The Rolling Girls Review

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There are great anime, there are bad anime, and then there are okay anime. A show like Guilty Crown edges more toward the negative side, while a show like Karneval edges more toward the okay side. One great – no, fantastic anime, is Attack on Titan. The studio behind that show is Wit Studio. In fact, it was because of the Attack on Titan anime adaption that made the Attack on Titan name one of the biggest of the modern era. Wit Studio should be commended for such incredible work. Today’s anime review is on The Rolling Girls. As you can probably guess, Wit Studio is the producer behind the show. Unlike Attack on Titan, The Rolling Girls is an original piece. (In fact, it was the studio’s first anime not based on a manga.) The plot is certainly interesting. A “Great Tokyo War” has divided the country of Japan, with different groups throughout the region. Each of the main groups are led by a “Best,” a being with special power seemingly thanks to a heart-shaped object called a Moonlight Stone.

The main, heroic Best we’re introduced to is Maccha Green. The more villainous Kuniko Shigyou is her rival. As the two duke it out over the course of two episodes, the battle eventually culminates in the two being seriously injured and sent to the hospital. Maccha Green’s apprentice, Nozomi, decides to travel around Japan with her friends on motorcycles in Maccha’s Green’s place. Hence the title, “The Rolling Girls.”

There are elements of greatness in The Rolling Girls. Indeed, there are often times of genuine emotion where we want to see the girls succeed in their endeavor. But, the show doesn’t rise to true greatness, settling at being more of an okay anime missing the title of great.

The Good

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The first two episodes are the best of the show. The story backdrop is interesting, as we’re introduced to two factions, the one led by Maccha Green (real name Masami Utoku) and the other group led by Kuniko. In such a short amount of time, these two characters are established as very likable and engaging. Kuniko comes off as charming – and unhinged, such as when she’s threatening to drop all of Masami’s friends from a roller coaster. Meanwhile, Masami is heroic, whose Maccha Green suit appears to homage tokusatsu characters like Kamen Rider. However, Masami is portrayed not as perfect like the original Ultraman. Rather, she deals with internal human conflict. This is evidenced when she monologues about the difficulty of being put in a position to reveal her secret identity, in order to save her friends from the roller coaster.

By the end of the second episode, both Masami and Kuniko are hospitalized. Nozomi becomes the main character, alongside Yukina, Ai, and Chiaya. Nozomi is a likable focus, because the writing shows her genuine wanting to be like her mentor and help people. Ai is probably the most interesting of the Rolling Girls, having a spunky personality. Although the running gag of her running into conflict only to be blasted away was annoying, one has to like her determined persona. She and Nozomi get into an argument late in the story, which leads to Ai breaking from the group. This was handled well and hit the viewer emotionally because of how close the group had become by that point.

Chiaya takes more of a center focus toward the climax of the show. Her character is very similar to Nai from Karneval. Unlike Nai, who came off at times as annoyingly naive, Chiaya comes off as sweet, having a genuine longing for friends. Her relationship dynamic with her mother was interesting. Perhaps the most emotionally well done part of the show was when Chiaya tells Nozomi in the final episode, “You were my Maccha Green.” Some of the visuals in this show are unique. I was taken aback by how beautiful and surreal the backgrounds of Always Comima were. The soundtrack is solid. I particularly liked the song that played during Maccha Green’s fight with Kuniko in episode two; it gave the battle an even more stylistic flare. Speaking of the action, when fight scenes do occur, they are a lot of fun. Besides Maccha’s encounters with Kuniko, one of the biggest highlights in the action department was the battle between Haru Fujiwara and Ura Kukino later in the story.

The Bad

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Nozomi’s group is a likable focus. Nozomi is engaging, Ai is fun, and Chiaya is sweet. Notice how I left Yukina out of that sentence? She wasn’t bad, but lacked personality. She came off as shy, and that’s it. Unlike the other characters, it was hard to gauge the type of person she is, aside from being more on the shy side. She isn’t the major problem here, however.

The problem is that Maccha Green and Kuniko are too great to sit on the sidelines.

Nozomi is fine, but there’s a reason why the show never got as good as its first two episodes. The relationship between Maccha Green and Kuniko is fascinating. Near the end of episode two, there is rushed exposition that the two actually knew each other. This didn’t have to be rushed if the show had chosen to focus on these two. Instead, the writing benches the two most interesting characters until near the end of the show. When they do come back, they’re teaming up and it’s good stuff. Nozomi’s group just weren’t capable of being as engaging in comparison.

Another big problem is the under-utilization of quality antagonists. There is no real main antagonist until near the end. She, Shima Ishizukuri, was great, but terribly under-utilized. Why did she give up in the end? The whole resolution came off as rushed. Another great character was Shutendōji, whose “Life is about killing time” shtick was interesting. But, in the end, it appeared as if he was helping the characters, thus making his character supremely confusing.

There is often too much of a comedic tone coming from the episodes. The writing could have used the fascinating background of the Great Tokyo War to deliver an engaging story in the modern day. What we do get is still okay, but it rarely rises to excellence past its first two episodes.

The Verdict

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If the show had opted to keep Maccha Green and Kuniko as the primary focus, we could have had something truly great. If the writing really wanted Nozomi’s group to be a center focus, all it had to do was have Maccha and Kuniko fail a mission late in the show, and have Nozomi’s group continue where the two characters left off. It would be serious, but could still offer comedy in the form of the character interactions. Make no mistake though: The Rolling Girls isn’t bad. There are some notable characters that appear, like Ura. But, The Rolling Girls is also a missed opportunity for something special.

7/10

Avengers: Infinity War Review

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The Russo Brothers have used the term “heist” to describe what Avengers: Infinity War looks like. Indeed, there are feelings of a race against the clock as the heroes try and stop the mad titan Thanos from acquiring all the Infinity Stones. Like the best heist films, the films moves at an expert pace with characters one enjoys watching. Of course, Infinity War is more than a heist movie. It is the culmination of 10 years of film making. It all began in 2008’s Iron Man, when Nick Fury walked from out of the shadows to tell Tony Stark, “I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger initiative.” From there, the Marvel Cinematic Universe became one of the most notable franchises in the history of film.

Infinity War grabs almost all the major characters -the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man- and puts them in a universe-shaking situation. Few films have combined so many characters in a connected continuity. One of the earliest examples is 1968’s Destroy All Monsters, which grabbed all the famous kaiju at that point for a world-shaking story. Infinity War however is built upon 18 movies. Everything begins to culminate here. With so many characters running around, it would be difficult to keep the picture from collapsing under its own weight. The Russo Brothers have proved masterful with an ensemble cast, as seen two years ago in Captain America: Civil War. While Infinity War doesn’t exceed Civil War or The Russo Brothers’ other MCU film, The Winter Solider, Infinity War is nonetheless a crowning achievement in entertainment.

You might hear the complaint that most of the characters aren’t fleshed out in this movie. That would be a foolish complaint however, because Infinity War features many characters whom have appeared multiple times. We know who these characters are already, so there’s no need to spend too much time on deepening their personas. The Russo Brothers do not make this film accessible for newcomers; it doesn’t have to be. The story is the culmination of a plot that began in The Avengers. With that said, the film does amazingly manage to continue character arcs seen in previous movies, which is a feat in itself. The dynamic between Tony and Pepper is touched upon, and the romance between Peter Quill and Gamora is brought to a center focus in a couple of spots.

With so many characters, many would think it inevitable that some would get the shaft. But the Russo Brothers manage to give every character a moment to shine. Even when it does feel like a major character is missing for awhile, when he/she does return to the screen, it’s a notable appearance. For a primary example of this, after Steve Rogers has his entrance (one of the most crowd-pleasing moments of the film) and a couple of other small appearances, there’s this long stretch of the runtime where he’s missing. But when when the movie does return to him, it’s good stuff.

Chris Evans’ portrayal of Captain America was fantastic in Civil War, and it’s tempting to say his portrayal here exceeds it. Cap has always been a serious character, but here there’s truly no sense of irony or comedy coming from him in Infinity War. Two scenes come to mind to highlight this portrayal. A little early on, Cap tells Thunderbolt Ross that he will fight Ross if the latter chooses to stand in his way. (One can see Cap’s internal anger with the Sokovia Accords here, and his alienation with the government.) Later, as the war against Thanos’ forces is about break out, we see Cap (alongside T’Challa and Black Widow) talking with Proxima Midnight of Thanos’ Black Order. As Cap stands firm, and says that what the Black Order wants is not going to happen, there’s such a great nobility coming from Cap. Evans really shows that Cap is the greatest of all the heroes in every scene he’s in.

Because the MCU began with Iron Man, it makes sense that Tony would get a substantial amount of screen time. Robert Downy Jr. is given the usual sarcastic dialogue, but there’s an engaging seriousness to Tony’s character arc. We see early on that he cares for his future with Pepper, and later when he knows that the universe really is at stake. There’s a scene late in the movie when he’s shouting to Star-Lord not to give into rage. It’s brief, but it does the best in showing Tony’s passion in wanting to put a stop to Thanos. Speaking of Tony shouting at Quill, one of the highlights of Infinity War was seeing characters whom have never interacted together. Tony’s dialogue with Dr. Strange was fun, and Thor alongside Rocket Raccoon was a humorous dynamic. Thor was great in this movie too. One of the most powerful scenes was when he volunteered into what was dubbed “suicide” in order to buy enough time near the climax  of the film.

Two major highlights are Thanos and Gamora. This is by far Zoe Saldana’s most compelling portrayal of Gamora. This is because she has a very emotional character arc that runs through a good chunk of the movie. She being the daughter of Thanos made for a fascinating dynamic. Every scene with Gamora and Thanos was five star quality. There’s anger, and sadness in Gamora that shows when she is discussing Thanos, whether it be with Quill, or the Titan himself. Gamora is a character haunted by her parentage. Out of all the heroes, she might have been the most compelling. One of the most powerful scenes was the flashback of when Gamora, as a little girl, was taken in by Thanos. The writing in that sequence was wonderful.

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This brings us to the Titan himself. The MCU has had a problem with villains. Quite a few of them – Malekith, Darren Cross, Killian – come off as one-note and forgettable. Thanos is neither one-note nor forgettable. Thanos’ goal is to erase half the universe’s population. But it is not because he’s “bad” in the sense of just killing for the fun of it, but because he’s attempting to bring an equilibrium to the universe. He states at one point during the film that there is a finite amount of resources in the universe, so one must have the will to do what needs to be done, and in his mind, the thing to do is to get rid of half the population.

Perhaps the best sequence explaining his reasoning is when he relates his backstory to Dr. Strange, showing that his planet was once a paradise. But, there were too many people and not enough resources. So, Thanos’ told the elders his plan: wipe out half the planet’s people. He was deemed mad, but in the end, the planet died. In his mind, Thanos was proven right. Because of that, there is an unwavering conviction that drives him. Thanos is the most compelling antagonist in a comic book film since Heath Ledger’s the Joker from The Dark Knight.

There are of course other characters whom have not been mentioned, most of them good. Spider-Man is mostly engaging. Like in Civil War, where he brought up The Empire Strikes Back for an analogy of a plan of attack, he uses his pop culture knowledge again here for a fun sequence. Another brief, but excellent exchange of dialogue was between Spidey and Quill, discussing Footloose as the so called best movie of all time. Speaking of Quill, Star-Lord is fun for the most part. His exchange with Tony, “Let’s talk about this plan of yours. I think it’s good, except it sucks” was good. There is a scene later in the film that many might groan at. One can argue that Quill was being human, but with the high stakes and everything happening, it came off as more annoying than anything. Meanwhile, teenage Groot gets one compelling scene late in the film, but that’s it; everything else that comes before makes the viewer wonder why the much more compelling adult Groot isn’t back yet.

T’Challa was a highlight. Chadwick Boseman commands every scene he’s in as the Black Panther. There’s passion from T’Challa as he demonstrates his ability to lead. This is evident in the buildup to the big war sequence against Thanos’ army. Quite a few other characters appear, such as Bucky and M’Baku. They aren’t given many notable scenes, but contribute in the scenes there are in. Scarlet Witch is engaging, and her new relationship with Vision is interesting. Their dynamic takes a center focus in the climax, and it was well done emotionally. The Black Order, while not given much of a character arc, served their purpose well enough as servants believing Thanos to be enacting a righteous cause.

There is one character that sadly detracts to the story, so much so that he really took it out of the viewer in almost every scene he’s in. That character is Bruce Banner. It would be good to briefly touch upon the history here. In 2008’s The Inedible Hulk, Banner was played by Edward Norton. It was a solid performance, but Norton did not return for The Avengers, and was replaced by Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo proved to be a fantastic replacement. He had charisma, and it seemed like his dynamic with Hulk was at its peak; Banner proudly states, “I’m always angry,” in that he’s able to bring out the Hulk at will. That was reversed out of nowhere in Age of Ultron, where there was this melodramatic character arc of him not being able to control the Hulk anymore. Bruce reappears in Thor: Ragnarok, and is little more than a comedic character, meanwhile the Hulk has an annoying child-like persona. But at least Hulk fought when it counted and felt important to the conflict. That doesn’t happen in Infinity War.

After the opening sequence, Hulk doesn’t return, and refuses to come out, despite Banner telling him to. Banner is mostly a comic relief character, delivering unbelievable lines and just detracting from the overall atmosphere. His (and Hulk’s) portrayal is so bad, the thought, “What were they thinking?” crosses one’s mind. Banner doesn’t contribute much to the story, and Hulk comes across as weak. It’s a sad time for Hulk fans.

There is a lot of great action in this film. A lot of is divided into a few different set pieces. Everyone will have their favorite team-up battle, but every battle brought something to the table in terms of pure comic book fun. The war sequence at Wakanda was appropriately intense, and the characters’ stand against Thanos was both epic, and emotional. Who can forget Cap giving it his all as he tries to hold back Thanos? Granted, there isn’t a singular action sequence that can match up against the famous airport battle in Civil War. But to be fair, it is hard to top that one. No one should be disappointed with the action, because every character gets to be a part of it. The actual build-up to the action scenes are also excellent. Early on, a Black Order ship touches down on New York City, and chaos ensures. The scenes of people running, and Tony walking outside to see what’s happening, were some of the best parts of the film.

Like other MCU films, Infinity War has scenes whose goal is to generate laughter from the audience. Most of it is fine, and flows naturally. (As opposed to unnaturally in Thor: The Dark World.) The humor is rarely overdrawn (aside from Banner scenes), with only one scene in particular taking it out of the viewer, where Drax on the ship apparently has mastered the art of standing still. But overall, Infinity War’s tone is almost always consistent. The soundtrack is what you would expect from this type of blockbuster. While technically generic, the themes nonetheless work for the scenes and help to make them extra important. One notable theme is the usage of violin in the final part of the opening scene, as Thanos acquires one of the Infinity Stones. The violin helps to elevate the scene to one of a poetic nature.

The Verdict

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Infinity War has an ensemble cast of fantastic characters, and a compelling antagonist. The story features a universe in peril, and big action scenes. It is the definition of a comic book made into a production. There are so many moments throughout that will get a smile out of the viewer. It’s a well paced story with a unique heist element. Not everything is perfect. The character of Bruce Banner is continually mishandled, and his dynamic with Hulk was painful to watch. The humor is mostly good. All in all, there’s too much to like in this movie, and it makes sure to leave viewers clamoring for the fourth Avengers movie.

9/10

Karneval Review

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Released in 2013, the Karneval anime is an adaption of the manga by the same name. The story follows a creature named Nai. Nai is apparently half “niji” and half human. Nai is looking for his caretaker, a man named Karoku. A crook named Gareki runs into Nai, and the two of them end up meeting up with a government organization named Circus. Circus’ goal is to protect citizens from monsters called Varuga and a sinister organization called Kafka. Based on the summary, Karenval sounds like a fun story. It is a fun 13 episodes, but lacks in key areas.

The Good

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The action in this anime is slick. From the opening fight with Gareki against a Varuga, viewers know they’re in for a treat. A few of the characters are notable. Though Gareki was annoying sometimes, he did have a good character arc. By the end of the show he emerged with a more heroic mindset, and a willingness to open himself up to the idea of belonging to a group. One of the stronger aspects of the show was the parts that focused on Gareki’s past, and how it relates to the present.

The Captain of the Second Ship, Hirato, was perhaps the most compelling character. He takes his role as a high ranking official seriously, but does care sincerely for his subordinates. He also has a subtle inspiring persona that the writing smartly utilizes, especially in the final episode when he’s talking to Gareki about the latter’s future. Tsukumo had little personality other than just being the super serious character for a good chunk of the show. That changed a bit in the latter part, when she realized that it might be her last night alive. Her monologue, saying how she wished she would have talked to everyone more, was genuinely emotional. Though she is good to have around, it would have been effective to see her actually die. It would have left an impact on the cast and viewer.

Nai’s character arc is a bit mixed. He works best as a character counter to Gareki. It is primarily because of Nai that Gareki starts to have a different mindset. The writing does a good job building and establishing the friendship between the two. Finally, the soundtrack is very good.

The Bad

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Characters are perhaps the most important part of any movie or show. Karneval does not have a bad cast, but not a particularly strong one either. Each of the characters have their personality trait, which is good of course. But, it seems like some of these characters are known by just their personality type rather than actual character. Gareki is a hotshot, Tsukumo is super serious, and Nai is naive but caring. These characters do get good moments, but they can’t be called “great” characters.

The biggest crime Karneval commits is the pacing. The story in concept is good, but it takes awhile for it to get rolling. 13 episode animes should not have filler, but you will find filler scenes in Karneval. The lack of an ongoing primary antagonist is also a huge negative. Well, I should say that there is a main villain, Palnedo, but he barely appears. (Where was he in the final episode?) One could argue Karoku is the main villain, but it is confusing of what exactly happened to him or what his ultimate goal was. The two most interesting villains were Uro and Meiga. If the writing was going to regulate Palnedo to background status with no conclusion, he should have been removed from the cast in favor of one of those two getting a bigger role.

Karneval ends at Episode 13 with an unsatisfying conclusion. Karoku is found, but Palnedo is still out there. If Karneval had a second season, this would be fine. But there isn’t a second season, making the “ending” lackluster.

The Verdict

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Karneval has a lot of potential that is squandered on filler scenes. Character interactions mix from great to mediocre. (Yogi’s befriending of Gareki and Nai was too sudden to be realistic.) Still, to call the show bad would be a disservice. The story is unique enough to keep the viewer engaged, and the action scenes have a nice style. The characters are interesting enough (but not superb) thanks to key developments. Karneval is fine, but there are better animes in the genre to watch.

7/10

Kirby Star Allies Review

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Kirby doesn’t talk much, but when he does say something, it’s typically something cheerful. He is a very cheerful character, but gets serious when his planet is being attacked. He’s willing to lend a hand to any stranger that comes asking for help, never giving it a second thought. It’s all these reasons and more why Kirby is a lovable character. The pink puffball first appeared on the Game Boy in Kirby’s Dreamland. He then made the jump to color in the NES’s Kirby’s Adventure. Since then, he has appeared in numerous games, becoming a flagship Nintendo title. He makes the jump to Nintendo’s latest console, the Switch, in Kirby Star Allies.

The story in Star Allies follows a mysterious being unleashing dark energy objects called “Jamba Hearts” onto Planet Popstar. These hearts affect many of the inhabitants of the planet, including King Dedede and Meta Knight. Kirby awakens to the horror, and runs off, gathering friends along the way, to rid Popstar of the Jamba Hearts and stop the mysterious menace. The story isn’t too different than previous games in the franchise. But, one can always expect a great climax in Kirby games, and it’s no different in Star Allies. Is everything else about the game great? Star Allies is a fun platformer, bringing the Kirby elements that puts the series above the standard side-scroller. However, much like contemporary Kirby games, there are not enough innovations in Star Allies to call it an amazing game.

The Good

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The Switch is Nintendo’s best system graphically speaking, meaning Kirby gets to shine in HD glory. The levels are beautiful with outstanding detail. Highlights include Castle Dedede and Reef Resort. Accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack, I was reminded of Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which featured lovely levels complemented by a wonderful soundtrack. The level design in Star Allies is often simple, but at this point, one does not expect much challenge from this series. Kirby then has to deliver in the “simply fun to play” category, and Star Allies succeeds in this regard.

Pretty levels would not be able to make up for substandard gameplay. Star Allies has the same level of high quality gameplay as previous Kirby games. If you’ve played Kirby’s Return to Dreamland or the more recent Planet Robobot, you know what to expect. The biggest feature of this game is the ability to turn foes into friends with the push of a button. When this happens, up to three characters (controlled either by the AI or human players) can follow Kirby. It’s similar to summoning a Helper in Kirby Super Star, but in this case, the allies bring with them a power first introduced in Kirby 64: the power to combine abilities.

It is a shock that this ability has been so rarely used in the games. Then again, it might lose its uniqueness if it appeared in every game. So, these “Friend Abilities” as they are called allow Kirby to mix his copy ability with the ability of an ally. A yo-yo on fire? The sword with an icy touch? Experimenting is always fun, and the Friend Abilities are nicely integrated into finding the Picture Pieces and Big Switches. As for the individual abilities, the usual ones return, along with a few new ones, such as the fun “artist” and “spider.”

Star Allies make good use of Kirby’s friends in three scenarios. One of them is making a bridge to help a Key Dee get to a door, another turning the characters into an unstoppable wheel, and the final one is the best: the friends riding together on a “Friend Star.” These Friend Star sequences are a blast, adding a high-octane feel to the game. The Friend Star is put to especially good use in the climatic boss battle. Since we’re on the subject, Star Allies continues the tradition of having an epic climax. In the final showdown scene, the player really gets a feel of Kirby’s determination to beat the opposing force.

For a couple of more positives, the game’s implementation of extra stages is a nice feature. The final extra stage has a nice tribute to Kirby’s Dreamland. (It’s a shame it wasn’t longer.) As already touched upon, the soundtrack is strong. You’ll hear the familiar themes, but also plenty of great new ones. The final few levels have some fast-paced themes to contrast the more softer sounds. One of the greatest examples of quality music is the beautiful Reef Resort theme, which once again evokes memories of Epic Yarn. This is the strongest soundtrack in a Kirby game since Epic Yarn.

The Bad

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As it’s been made evident, Star Allies follows the Kirby formula closely, but often too closely. The game does not often feel that different from its predecessors. If this was the first ever Kirby game, it would be fantastic, revolutionary even. But the fact is that it’s not the first. Kirby has been the star of numerous platformers, so it’s near baffling that Star Allies doesn’t introduce more innovations. It is possible to keep the same formula while revolutionizing it. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey did that for their respective franchises. Super Mario Odyssey was the same fundamentally as previous Mario platformers, but Odyssey took risks and delivered things that separated it from past games. Breath of the Wild kept the core aspects that have made the Zelda series appealing, while also reinventing them. These games did not stray from their fundamental concepts. Rather, these games built upon the concepts and gave us something familiar, but also brand new.

There is something I like to call the New Super Mario Bros. 2 effect. While New Super Mario Bros. 2 was a fun game and competently made, it made no progress in gameplay design from the previous two New Super Mario Bros. installments. It was essentially almost the same game. Hal Laboratory seems content on playing it safe with Kirby. There’s no reason why Star Allies couldn’t have been the revolutionary game for Kirby. The pieces are there – the epic climax, the Friend Abilities, the Friend Star- but these things are often sandwiched with an often too familiar atmosphere of normalcy. To give credit, Star Allies is not the New Super Mario Bros. 2 of Kirby. (That would be Triple Deluxe.) But, Hal seems to be in the NSMB2 mindset, which is delivering more of the same without reinvention. There are enough unique aspects of Star Allies to keep it from being called a copy of previous games, but more innovations would have been welcome.

While the friends are fun (and adorable) to have around, there are a couple of drawbacks. For one thing, you might find sometimes that they destroy an enemy you were planning to absorb. They also make already easy boss fights easier. Since we’re on the subject, the game reuses bosses too often. (You’ll be seeing Mr. Frosty more than once.) One more negative is the length. Kirby games are not typically that long, but one expects more from a $60 game. The story mode in Star Allies is about five hours, which is not terrible, but still on the shorter side. You can go back and collect the Picture Pieces and find the Big Switches, but since these are incredibly easy to find (players hoping for a challenging scavenger hunt will be disappointed), chances are you’ll find most of them on your first playthrough without losing much time. The game does feature some bonus sub-game modes, with perhaps the most notable being a boss rush called ‘The Ultimate Choice.’ So, there is some after-game content, but the main story mode needed to be a little longer.

The Verdict

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Kirby Star Allies is not the revolutionary Kirby game as Mario Odyssey was to the Mario series. But, Star Allies is still a lot of fun. The levels are nicely designed, and accompanied by a stellar soundtrack. The power to combine abilities makes a triumphant return, which enhances the already solid gameplay experience. While the main story mode is almost always not that difficult (you’ll probably never see the game over screen, and have collected over 100 lives by the end), there is some challenge to be found in the climax. Plus, game difficulty is not the sole indicator of quality. Epic Yarn was even easier, and that game is a masterpiece. What Star Allies unfortunately lacks is innovation. There are some great, innovative aspects, but the game needed more. Also, one can beat the story relatively quickly, making the $60 price questionable. (Breath of the Wild and Odyssey are at least double the length.) But overall, I had a good time playing Star Allies. It goes down as one of the more memorable Kirby experiences in recent years.

8/10

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Black Panther Review

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Let me start this review by saying how unique of a film Black Panther is. It’s as if the viewer is transported to a different culture. We’re very used to seeing the New York setting in comic book films, so it’s refreshing to see a new setting. The African scenery is beautiful. There’s a scene late in the film where T’Challa shows N’Jadaka a view of Wakanda, showcasing the fictional country’s splendor. The unique setting doesn’t hide mediocre performances either. Some films have stylistic scenery, but mediocre writing. Not so in Black Panther, where almost every major character is well developed and engaging. It’s tough to say if Black Panther is the best made Marvel film to date with films like Captain America: The Winter Solider and Iron Man. It very well could be, because Director Ryan Coogler gives viewers a well paced, developed story with fantastic characters.

The story takes place shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War. In that film, King T’Chaka (T’Challa’s father) was killed and T’Challa assumed the mantle of Black Panther. Here in his titled movie, T’Challa officially becomes Wakanda’s king. Meanwhile, Ulysses Klaue, last seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron, is still on the loose and working with a black-ops soldier named Erik Stevens, nicknamed Killmonger. T’Challa makes a plan to capture Klaue, but Killmonger ends up being a bigger threat, because he has personal ties to Wakanda…

In Civil War, Black Panther’s character arc was that of revenge for the death of his father. At the end however, T’Challa let go of that desire for revenge. In his title film, we get to see T’Challa take on the center focus. With the revenge story out of the way, what would his character arc be? To put it simply, to display his love for his country as its new king. Chadwick Boseman is a standout as the title character. The performance is very likable. Unlike many of the other Marvel protagonists, T’challa is rarely sarcastic, instead coming off as more of a subdued character with just the right amount of humor. (If there was too much humor, it would have ruined the flow of the story.) T’challa is an engaging character, and viewers get a sense throughout of how passionate he is. A good scene demonstrating that passion is late in the story, when T’Challa shouts at his ancestors that they were wrong for not being more involved with the world outside Wakanda.

It’s always a treat when the whole cast is excellent. This is the case with Black Panther. His sister, Shuri, is a fun character throughout the story. She being something of the Lucius Fox to T’Challa made for an interesting dynamic, and the banter between the two siblings was organic and genuinely funny. Nakia and Okoye get substantial roles, and both are compelling characters. Nakia’s sense of duty to helping those less fortunate, and Okoye’s unwavering loyalty to the throne made for interesting dynamics. There are a lot of strong performances in this movie.

Klaue’s brief appearance in Age of Ultron was notable, because the titular robot ripped off his arm. In this film, Klaue has a chance to be seen as a compelling character. Aside from some forced, unrealistic dialogue like “That was awesome!”, Klaue is a fun character, with highlights being his scenes at the Korean casino and his interrogation with Everett K. Ross.

Klaue however is not the primary antagonist, that would be N’Jadaka/Killmonger. The Marvel films have a history with mediocre villains, but that isn’t the case here. Sure, some of Killmonger’s dialogue is generic. (“The world took everything from me!”) But overall, Killmonger is an interesting character with ties to T’Challa’s family. The opening scene set in 1992 is nicely tied into what motivates Killmonger to want to kill T’Challa. Similar to Thor realizing that Odin was not the perfect being he idolized in Thor: Ragnarok, T’Challa is given the revelation that his father made a controversial decision, thus ruining T’Challa’s perfect view of his father. Killmonger’s street type of talking makes for an interesting contrast to the more noble-sounding Wakandians One of Killmonger’s best scenes is his ritual battle with T’Challa. Here, Killmonger demonstrates genuine passion when mocking T’Challa in front of the onlookers.

There are some other named characters that should be mentioned. M’Baku, known as Man-Ape in the comics, was an interesting character. W’Kabi was decent, but needed more development. Finally, there’s the CIA agent, Everett K. Ross. While some may see him as an Agent Coulson stand-in, he was nonetheless fun to have around. He bordered on being unrealistic for the sake of laughs at times, but never quite crossed that border into the Erik Selvig land of no return.

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The sequences are extremely well done in this film. Perhaps the best part was the casino sequence. First, the build-up was interesting because of the change of scenery. T’Challa travels to Korea, which is in stark contrast to the vibrant land of Wakanda. The scenes in the casino are full of tension because the viewer knows something is about to go down. Black Panther does not disappoint in the action department, featuring well choreographed sequences such as the outbreak at the casino and the climatic battle at the heart of Wakanda.

If the review hasn’t made it apparent by now, I’ll summarize what makes Black Panther good: the writing. The characters and their interactions are excellent, and the overall tone is consistent. It doesn’t traverse into ultra-dark territory, but it lacks the constant gags of other Marvel movies. That’s not to say the tone of the other Marvel movies is negative, because it has worked for the most part. But, what’s special about Black Panther is that it doesn’t rely on gags or funny scenes; it relies on the core characters and story. The only discrepancy in the writing I found was right before the journey to Korea. Shuri asks T’Challa if he thinks it’s a good idea to take his ex on a mission. That line of dialogue didn’t need to be there, because it doesn’t become a focus at all when at the casino. Moving past that, the soundtrack is notable. As I said earlier, the film transports the viewer to a different culture, and the music is part of that, providing some unique sounds we don’t typically hear in these movies.

Overall, Black Panther is a great movie. Chadwick Boseman delivers a fantastic performance as the title character. He is assisted by an excellent cast of compelling characters. Nakia, Okoye, and Shuri are particularly strong characters, each with their own unique personality. Killmonger is an engaging antagonist. The action scenes are great, and the pacing is adequate. The film is a special one among the Marvel movies, worthy of acquiring its 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, the highest rated Marvel Studios film as of the publishing of this review.

9/10

The Cloverfield Paradox Review

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“Some thing has found us” read the tagline for 2008’s Cloverfield. That film had arguably one of the most interesting marketing campaigns in the history of movies. The untitled trailer that played during Transformers, the mystery surrounding the story, and the Easter eggs on the web provided much anticipation for its opening day release. It did not disappoint. Cloverfield remains one of the most intense films of the modern era, delivering a grounded monster movie. In 2016, a film titled 10 Cloverfield Lane was released. Producer J.J. Abrams called the film a “blood relative” to the first Cloverfield.

After watching 10 Cloverfield Lane, this reviewer had come away with the ambiguous question, “Can marketing ruin a film?” 10 Cloverfield Lane was undoubtedly a well-acted, tense film. But by using the “Cloverfield” name, certain expectations were set. The film had nothing to do with the 2008 giant monster movie, thus producing massive disappointment. It felt like marketing was just using the Cloverfield name to sell tickets. Fast forward to February 4, 2018, a brand new film with the Cloverfield title launched on Netflix. The trailer premiered during Super Bowl 52. Unlike 10 Cloverfield Lane, where the trailer did not align itself with the 2008 film aside from the title, the trailer for the third film proudly stated that the story would show why the monster appeared out of nowhere. We learn why artificially, in this film titled The Cloverfield Paradox, directed by Julius Onah. Though not coming close to the quality of the 2008 film, Paradox is nonetheless an engaging film, with an interesting story and sometimes unsettling atmosphere.

The backdrop for the film is that Earth is running out of energy resources. In order to combat that, the world governments send a space station to utilize a particle accelerator. If successful, the accelerator will be able to draw unlimited amounts of energy, thus eliminating the shortage problem. After a failed attempt, the space station’s crew once again fires the accelerator. It seemingly works, but something odd makes the crew look outside the space station’s windows.

The Earth is gone.

At first, it appeared the film was going to be like Alien or Life. (Tell me you didn’t automatically think Chestburster when Volkov started to have a seizure.) It soon becomes apparent that the story is going in a different direction. There’s a sense of great tension and dread as the characters can’t see the Earth. Did they just destroy their planet? That was an incredibly interesting concept, and really makes the viewers think how they would react if they had been part of this crew. Things take a turn for the mind-bending as other dimensions and messing with reality comes into play. It never becomes too sciencey however, just interesting enough to make sure the viewer is paying attention.

The cast features some big names, such as Daniel Brühl (Zemo in Captain America: Civil War) and David Oyelowo (Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma.) Oyelowo is particularly engaging as the crew’s captain, Kiel. One particular standout scene was him confronting  Brühl’s character later in the story. “We trusted you! For two years!” Kiel shouts. Oyelowo did an excellent job showcasing his genuine frustration with a man whom seemingly is a traitor. Our main protagonist is Ava Hamilton, portrayed by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Ava is an engaging character, showcasing a love for her family back home. Her character is further deepened near the story’s climax, when we learn she was indirectly responsible for a personal tragedy. Her relationship with her husband Michael feels genuine. Michael’s scenes back on Earth are always a highlight. It’s a shame there wasn’t more screen time dedicated to the intense Earth scenes with him.

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Most of the characters are fine, but it does take a bit in the beginning to care about them. One character who did not particularly work even after the first half hour was Mundy. It seems he was just put there for forced snappy lines, such as “Well we found the worms” and “What are you talking about arm?!” His reaction to his limbless arm also came off as incredibly unrealistic and took away from the tense atmosphere. He was really the only severely weak character however. Tam and Mina Jenson, the latter whom emerges a particularly important character in the climax, were solid. Considering Mina’s explanation of the alternate dimension, her motivation in the climax is very interesting to watch.

This type of film can falter if certain aspects of the story isn’t explained. While the film attempts to explain the dimension aspects, there are some things that aren’t explored well enough. For example, what was the point of the worms? It was never given a reason why they were there, other than to look creepy. Why did the wall gain sentience and  trap Mundy? These things aren’t truly explained. The other unexplored aspect is the film’s relation to the first Cloverfield. Let’s look at this. I said in the first paragraph that Paradox artificially sets up the first film. This is because the viewer is only left to assume why the monster appears. It’s difficult to infer if the particle accelerator is what woke the monster. It’s not explicitly said, and because the way things go in the film, it feels like the original Cloverfield aspect was thrown into the story in the last second. The storylines between Ava on the space station and Michael dealing with something happening on Earth almost seems like two separate movies. The final shot of the film is epic, though it comes off as forced to make up for 10 Cloverfield Lane having nothing to do with the first film.

Overall, The Cloverfield Paradox is an intriguing case of a film. Paradox has a great story, and unlike 10 Cloverfield Lane, it actually connects to the original monster movie. However, Paradox barely seems about Cloverfield, until the last few seconds. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a more consistent movie for this reason. It seems like the writing wanted to make sure not to further alienate fans of the original movie with Paradox, so they forced an unexplained reason for it to be a prequel. What if Paradox eliminated all references to the original film? Well, it would have fallen into the same boat as Lane, bearing the Cloverfield name, but having nothing to do with it. So, unless it stuck with its original title, “God Particle,” many viewers would have probably felt cheated again. Though, some might still feel cheated because of the forced relation to the original film, instead of it being an organic part of the story. It is indeed quite a paradox when discussing this movie. At the end of the day, The Cloverfield Paradox isn’t a bad film, with some engaging characters, an interesting story, and a decent soundtrack. If its relation to the original film had been more organic and explained, this could have been a fantastic prequel.

7/10

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review

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Ever since Godzilla made a triumphant return to the big screen in 2014 thanks to Legendary Pictures, the King of the Monsters has enjoyed a resurgence. TOHO released Shin Godzilla in 2016, crushing the Japanese box office. In 2019, Godzilla will once again return to American theaters, and in 2020, he will do battle with King Kong. In short, it’s a great time to be a fan. The latest film, Planet of the Monsters, marks a special achievement for the series: it is the first animated Godzilla film. Yes, there have been animated shows starring the king – namely the Hanna-Barbera show from the ’70s and the Animated Series two decades later – but this picture is the first film. Released January 17th on Netflix worldwide, Planet of the Monsters – Part 1 gives viewers new characters, new continuity, and most importantly, a new Godzilla. It’s a well made film, though suffers in some areas.

It begins in space where we meet our main character, Haruo Sakaki. He believes the elderly are getting sent off so there are fewer people to feed. It’s an effective sequence demonstrating the type of character Haruo is: passionate. After he’s arrested, we’re shown the title screen and then the most tension-filled part of the movie, the flashback. Here Haruo tells the viewer what happened at the end of the 20th century on Earth. Monsters rose up (including some familiar faces such as Orga and Kamacurus), and eventually Godzilla came. Two aliens species, the Exif and the Bilusaludo, also arrived. This was the prefect setup; it’s a shame it was told in this format instead of showing in detail the world getting taken over. Part 1 isn’t that long, so there was enough time in the beginning to further detail the flashback sequence. But, what we do get is still effective. Godzilla blows up a rocket that is trying to escape, which also kills Haruo’s parents. Soon, we’re back in the modern day.

This storyline of a human wanting to get revenge on Godzilla is nothing new. We’ve seen that in Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, and Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla. For the many going into Planet of the Monsters having never seen those films, this plot point will seem original. But for longtime Godzilla fans, the thought, “Here we go again…” may cross. But, the plot point is handled well for the most part. This is thanks to the passionate nature of Haruo’s character. Everyone on the spaceship seems to be content with looking for a habitable planet to colonize. Not Haruo. He’s passionate about Earth and taking it back from Godzilla. One of the best scenes is him arguing with Leland over retreating. Leland is not wrong when he says retreat is realistically the only option. The flying monsters were unexpected, and lives were lost. One can’t help but admire the dedication from Haruo as he argues with Leland, whether or not Haruo is in the right for talking against retreat.

This being a shorter film (only 88 minutes), there is not a lot of time for character development. The heroine of the story is Yuko Tani. Her only real development is the line, “I want to get stronger!” Beyond that, she isn’t given much to do. She has the potential to be an interesting character (voiced by Cristina Vee of Shantae fame), so hopefully she does more in the sequel. The most interesting character aside from the protagonist is Metphies, an Exif. His smart and sometimes ominous dialogue is interesting, and by the end, the viewer does not know what to expect from this guy in Part 2.

It takes a bit before the characters return to Earth. Some of the scenes in the spaceship border on the boring side, but there’s nothing too dull. The exchange between Metphies and Mulu-Elu Galu-Gu was particularly interesting. There’s some exposition as Haruo explains his plan to get past Godzilla’s defenses and destroy the monster from within. It’s told in a sciencey, but understandable way. When the characters finally arrive on Earth, things start to get interesting. Before we talk about Godzilla himself, let us discuss the film’s original monster. Though not named in the film, the flying monsters mentioned earlier in the review are called Servum. Their first sequence was well executed; it went down like something out of a horror movie. But, after that, these vicious creatures aren’t given much to do. Honestly, it felt like they were just there to satisfy the “Planet of the Monsters” title. (Other than Godzilla and the Servum, no other monsters appear in the present day.)

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Godzilla. The name is one of the most iconic in popular culture. This version of the king has a unique new look, but you can still tell it’s him. Though standard animation would have been preferable (imagine if Production I.G did the animation), one can’t deny how magnificent Godzilla looks thanks to the CGI. From the closeups to the distance shots of him firing his atomic ray, Godzilla looks great. Sadly, he isn’t given too much to do. He remains typically in an almost static position firing atomic blasts. He does get one nice scene of using his tail. But, there are no buildings to crush and no monsters to fight. This leads to a rather dull climax. The final battle features a bunch of air vehicles shooting Godzilla, and the latter retaliates with an atomic blast. Rinse and repeat.

The soundtrack is solid. The soldiers’ theme evokes the classic TOHO military march.  Godzilla himself gets an epic theme, similar to what was heard in Shin Godzilla. There is an after-credits scene. Haruo wakes up, apparently rescued by the mysterious girl we saw briefly running around in the bushes earlier in the film. She makes a sound of surprise…and that’s it. We know nothing about this character, so the cliffhanger does little to build anticipation for Part 2. (How about showcasing a monster reveal in a film called Planet of the Monsters?)

Like with a lot of Godzilla movies, there is a running theme. In Ghidorah, it was about putting aside differences and utilizing teamwork against a larger threat. In Hedorah, it was about fighting pollution. In this movie, it’s about human pride. The pride to fight, to not give up when things look bleak, and to press on knowing you might not make it. The speech Haruo makes when he’s put in charge exemplifies this: “If we stand our ground, we don’t show fear and if we put our lives on the line, we’ve already won.” It’s still hard to root against Godzilla, but one can’t help but want to see the human characters succeed in their endeavor. It’s an interesting conundrum. Godzilla is Godzilla, it’s hard to root against him. But thanks to Haruo’s unwillingness to relent, the viewer can’t help but root for him as well.

Overall, Planet of the Monsters gives viewers an intriguing status quo, but a bit of an underwhelming film. It’s not bad by any stretch. The story is good. The idea of Godzilla driving away humanity and somehow living on Earth for 20,000 years is epically interesting. There are some exciting moments (make sure you have your surround sound speakers ready for Godzilla’s roar near the end), and an engaging main character. The problem is that it doesn’t feel much like an actual “planet of monsters.” The battle scenes against Godzilla are fun for a bit, but during the climax the thought, “I wish he were fighting another monster” will probably occur. The Servum sadly don’t contribute much. It’s understandable that Part 1 would focus as setup. It’s a good enough story to make the viewer anticipate the next part in Godzilla’s anime saga.

7/10