Deus vult

Haha, what the fuck? Knights versus Vikings versus samurai?

It’s a goddamn multiplayer Dynasty Warriors! With Dark Souls-ish fighting mechanics. I approve.

At least it was here

I’ve seen what may possibly be the final episode of Community. This show has never been a laugh-out-loud comedy for me, except for this finale, where I was honestly laughing at three points: when the black guy on the stool was revealed, when the dean was shown dancing behind Chang, and when Jeff was strangling Abeds. This is a deservedly meta finale for a meta show. I especially appreciated the dark turn of the board game commercial at the end.

Also, I never bothered to look up the words to the theme song. Turns out it’s darker than you would expect from the peppy sound. Is it about suicide like M*A*S*H or what? Here’s the extended version:

The 88 – At Least It Was Here

Give me your hands
Show me the door
I cannot stand
To wait anymore
Somebody said
Be what you’ll be
We could be old and cold and dead on the sea

But I love you more than words can say
I can’t count the reasons I should stay

Give me some rope
Tie me to dream
Give me the hope to run out of steam
Somebody said it can be here
We could be roped up, tied up, dead in a year

I can’t count the reasons I should stay
One by one they all just fade away

I’m tied to the wait and sees
I’m tired of that part of me
That makes up a perfect lie
To keep us between
But hours turn into days
So watch what you throw away
And be here to recognize
There’s another way

Give me some rope
Tie me to dream
Give me the hope to run out of steam
Somebody said it can be here
We could be roped up, tied up, dead in a year

But I love you more than words can say
I can’t count the reasons I should stay
One by one they all just fade away
But I love you more than words can say

Farewell to arms

After three years I’ve finally finished playing Valkyria Chronicles. Popular opinion of it is correct – it really was one of the best games of the PS3 console generation. Think of it as a World War 2 movie in video game form, except since it’s not based on real history then the female sweethearts do more than pine away at home for their menfolk at the front lines. The grand sweeping emotions don’t get cheesy or mawkish. It’s basically a sweeping war epic, and I feel that bittersweet sadness I sometimes get after finishing an engaging story full of characters who live on in my mind long after the last page is turned or the final scene is finished.

And what characters! The game itself is a sort of turn-based squad game, similar to the rebooted X-COM, but unlike X-COM your squaddies aren’t randomly generated and have short biographies available for your perusal. Knowing the details of your soldiers’ lives adds nothing to the mechanics of the gameplay, but learning that Juno never told her commander of her feelings for him or that Dallas went to an all-girls school makes me appreciate it more when I order them into danger. I’ll miss Freesia, the travelling desert dancer; Jane, who hated the invaders ever since they destroyed her flower shop; Oscar, the coward who became a soldier when his country needed him and his brother Emile, the sickly young man who nevertheless became one of my best snipers; Rosie, the cynical bar maid and chanteuse turned militia trooper; Claudia, the shut-in who couldn’t stay hidden away when her home was bombed, and Karl and Lynn, the interracial couple who were swept up in the greatest conflict of their generation.

There’s a New Game Plus mode, but despite how much fun this game was I don’t think I’ll ever play it again. Once was enough, and more than enough.

Russia’s department of trolls

Your reminder that we’re living in the 21st century:

The Agency

From a nondescript office building in St. Petersburg, Russia, an army of well-paid “trolls” has tried to wreak havoc all around the Internet — and in real-life American communities.

Around 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 11 last year, Duval Arthur, director of the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, got a call from a resident who had just received a disturbing text message. “Toxic fume hazard warning in this area until 1:30 PM,” the message read. “Take Shelter. Check Local Media and”

St. Mary Parish is home to many processing plants for chemicals and natural gas, and keeping track of dangerous accidents at those plants is Arthur’s job. But he hadn’t heard of any chemical release that morning. In fact, he hadn’t even heard of Columbia Chemical. St. Mary Parish had a Columbian Chemicals plant, which made carbon black, a petroleum product used in rubber and plastics. But he’d heard nothing from them that morning, either. Soon, two other residents called and reported the same text message. Arthur was worried: Had one of his employees sent out an alert without telling him?

If Arthur had checked Twitter, he might have become much more worried. Hundreds of Twitter accounts were documenting a disaster right down the road. “A powerful explosion heard from miles away happened at a chemical plant in Centerville, Louisiana #ColumbianChemicals,” a man named Jon Merritt tweeted. The #ColumbianChemicals hashtag was full of eyewitness accounts of the horror in Centerville. @AnnRussela shared an image of flames engulfing the plant. @Ksarah12 posted a video of surveillance footage from a local gas station, capturing the flash of the explosion. Others shared a video in which thick black smoke rose in the distance.

Dozens of journalists, media outlets and politicians, from Louisiana to New York City, found their Twitter accounts inundated with messages about the disaster. “Heather, I’m sure that the explosion at the #ColumbianChemicals is really dangerous. Louisiana is really screwed now,” a user named @EricTraPPP tweeted at the New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Heather Nolan. Another posted a screenshot of CNN’s home page, showing that the story had already made national news. ISIS had claimed credit for the attack, according to one YouTube video; in it, a man showed his TV screen, tuned to an Arabic news channel, on which masked ISIS fighters delivered a speech next to looping footage of an explosion. A woman named Anna McClaren (@zpokodon9) tweeted at Karl Rove: “Karl, Is this really ISIS who is responsible for #ColumbianChemicals? Tell @Obama that we should bomb Iraq!” But anyone who took the trouble to check would have found no news of a spectacular Sept. 11 attack by ISIS. It was all fake: the screenshot, the videos, the photographs.

Four ways to forgiveness

There’s no two ways about this: Spirit Circle is a damn good manga. Unfortunately, it’s rather hard to discover this for yourself, as all the synopses I’ve read make it sound incoherent or unremarkable. Take this one, for example:

Fuuta Okeya is a normal 14-year-old boy, except for the fact that he has the ability to see ghosts. A cute girl transfers into his class one day, but acts particularly aggressive towards him. This girl called Kouko Ishigami is followed around by a ghost called East. Fuuta tries to get along with her but ends up failing after she sees the birthmark he usually keeps covered. She then declares him as her enemy, his birthmark as a cursed brand and claims they have a long history, while talking about reincarnation. Who is this girl and how are they connected?

“Oh, it’s another high school story,” you might think. “Is it like Bleach? I’m guessing from the art it’s a comedy-romance and the reincarnation angle is the only unique thing about it. Oh well, high school comedy-romances are a dime a dozen.”

A girl and a boy fighting in the present day, as two young people in the pre-Hispanic Americas, as an old witch and a young knight, and as a ninja and a feudal Japanese swordsman

Hell no. I would never have tried this manga out if I hadn’t known it was written by the same person as the one behind Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, but I’m glad I did. I think I have enough samples of his writing now to say without hesitation that Satoshi Mizukami knows how to write a moving story.

Basically, Spirit Circle is about the dispute between a boy and a girl that stretches backward and forward to the past and the future and back again, through different reincarnations and universes. In the present day, the boy searches through his past lives to find the reason for the girl’s animosity, while in each life the two fight and try to find a way to stop fighting.

Don’t get me wrong, this manga is definitely funny. There actually is comedy and romance in this series. But each reincarnation of the two rivals lives rich and full lives with their share of tragedy and suffering and peace and joy. Some heavy shit goes down, and not in just the past lives of the two.

The series is available on Crunchyroll’s online manga service. I do have to mention that I read it on my tablet and the app has the annoying tendency to occasionally show me a page that I’d already read. If that happens to you, I recommend exiting the manga and entering it again; that should make the proper page show up.

I’ve found Crunchyroll’s online manga offerings to be rather sparse in number and in quality. One might call it hit-or-miss but in my case I’ve found more misses than hits. This manga, though, is definitely one of the good ones. It’s also being simultaneously published, which means that it’s still not finished. However, from the way the story is going I think it’s almost done. If it sticks the landing then it’s going into my list of favourite series.

My Teen Romantic WTF-ery

After having watched the eighth episode of the current season, I think My Teen Romantic Comedy Snafu should be re-titled Jesus Christ, What the Fuck is Wrong With These Kids?

I do like how the kids’ social problems aren’t a result of some past trauma, which would have been too pat (remember that Hikigaya was already a loner long before he got hit by a car). They’re like this because that’s just how they’re wired. Some people are shy, some people are gregarious, and some people have trouble connecting with others. Perhaps it’s good that pop psychology isn’t as pervasive in Japanese media as it is over here, otherwise I get the feeling that undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome would be the easy answer for the question of the kids’ social issues.

I wonder now what the writer of the light novels is like. The personalities of the characters are exaggerated for dramatic effect, of course, and most of the situations in the show are too contrived to be realistic, but it feels like there’s emotional truth and perhaps first-hand experience in the depiction of the loneliness of the misanthrope.

Go, go, Power Rangers

Despite never having read the manga, I’m sure you already know the story of Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer. Briefly, the protagonist is awakened to his destiny by an animal guide and told to find his reincarnated teammates to fight an evil sorcerer bent on destruction.

It’s been done and redone by series as diverse as Sailor Moon and god knows how many tokusatsu shows (i.e., Power Rangers type shows). So you can kind of guess where the story is supposed to go, but it keeps going the opposite way. The series even gets meta with the characters watching a magical girl anime and snarking about the cliches to be found in the destined hero narratives that their own story deconstructs.

A woman cheerfully being recruited in her bedroom by a talking snake

This is a joyfully clever comic, and in small ways and large ways – like in this scene – it keeps pulling the rug out from under you. I’d be more specific but I don’t want to take away from the enjoyment of anyone who wants to try this manga out. Read it already, people.

Return to Baldur’s Gate

One of the Children of Bhaal from Baldur's Gate 2 (don't ask me which one, I haven't encountered her in my game yet but she's got a staff and a feathered headdress)

I’m finally playing Baldur’s Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal. I installed the BGT mod, which turns the entire Baldur’s Gate series into one really long game. Essentially I’ve been playing the same game off and on for eight or nine years now. The last time I touched this game was probably back in 2011 but here I am back in the saddle.

I’d forgotten how fun playing Baldur’s Gate 2 was. In my last session I used the Zapp Brannigan strategy to clear out the sewers under Saradush by sending out wave after wave of expendable minions to overwhelm my enemies. I believe I summoned some dire bears, a couple of skeletons, an efreet, two ogres, an earth elemental, a bunch of lesser earth elementals, a berserker warrior, a wyvern, an invisible stalker, two air elementals, a nishru, a hakeashar, and probably a few more creatures that I’m forgetting.

Meanwhile, my party of adventurers waited near the dungeon entrance for the screaming to die down. It’s a lot easier than going toe-to-toe with all those umber hulks and orcs and mages.

Space cowboy and gangster of love

I finally watched Cowboy Bebop. I tried it out probably eight years ago and found it boring, but it turns out that was because I was watching it with subtitles. After I tried the English dub I finally got how cool the show was. The music especially was great. This show and Baccano are joining my short list of great English-dubbed anime.

Oh, and happy Victoria Day weekend once again to all of you in cyberspace.

Shakespeare in the original Klingon

This is a weird thing I just came across, but I discovered a trailer for Legend of Korra in the original Japanese.

I jest, of course. But something seems off about the voices. Continue reading Shakespeare in the original Klingon