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Podcast: Nostalgia Pilots 10: Lady Une’s Murder Superbowl

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Welcome to Nostalgia Pilots! In this episode, Hugh, Jason and Jurd discuss Gundam Wing Episode Ten: “Heero, Distracted by Defeat!”
Click HERE to listen!
In which Treize and Zechs finally get some time alone together, Lady Une has a murder-boner for the whole world, and Duo suplexes a train.
Plus, Doctor J still leads with the claw, and Trowa doesn’t have a phone, but if you must call him, ring the circus.
Oh, and Heero blew himself up, but I’m sure he’s fine.
Want to watch along with the Nostalgia Pilots? You can watch Gundam Wing episodes for free online via Crunchy Roll!

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Arc The Lad

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Arc The Lad
Published by Working Designs
Played on PS Vita

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The Skinny: An early PS1-era Tactical RPG, this quick and easy game is a far cry from later entries, but a good introduction to the sub-genre for new players.

Arc The Lad is something of a Playstation oddity. An early release for the Playstation in Japan, it never saw release in the United States until 2002 as a part of the Arc The Lad Collection. This is a shame, because it is at least trying something innovative, but games like Final Fantasy Tactics had already surpassed it when it was released in the west.
The game follows eponymous hero Arc and his allies as they searches for a, well an ark containing the power to either cause or prevent the end of the world. It’s all fairly stock fantasy RPG stuff, but it hits all the bases well. Being from the early days of the PS1, it uses 16-bit sprites with a few shiny polygonal effects thrown in here and there. Aside from a few short FMV transitions, Arc The Lad feels like it could have been a Super Nintendo release.
The combat is all turn-based strategy with a three-quarters overhead perspective. Character speed determines order, and each character levels up individually. This works out mostly well, but by the end of the game, my faster characters were many levels ahead of the slower ones. The overall campaign is short, but there are little side-quests to do in each town that pad out the length, including a huge multi-floor dungeon that has to be completed in one go. These aspects don’t feel particularly groundbreaking, but they’re handled well enough.
What I find most interesting about the game might be its biggest flaw. This is a short game, taking only about ten hours to complete everything. It also ends on a cliffhanger. The ancient evil returns, and Arc is powered up to face it, but we’re left with our heroes splitting up and preparing rather than getting that final dungeon. Now that the series is finished, that break feels more like the first part of a fantasy trilogy than a complete game, but I imagine the disappointment of getting merely a chapter rather than a full game. It feels like an interesting design choice today, though, and the cheaper price for the game on the Playstation store takes away the sting a bit.
Arc The Lad is an interesting little corner of video game history. It is available digitally for PS3 and PS Vita from the Playstation store. If you’re a hardcore collector and have $150 to spare, you could also hunt down the original PS1 collection.

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Podcast: CCR40: The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

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The Chrononauts descend to the catacombs beneath the Paris Opera house and go horseback riding with Erik in this silent horror classic.

Click HERE to listen to the podcast!

and HERE to watch the movie on Youtube!

Chrononaut Cinema Reviews is presented by http://skinner.fm and http://hughjodonnell.com, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

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Fiction: The Halloween Gig

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“What the p’nong is this?” I said, slamming the plastic crate onto polished a synthsteel table. Amy, the bartender, turned around from where she was hanging some kind of banner.
“It’s your costume for tonight, sweetie.” She went back to the hanging, a pattern of orange circles, white ovals, and black crescents, each with a crude printed face. The shapes vibrated gently in station gravity.
“Costume for what?” I picked up the box with my lower arms and riffled through it with my upper ones. It was a length of cheap black plasticloth. I examined it for a minute before figuring out it was a sort of cloak, with holes for my head and all six appendages. The sleeves were all tattered and trailing, and the hood was so deep my head wouldn’t even be visible. It seemed a terrible choice for a musician.
“It’s Halloween, silly!” She didn’t even turn this time. “You agreed to play holidays.”
“Proper holidays,” I said, grimacing. “The Eclipse Festival, Harmonics Night, Harvest of Poetry.” I knew I was being petulant, but I made an attempt. Humans expected it from their musicians.
“It’s a big party night on Earth, we’re expecting a lot of traffic, so wear the costume.” That was when I noticed her face paint. It was a vivid shade of green. She was wearing an impractical black gown instead of her usual ship suit. A pointed black hat rested on the bar.
“Then why haven’t you cleaned properly?” I asked, taking in the room for the first time. The counters and corners were covered with wispy strands of white plant fiber. The stage was dusty, and the edifice of a ruin had been left there.
“Those are decorations, Ch’Brun.”
“They’re unsettling.”
“I was going for spooky.”
“Just what kind of holiday is this?” I asked. My elders thought I was crazy to run off to human space chasing gigs. Sometimes I agreed with them.
“For some humans, it’s a day of remembrance for the dead, but for others it’s a day for dressing up, eating candy, and getting scared.”
“Wait, your civilization frightens itself for fun?” I wasn’t surprised. Humanity seemed to have a collective fetish for destructive behavior. But since I was already working in an establishment that served weak poison as a recreational activity, this didn’t seem out of character for the species. “That’s so human. Give me a few standard hours to research and I’ll see what I can do.”
A few hours later, I took the stage. It was dark, it was grimy, and the house was full, just as she said. There were humans in all kinds of costumes, mostly mythological archetypes like Amy’s witch and a variety of living corpses. Humans have a ton of hangups about death, I guess. There were also costumes based on characters from popular entertainment programs, historical figures, and even elaborate jokes. It was all very weird, but it made a kind of sense. The humans came from a world with only one sun, which meant they had as much darkness as light. They lived in a world that developed scientific understanding of the universe relatively late, and was delayed by a few notable collapses of civilization. They had a talent for stories. So they found ways to laugh at the darkness. They practiced scaring themselves so they wouldn’t be afraid.
I fluttered my robe dramatically as I sat down on the fake step and pulled out my instrument. It was a fretted, stringed instrument similar to human ones, but it had multiple resonating chambers and was meant to be played with all six hands. Amy nick-named it the Ultra-Cello, and it kind of stuck, although my music teacher back home would probably have fits if they heard. In deference to the holiday, I had placed a representation of a human skull over the pegbox.
I flourished my arms, waiting for silence, then began to perform an ancient traditional hymn I discovered in my afternoon’s research. I sang out, a voice shouting against the darkness. The crowd cheered in recognition and glee, and sang along with religious enthusiasm.
“I was working in the lab late one night…”

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Cover photo by Derek Hatfield, used under a Creative Commons, Attribution license.

Hugh Likes Fiction: Vampire Hunter D

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Vampire Hunter D
Written by Hideyuki Kikuchi
Illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano
Translated by Kevin Leahy
Published by DH Books

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The Skinny: Kikuchi blends Horror, Sci-FI, and Western tropes into an exciting novel, but the penny dreadful style keeps it a guilty pleasure.

It’s Dracula Season once again! The time of year when I turn my blog over to all manner of spooky content. And today we’re looking at Hideyuki Kikuchi’s original novel, Vampire Hunter D.
In the year 12,090 A.D, post-nuclear war humanity rises from the ashes, only to be enslaved by ancient horrors, the vampires. But even their immortal reign is not absolute, and as their empire crumbles, a single vampire hunter, half-human and half-vampire, rides the frontier. When he meets a teenage girl on the side of the road, a victim of her local vampire lord, he becomes embroiled in saving her from the count, his daughter, and the fearful townsfolk.
Vampire Hunter D is a whole-hearted embrace of genre. It mixes Western, Horror, and Science Fictions aesthetics to create something both iconic and familiar. Kikuchi’s love for black-and-white horror movies is evident, and the book is sprinkled with cameos and references, beginning with the villainous Count Lee. The sci-fi tropes stand up surprisingly well alongside the horror aspects. The world of the frontier is grim, and humanity lives mostly in the ruins, first of the modern world, then of the fantastic one created by the vampire civilization. But as powerless and preyed upon as they are, Kikuchi’s vision of humanity is still resilient and relentless, ready to conquer the challenges in front of them no matter how long it takes. D, the mysterious rider in black, takes up most of the oxygen in the story, but the world building is constantly surprising and delightful.
Unfortunately, not all of the tropes Kikuchi takes stock in are as amusing. His female characters in particular come up short. Doris is at turns shown as strong, smart, and capable, but she is constantly in need of rescue, and is almost totally valued as an object. In this short novel, she’s stark naked at least twice, and is threatened with rape more than once. These tropes also go back to the tone and trappings of the Western and Horror genres that Kikuchi revels in, but the sexism in this book leaves a bitter aftertaste to the more engaging parts.
The book is also illustrated by powerhouse artist Yoshitaka Amano, and he brings a heavier pen and ink style to these illustrations that are a stark contrast to the watercolors he is more generally known for, such as his character designs.
Vampire Hunter D is a thrilling adventure novel with genre trappings, over the top prose, and some problematic choices on the part of the author. You can find it in ebook and print from your favorite retailer.

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Hugh Likes Comics: All-Star Batman

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All-Star Batman Vol 1: My Own Worst Enemy
Written by Scott Snyder
Penciled by John Romita Jr.
Colors by Dean White
Published by DC Comics

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The Skinny: Batman and Two-Face take a road trip in search of a cure for his condition, with horde of bounty-hunting assassins on their trail.

I’ve often heard it said that one of Batman’s greatest strengths as a character is his versatility. Batman, the theory goes, can be effectively put in any story and work. With respect to Mr. Chris Sims, the internet’s leading Batmanologist, I’m not sure I fully agree with that notion. While Batman can fit into a variety of roles, he’s still Batman, and including him changes the story. I’d posit the reverse is true. Batman doesn’t just fit into any story. Batman can make any story he’s in into a batman story.
But Snyder and Romita Jr. do bring something different to the formula with All-Star Batman Vol. 1. Taking Batman out of his environment is sometimes a dice proposition, but the creative Team pulls it off well. Harvey, the good half of Two-Face claims to have found a cure for his condition. But his evil personality isn’t going to go quietly. He has a secret data network, and if Batman reaches their destination, he’ll release every dirty secret he has on Gotham’s citizens. He’s going to prove to the world that everyone, deep down, is just as monstrous as he is. But he’s not going to stop there. He’s also pulled a lot of financial info, and if someone should kill Batman on the way, they’ll pocket the cash, too. Now it’s a race against a rogues gallery of assassins, bounty hunters, amateur criminals, and Two-Face himself.
The premise is mostly just set dressing for one big over-the-top fight after another, and it works, as a batman story. He faces an endless stream of B and C level rogues. We get to see a lot of these fights, and Snyder and Romita Jr. are clearly having a ball bringing back the likes of Firefly and Copperhead for cameos. Batman mentions a few of the battles that he had off page as well. And while the big reveal of a revamped KGBeast was a lot of fun, I’m a bit disappointed we never got to see Orca and her Death Cycle.
The trip is well-paced and has a nice, over the top conclusion of the sort you only get in superhero comics. While Romita Jr’s art style usually isn’t my cup of tea, he’s doing good work here, and the flashback sequences, to a time when Bruce and Harvey met at a children’s home look great, given a watercolor style from Dean White’s colors.
All-Star Batman Vol. 1 is a lot of fun, and it’s nice to see Batman a bit out of his element and on a deadly road trip. This is one of those comics that rewards long-time fans with a basket of easter eggs while still being accessible for new readers. If you’re looking to jump onto reading Batman in the modern era, this is a great place to start.
You can find All-Star Batman Vol. 1 at your local comics shop, or buy it digitally at Comixology!

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Fiction: Ears to the Ground

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“You won’t Believe this!” Bingo shouted, and slammed a newspaper onto the table. From his spot in the training area, Joachim paused and looked over. Glory set down her lunch, a bowl of leftover stew, and arched an eyebrow at the newspaper in front of her.

“You’re joining the printers guild?”

“The headline, you daft boozer!” Joachim wandered to the table and peered over Bingo’s shoulder. With his nearly three foot height advantage, it wasn’t difficult.

“Human Town Vanishes Overnight,” he read aloud. “You’re right. I don’t believe it.”

“Just look!” Bingo insisted, tortured by his companions’ lack of interest. He gestured to a sketch of an abandoned town. “It’s Corn Hall! Rumor has it that every living thing for miles has just disappeared!”

Glory sighed and gestured towards one of the papers. It fluttered over and hung in the air an inch above her bowl. The runes on her hands hated getting dirty. Bingo practically held his breath while she read the hovering article.

“It sounds like another scam,” she said. The Freelance Hunters last visited the town chasing sightings of a unicorn. They had, in fact, caught the beast, which turned out to be the towns fastest horse, gussied up with a prosthetic horn to lure in tourists. Their anger at the deception was legendary, and an embarrassment for all involved.

“You think they’d try again after what we did to the mayor?” Joachim asked. Glory shrugged and resumed her lunch.

“If something tragic has befallen them, they surely deserved it. Besides, The Daily Buccina is notorious for publishing rumors, gossip and outright fabrications.”

“They’ve posted a nice reward for anyone that can solve the mystery,” Bingo said.

“Then it is definitely fiction.”

“But three-hundred gold teeth might be worth the trip, right?”

“That presupposes we find anything at all. And should we be successful, we would still require sufficient proof. It’s a fool’s errand, Bingo. Never put stock in a payday from a publisher.”

“They did have some very good whiskey,” Joachim offered

“If you think I’m going to trudge through the wilderness for five days just to save some hick town where everybody hates us from a dire threat that I guarantee you is just going to be another tourist scam, you have another thing coming!” The wizard determinedly went back to her lunch, satisfied that the matter was settled.

***

A week later, the three of them stood at the edge of what was once Corn Hall.

 

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