Yatterman Night is a curious series, a reimagining or sequel of an archetypal children’s television program that tries to bring it “up to date” with political themes and an often more “mature” tone. At first sight, read literally, it is effectively a philosophical or thematic “next step” for an audience who perhaps watched Yatterman as children and are now teenagers looking for something more morally in-depth. Yatterman, as Night continually restates, is about two heroes and a mechanical dog fighting a group of thieves who are dumb, violent, avaricious and lewd. Good wins, evil is defeated, and that is that. Yatterman‘s evil archetypes are so iconic in their lack of threat they are the model for countless subsequent sympathetic or comic villains – Pokemon‘s Team Rocket, Nadia‘s Grandis Gang, Wario and Waluigi from the Mario games – any set of villains involving a stylish lady, a fat idiot and a thin scheming man, of which there are many.
It has taken quite some time for me to properly work out why I dislike Gundam Build Fighters Try in comparison to the original first series; for much of the series’ run time I was unsure if the weaknesses I was identifying within it were based on misremembering the merits of the original. After all, both series embodied similar tropes – that of a naturally talented character helping out technically proficient but less skilful teammates in pursuit of the grand prize of a wargaming tournament. Both protagonists fielded powerful units with over-the-top weapons to face dramatic opponents, so complaining about the way in which fights were resolved by means of a finishing-move judiciously deployed seemed inaccurate. Eventually though I realised the problems with Try were as much with its ethos – its whole attitude behind the game-selling message front and centre – and its characterisation as anything else.
Today, at Iron Forest Games in Benfleet, I played a game using the playtest rules of Beyond the Gates of Antares by Warlord games, using two starter forces (Algoryn and C3) against each other.
Antares is based on the Bolt Action rules, with a number of changes to reflect its science-fiction theme.
Episode 43 of Eureka Seven significantly advances the main, alien-contact plot in its scenes of Renton and Eureka on an unusual beach. They have travelled to the Promised Land, as expected, and face new challenges even with Norb’s clues about its identity. The viewer learns, in time, about Earth’s role in this setting (and the difference in perspective from which the characters view it) – yet what is more interesting by far, beyond the actual main plot, is the subtle building up to a subplot for Dominic and Anemone and how the revelations this offers about Dewey and Holland reflect on what Renton and Eureka are seeing. It is one of the points in Eureka Seven, much like the Ray and Charles subplot, where it deftly redefines and arguably surpasses its roots in Gundam. Eureka Seven is indebted to the Gundam franchise, yet – much like the similarly referential and reverential Rahxephon has its uneasy relationship with Evangelion – it is at its most fascinating when it diverges from it.
I am not quite sure where this story came from. My other short stories have been clear responses to things that have had some impact on me as a writer – my fantasy writing evoking Shonagon and Pliny, my robot-stories drawing on Infinity and Aim for the Top and more.
This aesthetically, I suppose, most evokes Michiko and Hatchin and Black Lagoon, set as it is in some unreal, loosely-defined setting somewhere between South America and Asia. I know I wanted to try and, in descriptive terms, evoke the fantastic opening to Under the Volcano by Lowry even if there is nothing of Lowry’s novel specifically in it save a description of a possibly South American tourist town.
I do know it was easy to write. Once I began describing Cana Luz filling out this image of a fictional settlement between a town and a city, somewhere in the midst of postwar reconstruction, it was very easy to visualise. The decadent, narcissistic Governor was a similarly easy character to visualise. At one point she – and her conversation-partner – were going to have defined names. They didn’t make it into the final writing.
Note: This gameplay video was recorded by me, using the PS4’s Share function.
Note: This review is written based on a review copy sent by Matt Roche at 2k Games, reproduced from D PAD Magazine by arrangement with the magazine.
Evolve is an almost purely multiplayer asymmetric first-person shooter featuring big-game hunters versus kaiju-esque creatures, and a game which shows significant potential let down by awkward design features which add little to the play experience. As it stands, Evolve is quite different to the usual multiplayer-centric shooter and so its reliance on the usual mechanical choices of pseudo-RPG progression feel outdated and inappropriate to the theme and structure. Left 4 Dead, the game which in many ways Evolve owes a debt to, dispensed with this trope and had a fixed cast of characters which did not level up, or unlock abilities – as a result, all players were put on a level playing-field, and it was easy to enter a game, know exactly what was happening and simply play.
Episode 23 of Rahxephon is a very, in many ways, typical episode of mecha anime and yet as a result, for this point in the series, a very atypical episode of Rahxephon. As a result, it is disarming, and poignant, and a very strange counterpoint to the crushing anticlimax of the previous two-part story about Makoto’s failure to implement his plan. It closes off a character’s arc in truly heroic style, yet constantly undermines the aesthetic expectations of the audience to make it less simplistically hot-blooded. Furthermore, it hints at tragic ironies but never makes them clear, not spelling out how one character’s doubt and inaction could have prevented another’s tragedy and leaving the doubt in the viewer’s mind of whether or not what happened could have – or should have – been prevented.
This latest short story continues in the science-fiction theme of Episode 48, but rather than being a look at the big-hero antics of super-robots takes a look at the “real robot” – the military-SF subgenre of mecha anime where the technology is less spectacular and more everyday, where the machines are not standins for superheroes and all that associates with them but tools of war.
At the same time it is heavily, heavily inspired by the wargame Infinity, currently in its third edition – a cyberpunk, real-robot wargame about high-technology superpower conflicts. A key part of Infinity is its mechanics for electronic warfare – something immensely useful in pure game-mechanics terms as a way of gaining action advantage and mitigating threat, but something which if considered from a setting perspective is possibly more terrifying a prospect than the firepower carried by most soldiers. This is not, specifically, Infinity fiction. I do not know enough about the setting to write something I would be prepared to claim as such. Instead it is my response to Infinity, and to its inspirations Ghost in the Shell, and Patlabor, and Appleseed and more.
After a number of fantasy short stories laying out the groundwork of an imagined nation’s culture, I have turned back to writing science-fiction for a change. Over Christmas, I watched Aim for the Top 2 – Diebuster, and found its handling of the super-robot genre to be unexpectedly moving and emotional – it was a huge spectacle and yet all that mattered was a few lives, a few characters who were shown to be heroes.
It was a quite impressive feat of storytelling to make a colourful visual spectacle of absurd scale feel completely immaterial compared to the lives of a few individuals and it quite inspired me to try and emulate that sense that behind the visual spectacle of the most exaggerated, over-the-top of genres, there have to be people. Thus I wrote this, unashamedly indebted to Gunbuster and Diebuster and Gurren Lagann and more. Its inspirations are obvious, but I wanted to try and see if I could bring across in my own writing what I love about them.
Some of the most entertaining chapters of The Pillow Book are those where Shonagon’s voice and opinions come most strongly through; it is these which inspired my newest writing. Our narrator tries to, with due respect, talk about the sorts of parties a family angling for social status might throw – but is unable to keep their own cynicism about this kind of showing-off out of it.
On the way, there are descriptions of fashion, and manners, and what someone either too cynical or too privileged to play at the usual social games feels are the good things in life. I am getting far more invested in this narrator now – they sit somewhere between Shonagon and Pliny in being perhaps over-cynical about the society they inhabit.