Category Archives: Reviews

Desexualizing the Panther: In Defense of Ann Takamaki

I’ve already written a somewhat thorough review about Persona 5, and I also have discussed it at length in a podcast. Now I’m back to talk more about Persona 5! Why, you might ask? Haven’t you covered everything you need to say about Persona 5? No, I absolutely have not. I want to talk more about the arc and treatment of Ann Takamaki within the game and in the merchandising surrounding it.

Hint: It’s not good. Spoilers below.

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JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Into Progressivism

Let me just start by saying that I didn’t expect any progressive ideas at all from an anime based on a manga from the 1980s with a protagonist who looks like this:

That’s what I get for judging by appearances! Sorry, Joseph.

While Battle Tendency, the second arc of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, definitely has intense problems with the normal sexist anime tropes1, some racial stereotypes2,  and some not-so-normal praising of Nazi Germany3, there is also a surprising amount to commend Battle Tendency for.

Given that it presents itself as an extremely hypermasculine bout of good versus evil, with unnaturally and somewhat appallingly muscular men fighting each other with super natural abilities in the very definition of a male power fantasy, the second arc of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure does not shy away from allowing the main protagonist, Joseph Joestar, to express intense emotion, cry onscreen, and eventually have a friendship that is not entirely about competition. He is demonstrated to have complex thought processes and feelings, which is somewhat rare for an anime of this type.

Throughout the Battle Tendency arc, the friendship between Caesar and JoJo evolves from just a standard anime rivalry into one where the two young men genuinely respect each other and begin to understand the thought process of the other, which even led to a teamwork save of JoJo’s life. They do have the trope of rivals to friends at first, which involves a bubble Hamaon fight at a water fountain in Italy, but eventually its shown that Caesar and JoJo begin to respect each other after a life threatening oil climb up a tower using only their Hamaon. It’s shown throughout Battle Tendency that Caesar extensively cares for his friends, and he is willing to risk his life to protect those he cares about.

This is what friendship is supposed to look like…minus the impossibility of the poses, I suppose.

It made the two characters feel more like real people, and it made the death of Caesar hit even harder. While I’m somewhat used to media using women’s deaths to create man pain, it’s a lot more rare to fuel a man’s revenge based on the death of another man, especially one that is not related to him in any way. Man pain drives a lot of the last part of Battle Tendency, and surprisingly, two things occur after the death of JoJo’s really good friend that is refreshing.

  1. Joseph is allowed to cry. He ugly cries as he mourns, and it’s wonderful. He is allowed to express his emotions, which is wonderful considering there is still a damaging stigma against men and boys crying or showing strong emotional responses. It’s refreshing to see a character as strong and steeped in masculinity as JoJo embrace his emotions.
  2. Lisa Lisa, who has continuously been extremely stoic, unemotional, and the extreme trope of “strong female character,”4, is also allowed to break down at the death of Caesar. She too falls to the ground and cries, and it doesn’t make her appear any weaker in the eyes of the viewer. When emotions such as grief and the action of crying is criticized as a bad thing, this entire scene blows that myth out of the water. 5

These things are great to me! For one, Battle Tendency has moments of fighting toxic masculinity, which I was not at all expecting from a show like this. Given that the first arc with Jonathan and Dio utilized Erina’s sexual assault as a source of man pain and rage, I was certainly not expecting such a turn around in the second arc of the series. While Joseph certainly has problems, he was a protagonist I didn’t really have many moral issues supporting.6

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is not by any means a perfect anime. It has a lot of flaws, and it does fall into some gross tropes. That said, I am quite impressed that a show of this type did break down some gender stereotypes, and it allowed an otherwise walking male power fantasy to express himself and show “weakness.”

Bizarre indeed.

Persona 5 Review

If you know me at all, you know how much I love the Persona series. I consider Persona 3 one of my favorite video games of all time. I have been so excited for Persona 5 since it was announced, and the style and tone of the game thrilled me. After several delays, the game finally released earlier this month. I barely slept, and I put 100 hours into the game as of completion. While I really did like the game, I had some problems with it as well. With the amount of controversy I’ve seen pop up surrounding the game, I figured that it was time for me to chime in with my personal opinions beyond just what you can hear in the podcast. Keep in mind as you read this review–you can enjoy media and still critique it for things that are done poorly. Spoilers below!

Trigger Warnings: Suicide, Rape, Homophobia, and Child Abuse.

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Yooka-Laylee Review

I have a vivid memory of being a young kid–somewhere around the age of 10–who would continuously go to the rental store, get Banjo-Kazooie for my Nintendo 64, play through it until Mad Monster Mansion, then have to return the game before I could beat it. Every time I’d get the game back, my save file would have been wiped, and I’d happily start from the beginning in a long standing loop of late 1990s platforming. I never actually finished the first game until I was an adult, but I loved every second of getting to Mad Monster Mansion all those years ago. I can tell you where to go and what to do almost exactly up to that. I also have very fond memories of playing the sequel, Banjo-Tooie, as well as the other Rare-developed 3D platformer of the era, Donkey Kong 64.

With clever writing that consistently makes me laugh out loud with its breaking of the fourth wall and jokes, as well as gameplay that felt fun and intuitive, Banjo-Kazooie and its sequel were games that I long considered peak 3D platforming of the era. They’re two of the few games I have actually gotten every achievement for on my Xbox 360, and I own the Rare Replay package for the Xbox One just to replay them as I please, despite the fact that I also own them on my 64.
When I heard that the original team behind these games created a Kickstarter to make a spiritual successor to the Banjo series, which they called Yooka-Laylee1, I immediately threw my cash their direction. 

This was me when I heard about the Kickstarter.

I waited, I got updates, and finally, I got my download code a little over a week ago. It all started well. It seemed that the game itself looked fantastic with all the excitingly bright colors, and I felt the writing about set to be on point when I ran up to Yooka and Laylee’s ship house and saw the name they had given it.

I admit–I laughed a lot.

 

I felt like I was in for a treat–a strong reemergence of a genre which I loved as a child that has long been on life support. As I continued to play, though, it began to feel more like Weekend at Bernie’s. There is an illusion of the genre being alive and what you wanted, but it’s just a dead shell of what it used to be. While some may claim that my ascension into adulthood has also made me a dead shell of what I used to be and that is why I didn’t enjoy Yooka-Laylee, keep in mind that I did very, very recently replay the Banjo games. I enjoyed replaying those, and I felt like they held up extremely well. They had a soul.

You know what doesn’t have a soul? This monstrosity of character design.

I can’t with this.

What even is this? What’s it meant to be, besides horrifying? I felt like the characters in Banjo were all fun and lively, but here we have this horrible mix between Spongebob and the old Donkey Kong animated tv show. A lot of the characters are similar to this. Dr. Puzz is a notable character that you also interact with often, and she is legitimately terrifying as well. While the main two characters look great, and characters such as the cameo of Shovel Knight are also wonderful, overall design feels like a giant miss. I didn’t feel an attachment to these guys like I did Bottles and Mumbo Jumbo. There just feels like a lot less heart in this game. Instead, it unfortunately feels like a quick cash grab for those seeking nostalgia, which I can fully admit worked on me.

The game itself also just doesn’t work, though. Much like the older games, you get your moves from a NPC, but in this case, the explanation for the moves weren’t exactly clear. I tried to solve a puzzle for 30 minutes before I got frustrated, left the level, and was told by a caged pagie that you can actually aim your shots with a click of a stick. Who knew, especially after I felt I had pressed every damn button under the sun thinking that they would have that ability, much like Banjo-Kazooie did. The move definitely exists, but it would’ve been nice to have some kind of indicator of it.

I sat here for 30 minutes before I just raged quit the level.

There is another move that spins the two characters into a ball, and you use that to move up slippery slopes or steep inclines. When you’re just going up, it works fine. When you have to jump to clear obstacles, which is a whole damn lot, it does NOT work. At all. It is finicky, annoying, and not a good gameplay mechanic that you just slide all the way down whatever you land on. It’s frustrating to go into a boss fight and get hit by a million logs trying to even reach the guy because your jump didn’t work for whatever reason. You also can’t adjust the speed of the roll, so I hope you enjoy barreling to your death. Gameplay issues like that just aren’t acceptable for a 3D platformer. It has to feel smooth with tight controls, and it has none of these  things going for it.

There is also a retro arcade within each level, and for the one game that I played, it was a slog. It wasn’t fun, the controls were horrible, and I understood what they were going for in terms of aesthetics, but it just did not really stick the landing. Given that there is one of these in each level, I was not exactly champing at the bit to get to more of them.

Honestly, I did not even continue the game after trying to force myself to get through the first level. I learned that there is another strange mechanic of “expanding” a level, which you use earned pagies to extend the current level to have more explorable areas. While this sounds like a neat idea, when I did not connect at all with the world in the first place, it was hardly encouraging that I had to expand it even further. Even with the expansion, it felt extremely devoid of any love or interest. It was just there. My intense level of disappointment at this point was apparent, and I decided that I shouldn’t torture myself to play and finish a game just because I liked the games that came before it. I’m not sold that the genre itself is dead, but I am convinced that the old Rare is in fact dead. They are just toted around with sunglasses on to try and convince people that they’re still alive and ready to have a good time.

2016 Games of the Year

This year, I actually didn’t play as many games as I would have expected to. I also played games that I wouldn’t recommend playing.1 However, when it comes down to it, seven games rose to the top as my favorites this year. Seven, you ask?! Why such a strange number? Why not 10? Why not 5? The answer? This is my list, and I came up with seven. 

Some spoilers below for games.
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Review: The Last Guardian

For context, The Last Guardian‘s development team, Team ICO 1, and its designer, Fumito Ueda, previously created games that are largely considered artistic masterpieces of gaming. For those of you who haven’t played ICO or Shadow of the Colossus, I’m just gonna leave this here. I played both of these when they came out, and I will wholeheartedly say that I cannot recommend them enough. What the studio was able to do with minimal dialogue, a creative art style, and relatively small casts is mind blowing.

When they first announced that they were making a new game for the PS3, I was ecstatic. Then the game was hampered by delay after delay, a console generation change, and the departure of most of Ueda’s team when he left (although he was contracted to finish directing the game.) Finally, the game was set to release in late 2016. We were given a date. Then it got delayed again…but as of December 6, 2016, The Last Guardian finally saw its release. I bought a copy, thinking that the reviews for it were decent, and as much as I loved the other two games, it was worth a shot.

The Last Guardian is a game nine years in the making, and boy, does it show. Spoilers behind the cut.

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Ready Player One and Why a Video Game Historian and Avid Player Dislikes It

When I first heard about Ready Player One, it seemed like a book that would be right up my alley. As someone who writes about video game history in the 1960s-1985, an avid gamer, and an aficionado and fan of 1980s pop culture, this book seemed tailor made for me.

Then I read it.

Spoilers below for Ready Player One

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