Gundam Documentary

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‘Fireworks is Just Like Porky’s’

“Is “Fireworks” (…) an homage to those bawdy ‘80s sex comedies like “Porky’s” and “Private Resort?”

I dunno, is Christie Lemire retarded?*

I’ll be honest. I did not think Fireworks was that great; it was nowhere near as good as Your Name, though it still had a lot of charm and a lovely aesthetic to it. What I didn’t pick up on was anything that justifies Lemire’s need to equate Fireworks to one of the raunchiest R-rated sex comedies ever filmed.

Fireworks is about first love, from a boy’s perspective—from a boy who’s hovering in the awkward realm between childhood and adolescence. He wants to be a man and have the opportunity to prove himself, but, being a child and inexperienced and unwise to the ways of the world, he really doesn’t know what to do and has a hard time figuring it out.

Norimichi’s love for and fixation on Nazuna is innocent and non-sexual. For all of the shots of Nazuna that Lemire complains about, Nazuna’s portrayed not as a woman to be lusted after but something pure and elfin, beautiful and innocent, something that Norimichi wants to cherish and protect, even though he doesn’t really know how. She is the idealization of first love. Yes, there’s billowing skirts, subtle glimmer on the lips, hair wafting aetherially in the breeze—but no, there are not upskirts, downshirts, boob-shots, etc. She’s mysterious, and though imperfect, Norimichi idealizes her because she’s his first love.

Now, the boob jokes from the friends and about the teacher that Lemire complains about: Norimichi’s friends exist to show a contrast between Norimichi’s youth and innocent affections and male adolescent posturing. The awkward adult relationship between the teacher and her boyfriend, who cracks a joke about her breasts is there in juxtaposition to the purity of Norimichi’s first love.

Yes, all of the agency in the story is with Norimichi, because it’s a story of a boy trying to become a man and protect someone he loves.

Lemire is mad about this, too, but anyone who compares the story of a boy’s first love and how that boy would try to do anything he could to make life better for that girl to a movie where a bunch of high schoolers get into a violent prank feud with a redneck  brothel owner is probably a broken human being.

*:This is a rhetorical question; since her resume includes 8 years working with the Armenian Genocide-denying Young Turks network, the answer is obviously yes.

Goblin Slayer and the PulpRev

With the first series of Goblin Slayer wrapping up, I wanted to touch on the show that’s been not only one of the number one animes in North America but has also been rather popular among the PulpRev crowd.

I enjoyed Goblin Slayer, but when all was said and done, it occurred to me that not only was it not a great anime, it was not even a particularly good anime—what gave it the illusion of greatness was that it met all of the meager expectations it set, delivering in heaping doses what little it promised. It set a low bar and clears it with ease. You want to watch a show where a guy kills goblins? This is it, chief. The utter lack of pretension is far more delicious than the “fake depth” many shows try to coast on before crashing in a mess at the end. Goblin Slayer needs no apologia, and there are no great divides in the fandom over thema, symbolism, and other minutia.

goblin slayer

Is Goblin Slayer pulpy? The only reason I ask is that it’s pretty well loved by the PulpRev crowd. And thinking about it, not only is it not particularly pulpy or Appendix N-style fantasy, it’s Pink Slime fantasy to a degree even worse than Record of Lodoss War; it’s pure, in a vacuum, D&D fan-fic.

What separates it Lodoss, however, and many other pink slime fantasies is that the D&D it draws from (if indeed it is drawing from D&D; evidence abounds) is of the older, classic variety, in which the purpose of “adventurers” is to kill monsters, because monsters represent an existential threat to mankind and because they have treasure. Goblin Slayer lacks the pretense of the game in which great and powerful forces are at work and the heroes must act because the fate of the world is at stake and the party represents the champions of all humanity and all that is good.* There are no destined saviors, chosen ones, lost princelings, who are going to stop the Dark Lord. That none of the characters in Goblin Slayer even have names beyond what they do or have accomplished or what their profession is almost serves to lampshade this lack of “special” and “important” fantasy heroes in its narrative. In D&D terms, these are characters who lasted a couple adventures and gained reputations around the table, rather than being wadded up and thrown in the trash because they died—this in contrast to the contemporary trend in D&D to craft intricate backstories for the very-special-snowflake characters who are destined for great things and will almost certainly having nothing too bad happen to them because the player might throw a hissy-fit.

The first episode of Goblin Slayer, which created quite a stir for its brutality and graphic nature**, mainly served to illustrate that the kind of game that inspired Goblin Slayer*** is the kind in which level one characters die in the dungeon and you have to roll up new ones. There’s no point in bringing your very special bisexual tiefling princess with daddy issues who is the most beloved of her tribe to the goblin cave, because the goblin and his spear that will kill her don’t give a shit about your character’s backstory.

I think that, even though Goblin Slayer is shallow and derivative fantasy to the extreme, this is the reason why it resonated so well with the PulpRev crowd, a group that grew largely from the OSR and which preferred the more brutal old school style of Dungeons & Dragons to the modern narrative-driven style of play that’s come to dominate tabletop gaming.

*: This is going on to some extent in the background; the setting is the aftermath of an earlier such conflict—but the climactic battle is not to save the world or even a town, but rather the farm where the girl who likes the Goblin Slayer lives.

**: Yo, the way everyone was talking about that first episode, I was expecting Mezzo Forte levels of gratuitous…

***:Look at all the goddamn dice rolling and talk of gods rolling dice and try to convince yourself it’s anything but TTRPG inspired.

Fa Yuiry from Zeta Gundam is a Badass

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No, she’s not what immediately springs to mind when one thinks “badass female character”. She’s not sexy-in-leather, dodging bullets, doing somersaults, and beating up guys twice her size with waif-fu, but consider this:

Fa fought in the Gryps War and survived a show in which more than half of the main characters, including all but three women, died.

She did so piloting an experimental mech that’s generally considered inferior to the post-Mk II Gundams many other characters flew.

She wasn’t military or para-military like Emma or Reccoa or the Titan gals, but she volunteered to fight for Anti-Earth United anyway and fought bravely.

She not only put up with Camille when he was going through his Giant Robot Hero angst and reined him in some when he needed it, she stayed with him to take care of him when he became a disabled vet on the losing side of a war.

So, where is all this coming from?

I’d seen this just before another thread I was in about bad girls and best girls spiraled off into a Gundam tangent:

Credit to this juxtaposition by @KateVsTheWorld

gail killing joke

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Now, I have mixed thoughts of my own regarding the Killing Joke (TL;DR, it’s overrated and I understand why Moore himself is critical of it), and this isn’t the place to address Gail “Women in Refrigerators” Simone’s comments, but it was what got me thinking about Fa and the context surrounding her as a “badass female character”.

Zeta Gundam is a show that not only has a lot of female characters, it has a lot of female characters who have horrible stuff happen to them. Yes, you can claim that some of them were there to give male characters motivation (that a woman who was a better pilot than him could take an interest in him but then be killed in an MS battle by a kid he’d gotten into it with really messed Jerrid up), but they’re all very rounded, very complex, very real-feeling characters that many viewers had deep attachments to.

zeta gundam women

From pink hair to the right: Dies in sequel, lives, dies, dies, dies, dies, lives, lives, dies, dies, dies, lives.

  • Mouar and Lila (teal and blonde next to her) are both talented officers and pilots who die in fights with Camille.
  • Four (turquoise on the right) is emotionally abused by the researchers at the Murasame institute and eventually dies in battle.
  • Ditto Rosamia (purple/pink in the middle).
  • Sarah (salmon on the left) is emotionally (and probably sexually) abused by Scirocco and dies in battle taking a bullet for him.
  • Emma (second brunette from the right) nearly makes it to the end of the war, but dies in the last battle.
  • Reccoa (red-head next to Emma) dies in the last battle too—Reccoa fans are few and far between, though, because no one likes a traitor.
recoa

TFW Hypergamy Intensifies

Lest you think that the show was just particularly brutal to women, keep in mind that it would be easier to list off the main/major male characters who lived than rattle off all the ones who died. (Camille, Yazan[villain], Bright, Amuro, Astonage, and Char[though it’s left ambiguous, highly implied that he died, and he’s nowhere in ZZ], and the last three all die in Char’s Counterattack.)

In a story where none of the good guys die, the cute long-suffering girl-next-door girlfriend of the hero who gets to pilot her own robot every now and then is comic relief at best and obnoxious wannabe eye-candy at worst.

But in a story where anyone can die, and they often do, there’s something to be said of the character who can fight, survive, and still retain something of herself when it’s all over and go on to be a personal hero to those closest to her when she’s not fighting.

So, yeah, Fa Yuiry is a badass.*

Fa & Camille

*: And Best Girl. Sorry, Four, but teenage me was wrong about you. Get you a girl who will forgive you for liking Four and take care of you when you’re a disabled vet.

Power Dolls

I think the wargamer in me has been subconsciously prepping for WWIII for the last couple of months. Not only did I start playing Fallout 3, I was, until last week, embroiled with a double header of NATO: the Next War in Europe, and over the weekend, I devoted several hours to one of my favorite childhood video games, Red Storm Rising. I’ll tell you what: RSR is the best Tom Clancy based game there is, was or ever will be.

But today, I want to spotlight Power Dolls, a game that I’ve been playing the past couple days and did some live tweeting of last night.

There are two things I love that I am always in the look-out for in combination – hexbased wargames and the real-robot genre. There are a handful of examples out there, but many have a very steep language barrier, such as the Gihren’s Greed series or the line of Mobile Suit Gundam hex & chit board games, and for whatever reason, many Japanese tactical wargames go for squares, rather than hexes, which are nigh intolerable (especially in cases where there’s no unit stacking).

First thing I’d note about Power Dolls, it has a lot more stuff going for it than you would expect of a game whose primary hook is “everything is piloted by women”.

There’s something about a war between earth(maybe) and colonists on this planet, and you’re playing as the colonists’ defense force in a bid for maintaining independence. Or something. I should really probably go back and go over the settings stuff again. But for whatever reason, the entirety of the defense force is composed of women who pilot mechs and air-planes or drive self-propelled rocket artillery.

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Pew, Pew!

There are apparently only 10 missions, but given how long one of them takes to play through, that’s probably plenty.

Each mission starts with a large operational view of a theater, showing the situation, the mission, and the disposition of both your troops and the enemy’s. You have the option of selecting different pre-defined plans for the operations, which determine things like when forces get dropped, when air support is available, etc.

You have up to three drop-teams of mechs (depending on the operation; the first missions so far have only used two), a drop-team of off-board rocket artillery and a couple squadrons of air support.

Before each mission, you assign mechs, planes and artillery to your pilots, hopefully giving them some sort of configuration of gear and weaponry that compliments their skills. You then have to assign pilots to each landing group; the number of mechs in each group will determine how much air-lift it takes to bring them in; I’m sure that will matter more in later missions, since there are both heavy carriers and light carriers with some air-to-air capability. Any pilots not tied up in air-lift can be assigned fighter-bombers to offer ground support in one of the fighter wings.

So, what goes down, and gets depicted in the operational map, is your long-range artillery gets airlifted into position, then your first drop-team flies in and gets deployed on the tactical map, and as the mission progresses in 5 minute 1-turn increments, your troops are flown in according to the selected plan for the operation.

While the gameplay isn’t as crunchy as Battletech (there aren’t individual components that are tracked), it has a pretty robust selection of actions you can take during a turn. Each mech has three different rates of movement to choose from, which vary in per-hex movement cost, passive spotting radius, and defense against opportunity fire. Attacks are based on the equipment a mech has, but include everything from sub-machine guns and rifles to grenades and smoke screens. Units can drop weapons that are out of ammo to increase the number of realized action points. They can also call in air-strikes and indirect fire anywhere on the map.

I screwed up in a lot of places in the assignment of gear and deployment of forces in the second mission, partly because I didn’t pay enough attention to the mission briefing. I’d landed my troops around the bridge-head I thought I needed to defend, when really I should’ve air-dropped a handful of recon mechs to act as spotters and call in air strikes and off-board indirect artillery strikes while the enemy armored column moved south along the road. Instead, I had a massive tank division more or less punch through my scattered lines. By the time I’d started calling in indirect fire, most of my units who could spot were dead, cut-off or just trying to run away.

I may have to restart this mission so that I can go back at it with both better equipped units (fat lot of good my air-to-air missiles have done in this mission with no enemy aircraft) and better unit placement.

So, the good:

-Fairly nuanced tactical game; you have a lot of customization available to you in terms of how you can outfit your pilots. There are also a lot of different things each pilot can spend their action points on during your turn.

-The operational overview map is really cool. Even though you don’t do much on it, and so far only one mission has allowed for employing different “plans”, it’s a cool part that gives the game a wider feeling of scope than otherwise; for instance, you can SEE where your off-board artillery are located in relation to your front-line troops.

-The character art is pretty good; it finds a decent spot between ‘cute girls in mechs’ and the rougher look of more serious mil-sf animes. There is a character, though, who’s clearly an homage to Emma Sheen from Zeta Gundam.

-Hexes. They use hexes, man, HEXES!

The bad:

-The music is incredibly repetitive. For how long you’ll be playing this, you’re not going to be thrilled hearing the same bad midi-theme playing constantly.

-Speed of play. Not only are the turns incredibly long, this is exacerbated by the fact that the AI turn processes fairly slowly. Enemy turns take too long by most wargame standards. One mission of Power Dolls could easily eat up an entire evening, which is a double whammy when you realize you’re in a losing position after having sunk several hours in. I am probably going to have to go back to a save from nearly 4 hours of gameplay back to take another stab at the second mission (and hopefully this time silver haired yellow cat-eyes, cocky green-eyed brunette, and blue-bandana blonde won’t get blown up).

-The Fog of War doesn’t make sense when you’ve got air superiority and one or more fighter wings overhead. I get why spotting works the way it does, but it would be nice if there was a multi-step fog of war so that planes could spot units out in the open if they’ve bombed a target – even if they’re actually “gone”, you’d have an idea of the troop disposition from the previous turn as your pilots saw it on the way to and from their attack run.

There are also some complaints about the game’s AI; I can’t really judge yet, because if it’s bad, my strategy is probably worse than it is, at least until I figure out what I’m doing. We’ll have to see.

They’ve apparently made several sequels, but I’m not sure if any of them were ever translated into English. There’s also, apparently, a mediocre OVA based on it.

I’ll say that, for now, despite its flaws, I’m really digging Power Dolls. It’s definitely niche-within-a-niche, and the only other game that springs to mind along the lines of this is Cyberstorm (and that game was a very special kind of ugly). I’d love to find something that is mid-way between this and SSI’s Panzer General game, or even in a completely different direction, mid-way between this and Atomic Games/Avalon Hill’s V for Victory series. But as it is, if you’re desperately thirsty for hex-wars and giant robots, Power Dolls will definitely tide you over for a bit. You can find it at most abandonware sites.

power-dolls_6power-dolls_1power-dolls_2

Lodoss, the Accursed Pink Slime

I wanted to respond to a comment over at the Castalia House blog in regards to Appendix E, 5e’s answer to/updated Appendix N.  At one point, I’d had something typed up over there, but the comment was eaten because I wasn’t logged in.  Rather than try to retype it, I decided to rethink it and take an opportunity to talk about Record of Lodoss War.

“I’d argue that Appendix E, along with the other 5e appendices, has more to do with filling the pipeline with more fantasy product. Mechanically, World of Warcraft has a more visible influence on the game design than most of the Appendix E additions. But the fantasy genre has reached a point where it is flooded by authors who recycle campaigns and characters into novels, to various degrees of success. Appendix E is designed to fan the world building bug as Ahmed, Lynch, Rothfuss, and Sanderson earn their places via their settings and not by their contributions to fantasy gaming tropes. (The first three are rather generic in character and ‘class’, while Sanderson’s magic systems are so strange that no correspondence to D&D caster classes is possible.) By promoting world building, Appendix E hopes to inspire the Next Great Fantasy Saga, or at least the next Lodoss War or Slayers.”

The invocation of Lodoss War really touched a nerve for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved Lodoss Wars, and I think it’s a thing of beauty, but not because it’s a good show or tells a good story.  Lodoss Wars is perhaps one of THE most Pink Slime of Pink Slime fantasy stories, such that when I’d seen it, I began pondering and crafting all sorts of theories about Occidentalism.

You see, Record of Lodoss War is what you get when you try to craft a western style fantasy adventure when late 80s Dungeons & Dragons is your primary exposure to western style fantasy.  Based on a group of Japanese D&D players’ session logs, Lodoss emerged from a culture where the western fantasy canon we take for granted is, if not completely absent, simply not a shaping force.  The result is stark and strange and perhaps gives us a look at what the game looks like from the outside looking in devoid of the context of classic SFF.

Lodoss 1

Record of Lodoss War tells the story of a Fighter, a Wizard, a Thief, a Cleric, a Dwarf and an Elf fighting goblins and orcs, an evil king, his evil fighter, the evil fighter’s evil elf girlfriend, an evil wizard with an army of dragons, and the lich whose spirit is in a piece of jewelry orchestrated the whole thing.  Some of the cheese is almost terribad!  For instance, whatever the elf casts her spells on seemed to always make their saving throws.  I just felt awful for her!  Not to mention, I think she might’ve been slow or something.

 

Lodoss Wars tries so hard to be grim-dark before grim-dark was an in thing.  Episodes begin with the haunting phrase “Lodoss… the accursed continent…”  But for all of the beautiful artwork (and Lodoss IS gorgeous) and impressive set pieces, it comes across as just feeling so incredibly empty. Interestingly, the advertisements for Lodoss used its D&Dness as a selling point (‘for people who like Dungeons & Dragons’ or somesuch).

Appendix E should be trying to inspire DMs to create games worth playing, but WotC showed their hand by including all of their branded D&D fiction.  I’m surprised they didn’t include the Magic: the Gathering books, as well.  Appendix E feels less to me about offering inspiration and more for ensuring a branded D&D experience.  Because of the nature of the game, everyone will bring to the table their ideas and play styles and DMing styles; but if D&D is trying to inspire the “Next Great Fantasy Saga”, Record of Lodoss War shows us the sort of cold sterile high fantasy that can result from D&D in vacuum.

I do think I should make a note about Slayers, as it was brought up in the comment as well.  Slayers may be the other side of the Lodoss coin, but I don’t know if that does it justice.  Slayers is very self-aware and lampshades a lot of the cheesiest D&D fantasy tropes; of note, in nearly every season, the big twist reveal is that the main characters’ murder-hoboing has played right into the hands of whatever the big bad was scheming, and, in the end, it is somehow always Lina Inverse’s fault.  You get Lodoss when you’re trying incredibly hard to capture not actual western fantasy but D&D; you get Slayers when you take the sort of fantasy you get from D&D and mock the hell out of it.

I’m seriously not trying to take the piss out of Lodoss; it’s one of the most beloved fantasy franchises in the east, and has a number of redeeming qualities (namely art and music), but if you watched the first episode above and are familiar with the classic fantasy canon, you’ll totally get what I’m talking about.

Later today, I have something of a guest post from one of the guys at my table.