Saturday, 30 August 2014

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix



Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

JK Rowling

   Voldeort is back but the Wizarding world is reluctant to accept it. The ministry of Magic, keen to do everything in its power to suppress the voices of Harry Potter and Dumbledore, begin to interfere at Hogwarts. As their methods become ore and more restrictive, Harry and his friends are forced to take matters into their own hands.

   This book is definitely the hump in the series. Many people, myself included, were turned away from the Harry Potter series after having this monolith drop into their laps. While the Goblet of Fire presented a much longer story than previous instalments, it did so without ever feeling like padding. The Order of the Phoenix however, presents a story that’s even longer but feels to be made up almost entirely of padded scenes.

   It’s perhaps a necessary evil, as the series passes the halfway point and begins to move toward the conclusion, there’s a lot of information to get across and a lot of threads to tie together before we move on, the result though, is a book with far too many plotlines running throughout it.
   There’s the efforts of the ministry to get rid of Dumbledore by strangling Hogwarts, there’s the reformation of the order of the phoenix, the group of wizards brought together by Dumbledore to fight Voldemort, there’s Dubledore’s army, the defence against the dark arts group Harry founds when their new teacher refuses to give any practical lessons, there’s the new teacher herself, Dolores Umbridge, who works for the ministry, is the one responsible for the new restrictions on the school and who literally tortures Harry during their detentions together, then there’s the secret that Hagrid is hiding in the woods, the Dementors joining Voldemort  and breaking the death eaters out of Azkaban, the talk of prophecies, the psychic link between Harry and Voldemort, Harry and Cho, the aftermath of Cedric’s death, ….there’s just too much going on and none of it is glossed over, each story is given full attention and enough detail and pacing to make it the focus of its own novel let alone a small subplot…

    All of this would be fine of not for the fact that, for all that’s constantly happening in this book….nothing ever really feels like it’s happening. In fact, much of the real action seems to be taking place off page. The order of the Phoenix is constantly going on raids and missions, learning all sorts of new information about Voldemort’s movements, but Harry is never let in on any of this. He asks constantly for an opportunity to prove himself, to help out, but is never granted one. The result, is a book where the main character is frustrated that he is left out of the main story and the reader is frustrated by this also.
  
   All of this is not to say I didn’t find any enjoyment in the book, I tend to prefer stories with a slower pace, where characters and dialogue take precedence over action and this instalment definitely has me covered in that regard. As a result, there’s actually a lot here that I really enjoyed.
   The new characters are great, from the shape shifting Tonks to Umbridge herself who may well be the most despicable character in the whole series apart from Voldeort himself. She’s a great villain and her frustrating proclamations that smother the school throughout make her the type of character you just love to loathe.
   Likewise, the plots ad subplots are gripping and exciting and despite how many of them there are, you do want to see the through to the end to see where they lead.

   This is still a great book and a fine addition to the series. It gets across all of the information we need as we move into the closing chapters of the saga and it’s entertaining. The main problem is simply that, after the huge cliffhanger of the last book, the events that take up the majority of book five just seem so…minor…we’re introduced to a hundred new characters all of whom are important but only in minor roles, and we’re given a hundred new plot threads, all of which are important but only in a minor way…meanwhile, Voldemort is still around, building his army in the background, away from the eyes of the reader, the main plot continuing to unfurl without us.

   Despite my problems with the novel, I can hardly tell you not to bother with it. It contains a lot of info you’ll need if you’re to see the series through to the end. Instead I’ll say, it’s a weak point in the series, it contains soe really great stuff, but it’s one of the weaker books overall. I’d urge you, if you find yourself struggling with it, as I did myself the first time I read it, to power through it. Because from here on, the series only goes up. 

JK Rowling
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Friday, 29 August 2014

Sonic X Part 9 - Episodes #41 - 45



Sonic X
Sonic X
Part 9 - Episodes #41 - 45

Ep 41: Eggman for President
   As angry mobs hunt down Sonic, Eggman reveals his true plan, hypnotising the population into voting Eggman in as president.
   This episode's a little dull, it sees Sonic uncover Eggman’s plan, battle with Knuckles who thinks Sonic is a villain and Mr Tanaka fly a spaceship to the Eggmoon to fix the problem. There’s too much going on and none of it’s really interesting.
   The end sees Eggman stopped and forced to flee. As he does, the gang appear in front of him with a series of questions that lead Eggman down a series of paths, either to freedom or into the arms of the law. It’s a really weird ending that comes out of nowhere and doesn’t fit in with anything else that happens in the episode.

   All in all a pretty weak finish to what was a pretty weak arc in the first place.

Ep 42: A date to forget
   Sonic stands Amy up on a date so she goes for a drive with Sam Speed instead.

Emrl

   This episode is really weak, there’s a subplot about Eggman trying to breakout of prison and we get our first glimpse of Emerl, but for the most part it’s just Sam and Amy. There’s supposed to be some kind of character development on Amy’s behalf here but I’m not really sure what it is…at one point she’s driving as fast as Sonic, she realises why Sonic loves running so much and just…sorta forgives him for standing her up…I don’t get it…what’s the epiphany here?

Ep 43: Mean Machines
   The premise for this episode is just…weird….Sonic has become so popular that people have began imitating him. Running everywhere, sleeping on rooftops and even quitting their jobs so they’re able to lead Sonic’s nomadic lifestyle.
   This spate of people quitting their jobs leads to a lack of production workers in Chris’ Father’s factory, leading to thousands of complaints about the poor quality of his products.
   In prison, Eggman is given the job of fixing all the broken machines but he turns them into evil robots and escapes prison.

Hippie carver dude.

   Yeah….that’s what happens. It’s just weird. I don’t know what’s more odd, the image of Sonic battling evil vacuum cleaners and fridges or the idea of society basically crumbling because people love Sonic so much…as you can imagine, none of this really gels together and the episode’s a bit of a mess.
   There’s also some stuff about Emrl copying Sonic’s skills but frankly…I stopped paying attention…

Ep 44: The Sewer Search
   Another dull episode which sees Chris and his friends captured by Eggman and held captive in his base in the sewers.
   Mister Stewart’s cover is nearly blown which could have been aninteresting reveal but it’s not to be. Instead the kids just blindly accept his impressive breakout skills.

   Sonic spends the episode running around looking for Chris until the eventual battle in the sewers….it’s a weak one.

Ep 45: Prize Fight
   The president hosts a fighting tournament with a chaos emerald as the grand prize. Sonic and Co enter the tournament as well as some of Eggman’s cronies.

   This is supposed to be an adaptation of Sonic battle and while not perfect, it kinda makes sense. Not sure what else they could have done with an adaptation of a beat-em-up.
   This episode is actually pretty great. Despite a pretty silly premise, the plot gives plenty of opportunity for action and comedy. Several characters make a return for the tournament, including lucky, who keeps getting through due to circumstances outside the tournament like Decoe and Bocoe getting arrested. The presidents aid even enters disguised as the black night which is…actually pretty hilarious. Big the Cat has a match against Ella in the original Japanese episode, sadly, it got cut from the dub for some reason. A real shame seeing as it marks Big’s final appearance in the show…

   Overall, it’s an unexpected gem. An adaptation that you wouldn’t expect to work, but which does perfectly.

sonic says

Friday, 22 August 2014

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire



Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 
JK Rowling

   Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for his fourth year. When he and his friends arrive, an announcement is made that the Triwizard tournament, a fierce competition held between three rival magic schools, will be held at Hogwarts that year.
   Harry is not eligible to enter, being too young, but is surprised when the Goblet of Fire, the magical cup that chooses each schools competitor, selects him, forcing him to enter the tournament.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Sonic X Part 8 - Episodes #36 - 40



Sonic EGGMAN X
Part 8 - Episodes #36 - 40

Ep 36: Shadow World
   Shadow takes Chris into space and we get our first look at the ARK as Eggman uses it to destroy the moon. Back on Earth, Sonic, Kunckles and the gang battle their way into Eggman’s base to find a way into space.

   This episode is pretty dull. As a whole, the Shadow arc fails to hold your attention as well as the previous Chaos storyline, this episode is a prime example. The action scenes are boring and make up the majority of the episode, the plot isn’t advanced all that much and the art….oh boy.
   The art in Sonic X can vary from the excellent to the pitiful. When the art is good it’s great, but when it’s bad it can render the episodes near unwatchable. This episode must be one of the worst in the series in terms of quality, you’d be hard pressed to find a single shot where anybody is on model. The human characters like Eggman and the President especially, more often than not have proportions more suited to the animal characters and their animation is pathetic. You’re taken completely out of the story and left wondering how this art was ever allowed into the finished episode.

Ep 37: Robotnik’s Revenge
   As the Shadow arc heads towards it’s conclusion we get a lot more info on the backstory of the project. Mr Stewart who, over the course of the arc, has been posing as a journalist trying to find information on project shadow, with little success finally finds the man who led the the attack team on the ARK. He reveals that Robotnik was performing genetic experiments and the government had his team wiped out. We also learn the man leading the attack team saw Maria Robotnik release the Shadow creature from the ARK and killed her.
   Meanwhile, Rouge steals all of Eggman’s files on project shadow and discovers that Shadow isn’t the true ultimate life form he believes himself to be.

Eggman

   This is a great episode, packed with plot and enough action to break it up. The episode ends with Sonic and Shadow battling on the eclipse cannon while Eggman powers it up, only to uncover a video recording by his Grandfather revealing the true purpose of the eclipse cannon.

Ep 38: Showdown in Space
   The Shadow arc reaches it’s conclusion with a finale that sees Eggman and Sonic team up to stop the ARK crashing into the planet.

The Biolizard

   This is just awesome and, while I don’t think it’s quite as cool as the end of the Chaos arc, it’s still definitely worth a watch. The highlight is of course, seeing Super Sonic and Super Shadow team up to destroy the true ultimate life form the BioLizard (though I don’t think it’s ever actually named). The final battle is an awesome sight, with the two hedgehogs battling the space station sized beast, Shadow  casting of his inhibitor rings and gaining the final energy boost needed to destroy the creature sacrificing himself in the process.

Super Shadow

   It’s a brilliant episode start to finish ad ends on a humorous note with Eggman saying that while destroying the planet would be wrong, he still wants to conquer it. Check it out, it’s a good one.

Ep 39: Defective Detectives
   When parts of Sonic’s home world start appearing all over the city, The Chaotix Detective Agency find themselves on earth with a case to solve.
   The episode also introduces Cream’s mother who also finds her way to earth, meanwhile, Eggman sets about repairing the broken half of the moon, replacing it with a mechanical structure.

Chaotix

   This was a really fun episode, it centres almost exclusively around the interactions between the three members of Chaotix, who are some of my favourite characters in the Sonic Universe. Their constant bickering leads to some funny moments and it’s good to have an episode based around characters rather than action scenes.
   The first half of the episode is bogged down by reused footage from previous episodes and a lot of unnecessary exposition, but it’s a good one nonetheless.

Ep 40: Sunblock Solution
   Eggman claims to have lost control of the Eggmoon and it causes an elclipse which shrouds the world in darkness. He is employed by the president to harness the sun’s light which he sells to people in the form of Sunshine balls, and orb of sunlight that can be installed on the lawn.

   The people of earth are awfully willing to forgive Eggman it seems, or they at least have awful memories as this is about the third time Eggman has claimed to be a goody in the series so far. Sonic is the only one who doesn’t believe him and starts smashing the towers he uses to relay the light, making him public enemy number one.

   It’s a fun episode even if the premise is a little silly, my favourite part of the episode has to be the very end, which sees the show rebranded as EggmanX now that Eggman is the hero and Sonic the villain. The idea of Eggman having a home shopping network is just brilliant too. 

Sonic Says

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban



Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban 
JK Rowling

   When I was younger, the third entry in the Harry Potter series was my favourite and it remains so to this day.
   This is the book where the series gets truly dark, while there are dark elements in the second novel this is the moment where it really comes to the forefront.

   The book sees Harry return to Hogwarts for his third year of studies, this time around however, the school is gripped with fear and paranoia. The lunatic mass murderer Sirius Black has become the first man to ever escape from the wizard prison, Azkaban and is rumoured to be hiding out near the school.

   What makes Black such a threatening villain in this novel is just how little we know about him. We learn he was sent to Azkaban for killing a large number of Muggles and that he was a death eater (a supporter of Voldemort) but that’s really it, everything else we learn about him is all second hand gossip, rumour and unanswered questions. How did he escape Azkaban? Is it really true he can turn into smoke? Did he escape prison in order to kill Harry?  He doesn’t make a real appearance in the book until the very end of the novel which means Rowling has the whole book in which to build him up as an eerie, mysterious and terrifying figure.

   It’s not only Sirius Black that Harry has to worry about however, in an effort to protect the school, the Ministry of Magic posts the Azkaban prison guards, the Dementors at the school and the nearby village of Hogsmeade.
   These creatures are just as bad as the prisoners they guard, haunting, floating monsters who have the appearance of the grim reaper and feed on human misery. They physically suck out all the joy from those unfortunate enough to cross their paths, ultimately destroying their victim’s soul.
   They are truly terrifying creatures and easily among the most disturbing of Rowling’s inventions.

   The book does a great job of expanding on the wizarding world with its details of Azkaban and Hogsmeade, the only all-magic village in Great Britain which the Hogwarts students can visit at certain times during the year. While the locales of the town are expanded upon in later books, here we’re given a decent overview of the town’s main attractions and the insight into the lives of the magic community is very welcome.
   Also introduced are several new characters including Remus Lupin, the new defense against the dark arts teacher and the hopeless Divination teacher, professor Trelawney who spends more time making botched predictions about Harry’s death than she does teaching. All of these characters continue the trend of Rowling creating unique, memorable and loveable characters who stay with the reader long after they put down the book.

   The tone in the Prisoner of Azkaban may lack much of the humour of the other books in the series but the dark tone works perfectly with the increasing tension of the story. Rowling does a perfect job of telling a story that fits in with the greater continuity without forcing Voldemort in at the last minute as she did in the previous instalment. It’s a standout moment in the series and easily one of the best.

JK Rowling
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Thursday, 14 August 2014

Sonic X Part 7 - Episodes #31 - 35



Sonic X
Sonic X
Part 7 - Episodes #31 - 35

Ep 31: Revenge of the Robot
   Another great episode which sees Sonic do battle with Eggman and the conclusion of Gamma’s arc as he hunts down the rest of the E-series and reprograms them.

   The only real problem I have with this episode is how quickly Gamma’s story is wrapped up, I’d have preferred it if his hunt for the rest of the E-Series had crossed over a couple of episodes to really build on the idea that he’s turning against his master and programming to save his brothers, an idea I thought was handled very well in the game. Here it feels a little rushed and it leaves the final battle with Beta feeling a little unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
   That said, the final shots of a destroyed Gamma holding hands with Beta tell the story pretty well.

Ep 32: Flood Fight
   The final part of the Sonic Adventure adaptation, this episode sees Chaos return and gain control of the seven emeralds, transform into Perfect Chaos and flood station square.  

Perfect Chaos

   This is another episode I wish was a two parter, there’s just too much to get across in twenty minutes, first we get to learn the backstory of Chaos, that he is a spirit who guards the chaos emeralds and keeps them from harm. We also learn that because of the attack by Tikal’s tribe, Chaos is in a state of eternal anger and uses the evil power of the emeralds to wreak havoc.
    We get to see Chaos flood station square, something that I actually think the series handles better than the game. We actually got to see some of the damage he causes, people are in a panic, we see the government fail to intervene and people evacuating the city. In the game, the flooding of the city feels like a minor inconvenience, here, we at least get some hints to the devastation it causes.
   Then of course we get to see the final climactic battle between Chaos and Super Sonic. It’s an awesome moment and easily one of my favourites of the series so far.

   The episode never feels too rushed, but it could have definitely benefited from a little more time, perhaps ending an episode on the cliff hanger of seeing Perfect Chaos emerge for the first time then leaving a whole episode to deal with the battle and aftermath would have been better than cramming the fight into the final ten minutes, but hey, it’s still a great episode with an epic final battle and it’s a great ending to a brilliant arc.

Ep 33: Project Shadow
   Dr Eggman hacks into a military database and discovers top secret files, belonging to his grandfather Gerald Robotnik, dealing with the mysterious Project Shadow.
   The president sends Rouge and Topaz to discover what they can about the project, meanwhile, due to the damage to the mansion, Chris and Cream are forced to move away until the damage is repaired, leaving their friends behind.

DUN! DUN! DUN!

   Like the opening to the Chaos arc, this episode does a great job of slowly building the impression that something epic is on the horizon. Information and hints about the Shadow project as well as Gerald Robotnik and Maria are drip fed to us, slowly building up the mystery and leaving you wanting more. It’s a great opening chapter to the Sonic Adveture 2 adaptation and ends on a brilliant cliff hanger with Eggman awakening the shadow creature to reveal….Sonic? Dun! Dun! Duuuuunnnn!

Ep 34: Shadow Knows
   This episode sees Sonic arrested and charged with an attack on prison island. Once he escapes CCTV footage starts circulating which appears to show him stealing a chaos emerald from a museum. While battling government robots send to re-capture him, Sonic meets the real culprit, The mysterious Shadow the Hedgehog.

   This episode’s a little more action driven than story driven which is fine, but the problem is, the first battle between Sonic and Shadow is…pretty dull. It takes up the majority of the episode and it’s a bit of a drag. Personally I’d have preferred if the reveal of Shadow was left a little longer to allow the mistaken identity stuff to play out a little more. Aside from that, it’s a decent enough intro to the character, there’s still a lot for the viewer to learn, I just think revealing Shadow so early on damages the mystique a little.

Ep 35: Sonic’s Big Break
   This episode begins with Mr Tanaka and Chris (dressed as the green hornet and Kato) using a paddle boat to sneak onto prison island to rescue Sonic…if that doesn’t sound like filler, I don’t know what does.

   Yeah the Chris subplot in this episode is entirely pointless but the rest of the episode is ok. It deals with Tails and Amy attempting to rescue Sonic while Shadow and Rouge also attack prison island looking for chaos emeralds. The episode is pretty convoluted, with far too much going on and too many plotlines all tangling together but it’s fun enough. It does introduce my new favourite Sonic X character, though I doubt we’ll ever see him again, an utter nutcase of a guard who speaks in nothing but exposition, delivering long monologues detailing Sonic’s prison cell and the defense procedures of prison island, all while his fellow guards look on with looks of complete confusion…love it.

Crazy guard
 
   Also, when the bomb Shadow plants hits the final ten second countdown, the ten seconds stretch out to at least a minute…just saying…

Sonic Says

Friday, 8 August 2014

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets



Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 
JK Rowling

   This book was probably my least favourite entry in the series when I was younger and I’m sad to say, much of my ambivalence towards it remains. For whatever reason, the story in this book just doesn’t grab me the way the others do.

   The book sees Harry return to Hogwarts for his second year, having spent the summer in the company of the Dursleys. Once back at school, mysterious events begin to unfold, students are being attacked in the hallways by an unseen monster, there are rumours of a mysterious Chamber of Secrets hidden beneath the school where the monster resides and many suspect Harry of setting the beast free.

   The main problem I have with this book, is that it just feels a little formulaic. There’s nothing really to differentiate it from the first instalment. Harry goes to school, something mysterious happens and it’s up to him and his friends to save the day, this isn’t helped by the fact that the creature in the Chamber and the story behind it, simply don’t feel as crucial to the plot as the other adventures Harry goes through.

   A warning here, I’m going to talk about the ending of the novel so there are spoilers ahead….I don’t know who I could possibly be spoiling the book for at this point but…better safe than sorry…so yes…spoilers…

   The final reveal of the villain feels a little weak. It is revealed that the creature, a giant snake, has been unleashed by Tom Riddle, the schoolboy version of Lord Voldermort. The spirit of Riddle is possessing his old school diary which falls into the hands of Ron’s sister Ginny.
   While this reveal has some ramifications towards the end of the series, here, it just feels a little desperate. It feels like, in lieu of another villain, Voldermort is crammed into the final battle when he would really be better left out.
   Had the real Voldermort found a way back into the castle it would have perhaps worked a little better but having the ghost of his childhood self be the villain is just…weak, it just doesn’t quite work.

   The reveal does offer the reader the chance to learn a little more about Voldermort’s backstory, but even that feels a little out of place. It feels like information that might be better left to later on in the series, here, without the looming presence of the real Voldermort, it feels a little inconsequential.

   Another thing I missed was the glimpses into the Wizarding world. Aside from a brief stay at the Weasley’s house and a trip to Diagon alley, Harry jumps from home to school and stays there for the duration of the novel. There’s no new information or sights from the Wizarding world and, as seeing this impressive creation being fleshed out is one of the most enjoyable things about this series, Rowling’s decision to offer little expansion of the world she has built is a real shame.

   Criticisms aside, there’s still a lot of entertaining stuff here. The plot, while not offering up much of any real consequence, does provide a decent mystery and you are least interested in knowing where it goes. The characters are fantastic and the new editions to the cast, the vain Professor Lockheart especially, are all wonderful.
   Rowling’s style is as on point as ever as is her knack for dialogue.

   This is by no means a bad book, it’s just one that, in the grand scheme, feels like filler. It’s an adventure that Harry really doesn’t need to be subjected to and there’s the sense running throughout that Rowling still isn’t a hundred percent certain where the rest of the series is going.
   It’s still worth a read; it’s just not as engaging as the rest of the series. 

JK Rowling
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