Nagato 7: Wish

Mikuru Nagato Yuki-Chan WishThe junkyard presents two articles about the Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan episode Wish.

The view from 5930 miles away:

The references to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya are coming thick and fast now, with the Not-SOS Brigade visiting a very familiar restaurant and having some very familiar drinks, before heading off to have fun together on a trip. Kyon is of course the last person to arrive, and has to pay a penalty. These are moments that really reward the fans, and it’s impossible not to think of the Endless Eight when Haruhi says this:

“Take summer homework for example. You end up dreading it over the whole of your summer vacation which totally ruins your fun. However, take care of it first and the problem’s solved.”

Amazingly she has written detailed reports on the trip for everyone, and has done that before they leave. Let’s just stop and think about that for a moment, because it really is an incredible thing to do. The work involvement for writing all those different reports must be huge. Of course, Haruhi is amazing and it’s far less effort for her than it would be for most people; it really stresses how remarkable she is, in any parallel universe and even without her godlike powers. But more importantly, she could have just written hers and bossed everyone else into writing theirs. They are going on a nice trip after all, so it wouldn’t have been especially unreasonable, but although it is hugely underplayed she wanted to do this for them all. This makes the point about what a nice person she is underneath all the noise and confidence, but more importantly it reinforces something that was mentioned last week: Haruhi has never been happier. She has found her niche in the world, the only place she really fits. She wanted to do something nice for her friends. Perhaps that’s the most important lesson this series has for us: everyone, no matter how individual, has a place where they belong. It’s just a matter of finding it.

The rest of the episode is just the sort of school club excursion stuff you will find in many a slice-of-life anime, nothing particularly original, but an excuse to enjoy seeing much-loved characters in a different setting. They are having fun, so we have fun watching them. It’s as simple as that. The group dynamics are still developing, and this series is setting itself apart from its parent series in a few ways. Koizumi and Mikuru are both lacking their original powers, no longer an ESPer and a time traveller, so they are superficially purposeless characters. They are the two that the writer will most struggle to find anything useful to do with, from the original main five. It’s pretty obvious by now that Koizumi has simply become a comedy character and nothing more, and when he photographs Haruhi and Asakura struggling with each other at the shrine he seems to have taken over the role Kyon had when he was doing the camerawork for the Sigh arc: the pervert of the group. Then again, Koizumi does have competition for that role: Kyon has already snuggled into two sets of boobs. With the love triangle between Kyon, Yuki and Haruhi, the obvious thing to do with Mikuru would be to make her another rival for Kyon’s affections, and it is to the credit of the writer that Mikuru doesn’t fall into that obvious role this week. It could have so easily happened with Kyon sat beside her for the journey, but instead the focus is on Yuki’s feelings. Later in the episode, Mikuru is the perceptive one, offering Yuki a matchmaking amulet. She has figured out what is going on, and she is on Team Yuki. It’s a lovely moment, and shows that Mikuru is far more than just another pointless moeblob.

Of course it goes without saying that Haruhi is enormously fun to watch throughout the episode, but I particularly enjoyed the closing few minutes, with her sticking her head out of the taxi window like a dog, and then asking “aren’t we there yet?” like a complaining child on a long journey. That’s our Haruhi. They are on their way to the hot springs, so anyone who has watched a few high school anime series will know what’s coming next. Yes, it’s the communal bathing episode. Brace yourselves…   RP

The view from 6,868 miles away:

Oh, damn it!  After last episode I was hoping more would happen here.  Wish opens with Haruhi putting together a trip for the literary club but to take the burden off of everyone, she’s pre-written each of their journals so they can stay focused on actually having fun.  So, here I am actually thinking they are going to get to their destination in this episode but instead we get the trip prior to their destination.  This entails seeing the sights and eating copious amounts of food.

I find I relate to a number of the characters in this story.  Yuki has exactly my attitude when at street fairs: try all the food!  I love it.  Probably either killing me slowly or building a really strong immune system, but I love that stuff.  There’s so much to try!  Asakura buys antibacterial wipes (timely!) and I can relate to that because even prior to our scary outbreak of Corona, I tend to be a bit of a germaphobe.  Haruhi has “so much energy” and I am often picked on for that myself.  And then there’s the side of my personality that goes back to my childhood… every so often you may notice that I comment on an old cartoon called The Herculoids.  One of my oldest friends says that for some reason, he can’t see Gleep or Gloop and not think of me.  I’m fairly sure he’s mocking me, but I totally love those characters.  So it seems when people feel silly in this series, they view themselves as creatures very much the same as Gleep and Gloop.  And I both love it, and roar with laughter every time.  Like, deeply laughing each time!

The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan Wish

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really think of myself as an amorphous blob capable of withstanding the most extreme onslaught only to go bouncing away happily – talk about double-sided compliments huh? – but the imagery is magnificent and I can’t help but enjoy so much about these characters.  “These” applies both to Gleep and Gloop, but specifically in context, to the characters in this series.  The dialogue is marvelous, especially between Asakura and Haruhi but you’ve got to keep up.  As they are rattling off lines at 90 miles per second, squared, Haruhi makes such comments as “just sounds like foreshadowing” and “isn’t that just called stalking?”

Then we get some of the bleed-through from the parent universe when Kyon is late to the station and has to treat everyone to coffee and drinks.  This was always the case in the original but that was always overshadowed by the godhood of Haruhi.  As a regular girl, albeit an overly sprightly one, it’s easier to just focus on the humor of that situation.  Speaking of Kyon, he apparently found “power points” interesting, which I would have agreed with wholeheartedly.  His comment, “how many hits in the vital points until you die??” is met with a stare from both Haruhi and Koizumi and then they move on as if he hadn’t spoken.  (Been there too many times to tell you about.  Usually my wife reacts like that for most things I say!)

But the moment that won me over for these guys was the moment Ms. Asahina suggested that Yuki buy an amulet while no one was looking, then offered to close her eyes so even she wouldn’t see.  There was something so wonderfully kind and loving in her face and Yuki’s awareness of it leads her to a less self-serving wish in the end.  She realizes that she has a very special relationship with her friends and makes a wish that they remain together for a long time.  If only she knew about the Endless 8… she might change her wish!  (“Godspeed!”)

For the most part, I was left wanting with this story, because I wanted more than Haruhi inhaling smoke for power, and the group stopping for every bit of food that served no other purpose than to make me desperately crave ice cream, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the episode for the lighthearted romp it was.  I did.  I just wanted them to get to their destination.  I think I might be more of a destination guy, not the journey.  (Though that sounds like I’m seeking death; I am not!)  The only thing I will say that really stood out to me was a single scene in the animation.  It’s brilliant because we have to remember this is a bit of a love story between Yuki and Kyon but it also features young kids.  So how do you handle that if you want them to kiss, even in a dream sequence?  Just as they lean in, go to their shadows, then just before their shadow-mouths touch, have a petal from a plant (undoubtedly cherry blossom) land right where their mouths would connect.   Genius artistic rendering!

The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan Wish

Well, I’ll tell you this for free: being a destination sort of fellow, I guess I’ll keep going because more than anything I want to see where the group will end up.  I can see already there’s no sci-fi coming my way, but I can still hope for some fun.  And maybe these two will actually get together.  I’ll find out, but at this rate, it might be a bit before I do…   ML

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Babylon 5: Racing Mars

b5Even though Atonement gave us the idea that Sheridan was planning to strike back at Clark, it’s not until Racing Mars that we see some of that gaining some traction.  Susan is busy striking up deals with the black market and we are going to be treated to a Marcus/Stephen episode.  This latter fact surprised me as much as anyone mostly because I have found Stephen the least appealing character in the show since Talia.  Unlike Roger, I don’t actively dislike Stephen but he has the least depth and he has made some awful choices in the past but paired with Marcus, they two are a fun double act.

I know it was more of a B plot this week, but the whole Sheridan side story I found very engrossing.  Susan relieving him of command gave him a chance to address the festering problem of Garibaldi; a problem that was exacerbated during the ISN interview.  I found the dialogue brilliant and I applaud it because I believe in the direct approach when confronting a problem.  I don’t agree with Garibaldi because I don’t see Sheridan being particularly out of control.  It’s pretty evident that he is not enjoying the hero worship he’s subjected to, but Garibaldi just can’t take it.  John allows the situation but warns Garibaldi how that will be treated in the future.  (Interestingly Garibaldi says he does not want to hurt Sheridan even though he landed a palpable punch, but that seems to be in the heat of the moment.)  Of less interest to me is the Minbari series of rituals (50!?) but it does at least give me a hearty laugh when Lennier uncomfortably looks at Sheridan and says simply “woohoo?”  (A cheap laugh, but I won’t deny I enjoyed it!)

The bulk of the episode is setting up what’s to come with Earth and Mars.  We start with a bit of fun with Marcus’s I-spy game (Boxes, more boxes, even more boxes) but it’s only made funny by the contrast of the two characters.  There’s a hint of one of my favorite comedies between these two; a sense of Neil Page and Del Griffith (Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.)  The contrast of the two characters is what makes it work; Frankin is very much the straight “Neil Page” character while Marcus is the more fun “Del Griffith”.  It’s enhanced when their cover stories put them as husband and wife.  (Captain Jack’s reactions to this are very funny too and Marcus plays it for all its worth!)

Captain Jack is an interesting character who enjoys eating and being warm but my wife pointed out his accent and I couldn’t get past it after that.  It seemed intentionally over-the-top.  The scene where he shows Stephen the picture and address of his daughter seemed like filler until we understood, and in this instant, we are giving more information about the thing on Londo’s neck in the future (as well as the Regent’s neck currently).  It controls what people say and do.  That adds a very frightening quality to what they are.  Anyway, Jack ends up being a sympathetic character and gives us a pretty impressive visual effect at the same time.  But the scene with the creature also makes me question Stephen again.  When the thing is shot off Jack’s neck, Franklin says “I’ve never seen anything like it!”  Sure, this could be a gut reaction based on the appearance of the creature (being more spider-like than his previously identified parasite) but he has encountered something like this before.  So has Marcus.  Remember the Vindrizi of Exogenesis?  It’s probably why Marcus claims not to like parasites, but it’s also indicative that Franklin speaks without thinking.   Maybe… because it’s impossible to deny that it could be in reference to the look of the thing, which is fair considering he says it before analyzing it.

We end knowing Franklin and Marcus have met a big Prisoner fan, who calls herself #1.  How she will help, we just have to wait and find out. For now, she’s stealing Marcus’s spouse for dinner.  Hopefully together they can come up with a reason why people on Mars think they are in 1880’s Texas.  I sure wanted to know…  ML

The view from across the pond:

“In the past those two paths have crossed but perhaps now they don’t. It is the way of things.”

You can always count on Delenn to sum things up perfectly. Not all friendships last forever, but the friendship between Sheridan and Garibaldi has collapsed in spectacular fashion. This week they have a blistering argument, brilliantly acted by both of them, and it even becomes a physical conflict. Garibaldi gives his reason for his resignation and betrayal:

“Did you ever hear of a little thing called the cult of personality?”

He is actually voicing something there which I mentioned a few weeks ago, especially when he accuses Sheridan of being a messianic figure. However, this doesn’t exactly seem to have gone to Sheridan’s head. Instead he has only used his status as the means to rally support to end the war. If he really did believe in his own personality cult he would probably have put together a fleet to attack Earth by now, something he could presumably have done with ease in the wake of the war. So it does all explain Garibaldi’s resignation to some extent, but probably not his betrayal. That was out of character and there’s clearly something more going on here, connected with his captivity during the war. The storyline is dragging on a bit and it would be nice if JMS wrapped it up soon. It’s time for some real answers.

Sheridan finds a way to unwind from all his stress, “discovering one another’s centres of pleasure” with Delenn. Unfortunately she doesn’t just want to do that on her own with him. She wants to go dogging. Yes, it’s the Minbari ritual of the week. JMS isn’t exactly the master of his craft when it comes to humour, but the awkward moment with Lennier and Sheridan in a lift together afterwards raised a smile.

“Woo hoo?”

However, it has to be said that JMS is increasingly using alien cultures as a way to point and laugh at something different.

In the meantime, Marcus and Franklin are on their mission to Mars, which initially turned out to be much more of a yawn-fest than I was expecting, especially as Marcus is such a fun character. It wasn’t long before they had some company, and it appears that Captain Jack has let himself go since his days with Torchwood. He teased Marcus and Franklin with his “instaheats” food, which were appetising packets of dry ice. There’s a lot of that going around at the moment. Delenn had a cup of it last week. Then we were momentarily in Prisoner territory, with a mysterious Number One and an inimical Number Two (sadly not Leo McKern).

“You get the blood sample, and if they do anything you don’t like, shoot to kill.”

Marcus had better not sing or play I Spy then. I’m not going to lie here; at this point I was typing silly jokes into my notes because I was thoroughly bored with this episode, which represents another step in the post-war anticlimax, but at the 33 minute mark a tentacled creature appeared on Captain Jack’s shoulder and suddenly the episode had my attention. The way it put a different perspective on what we had seen was very clever, with Jack finding ways to hint something was wrong, and to get his daughter’s contact details in somebody else’s hands. What followed was nightmarish, especially the final moments with the tentacle stretching over his shoulder. Classic horror movie stuff.

“They grow back. They always grow back.”

It makes me wonder: could one of those things be controlling Garibaldi? It would make this episode a clever juxtaposition of A and B plots. The episode ended with Garibaldi’s betrayal of Sheridan deepening, as he joined a group of conspirators. Maybe that will shift things up a gear, because we’ve seen how entertaining Babylon 5 can get. A transitory moment of horror as the only source of entertainment just isn’t enough.   RP

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Dragon Age II

DA2I mentioned I had been playing a game for a few weeks before stumbling on Tacoma.  That game was a classic from 2011 called Dragon Age 2.  Yes, it’s odd that I would jump back to the sequel without replaying the first, but I bought the first one on Disc and don’t have that on an account anymore, so I figured I’d see if the sequel brought back any memories.  I will say that the first one was intensely memorable to me but one expects that when one sees Bioware on a game.  I realized it at the end when I was getting emotional during the “epilogue” of that game.  I remember being a little let down by Dragon Age 2 simply because it didn’t have the same emotional punch as the first one.  But that wasn’t the case this time and I really felt something for each of the characters.  And I shouldn’t have been surprised!  While EA is now largely dedicated to sports games, EA gave me one of the most amazing introductions to video games with StarFlight so the combination of EA and Bioware was an automatic purchase for me and I expected nothing less than a great game.  Suffice to say, they deliver.  But bear in mind that M rating; the language can be a little strong from time to time.

In fairness, it might be that I’m now several steps removed from the original which could have helped me gain appreciation for this one as a stand alone game, or maybe I’ve become more open to RPGs in general, but I really enjoyed this one this time around; far more than I had on my first play through.  The game allows you some freedom of choice including importing your character from the first game.  I would have loved to have done that, but could not so I played as a guy running from “the Blight” with my mother, sister, and brother.  Sis gets killed off pretty quickly (and she wasn’t even wearing a red shirt) in the prologue and that haunts the family but my brother stays on.  As the game continues, taking place over several years, you gain a total of 6 companions.  Each has their own side stories and you can break away from the main game to help them in their respective quests.  (I highly recommend this since it increases skill points which are useful in RPGs. These are very helpful for things like lock picking as the game goes on.)  In most cases, I select “auto-level up” for my companions but spend time customizing my character.  It’s sort of the mind set that they are their own people.  (The only place I really got involved was making sure the rogues always had a few points put into the aforementioned lockpicking so no container was ever off limits to me!)

Anyway, I played as a mage.  I like having two things: range and AOE.  AOE, for those unfamiliar with RPGs – role playing games – that’s “area of effect” spells.  In other words, they affect a wide area.  My favorite skill is casting down fireballs that both concuss the enemy and cause them to stagger, while doing damage as they fall.  This gives me a chance to “lay the smackdown” on other creatures while a group of bad guys are busy playing “cloudy with a chance of fireballs from above”.  This is helpful for you and your companions to put the focus on other enemies while the fireballs distract at least a handful.  While you have a total of 6 companions, you can only play with 3 by your side at any time, so I often found myself playing with one of each class: another mage, a rogue, and a warrior.  Some battles would call for a change though, and the rogue tends to be the weakest character in the group.  You want the rogue there to open special chests and containers, but sometimes firepower and strength are simply more important.

It’s not incident free, but the issues are not huge either.  The maps are reused over and over again which gets a little tiresome.  How many times I had to go out to the coast for different missions, or into the Hangman’s Pub, or one of about a dozen other locations…   And on more than one occasion, something I had looted would be ready to be picked over again as if I had not been there before.  I didn’t like that certain dialogue options didn’t change after a major event and canned dialogue crept up between characters.  (Although if this was the negative to hearing some of the dialogue that went on between my team, it was worth it.  Some interactions are hilarious and I felt like a parent listening to kids talking about things they think are important!)  And in the line of dialogue, choices are not always clear.  A choice that sounded funny might come off as very arrogant, and I would have planned my response better had I known but in the grand scheme, these are minor issues.  The battles are tremendous fun and exciting but make no mistake; they are really hard.  I mean really hard.  The trick is to take your time.  The game has the unusual trait of being paused and you can do so as many times as you need to in order to issue commands to your team. For one particularly hard battle, for example, a rather gigantic demon summons dozens of Shades that you have to fight off, while fighting him, while he’s casting runes on the ground that deplete you or your team of health.  Talk about juggling!  With limited health potions (and cool-down periods on how quickly you can use another), the only way to win this battle is a “touch and go” approach: run in, hit hard, run away… and do that over and over again with all 4 of your players.  The result is punch-the-air rewarding (it is possible that I leapt out of my seat with joy…) but it’s a time consuming process and many times I was down to one character running in circles just waiting for the right moment to strike again.

The amount of cleverness needed can be extremely enjoyable, and finding the right tools for the right job gives a sense of accomplishment.,  But the truth is, I go for characters in role playing games.  In a shooter, you don’t need to develop a relationship with anything other than your marksmanship, but for an RPG, the characters can make or break it.  Even some minor characters add to my enjoyment especially when I encountered both a Nyssa and a Tegan (although it might have be spelled Teagan).   Character is the bread and butter of the game and to that end, the story offers a range of dialogue choices allowing one to get involved in relationships with any of your team.  Captain of the Guard, Aveline, who met up with me on my travels when the game started, remained strictly a friend but I did help her meet the man she married.  I’m that kinda guy…  And I didn’t hit on any of the male characters (in the words of Jerry Seinfeld, “not that there’s anything wrong with that”) but I did flirt a bit with Isabella, the pirate captain.  The irony is that it paid off.  Choices made can lead to life or death and I lost my brother early on but every walk-through I’ve reviewed shows him still alive, meaning I made a bad choice that cost his life, but I am certain I gained someone else as a result.  I say that because Isabella leaves my side at one point in the story, but I think my relationship with her really paid off because she did come back.  (I don’t know if that was always a part of the game, nor do I want to find out, in case I go back for another visit in future years.)  The point is, relationships matter and can make a big difference to the game, and I made it a point to always help those on my team with their special side missions.  There’s even a relationship bar that measures friendship or rivalry and I was delighted that all of the characters were in the warmer side of friendship with me by the end.  All but one…

Merrill, the elf woman, is the one that I really took to and had more than friendship with.  She was with me for every adventure.  Maybe that was because she is voiced by Torchwood star Eve Myles.  Or maybe it was that she’s diminutive, magical, or just a bit mysterious.  She’s from the land of the Elves and has that slightly Irish (-or-maybe-it’s-Welsh) accent one expects of their kind.  I think it all makes her a little bit more “alien” and I always go for that.   (Anders has a demon living inside him, but that doesn’t count and I wasn’t looking for a relationship with a guy who turns into a raging demon!  I mean, who needs to replace all the dishes when an argument breaks out?)  The truth is, Merrill reminded me of my real life wife who is Irish (as in, from there, not just being of Irish decent) and she’s tiny and I’m pretty sure she is an alien!  (I base this largely on how often we speak the same words but mean totally different things!)  So, like a game within a game, a big part of the fun was getting together with Merrill and having her move in with me.  The game takes place over several years and ends with us still together… the future is ours.  And I thought it apt to mention today (Aug. 6th) since it’s my wife’s birthday.  (I mean the real one!  I don’t know Merrill’s birthday; you know how elusive Elves can be!)

Dragon Age 2 is a fun game and the best part is that it holds up very well nearly a decade after its release.  At this point, you can get it for under $10 in most cases and you’ll absolutely get enough hours out of it to sate your hunger for a good RPG.  I do recommend playing the first one too.  Ah, well, I’d better end there.  To celebrate her birthday, we are having a special Wyvern stew with a  side of dragonling eggs.  I don’t want to keep the Mrs waiting…  ML

PS: Enjoy the trailer.  If you feel like exploring the Delta quadrant after listening to it, that’s ok: that is the voice of Kate Mulgrew you hear!

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Star Trek: The Conscience of the King

Star Trek Opening TitlesThe play may be the thing to catch The Conscience of the King, but it sure didn’t capture his brain!

There’s an intrinsic problem with this episode that goes right to the core of the story.  Let’s review…

Kirk gets a space telephone call from his old pal, Lon Chaney.

“Jim, you’re probably on a mission for Space Command, Starfleet, Star Control, Space Central… whatever we’re calling ourselves these days, but I have a… um… synthetic food source to show you.  Can you stop by?”  Kirk does and is first treated to a play.

“Listen, Claude Rains, I know we’re old friends and I like a play as much as the next guy, but … you’re not my type.  I like women and I really like it when they have a fully formed…. face.”

“But Jim,” says Michael Crawford, “I needed you to see!  That actor.  I think he’s Kodos the Executioner.”

“Hold on a minute, Robert Englund, you’re saying the governor of 8000, who killed 4000 so the other 4000 could live is an actor now?   That’s as weird as an entertainer becoming president!  Besides, that was 20 years ago!”

“Yes!” says Patchy McPhantom.   “And wherever he goes, one of the 9 people who ever saw him, dies.”  (With this, Gaston Leroux spins to reveal his previously hidden left side, and we see, he’s wearing a Phantom of the Opera mask!)

Set phasers to Holy Crap!

Let’s get this right: Kodos did these terrible deeds 20 years ago, when Kirk was … 10?  15?  What 10 year old remembers any adult they meet?  What 15 year old looks up from his Tricorder long enough to hold a conversation??  Then, you mean to tell me, that 4000 people were killed by a man no one ever saw?  How does anyone know he did the killing?  Why would anyone do what the Governor said?  What happened to the other 3991 people who survived the execution?  Why are only 9 left?

And that saintly maiden whom the angels named Lenore; she ends up being the actual killer.  How old would she have been 20 years ago? 2?  4?  I’m sure she had a memory of all “9” people.  (Lucky for her it is only 9 of the 4000 that are still alive, because that would be a hell of a murder spree!)

And where’s all the footage of Kodos?  We have video footage of Mussolini; the 23rd Century has… only audio?  And we have to compare printed versions?!  What happened to those high tech computers?

Alright, Spock, I’ll turn off the logic centers of my brain.  But you can’t watch this without laughing at the clumsy flirtation between Kirk and Loony Lenore.  If the flirtation isn’t clumsy, at least Kirk does get a great line.  Spock: “How did you know this lady was coming aboard?” Kirk: “I’m the captain!”  And if Kirk doesn’t have some ulterior motive here, I don’t know who does: “What have you got to trade?”, he asks Lenore.  (Rogue!)  If timing is truly the difference between tragedy and comedy, this has no sense of timing because I can’t tell if I should laugh or cry!  Riley is one of the only people who saw Kodos (besides Jim and Phantom) and Spock doesn’t think to mind meld to see what Kodos looks like?  Oh, back to the murders: Lenore, who is 5’ nothing, puts an overloading phaser… in the red alert light, above the door.  Luckily, Kirk’s room opens to a chute to… hell!  If an overloading phaser could take out half a deck, what the hell powers them?  But a garbage disposal chute leads to… I guess if you blow up the garbage deck, no one notices.  And exactly what is “double red alert”???

Now, we can look at some interesting things about where people are in their careers.  Riley, last seen drunk as a skunk, singing in the engineering section of the ship in The Naked Time has been moved to communications, but is reassigned to engineering for this mission.  It’s a rare moment of cohesiveness between episodes.  You almost get the feeling that someone was paying attention to the crew.  There’s also a yeoman wearing yellow.  And I do love that Spock confides in McCoy; this is another great moment of seeing the strength of their friendship, despite the constant teasing.  But McCoy is actually the one I’m worried about.  After Lenore goes barmy and kills her dad, the illustrious doctor says she’s recuperating and won’t remember a thing.  Um… I don’t think that’s a good thing.  I think, psychologically, that’s probably unhealthy.  Well at least Helen Noel is still on board.  She can probably help.  And even with a killer on the loose, no member of the crew died, so there is that.

Honestly, it’s Lenore who redeems the episode.  Our sorrow for the lost Lenore is due only to the actresses superb portrayal of madness.  The light glinting off her eyes and she stares madly into the void… she is truly the one bright spot in the story.  Oh, I’m not saying that because the actress is pretty; the truth is I was never that enamored of her, but she plays her part well, as each man in his time, must.  She exits, stage left and another curtain falls on the stage of the Enterprise crew.   ML

The view from across the pond:

“May I extend my appreciation?”

It’s maybe a bit soon to ask that when you’ve just met the girl, but Kirk is a quick worker, especially when he sees the opportunity to use a woman as a “tool”, as Lenore later points out. There is a pattern developing of Kirk using young women’s attraction to him to get what he wants. In Miri he charmed a teenager to get her to co-operate, and here he’s at it again, wooing the 19-year-old Lenore to get to her father. Is that all the opposite sex means to him, a resource to be utilised?

“Words may change, galaxies disintegrate, but a woman always remains a woman.”

If Kirk needs to learn more respect for women then maybe he should attend Uhura’s performances more often. What a talent she has! Her singing is mesmerising, and the director wisely allows the episode the luxury of the full song, which is lovely. There is so much emphasis nowadays on moving narrative along, that watching television from the 60s can be quite refreshing. I also thought the pacing was clever this week in terms of the game of cat and mouse (or so it seems) between Kirk and Kodos. Karidian is hardly seen at all for most of the episode. He’s there at the start, and then finally pops up for his first encounter with Kirk on the Enterprise after about half an hour. That encounter is held off for as long as possible, making him a largely unseen foe working from the shadows, taking one life after another, or so we think.

“Double red alert.”

What’s “double red”? Shouldn’t that be “bright red alert”? “Crimson red alert”? Or if it’s that bad, “brown alert”? I loved the twist in the tale with Lenore (our provider of Screaming Woman #9 in our Trek Tally) responsible for the deaths of the witnesses, and it actually made a lot more sense of the whole plot. We saw examples of computers being used to identify Kodos/Karidian, so killing those who could supposedly identify him never made much sense, certainly once people like Kirk were openly talking about it. The cat was well and truly out of the bag at that point and wasn’t going back in whether Kirk was dead or alive. When it turned out that it was all the misguided plan of an unhinged 19-year-old that tied things nicely together.

I like how Trek is giving us shades of grey in terms of the villains, and having recently taken a look at The Cage that appears to have been the intention right from the start, which is brave for the 1960s, much more the era of the moustache-twirler. Karidian is no moustache-twirler. I can’t remember what interview I was watching – it might have been the late, great Terrance Dicks – but somebody once mentioned that a convincing enemy never sees himself as evil. He thinks he is doing the right thing. That’s where the shades of grey morality comes in, to make the story a much more interesting one. Kodos did what he did thinking that he was the saviour of his people, making the hard decision that nobody else would. As he points out, had help not arrived history would have viewed him very differently. The troubling echo from the past is the selection method: his own version of eugenics. But the execution of half the population to save the lives of the other half is something he argues compellingly for, and it is in fact just the sort of horrendous choice that might face a starship captain. The fact that he had spent the next twenty years quietly keeping a low profile (well, sort of) as a touring actor shows that he was not trying to be a serial killer, or even trying to get some kind of a kick out of murder, and the identity of the true villain of the story as Lenore instead of Kodos worked brilliantly in that respect.

The original series of Star Trek is a new viewing experience for me, but it’s impossible to avoid seeing the odd clip here are there in celebratory shows, etc, over the years. I came to this show with the expectation of a parade of silly monsters for Kirk to fight and kill. I didn’t expect morality tales like this. So far, I’m pleasantly surprised.   RP

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Something Borrowed

touchwoodI think any series totally bereft of comedy cannot sustain and we’ve had two very heavy episodes of Torchwood in a row.   The chuckles during those death-centric episodes are minor at best.  Then we come to Something Borrowed and things change.  If Random Shoes was the light episode of season one, this must be the one for the current season.  And there are a lot of fun moments.

Gwen is getting married!  The episode opens on Friday night with her hen night party coupled with scenes from a few hours earlier when she was hunting a shapeshifter.  After her party, Saturday rolls around and she wakes, ready for the wedding only to discover she’s about 9 months pregnant… with a shapeshifter’s baby.  And the alien mommy is ready to rip her open to get her baby out.  How’s that for an opening blurb?  To quote Gwen, “oh!”

Maybe because this episode feels more like a comedy, I really didn’t have much to fuss about.  Owen is pretty much over his death, getting on with things like normal, but is that really a problem?  Some time could have gone by giving him more time to cope.  Really the only thing that bothered me was opening the episode with the flashback of Gwen telling Jack she’s basically marrying Rhys because “no one else would have me”.  But I can’t really be mad at this episode for that?  In fact, this episode really drives home how much Gwen does love Rhys.  There’s a hint that there’s still a chance that Gwen might call off the wedding if Jack offered to be with her when she says “Who else would stand by me…” but that could easily have been her really trying to convince herself and Jack that there is no “her and Jack”.  Equally it might have been her saying she appreciates Rhys for all he’s dealt with.  But considering how many other things she says about Rhys, I tend to think she does love him.  Even when offered the chance to retcon the whole night (along with all of their guests), her comment is “there’ll be no secrets in this marriage”.

I think the rest of the cast shines in this episode as well.  Rhys reminds Gwen (and hopefully some members of the audience) that “the lies don’t work!”  A good reminder to all couples.  Ianto is tremendous fun and I don’t think I realized how great a character he was on my first viewing.  His eye for the dress was humorously played but the real win for him is when he asks to cut in on the dance between Jack and Gwen.  As Gwen reaches for him, he turns to dance with Jack.  (Gwen’s reaction is priceless!)  I love how Jack is portrayed as emotionally complex.  It’s evident he does love Gwen but it’s always overshadowed by … what?  Ianto?  Chivalry?  A deeper knowledge that he can’t allow himself to love and outlive every person that matters to him?   I mean, love in general is a complex emotion; one can have different types of love for different people, and sometimes that might be too close for comfort for a spouse or significant other, but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything would ever happen.  This seems to be what Jack and Gwen have.  It’s there, it’s deep, but it’s always at arms distance.  That complexity makes for fascinating storytelling.  Elsewhere, Owen gets a moment in front of the Nostrovite, the episode’s monster, but it does nothing to him because he’s already dead.  Tosh has a lovely moment too where Gwen tells her one day, she’ll get married.

The Nostrovite itself is actually a really fun part of the episode.  Shapeshifters always are!  (I guarantee John Barrowman had a blast playing the monster too; he seems to revel in it!)  The scene where Jack comes in and offers some unkind remarks to Rhys’s mother, thinking it’s the shapeshifter is hilarious and played so well by everyone there.  But the shapeshifter takes a rather eye-catching form and I call this unfair.  How do you give a horrible monster such a beautiful visage?  That actress, Colette Brown, is a strikingly pretty actress with amazing eyes.  (I checked on IMDB and realize I have seen exactly nothing else she has ever been in!)   I can’t deny there was a part of me that wanted Torchwood to make friends and invite her back to the hub.  (No doubt, there’s a pun there…)  For all its beauty in human form, the nest it creates to capture Tosh and “Banana” is nasty looking.

The in-law rivalry also offers a lot of laughs but perhaps one of the things I liked most was the way the writer began phasing out my “Batman” comment from a few weeks ago.  The Singularity Scalpel, a device that turned up coincidentally for the episode Reset, which I claimed would be like so many Batman tools that we never see again, is still hanging around and is being used just as effectively.  I no longer feel like this was a cop-out tool  The only thing I was really left wondering was how the retcon reception would cover up the death of one of Rhys’s friends.  Won’t someone wonder where he went?  Maybe start digging?  Or will Torchwood fake a death to hide the facts?  Still, at the end of the day, this is a bright, fun, and entertaining episode.  A much needed break after a few very heavy episodes over the last few weeks.   And it does one last thing as it ends; a last surprise for the viewer.  It gives us a hint into Jack’s long past.  Jack had been married!  ML

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The Sacred Blacksmith

The Sacred Blacksmith CecilyThis was another impulse buy at a reasonable price in a second hand DVD shop. It’s not the kind of anime I normally watch very much, as swords and sorcery isn’t really my thing, but I sometimes get these in the hope of some deeper themes or meaningful character interactions. I was rewarded with those in The Sacred Blacksmith, but it took a while to get there.

Unusually for this kind of series, our main viewpoint character is female. The “sacred blacksmith” is a very important character as well, but the story really revolves around Cecily Campbell, at least for the majority of the series. She is a knight who protects the city, and she’s an interesting character because for most of the series she’s not actually very good at her job. Although her boss seems to think she is incredibly skilful, I never quite figured out why, because we don’t see much evidence of that, and it instead looks as if she holds her position among the knights because of who her father and grandfather were. The first part of the series deals with her failings, and in particular her inability to strike a killing blow, even when it’s a mercy killing, so that’s an interesting topic straight away, and makes Cecily and others question what business she has being a knight.

She ends up teaming up with a “demon sword” called Aria, a sword that can take the form of a human being. I never quite managed to get past the silliness of that idea, and she didn’t really make much impression on me anyway. Cecily’s love interest is a skilled blacksmith and swordsman called Luke Ainsworth. I struggled to warm to him because he’s one of those grumpy heroic types who really isn’t very nice to the girl showing an interest in him. On a superficial level he’s also not particularly nice to the young girl he looks after, Lisa. I can’t really say much about her without spoiling a major plot development, which the second half of the series revolves around, but she’s a great character and by far the most interesting and best of the bunch. Lisa is totally devoted to Luke and he is also devoted to her in a way that I can’t quite pin down. The closest comparison I can make is a father looking after an adopted daughter, although a big brother would fit as well. It blurs the lines a bit, but the key point is that he is dedicated to looking after her and protecting her, and in turn all she wants from life is to be with him and work with him. It’s not at all creepy either. This is not a love triangle, and it is refreshing how Lisa at no point ever poses a threat to Cecily in her quest to win Luke’s heart. This is good stuff, never going down the obvious, lazy routes.

The Sacred Blacksmith LisaLuke is a good protector to Lisa but makes no real effort beyond that on an emotional level, and to his credit he eventually starts questioning whether he is doing enough. In one lovely episode, refreshingly slice-of-life in comparison with the rest of the series, he goes shopping with Lisa to buy her some new clothes. She is overwhelmed with joy, but it does feel uncomfortably like she is being thrown a few crumbs of affection. That’s what makes Luke such a frustrating character so much of the time. You just want him to stop being such a grump. It all makes sense in the end, and both Lisa and Luke do question the nature of their relationship and whether they are doing the right thing by each other. Ultimately this was the more interesting of the character interactions, with the outcome of Cecily’s apparently unrequited love instead left for the manga to tackle.

The battle scenes made me yawn, but that’s more about my viewing preferences than the quality of the anime, and predictably the final episode is given over to a big, spectacular conflict, so the highlight of the series for me was the run of episodes leading up to the finale that focused on the relationship much more. With a tight focus on three characters (I’m not counting Aria, sorry), this series gave me exactly the kind of meaningful interactions I was hoping for. It just needed a bit of patience to get there.  RP

The Sacred Blacksmith was first broadcast in 2009. There is one series of 12 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each. A dub version is available.

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The A-Team: Mexican Slayride

The A-Team LogoOn 16th March 1984, “my” Doctor regenerated. He collapsed in the TARDIS, and a new man sat up in his place. I didn’t like him. After another four episodes that ended the season, I really didn’t like him. He was nasty and arrogant, and had tried to strangle his companion. He was the Doctor, whether I liked it or not. Not.

Four months later, The A-Team started up on ITV, and I was instantly hooked. By the time Doctor Who returned with Doctor Nasty on Saturday 5th January 1985, the arrogant strangler had some stiff competition, because on the other channel was Hannibal, BA, Face and Murdoch. I knew what I was going to watch. Eventually I returned to Doctor Who, but for a few years I wasn’t interested in flying in the TARDIS. I wanted to ride in the A-Team van instead. So I thought it would be interesting to take a journey back to the first ever episode of The A-Team and see what it was that got me so hooked, and stole me away from the wonders of the universe.

We start with silence, no music, just a peaceful Mexican village, and then trucks approach to disturb the peace. These are the bad guys, the men with guns. For some reason they shoot at the bell tower. One of them goes into a house and carries out a young woman. Watching this at the age of 5 I had no idea of the implications of that. The bad men with guns want a journalist named Al Massey. The locals seem to be completely helpless, so of course they need somebody to help them. In fact, they need four somebodies, The A-Team, and a journalist called Amy who wants to find her missing friend.

Eventually The A-Team would become a series with an entirely male cast, but at the start we had Triple A. Her lame nickname might not have been a good sign, but she was at least initially a great character here. The first time we see her she is standing up to her boss. That was no mean feat at the time. For some context about the attitudes towards women in a newsroom in the mid 80s, take a look at the third season of Stranger Things. But Amy is equal to the men, and earns her place in The A-Team. She’s the driving force in this episode.

As for the team themselves, three of them are instantly brilliant. Hannibal has a great sense of humour and is the brains of the team, although his yellowface disguise is very unconvincing and a little bit uncomfortable to watch nowadays. BA is in the best traditions of the muscle man with a heart of gold. He is physically intimidating but that doesn’t stop kids from following him around wherever he goes, hero worshipping him, and in return he loves children, mentors them and helps them to better themselves, and this was before the days where that kind of thing left us feeling uneasy because he hadn’t been background checked before being within 100 yards of a child. Murdoch was apparently considered to be over-the-top by the TV execs, who were going to write him out until they realised he was by far the most popular thing about this show. He was always my favourite character. He’s not mad of course. I might have thought he was when I was a child, but it’s pretty obvious now that he simply feigns madness as a tactic, and it serves him well. On rewatching there’s a part of my adult brain that’s telling me his whole character is a joke about mental illness and maybe that’s not ideal, but I’ll have to ignore that because the part of my brain that’s still in touch with its childhood still adores Murdoch. Finally we come to the member of the team who isn’t instantly brilliant: Face. I’m not surprised he was recast. It’s a competent performance, but it’s completely forgettable. He lacks the charisma needed for the role. He’s kind of just there.

As for the story, it’s what the A-Team does best. They stand up to a bully. Importantly, that’s not easy for them. Along the way there are failures. BA might be big, but he comes up against somebody bigger. They get captured and have to escape. And they can’t save the day without help. They have to inspire the locals to help themselves as well, to stand up to their oppressors.

Right from the first episode, some ground rules are being established. There is violence, but no blood. There is a big fight, with lots of punches to the face, but no serious damage. Guns are fired all the time, but nobody gets shot. Everyone aims at the ground beside people, or at the tyres of vehicles, or at buildings. There are spectacular car crashes, but they don’t burst into flames when they crash. They roll over onto their roofs and the occupants climb out. Nobody dies in The A-Team. This is of course simultaneously a good thing and a bad thing. It can’t be a family show if people actually get shot and killed, but it’s not a good show for teaching children about the consequences of their actions. I loved this as a child at the time. As a parent now I think I might have nagging worries about a show that teaches children to stand up to bullies, but also shows people punching each other as if it’s cartoon violence, with no acknowledgement of the potential to do some real damage to another human being.

Right from the first episode, we can see the familiar formula for an A-Team episode here. There are fights and chases, with plenty of stuntmen flying through the air. There is Murdoch being a crazy pilot, and there is BA cobbling something together out of whatever bits of junk are lying around. In this instance he turns a bus into a tank, which is great fun. And of course Hannibal loves it when a plan comes together.

Rewatching this has been a fascinating experience. Thinking back to the day I made the decision to watch The A-Team instead of Doctor Who, did I make the right decision? What would I say to my child self, his finger hovering over the buttons on the television, trying to decide between a van or a TARDIS? I would say pick the van. It was absolutely the right decision. Doctor Who means far more to me now than The A-Team, but in 1985 there was no competition. A mean Doctor, or Mad Murdock? The TARDIS could wait…   RP

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Nagato 6: Over the Obento

Mikuru Nagato Yuki-Chan Over the ObentoThe junkyard presents two articles about the Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan episode Over the Obento.

The view from 5930 miles away:

The title of this episode is Over the Obento, and for anyone who doesn’t realise what that means an obento is one of those cute little lunch boxes they have in Japan with the individual compartments for different food. It is “over the obento” that Kyon and Yuki share their rom com moment, with Kyon feeding Yuki before they are interrupted and Asakura jumps to the wrong conclusions, thinking Yuki is deliberately flirting with Kyon.

This was one of many set pieces that added up to make this the worst episode for me so far. It’s just a load of rom com cliché situations and silly misunderstandings strung together, and there are a lot of them. We had Mikuru’s boobs shoved into Kyon’s face when she was bowled at him by Tsuruya, the second time in two weeks that Kyon has been suffocated by a girl’s chest. We had a flashback to Kyon accidentally holding hands with Mikuru. We had Yuki misinterpreting Kyon and Asakura conspiring together, thinking they are cosying up to each other. We had a bikini shot of Mikuru in case we were under any doubt as to what “bouncy” and “tight” mean, but for no other good reason than that. We had Yuki falling accidentally into the arms of Kyon, and then Asakura misinterpreting the situation, only to return when Yuki is getting fed by Kyon and jump to the wrong conclusion again. All this kind of stuff is regurgitated standard comedy moments that you will find in hundreds of other anime series.

And yet this seems to have been a very popular episode at the time it was broadcast, perhaps the most popular so far, in complete contrast to my impressions. There has to be a reason for that, and I think it’s probably the way the episode has something for everyone. Let’s face it, both Haruhi and the new version of Yuki divide opinions. In the first episode Yuki was the focus and she takes some getting used to, replacing as she does our Yuki from the original series. Every episode after that revolved around Haruhi for at least half of each episode, and always the interesting half, and she’s Marmite in anime form (does Marmite exist elsewhere? You love it or hate it, or so the slogan goes). But this episode gives every character a turn in the spotlight, which is no mean feat when juggling no fewer than seven main characters now. Although nothing significant happens to advance the ongoing storyline (well, apart from Haruhi getting permission to be an interloper into the school), you certainly couldn’t call it a boring episode. It’s the most slice-of-life so far, but the animators clearly did everything they could to make every second of it fun to watch. It’s just that if you want something to make the brain work, you’ll struggle to find much, and I guess I need more than skilfully-executed anime clichés.

Asakura Nagato Yuki-Chan Over the Obento TeacherThere are at least a couple of interesting character moments. Mikuru was a major focus of the parent series, and one of the most interesting characters, but so far here she has been nothing more than what some fans uncharitably term a “moeblob”. This week she actually gets some character development, with Tsuruya remarking that she is coming out of her shell when she is with Kyon. This pushes things a bit further along the path to harem anime. Also pushing things down that route is Asakura getting dressed up as a teacher to help Kyon. The look on his face at that moment is priceless. Then we have Haruhi, who “seems to be having fun, a lot more than last year, anyway”. Even when Asakura is “always mad at me about something”, Haruhi is enjoying herself, away from the boredom of her posh school and with the friends she was destined to meet at last. The moment where she puts her head between Kyon and his book like a pet wanting attention is adorable. For all her faults, I don’t see how anyone can fail to love the character in that moment. The episode gives a slice of the action to all seven characters, but once again it is Haruhi who brings things to life.   RP

Haruhi Nagato Yuki-Chan Over the Obento

The view from 6,868 miles away:

As far as I recalled, the last episode took place around Valentine’s Day with an after credit scene taking place just a day or two later.  Suddenly, we’re in the beginning of Sophomore year.  This has the slightly deleterious effect of reminding me just how young these kids are, since my own son is in Sophomore year right now.  The jump forward is a weird thing to do.  When Tsuruya starts a flashback sequence, I thought it would all make sense, but for some reason, the flashback takes place in December, 2 months before Valentine’s Day.  So that was a bit of an unexpected surprise.  Not that any of that matters.  The only thing the sudden time jump does allow is for an explanation around the clothing Koizumi was wearing last episode and this one, which I had commented on last week.  He and Haruhi had the permission to be in the school and could therefore wear their normal clothes.  The explanation is funny… and a little disturbing because of how on-point it is.  There’s a subtle commentary here on the way students are so engrossed in their little hand-held devices, that they fail to observe the world around them which manages to work to Haruhi’s advantage.  (Funny thing about Yuki and her devices… one might call them data entities…)

All of that aside, the episode once again brings these quirky people to life and has me hysterical throughout the episode.  This wouldn’t be the first time that a “camera angle” has gone out of its way to focus close enough on Kyon that we fail to see an incoming thing… or person.  In this case, the sociopathic Tsuruya has thrown Ms. Asahina at him, causing her to land with her chest in his face.  To make it even funnier, as Yuki tries to remove Kyon from beneath Ms. Asahina, Kyon’s neck appears to snap.  Her reaction is completely the opposite from mine; I am rolling with laughter while she is mortified.   Another hilarious moment is Tsuruya’s comment to Yuki, “lookin’ good there, Naga!”

The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan Over the Obento chibi

This is another time the artwork has created a memorable moment that is based on the absolutely absurd.  And I couldn’t be happier.  I’m not sure what it is or why she sees herself like a mix of Cousin Itt and Gleep or Gloop, but I do think it’s one of those priceless artistic moments.

The comedy often relies on visuals such as the above or when Yuki’s speed talking to explain a math problem.  This was another outstanding moment and while I’m usually quick to put down “fan service” when dealing with underage kids, I did laugh deeply with the descriptors of “boingy but tightish” appeared with the image of a bikini-clad Ms. Asahina.  (“That’s not a math term!”)  And sometimes the comedy doesn’t need images, such as when Kyon says “It’s an English question!”  We don’t need to see the book to laugh at the reply, “It says math right on the cover!”

Once again Asakura is a very different character here than what we had come to know in the parent series.  I had noticed repeatedly that she has anger issues, but she handles them in a far more witty way than outright anger, usually smiling and laughing while trying to conceal a “secret” rage.  So when a good line is delivered, I can’t help but applaud the writers.  “There were so many better ways for that to have been handled.  If only I had a few hours to explain them all.”  This interaction between the methodical Asakura and the spontaneous Haruhi is a study in opposites.  These two could not be more different.

“I have no clue what you’re talking about but I suspect you have the wrong idea.”  At the end of the episode I realized this was the first one that I felt just focused on a non-event.  I didn’t feel there was a point to it.  What’s more interesting though, is that it didn’t need one.  It was just a day in the life and I found it genuinely funny.  Even Tsuruya’s aforementioned flashback is just a story that is there seemingly to make Yuki feel awkward.  (I did love the artwork for the negative lighting whenever the story had to pause!  Come to think of it, Tsuruya’s “Grudge” moment, with her long flowing hair seemingly coming to life was another great instance with cultural relevance as well.)

“He played her like a fiddle!”  I think I too was played like a fiddle.  I couldn’t say what happened in this episode short of a few flashbacks and then a final few minutes of Yuki actually getting some close time with (the seemingly clueless) Kyon.  This also gave us two really funny instances of Asakura slowly walking backwards out of the room.  Not sure where the story is going, or for that matter, where it can go, but I’m enjoying the time with these lunatics.  If nothing more, it’s 20 minutes of comedy with a bunch of people that I feel like I know quite well.  Of the series so far, I can take Tsuruya’s words to heart: “lookin’ good there, Naga!”    ML

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Babylon 5: Atonement

b5This is one of those weird episodes that are all about backstory for a storyline that feels like it was wrapped up long ago but when looked at carefully, that may not be the case.  The only B-plot going on is that Sheridan sends Marcus and Franklin off on a mission to Mars to work against Clark’s propaganda machine.  “We’re going to have to start going against him sooner than we thought.”   Everything else about this episode is dedicated to Delenn.   There are a few funny moments that need to be addressed first however.  Zack is uncomfortable with his new attire, not unlike what happened to him with his Earthforce uniform back in season 3.  This leads to him getting poked by a Minbari and Lennier “disciplining” that Minbari, rather comically.  G’Kar is getting a new eye and upon learning that it can come out and be used like a camera, he gives a mischievous “Interesting… very interesting.”  (He even steals that scene!)   Susan staggers drunkenly out of an elevator with a Drazi on the ground behind her, to Sheridan’s surprise.  While she says nothing about it, it did not escape my eye that she’s wearing a green sash.  (This image might be too small to see, but trust me, it’s there!)   This probably has something to do with the Drazi leadership going to whomever is wearing the correct colored sash that we first learned about in Season 2’s The Geometry of Shadows.  And the final scene of the episode has Marcus singing, which is actually improved post credits when Stephen lets out an absolutely hilarious scream!

image001

At this point, we have to focus on Delenn.  This seems as good a time as any to wrap up the story of the war but it does feel a bit like JMS just needed a filler episode.  But, as I said above, if you take the events of the previous episode into account, we realize that’s there is a logical placement with this story.  Let’s face it, ISN broadcasts everywhere and the Minbari are probably no less aware of the negative reaction Sheridan is getting from his own people.  He alone may be the reason relationships with Earth will suffer.   Earth wants to get rid of him using any means necessary and it probably wouldn’t be great for the Minbari leadership if one of their highest ranking people, the leader of the Rangers, is associated with Sheridan.  So they contrive a means of getting her back to Minbar to discredit her and make her move away from John.  If she chooses to be with him for the right reasons, they can allow it, but the chances are they will prove Delenn is doing this for the wrong reasons and be forced to give up her place at John’s side.  They use magic to find out: a strange VR trip using a hallucinogens and time travel!  (To be honest, the dreaming is one of the few senseless things I found in B5.  Is it a place?  A shared memory using some drugs? Who knows.   This is one of the very few times Babylon 5 asks us to accept something on blind faith, but perhaps that’s apt for a Minbari-centric episode.)

The problem with the whole gambit is that the idea is flawed, namely in that Callenn knew the truth might come out.  Maybe he gambled figuring the odds were low, but when the truth emerges, it’s hard for the Minbari to cope.  Culleen is desperate that the truth remain buried.  A lie might be against Minbari culture but omission, or lying to save face for another… those are acceptable options.   This becomes interesting with a lot of the lore laid out.  We knew the Triluminary device was a strange thing handed down by Valen, who himself (being Jeffrey Sinclair) gets it from the future.  This device has neither beginning nor end, but now we see how things tie in.  It also hints at something for the future.  Delenn is a child of Valen.  Valen was “Minbari not born of Minbari”.  After the war, Valen had children that were of human/Minbari genes.  Eventually Delenn comes along.  As the pieces start to come together, the symmetry is quite impressive.  It gives new meaning to a story she shared about a mysterious man coming to her as a child and saying he could not allow one of his little ones to be upset.  Was that one of Valen’s children?  Considering the body of Valen was never found, is that because he was still alive when she was a child?  Perhaps we will never know.  But it does mean something else: the Three Who are One, “as you are… The One”, as Zathras said now takes on a whole new meaning.  Valen is a grandfather to Delenn; both are the One.  Sheridan is also The One: the One Who Will Be.  What does that mean of the child that we know Delenn and John will have together one day?  Makes me wonder, certainly!  At any rate, the racial impurity is too much to bear and Cullenn offers a “third option” to appease both sides.   (We are lead to believe Delenn takes it, but there’s no proof of that.  Perhaps we’ll find out.)

As for Delenn, we discover something that makes her family history very sad.  After the death of Dukhat, their greatest leader, Delenn orders the kill command against the humans over what is essentially a misunderstanding.  “No mercy… no mercy… no mercy…”  She is responsible for ordering the death of millions.  Now, that on its own would be a tough burden to carry, but didn’t Delenn once say her father committed suicide over the war, so distraught was he to see the murder of so many innocents?  (The answer is yes, she did say it, but I can’t recall when.  I’m positive it was a fairly recent episode, but I don’t see it in my notes, damn it!)   We also discover that the line she shared with Lennier back when they first met at the start of season 1 comes from Dukhat.  Delenn told Lennier, “I cannot have an aide who will not look up. You will be forever walking into things.”  Hearing that again was a nice touch.  She learned a lot from her teacher.  (Speaking of thing we see or hear again, seeing Delenn as a full Minbari was shocking!  I’d forgotten how much she changed!)   And let’s not leave out an observation about Lennier: his loyalty is beautiful, but how much of that is actual loyalty and how much is love.  He loves Delenn and that’s evident; he had even confessed it to Marcus.  But is it healthy?  And is it going to be a problem for John and Delenn one day?

This episode still felt like filler because I’m waiting for Sheridan to do something about Clark, but it had to happen sooner or later and the timing makes sense.  Now with that out of the way, maybe we’ll see what can be done about the madman in power back on earth.  ML

The view from across the pond:

“You will tell us why you should be allowed to continue on the path you have chosen.”

Oh dear. The post-war anticlimax to Season Four of Babylon 5 has now become so bad that this feels like watching a Season One episode. It really is incredibly tedious and irritating to watch. The main story is Delenn heading off to Minbar to be subjected to the judgement of her clan, who aren’t keen on the idea of her marrying Sheridan.

“I will abide by the decision of my clan.”

One problem I have always had with B5 is the way JMS chooses to depict advanced civilisations. The Minbari are a largely peaceful, enlightened and powerful space-faring race, and yet they are xenophobic, insular, inimical to change, and seem to lack what we would consider the basic rights of the individual. I’m struggling to see how it would be possible for that to happen. Societies that oppress individuals and pigeon-hole them in any way are rarely capable of such progress.

“If I say I love him, is that not enough?”
“No, you must convince us on other grounds.”

Don’t they have phrases that end in “off” on Minbar? There’s plenty of choice of words Delenn could put in front of that which would be appropriate for the situation. Instead she does what she’s told like a puppy dog and drinks her cup of dry ice. This leads to protracted flashback sequences.

Another thing that annoys me about JMS is he just doesn’t get to the point. Last week we had 20 minutes of a news report, with no useful revelation at the end of it other than the capture or murder of Sheridan’s family. The same could have been achieved in a minute or two of screen time. This episode has a similar problem. The flashbacks lead to one very simple revelation: Delenn had the casting vote that started the Earth/Minbari war. This is interesting, but doesn’t justify the viewer’s struggles to stay awake through all the sci-fi cliché tedium that leads us to that point eventually, and leads us to it through a whole load of dry ice.

Then it’s the silly spotlights again in the Grey Council, and this interesting perspective on the human race:

“They’re reportedly primitive, passionate, dangerous.”

Primitive, eh? Well how about this: we have light bulbs that can light a whole room! Oh yes, and we also have hoodies with hoods that don’t cover the whole face, so you can see where you’re going. Once again I was left puzzled as to how they find their way out of a dark room with hoods over their faces.

“Come on, walk with me.”

…bump, bump, crash, ow!

In the end, Delenn is allowed to get married, and this will be sold to the clan by referring to a custom of the victorious side in a war giving a female to a losing clan.

“I can explain this to our people as a similar offering to the humans who died during our war.”

Really? They will think that’s OK, will they, to give a woman as a present? So this whole storyline got on my nerves from beginning to end, but thankfully there were a few distractions. G’Kar getting his new eye was a lot of fun:

“It is not my proper colour!”

His joy at being able to remove the eye and see himself with it was a classic G’Kar moment, and his mind is clearly racing with the possibilities. It’s amusing, but if he has plans for it, how is it any different to using a spy camera? It would be a bit silly of him to use it in that way, when a spy camera would be a lot cheaper and easier to replace, and wouldn’t leave an empty hole in his head.

Things were also set up this week for Franklin and Marcus’s mission to Mars, although it’s hard to believe anyone from B5 could actually get there. Unusually, Marcus’s singing was substituted for the closing music. All I can say about that is don’t give up the day job.   RP

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Tacoma

tacomaAs I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of the video game platform Steam.  It’s my go-to for all games.  But Epic Games has been doing some really impressive things since Covid kicked in and one of those things is giving 2 games away each month.  Color me impressed!  I had just finished a game (that I will talk about soon) and had a day to wait before the next game I wanted arrived online, so I opened Epic Games to see what the freebies were.  I found a game that looked moderately interesting called TacomaTacoma retails for $20, so I was very pleased with my find.  It’s listed as a Walking Simulator/Adventure.  Adventure games are typically games you have to figure something out; think “The Da Vinci Code” but in video game format.  A Walking Simulator sounds sort of lame because, thankfully, I can walk and don’t need a simulator for it.  But I can’t walk around in space, or float in zero-g, so that’s certainly something!  I don’t go for a lot of these, but when the story is  this good, it makes all the difference.

You play Amy who, through the use of a holographic AI, can reconstruct the events that left the Tacoma in the state its in.  Now, I didn’t read anything before I started playing so I didn’t know what I was even doing on the space station I had just docked at but pretty quickly found out.  As you walk into a room or an area, you are able to reconstruct what went on.  Clips typically run 2-3 minutes during which time you can move around and follow each character to hear what they have to say, read their computer logs, and just get a sense of what life was like on board this place.  This may entail rewinding those 2 minutes more than once to hear what different people are saying in different rooms, but it’s done very easily with the Q or E keys for rewinding or fast-forwarding, respectively.  Within the first room, as you hear people talking, there is an explosion and most of the air on the space station is wiped out and there is no communication with home.  The crew of 6 was left on their own.  You are here to find out what happened.

I was impressed by the game far more than I expected to be.  When I saw the trailer, I noticed that the crew are roughly people-shaped blobs without faces and with stick figure skeletons.  Each of the crew has an icon on their back to let you know their roles.  (Plant for botanist, + for medic, etc.)  But the moment I arrived, I reviewed the crew roster and by listening to them, each character came to life.  Not just “to life” but those people shaped blobs became more and more real with faces.  More surprisingly, each character had distinct physical traits. Like Star Trek in the 60’s, this game is ahead of its time: a number of body types are represented: from lean, tall, lanky, to short, stocky, heavy.  Their accents are all fairly American and for a culturally diverse crew, I would have liked more accents, but that could be tricky, considering how much of what we learn is by listening.  The Australian IT specialist, Natali Kuroshenko, was the one I enjoyed listening to the most and her sense of humor was great.  Reading their logs, journals and instant messages really brings them to life.  (Nat’s at one point comments on the AI going rogue and killing everyone, but then goes back to her normal report.  I had to laugh!)  There are some rooms that barely take a minute as you encounter the crew going about their regular lives, like seeing medical officer Sareh Hasmadi doing yoga in her room.  Even the relationships felt real.  Clive Siddiqi and E. V. St. James, station lead, are an item.  Natali and her partner Roberta are married and in their room we can see “Bert” painting a mural while Nat lies in bed watching.  Andrew, the botanist, communicates with his husband and child back on Earth.  His story is the hardest to read when we realize that it doesn’t look like anyone survived and that means his husband and son are left without him.  I applaud that the creators respectfully depicted three relationship groups: man/woman, man/man, woman/woman.  Kudos to Fullbright for recognizing peoples rights and showing each pairing.  That sort of respectful writing makes me want to watch for more games from them.

As the story goes on, we get segments of time.  As the oxygen ran out, we see how little time the crew had.  Bert and Nat work on an escape plan.  Serah checks on the crews health.  And the AI advises, in a sort-of-creepy HAL-9000 way.  As the crisis was mounting, Serah puts 2 of the crew into cryogenic storage.  This makes it a little easier to follow the remaining 4.  Throughout, there are things that make us suspect that there’s more going on than we knew but stick with the story and all becomes clear.

The graphics were top notch and the amount of things you can interact with was impressive.  I was stupidly excited when I found a Christmas Duck and turned it on to hear a popular Christmas melody.  The music was good, but not quite my cuppa, but the sound quality is outstanding.  This is a game designed with care.  Impressively, the credits at the end were only half a dozen screens, not the typical rival to a Marvel theatrical release I see with most games!  (I stayed for the whole run!)

I often say that dollar to hour ratio is an important factor, and this game, for free, is worth it, 100%.  But at $20, I might have been irked by the length.  I completed it in one sitting: 2.5 hours.  Now, I will point out that it does have replay value: there is a commentary track that allows you to play through while finding out what the creators were thinking and planning in each step.  I think that does warrant a bit more and for the respect paid to people of many walks of life, I think I would have been ok with the cost had I paid for it. My biggest complaint was not with the game itself but the Epic Games platform: I couldn’t take screenshots. Steam gives us the F12 button for some quick screen captures, but Epic does not have that, and I could find nothing online to show me how to do it, and this game has some amazing shots that I wanted to use as wallpapers.  Yes, I do that sometimes…  How many windows did I open just to look out at the earth or the moon spinning quietly in the silent void of space?  A lot!

Anyway, this was an unexpected treat.  Definitely worth the $0 I paid for it, or the free installation of Epic Games to get it.  I think it probably warrants a slightly lower price tag, but the story was completely engrossing and contrary to my original thought, I absolutely saw the faces of the crew even through the colorful shapes.  I can honestly recommend this, and I do intend to go back for a commentary play-through.  In the meantime, check out the trailer and see what I mean.  In a word (or two), pleasantly unexpected!  ML

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