Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Arthur 3: The War of Two Worlds


A direct follow-up to The Revenge of Maltazard, the battle has been brought to the human world, and so the stakes are much higher.  However, it is also because of this that the movie ends up being much more unbelievable and exaggerated.  Maltazard is now in human size and has brought his army with him, they attack the town.  Chaos ensues and so how will Arthur, who is still in Minimoy size defeat him?  Well, through the bloated 100 minutes you get to see Arthur travelling and meeting old "friends", do some battle on toy trains and cars (which gets trashed and destroyed very easily) before finally able to be in a spot to defeat Maltazard.  This journey is in now way satisfying and somehow, the writers have still managed to make the movie boring.  Theoretically, there are a lot of action sequences and plenty of things happening but it just does not feel exciting.  It loses the charm the original had, which was an adventure in a fantasy world.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Book Review: Pandora Hearts Volume 14


Review:  #600
Title:  Pandora Hearts Volume 14
Series:  Pandora Hearts - 14th volume
Author:  Jun Mochizuki
Read Before:  no
Comments:  The events at Yura’s house come to an end in this volume as Oz and his friends fight against the Baskerville and also the Headhunter.  It was a great volume with heaps of action sequences.  The plot moves along briskly and there is never a dull moment.  However, the way some of the characters’ battles were predictable, especially on who comes to their aid (spouting clich├ęd friendship dialogue).  At the end, when the Seal was revealed, as well as Yura’s master plan, it was engaging and even a surprise in terms of the Humpty Dumpty chain.  During some of the action sequences, it was hard to know what was happening since the panels have too many things going on at once.  Oz’s shift in personas also gets confusing, and the way he uses his powers with little explanation.  Pandora Hearts is really getting into its stride with this volume.
Rating:  6.5/10

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Toy Review: Transformers Generations Titans Return Astrotrain & Darkmoon


Review:  #327
Name:  Astrotrain
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Decepticon
Line:  Generations - Titans Return
Year of Release:  2016
Size Class:  Voyager (Wave 2)
Mold Status:  retool of Titans Return Sentinel Prime

DARKMOON:


Let's focus on the Titan Master first (aka Headmaster).  He is known as Darkmoon, and thankfully the grey torso breaks up the purple somewhat.


The back shows off Astrotrain's face in full glory.  It's a bit unfortunate that these figures are too small for some sort of mask to cover the obvious robot faces.


The headsculpt is the same as Sentinel Prime's Titan Master, so it actually looks a bit heroic.  The face plate works well though and there are a lot of sculpted detail, just that they're all masked by no paint.


Poseability is very limited being only the shoulders and head, not that you can do much at this size anyway.

SHUTTLE MODE:


Let's focus on the "astro" part of the name first, that is, Astrotrain's first alt mode of being a shuttle.  This is a futuristic/alien shuttle which still works quite well.


Considering that this is a triple-changer, the designer did an amazing job of hiding all the other pieces of kibble.  The back looks clean and even the arms underneath the wings isn't too bad as they have gun turrets.


There are a lot of sculpted details and it is unfortunately that there is not enough paint to highlight them all.  Astrotrain may at first glance not have a proper cockpit but you can actually see it molded in.


In terms of size, Astrotrain is a bit flat but otherwise, he is fairly substantial.  Above is him compared with Generations Voyager Blitzwing.


With Darkmoon for comparison, you can see how small the Titan Master is.  He has flip down landing gear, although they're more like sleds.


The first piece of interactivity is that in the rear section between the tailfins, there is a cockpit/seat that can flip up for you to put the Titan Master into.


The other bit of interactivity involves one of the guns, which has enough space for a Titan Master to sit and man it.


Furthermore, you can combine the other gun into the seat for some extra firepower.  Neat but impractical.


This is a solid shuttle mode and looks fantastic.  The flatness and apparent lack of traditional cockpits windows may throw the look off at first glance but there are no flaws here.

TRANSFORMATION (TO TRAIN MODE):

The thing that will shock you is that Astrotrain's transformation is simple, considering the three very unique modes.  Understandably, Astrotrain is also heavily reliant on panels, requiring you to flip more than a few panels to uncover or hide details for one mode or the other.  To get Astrotrain into train mode, you just split the shuttle in half, flip out the front of the train and rotate the wing assembly to form the bottom.  Easy and fun.

TRAIN MODE:


Now for the "train" part of the name.  Astrotrain transforms into a battle train, so it looks more like a mobile battle fortress than your typical public transport.


Astrotrain is actually fairly symmetrical in this mode, since the rear of the train also has the exact same train engine sculpting, and the same type of gun turrets (in reality, each half is formed by the robot arms and legs, so this only makes sense).


Thankfully, in a much needed improvement from the Sentinel Prime use of the mold, there is more paint to highlight the different details.  The most needed of which was the purple paint used to distinguish the cockpit of the train where the driver would be, and the cow catcher in front.


There are some other fantastic details here which gives Astrotrain a unique alternate mode, such as the gun turrets.  Note that there are some wheels underneath to allow him to roll.


Other sculpted detailing include the train wheels.  While more paint to highlight the details would have been nice, you can't ask for much more in this day and age...


The only part where this mode falls down is the junk in the middle, where you can tell that they're obviously shuttle wings.  It is also a bit gappy towards the middle.


In terms of size, Astrotrain is absurdly long and thin in this mode, which makes sense considering what he is.


You can attach the gun in a number of positions although for some reason, on my figure, the pegholes are too big so the guns don't stay attached, it's really weird.


The only bit of interactivity here is the same place as shuttle mode, the cockpit on top.  It's a bit awkward though.


A decent effort and at lease this looks recognisable as a train with minimal kibble.

TRANSFORMATION (TO ROBOT MODE):


Going into robot is very simple, it's basically the shuttle mode with the legs and arms split apart.  The Titan Master of course forms the head.  It's not really involved and is a clever piece of engineering.

ROBOT MODE:


Now comes the best mode out of them all, the robot mode.  This is instantly recognisable as Astrotrain thanks to the color scheme and headsculpt.


Surprisingly, there's minimal kibble in this mode as well which makes it all that much more impressive.


Astrotrain comes with a collector card showcasing the artwork (and of course, the Headmaster gimmick).


The headsculpt is fantastic and since this is a Voyager, it has these springloaded pylons on either side of the head to bulk it up.  Cleverly enough, these pylons are also on a panel which can rotate so his head articulation isn't hampered at all.  This also means his torso is somewhat hollow and they could have easily engineered him to not be a Headmaster at all.


You can retract the pylons and Astrotrain still looks okay, he doesn't have the small head syndrome as much as you would have thought.


Astrotrain looks bulky although he doesn't feel that hefty in your hands.  For some reason, my figure has loose joints which is quite annoying.  You can see all the panelling on the sides of his legs which unfolds for shuttle mode.


Articulation is excellent, Astrotrain can strike a lot of poses for you.  He is only lacking waist articulation.


If you really wanted to, you can rotate the legs to give him the train engines as feet but this makes him extremely unstable.  The pointy feet isn't as bad in real life as photos had initially depicted.


He has a pair of guns, one is hollowed up while the other is more traditionally sculpted.


Needless to say, he can hold a gun in each gun.  There isn't really any other slots to place the guns though.


The lack of kibble means nothing is hampering his range of articulation.  The shuttle wings on his back can also be moved around a bit depending on your preference.


If you wanted, you can get another Titan Master to sit in the hollowed out gun.  Why this is a good idea during battle I don't know but the option is there and looks somewhat cool.


A great robot mode that captures the essence of the character and also makes for a fun figure.

OVERALL:

Astrotrain is a good toy, there is no denying this.  The triple-changing gimmick coupled with the Headmaster gimmick did not hamper the engineering at all, which makes it all the more impressive.  Being a Voyager classed figure helps and Astrotrain is highly recommended.  We're long overdue for an updated Astrotrain figure after the Classics version (which was a good effort but had too many flaws).

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard


Set one year after the first movie, Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard starts off very slow and never lifts its game, resulting in a bland and bloated film that disappoints in every single way.  Once again, the movie is a mixture of live-action (in the human world) and animation (in the Minimoy world).  After a very long beginning, Arthur finally transforms and returns to the Minimoy world to respond to a distress call.  Despite the title, Maltazard does not make an appearance until the end of the movie, and the ending was the final nail in the coffin.  It feels like a blatant cash grab, stating that it will be continued in the third movie.  Revenge of Maltazard disappoints even more because nothing actually happens, making it an extremely boring movie.  Avoid watching even if you are a fan of the original.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Book Review: Pandora Hearts Volume 13


Review:  #599
Title:  Pandora Hearts Volume 13
Series:  Pandora Hearts - 13th volume
Author:  Jun Mochizuki
Read Before:  no
Comments:  The volume continues with the party at Yura’s residence where Elliot and Leo start to argue with one another.  Then to further complicate things, the Baskervilles and Headhunter start to appear, and it becomes one big tragedy filled with killing all over again.  The characters are split into multiple parties and the perspectives constantly shift.  A lot of flashbacks occur to tell the backstory of characters, and once again, it starts to get confusing trying to take it all in and sort out who is who.  The motivations of each character begins to blur again but amongst all this chaos, Volume 13 keeps you going with anticipation and its promise of bigger things that are coming.  Learning about the orphans in the Sablier Orphanage was a nice surprise, as well as the powers of the Headhunter.  While this was a good volume, it really feels that there are too many characters now that each one does not get enough focus.
Rating:  6.5/10

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Rayman Legends (PS3)


Rayman Legends is the follow up to the stellar Rayman Origins.  Originally announced as an exclusive for the Wii U, it was decided by Ubisoft to release it for all the platforms instead.  The specific Wii U elements such as using the touchscreen was altered for the PS3 and Xbox in order to make these sections work, basically, you use the Circle button to automatically get the AI to perform the actions for you to go forward.  It works really well and you can't tell that it was originally meant to be touchscreen based.  Legends continues on the fantastic art direction of the original.  This is a 2D sidescroller game and the environments are beautiful.  The character animations are sharp and responsive.  The bright colorful environments that Rayman traverse through make every level fun.  Rayman will run through forests, swim underwater and travel through medieval castles.  There are a few clever levels such as one where Rayman runs through a cake where the path is created by another character eating the cake.  You'll have chase scenes and timed levels.  There will be levels or sections where it requires precise timing and memorization.  You can expect to die a few times and it can be sometimes frustrating due to the trial and error nature.

Thankfully, the game is quite forgiving (except for a few levels) with the numerous checkpoints.  Legends plays exactly the same as Origins, except that Rayman has all his abilities from the get go.  This means from the first level, Rayman can glide, punch, wall run, dash and swim his way through.  The gameplay involves getting Rayman from one side of the screen to the other.  Of course, he is required to jump onto platforms to avoid falling to his death, and punch enemies that are blocking his way.  It is a classic platformer and the controls are responsive such that controlling Rayman is precise.  Whenever you die, you know it's not the fault of shoddy gameplay, it's because your precision wasn't enough.  As touched upon earlier, you are introduced to Murphy, where in specific sections on some levels, he will turn up to help you.  He is used to help with activating switches and moving platforms.  The AI guesses which switches you want to activate and you activate it by pressing the Circle button.  This works 99% of the time, but in some sections, it can misinterpret and you have to time pressing the Circle button perfectly or you'll die.

The Magician from Rayman Origins returns, this time becoming the five Dark Teensies.  These Dark Teensies have kidnapped ten princesses from different worlds.  Rayman and his friends were sleeping during all this time, so he is awakened to save the Teensies.  That's basically the whole story, it's minimal at best but then again, it's only an excuse to provide the player some platforming goodness.  There are five worlds in total, plus a bonus world.  In addition, as a bonus, there are levels from Origins that are included, with changed hidden areas.  Collecting Teensies is key to unlocking everything the has to offers.  There are also glowing yellow beings called Lums which Rayman collects, these affect the "high score" you get at the end of a level.  Collecting enough lums will unlock more playable characters, although these play in a very similar way to Rayman himself.  A new twist into the gameplay are the 3D bosses.  Each world has a boss and these are your typical platformer bosses, usually finished within three stages.  These bosses have gimmicks to them, including being rendered in 3D.

The other new element to Legends, and this is this most innovative concept to the game, are the music levels.  In these levels, Rayman has to dash through the level in time with the music and it is so much fun.  While it ends up being similar to Rayman Jungle Run or Fiesta Run in that you're really only controlling when Rayman jumps or attacks, the visuals and music add so much to the atmosphere.  Legends also has a great soundtrack.  The last few remixed music levels though feel unfair as they require not skill but memorization and repetition.  These are basically the same as normal music levels but with various effects that distort the screen.  These effects can easily make you nauseous and feels like a cheap way to up the difficulty.  Legends loads up levels fast, whether it's swapping levels or swapping screens.  There is local co-op multiplayer, including a goal-scoring minigame.  There are also Weekly and Daily challenges in order to aim for high scores against an online leaderboard.  These challenges are actually more interesting and fun than you'll expect.  Overall, Rayman Legends is an excellent follow up to Origins.  The levels are fun, and the platforming feels fair.  With the inclusion of a lot of Origins' levels, Rayman Legends presents great value for money and is worth every dollar.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Arthur and the Invisibles


Arthur and the Invisibles is a hybrid between animation and live-action, with most of the movie being animated.  Arthur is a young boy whose grandfather was lost a few years ago, and is living with his grandmother.  There is a stash of rubies hidden within their gigantic property and they must find it in order to fend off an eviction.  Arthur discovers the Minimoys, a group of small beings that live beneath his garden, and he goes on an adventure, with the Prince and Princess of the mini kingdom, to defeat the evil Maltazard . The plot is predictable and the animation is average.  It doesn't have the same sense of wonder that it should from presenting the same world, but from a much smaller size.  The ending with the toy car chase was disappointing but it does have a happy ending which makes up for it somewhat.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Book Review: Pandora Hearts Volume 12


Review:  #598
Title:  Pandora Hearts Volume 12
Series:  Pandora Hearts - 12th volume
Author:  Jun Mochizuki
Read Before:  no
Comments:  This volume continues the search for the Seals and the characters falls in line with another suspicious character.  The constant introduce of new characters can get confusing but the main cast has stabilized and nearly all of them made an appearance in this volume.  What made this volume good was the brisk pace at which the plot was moving forward.  The chapters feels more focused, with the characters working together and while motives of several characters are still left in the dark, at least you get some inkling of what they intend to do.  The second half of the volume is where the plot becomes even more interesting and it ends on a cliffhanger.  Oz and the other characters are closing in on the next Seal but several other events are happening at once so it becomes a frantic race which makes this one of the best volumes in the series so far.
Rating:  6.5/10

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Psycho-Pass 2 (2014)


Psycho-Pass 2 is the second season following the original Psycho-Pass, but reduces the number of episodes to only 11.  It is set in the distant future of approximately 2113, directly after the events of the first season.  In this future, a type of complex software called the Sibyl System can continually perform "Psycho-Pass" assessments of all people through scanners set about in the city.  These assessments reveal a person's crime coefficient which is their aptitude for likelihood to commit crimes.  Having a coefficient higher than regulation means that they will be captured before they can commit their crimes.  Their coefficients are also affected by the person's feelings.  The result is a society where theoretically, there is no fear of crimes since people will be apprehended before they can commit any serious sins.


All the characters from the first season return, and once again, it stars Akane Tsunemori who is now the lead Inspector of Division 1 of the Criminal Investigation Division.  Akane is responsible for bringing the latent criminals in before they can cause any significant damage to the population.  To aid in her job, she has Enforcers under her who does all the dirty work, since they're already latent criminals with no way of recovering.  They are provided weapons called Dominators which can quickly determine a target's "Psycho-Pass" and determine whether they need to be paralyzed, killed or protected by locking the trigger.  A slew of new characters are introduced to the team, including the rookie inspector Mika Shimotsuki.  Unfortunately, Mika is a dislikeable character who is the complete opposite of Akane in terms of ideas and personality.


With Mika, you might think that she only acts that way in the beginning and will slowly warm up to Akane's methods but she remains this way the whole way through the season.  Mika blindly follows the system without questioning to the extent that it becomes a fault.  Mika ends up being the character that is a hindrance to Akane's job.  Naturally, there is a new villain and mystery.  We have another "ghost" villain who isn't affected by the conventional detection methods of the Sibyl System and most of the season is spent uncovering how they are managing this and what their motives are.  However, it continues to explore the concepts introduced in the first season and goes very philosophical at times when considering the psychological effects of such a system.  If you felt that the first season's feelings of helplessness were frustrating then Psycho-Pass 2 is even worse.


During this season, there are people who doesn't need the helmets to keep their crime coefficients low and their "Psycho-Pass" clear, so they aren't able to be stopped within the normal means.  These perpetrators hunt other people with the police not being able to do anything since they're so tied to their Dominators.  While there are plausible explanations provided on why the Dominators cannot just be overriden, the helplessness is so overpowering.  There are various scenes which are quite gory and demented, even more so than the first season with a lot of horrifying scenarios.  At least the main villain isn't as twisted as Makishima from the first season but there will be plenty of times where you wonder how the villains are justifying their actions and what the point was.


Once you get past the episodes where the characters are as clueless as the viewers and the investigation gains traction, it is hard to pull away from the series.  The revelations are big and it gets intense.  Thanks to the lower episode count, the pacing is much quickly with the final two episodes where everything finally comes out, including the true motives of the villain, makes it a satisfying ending.  There were times where you wonder whether the series could resolve all the plot points it had introduced but it manages to do just that, leading them together into the one conclusion, making it a pretty epic ending.  Overall, Psycho-Pass 2 continues the same heavy and philosophical themes of the original, which is to say, an engaging anime.  While the villain may arguably not be as memorable, there were plenty of fantastic moments of revelation and other moments of not-so-great scenes of helplessness and death.

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