Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Sonic X Part 5 - Episodes 21 - 25



Sonic X
Sonic X
Part 5 - Episodes 21 - 25

Ep 21: Fast friends
   Sam Speed returns….and challenges Sonic to a race…

   Yep, we all knew this was coming. Can’t have a Sonic series without a race episode. Generally these are my least favourite plots for sonic cartoons and this one is not different. Sam Speed challenges Sonic who even seems sick of this cliché himself, as he refuses to take part. The presidents aide contacts Eggman to get him to convince Sonic to participate, which he does…by threatening him with a kissing Robot…yeah, I’ve no idea what’s going on either.

Kissing robot

   The episode goes pretty much as you’d expect, Eggman pulls out all the stops to make Sonic lose but of course, he doesn’t. If you’ve watched any of the other series you’ve seen it all done before, and done better.
   I’d skip it.

Ep 22: Little Chao lost
    While out on a camping trip, Cheese gets swept down river. When the gang try to find her, they stumble upon a hidden Chao garden.

    This is a pretty good episode, not the best but it’s decent. It makes good use of some of the game lore by giving us a Chao garden (or Chao colony as they refer to it here).
    Of course, Eggman gets involved leading to yet another generic robot battle but that’s fine.
     One thing that’s odd about the episode is that, although it seems to be a class trip (Mr Stewart leads the group) there’s only Chris and his friends. Where are the other kids? Why are Tails,Amy and Cream allowed to come along too? It’s never really explained but hey, I guess we’ve come to expect that by now anyway.

Ep 23: Emerald Anniversary
  As an anniversary gift for his wife, Chris’ Dad buys a huge gem stone, unaware that it is a Chaos emerald. The emerald gets the attention of Sonic as well as Eggman and Rouge.

  This episode sees the gang travel to Filmdom city to meet Chris’ mum and it’s through that, that we get the best moments of this episode.
   When Eggman attacks, it starts a chase around the film studio to grab the emerald, this sets up for a bunch of funny movie parodies including Jurassic park, Star Wars and Godzilla.

Titanic

   Fun as these parodies are though, they’re really the only thing going for this episode. It’s just another pointless episode with a paper thin plot. It’s also too heavy on exposition as the writers try to quickly shoe horn in the concept that the Emeralds need to be slowly introduced to each other or else they’ll cause a massive electromagnetic surge. Basically a weak plot point used to alert Rouge and Eggman to the presence of the emerald.
   While this episode has its moments, it’s yet another weak entry in the series *sigh*….how long ‘til that Sonic Adventure arc?

Ep 24: How To Catch A Hedgehog
   During a battle with one of Eggman’s robots, Sonic gets one of the robot’s microchip stuck in his ear, which causes him to begin running out of control…because that’s how microchips work.

   This episode is just bizarre. First of all, the reason why a microchip would cause Sonic’s legs to run continually is never explained, it just happens. You’d expect some half-baked explanation at the end of the episode but it just doesn’t happen. In fact the episode doesn’t really have and ending at all. Sonic meets the robot again and, while attacking it, dislodges the microchip from his ear, he stops running and….that’s it….

Creepy Sonic

   The main body of the episode is Chuck and Chris coming up with various plans to stop Sonic, I’m not sure if these plans are supposed to bring an element of humour to the episode, but if they are, it definitely doesn’t work, making for yet another episode with an almost nonexistent plot, weak action, no humour ad no reason to watch.

Ep 25: A Dastardly deed
   With only one Chaos Emerald left to find, Knuckles and Chris attempt to strike a deal with Eggman to bring the emeralds together so the group can get back home. Eggman agrees but it is a trick to steal sonic’s emeralds, nobody is surprised.

   This is the first part of a two parter making up the mid season finale of series 1, because of that, the plot’s a little slower than usual but all the better for it. Chris’ mixed feeling about sending his friends home are explored and the episode has a more peaceful tone, contemplative tone in general.
   Not a lot happens but that’s fine, it’s all building up to the events of the next episode.

Sonic Says

Monday, 28 July 2014

Sonic X Part 4 - Episodes #16 - 20




Sonic X
Sonic X
Part 4 - Episodes #16 - 20

Ep 16: Depths of Danger
   When the gang head to the beach for a break, they discover evidence of a Chaos Emerald under the ocean.

Sexy Swimsuit

    This one’s not too great on the action front, just more of the same really, but there’s a lot of great funny moments, mostly centred around Sonic trying to find a way to get the emerald from under the water. The methods he uses to be able to hold his breath while walking along the sea bed are all pretty funny and give some good laughs. The rest of the episode is pretty standard stuff.

Ep 17: The adventures of Knuckles and Hawk
   Knuckles and new friend Hawk find a chaos emerald in a Japanese temple, but have to battle Eggman and a robotic ninja to keep hold of it.

   While the story in this one is pretty straight forward and the opportunity to learn a little more about Knuckles’ character is wasted, this episode is still pretty good. It has a decent amount of action and the ninja they fight acts more like one of our anthropomorphic heroes than a robot so the action isn’t the same old “Sonic s giant mech” stuff that we’ve seen so many times already.
   One thing I wish they’d made more use of is the Yakuza, Hawk gets in trouble with a gang who keep him in an underground prison cell, but once they escape the gang are never heard from again. You’d expect them to return for the episodes finale but they just vanish, missing an opportunity to have some human villains for a change.
   Despite that though, this is a good one.

Ep 18: The dam scam
   After crashing in the savannah, Chris and Tails must stop a group of Russians from building a dam and destroying theeco system. Meanwhile, Sonic deals with Eggman’s robot.

   This episode is awful, part robot of the week, part pointless filler story. The stuff with the dam just doesn’t make any sense. The Russians are building a dam in the middle of the dry savannah. They plan to start fires across the land to generate rain but Chris and Tails don’t know this so they’ve no reason to want the building stopped. Then there’s the fact that the Russians claim that the rain will flood the entire savannah meaning the dam wouldn’t work anyway…..maybe I’m over analysing this, but yeah, it sucks.
    The generic battle with the robot is incredibly unexciting too, there’s just nothing worth watching here.

   The only mildly interesting thing about the episode is that, technically, it’s Eggman who saves the day by threatening the Russians and getting them to abandon the dam project. Doesn’t stop Chris taking the credit for it though…

Ep 19: Sonic’s scream test
   The gang visit Chris’ mum on location for her new movie. Things get strange however, as they learn that the castle being used for filming is haunted.

Evil Amy

   This episode is pure nightmare fuel and I love it. It has a great atmosphere and some pretty creepy moments. Amy being possessed, her face changing to mimic the ghosts is brilliant. If you’re a Sonic fan, you’ve probably seen the image floating around the net at some point, it puts the Tails doll to shame.
   There are also some other great moments like the ghosts warping Sonic’s voice to make it sound like he’s  telling Amy he loves her and tricking her into freeing them is eerie and really well done.

   It’s also good to see some of the lesser known enemies from the sonic series make an appearance outside of the games, case in point here being King Boom Boo from Sonic Adventure 2.

Ghost

   Overall, while this is really just another filler episode, it’s probably one of my favourite episodes in the series. It’s a welcome break from the norm and contains many of the most memorable moments in the series.

Ep 20: Cruise blues
   After their latest battle against Eggman, the group decide to relax and take a cruise, but Sonic doesn’t take well to being confined at sea.

  Another weak episode, this one sees the cast confined to a  ship at sea with nothing to do. The whole episode centres around how Sonic and Tails are bored as there’s nothing to do on the ship, but the effect of this is that the audience ends up bored too.
   There are a handful of funny moments, mainly centred around Sonic’s attempts to convince the others to end the cruise, but these are too few and far between.
    In an attempt to give the episode at least some scraps of a plot, Eggman reveals a new airbase (modeled after the starship enterprise) but this happens too late into the episode leading to a rushed battle with nothing of value to offer.
 

Sonic Says

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone



Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
JK Rowling

   I have a confession to make, one which might damage your opinion of me as a reader….I’ve never finished Harry Potter…I know. I know….
  When I was a kid though, I absolutely adored the Harry Potter series, I got into it around the time the third book came out. I’d never heard of it before but my aunt bought me the first instalment and from then on I was hooked.
   I read through the first three, bought the merchandise, had Harry Potter games and toys, ate the sweets, dressed as him at Halloween and was caught up in a wave of anticipation for the fourth book. I got the goblet of fire, was totally gripped by the cliff hanger at the end and then….the wait for the fifth book was just so long…
   Nevertheless, I waited it out, with the films to help fill in the gap between new releases, got the fifth book, read it and then….the wait for the sixth book was just so long…
   While I waited for book six I hit my teens and started to move on to other interests, to the point where, when the sixth book did come out, I’d forgotten everything that happened in book five and I completely lost interest in the series, not bothering to pick up the seventh book at all.
   Since then I’ve seen all eight films and so know what happens in the final chapter, but there’s always been a niggle at the back of my mind that I should return and finish the series.
   So, this year, I’m finally making the effort of starting from the very beginning and going through to the end. I haven’t read a Harry Potter book since 2005 so I was very happy that when I dipped my toe back into the wizarding world, it was just as magical as I remember.

   As an intro to the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is both fitting and an odd one to read with the benefit of hindsight.
   Knowing where the series will go, the adult themes it will tackle and the dark subject matter that will envelop the characters, it’s odd that the first instalment reads so much like a children’s book.
  The prose is simple and the world it creates feels very cartoony and jolly. The darkness of the later instalments is all but absent here and it can feel just a tad too childish in places, especially for older readers.
   That said, this intro works perfectly for the character, after all, Harry is still a child. He’s only eleven in this book and, thrown headfirst into the world of Witches and Wizards, it only makes sense that he would view this fantastic new world as a happy, mystical place, highlighting the wonderment and paying no heed to any of the seedier aspects that we will later learn haunt the series.

   The Wizarding world is just fantastic, Rowling does a phenomenal job of creating a dense, detailed world and knows how much information to dish out to the reader at any one time. She never floods you with information, instead she’ll have Harry take a note of some fascinating object or character and leave him wondering what it is, revealing the truth much later down the line.
   She does a great job of putting the reader in Harry’s shoes, upon his first visit to Diagon Alley you want him to visit every shop, read every sign, and talk to every merchant. You want to dive in and learn as much as you can about the world.

   The characters too are brilliant, from Harry himself to the gigantic Hogwarts groundskeeper Hagrid, the oddball headmaster Albus Dumbledore and the vile potions master Severus Snape. Each one leaps of the page and is instantly memorable. In just a few short paragraphs Rowling gives you a firm grasp on each of the characters and her Roald Dahl-esque ability to name characters is just perfect.

   The book is honestly hard to fault, there is the occasional childish inclusion which doesn’t quite work later on when the series gets darker and I’m sure when the rules surrounding how magic works are cemented a little more later down the line a few plot holes emerge, but there’s nothing to put you off while you’re reading it.
   It’s definitely the most childish instalment in the series, maybe a little too childish at times, but in terms of children’s books it probably the most perfect example you could hope for and a definite must read.

JK Rowling
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Saturday, 26 July 2014

Sonic X Part 3 - Episodes #11-15



Sonic X
Part 3 - Episodes #11-15

Ep 11: Fly Spy
   After committing a jewellery heist at museum, the government take note of Rouge the Bat’s range of skills and recruit her to launch an attack on Eggman’s base. Rouge agrees and forms an unexpected alliance with G.U.N. agent, Topaz.

Rouge and Topaz

   This was a really good episode that switched the focus away from Sonic and Chris. The usual gang do feature in the episode but in a much smaller way than usual. The main focus is all on Rouge, one of the more interesting and layered characters in the Sonic universe. We get a good mix of her villainous side as well as her good qualities making hero ne of the more rounded characters in the show.
   As well as all that good character stuff we’re also given a decent helping of action on the side as Rouge and Topaz do battle with Eggman’s robots. The episode also features some of the best visuals and animation in the series so far, even of they do reuse that one shot of Rouge performing her drill kick about twenty times.
   Easily among the most satisfying episodes of the  series so far.

Ep 12: Beating Eggman part 1
   It’s all go as Tails uncovers another Chaos emerald and G.U.N. launches an attack on Eggman’s base to bring him down once and for all.

   As the first of a two-parter this one feels a little slow but builds gradually into a suitably epic conclusion. The whole cast is involved in this one, Tails, Amy and Chris discover an emerald in a field and have to content with Eggman and one of his robots. While Eggman is distracted, G.U.N. launches an attack on chaos Control with Rouge and Topaz leading the ground force, with Knuckles stowing away on one of G.U.N.’s jets. The only person not really doing anything is…..Sonic…

Lazy Sonic

   This has been a major problem with the series up to this point, and sadly it’s one that continues as it goes on. For a show centred around Sonic, he hardly does anything to advance the plot. More often than not, an episode will open with him growing bored around the house and buggering off for a run around some mountain region somewhere. Meanwhile Tails and Chris get into whatever trap Eggman springs and wait patiently for Sonic to return home, find them missing and rush to save the day like the spiky little deus ex machina he is. It’s a huge flaw with the show and one of the things that got so many fans so angry at the program.

   It’s incredibly apparent in this episode because literally every other character is working their ass off to get the gang home. The result, is that the audience emphasises with pretty much every character but Sonic, he’s kind of unlikeable in this series….at least so far.
   Anyway, rant over, on with part 2….

Ep 13: Beating Eggman part 2
   The battle intensifies as all sides pull together to defeat Dr Eggman.

   …..aaaaaaannnnd…..Sonic saves the day, what else where you expecting? In a suitably epic conclusion to this two part episode, G.U.N. and our heroes work together to defeat Eggman and destroy his fortress. Sonic takes on the doctor one on one while Rouge, Knuckles and Topaz plant demolition charges in the control room.
    The action continually and believably ramps up, bigger and bigger robots stand in our heroes and the G.U.N. team find themselves trapped in a locked room with the demolition charges. It all feels like the last act of a video game, Eggman’s giant robot even being a suitable final boss. It’s an intense episode with a lot of action and a great watch. 

Victory over Eggman

Ep 14: That’s what friends are for
   The President’s Aide hosts a party to celebrate the victory over Eggman, but Sonic decides not to go.

   Definitly a filler episode, this one doesn’t have much going on. Sonic refuses to go to the party as he’s promised to take Chris’ friend Helen to an island she’s always wanted to see, but never has as her Father is always too busty at work. The president’s Aide then sends out a task force to drag him to the party.
   It’s pretty weak but the idea of sonic skipping such an important event to keep a promise to a little girl who has had too many promises broken in the past, is very sweet. Not a lot really happens in this one, but it’s a cute concept.

Ep 15: Skirmish in the sky
   Tails and Amy head to station square for some shopping but find themselves the centre of attention due to their newfound fame. Meanwhile, Eggman returns and attacks the city.

   A good episode with a lot of action, this one’s a lot of fun. It’s  good to see Eggman return (even if it has only been two episodes) and his attack in this episode feels particularly ruthless. He doesn’t launch a robot, instead he attacks the city himself with a massive battle station.
   We also see the return of Sam Speed in his first episode since sonic was revealed to be living with Chris. This could have led to an interesting confrontation but sadly, Sam doesn’t even mention his  rivalry with sonic, or the fact the Chris lied to him. A missed opportunity.
   The battle itself is pretty intense and there’s enough going on to keep you interested throughout. Not as awesome as the Defeating Eggman two-parter but still worth a watch.

sonic says

Friday, 25 July 2014

Sherlock Holmes: The Unauthorised Biography



Sherlock Holmes The Unauthorised Biography
Sherlock Holmes: The Unauthorised Biography
Nick Rennison

   This book was an odd one. Presenting itself as a biography of the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes, it takes the point of view that Holmes, Watson and his nemesis Moriarty were real people and that Watson handed over his accounts of Sherlock’s adventures to author, Arthur Conan Doyle for publication.

   Over the book, the author attempts to fill in the blanks in Watson’s version of the story. Watson himself admits in several of the stories that there are multiple cases that he has not documented, owing either to the need to keep the case secret, or the uninteresting result, when the crime is solved. There were sixty Sherlock Holmes mysteries published and the author suggests the man himself was involved with anything up to a thousand over his career.
   The author attempts to fill in these blanks by creating a fictional account of Holmes’ upbringing on a country estate, his education and some notable cases, undocumented by Watson, that the detective could possibly have been involved with. These range from things like the Jack the Ripper case, a secret involvement in the war in Ireland (under the request of his brother Mycroft) to a variety of less famous murders that plagued the Victorian era. These cases are backed up by hints to other cases within the actual Sherlock Holmes stories as well as “newly discovered evidence” created by the author.

   It’s an interesting premise and the cases, stories and fun facts that Rennison digs up from the Victorian era are interesting to read about. That said however, it’s hard to tell who exactly this book is written for. It’s not written for those interested in the Victorian era or true crime, because, while the cases detailed here were all seemingly true occurrences, their telling is rendered fictional by the inclusion of Sherlock Holmes, at the same time, it’s not really of any use to Holmes fans either, while it does offer a detailed history of the character, the new material supplied by the author has little to do with Doyle’s original stories, it's really just fan fiction, interesting, well researched fan fiction, but fan fiction nonetheless.

   Despite that though, I did enjoy this book. It’s well written and well paced. Long enough to provide a decent amount of information but not so long that the novelty wears thin. I did enjoy learning about the mysteries that the author dredges up from the past and there are several humorous facts and stories from the era that stop the book from lingering too much on the dark side.

   If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes, this is an enjoyable piece of alternate history for the character. Nothing in it is canon by any means but as a, what might have been, look at the character it’s pretty interesting.
   One mainly for the hardcore fans perhaps, but a book worthy of a place on your shelf.

Sherlock Holmes
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Thursday, 24 July 2014

Sonic X Part 2 - Episodes #06 - 10



Sonic x Logo
Sonic X
Part 2 - Episodes #06 - 10

Ep 06: Techno-Teacher
   Eggman sends a robot teacher to Chris’ school in order to indoctrinate his class and make them love Dr Eggman…it’s weird…

   Not your average robot of the week episode, this one’s a lot slower paced. There are a lot of really strange things in this episode, the robot just walks into class and takes over and the school principle just accepts this. He even encourages Mr Stewart to sit in and take notes, there’s also a weird running joke about Mr Stewart stealing a burger from a police man.
   The robot keeps the whole class back for detention, a problem for Chris as his parents are in town for one night and he has to get home to see them.

   If this is all sounding like a bit of a jumble, there’s a reason for that. This episode is a mess. It’s a blatant filler episode, nothing of any real value is present and you could skip the episode entirely without missing anything, hell, even Sonic seemingly couldn’t be arsed with it and makes only the briefest of appearances towards the end.
   I’d give it a miss.

Ep 07: Party Hardly
   Chris’ mum decides to host a party which Mr Stewart decides to attend.

   This is a pretty slow one, Eggman doesn’t even make an appearance. This is a good thing though as the change of pace allows for a little bit of character building. We get to see how much Cream is missing her mother back home as well as getting some info on how Chris’ mum feels about leaving home all the time.
   Despite the much needed time with the characters, this isn’t a great episode. It still feels a bit like filler and feels really slow. That said, the character development is incredibly welcome.

Ep 08: Satellite Swindle
  Eggman uses a massive robot to rob satellites from the Earth’s orbit to use to build new machines. When the Tornado is damaged during an initial assault with the robot, Tails is forced to make some adjustments.

Dizzy Eggman

   Again, this one feels like filler (how long ‘til that Sonic Adventure adaptation?), yet another robot of the week episode and given that the robot is little more than a giant vacuum it’s not even much of a dramatic battle.
   Sadly it’s another one I’d say to skip unless you’re desperate to watch the whole series.

Ep 09: The Last Resort
   Chris attends a swanky opening for a new beach resort while Amy, Cream and Tails enjoy a break at a nearby cove. Things go awry however, when Eggman attacks the gala.

   A surprisingly good episode, this one offers up a little glimpse of Amy’s character. We see her love for Sonic played out in more detail and we also get a few hints that Sonic might actually care for her two. When Amy gives Sonic the bracelet she has made for him, the two share a sweet little moment (which is of course promptly interrupted by an attacking robot, what can you do?)
   It’s more bot of the week rubbish, but the time dedicated to the characters is very welcome and very enjoyable.

Ep 10: Unfair Ball
   When Tails finds a chaos emerald in a sports stadium, Eggman challenges the gang to a game of baseball with the emeralds as the prize.

Baseball Eggman
 
   You guessed it, another filler episode but at least this is a fun one, the best thing about this episode is probably Knuckles. While the rest of the group are engaged in a plotline that wouldn’t seem out of place in AoStH, Knuckles is the only one who pipes up and makes a point of how ridiculous the idea of playing Eggman at baseball really is. It’s a fun little moment and a piece of logic that you wouldn’t expect from an episode like this.
   Couple that with some enjoyable (if predictable) cheating from Eggman’s team and you’ve got a pretty decent episode. 

Sonic says



Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Colour of Magic: The Graphic Novel



The colour of magic: The Graphic Novel
Terry Pratchett’s
The Colour of Magic: The Graphic Novel
Steven Ross, Scott Rockwell, Vickie Williams & David Campiti

   The Discworld series seems the perfect series to adapt into a comic book, the whole world feels like one already. Bursting at the seams with interesting characters spurred on by ridiculous plots with laugh out loud gags every two sentences; it seems like a no brainer, all anyone would have to do is add pictures to the words Pratchett had already laid down. All of this just makes it all the odder that the team behind this graphic novel got it so spectacularly wrong…

   The Colour of Magic is Pratchett’s first novel in the series and sees the useless wizard Rincewind tasked with protecting Twoflower, a tourist in Rincewind’s town of Ankh-Morpork who hails from a powerful nation that the Ankh council want to keep on their good side.
   Over the course of the book Rincewind and Twoflower find themselves in multiple dangerous scenarios including finding themselves lost in the temple of an ancient demon and battling a clan of dragon riding warriors.

   The original book isn’t the best in the series, it still feels like Pratchett is finding his voice, trying out a bunch of different stuff to see what works for him, but the key ingredients of the Discworld series are here, loving parodies of the clichés of the fantasy genre, clever word play and jokes and an underlying sense of the absurd throughout…all of which are missing from the comic.

   That’s the main problem with this book, it just isn’t funny. There are jokes, don’t get me wrong, but they seem to come once every ten pages instead of every two sentences and when they do appear, they fall flat, failing completely at capturing Pratchett’s style of humour.
   The characters all suffer terribly, Rincewind’s cowardly persona, when sapped of its humour, comes across very poorly, he just has no personality at all.
   That said, at least the underlying joke that Rincewind is a coward still rears its head, at least slightly, other characters don’t even get that. A good example is Liessa, the leader of the dragon riders. In the original novel, she is a parody of women in the fantasy genre. She “armours” herself in a remarkably impractical chainmail bikini which is useless at containing her buxom physique let alone providing any actual protection.
   She’s a satire of the sexist cliché running through the fantasy genre of women as little more that set decoration, dressed in skimpy outfits for no reason other than titillation.
   Here, all of that is removed, there’s no joke about her outfit or its impracticality, she makes no mention of it herself nor do any of the other characters, she’s just a woman in a chainmail bikini. Instead of offering some satire of the cliché, she just becomes another example of it, there to do nothing but titillate.

Colour of magic interior art.

   So the writing does a poor job at capturing Pratchett’s style, but surely some of it remains in the artwork? ….not so much.
   Taking a quick glance at the original cover illustrations for the Discworld series by Josh Kirby you immediately get a sense of what the novels will be like. They burst with colour and are cluttered with characters and minute background detail. They’re overly busy, riotous and anarchic, exactly what the Discworld series is like to read. Here, artist Steven Ross’ work is far too stiff, the colours too washed out. He attempts to populate the world with that same anarchy, scenes in Ankh-morpork often feature small background details of people engaged in fights and things like that, but none of the panels ever feel alive.
   Not only that, but often, they don’t even do their job of helping tell the story. There were several moments while reading this book where, during a page turn, there was a scene jump with no real explanation as to why.
   One example was a scene where a demon attacks Rincewind and Twoflower on the road. Rincewind dispatches of it and in the very next panel under a text box that reads “Sometime later…” Twoflower sits alone on a rock revealing that he is lost, having been separated from Rincewind for several hours. Immediately I checked to make sure I hadn’t accidentally skipped over a few pages but no…in the panel that sees Rincewind kill the demon, there is a tiny background detail of Twoflower’s horse (or, more precisely, the horses head) seemingly bucking up at the threat of the demon. The reader was apparently to read this easily missed detail as evidence that Twoflower’s horse gets startled and carries Twoflower off into the woods for miles until he is totally separated from Rincewind.
   This, on its own wouldn’t be an issue but this exact same thing happened at least five times while I read the book, with details linking scenes either minute or missing entirely.

   This comic is a sadly missed opportunity. What should have been an easy transition seems to miss the point of the Discworld series entirely, presenting an utterly humourless version of the story that feels like a third-rate generic fantasy tale with nothing to offer. Fans of the novels will be disappointed and newcomers to the series risk being put off continuing. Avoid it. 

Terry Pratchett
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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Sonic X Part 1 - Episodes #01 - 05



Sonic X Logo
Sonic X
Part 1 - Episodes #01 - 05

   It’s that time again, time to go through a cartoon series and analyse is episode by episode.
   Sonic X is the fourth (and up until the recent announcement of Sonic Boom, the final) series made based on the Sonic the Hedgehog video game series and is one that divides the fans a great deal. Many praise the series for its action and several long story arcs based heavily on the games themselves, like the impressive Sonic Adventure adaptation, others however, bemoaned the inconsistent animation style which is occasionally brilliant but frequently sees characters going grotesquely off model, and the new characters, most notably Chris Thorndyke who has gone on to become one of the most hated characters in the entire Sonic multiverse.

   Personally I can see both sides of the arguments and, while there’s a lot about Sonic X I do like, I find myself falling more on the side of those who dislike the series.
   Nevertheless, while I’m going to give you my opinions on each episode, I’d highly encourage you to seek the series out for yourself and make up your own mind.

   Okay, enough with the intro, with nearly eighty episodes to talk about we’ve got a lot to get through so lets dive right in…

Ep 01: Chaos Control Freaks
   This episode is a really great intro to the series, starting with an attack on Eggman’s HQ we are introduced to each of the main characters fairly naturally. When Eggman activates one his his machines it goes aywire and sonic is transported to earth where he immediately has to escape the authorities who chase him across the city. We are also introduced to Sam Speed, leader of a group of race car driving police officers, who hates anyone who can travel faster than him (wonder where that’s headed…) before running off the highway and landing in a swimming pool where he is rescued by everyone’s favourite character Chris.

Sonic Meets Chris

   The episode is high on action and speed and sets the premise up perfectly. While you could say a little more time spent on Sonic’s home planet would be welcome (a whole series maybe?), if you just accept the show’s premise, this is about as good an intro to the series as you could hope for and leaves you wanting more.

Ep 02: Sonic to the rescue
   Along with Chris and his grandfather, Sonic mounts a rescue mission to retrieve Cream & Cheese from a military base. Along the way he is also reunited with Tails and we learn that Dr Eggman has indeed been transported to earth as well.

   We’re still in the introductory phase of the series so once again, action is the main focus. Those looking for more character orientated stories (A group I count myself amongst) will have to wait a while longer.
   That aside, this is another good episode without much to complain about. It’s still pretty shallow, but it does its job.

Ep 03: Missile Wrist Rampage
   Eggman launches his first attack on the city using a robot called Missile Wrist. The gang attempt to take it down and are reunited with Amy and Knuckles.

Knuckles & Amy

   Once again, action over character development. This episode is the first in a the horribly tedious and repetitive series of episodes which see Eggman unleash robot after robot to destroy the city with Sonic and co fending them off. It’s a dull arc which thankfully doesn’t keep up for the duration of the series, but one which lasts more than long enough to leave a sour taste in your mouth.
   When I first seen this series, when it was first broadcast on UK TV, this episodic formula at the beginning really put me off watching. I went from watching them live, to taping them to watch later to giving up on the series entirely within the space of just a few weeks. It wasn’t until I reluctantly picked the series up on DVD that I got much further than the opening episodes.

Ep 04: Chaos Emerald Chaos
   A chaos emerald is discovered in a building site and the race is on to grab it. Meanwhile the government send an agent to pose as Chris’ teacher to learn more about Sonic and his friends.

   This is the first truely bad episode of the series. There’s a lot going on here.  First, there’s the emerald both Sonic and Eggman are hunting, then there’s Eggman’s robot that needs dealt with, the spy posing as Chris’ teacher and also a small side plot about the government sending spies to Eggman’s island. There’s just too much going on and the result is an episode that’s just a mess.
   Not to mention, the robot of the week gimmick is already feeling repetitive after only its second incarnation (not helped by the fact that the scene where Eggman loads his robot cards into the sorter uses the exact same animation as the previous episode). The plot just feels like it’s been cut and pasted from the last episode. Not a good sign.

Ep 05: Cracking Knuckles
   Eggman tricks Knuckles into thinking Sonic is keeping a chaos emerald to himself so the gang can’t return home.

Sonic vs Knuckles

   A good old fashioned gullible Knuckles story. Who doesn’t love those? This is a pretty good one, worth a watch just for the great battle between Sonic and Knuckles, Knux aggressively trying to take Sonic down and Sonic playfully evading Knuckles’  attacks. It’s a lot of fun.
   Sadly, the plot once again devolves into another Robot of the week battle as Eggman captures Amy, Chris and Tails and keeps them hostage. Even this isn’t too bad though as Knuckles’ takedown of Eggman’s bot is pretty epic.

   All in all though, this is a good one, well worth a watch. 

Sonic Says

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Knife of Never Letting Go



The knife of never letting go
The Knife of Never Letting Go
Patrick Ness

   The Knife of Never Letting Go takes place in a world where everyone can hear the thoughts of those around them, where no thought is private, where the cluttered noise of people thoughts is a constant hum in the air.
   The book is set twenty years after humanity (or at least we’re supposed to think it’s humanity) has left Earth (or at least we’re supposed to think it’s Earth) to start over on a distant planet, some seventy years travel by spaceship if you’re planning on visiting. Shortly after landing, the humans find themselves engaged in a war with the Spackle, the natives of the planet who unleash the “noise germ”, the germ which causes the men to be able to hear each others thoughts and kills all of the women.
   The story follows Todd Hewitt, a twelve year old boy in the small settlement of Prentisstown, several days removed from his thirteenth birthday where he will become a man. While out exploring the swamp that surrounds his town he comes across something unusual, a break in the noise, one area of pure silence, the discovery of which leads him to uncover a web of lies and the dark secrets of Prentisstown.

   It took me a while to get into this book. Ness takes his time explaining the setup and it’s almost a hundred pages in before we get an explanation of the noise germ and the history behind the war. This is perfectly fine, it lets the exposition feel natural instead of being forced down the readers throat for the sake of world building, but it means that the reader is left more than a little confused for some time while trying to work out for themselves what is going on.
   When I finally did get into the book however I found it to be a dark, brutal, intriguing tale. Todd’s world is not a safe place at all and the more we learn of it, the more dangerous we discover it is. Ness does a great job of drip feeding the reveals about the true history of Prentisstown which only serve to build the mystery more and more as the reader progresses.

   I will say however, that once the truth was revealed, I found it a little disappointing. While the truth behind Prentisstown is certainly dark, it’s also a little predictable. After so much building to the reveal, it kind of felt like the book had left me with an expectation that it couldn’t possibly live up to, leaving the climax a feeling a little damp.

   One thing the novel gets absolutely spot on is it’s depiction of animals. Another side effect of the noise germ is that it gives the animals the ability to speak and their characters are just perfect. The crocodiles swim along, their noise constantly talking of ripping and killing, the birds’ noise is a constant chirp of fear.
   The best example is Manchee, Todd’s faithful dog who’s dialogue is just a delight to read. He is constantly questioning, constantly happy, fairly simple minded in the way you’d expect a dog to be. It might soundlike an odd comparison but he constantly reminded me of Dug from the movie Up. Their depictions of what a talking dog might sound like are very similar and are both very loveable.

   There’s a couple of plot holes throughout the novel, mostly to do with the noise itself. Once the truth is revealed it doesn’t really make any sense that Todd wouldn’t have already known about Mayor Prentiss’ plan. In his twelve years did nobody in Prentisstown ever think back to the events before the book? As Todd’s birthday approaches, the final part of the puzzle, did nobody ever think about the fact that it was almost time to put into action the plan they’d been hatching for years? It doesn’t really make sense.

   Overall I’m not too sure about how I felt about this one, while I really enjoyed it in parts, the confusing opening ad disappointing finale left me a little deflated. Its part of a trilogy (which YA book isn’t?) so it’s maybe a story which reads better as a whole, but I’m not sure how desperate I am to continue on with the next two in the series. 

Patrick Ness
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Friday, 11 July 2014

200: Cerebus - An Overview



200th post

   Before we get on with today's post, a quick announcement. Today marks the 200th post on this blog so I'd just like to extend a quick thank you to everyone who takes the time out of their day to read whatever's posted here. Your support means a lot to me, thank you all so much.

   I'd debated a lot about what to write about for this post, it had to be something special, something epic. Luckily, as the deadline approached, I finished a series I had been reading for the last three years. Dave Sim's mammoth comic book Cerebus.
   It's a series I adore, but one I have a lot of problems with. The joy I take from it often diminished by the outlandish politics of it's creator.
    I fully intend to reread the series fairly soon (probably next year) and review each individual volume, but for now, here's an overview of the whole saga. I hope you enjoy.
Jake


Cerebus: An Overview
Dave Sim & Gerhard

   When it comes to talking about Cerebus, where do you start? Three hundred issues in comic form, sixteen phonebook sized volumes when collected in trade paperbacks, over six thousand pages released over twenty seven years, every one written and illustrated by Dave Sim himself with backgrounds drawn by his collaborator Gerhard.
   The longest running narrative by one single team in comics history, it’s a remarkable achievement, but looking back at its humble origins, I doubt many would have ever imagined the series would gain such lofty ambitions.

   When Cerebus debuted in1977 it was a fairly dull parody of sword and sorcery comics. A cliché ridden Conan-a-like story with the six foot tall, muscle bound barbarian replaced with Cerebus, a three foot tall, anthropomorphic Aardvark.
   The premise was amusing and the character was interesting enough that the series was able to continue on for several issues before the tone started to change dramatically.
   Over time, Cerebus became a much more serious comic. The humour was still there, in fact it grew and grew, with multiple pop culture parodies and references being woven into the narrative, but the plot became much deeper. The story began to veer from simple Sword and Sorcery parody to a dense, well plotted political and religious satire.

   The series began to be divided into separate “novels”, individual long running stories which all tied together within the narrative. The first major novel was High Society, in which Cerebus found himself being manipulated into becoming president, this was followed by Church & State which saw him reach to the level of Pope.
  
   From these two satirical novels the series began to change again, becoming more experimental, allowing Dave Sim to tackle really any topic he saw fit to cover. The style of the books themselves began to change too. Some story arcs maintained a traditional comic book setup with the story told over multiple panels while other arcs almost dropped the comic format entirely, being presented as nothing but huge walls of text with the occasional illustration to break them up.

   It was around this point that many fans became weary of the series. Many felt that Dave Sim’s experiments with the format often went too far, to the point where they were unpleasant to read. Sim began to conceive the story arcs, not as the individual issues in which they were released, but as the final finished phonebooks they would eventually be collected as. This led to some problems as the original prints in the twenty page comic books often ended mid scene, with no real start or end points within the issues.
   When I read Cerebus I did so with the phonebooks, so this wasn’t a problem for me, but I can’t begin to imagine how frustrating it must have been to those people reading the story in the original format, having to wait until next months issue, not to see where the story goes next, but just to see how a sentence ends.

Reads: Probably the most controversial entry in the series 

   During the sixth novel in the series, Mothers & Daughters, the series became even more controversial amongst the fans. The arc, which saw Cerebus go up against a Matriarchal dictatorship, ran by Cirin, another Aardvark, began to be overran by Dave Sim’s personal philosophies and political opinions.


   The novel introduced the character Viktor Davis, a fictional author, obviously intended to be an analogue for Sim himself. In a lengthy text piece, Davis denounces Feminism and makes some very misogynistic claims that many found offensive. The piece turned many away from Cerebus for good and led several of Sim’s friends and colleagues to distance themselves from the author, some even suggesting that Sim’s drug use may have led to some form of mental illness.

   Controversy would continue to plague Cerebus from then until the end of the series in 2004. While the story returned to a more traditional comic format for the most part, there were still occasional returns to the ideology that Sim described in Mothers & Daughters. Most notable in Latter Days, where Sim spent over a year of the comic’s run with a lengthy text piece in which Cerebus attempts to come up with an interpretation of the Torah that falls in line with Sim’s views.

   For many, the act of reading Cerebus is the act of separating the art from the artist, attempting to look beyond Sim’s personal views and the moments when they invade the text, and follow the adventures of Cerebus himself, to take enjoyment from the actual story and not the baggage that Sim weighs it down with.
  
   Sim’s artwork is stunning, arguably some of the best sequential artwork the industry has ever seen. While the early issues are fairly crude, as the series runs on the reader is given the rare chance to see an artists work evolving on the page. Comparing the art from the first and last issues you’d struggle to believe they were even drawn by the same person. It’s a genuine treat to be able to see Sim’s style evolve, to see him become more comfortable with posing characters and designing unique facial expressions.
   One thing Sim does brilliantly, is to make use of the comic book itself in his artwork. I remember a scene in which Cerebus fell down a flight of stairs. As he tumbled, the text boxes began to spin around too, forcing the reader to “tumble” the comic along with Cerebus. He also drew some incredibly dream sequences which see Cerebus’ location, dress and appearance change from panel to panel without warning, very similar to the way things change randomly in dreams in real life.
   This sophisticated style, accompanied by Gerhard’s highly detailed background art, make for one of the most visually stunning comic books ever made.

Dave Sim surrounded by his work
   Cerebus is a mammoth undertaking, readers taking their first steps into the series have a huge journey ahead of them. A journey which will take them through amazing landscapes populated by wonderful, imaginative characters. The humour will keep them laughing throughout and the storylines will keep them engaged. It is not always an easy journey to take. I myself had several moments where the ability to separate art and artist proved a little too difficult, several moments where I didn’t know whether to continue on through the mire of Sim’s appalling views in the hope there would be light at the end of the tunnel or abandon the series for good. Every time though, I was glad I continued on, even when hitting another roadblock, there was always something good just around the corner, as if Sim had returned to lucidity and went back to writing the proper series.
   In the end, when Sim’s personal opinions bogged down the narrative, I stayed on for Cerebus himself. I couldn’t care less what Sim thought, or what bile he would spew next. I loved Cerebus and wanted to know what happened to him next.

   Cerebus isn’t an easy story to read, but for those willing to make that distinction between the art and the artist it’s a magnificent accomplishment, the kind of which we’re unlikely to ever see again.
   The journey the reader takes with Cerebus may not always be easy, and it may not end on sunny shores, but, for my money, it was most certainly worth it. 

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