the anime film industry is Satoshi Kon.  His movies just have a way of drawing you in with engaging characters and interesting story.  This movie chronicles the life of a prolific actress throughout her career, not only showing her roles, but how many events in her personal life helped her to draw inspiration for the characters she played.  This is told from the point of view of a journalist who is interviewing her, but he finds as he is conducting the interview, he is practically being drug into the worlds in which she helped create.  Much like in Miyazaki films, Kon’s films don’t use the cutsey, moe style that pervades most anime today.  I wouldn’t call the character style to be real, but it’s a more natural look.  Certainly a refreshing change from the modern day look.  Here, there’s no enemies to defeat, no mysterious powers to be had, just good storytelling.  And really, what more can one ask for from their anime?

9. Read or Die

Read or Die gets points for using a very unique power.  The power to control paper.  Yup, with just a few sheets of paper, Yomiko can make an arrow, a blade, even a hang glider, all while working for the British library.  Of course, just like with the real Britain, you can’t trust these guys fully.  There’s a good story behind it all, and even though some aspects come across as a bit predictable, it can be forgiven since it executes it very well.  One could be forgiven for getting very annoyed with Yomiko, since she’s the oblivious bookworm type that just needs a good smack to get her to wake up.  But, her innocence is a good contrast to the backstabbing colleagues of hers.  Also, it’s a short OAV, only comprising 3 episodes, but the story doesn’t feel too rushed, so it’s well paced.  It’s the perfect anime for when you just want some quick, good entertainment.

10. Spirited Away

The inclusion of this should come as a surprise to absolutely no one.  Spirited Away is arguably the most famous anime among non-anime fans due to it having won an Oscar, the first anime to ever do such.  One can argue that this isn’t the best film Miyazaki has ever made, but it’s hard to argue that it isn’t worthy of its recognition.  From a technical standpoint, this is a fantastic example of the genre.  It does rely on some of the usual Miyazaki plot elements, but the man knows his movies well so even though it’s familiar, it’s an enjoyable familiar.  I don’t feel that there’s a lot that really needs to be said about this, due to its fame it has gotten enough exposure to where most who are interested have seen it, and those that aren’t probably wouldn’t read this anyways.

So, that wraps up the top 10 for 2001.  I make no promises as to when 2002 will come out, whenever I get bored enough to do so would be my bet.  So hold your breath waiting, I could use a good laugh as you pass out.

The Walking Dead gets the AMC greenlight

AMC greenlights “Walking Dead”

Just in from Variety is the news that cable channel AMC has greenlit the pilot for the Frank Darabont and Gale Anne Hurd produced adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s critically-acclaimed and popular zombie comic book series, The Walking Dead. The news in early 2009 that Darabont, Hurd and Kirkman have come to an agreement to pitch the series adaptation to AMC (home of Mad Men and Breaking Bad) was one of the big news for comic book fans and the industry.

The Walking Dead is about a band of survivors in a world which has undergone and succumbed to a zombie apocalypse. Police Officer Rick Grimes leads this band of people in search of a safe haven from the uncounted zombies which now roam the devastated American landscape. Author Robert Kirkman has written just under 70 issues of this on-going series, so far. Cast for the series have changed on a regular basis to illustrate the extreme danger of this new post-apocalyptic landscape. The danger doesn’t just come from the roaming undead but from other survivors as well as rules of civilization and society have crumbled away to be replaced by rules of survival.

The series is known for some exceptional writing with heavy emphasis on character dynamics and interactions. While the series does have zombies in it the highlight of every issue for fans and critics alike is Kirkman’s ability to posit moral situations on the survivors which sometimes doesn’t get the kind of answer we’re used to in our protagonists. I think this is what has drawn Frank Darabont and Gale Anne Hurd to the property. Kirkman has taken the societal commentaries inherent in all the great zombie films and stories and has created a series around it. As one guest commentator for one of the trade paperbacks have said about The Walking Dead, “The series picks up after the end credits have started in a George Romero zombie movie.”

With the pilot now greenlit by AMC the inevitable casting call rumors will start to ramp up. Fans of the series are some of the most loyal and have been talking of dream casting the series for years. I’m sure those dream castings will get brought back out into the light with fans arguing if actors chosen for the role are the right ones or not. The one thing this news doesn’t say is how much will AMC allow in terms of violence shown. The Walking Dead is not a superhero series with over-the-top violence. It’s violence is similar to Romero’s zombie films in that they’re brutal and extremely gory. While I can understand that some of the more extreme scenes in the film could be shortened and inferred, I do hope that AMC will allow for most of the brutality in the series to remain intact since they help in creating the tone for the series.

Now, all that’s left is the waiting game and wonderings of when the pilot will air on AMC.

Source Gateway:

Review: Terminator Salvation (dir. by McG)

It has been 25 years since a certain James Cameron introduced the film-going public to the post-apocalyptic world of Judgement Day. While he’s never really fully shown the war-torn future ruled by the machines in the the two films he directed in the Terminator franchise he does show glimpses of it. It’s these glimpses of desperate humans fighting to survive against Skynet and its machine hunter-killing robots which have always intrigued and made its fans salivate at the thought of seeing it realized. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines in 2003 tried to show how it all truly began, but again it just hinted at the future battlefield and not the full-blown war. It is now 2009 and the most unlikely filmmaker has finally shown what the future of Judgement Day looks like. McG’s Terminator Salvation succeeds and fails in equal amounts yet has laid the groundwork for the future of the franchise as a war series instead of of its past as installments of what really is one huge chase film.

There are many things which work in Terminator Salvation and one of them happen to be its director McG. A director who is much-maligned for his too campy Charlie’s Angels set of films would’ve been the last name to look to for a restart to the stalled franchise. His direction of this fourth entry in the series was actually very well-done. There’s none of the cartoony and way over-the-top action set-pieces of his Charlie’s Angels past. Instead he moves the film along in a brisk and energetic pace with very little downtime for much introspection. It is this pacing which makes this a good and, at times, an above-average action-film but also serves to make any of the scenes questioning what it is to be human (once again) and machine seem tacked on. The first three films in the series have delved into this theme and question too many times for a fourth attempt make it seem any more relevant than the previous times.

McG went out to make a war entry to the series and to an extent that’s what he did. While there are chases to be had it doesn’t necessarily mean its all about John Connor once again (though the film does make it a point of targeting him again in its own fashion). Terminator Salvation has finally shown what the world looks like after the events of the third film and what had been hinted and teased at in the first two. The world is a desolate place with ruins of landmarks to give the audience a reference point. We see Los Angeles a tumbling and crumbling wreck which looked eerily like something out of the recent Fallout 3 scifi-rpg game. Even San Francisco makes a post-apocalyptic appearance as a major Skynet headquarters. McG achieves this post-apocalyptic look by bleaching out the film’s color palette to the point that browns and greys dominate. He actually achieves to add grittiness to this film which his past films had never shown him having the ability to do. While this film won’t sway people to admiring his skill as a filmmaker it does show some  growth. Then again he does have a hold of a film series which is nothing but B-movies elevated through bigger budgets and access to the latest in film FX. If I have any gripe to point out about the action in the film it’s that there’s not enough of it to truly convey a “War Against the Machine” scenario. We get these tantalizing hints, but not something on par of what a fuure war should look.

The budget could be seen on the screen as the film uses a combination of CGI and practical effects to pull off a much more complex robotic army for Skynet. It’s the robots and machines which keeps bringing the audience back each and every time the series releases a new entry. We don’t just have the Human Resistance fighting the typical T-800 or even the more advanced T-1000 or T-X. We get the earlier versions of these human hunting and killing machines. From a brutish and zombie-like T-600 we see in the LA-scenes to newer and bigger specialized Skynet soldiers like the anime-inspired mech Harvester which towers several stories high and literally harvests humans it finds to take back to SKynet’s R&D bases. When the original Terminator does make an appearance it’s both a welcome and a surprise as McG’s technical wizards find a way to bring back the original exactly the way it’s supposed to look. I’m sure the Governator of California would want to have that physique and youth back.

As an action-film Terminator Salvation works well enough when the action appears on the screen. Now as a film that tries to delve into the philosophical trappings of the series it doesn’t so much as fail and sink the film, but almost does which would’ve been a shame. While not the worst in the series in terms of storytelling it does come across as very scattershot in what story it wants to tell. The film actually has three ideas which could’ve been used to make it’s own film. Is the film a story of John Connor and his rise to his prophesized leadership of the Resistance (he’s a leader of a branch of fighters, but not yet of the whole group in this film)? Or is this film about the search and attempt to make sure the person who will be Connor’s father stays alive to allow what transpired in the past to happen (time-travel can be a tricky and confusing thing to comprehend)? Or is Terminator Salvation the story of the new character Marcus Wright and his quest to find out just who, or what he is exactly? It’s all three of those and all three weren’t explored enough to make one care too much for the story being told. There’s great ideas in all three but trying to combine them into one coherent storyline mostly falls flat and uninsipiring for a film trying to be the war movie in the series. For what are war movies mostly but attempts to show inspiration in the face of desperation. There’s very little of that in this film. If the writers had been given a chance to further streamline the story into one major arc then this film would have benefitted greatly in the long run.

With acting very tightly tied-in with the story being told it’s only logical that the performances by the cast rarely go beyond acceptable. Christian Bale’s John Connor is always dour and brooding. He’s almost becoming a typecast for any role that requires for him to be the down man in any party. He does this ably, but he doesn’t bring anything to the role which hasn’t already been explored in past entries. His performance does show hints of mental instability as the weight of being the savior and prophet of the human race may be starting to get to him. The other two pivotal roles in the film have more meat to play around with. Anton Yelchin as the teenage Resistance fighter destined to become John Connor’s father in the past shines in the scenes he’s in as he elevates a bland script with some youthful energy and hints of the adult Kyle Reese fans of the series know so well. Then we arrive on the newest character in the series: Marcus Wright.

Little-known Australian actor Sam Worthington was recommended by James Cameron for the role of Marcus Wright. Like Anton Yelchin’s performance, Worthington’s work in the role of Wright saves the film from mediocrity. While it is not a start-turning performance by any means Worthington does make it difficult not to pay attention to him throughout the film. The man has presence and every scene he is in shows why Cameron himself has faith in being the latest to carry the Terminator torch. The rest of the cast is quite a throwaway in that we never really get to know any of them and invest anything in their well-being.

Terminator Salvation is a very frustrating film in that there’s so much great ideas to mine. The series has always tried to explore such themes as fate, predetermination and human free will. While the third film in the series was quite lacking in memorable action sequences this fourth entry makes a mess of trying to explore these themes. Again, it seems as if the film’s script was rushed into production with very little doctoring and as the production continued forward no one bothered to point out just how average and bland the storyline does sound despite being the most overly complex of the series.

One thing I am sure of is that the one person people thought would be the weakest link in this film instead happens to be its strongest. McG and some inspired acting from two newcomers keep the film from becoming a total failure. Terminator Salvation is an able and, for most of it’s running time, a very good action film with brisk pacing and energy in its action sequences. Enough of these elements keeps the film’s fractured and scattershot of a storyline from sinking the film into total failure. As a summer tentpole action film it delivers on some of what it promises, but it could’ve been more and better. Some would settle on calling this entry in the franchise a failure, but I am always an optimist and a fan of action thus I’ll land on calling this film a successful failure.