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Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

*Note* The following review reflects my experience playing the game on a PS4 Pro system. I cannot speak to the quality of visuals or performance of the game running on base PS4 systems or other platforms.

 

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (PS4)
What’s Good:
– A tremendous amount of multiplayer content.
– Specialist abilities change up the competitive multiplayer in a meaningful way.
– Satisfying gunplay and movement mechanics.

What’s Bad:
– No campaign means next to no single player activities.
– Competitive multiplayer spawn system needs work.
– Some loadout/weapon changes don’t amount to much.

What I thought:
“A smart balance of classic and modern Call of Duty.”

 

I See A Red Door…
To point out the obvious thing first, the big deal this year is that Black Ops 4 does not include a Campaign mode. At least, not one in the typical sense.
Rather, this time around it’s all about multiplayer, with all breeds of both competitive and cooperative. Whether you’re a lonesome wolf looking for by-the-second thrills in Competitive, a group of rag-tag chuckleheads bouncing around in Blackout, or a tight-knit team of zombie slayers looking for a new fountain of blood to douse yourselves in, Black Ops 4 is in no way lacking in content.
That said, the burn of Campaign mode’s omission is still felt, and what we’re left with in its place are a series of vignettes for each of the game’s current roster of ten specialists, which play out in the form of tutorials; not only for the chosen character’s specific abilities, but also for the game’s various Competitive Multiplayer modes.
For what they are, these are fun to play through, and offer a number of odd surprises of their own, but the story they offer left me with my hand on my face.

Poorly written overall, and in some cases needlessly graphic, they come off as what a middle-school brat likely thinks is gritty and tough. There’s funny bad, and then there’s just bad, and thankfully, if you’ve ever played a multiplayer shooter before, the instruction they offer is largely needless, and this mode can be overlooked entirely.

 

Under the Black Tape
Competitive is what put Call of Duty on the multiplayer gaming map, and this is where the majority of Black Ops 4’s attempts to change up the formula reside.

If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll slip right into creating classes and choosing scorestreaks, as the types of weapons found here, as well as the kinds of scorestreak rewards are very similar to previous games, but unlike previous games, specific items which were previously available to use for any sort of class are now tied exclusively to Specialists.
The Pick 10 system is back, allowing you to say, toss that secondary and perks away and instead bring along a weapon utterly covered in attachments, or in lieu of bringing a primary weapon along at all, instead opt for a rocket launcher and a handgun. There’s great opportunity for choosing a loadout tailored to your tastes here, even if you often find yourself with points free and nowhere to spend them.
Scorestreaks old and new grace each battlefield, ranging from the tried and true UAV to an AI-driven Strike Team, who fan out around the map to gun down your adversaries.
Black Ops 4 sets itself apart from previous entries most notably though, in its reworking of the Specialists first seen in Black Ops 3.While this is no Overwatch, the heroes you choose do matter, and the benefits of your team having one Specialist over another can be quite obvious, with Recon’s Sensor Dart displaying any enemy within its circle, or Crash’s Assault Pack supplying huge ammo pools with additional score provided toward scorestreaks with each bullet landed.

The traditional Call of Duty experience of fast-paced, left trigger/right trigger running and gunning is in full force here, but Specialists offer a welcome spin on the formula at the same time. Playing Ajax and tossing a 9-Bang grenade over a wall just as a teammate rounds the corner to pick up a couple of easy kills, or unleashing a barrage of War Machine rounds into a Hardpoint as Battery and watching the carnage unfold; Specialists in Black Ops 4 are more front and center than in previous years, and it’s great.

There are a couple new modes this year as well, both being round based.
In Control, teams take turns attacking and defending a duo of points on the map. All you need to do to capture these points as the attacking team is stand within their perimeter while a segmented circle fills. Each segment acts as a sort of checkpoint, allowing the attacking team a few full wipes without losing all of their progress. Both sides have limited respawns, opening the door to huge swings in the late game as the capture meters fill and available respawns dwindle.
Then in Heist, the objective is to capture a briefcase and carry it to an extraction point to win the round. Here however, there are no respawns, nor are there traditional classes. Players spend money earned through dealing damage to enemy players or extracting cash in previous rounds to purchase new weapons and attachments, armor, perks, etc, much akin to Counter Strike. Ammo is at a premium here, and especially during the early rounds, it isn’t uncommon for a scrap to be determined through fisticuffs.

Heist is a fun mode, though I feel communication is more necessary than in traditional gametypes. I’m curious how the Search and Destroy community is taking to it, as they haven’t really been thrown a bone since Call of Duty: Ghost’s Reinforce gametype.

Competitive Multiplayer is as compelling in Black Ops 4 as it has ever been, even if it isn’t without its blemishes. The respawn system is sporadic at best, as players typically only spawn at one end of the map or the other. This means that quite often, players spawn behind enemy lines at strange times, or if you’re working your way through a section of one end of the map, enemy players can clown car their way over top of you.

Weapon spread has changed to be more consistent this year, with each weapon exhibiting its own unique muzzle movements when firing. This is something you notice, but it isn’t something which, on a console gamepad at least, changes the way encounters play out.
The other big change has to do with the way the minimap is displayed. Similar to a real time strategy game, the minimap is darkened by a sort of fog of war. Each player has a cone of vision on the minimap, and if an enemy creeps into that cone, even if they aren’t firing their weapon, they are displayed there for the entire team. While at first this makes the minimap more difficult to read at quick glance, once the you feel at home within a map, it can be a tremendous boon to your team’s success, as perhaps someone notices that red pip on the minimap that no one else did, and can deal with it accordingly.

Another thing which Black Ops 4 suffers a bit from is multiplayer map design. There are fourteen maps included out of the gate, with four of those being remakes of maps from the past. The number is welcome, and the variety is fine, with the close-ranged chaos of Summit to the huge sightlines of Icebreaker, but many of the new maps adhere to the same sort of ‘big circle with an empty circle in the center’ idea, and while there thankfully isn’t a whole lot of excess verticality in many of these maps, the options for traversal and general flow around them go at odds with this game’s clunky spawn system. While it isn’t uncommon to dislike a few maps here or there in a given Call of Duty entry, there aren’t any maps in Black Ops 4 which I’d consider myself happy to see pop up. They serve their purpose well enough, but they leave something to be desired.
When it comes down to it though, the moment to moment action found in Black Ops 4’s Competitive Multiplayer offering is hard not to appreciate. Time will tell what will be done for better or worse with random loot boxes and dlc once the time comes.

Feeling artistic? The Emblem Editor lets you group layers and use simple shapes to create a player icon that speaks to you.

 

A Battle Fit For A King
While there is no avoiding that Blackout mode bears uncanny similarities to the other battle royale heavy hitters out there, the tight weapon handling, snappy movement mechanics and wide array of available firearms and perks make Black Ops 4’s rendition at least play differently, even if at a stray glance, the visuals and general gameplay flow may leave viewers confusing the game on the screen with PUBG.

Depending on the mode, 88 to 100 players are dropped into Blackout mode’s single map via a series of helicopters, and while yes, only having the one map is a bit underwhelming, it is at the very least quite varied. This is a huge space, and unless you happen across one of the mode’s numerous transportation options, including a (smaller, player driven) helicopter, motorboat among others, a significant portion of your time each match may be spent trucking it on foot from one contested area to the next in your attempt to stay within the ever-shrinking confines of the wall, and stay alive while contending with the plethora of angry people out there who mean you harm.

Keenly-eyed fans of the series will recognize small portions of the map as areas which were previously stand-alone competitive multiplayer maps in years past, with fan-favorite Nuketown being part of an island in the southwestern corner of the map, and sections of Turbine, Raid, Stronghold among others dotted about the hilly, sun-drenched landscape. The map is varied nicely, with structures large and small here, wide open expanses there, and due to the unpredictability of the shrinking of the wall, your path through it will change wildly from match to match.

For this series, it’s all about breakneck action. Speed and precision are the hallmarks, most notably in recent entries. By that regard, Blackout mode is a tremendous change of pace. A significant majority of firefights will end within a second or two, much like in traditional competitive multiplayer, but the massiveness of the map and the unpredictability of the randomly distributed weapons, perks and healing items means that careful consideration of inventory is necessary before you charge into a given conflict. Having one life per match means that self-preservation is key, and the question of whether or not you should try to engage that player you see in the distance or maybe let fate sort them out instead offers a tension never before seen in Call of Duty multiplayer.

With the Call of Duty series, performance has become a staple, and while Blackout’s map exhibits its share of samey looking, rather bland buildings spread across its sprawl, and its foliage doesn’t look particularly detailed when lying prone in the grass preparing to pounce on some unsuspecting player, the frame rate is of no issue, and while any network instability comes with the territory, rarely does a match play out with any glaring issue.

 

Living Dead, Girl
Black Ops 4 is what the developers claim to be the perfect hopping on point for Zombie newcomers, as not only does this game provide a new crew of characters and a new storyline for the four of them to uncover, but it also brings back the original group, and a new scenario for them as well.
While the cryptic nature of this mode is largely in full force yet again, which if you’re anything like me, isn’t especially appealing, efforts were at least made to give players at least a small hint as to how to progress through the given scenario and to ultimately see our group of heroes to safety(?). Some doors are opened by traditional means, requiring a grip of Points which are accrued by dealing damage to the evil creatures seeking to end you, but others may demand further exploration, or the collection of objects in the environment or dropped by tougher foes.

Zombies has its own fully fleshed out progression system, with loadouts rivaling Competitive Multiplayer in their complexity.

If you’re more interested in the narrative, or just want to get a better feel for where the various firearms and items are in a given scenario, Zombies includes a Custom Games option, where you can adjust difficulty at your leisure.

And for those less interested in working through a collection of rather obtuse objectives to decipher an obfuscated narrative in the classic style of Zombies, Black Ops 4 also contains an alternative mode, Rush. Here, the weapons and perks adorning the walls of the chosen scenario are free for the taking, but zombies and other dark creatures relentlessly pound your team of heroes. As time and corpses accrue, new sections of the level are revealed, and as players work their way through, competing for the highest score all the while, they might be tasked with defending specific areas from the horde.

This is a hectic, fast paced mode in comparison to the classic Zombies experience, and a welcome inclusion for players who enjoy loudly wading through a hive of angry enemies without the need to strategize with friends, or worry about collecting artifacts to continue their progress.

 

What The Numbers Mean
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is a game designed by a team who understands not only the legacy of the series, but also has an eye to the desires of the always fickle, always moving modern video game playerbase. While last year’s Call of Duty: WWII took the brute force approach, and attempted to provide a more traditional experience with modern trappings, what Treyarch has done with Black Ops 4 is listen to what people are looking for while respecting the history of the series at the same time, providing a slightly more class-based competitive multiplayer, a massive amount of cooperative zombies content, as well as introducing its own take on battle royale, which has become a fan favorite mode over the past year.
What we’re left with is a game which isn’t without its rough edges, but provides just enough refinement, and just enough change to avoid feeling stale.
It feels recognizable yet fresh, which at this point, after over a decade of Call of Duty games without a year missed, is perhaps the best a fan of the series might ask for.

Hey Spitz, What’ve You Been Watching? September 2018

えぇ? Summer’s gone? While there is an undeniable charm to the death of Summertime, and the temperate weather and orange leaves it brings, the looming threat of cold weather isn’t something I’m welcoming with open arms.
It’s fun to look at a character in an anime series and decipher what it is about that character which catches your eye. Especially when that character might be part of a series you don’t otherwise care for, or when it’s a character which doesn’t start off as anything particularly special.
Sakura Kyouko from the Madoka Magica series is one of my all time favorite characters. Coming from a broken family, and having what at first comes off as a blunt, realist personality, there are aspects of the character which speak to someone such as myself, whose family has become estranged over the years, and who has few friends, but would split the world for them.
Then there are the characters which simply exhibit traits you appreciate, without being similar to you in any real way. Miyafuji Yoshika from Strike Witches is a standout character to me, and not only because she’s a chipper, determined character in a series based around pantless girls fighting alien machines, but mainly because of her selflessness in protecting the things which matter to her. This is an appealing trait to me, because I feel as though people are, by nature, quite selfish, and watching this character’s willingness to suffer for the greater good can be awe inspiring.
Busy schedule means the Summer anime season was a thin one for yours truly. Here’s what I found the time to finish out of the bunch:
 

Yama no Susume Third Season-
Yukimura Aoi is a dependable and fit, though rather shy highschooler whose primary interest outside of her duties as a student and part timer is mountain climbing.
Introduced to the activity by her friend Hinata, the two have tackled numerous challenges in the past, and while arguably the most important one got the best of her, Aoi is determined to see it through next time.
As time goes on however, and Aoi’s social life begins to improve thanks to Hinata’s efforts, the two feel themselves drifting apart.
Could this mean that the days of enjoying gorgeous mountainsides and the feeling of overcoming challenges with one another are numbered?

What I thought-
It has been fun to watch how this series has changed over its much welcomed follow-up seasons, after that first, while promising, was quite short, and as such couldn’t accomplish much with what it had.
The first was our introduction to Aoi and friends, the second I thought, was pretty straight-faced in its depiction of the act of mountain climbing as a hobby, and this third season focuses much more on Aoi and Hinata’s friendship.
For a series as cheerful as this one, it’s difficult to go into troubles such as the ones this season presents and expect them to be solved in a way which leaves anyone less than happy, but thankfully, perhaps due to each episode’s run time of around half that of a full length anime series, we aren’t belted over the head with melodrama to the point at which it’s a detriment to the overall tone of the series.
The second season presented a goal which is built up to but not overcome here, but this doesn’t mean that the road between here and there is no less enjoyable or satisfying to watch. The Yama no Susume crew is a lovable bunch, and they can put off climbing the one that got away for as long as they like if it means we’ll have more of this series to come.
Yama no Susume’s third offering isn’t here to close the book, but rather to set sights on the future while offering a closer look into Aoi and Hinata’s friendship.


 

Asobi Asobase-
The Pastimers club has comprised of three members:
Honda Hanako is an energetic young woman from a well-to-do family, and whose fashion sense can only be described as ‘impeccable’.
Olivia is a golden-haired beauty with a much-less-than-beautiful aroma, and despite her foreign appearance, doesn’t know a lick of English.
Nomura Kasumi is a short-haired, bespectacled bookworm whose own literary skills include the authorship of stories consisting of the lost art of BL.
Their goal is to ensure the betterment of mankind through passing the time in any way they see fit.

What I thought-
Comedy is a subjective thing, and even when something jabs at your funny bone and strikes true, it can be difficult to do so consistently. Asobi Asobase doesn’t overcome this problem, but it nonetheless manages to be just absurd enough to leave a lasting impression.
It takes a little while to get there, too. I was a bit worried early on in the series, as the scenarios and gags sort of fell flat, and while the enthusiasm and delivery was there on part of the voice cast, the humor simply wasn’t.
Sticking with it was a good call though, as some of the nonsensical things Olivia and friends get into are an absolute gas to watch. From body humor to fourth-wall breaking to the just plain weird, Asobi Asobase goes places come the end.
The series has a simple but effective look about it, and while both its OP and ED are entertaining in their own ways, that OP song is an ear worm which will burrow into your subconscious and won’t let up. Watching new episodes at the start of the week had it stuck in my head at work for the days following.
For as often as Asobi Asobase whiffs on its comedic delivery, there are situations which more than make up for it with their absurdity. This series doesn’t stick the landing on each gag, but the ones that get you, will leave you laughing end over end.


 

Yamishibai Season 6-
An injured man who finds friendship in his fellow hospital patients.
A man who receives an unexpected message from the wind.
Two brothers who make a contest of climbing a very tall tree.
A mother who is late to pick up her child from day care.
These are but a few of the collection of macabre tales told within this season’s helping of Yamishibai.
Won’t you gather around and have a listen?

What I thought-
It feels like it has been a long road with Yamishibai at this point. Without taking the time to look it up, I could only guess as to how many years ago that first season was. 2013, was it?
There have been missteps here or there, and the stories in this sixth helping of episodes aren’t without their weaklings, but it has been an enjoyable series thus far, and the same is true with this season.
The episodes have a slick look to them, having just enough animation to get the motion across while still sporting the paper doll style you’d associate with a series styled after kamishibai plays.
Horror is difficult to begin with, and especially when each episode is less than five minutes long, there simply isn’t the time necessary to build suspense. Because of this, sure, there aren’t many good scares to be had here, but these small stories are fun to watch regardless, because you never know what sort of strange scenario will be thought up next, and while I’d say that most of the twists are perfectly predictable, there were a few which I certainly did’t see coming, with one in particular which sort of bends the genre around in an unexpected way.
Yamishibai Season 6 probably won’t be keeping you up at night, but its tales may still draw you in with a surge of morbid curiosity.
 

The dreaded cold is on its way, which means it’s video game season. If it kills me (and at this point, it might), I will have both a written review, and later on, a chill and chat for Black Ops 4. A move is planned which ridiculously enough directly coincides with BO4’s release date, and who knows what the internet situation will be like during that weekend, but have no doubts that it’s high on the priority list. I would have had a video talking about the Blackout beta, but I came down with a seasonal sickness recently and it has left me with an obnoxious cough. By the time I’ve recorded something at this point, the game would be out, so I’m not going to bother.
October means spookiness, and I’ve the longest list you can imagine for things I’d like to do regarding video projects. It’s so much, though… there’s so much going on. No promises, but believe that I so, so want to do fun stuff.
That’s all for now though! Enjoy what lingers of that warm weather while you can. I know I’m not taking it for granted in the least.
Soak in those last few rays and keep those stories unspoiled, yeah?
(Last year this month.)
じゃ。

Chill and Chat: Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 beta

How was everyone’s weekend?
The anime monthly is on its way, but in the meantime, I wanted to post some long overdue discussion about the recent Black Ops 4 beta test.

This is my first 1080p video project, and I ran into myriad audio sync issues. I apologize for any obtrusive oddities which may have cropped up in mending these issues.
Until next time!

Hey Spitz, What’ve You Been Watching? July 2018

よ!Anime monthly time.
I think a lot of the appeal of creative media as escapism is the ability for a creator to build a character around an idea or flaw. Someone who spends their free time sleeping, or has a complex about their foot size, or who doesn’t quite know who they are; these are ideas expressed by creators, which in some cases are simply drawn from tropes which exist at the time, but may very well reflect issues the creator is going through at the time of that character or story’s conception.
Characters in a fictional story can be flawless in the worst ways and flawed in the best ways, and this not only makes them potentially relatable, but also allows the story they tell to flow freely without constantly reminding the viewer or reader of all of the unfortunate realities of modern life. Give us the good, without too much of the bad.
This also allows for a story to present multiple layers of complexity, as it can be consumed at a base level, where characters and narrative developments are taken at face value, but many stories also offer an insightful peek into the head of the one who dreamt it. Ideas always come from somewhere, whether their origins are clear or not, and it’s important to keep in mind that while a narrative may be fictional, the ideas it might express come from a very tangible place.
We’ll keep it nice and brief this month:
 

Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo-
Konno Makoto doesn’t quite have it together.
Lacking in diligence, and aloof with study, she lives her life in the moment and does well to get by on the shoulders of her own peerless enthusiasm.
One morning, she wakes up late, as she does, has a bad day, as she does, and manages to find herself in midair, an instant away from being pummeled to death by an oncoming train.
To her surprise however, she finds herself transported to moments before the impact would have taken place.
Unsure and confused as to how she came to possess such an ability, Makoto quickly takes to time travel, using it to cater to her own adolescent whims.

What I thought-
This is the perfect anime film for a Summer evening.
I think my primary takeaway from watching this movie was the tone. It has such a bright, welcoming presentation that draws you in, and Makoto is an equally bright protagonist who is both humbling and humorous. Her story is what propels the film forward, but she is the star of the show for sure.
Time travel can become pretty contrived pretty quick depending on how it is explained in the narrative, and admittedly, the scene which explains Makoto’s ability to backpedal through time is probably the one low point in the film just due to how all-at-once it all seems, but this is a slight tarnish on an otherwise superb story.
As mentioned before, Makoto’s time traveling antics can be quite funny, mostly due to the process she uses to do said time travel, but it’s also interesting to watch her return to the same moment again and again to try and get it just right. A time traveling protagonist repeating the same moment to get the outcome they desire is nothing new when it comes to stories such as this, but that isn’t to say it’s any less enjoyable to watch play out here, especially when that protagonist is such a down-to-earth and lovable character as Makoto is.
The production is great, with tremendous background artwork and fluid animation, though I will say that since many shots capture the characters at a distance, some detail is sadly lost (notably in the characters’ faces). There are also a few rather off characters here or there which stick out and distract a bit from the scenes in which they’re featured.
But if we’re talking about what Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo gets right, the tone is nothing but enjoyable, the characters are the sort you’d love to hang out with, and the narrative bears an admirable message.
Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo is an anime film which rises above its minimal flaws. Aspects of its time traveling tale might be retreads, but this is a coming of age story well worth seeing, and one perfectly suited for Summertime consumption.


 

It won’t be long now until warm weather is giving us its goodbyes, so enjoy it while you can, hm?
The Black Ops 4 promotional beta has hit, and I’d like to do a Chill and Chat about it. Currently I have the footage, but I don’t have the time, but maybe over the coming weekend I can pencil some in. There is a lot to talk about.
October is coming, ya know. What could that mean?
(Last year this month.)
次回までね。

Hey Spitz, What’ve You Been Watching? June 2018

 Ah geez, it’s been a little while, huh?
Summer is at its peak, which means longer (yet somehow shorter) days, a cascade of insect noises over the idle sounds of fans and air conditioner units, and a cycling of currently airing anime series. Good times indeed.
It’s easy to poke fun when we see tropes reoccur in the characters we encounter or narratives we consume in created media, but it’s important to remember that the consumption of said media is cyclical.
What’s new to you is not to someone else, and the same can be said in reverse.
This is what makes the topic of spoilers so irritating to talk about if you ask me, as yes, that movie from the 80’s or that big narrative twist from your ten year old video game might feel like old news that surely everyone knows about by now who is going to know about it, but, and especially in today’s age where older, less entertainment savvy generations are aging and bringing new eyes and ears into the world, someone is always new to everything, and the first exposure a person has to a specific trope might endear them to that instance in which they encountered it, even if it was inspired by something older and widely thought of as better by us grumpy has-beens.
Let’s see if we can remember how to do this:

 

Redline-
To those across the galaxy whose idea of a good time is to risk life and limb racing souped-up ground vehicles, the intergalactic racing circuit is the place to be, and every half-decade, the crown jewel of these breakneck displays of driving skill is the Redline circuit.
J.P. is one of the few humans to grace the racing scene. With a thirst for victory and a peerless lust for speed, his story has led him to skipping distance of qualifying for the Redline event. All he needs is to win, but first he needs to survive.

What I thought-
Once the introductory sequence which sees JP qualify for the titular Redline event had finished, leaving our hero in the hospital, I was preparing myself for an uninteresting slog leading up to the main event, with JP recovering over time, and he and his friend and mechanic Frisbee negotiating around in circles with their mafia connections, but thankfully enough, I was caught off guard; this is not a film to be bogged down.
I won’t say that I wouldn’t be interested in learning more about the various colorful characters comprising this story. Characters like MachineHead especially were a gas to watch, because of their creative designs and over the top personalities, but a glimpse into their lives is all we’re given, and in service of retaining a breakneck pace, this is more than enough.
JP and his love interest Sonoshee are of course given more time, with a few flashback sequences here or there; scenes which do an excellent job at putting in place their motivations without slamming you over the head with them, and puts you in their corner once the Redline event commences.
The racing is why you’re here, and the races are both hectic and exhilarating. Some scenes can be a little tough to follow due to the quick cuts and sheer mass of chaos taking place, but as a whole, these races are everything you could want from a futuristic motorsport, and the production by MadHouse is spot on as well. The roaring of the engines, the extreme camera angles and absurd manner in which these vehicles seem to stretch as they roar through the frame; it’s loud, over the top and just pins your attention to the screen.
With its superb animation, pumping soundtrack, over the top characters and unstoppable pace, Redline is the closest thing we may see to an F-Zero movie. Even if you’ve never heard of that particular video game series though, this is a futuristic racer well worth its feature length run time.

 

Comic Girls-
The Bunhousha dormitory has housed generations of up-and-coming manga artists. Housed in its walls are memories of growth and joy, as well as the anguish of pouring heart and soul into creating manga for fans to enjoy.
Moeta Kaoruko, or Kaos-chan to her friends, is one such up-and-comer.
While her heart is in the right place, and she desires nothing more than to finish a manuscript which her editor will approve, she has seen no success just yet.
Among her fellow dorm residents and schoolmates is the shoujo manga artist Koyume, the reluctant ecchi artist Ruki, and the action series artist Tsubasa.

What I thought-
Moe series such as these truly do come and go at pace, don’t they? I tend to think of them as small snacks to tide you over between proper meals. Huh, creepy metaphor.
If you’ve been around anime for awhile, then you very likely know what this series is like, with its emphasis on cuteness and suggesting interesting situations within which its colorful collection of characters can do adorable things. It’s nothing new, but that isn’t to say it’s bad.
I wouldn’t compare Kaos and her bunch to heavyweights like Houkago Tea Time or the girls of Rabbit House cafe, but their interactions are endearing enough, and their designs are bright enough that the cheer is enthusiastically brought, even without any particular staying power.
The manga artist dent is stood on throughout, and as a production itself, Comic Girls looks and sounds quite pleasant. The voice acting is nice, the OP and ED sequences and songs are catchy and enjoyable to watch, and all in all Comic Girls is simply put, an unoffensive and almost abusively likable series.
 Comic Girls is another one of those. If you’re looking for a lovably bright 萌え affair to tide you over then you’ve come to the right place. Whether or not you’ll remember its name a year from now, that I cannot say.

 

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online-
Kohiruimaki Karen is a bit uncomfortable with her everyday life.
Being uncommonly tall in stature, she feels out of place in social situations, and wishes she could be short and cute.
Her good friend Miyu suggests she tries video games to unwind, and Karen takes her advice, purchasing a VR unit and a bevy of games to try out.
After the progressive disappointment of having her in-game avatar constantly reflecting her large stature, she all but gives up hope before she logs into Gun Gale Online, and is pleased to find a chibi cutie looking back at her through her reflection.
The world of Gun Gale Online is a cut throat one though, and Karen, known by the handle LLENN quickly builds a reputation thanks to her unorthodox character build and tactics.

What I thought-
Ya know, going into this series, I daydreamed of some sterile board room where production higher ups were having a near-argument about how Sword Art Online as a franchise could be bigger if the narrative weren’t so decisive, and how if there wasn’t so much ham-fisted future think piece nonsense crammed in between two thick slices of harem fan-service, the series could thrive even more than it has.
I’m sure if such a conversation took place, the parties involved used tame language.
Regardless of how this series came about though, Kawahara Reki is out as writer and it shows.
This is a straight forward, armed conflict action series with a near-future technological hook, and while that does mean that the narrative told here is less substantial than that of SAO proper, it also means that the series is paced terrifically, being more focused on the action, and once said action hits, it’s quite well done.
Some of the contrivances or general misses from its parent series have bled over, with Gun Gale itself not making a ton of sense from a video game balance point of view, but those are easily ignored. I imagine no one wants to watch a series depicting actual video game players’ behavior toward one another.
The setting also allows for this series to be violent without going over the edge with it, as players are being mangled by bullets left and right in sometimes shocking ways, but the absence of blood or human suffering removes many of the disturbing feelings you’d have otherwise. Read into that as you will, I guess.
LLENN and her decently sized crew of affiliates are great, and her story in particular, while sometimes predictable, is a blast to watch unfold.
 Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online is proof that there are great stories and likable characters yet to be discovered in the SAO universe, and they don’t always have to be jonesing for Kirito’s affection. If the harem that is Sword Art Online turned you the other way, maybe give this alternative a shot.

 

Hinamatsuri-
The Yakuza life is a stressful one.
To Nitta Yoshifumi, it’s about to get worse.
Being belted by a large sort of casket, Nitta finds himself harboring the aloof and powerful telepath Hina.
This girl holds tremendous power, and if left unchecked, has the capability to level the place.
Who is this girl, where is she from, and why is she here? To Nitta, these questions come secondary to the headache of having her around his high-roller Yakuza lifestyle.

What I thought-
There is something that I truly adore about something like Hinamatsuri – which is a series or story which hands you an otherworldly premise, lets you gander at it for a hot second and contemplate its potential before it rips it out of your hands, throws something else entirely in your face, and then watches through a smirk at how much enjoyment you find in this new thing instead. Last year’s flawed yet terrific Alice to Zouroku comes to mind.
Telepathy and strange alternate worlds have a place in Hinamatsuri, but that is not what this series is about.
This is a series about character, and it just nails it.
Through a comedic lense, concepts of alienation and personal growth are the focus, and through Hina and especially her rival Anzu, this series straddles the line perfectly between giving you great laughs one moment, followed by opportunity for introspection in the next.
In many series, it seems the supporting characters are actually the stars, and this often seems the case here, as Hina herself often takes a seat to let her friends take center stage.
There is a science fiction through line nestled at the heart of Hinamatsuri, but do not be disheartened to learn that this is merely a ruse to draw you into one of the most unexpectedly endearing and hilarious slice of life series out there.

 

Fumikiri Jikan-
People wait at train crossings every day, but what does one think about when standing there waiting for their time to cross?
Fumikiri Jikan is a series of anime shorts which focuses in on random individuals as they stand waiting in such a way.
School students who decide to confess their crushes over the clattering of the train passing by.
A middle-aged man who finds himself looking into his past.
These stories and more make up this series which attempts to place a spotlight on the mundane and show something joyful.

What I thought-
Life is one small moment resting next to another, and the interaction leading one moment to the next is what I think makes us the people we are. Fumikiri Jikan is a series focusing on small moments which just happen to take place at a railroad crossing.
These are simple stories which could have very well been told through an audio medium, but being presented here as anime shorts works just the same. Ranging from cute to nostalgic to funny, I was a bit surprised at how bright and earnest this series was, foregoing its simple premise in many ways to adhere to tropes we might see in anime elsewhere, but I don’t think that was to this series’ detriment necessarily, it’s more something to be aware of.
Fumikiri Jikan asks but a few minutes of your time, with the hope of reminding you of those feelings of fleeting love or embarrassment or nostalgia which come with life; just enough to allow a train to pass and have you go along your way.

 

It really does feel like forever since I’ve typed a closing paragraph for one of these things..
I’m looking at some free time in the near future and fantasizing about all of the fun things that could be done with it (related to the Soapbox), but nothing is written in stone just yet.
Believe it or not, October is right around the corner, which means horror games. Considering the absence of time and motivation necessary to simply get one of these anime monthlies out has been tough to wrangle, the idea of trying to do a weekly series like White Day (don’t worry, we’ll get through it) is exhausting to so much as think about. The want is there, but life gets in the way.
I haven’t made the plunge into any Summer anime series just yet, though I certainly have my eye on a few in particular. Hey, did you know Yama no Susume was getting a third season? I didn’t! It’ll also be interesting to see whether this season’s Yamishibai is good Yamishibai or bad Yamishibai.
The road ahead awaits! I hope you are all having a wonderful Summer.
(Last year this month.)
じゃね

Hey Spitz, What’ve You Been Watching? March 2018

よっ。When will it be warm again? Will it ever be warm again?
It seems as though every once in awhile I get the hankering to ramble on again about anime games. Anime is popular, so where’s the budget for video games based on popular anime series? Why is it we can get a few dozen Atelier games brought West a year, but something like Idolmaster is a no-go?
Is it a voice licensing issue? A localization pipeline problem? Wouldn’t it make more sense to gather up all of your resources to produce a truly great game based in the Sword Art Online universe, rather than pushing out yet another mediocre one every year?
When is the last time a game based on an anime series was released and turned out to be a genuinely great game, and not just “okay”, or “appreciable by fans of the series”? As the medium becomes more popular and widespread, it becomes more mind-boggling as to why some of the series which should lend themselves so perfectly to a video game adaptation so often fail to capitalize on the idea.
Here’s what I watched recently:
 

Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale-
Being an alternative to FullDive virtual reality, Augma has seen tremendous success for those cognisant of the Sword Art Online debacle four years ago.
This newer technology, a headset worn by the user, supplies an augmented view of the world around them. It can be used for a myriad of purposes – messaging, music playback, internet access, and even as a form of revenue through the breakout hit ARRPG Ordinal Scale.
Within the world of Ordinal Scale, which resides parallel to our own, anyone can be a hero, and those with outstanding rank can even reap real world rewards from participating retail partners.
How much safer is augmented reality than VR though? When the tangible and fictitious overlap, where does that leave the soul of man?

What I Thought-
It all comes back to Aincrad, doesn’t it? There are, as seems tradition with this series at this point, contrivances within the plot to keep things moving, but this is a fairly paced film without any real filler or any throw away scenes to think of.  The plot does enough to keep you engaged, and as a bridge between the two existing seasons of the anime and the upcoming one, it plants its seeds well without distracting from what it needs to make this film feel self-contained at the same time.
The premise of an AR RPG, and the idea of the technology being more cutting edge than full dive VR seems rather odd, but when you look at where something like Pokemon Go went at its peak, and how commercial VR headsets are common, yet augmented reality devices are not, the premise of Ordinal Scale starts making sense, and even begins approaching believable to a degree.
On paper, the concept of an AR game based around pretending you’re swinging a sword at an imaginary creature feels like an extension of LARPing, but it is admittedly salivating to think of rolling around town with a group of friends to slay creatures the general populace are unaware of. It has a Lovecraftian vibe to it, and evokes Hunter: The Reckoning as well. And this is what Sword Art Online has always been best at: concepts. Even when the execution falters in some damnable ways, the ideas nestled within SAO’s various narratives are if nothing else interesting and thought provoking.
Then, once the action hits, this film is quite a treat. These sequences are stylish, fast paced and loud, and Ordinal Scale’s combat is a step beyond that of previous games in SAO in that not only does it require stamina and dexterity from the player, it being a real world activity, but the roles within combat are more traditional as well, so there are numerous great shots of player tanks with shields bravely enduring a flurry of attacks while the damage-doers look for an opening to seal the deal. The sequence which closes the film is particularly exciting, and pulls a few unexpected punches to further push the intensity.
Kirito continues to be the least interesting character in the series, and while there are still a few stray moments of the various heroines fawning over him, that aspect has been thankfully toned down here. The antagonistic force of the movie is a step up from the past, too. In a series which has had perfectly “hateable” antagonists in the past, who were more or less bad guys because they were bad guys and that’s the long and short of it, the conflict found here is on one level cliche, but on another, relatable and enjoyable to see develop over the run time. Much as the series has been up to now, the plot is more a means to an end than a draw, but it’s getting there, and the characters who tell the tale are at least worth hanging out with. (Cept Kirito. Dude sucks.)
Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale is the ideal film follow up. It reminds you of where the series has been and where it currently resides before sprinkling a tease of what the future might bring.  It probably isn’t necessary viewing for SAO fans, but it is a film every bit worth a watch.
 


 

Pop Team Epic-
When they were younger, Taira Daichi and Hoshifuri Sosogu promised one another that when they were old enough, they’d be betrothed. One day however, Sosogu moved away, and in the years leading up to her return, Daichi had all but forgotten about her.
Sosogu never forgot about him though. Now an idol, she’s determined to reclaim the time the two lost, and to make Daichi remember the promise the two made to one another all those years ago. Thus begins an all too familiar tale told through an all too familiar drum. That’s a heart metaphor.

What I thought-
Pop Team Epic is condensed nonsense. At times, this is a glorious thing to behold, with absurdist non-sequitur gags and bizarre references removed from all context delivered with a sputtering, flat-facedness which just begs you to break.
Most of the time however, Pop Team Epic’s attempts at eliciting a cheap laugh out of the viewer falls rather flat. It has a very ‘throw everything you can at the wall without worrying about how tacky it is’ style, which means segments sometimes drag on for longer than needed, gags will be revisited which weren’t especially funny the first time, aforementioned references might pop up with no accompanying punchline or purpose other than to say “Hey, remember that thing?”, and the list goes on.
Sometimes though, you want stupid, and Pop Team Epic is very stupid.
Where Pop Team Epic fails is not in its ambition. This is a hodgepodge of odd ideas and unrestrained silliness with a weird combination of visual styles and a nonsensical structure.
 


 

Slow Start-
Though she would appear the same as any other high school student, with high hopes for the future and a bright personality, Ichinose Hana harbors a terrible secret.
Leading up to her high school exams, she contracts a most unfortunate case of the mumps.
Due to this, she is unable to enter high school when she is supposed to, and thus is forced to attend a year late!
When she arrives, the complex she has developed about reaching high school late begins to bear down on Hana. What would her new friends think of her if they knew?

What I thought-
Leading the charge in the character design department this past season was Slow Start.
This is good, because aside from it’s energetic cast of nicely designed characters, Slow Start doesn’t offer much as far as narrative or memorable slice of life comedy scenarios. It’s a rather by the numbers series, which is of course disappointing.
There is at least some character growth over its run time, and while it lasts, Hana and her new friends’ cuteness and overflowing energy does well to bring a bit of cheer; it’s just remembering what happened after the fact which poses a problem.
Slow Start knows what it is, and even if it doesn’t go out of its way to do anything new or interesting, this is a nicely produced and joy inducing slice of life series.
 


 

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san-
Nishikata-kun has it tough. Rather short and rather middling when it comes to academics and athletics, not to mention a fan of decidedly not very masculine manga series, his self-esteem and patience is relentlessly tested by being at the receiving end of constant teasing.
This teasing isn’t done by bullies or older siblings or anything of that sort though, but rather his seating neighbor at school, Takagi-san.
Though his plans to get the best of her always backfire, Nishikata is determined to get the best of Takagi-san and make her feel the same embarrassment she causes him.

What I thought-
Then there’s Takagi-san, which after a preview last October, I was emphatically on board for.
A somewhat more relaxed series than the typical moe affair, Takagi-san is closer to an adolescent love story than a comedy series. It becomes clear within the very first episode that Nishikata and Takagi have a special friendship, and it’s heartwarming to watch Nishikata attempt to keep these feelings at bay, while Takagi, clearly content with them, takes every opportunity to make him uncomfortable.
Yamamoto Souichirou’s character designs come through great, and segments from another of his slice of life series, Ashita wa Doyoubi are incorporated as breaks in the going-ons of the main duo.
There isn’t a narrative here, but Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san makes up for it with its warm, lovable slice of life antics.
 


 

I’ve fallen off of Dragon Ball Z for the time being. That series, even Kai’s more condensed version, is a bit of a slog, and a repetitive one at that. If only there were a more abridged version I could watch somewhere… Nah, I’m sure nothing like that exists.
I have my old software on my new pc and have done some smaller tests. It’s looking good. Since I don’t have infinite hard drive space, the question recently has been do videos become 720p at 60 fps, or 1080p at 30? I’m looking to get a license for XSplit, and when that happens, the door is wide open to streaming. (I haven’t forgotten about White Day, either.)
Spring is here (!), along with its accompanying anime season. Anything look good? I’m looking forward to gobbling up Amanchu!’s second season, and having watched the first episode of Gun Gale Online, I’m looking forward to seeing how that pans out as well.
See you later!
(Last year this month.)
次回までね。

Hey Spitz, What’ve You Been Watching? February 2018

ようこそ~!You always expect a new year to be a fresh start, but 2018 so far has been a whirlwind.
Speaking as an American, social politics are easily one of the most oppressive forces bearing down on you out there.
It comes from a good place. We’re all human beings and want to be treated as such. It’s a no-brainer. If someone is being misrepresented, or held down for unfair reasons, then that’s an issue.
But the problem with social politics is that one is able to pick and choose where and what might be the cause of inequality with little fear of backlash, often leading to the dulling down of creative flair, or in more blunt terms: fun.
It’s a massive trend in gaming in particular, and has been for years now, and while personally I appreciate the manner gaming advertising has grown up a bit thanks to this movement, I don’t care for how it impacts video games regarding presentation. Video game worlds draw you in because they let you escape. They’re over the top, and this distracts you away from the things which are bothering you to enjoy yourself. Does 2B from Nier: Automata make the game less thought provoking or entertaining because of her attractive character design?
The rising popularity of anime in the West has be worried that, in order to cater to our impossible social political requirements, series might start taking on a duller style.
For example, could Dragon Ball Z be the same without Master Roshi being an old pervert? I’m sure. But does taking a comic relief character such as him out, or altering his personality to not be grabbing nurse hineys and ogling Bulma’s breasts all the time solve much of anything in the grand scheme of things?
It’s tough to say where inequality starts and ends; everyone has a different answer. Just like everyone has different tastes and tolerances for toilet humor or innuendo. When the path of social politics intersects with my escapism though, I’m not a fan.
A lonesome backlog series is all I’ve got:
 

Gugure! Kokkuri-san-
Ichimatsu Kohina is an instant ramen enthusiast. As a self-proclaimed doll, she finds little need for much else.
Friends? Who needs ’em.
Family? Don’t be silly.
A styrofoam cup of noodles is all she needs.
That is, until out of boredom (just boredom, you see), she performs an incantation to summon the fox spirit Kokkuri-san
One spirit begets another, and Kohina soon finds her home harboring a number of spirits, each with their own unfortunate vices.

What I thought-
This series has been in my backlog for a very long time. Having watched the first two episodes and fallen off for some reason or another, I was happy to hop back in, and those first few episodes were just as charming and humorous as I had remembered.
The issue with Kokkuri-san though, is that once you’re past the introduction, it doesn’t go out of its way to continue changing things up to keep itself fresh or engaging. New characters come (and some are almost instantly forgotten about), but once their quirk is established, their interactions become one-noted and quick.
There is a sort of sad undertone nestled underneath the slice of life gags, but this is largely swept under the rug and never brought up again at a certain point. This is too bad, because I think if this series had closure to such things, it would give the viewer something to look forward to other than the next airless gag or uninspired scenario. The series looks and sounds great (I love that OP), and the characters themselves are fine for what they are, but the comedy begins lacking the sting or shock to keep you rolling, and the most endearing character, Kohina herself, seems to fall to the wayside while Inugami and his spirit brethren hog the spotlight.
This is a comedy series which seemed to have overlooked its potential.
A solidly entertaining front end can’t save this series from its been there, done that slice of life trappings. Gugure! Kokkuri-san is not a series without laughs, but a few good gags spread out over the course of twelve episodes simply isn’t enough to fill your stomach.



 
The PC was upgraded recently, which not only makes producing video content snappier, but also opens the door to higher quality streams, so the options have expanded a bit as far as things like that go. Whether the time will be set aside to take advantage of that, it’s tough to say. January and February have been exceedingly noisy for my apartment, so there has been next to no opportunity for the quiet needed to record White Day episodes or the DB FighterZ feature I’ve wanted to do for the past few weeks. Yell at them for me, would ya?
Speaking of which, the launch of DB FighterZ has me watching through DBZ Kai, which in part explains the limited post here. There are flaws for sure, but Kai seems to be a good option for someone who isn’t as interested in filler, and while maybe I’d be humming a different tune if I were waiting for new episodes week to week, but at least in Kai’s case, the narrative is paced very well, and episodes end in a manner which makes you want to immediately watch another.
See you next time!
(Last year this month.)
それじゃ。