Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Densha Otoko

It was a normal day for Yamada Tsuyoshi, until he rode home on the train. The train ride was interrupted by a drunk man who started harassing the other passengers, including the woman that was sitting across from Tsuyoshi. After standing up to the drunk man, Tsuyoshi is thanked by some of the passengers, including the woman. Neither of them realized what road this situation would lead to.

Tsuyoshi & Saori

Based on a true story, “Densha Otoko” is a 12-episode (with a special, ending the number at 13) Japanese drama about Yamada Tsuyoshi, an anime otaku who falls in love with Aoyama Saori, a beautiful girl that he meets on a train, and the decisions he makes with help from a message board singles thread. Each episode contains several suspenseful, comedic, and sometimes heartbreaking events that bring Saori and Tsuyoshi together. Tsuyoshi’s growing relationship with Saori is not all fun and games. In fact, so many unlucky things happen to Tsuyoshi that nearly jeopardize his and Saori’s relationship, with some of them being really unbelievable (or perhaps it’s the fact that these bad situations tend to snowball around the same time?), or “too” ironic.

Yamada Tsuyoshi, our hero

The series is also filled with many humorous characters. Tsuyoshi spends part of each episode on a message board talking to people who give him advice. Viewers are able to see the people on the message board, who are all cheerful and full of personality, and who each have their own stories to tell. A favorite of ours is seeing how each person is characterized. One character is often superimposed over different cultural settings (being depicted as a world traveler), so we had fun guessing where he would show up next. Sometimes, however, a few of the characters came off as a little weird (such as a board member who kept repeating that he had “moe” for Hermes), but eventually this anxiety wore off as the series progressed.

One of the many message board posters

Each of them is supportive of Tsuyoshi’s plight, either right from the beginning, or they are eventually won over. One realizes how involved his message board peers are when they begin to examine their own lives, after hearing about Tsuyoshi taking his stand against the drunk man to protect Saori (nicknamed “Hermes” on the message boards). From re-evaluating a broken marriage, to learning to stand up to an abusive husband, or going to rehabilitation for a sports injury, each of the members grows along with Tsuyoshi in some way. The board members help him by contributing advice and encouragement on his journey. However, the message board can be the cause of conflict, either with Tsuyoshi himself or between other members. Because of the various subplots and connections, it often seems a little disorienting at first, but eventually one finds a comfortable spot to sit back and enjoy the show.

Another poster on the message board

Another great aspect of this show is the pop culture littered throughout the series. As Americans who don’t speak much Japanese, this makes the series all the more relatable. Popular movie scenes are parodied as a source of humor. The music is the most prominent of these pop culture hints, such as using the popular Darth Vader theme song (“The Imperial March”) for a side character, or the song “Mr. Roboto” by Styx in the first episode, parodying Japanese otaku culture. The theme song opening sequence (using the song “Twilight” by Electric Light Orchestra) pokes fun at Japanese pop culture especially, paying tribute to the famous opening video from Japan’s Daicon IV Convention (right down to the song!), albeit using a different character. This character, Mina (from the newly released “Getsumen To Heiki Mina”), also continues to play a role in the plot aside from appearing in the opening sequence. As a random point of interest, the first episode file on the disc we had contained the commercial break, so we got a nice juicy taste of Japanese advertising (and now we crave some Blendy, darn it).

After one conflict after another is resolved, it is hard to think of what could possibly happen next. There is always another obstacle that threatens the characters. The ideas are not less thought through or less interesting towards the end. Instead, everything that happens is equal in suspense. We found ourselves rooting for Tsuyoshi. While the nearly hour-long episodes can be disorienting to a few viewers (we watched this series in two days over Spring Break, but you don’t have to marathon like we did), don’t let it dissuade you from this one-of-a-kind series. Throughout this series, the viewer is kept awake by all of the humor and suspense that make “Densha Otoko” what it is: the amazing and heartfelt story of two people who care about each other and are pulled apart and brought back together by everything else that takes place in their lives.

- The length of the episodes can be disorienting.
- In some cases, it was unbelievable how many bad things happened.
- Some of the characters can seem weird at first.

- Amazing characters who are all different and interesting.
- Interesting things happen to the characters.
- There is no lull in the action.
- Random pop culture references make the series more fun.

The final grade? Halie and Kat give this series an A.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Resistance Is Futile

The last 4 days for American Patriot Nathan Hale were probably the worst in his life. Lashings, burnings and cuttings his everyday experience. He was being tortured by the British Army for his treasonous acts as the first American spy in history. Little did these British soldiers know that 175 years later, their English descendants would be relying on another Nathan Hale for their survival. But this Nathan Hale would probably think that his predecessor had gotten off easy.

Resistance: Fall of Man is a first person shooter taking place in an alternate history, diverging just after World War I, in which you play out the last 4 days of Sgt. Nathan Hale’s life. Unfortunately for this Army Ranger, he has been dropped into the most hellish of European war zones: York, England. And to add insult to injury, his commanding officers left out the most useful information of all: the enemy. Knowing nothing, but armed with his trusty M5A2, he drops into the war torn landscape of York and find his entire team killed before the end of the first map, a whole 5 minutes of gameplay.

It turns out the enemy is an alien species of genetically engineered hyper-beings known only as Chimera. These bizarre creatures will haunt the nightmares of the faint hearted and appear just out the corner of every paranoid schizoid’s eyes. I like to think of them as a much smarter, much faster, and much more advanced version of the old Resident Evil—Biohazard in Japan—zombies. And like the Resident Evil zombies, these creatures propagate their species by infecting the dead bodies they find on their many exploits throughout the British countryside with a virus that increases metabolism to 12 times it nominal. This, of course, causes overheating—and probably overeating— which is only countered by a coolant machine embedded into the spinal columns of all the enemy soldiers; cool-looking contraption, but probably an unnecessary hindrance in combat.

As far as the history goes concerning this Call of Duty gone Star Trek First Contact game, it’s pretty deep, though most of it is told to you in the opening sequence by Captain Rachel Parker of the British military. I found out that there is a far deeper historical deviation when I visited the official website for the game, but none of which has any profound impact on this particular version of Resistance—I can’t guarantee it won’t be important in upcoming sequels however. But the basic gist is that in 1939, a weird virus, whose origin is almost completely unexplained, began to spread across Russia; converting the populations of small villages into these bizarre creatures overnight. This grew in intensity, and before too long, messages to and from St. Petersburg stopped. Ten years after the start of the outbreak, the virus breaks the “Red Curtain”—which is supposed to be the Iron Curtain, but World War II never occurred in this game’s divergent history—and before the end of the year, most of Europe has fallen prey to the disease. Britain holds out, as they tend to during most European invasions. However, at the end of 1950, the United Kingdom falls to the plague.

The story opens with the American relief effort. Sgt. Nathan Hale was one of the soldiers who was supposed to take supplies to the city of Manchester, but like the British counterparts, the Americans were ambushed by the ugly, drooling, pulse rifle wielding Halo-knockoffs. In a fit of what was supposed to be foreshadowing, Captain Parker informs us that Nathan Hale dies 3 days later, but we are required to play out his entire 3 days with all the enthusiasm we can muster. As he drops from his V-22 Osprey (don’t count on the history to be accurate), I thought this foreshadowing was a mood-spoiler, but once the shooting began, I completely forgot the intended fate and fought for my life. Fortunately, not only was Sgt. Hale doomed at the outset, he was genetically advantaged to possess the only gene resistant to the Chimera virus, which came in handy when the surviving members of his Ranger squadron was attacked by mutant beetles who tried to inject him. Like his ancestor, Hale goes down with the regret that he only has but one life to give for his country, and awakes with renewed desired to give his second life for his country. Now an enhanced hybrid, the semi-regenerating lifebar and enhanced reactions showed me that Hale was ready to battle with these Chimeran miscreants, giving back the punishment they had dealt.

Being that this was the first Playstation 3 game I’ve played so far, I can’t really comment on its capabilities as a PS3 game, but the 40 man multiplayer mode definitely had my mouth watering. Imagine an entire team enhanced commandos wrecking havoc on the British countryside. I bet those Chimeran bastards—and trust me, after the first ten minutes of the game, you too will be calling them your favorite derogatory term—wouldn’t even know what hit them. On top of all that, the game seems to utilize many facets of the PS3 controller: using the arrows to turn on and off special features like headlamp and friendlies-radar; using the left analog stick to move and right to aim; and most importantly, shaking the controller to pummel enemies who have latched on and begun to devour your flesh. This last feature causes for increased stress in melee situations which leads to an overall incredibly exciting gameplay.

There are different types of weapons and enemies, each adding its own level of stress and excitement. You start off with the M5A2 carbine with grenade launching attachments that brings smiles to many a gamer’s face, but quickly pick up the alien “Bullseye” weapon (very much like a pulse rifle in most other FPS games). Since most weapons have a secondary feature that incurs upon the impression of the L1 button, the M5A2 launches a grenade while its alien counterpart fires a tracking beacon that will draw all you fire if it successfully attaches to an object. This is especially fun when you are suddenly able to fire around corners at enemies who think they are hiding. A few maps later, you receive the Rossmore 236, which is probably the most impressive FPS shotgun I’ve ever used, with its one-shot kills and incredibly good accuracy. By far, it is the best weapon offered in many parts of the game; I don’t recommend losing it.

But the list doesn’t stop there. The “Auger” allows you to shoot through walls, with a bullet-proof barrier shield as its secondary function. The L23 Fareye is just the weapon for an enhanced soldier, because it’s a sniper rifle with the ability to slow time—always a nice aspect to throw into a gun that is built upon accuracy during combat. Then there’s another alien weapon, the Sapper, which is more like a mine-dropping goop machine than a gun. It discharges a bio-mine that sticks to the floor and waits for you to hit L1 and detonate the bizarre ammunition; mostly affective against the menials, leapers, and rollers, the most annoying enemies in the game. Then comes wall-bouncing fun with the Hailstorm, a weapon that fires nice little projectiles that bounce off walls until they come into contact with an enemy, dropping them like any other bullet does. Then there are rockets, grenades and mines, all of which add flare to your fireworks display.

Don’t expect the enemy AI to stand in front of your weapons while you try out the cool features, however, because they won’t. In fact, these enemies are fairly elusive, well, the hybrids and beyond anyway. The Menials, leapers and rollers will come at you and let you wipe them out, but the others will actually bob and weave, hide behind walls and bullet-proof armor glass while you try to shoot them, which is why the tracking shots can come in handy sometimes. Fortunately, they’ll usually fire in auto-fire mode, which causes the shots to stream wildly in the general direction of combat. This isn’t one-sided, because it happens to you. HINT: Tapping the R1 instead of holding it will cause a much more accurate chain of fire.

All-in-all they were not as good of enemies as the ones in Red Steel, but close. They’ll shoot at you when you’re hiding, and unlike you, they never run out of bullets. If you use the Bullseye often, this will be beneficial, because many of them will drop more ammo for you to pick up. However, this can be a pain when you are in areas where the enemy is rushing your platoon and you can’t seem to drop them very effectively. But the tank does the trick fairly well. So do frag grenades, so keep those as long as you can.

In the end, you fight the good fight and defeat the Chimeran threat, restoring not only England, but the entire world to its rightful place. Though Captain Parker stated Nathan Hale dies at the end of the 4 day period, there is an ending movie that leaves the imagination brewing. As part of my anti-spoiler contract, I won’t give the details of that cut scene, but I can safely assume that there will be a sequel if not many sequels to come. And I also suggest that you pay very close attention to your radio broadcasts and your intel packets if you intend to understand the complexity of the plot, because it’s deeper than any FPS usually is. As you go through the game, ask yourself: Who is X-Ray?

Speaking of cut scenes, this game has some of the most fluid scenes I’ve seen yet. It’s probably because this is the newest system to hit the market, but I found the voice action congruent to the situation, even if the CG is definitely CG. RPG’s like Final Fantasy X and X-2 have better cut sequences with more dazzling events and attractions, but the cut scenes of Resistance: Fall of Man move directly from cut scene into gameplay, which a more comprehensive feeling of atmosphere than you would expect a mediocre cut scene to have. It felt as though the whole game, both plot and action, flowed together and became a realistic situation, even if that situation is killing aliens while I become one.

This game is well done, with some interesting interactions. My only question throughout the Multi-player mode was: Who is the African-American man following me? With 2 players, player one becomes Nathan Hale, the supposed sole-survivor of the American relief squad, but player 2 becomes a dark-skinned male with supposedly the same abilities and intel, but absolutely no recognition in the plotline. Both Campaign and Cooperative mode offer the same storyline, so logistics would state that they didn’t want to include explanation, but something, if nothing more than a name and rank, would have been nice. I guess the people at Insomniac Games needed some sleep and simply forgot to add something crucial for those with overactive imaginations.

Overall, this is a wonderful game and definitely worth the $60 price tag. With fluid cut scenes, a plot that rivals a Science Fiction mini-series, and explosions that make me jump for joy, I would give this game a 9 out of 10 or an A grade as I hear the new system here at Nerd Evolution has become. And those that disagree, I’ll let the gaming awards speak for me:
PlayStation 3 Game of the Year 2006 (IGN)
Best First-Person Shooter on PlayStation 3 of 2006 (IGN)
Best Graphics Technology on PlayStation 3 in 2006 (IGN)
Best Original Score on PlayStation 3 in 2006 (IGN)
Best Use of Sound on PlayStation 3 in 2006 (IGN)
Best Online Multiplayer on PlayStation 3 in 2006 (IGN)
Most Innovative Design on PlayStation 3 in 2006 (IGN)
GameSpot's Best and Worst of 2006 - Winner of Best PlayStation 3 game
Gaming Target - 52 Games We'll Still Be Playing From 2006 selection

Monday, April 9, 2007


Are you looking for a shojo anime full of music, love, and drama? Then look no further than NANA. Based off of the highly popular manga by mangaka Ai Yazawa, NANA is the story of two young women named Nana (meaning seven) and their lives. Osaki Nana is the lead singer of a punk band looking to make it big in Tokyo. Komatsu Nana (often called Hachi, which means eight, or Hachiko) is a somewhat spoiled suburban girl who goes to Tokyo following her friends and boyfriend. Nana and Hachi meet each other by chance on the train to Tokyo and later become best friends and roommates following a series of fortunate events. They share gained and lost love, Nana’s blossoming musical career, and their life together in Tokyo.

One of the greatest elements of the NANA anime is the music. Two bands take center stage in Nana: BLACK STONES is Osaki Nana’s band; TRAPNEST is a very popular band that happens to have Nana’s ex-boyfriend, Honjo Ren, as a guitarist. Hachi is a very big fan of TRAPNEST, but is also loyal to BLACK STONES.

The anime features music from BLACK STONES and TRAPNEST in the opening and ending credits and also during the show. Anna Tsuchiya sings for the BLACK STONES as Nana and OLIVIA sings for TRAPNEST as Reira. The music is phenomenal and fits perfectly with the attitudes of the singers and their lives.

Another element to love about NANA is the realistic quality of the situations that affect the characters. NANA isn’t about how two girls live these magically easy and simple lives but rather about the hardships they have been through and will go through to be happy and make their dreams come true. Even side characters have highly complicated lives and face adversity that is relevant to the lives we live today. The characters in NANA develop as the show progresses as well, gaining maturity after each incident.

NANA can also be hilariously funny. The show creates a balance between humor, realistic elements, and intense dramatic plot. It’s quite addicting after a while, but thankfully the show has not ended yet. Only 36 episodes are currently available. The manga is currently being released in the U.S. through Shojo Beat Manga.

Two live action NANA movies have been made, featuring the talented Mika Nakashima as Osaki Nana. The first movie was released in September of 2005 and NANA 2 was released in December 2006. The movies leave out some plot arcs involving side characters and events present in the anime and manga, but still maintain the important elements of the story.

This leads me to the only part of NANA that I do not like. The waiting. The problem with becoming completely enraptured with an anime that is not complete is waiting impatiently for the next episodes to become available. But it is so worth it.

I give NANA the anime an A.