Living the Good Life, Episode 27 (March 31, 2017): Good times, as usual!

Yet another good week! Thanks partially to the warmer weather, I’m feeling even better than I was last week, but there’s still been enough good times to keep me happy anyways 😀 Here’s the lowdown:


WATCHAN:

I caught the new Jake Gyllenhaal movie, Life, the other day. Urgh…the production values were high and the acting was good, but IMO all in all, it was still mediocre. No spoilers, but the movie more or less covered the same story beats we all already saw in Alien, except the monster is dumber looking and far less distinctive. It’s not a waste of money, but it’s pretty forgettable. There’s also kind of a “tweest” ending, and again, no spoilers, but I didn’t like that at all, I walked out of the theater feeling annoyed and cheated, even though I could predict it from the last minutes of the movie. Ah, well…

PLAYAN:

Still playan Toukiden 2, still havan fun. I wrote up the longer essay on its plot I promised last week, which you’ll see later.

TIMAN:

Ugh, can’t get a hold of Gorge. Well, I’m still working on the plan I originally told him about…trying to translate the Italian subs of Dragonar with the help of Google Translate and some books. I’d liked to have him look it over, but he seems to be MIA again. Ah, well…

READAN:

“Little Girls” by Ronald Malfi. Easily one of the best, most frightening ghost stories I’ve ever read! It’s what I’d call a slow burn. It starts off with a suspicious old house where our female lead notices a few things that seem off, then segues into the middle where she starts experiencing strange things that seem to have normal explanations but just might be supernatural. After that, it barrels into a red-hot ending where a series of revelations combined with a very scary confrontation make the reader wonder if there really was a ghost or if everything was all in the protagonist’s head. But the last page, and that ending…some readers were confused by it, but I thought it was great–absolutely sinister, terrifying, but also left up to the imagination, so if you were paying close attention you could figure out where it was going. This book was so good I don’t wanna say anything more for fear of spoiling other readers, so I’ll just say it has my highest recommendation and leave it at that. Mr. Malfi has definitely secured his status as one of my favorite horror authors!

I also read Mark Lukens’ “Darkwind: Ancient Enemy Book 2.” It’s a sequel to “The Ancient Enemy,” which I reviewed previously. I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but that’s not a big worry, because honestly, pretty much everything I wrote about the first one applies to this one as well. The writing is competent, the gore and scares sufficiently frightening, and the characters passable but not memorable. You don’t need to read the previous book to know what’s going on in this one, but that’s because one of the characters neatly summarizes the previous book. On the bad side, there’s a romance that’s kind of shoehorned in, though I could also predict it would show up. There’s also a few passages which connect quantum science to the Native American legends about the Anasazi undergirding this book, if you’re into that kinda thing. But anyways, all in all, while this may not be the most groundbreaking horror novel ever written, I was entertained and pleased with the value I got for my money, so I’ll recommend it with 4 stars. Give it 3 if you’re looking for something more original.

WRITAN:

The aforementioned Toukiden 2 essay 😀

 

Feel-Good Gaming (And Anime, I Suppose)

So, last week I talked a little bit about the new open-world monster-hunting game, Toukiden 2. I mentioned its plot in passing, saying

“Aside from that, in terms of plot and aesthetics, it’s a solid Teen rating. The game isn’t terribly violent–one character dies, but there’s no blood, and another character gets shot with some blood, but other than that there’s no gore. The monsters are all otherworldly demons (you don’t fight people) who “bleed” this black mist, so there’s nothing scary about it. I might write a little more about its plot and where it falls in terms of Japanese tropes later on, maybe next week.”

Well, it’s next week, so as promised, here are some more thoughts about its story, and how it relates to a larger set of tropes and ideologies I’ve noticed in other games, anime, and Japanese media generally. I’ll try to avoid spoilers, though there will be a few out of necessity, so just be careful of that while reading.

 

The story of Toukiden 2 really hammers home the importance of unity and connections between people–the original Toukiden did the same. The gameplay reinforces this idea as well; you get benefits like stronger attacks by building relationships with your partners (other monster slayers) by fighting in missions alongside them. There’s even something called the “unity gauge,” which you can build up by working well as a team in battle with your friends, and when it’s full you can launch a very powerful attack. Your character is sort of unstuck in time, and your allies constantly state that you can keep yourself anchored to the setting of the game if you build up connections with them. And every time you fight a plot-important monster, like a demon that killed someone important to one of your allies, that ally will say something like, “I should have realized I could never beat this thing alone, but when I’m working with my friends, we can triumph over any foe!”

 

I suppose that shouldn’t be all that surprising. That, after all, is the “power of friendship,” which shows up in a whole lot of anime and videogames. Yu-Gi-Oh, the Monster Hunter manga, and so on, and so forth, all typically revolve around the protagonist managing to defeat evil because he’s made good friends, or because his allies lend him strength, and so on, and so forth. Even Hokuto no Ken has a bit of this–Kenshiro’s ultimate technique, the Musou Tensei, is said to be stronger than his enemy Raoh because he drew on the power of more friends than Raoh did.

This being the case, I would argue Toukiden falls neatly (in terms of plot, at least) into the lighter end of the shounen genre. By “Shounen,” I refer to action-packed manga and anime aimed at young folks, typically boys, and typically pre-adolescents to mid-teenagers. Yu Gi Oh was directed towards younger boys, Hokuto no Ken was directed towards older ones (and much more violent), but they’re broadly in the same genre (though the subgenre is different: Yu Gi Oh is a shonen based around a game [a card game, others are based around monster battling or so on], HnK is a martial-arts/fighting shonen). The game has a T rating, so I think it’s safe to assume it was made for teens and up in mind, though younger kids wouldn’t be entirely driven away either, since there’s not *too* much violence. And this isn’t to say it’s boys-only either; Toukiden has plenty of good female characters, and shonen mangas in general have often had strong female followings (the aforementioned Hokuto no Ken has quite a few female fans, one of whom is even doing a parody manga of it, Strawberry-Flavored Hnk, which is pretty funny). What I am saying is that the game, while action packed, isn’t as violent or grim as something like, say, Berserk.

In terms of gameplay, that’s obvious—as I said in my previous post, you only fight monsters, not humans, and while you can cut off monster parts, there’s no blood, just this miasma stuff, so it’s not very graphic. But this assessment also applies to the plot—in my opinion, the storyline and character interactions are more or less “gentle,” so to speak.

Without giving too much away, it’s pretty much “save the world from marauding monsters,” with a bit of time travel thrown in (you can summon the spirits of heroes from Japanese history to help you, like Oda Nobunaga, and a couple from Western myths like Siegfried and Beowulf). The final goal is to kill the biggest, baddest, and most time-travely leader of the evil demons, there’s not much else—no ruminations on religion or politics, and no examples of extreme human cruelty to other humans, like you’d find in Berserk. One guy does betray you (though it’s obvious he’s a villain), and there’s also a sub-plot involving prejudice and discrimination between two groups of fighters in the village, but your character works it out eventually, with everyone getting united against the demons, with the moral that prejudice is bad and people should put aside their differences when facing a bigger threat.

A good moral, no doubt, but not the most original one in the world—plenty of anime, shonen or not, have made that point, ranging from mecha shonen fare like SPT Layzner (one character learns to set aside his prejudices to help fight an alien invasion) to stuff like Legend of the Galactic Heroes (interest groups bickering with each other can end democracy).

And even while you’re trying to save the world and make peace between the village factions, there’s always time for some light-hearted tomfoolery—one tough, badass-type character is actually afraid of cute little animals, another female party member is jealous about women with bigger chests than hers, and there are always a few jokes about these amusing little quirks, along with those of your other party members. Even those, I suppose, are familiar Japanese tropes—the “tough guy with a soft spot/scared of cute little animals,” the “flat-chested girl jealous of big boobs,” and so on show up reliably in other media; the former reminds me of that big judo guy with a soft spot for cats in Kenichi: The Strongest Disciple, and just about every anime has an “underdeveloped” girl who’s pissed about it. But even if these tropes weren’t familiar, they’d still be more amusing than anything else, giving the player a few relaxed laughs rather than eliciting a great deal of pathos or putting them on edge. Thus, why I call this kind of thing gentle—the tropey humor and character interaction isn’t cutting edge satire, but it won’t make you cry or get angry either, as might be the case with more intense fare (the stuff you’d find in Berserk, Final Fantasy Tactics, or Legend of the Galactic Heroes). Just chuckle, relax, and feel a little better if you’ve been having a tough day.

This review (http://www.hardcoregamer.com/2017/03/27/review-toukiden-2/251696/) has a point when it says the plot is pretty generic, and maybe they could have done more with it. But games in the monster-hunting genre don’t often have particularly involved plots; Monster Hunter (the progenitor of the genre) barely had one at all. It might have been nice to see something more thought-provoking, but “good enough” is fine too. And if the story of Toukiden 2 doesn’t aim to do much more than make the player relax and feel good, I’d say it hits that mark.

EATAN:

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So, yep, more good times. Like last week, I’m gonna see the new Ghost in the Shell movie later today, I’ll tell you how it was next week~

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