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Spitz’s Year End Wrap Up 2018

明けまして!

It’s time to lay to rest the only 2018 we’ll ever live through. To me, it still seems like it’s only getting started; that might mean that my mind was occupied over the past year, but all the same it’s still crazy to think that it’s over already.
There is of course the unmatched sense of potential at the forefront, as we tackle this first day of 2019, but we still have time to think back on the last 365 days as a whole, as well as put a shining light on some of the things which went above and beyond, which were encountered along the way:

 

Anime:
There has been an unfortunate downward trend for me when it comes to watching through anime series. I don’t think this is from lack of interest or enjoyment, since there were several series I watched this year which really grabbed my attention. I think the issue is more with finding the correct allotment of time to devote to these series. When a week is spent fully focused on work with only a few hours a day available to spend on entertainment, I’ve found recently that it’s more fun to spend that time on something a little more engaging.
I didn’t watch anything this year that I disliked, but out of the few series I did find the time for, there were admittedly a couple which seemed to run together.

Video Games:
I spent more of my free time over the past year playing video games over watching anime, and in saying that I don’t mean to imply that anime wasn’t in a good place, but rather that 2018 was a killer year for games.
There was a perfect balance of fresh and new experiences, with an equally great mesh of single and multiplayer games, and there was also a great mix of interesting indie-level games and grander, big budget ones. Games like Monster Hunter World, Dragon Ball FighterZ, Black Ops 4, and would you know it, even World of Warcraft sucked away countless hours of my time, and the year ahead has a great deal of potential ahead as well.

 

The Round-up:
Here is a list of all of the anime and video games I talked about here on the Soapbox over the past 365 days, listed in alphabetical order! Click the name of an anime or game to open a tab for the article or video in which it was mentioned.

Anime:
Asobi Asobase
Comic Girls
Fumikiri Jikan
Gugure! Kokkuri-san
Hinamatsuri
Karakai Jouzu Takagi-san
Majo no Takkyuubin
Pop Team Epic
Redline
Slow Start
Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online
Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale
Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo
Vampire Hunter D
Yama no Susume Third Season
Yamishibai Season 6

Games:
Black Ops 4 (beta) / (Review)
Guardian’s Crusade
Yomawari: Midnight Shadows

 

Spitz’s Obligatory Awards Section:
If you’ve been around for awhile, you understand not only my feelings for “…of the year” awards, but also the silliness of doling out awards as such for a site like mine, considering the anime series and games I cover aren’t always released on the year in which they’re covered. Nonetheless, it’s cool to give a shout out to some of the things which exceeded my expectations over the past year. Here are some easy recommendations!

Anime:

Biggest Impact
Majo no Takkyuubin

I’m the sort of person who feels foolish lauding something which is already well established as great, and I feel obligated to preface every mention of a Studio Ghibli work with “Yeah, I’m aware you already know how great this thing is.” It truly is a marvelous feeling though, watching through one of these stories for the first time, and Majo no Takkyuubin is no exception.
Personal growth is important, and I think that when we’ve given up our willingness to invite new experiences and information into our lives with a childlike curiosity and openness, we’ve become much lesser versions of the people we should be.

I grabbed a copy of this movie right before my workload hit its hardest, and it took me longer than expected to get to, but by the time I got to it, watching through this movie was exactly the sort of refresher I needed.
Once you get your head around the idea of someone as young as Kiki being booted from home and expected to become a productive member of society with but a purse of pocket change, a broom and a handheld radio, this is a story which wonderfully encapsulates the uncertainty and overwhelming feeling of leaving home and being the person you think you want to be, and does so with a warm, vibrant, down to earth style.
There are numerous lenses with which one might watch this film through, and I think some of the most appreciable works of fiction are those which can appeal to numerous different kinds of people, both old and young, without disparaging any of those groups. Whether you’re just looking for smooth animation, beautiful artwork, memorable characters, a warm tone, or a place to relax and think things through a bit, this is a film which I think has already proven its ability to hold up over time, and has already nestled itself snugly within in my collection as a feel-good movie.

 

Biggest Surprise
Asobi Asobase
I’m a jerk when it comes to comedy. I’m a dreadfully sarcastic, endlessly self-demeaning, and meticulously dull person, and this carries over into my comedic tastes.

Asobi Asobase had a rough start, with gags that felt a bit forced, and delivery that seemed above its content. I was happy I stuck with it though, because while it isn’t the most consistently funny series out there, some of the situations our heroines find ourselves in still make me chuckle just from recalling them. One in particular I remember gradually becoming more and more ludicrous as time went on, leaving me laughing out loud for minutes afterward.
The art style is nice, but the characters have a very bland sort of look to them, but I think that just lures you into a false sense of normalcy, and makes the ridiculous happenings all the more entertaining once they occur.
This was the series I expected the least from, but got the most out of.

 

Biggest Disappointment
My Backlog
A bit of a cop-out?
Looking back, and considering the series I watched over the past year, I didn’t watch many series which failed to meet any sort of expectation, but I think a lot of the reason for that is that I didn’t watch anywhere near as much anime as in previous years.
My personal collection grew, and my various backlog and simulcast watchlists on streaming services expanded, but my ability to set aside the time to actually get to any of it was lacking. Quite the difficult problem to have, when you manage a anime-focused site.

 

Video Games:

Best Single Player:
Darkest Dungeon
It’s tough out there for fans of Lovecraft, but it’s been getting easier over the past few years. 2015’s From Software gem Bloodborne took the concepts posed by Lovecraft’s cosmic horror stylings and wove them into a game laced with gruesome sights and tense, exhilarating gameplay. There have been indie games here or there using Lovecraft’s mythos or tone as a base, such as the zeafaring adventure Sunless Sea. 2018 gave us a first person horror adventure game based on Call of Cthulhu (or more specifically, the pen & paper game of the same name), which is admittedly a bit rough around the edges, but has its heart in the right place.
But when it comes to capturing the morbid tone of Lovecraft’s specific brand of horror, with its odd, overly dramatic vocabulary, and at times, almost over the top delivery, nothing has come close to what Darkest Dungeon achieves.

This is a game absolutely overflowing with beautiful artwork, finely tuned gameplay mechanics, fantastic music, and maybe above all, unforgettable voice work by narrator Wayne June (Look up him up on Youtube at some point. He’s just the best.) It is a rare piece of entertainment which has its brilliant ideas, sure, but also has a team every ounce capable of capitalizing on those ideas and crafting them into something special backing it.
The gameplay is simple: You recruit and develop a roster of heroes while also building up the various structures at your base of operations. These structures upgrade your roster and give them a means to cure the physical and mental ailments they’ve gathered in combat.
Combat is your typical turn-based fare, with plenty of opportunities to customize each of your heroes abilities and equipment to fit a specific role. Death and insanity are the primary opposition, and Darkest Dungeon is nothing if not challenging. That challenge rarely feels unfair however, and while heroes can (or to be honest, will) die, more are always available to take their place, and unless you’re playing on the game’s most punishing difficulty, there is no overall fail state to speak of. Death is less an insult and more a matter of course, and as the game proceeds, you become numb to it.
This is a game which ultimately wants you to succeed, but demands that you earn your success, which is a concept that is sorely needed in games nowadays.

 

Best Multiplayer:
Dragon Ball FighterZ
I’m not the fighting game guy. I never was, and never will be.
That said, it would be foolish to overlook what a peerless showing Dragon Ball FighterZ brought.
Even as someone who on several occasions (plus one following this game’s release) attempted to get into Dragon Ball Z and couldn’t deal with its rough pacing, this game’s ability to draw in players with smart fan service, easy to pick up gameplay and ludicrously over the top visuals isn’t to be overstated. Whether you’re into the anime or not, this is a fighting game impossible not to appreciate.

Across two platforms, I sunk dozens upon dozens of hours into FighterZ, slowly learning the ins and outs of its fighting system, laughing and shouting with friends as countless over the top moments took place.
Any old doofus can jump in and hammer any of the buttons, utilizing the game’s auto-combo system, but these combos are easy to identify, and don’t do a lot of damage. Super Dashing looks and feels terrific to pull off, and is an excellent way to charge through someone spamming ki blasts, but leaves you wide open to anyone looking to counter it. A tremendous amount of care was clearly placed in not only catering this game to the type of person willing to spend hundreds of hours in training mode to eke out any small increase in damage in a combo, but also to any fan of Dragon Ball Z or fan of massive explosions of color and chaos. The transition from one end of the spectrum to the other is a very entertaining and rewarding one, and while the fighting system is by no means perfect and the roster is by no means balanced, this is a 2D fighting game which managed to steal the reigns of team based fighting right out from under Marvel vs Capcom, who used to rule that domain with an iron fist.
This is easily the most I’ve enjoyed myself playing a fighting game, and there are stories yet left to tell. It couldn’t make me a Dragon Ball Z fan, but it has most certainly made me a FighterZ fan, and I’m excited to see where this series might go in the future.

 

Were There the Time:
Red Dead Redemption
I’ve only put around a half dozen hours into RDR2 at this point, if that. It would be simple to put on a podcast or some other noise and burn through some side content or just mill about in the open world, but RDR2 is a needier sort of game than that. This is a game which demands your full attention.
There is plenty to dislike in this game; the animation priority which has sadly become Rockstar’s M.O. makes every action a total labor; the gunplay is total, mindless, left-trigger to right-trigger nonsense; getting from point A to point B often consists of extended periods of riding on horseback with nothing going on.
It’s the in between though, which is what Red Dead Redemption 2 excels at. Exploring towns or the wilds surrounding them to see what small, seemingly inconsequential stories Rockstar has crammed into every nook and cranny. Heading out on extended, multi-day hunting trips and experiencing the sorts of emergent narratives all of the best open worlds allow. Playing through the expertly realized narrative missions, which offer some of the best character work out there. There’s so much to do and see, and similar to Persona 5 last year, I didn’t have the opportunity to devote my full attention to this game in order to see its full breadth.

Red Dead Redemption was one of the best games of last generation, and it pains me to say that RDR2 has the potential to be one of the best of this one, but I might never get to see it through.

 

I Wish I “Got” It:
God of War
To get straight down to it, sometimes you’re the odd one of the bunch; the one who lacks the ability to fully appreciate something which everyone else seems to love. This is how I feel about God of War.
It’s a nice looking game – clearly a huge budget and a collection of great talent came together to make this game a reality, but as an experience I was meant to sit down and play through, the end product didn’t do anything for me.
If the previous God of War games were the sort of story you might find scribbled into a snot-nosed 14 year old bully’s notebook, this game instead comes off as the video game equivalent of Oscar bait. Putting Kratos into a parental role comes off as a forced tonal shift after everything we’ve seen him do in previous games, and while the voice performance behind Kratos in particular was superb, the interactions between he and this game’s numerous characters couldn’t grab my interest.

The narrative didn’t appeal to me, nor did the game’s combat, which seemed to waver in a space between classic character action and Dark Souls. It feels heavy and satisfying, but I found that the enemies seemed very damage-spongey; where the animations of Kratos and the wild camera movements kicked off by the heavy hits of the melee combat made it seem like the various creatures in Kratos’ way were just being wrecked, this wasn’t always reflected in the enemy health bars, and dispatching foes regularly seemed to take an oddly long time.
It’s also more an issue with me and my scatterbrained sensibilities these days than it is with God of War’s design, but any game with involved environmental puzzles immediately pushes me away. Add to that a RPG-style progression with character levels and talent trees and full weapon and armor loadouts, and it was simply too much to deal with when what I was looking for was some quick escapism and some satisfying action.
I’m sure it’s a fine game in the right hands, but God of War isn’t what I was looking for at this point. Maybe I’ll give it a go at a later date and see what everyone else seems to, but for now it’s a no-go.

 

And As For Me:

Looking at 2018:
I had this moment a little while ago where I had the thought that “Man, 2018 was a real bore, huh?”. Nothing really happened.
But then when I really sat and thought about it, there was simply a huge rift between the front and back halves of the year. A lot happened; friends came and went, there were emotional ups and downs, and I almost made it the full year without a hospital visit, but it was a lopsided year with a collection of periods in which I was simply coasting along with no real goal to work toward or challenge to work through.
It’s tough to be especially proud of, considering I got very little done which I wanted to do.

Looking at 2019:
My schedule has shifted in a way which affords more quiet free time, which again tosses open the door to video content. Whether this means more Chill n Chats or the reemergence of an old loose end I cannot say as of now, but do know that the motions are in place to get some moving images and mumbling commentary to your screen of choice in the near future. We’re staying the course into the new year without any ambitious changes, but what is established will be re-examined and reinforced.

 

Spitz’s Soapbox is here because I enjoy to write about the things I enjoy (or don’t) and share it with those out there who also enjoy anime and games. These posts aren’t always the most expertly written, and my videos certainly aren’t the most immaculately produced out there, but if you’ve strayed onto these pages at any point over the past year and managed to find some glimmer of enjoyment in what you found, I offer you my profound appreciation.
The site will continue into the new year, and I do hope you’ll come along.
Thank you!

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

 Yo!
While Winter has hit, it has for whatever reason felt oddly like Spring, and I can’t place a finger on what to attribute that to. Regardless, 2018 is in its waning moments, and it’s typically during these last few weeks in which I’m the most interested in shoving away the missteps from the preceding year.
I’ve never known someone capable of sticking to a resolution, and I’ve never been the type to make them, myself, but there is certainly something special about the end of a year. Being able to let out a well-earned exhale after the business of the Holiday season, coupled with the looming potential of what a new year might bring.
And having the opportunity to rest is of course welcome, though at the same time, it can be easy to dig yourself into a sloth-like routine of eat and sleep and little else. Diligence isn’t my strong suit, sadly, especially when sleep is an option.
I’m whittling away at the Year End Article, perhaps as you read this, but amidst my throes of excess sleep and much-needed consumption, I managed to stumble across an old friend and have them tell me a tale:
 

Vampire Hunter D (1985)-
It has been thousands of years since the prosperity of humanity.
The serrated, barren landscape plays host to an untold number of hideous mutants and terrible creatures.
Humankind exists, and enjoys the benefits of technology, but is by no means the apex creature.
During a difficult hunt at night, the young Doris Lang finds herself falling victim to a vampire. While she is left with her life, she has been cursed with the telltale marks of the monster’s bite.
Fearing for her life, Doris enlists the skills of the mysterious and quiet swordsman known only as D, to protect her from the grasp of her would-be defilers.

What I thought-
Vampire Hunter D was an anime film I watched during high school; back when the mechanical clank and clatter of VHS decks were the norm. That said, it was difficult to find much nostalgia in rewatching this movie after all of these years. I do recall contracting food poisoning the night I watched it back then, which likely soured the memory a bit.
This is a film which shows its age, and I think it’s important when watching it, to keep in mind that this film was produced in an era before computers were there to aid animators; it was all done by hand, per frame. Studio Ghibli wouldn’t steal the scene for a few years yet, and classics such as Akira and Ghost in the Shell wouldn’t come along for years. The tropes and tendencies of modern anime hadn’t yet been established, and as such there is a very raw sort of feeling to the visuals and audio on display.
The pacing is sort of rotten, with characters seemingly teleporting from one location to the next with little explanation in some instances, as well as glacially slow shots of characters in motion or establishing shots of the environments. Most of the action scenes are clumsy and stiff, and there are several distracting scenes with animated shots which already occurred earlier in the film.
It’s rough by today’s standards, but there is still something in there which shines through, and it’s the style and tone.
Movies don’t take their time anymore. While there are of course great movies out there nowadays, I can’t recall the last one which had me feel like I was being drawn into a world the way this film and something like Ghost in the Shell does, and I think a lot of that is thanks to those extended establishing shots and the slow pace of the narrative. It isn’t the most efficient way to tell an engrossing plot, but it most certainly gives you time to soak yourself into the world.
This is a world worth sinking into, as well, if only for an afternoon. The idea of a modernized civilization existing well after the rise and fall of humanity is something I love, and I also love that this film doesn’t waste any time attempting to explain how the world became ruins, and instead tells its story as though this world is the norm.
It’s a simple “save the girl” narrative, with a few obvious twists here or there, but D is a cool protagonist, even if we aren’t given much insight into him as a character come the end, and the supporting characters are surprisingly memorable, too. There isn’t a lot of character growth to be seen, but the designs are decent, and most characters get their moment(s) to shine either in combat or within the narrative.
It’s rough around its edges, but if you have an afternoon or evening with enough quiet to drink in its tone, I think Vampire Hunter D is every bit worth a watch now as it was back in its heyday.
Vampire Hunter D isn’t what I’d consider a gem from the past, but there is plenty nestled within its slow pace and uneven visuals to appreciate. If you’re looking for a dark, morbid tale in an interesting setting, give it a go!


As I mentioned before, I’m currently throwing myself at the Year End Article, and while I can already tell it isn’t going to be sporting the biggest numbers as far as quantity of series or games finished, there should be plenty there to talk about for sure.
I have some free time coming up in a few days, and I so, so want to do some videos on some fun stuff I’ve accrued over the past few months. Maybe we’ll do a stream or two? Who can say.
I hope everyone had a safe and sane holiday season!
(Last year this month.)
後でね。

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

やれやれだぜ。
Winter time, winter grind. Let’s see if we remember how to write these…
It can be tough out there to get your hands on a series you’d like to own. While series come and go on streaming services, generally speaking if there is an anime series you’d like to watch, and it’s relatively recent, you can find it.
In contrast to that, if you’re looking to purchase a series you’re interested in, or have previously seen and enjoyed enough to want to own, the prices for disc releases can often be pretty absurd. Popular series such as Sword Art Online and Kill la Kill might ask well over a hundred bucks from you to own per season (~12 episodes), whereas series which are more niche such as Strike Witches can be had in their entirety (three, 12 episode seasons plus a full length movie) for roughly the same price.
When it comes down to the old concept of supply and demand, it makes sense, but from a dollar-per-episode standpoint from series to series, anime pricing can seem quite absurd. It pays to be into the lesser-known stuff, for sure.
I’m knee deep in holiday season grind mode at work, and as is no doubt evident by the lack of posts here on the Soapbox, I haven’t had anywhere near enough free time to watch anything – little less to write up an article about it. For the sake of getting something – anything- on here before Year End Post time, I snatched away a couple of hours to watch something I’ve been waiting two months now to find time for:

 

Majo no Takkyuubin-
Even in the ever-expanding hustle and bustle of modern life, there are traditions to be upheld, and being a witch, Kiki is no stranger to traditions.
For witches such as herself, it is customary to leave home at the young age of 13 to find a life and a living out in the world.
While her abilities as a witch are admittedly a tinge rough around the edges, Kiki is nonetheless anxious to get out into the world and to find a town to call home. With the promise of a perfect night on which to depart, Kiki and her trusty, if rather snarky familiar Jiji, does just so.
However, while Kiki might be happy to hit the world at large head on, life outside home isn’t quick to welcome her with open arms. It’ll take unwavering determination to find the life she dreams of.

What I thought-
My dark secret as a person who consumes anime is that I’ve watched very few Studio Ghibli productions. Sure, I’ve covered Hotaru no Haka on here in the past, and back during high school I recall seeing Spirited Away. Aside from these two, I’m at a loss.
And to a degree, covering these movies seems a bit unnecessary. There seems to be this sort of unwritten rule that states that “It’s a Ghibli production, so of course it’s great.” This is evidenced in the opening moments of Kiki’s Delivery Service; the production is just superb, and there’s just this perfect, almost indistinguishable aura of joyous warmth and tangible sense of place nestled in there.
The ability for Kiki’s story to step from moments steeped in silence to ones swelling with boisterous musical swells is outright uncanny, and draws you into the story wonderfully. Her tale isn’t overwrought with hardship, but what is there is felt, and seeing the methods with which Kiki utilizes to overcome her obstacles is engaging throughout.
The quality of the visuals is also not to be overstated. This carries through from the start of the film, with Kiki’s mother’s shop drenched in meticulous detail, to the sweeping green plains and open blue skies of the outside world. As what is becoming an older film these days, the trademarks of cel-based animation are evident; “actor” objects are generally less detailed and use colors which stand out more, cueing you into what parts of the scene will move at some point or another, but this is no real detriment to the experience.
Kiki’s story itself is modest; there is no big bad guy to beat here, nor any real overarching goal other than to survive and be happy, but there are themes expressed in the happenings of the narrative that are worth considering. The idea that society is cold, but a single member of society can be warm and inviting; the sense that kindness and respect has a greater benefit than shunning one another; that life isn’t about the world welcoming you, but you finding your place within it. There is a lot to absorb, I suppose I would say, between the luscious visuals and the number of themes at play in the narrative.
This is a film which might be enjoyed for a number of reasons. Whether it’s a bright tone you’re after, a small cast of instantly lovable characters, or a vibrant backdrop for rumination on topics which are just as valid in today’s world as they were decades ago, this is a film which I’d be foolish not to recommend.
Majo no Takkyuubin is a bright and endearing coming of age story about a little witch in a big world, and the trials one goes through to find their place amid the everyday demands of modern life. 

 

As I mentioned above, work has been consuming me from the outside in for the past couple months. The light is on the horizon though, if we can just get there in one piece.
I wish there were more of an update for me to offer; videos are on hold, and I haven’t even been keeping up on currently airing anime. It’s just work, (sometimes) sleep, work, (sometimes) eat, work, repeat. Here’s looking to getting back into the normal routine soon!
(Last year this month.)
じゃ。

Spitz’s Spookbox: Halloween 2018 Special

Being most of the way to delirium from work and a move cannot stop me from bringing the Halloween cheer to you!

This year we’re taking a peek at an underappreciated horror series, Yomawari, and more specifically the second game of the duo! Exhibiting an art style which is both charming and dense with detail and using the video game medium in clever ways to spook you, this is a series perfect for Halloween, and is available on multiple modern platforms, including a recent Nintendo Switch release which bundles both games.

Have a safe and sane Halloween, everyone!

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!