Sunday, September 8, 2013

From Up on Poppy Hill Review (Movie)

From Up on Poppy Hill Feature
Studio Ghibli has been creating some of the most beautiful and immersive animations since 1986′s Castle in the Sky, with plenty more counting their pre-Ghibli formation. By simply hearing its name, Studio Ghibli evokes images of imagination and draws attention from even those who wouldn’t consider themselves fans of anime. Their work stands alone in its category, and in no small part stands the man who has been called “The Walt Disney of Japan,”  Hayao Miyazaki.
Not since Whisper of the Heart in 1995 has Hayao Miyazaki stepped back from the director’s chair to solely act as a writer for a film, but as his son starts to follow in his footsteps it seems only fitting that he does so in From Up on Poppy HillGoro Miyazaki took his first directorial steps in Tales from Earthsea, which garnered mixed reviews. In From Up on Poppy Hill, it feels like we’re finally seeing the true ascension of the next generation, and this father-son team-up is a bridging of these times. It’s a fitting sentiment given From Up on Poppy Hill‘s  message of accepting forward progress with deference and respect to the past.
From Up on Poppy Hill - Town
From Up on Poppy Hill, a budding romance between two school children is set against the backdrop of 1963 Yokohoma, Japan as the country prepares to host the Summer Olympics the next year. In true Studio Ghibli fashion, the story and action take place over a sub-plot which holds a significant moral or cultural message. In this case, the sub-plot focuses on the desire to move into the modern age in a post-war Japan, epitomized by the struggles of the Quartier Latin (Latin Quater) - essentially The Clubhouse for the boys clubs in the school. This ancient and overrun building represents the past, one which many in the community are all too happy to demolish in the name of progress. There are subtle hints to this progress, such as buses and “Coke” signs overlaying traditional markets and neon signs dotting the horizon, never calling attention, yet contrasting the classic Japanese culture in the foreground. This sub-plot is important to the main plot, but not the crux of From Up on Poppy Hill; though for the majority, the focus is set on the tale of Umi Matsuzaki.
Umi Matsuzaki manages running the Coquelicot Manor boarding house for her grandmother, while her mother studies medicine in America. We’re introduced to Umi through a her daily routine, which besides cooking breakfast and other chores includes the curious action of raising ship flags in the backyard overlooking the Yokohama river. While a slow scene, this sequence subtly sets up From Up on Poppy Hill for its storyline, with fleeting mentions of the increased river traffic preparing for the next years’ Summer Olympics and never directly mentioning the flag raising, despite its obvious importance. The message of importance and the attention of the viewer is conveyed in large part thanks to the stunning artwork and complimenting music that manages to convey the gravitas and mood while remaining time period appropriate.

For the full review of this great example of anime read it here:

Saturday, September 7, 2013

QUEST from Zenescope Preview (Comic)

This November a new adventure in the Grimm Fairy Tales universe from Zenescope Entertainment hits in mini-series format. This is great news, especially as Zenescope has been really rocking the Comic Book market with some great runs in their main titles and tie-ins alike. Being a fan of these titles, it's especially enticing to learn that Pat Shand will be penning this new series titled QUEST. Below is an excerpt from the press release and some tantalizing preview covers, and for an added bonus they included their own Pat Shand interview (though hopefully I get to do my own soon).

Zenescope Entertainment Goes on a Quest this November

Zenescope Entertainment has announced plans to publish a new Grimm Fairy Tales comic book mini-series entitled QUEST. Zenescope’s Pat Shand will be handling the writing the action-packed fantasy series. With this new series, Shand gets to bring back some familiar faces and break new ground as the evolution of the Grimm Universe continues. Quest is scheduled for a November release and is available for pre-order this month in Diamond PREVIEWS.
Quest follows a rogue princess named Aisling who teams up with well-known Grimm Fairy Tales characters, Blake, the fallen Wonderland knight, and Bolder, a dwarf warrior banished from his home. The trio finds itself searching for redemption as they’re tasked with protecting the realm of Myst from the dark shadows of its past.

“Pat’s a very good writer who is really coming into his own now. He’s a great choice for this series because he is able to blend fantasy and dark humor together into his scripts so seamlessly now.” says Zenescope Editor-in-Chief and co-creator of Grimm Fairy Tales, Ralph Tedesco. “Pat describes the story as a middle ground between LORD OF THE RINGS and SKULLKICKERS and I think that’s accurate. It’s fantastical, epic and fun; pretty much what our fans expect from our Grimm Universe titles.”

Included is an Interview with Pat Shand on “Quest” from Zenescope

Zenescope’s Pat Shand takes the reins on Quest, the new November-shipping mini-series that touches every corner of the company’s shared universe. Shand has already built up an amazing body of work with Zenescope, including writing Robyn Hood, Robyn Hood: Wanted, Realm Knights, Grimm Universe and various issues of Grimm Fairy Tales, as well as orchestrating and co-writing the Unleashed event. With Quest, Shand gets to bring back some familiar faces and break new ground as the evolution of the Grimm Universe continues.
Q1.  Pat, we understand that Quest is important because it's the only Zenescope book that sets out to touch all the Realms.  Can you speak to that a little bit in the sense of what the story is?
PAT SHAND: The Zenescope universe is comprised of Earth (the Nexus), which is surrounded by the four realms of power: Myst, Wonderland, Neverland, and Oz. The first series of QUEST follows a group of characters from Myst who are journeying through that Realm, trying to reestablish the Council of the Realms, which is essentially a group of protectors that is meant to keep evil away from the realms of power. If we get a sequel series, it will be set in Wonderland – the idea is that the journey these characters are on spans the entire Grimm universe. As I’m typing this, it sounds all very high fantasy, but I like to think of QUEST as the middle ground between LORD OF THE RINGS and SKULLKICKERS. It’s a constant mix of high and low fantasy, which is fun because if you read ROBYN HOOD, you know that I live pretty firmly in that gothic juxtaposition.
Q2. A couple of your leads might be familiar to long-time Zenescope readers. Can you give us a run-down on the cast? Who are they and why is the titular quest important to them?
PAT SHAND: Some newish players and some old. This team was established in GIANT SIZE GRIMM FAIRY TALES 2012, where I had them actually go to all four realms in one issue, but their quest there failed pretty miserably. Now, they have an actual plan. The cast is:
BLAKE, the forgotten White Knight of Wonderland whose defeat allowed the Jabberwocky to overcome that realm.
BOLDER, the disgraced dwarf who is on the run for his brother’s evil actions.
AISLING, a fallen princess who is the only surviving member of her royal family.
And DRUANNA, who you may know better as the goddess Gaia.

These people should NOT be in a tavern together, much less going on a Quest to save the Realms… and I think that is the most fun aspect of all of this.

Q3.Will this book explore any of the ramifications of Unleashed?
PAT SHAND: Not in this series. UNLEASHED was firmly set on Earth, because the antagonist of that series was not physically able to leave the Nexus. But hey, if we ever get a QUEST TO EARTH series, then I’d probably want to include some of the characters we introduced in UNLEASHED, like Van Helsing and Masumi.
Q4. Would you consider this mini to be a good jumping-on point for those that are curious about Zenescope? It seems like it would be new-reader friendly.
PAT SHAND: Oh, for sure. It’s a new beginning, and the tone is unlike anything we’ve done before. I try to make all of my #1s a jumping on point, but this is especially welcoming toward the uninitiated.
Q5. As a fan yourself, what draws you to a book, and how do you capture that quality for Quest?
PAT SHAND: Two big things. The uniqueness of a book really pulls me in. My favorite books right now are SAGA, ANGEL & FAITH, REVIVAL, HAWKEYE, TEN GRAND, and I’m currently blowing through SWEET TOOTH in trade, and that is phenomenal. These books, while some of the core concepts may be familiar, attack their premise from left field, creating new and interesting work. You’ve seen journey-driven fantasy a LOT before, but I can promise you’ve never seen it done like QUEST.
Also, passion. When a writer or artist has passion for their book and it shows in their work, then I am in from Page One, Panel One, Bubble One. And man, I’ve been pitching this book since I got my exclusive gig and Zenescope and it’s finally happening, so if the passion for these characters doesn’t exude from every page, I’m doing it wrong.
Q6. What else do you have coming up at Zenescope?
PAT SHAND: By the time QUEST comes out, THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS will be close to the end, REALM KNIGHTS will be wrapping up, and my creator owned comics, FAMILY PETS and SUCKERS, with be respectively complete and finishing up. All I can say for sure is that I’ll be working on the third arc of the new WONDERLAND trilogy when LOOKING GLASS is through, but I’ll be deep into writing some new projects that I can’t talk about yet.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Europa Universalis IV Review (PC)

Europa Universalis IV Review (PC)

Europa Universalis IV Feature
Strategy games have come a long way since their origins. As with the rest of the gaming industry, they’ve advanced as both technology and gamers continued to improve. In the current market, there is a progression towards grander and more realistic experiences while maintaining a certain level of accessibility. One of the few outliers in this process has been Paradox Interactive’s series, Europa Universalis. Against the grain, this series has continued to grow its scope and hyper-realism while forgoing mainstream accessability in favor of these two areas. For its fourth iteration, Europa Universalis IV continues the long tradition and holds out as one of the toughest, realistic, historically accurate simulators while taking small steps towards welcoming new players.
Europa Universalis IV Building
There are four basic components for most empire building strategy games: finance, diplomacy, military, and technology. In Europa Universalis IV, the technology tree has been further broken down by the concept of Monarch Points. These points are influenced by the leader of the countries’ affinity for three leadership roles – Administrative, Peace, and Military points – that are accumulated to spend on technology upgrades and Ideas. Hiring advisors costs monthly income but offers bonuses, in addition to increasing one of these Monarch Point categories.
As the most evident change from previous Europa Universalis titles, Monarch Points still follow the theme of balancing tough decisions while presenting yet another layer of choices that fit the series well. While points can be spent on increasing the Technology Level, they are also used to advance bonuses within singular concentrations which unlock upon certain levels of advancement. This means that during the course of learning new technologies (which discover new concepts and unlock bonuses) are also used to unlock mindsets called Ideas which have their own specific bonuses related to their theme. Each Idea represents a mindset, such as the quality and quantity approaches in the military section, which offers increased damage or decreased costs respectively. Choosing one of the five mindsets in the Administrative, Peace, or Military sections can be hard enough, but when upgrading an Idea to unlock specifically related bonuses comes at the cost of setting back a technology unlock, it can be agonizing – even more so, as these Monarch Points gather slowly over time. A decision has lasting – though incremental – effects.
Europa Universalis IV Tech
The inclusion of these points, while thematically appropriate, has the negative effect of adding yet another point of potential confusion. More detail in components add to the realistic decision making that Europa Universalis IV has become required to include, but this further breakdown does nothing for accessibility. Along with these Monarch Points, another change to the formula in the calculation of building bonus and their effects has effectively neutered the often costly investment in financing infrastructure. In an attempt to make these buildings and their effects more understandable though, Paradox Interactive does overlay a financial indicator, which shows the change in each province were a building placed there. These two changes have been called out by some long-time fans as steps backwards, while also causing an overstepping of the accessibility expected in modern games for new players.

To read the full 1,500 word review on Europa Universalis IV read it here:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Comic Station Issue #36 – Sept 4th 2013

Comic Station #36 Feature
We at Comic Station try to highlight new releases and other series many might otherwise overlook. We typically don’t report on long-standing series unless revolutionary. We add a little something extra in our Reviews and Recommendation section.
New Releases: Tons of new releases this week on Comic Station. Reality Check #1 from Image Comics,Batman Black and White #1 and Forever Evil #1 both from DC Comics, God is Dead #1 from Avatar Press,The Star Wars #1 from Dark Horse Comics, (breathe) and X-Men Battle of the Atom #1 from Marvel.
Review: Lido covers us again for Comic Station with Station to Station #1, King Conan: Hour of the Dragon #3Catalyst Comix #3, and Baltimore: The Infernal Train #1 all from Dark Horse Comics.
Special: No Recommendation this week on Comic Station because we are trying something new [insert gasp here]. We’ve added a special scrolling ticker at the bottom of the screen in the Reviews section that recounts Twitter-size reviews of comics we couldn’t write full reviews for from the previous week’s release. Let us know if you like this change to Comic Station or if it’s too much info at once.
Thank you and please leave comments here or on YouTube as we continue to evolve our coverage. For a listing of more New Releases we couldn’t get to a list can be found below the video.
Hosts of the Comic Station:
Paul Neafsey (@PNeafsey)
Scott Kaitz (Owner of The Comic Station Store)
Video Editing: Paul Neafsey
Segment Music: Sean Weiland (Risen Phoenix Studios)

For a listing of New Releases for Wednesday Sept 4th 2013: