Fragile Dreams rant

Alright, I sorta finished Fragile Dreams. By 'sorta', I mean I got to the last boss, died several times, got fed up with the game's combat, and decided it would be better to just watch the ending on YouTube. I liked the game's premise, but the mechanics are so clunky it's hard for me to feel anything other than frustration during the more tearful scenes in the game. If Fragile Dreams were anything other than a video game, I would have a much easier time recommending it.

Usually, I'm able to look past a game's shortcomings if I find the story engaging. Killer 7 and Alice: Madness Returns have great imagery, although they can get monotonous. There are repetitive aspects to a lot of games, but Fragile Dreams is so poorly executed, it's hard for me to think about anything besides how it plays. You have limited inventory space, and your weapons break if overused. This would be like if you had go to a save spot in Resident Evil to get a new gun after reloading your pistol a few times. When you have that, coupled with really imprecise third-person combat, I would go out of my way to AVOID fights, when maybe I should have considered leveling up a bit. Seto's attacks are pretty stiff, and you can't cancel out of attack animations, meaning you're left wide open to enemies. There's no block or dodge mechanic, and Seto moves way too slowly if you're moving in the opposite direction that your Wii Remote is facing.

What else is terrible about Fragile Dreams? It may have a great atmosphere, but it doesn't know what to do with itself. In one section of the game, a character has you traverse older areas in order to fetch an item for her. She does this not once, not twice, but three times before letting you progress in the story (although to be fair, you fight a boss in the third time, but hey, it's not like the game's combat makes boss fights exciting). There's a lot of emptiness in certain areas of the game as well. You'll spend a few minutes walking through long corridors and occasionally climbing long ladders where nothing of interest happens.

Getting back to the Alice: Madness Returns comparison, I set both Alice and Fragile Dreams aside for a lengthy period, before finally resuming my save and finishing them. Madness Returns' platforming and combat would drag, mostly because the levels went on for too long, but it at least had competent fighting and platforming. Fragile Dreams has some interesting themes, and the sense of isolation works well with its narrative about loneliness, but all the surrounding material make it hard to acknowledge the more abstract, emotional elements you might feel while playing the game.

I know some people that really like Fragile Dreams, but I have a hard time admiring what it's trying to do when everything else feels like such a chore. I read Jim Sterling's review yesterday, and I more or less agree with it, although maybe I would have scored it a bit lower than a 6.0.

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Colors! 3D : A paint application for the 3DS

My drawing. Note: with the 3D on, the cards appear in front and behind Alice

Hey, I downloaded this app last night, and I'm having a lot of fun with it. Granted, I'm not a talented artist, but it's fun and easy to mess around with. You paint stuff in multiple layers, allowing your drawings to be displayed in 3D. It's also easy to upload your drawings online and share them with others, or you can download other people drawings if you choose to do so. It costs $7, and if you're used to $1 iPhone apps, it seems pricey, but the amount of versatility the app allows makes it easy to recommend. You can zoom in, change the size of your brushes, change layers, and undo your mistakes quickly. After you're done, the app will show every step you made to the drawing's completion.

You can check out one of the top rated drawings over here if you want an example of the program's potential:

http://colorslive.com/details/81294-Lion_Couple_by_Richtea87.php

Have any of you tried this app? I'd like to see what you guys came up with.

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Tales of Podcasts

So, instead of writing, I started cutting out audio from our amateur podcasts and adding the Tales skit faces to them, so now there are amateur animations that accompany our amateur podcasts! Why? I'm not sure. I probably got the idea from the Joystiq x Space Ghost mash-ups or something. Will I make more of these? I dunno. I seem to be the only one that enjoys them. Maybe I should be playing video games instead.

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Critical Path: How to Review Videogames for a Living Review

If you’re viewing this blog post, there’s a good chance you enjoy reading and writing about video games. Some among you may even want to pursue a career in video game journalism. However, reviewing video games isn’t an easy job. Sure, you will have access to the latest titles, but you’ll also write a lot, make very little money, and always be under the scrutiny of readers on the internet. On top of all that, it’s a very competitive field, and when you miss a deadline, there will be another eager writer waiting to take your spot. If you have no experience in the industry, you’re bound to have lots of questions, which is where Critical Path: How to Review Videogames for a Living comes in. Dan Amrich, coming from a background of over 15 years of working in the press (Official Xbox Magazine, GamePro, and GamesRadar), addresses all of these concerns, from how to write appealing reviews, how to attain a position as a game reviewer, and how to keep that dream job. It is both informative and engaging, and will appeal to both aspiring writers, and faithful readers who want to learn more about video game criticism and reporting.

To call Critical Path a “how to” book is simplifying what Amrich accomplishes. The lessons, which are divided into six sections, are the primary focus, but Dan’s personality comes across really well, and prevents the chapters from becoming a collection of dry instructions. He adds humorous experiences that are both insightful and entertaining, such as when a reader challenges a magazine by sending a resume that only mentions the games that he was able to beat quickly. This brief story emphasizes one of Amrich’s main arguments, “We need more writers who cover games and less gamers who think writing is a pretty cool job.” Game reviewers have to be writers first, and gamers second, because the former is what you’ll be doing most of the time. Writing is not a skill that everyone has. We, the audience, read to be informed, and the reviewer’s job is to inform us, which is why the person’s thoughts and feelings need to be made clearly. Dan Amrich shows his audience why these skills are important, and structures the book in such a way that is not overwhelming to the uninitiated.

If there’s one aspect of the book I felt could have been developed further, it’s the first chapter of the “Learning It” section. The “Test your Might” chapter provides a sample of a poorly written review. Dan Amrich analyses the flaws, and demonstrates how the review can be fixed, such as pointing out structural issues and implementing an active voice. It’s a helpful exercise, but I was disappointed that no example of a good review was provided. It’s true that the audience of Critical Path may have some exposure to professional reviews, but a few pages analyzing the positive components of a good review would have been enlightening to new writers. This omission felt particularly distracting in a later chapter, when Amrich shows several screenshots, and writes descriptions on why certain screens succeed and others fail. A similar “compare and contrast” explanation between sample reviews would have made the chapter stronger. However, should you have interest in purchasing Critical Path, do not let this one complaint deter you from doing so.

Before you ask, yes, Dan Amrich briefly mentions the “GerstmannGate” incident, but the book was published before Jeff revealed what really happened. The Kane & Lynch controversy isn’t discussed until much later in the book, where Amrich mentions his ambivalent thoughts on what may have occurred. It paints a complicated relationship between game reviewers, game publishers, and the audience. “You’re only as good as your last review,” Dan writes, and repeats throughout Critical Path. A game reviewer must be professional and consistent, because it is a career where you build and maintain relationships between the industry and with your audience. As readers, we see that dynamic from the perspective of the journalist, granting us a different point a view we may usually not consider.

Even if you don't want a job as a video game reviewer, the subject matter that surrounds the career is still captivating. The role of the media is something we readers often take for granted. It's too easy to jump on a forum and complain about a game's score being too low, but it's not easy to articulate whether or not a huge work is worth your money in a review (yes, including this review). So, yeah, I do recommend picking up Critical Path. I grew up reading Dan's work at GamePro, and the book alluded to a few of those issues, which I still have access to. And sure, while I may not have agreed with every review in the magazine, the amount of effort showed how much the staff cared about video games, just like in Dan Amrich's Critical Path.

Critical Path: How to Review Videogames for a Living is available digitally for $10 on both Kindle and iBooks, and in paperback for about $18. Dan Amrich is currently the Social Media Manager for Activision over at OneOfSwords.com, where you can see find his recent articles and weekly podcast.

Have any of you read the Critical Path?

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Superman 64 review

“I teach you the Superman. Man is something that should be overcome.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

Superman 64 is a work of unparalleled genius. Until now, many believed that the bland textures, poor level design, and awful controls made the product one of the worst video games ever created. However, these opinions are all misguided, because Superman 64’s design transcends all of these “flaws” into a cohesive metaphor on the human condition. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged cannot be understood by just reading the first one-hundred pages, and similarly, Superman 64 isn’t a game that can be fully appreciated in just one hour’s worth of playtime.

As soon as you start a new game, Lex Luthor appears and says “You will never find your friends in this virtual world.” When I was a kid, I believed that Lex was speaking to Superman in the opening, but as an adult, the message becomes clearer. Lex Luthor is actually telling you, the gamer, that you are alone, and despite the cries of desperation and pleas for mercy, your friends cannot help you in this virtual environment. No one can. It is only you who must overcome this task. You may have doubts about Luthor’s comment reaching a metaphysical level, but it becomes clearer when you see that Superman is not present in this cutscene. Also, Luthor never calls Superman by name in this introduction. Instead, he follows the comment by saying, “If you want to save your friends, solve my maze!” Luthor is challenging your patience, perseverance, and commitment to your friends. But unfortunately, very few people will have such dedication.

You see, Luthor is a bit of a omniscient figure in this game. You, as the gamer will struggle with the finicky controls and repetitive objectives, and if you were to give up, it demonstrates that you are not up to the task of becoming a Superman. Now, Luthor wants you to fly through a series of rings that he has dubbed as a “maze”. The “maze” is obviously an allusion to the labyrinth that Theseus had to overcome in Greek mythology. This reference is as intentional as it is symbolic – because at a glance no one will ever call the series of rings you fly through to be a literal maze. But what does this repetitive action represent? The monotony of the tasks one performs in everyday life. We go to school or work, and are assigned tasks that follow a strict set of rules. Whether it’s solving a math problem or processing transactions on a cash register, these actions become mechanical and uneventful. Just like that, Superman’s obstacle course follows that same set of principles. The poor controls in the game mirror the poor control that we have in our lives. Sometimes, unexpected events occur that become problematic and change our way of thinking, and like so, missing one of the rings in Superman 64 causes us to cut corners, or turn back and correct our mistakes. The kryptonite fog wasn’t an attempt to hide the Nintendo 64’s limited power, but a metaphor for how we cannot look into the future, adding to the hopelessness that is found in Lex Luthor’s test. It is not an easy task we must overcome, after all.

Luthor’s maze sets the tone of the difficult trials that await Superman, or rather, the trials you must go through to become a hero and save your friends. To make a friendship last, you need patience and dedication. It will help you endure whatever conflict you might have with a friend, and Superman 64 teaches you the skills in being more resilient towards conflict. We may fail an attempt at completing a level, and so we usually persevere and try again. When we get into an argument with a friend, we usually try to forgive and forget whatever the disagreement was, and not just “ragequit” our relationship. And in remaining dedicated, we manage to “save” our friends from becoming enemies.

No other game has explored the components of human psychology to the extent of Titus' magnum opus. The subtlety of the narrative is further proof that there will never be another game of this quality in a long time. It starts with a "game within a game" scenario, and because of it, Superman 64 plays with us just as much as we play with the game, if not more so. Very few people who touched Superman 64 have seen it through it to its completion, after all. If there were ever a title that would change Roger Ebert's stance on whether video games could be art, it would be Superman 64.

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WonderCon 2012 - 3/16

March 16, 2012 marks the beginning of WonderCon, and it took place in Anaheim, California, opposed to San Francisco. The Anaheim Convention Center is very close to Disneyland, so the large number of hotels makes it an ideal location to hold such an event. I didn't go to as many panels as I went to at previous conventions, but it was still a good experience, and I managed to get some cool stuff out of it.

I left my house some time after 10:00am, and I listened to the latest CAGcast on the commute over. Coincidentally, Wombat was telling a story about getting back from his vacation at Disney World. The commute isn’t too bad, but I did take a wrong turn at some point. Anyway, I still made it there on time, and messed around with the 3DS Street Pass while I waited for the Exhibit Hall to open. While I was Puzzle Swapping, I randomly heard a woman behind me say, “Hey, can I get a picture of your shirt?” And there was Tony Guerrero and Sara Lima from ComicVine. We chatted a bit, and the news about GiantBomb and ComicVine being acquired by CBS came up. Tony said they had lots of interviews scheduled for the weekend, and Sara said that she still sits next to Brad like she did back at Whiskey Media. We said goodbye and parted ways as soon as the Exhibit Hall opened.

The Exhibit Hall is fairly large, and similar to what I saw at Anime Expo. Various booths and lined up, selling toys, shirts, comics, manga, and all sorts of memorabilia. Some of these booths were handing out swag, and that’s when I remembered that I wanted to head on over to the Nintendo booth. I played some of Kid Icarus’ single player and multiplayer, and tried out Spirit Camera. Kid Icarus was enjoyable, but my hands felt a bit tired after awhile. It plays more like Sin and Punishment during the on-rail flight sections and a third-person shooter during the on-foot segments. The on-foot segments take some getting used to, because turning around wide angles is imprecise. Within the game, Pit describes turning around like “spinning a globe”, which isn’t very encouraging. I didn’t see any kiosks with the second analog attachment, so I don’t know whether that would be more, or less comfortable. The game also has a strange sense of humor. Palutena jokingly tells Pit that she is able to read hearts, and will know if he is thinking something naughty. The self-aware and light-hearted dialog is fairly charming, though, and I look forward to purchasing the game at some point.

Spirit Camera, for those who don’t know, is an augmented reality game set in the Fatal Frame universe. You still use camera to fight ghosts, and you will interact with characters in real-world backgrounds. It’s an intriguing premise, but it doesn’t show all that well in a public space. In my encounter with a ghost, I had to turn around while holding a 3DS that was tethered to a kiosk. Included with the game is a small diary that is used to access new areas. On paper, a retail AR game on the 3DS is a unique concept, but I’m concerned it may not have the same chilling atmosphere that the Fatal Frame games had. Although, I’ll admit I jumped when Maya was looking straight at me when I was moving the 3DS around. That’s about all I checked out at the Nintendo booth, and I got some cool swag out of it, including a Xenoblade poster, a Kid Icarus shirt, and Kid Icarus AR cards.

I looked around at some other booths, but I didn’t buy much. I purchased an Astro Boy volume, because I just finished reading Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto recently, and I wanted to read the original story again of which Pluto was based on. For lunch I ate at a Sbarro that was in a hotel across the street. Other than that, I mostly walked around and took pictures at random stuff and cosplayers. I walked around Artist Alley, as well, but didn’t recognize most of the artists.

As for panels, the only one I went to was “How to Get a Job in the Video Game Industry”, hosted by Capcom’s Francis Mao. I got a chance to meet with Dan Amrich, from OneOfSwords.com, who had also previously worked at GamePro with Mao. You might remember them as Dan Elektro and Dr. Zombie from the GamePro blog I wrote soon after the magazine shut down. It was an informative panel, and while I do like video games, I’m not sure what aspect of the industry I’d enjoy the most if I wanted to make a career out of it.

That wraps up WonderCon for me. I was pretty exhausted by the end of the day. It was an overall good experience, but unfortunately I won’t be able to attend tomorrow or Sunday. Compared to the previous anime conventions I went to, I got an impression that there were less cosplayers. Judging from a tweet from Sara from ComicVine, it looks like she expected more people, but I’m certain there will be a larger attendance tomorrow. Feel free to check out the photos and videos.

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Quick Thoughts: Black Jack and Princess Knight

I’ve mentioned before on a previous blog that I am a big Astro Boy fan. In my high school, I checked out various volumes of Dark Horse’s translation of the series. Astro Boy: Omega Factor on the Game Boy Advance was an amazing game, and really handled Osamu Tezuka’s various works with love and respect. The game even had an encyclopedia that gave a brief background on Tezuka’s various characters. Tezuka often used the same characters in different projects, treating them as if they were actors and actresses appearing in different films (Tezuka’s “Star System”). It was easy to get an idea of how much Tezuka accomplished by looking over the various characters in Omega Factor’s database. Anyway, recently I checked out a volume of Black Jack, and a volume of Princess Knight, so I wanted to jot down my thoughts on both works.

Black Jack

Our protagonist!

Black Jack is a mysterious surgeon who is able to perform impossible feats, and charges an extraordinary amount of money to accomplish these operations. The stories themselves are fairly brief and self-contained, featuring one operation per story. Osamu Tezuka had a medical license, but the operations themselves are not realistic. In one operation, Black Jack takes the organs found within a teratoma and constructs a human being while using synthetic parts. The character Pinoko is made through such a procedure, who becomes Black Jack’s young and lively assistant. One story I found really distracting involved a woman with ovarian cancer. Black Jack states that he would be able to save this woman, but he would be required to remove her uterus and ovaries. We are told that she would no longer be a woman because of their removal, and the narrative concludes with the patient being portrayed as a man. Now, I’m not a doctor, but I don’t think that’s how the surgery works.

Despite the cartoony artwork, Black Jack explores some darker themes than something like Astro Boy. Black Jack may be a talented surgeon, but even he has limits. His patients come from various financial backgrounds, and in some cases they're the villains of the story. There is also an existentialist story in which a young boy thinks about taking his own life, and through a conversation with a random laborer and watching Black Jack’s effort to save that man, the young boy is motivated to continue living.

I enjoyed some of the Black Jack stories more than others. At times seeing cartoon intestines made me a little queasy, but I really like the premise behind Black Jack. It’s not one of favorites, but I’ll check out a second volume and see if I’m more drawn to the story.

Princess Knight

Before infants are born, children are assigned either a blue heart, or a red heart – the former if they are to be born male, and the latter if they are to be born female. Because of Tink, a troublesome angel, one of the babies is accidentally given both a blue and a red heart. Thus, Tink is banished to Earth and is told to return the blue heart to heaven. The baby is born as Princess Sapphire of Silverland, and her family raises her as a boy, because a woman cannot be an heir to the throne, otherwise the conniving Duke Duralumin and his son would take over.

Princess Knight's story is much more light-hearted than Black Jack, and at many points it reminded me of a fairy tale you’d see in a traditional Disney film. It has a great sense of humor, and occasionally characters will even break the fourth wall. Princess Sapphire is depicted in having the qualities of the stereotypical princess, and the stereotypical knight, or hero in a fairy tale. She is very talented at fighting with a sword, resourceful, and committed to doing what is right, but she is also has an interest in going out dancing, but that would risk exposing her identity. She wears a wig and dress when posing as a girl, and soon falls for the young Prince Franz Charming. There is some humor in these encounters, because Prince Franz is infatuated with Sapphire when she is disguised as a common woman, but he sees Prince Sapphire as a rival, and is unable to conclude that the two are the same person.

Sapphire loses her boy heart!

Princess Knight is seen as a work advocating feminism, which I could see in some scenes, but I’d disagree in others. Sapphire’s mother acknowledges that the law forbidding a female heir is a dated rule, but the story shows that the reason Sapphire is accomplished is because of her blue heart. The blue heart essence is briefly removed during a sword fight, which causes Sapphire to weaken and her fear to increase. It suggests that her courageous nature is a quality that is exclusively male, which will make readers uncomfortable. However, there are also a few scenes where Sapphire saves Prince Franz, causing his feelings for her to increase, despite his servants discouraging him from pursuing her. Given that this story was written in the 1950’s, the portrayal of women is different than today's standards, but it is arguable that Sapphire is more active than the Disney princesses that Tezuka borrows from.

I checked out the first half of the series, and I enjoyed enough to want to read through the second volume. It alludes to old Disney films, but it distinguishes itself from that material with it's own brand of humor and action.

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ScrewAttack vs. Machinima

I seriously need a better camera...

On Tuesday, Screwattack held a new event called “ScrewAttack vs the Internet”, at the Dave & Busters in Arcadia, California. Because I’m located in Los Angeles, getting to Arcadia isn’t too far of a drive. While the crowd got a little overwhelming at times, it was a unique experience to see all these internet characters in person, including Stuttering Craig, James Rolfe (a.k.a. the Angry Video Game Nerd), and Nathan Barnatt (a.k.a. Keith Apicary). In this event, the ScrewAttack team went against the Machinima crew.

I got there pretty early, and walked around the mall in the meantime. Eventually, I ran into Professional Jared, where he started handing out coupons for a buy $10, get $10 worth of credit on the arcade machines. The arcades themselves were okay, featuring the typical party games to earn tickets, such as skee ball, those coin pachinko games, and whatever you call those machines where you have to be lucky to get a jackpot. There were also plenty of on-rail shooters and racing games, but I didn’t see any fighting games, unfortunately.

The first couple hours of the gathering was fairly casual. Many g1s approached the ScrewAttack personalities and asked for autographs, shook hands, and played some games competitively with them, such as a four-player Pac -Man game. A wide variety of items were being autographed – ScrewAttack memorabilia, NES cartridges, some guy even took his shirt off to have Craig sign his back. The hosts were frequently asked to pose for photographs as well, and I imagine there will be lots of YouTube videos of the event to be uploaded soon.

There were three games played competitively against the Machinima crew – NBA Jam On Fire Edition (Xbox 360), Bomberman 2 (SNES), and skee ball. ScrewAttack won on NBA Jam, but lost in the other two games. During skee ball, it got pretty claustrophobic, because it was a large group of people surrounding a set of skee ball machines.

Funny thing about the whole event is that everyone pitched in tickets to redeem them for a Justin Bieber doll. Why? Well, why not? After the competition was over they set up a line for autographs and did more Q&A stuff. Keith Apicary started fooling around and made one of the employees uncomfortable by making passes at her. The Angry Video Game Nerd answered some fan questions, and Stuttering Craig was throwing out some ideas to the audience for future events they may want to hold. The autograph line was ridiculously huge, and I didn’t have anything for them to sign, so I didn’t get in line. The event was also great for Street Passes, as I managed to finish the Star Fox puzzle from all pieces I received.

You can see random footage of the event here, but unfortunately I was unable to capture Apicary's more spontaneous antics:

The Machinima people.
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Quick Thoughts: Guinness World Records 2012 Gamer's Edition

If you've been following my blogs, you may recall that I've started checking out random books at my library (mostly comic book volumes and manga). There's quite a bit of variety, and while I was browsing around, I came across the Guinness World Records 2012 Gamer's Edition. I figured, "Hey, I like video games", and believed I'd get a kick out of reading some of these video game accomplishments. To my surprise, the compilation is pretty awful. The impression I got was that the games were chosen first, and then really narrow and specific records were attached to these popular games. Sure, you do see some more obscure titles, like the top score for Deathsmiles, but when you give Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood the "Shortest Development Period for a Triple-A Stealth Sequel", I start to feel there's some sort of marketing push behind a lot of these records.

Before the book dives into records, it opens with a few features, such as going over each platform's strengths, what's upcoming, and other E3 announcements and accolades. The records themselves are split up by genre, with certain franchises getting more than a page dedicated to them, giving you informative material such as the "First Game in the Core Battlefield series to Feature a Single-Player Campaign" (Battlefield 3, if you had to know. The guide says Bad Company doesn't count because it's not part of the core series). Some of these records are sorta interesting, such as Borderlands featuring the most guns in a game (17,750,000 - according to the book), though. Other records are way too specific (Vanquish being the first game with rocket sliding? Of course it is!), and finally there are the misleading records - calling Jet Set Radio the first cel-shaded sports game (does anyone consider JSR a sports game? Just because you can fire guns in L.A. Noire doesn't make it a third-person shooter!). So, yeah, the book just keeps on going, coming with random records being assigned to all sorts of titles. Near the end it has a feature on the Top 50 Game Endings, and I don't know why this was included in the book. The Top 50 Game Endings were chosen by popular vote, so the results are fairly predictable. Black Ops was #1, followed by Halo Reach and Ocarina of Time. Following this feature are some scoreboards on various games.

That's pretty much all I have to say on Guinness World Records 2012 Gamer's Edition. It's a neat idea, but a lot of these features and records felt like filler to me. I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised that after reading some of Alan Moore's and Naoki Urasawa's work that this book would feel bland and uninteresting.

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QT: Alan Moore's comics and Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys!

Here's another Quick Thoughts entry!

Once in awhile, I go to my local library and start checking out random films, books, comics, or basically anything that catches my attention. It’s exposed me to creative works I probably wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. I started this trend again, beginning with a few entries of Naoki Urasawa’s 20 Century Boys, and a paperback compilation called DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore. And since there’s quite a bit of variety to be found in libraries, I could probably write on all sorts of different works I normally wouldn’t consider reading.

DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore

I have a brother that collects comic books, but while I’ve had access to his collection, as a kid I would only skim over them, look at the artwork, and not even bother to read them. I would still watch superhero cartoons, so I did have some familiarity with a few obscure characters. I want to say I got more interested in reading comics in my mid-teen years, and that’s when I started reading Alan Moore’s work. As you’d expect, I started with Watchmen, because it was arguably the most well-known of his works, although looking over The Stories of Alan Moore, I do remember seeing some of these comics at an earlier point in my life.

The Stories of Alan Moore is a compilation, and because of this I found some of the included narratives a lot more interesting than others (and I may have skipped a couple of them). I already read The Killing Joke a year or two ago, so I had no interest in revisiting it at this time. My main reason for checking it out was to look at some of Moore’s Superman stories, which included “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”, and “For the Man who has Everything”, the latter which I remember being loosely adapted in an episode of Justice League. What’s great about these stories? Well, Moore shows a more internal aspect to Superman’s character. Despite being physically indestructible, these stories do portray a more human side to him. “For the Man who has Everything” begins with Batman, Robin, and Wonder Woman arriving at the Fortress of Solitude on Superman’s birthday, only to see an alien plant attaching itself to the Man of Steel. Soon, the villain Mongul reveals that the plant creates an illusion to the host in what he or she most desires. Superman imagines himself back in Krypton with a family, and what his relationship to his father would be like if Krypton was never destroyed.

There are also some stories of lesser-known DC characters, such as Vigilante and Green Arrow. I liked these stories, but they’re not what Moore was more known for. The Vigilante comic was one of the darker entries in the compilation, which was about a man being released from prison and going after his family, when he was initially sentenced for raping his daughter. Some of these stories are still worth reading, especially The Killing Joke if you haven’t already read it.

20 Century Boys

I first heard about Naoki Urasawa through . I mentioned being an Astro Boy fan and he recommended checking out Urasawa’s retelling of Tezuka’s “The World’s Strongest Robot”- which is called Pluto. I never got around to finishing Pluto, but it was a very interesting reinterpretation of the story. Instead of focusing on Astro Boy, it had more of a film noir approach to it, revealing the narrative primarily through a robot detective named Gesicht. The art style matched well with the more realistic setting and tone, and I can see some parallels to 20 Century Boys. There’s an air of mystery in both works, and every volume answers previous questions while also introducing new enigmas.

I may have made the same mistake too. (NOTE: You read this from right-to-left).

20 Century Boys focuses on Kenji Endo, presently a middle-aged manager of a convenience store, but the story flashbacks to his younger days. The flashbacks reveal more about Kenji and his group of friends, and it also serves as plot device in answering current secrets. Kenji’s friends include the overweight, but good-hearted Maruo, the timid Yoshitsune, the feisty tomboy Yukiji, and so on, but as the plot unwinds it becomes increasingly complicated. Kenji had big dreams as a kid, continuously talking about saving the world and becoming a hero with his friends. At one point he was exposed to rock music and wanted to become a famous guitarist. However, he grows up to lead a rather ordinary and boring life. He takes care of Kanna, his sister’s daughter, because she left and disappeared mysteriously, while he also tries to make a living at the convenience store. Strange things begin occurring, when Kenji discovers that one of his childhood friends reportedly killed himself. He investigates and learns about a mysterious cult led by a man called “the Friend”, and what’s even stranger is that this cult’s actions are all connected to his childhood.

This is a pretty long series, so I’m not too sure where the story is going end up, but I enjoyed the volumes that I read. The relationship between Kenji and the other characters are amusing, so it does have a great sense of humor during earlier scenes. I’m definitely try to finish it, but because it is a longer series, I may have trouble finding all the volumes easily.

And what do Alan Moore and Naoki Urasawa have in common? Well, Alan Moore did make this Astro Boy reference...

Astro Boy and prostitutes. Yikes.
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