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It (2017 Movie Review)

For fifty years Stephen King’s stories have shocked, awed, and terrified readers. However, many of his best works didn’t become famous until they were adapted for film and TV. His most iconic horror novel, It, is no exception. Originally published in 1986, it was adapted into a TV miniseries by Warner Bros. in 1990. The series was praised for the performances of its child cast and, especially, for Tim Curry’s performance as the evil clown Pennywise - but it was mild compared to the book… and child’s play compared to the film I’m going to talk about. Twenty-seven years after the series aired, Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema have made a new version of It directed by Andy Muschietti (writer and director of Mama). It’s been a long time coming, having lurked in development hell for seven years - but the film’s made a strong impression worldwide, with King himself saying “he was not prepared for how good it really was”. Now It’s out in the UK, and I went to see it on opening day to see how it measures up.
Like the book before it, the film takes place in Derry, Maine, and starts with a paper boat floating down a gutter swollen with rain. The boat’s owner, six-year-old Georgie Denbrough (played by Jackson Robert Scott), is attacked while playing with it on a rainy afternoon and disappears. The next summer, his older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) sets out to find his attacker. Bill is joined in his search by six other kids from around Derry: Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), Eddie Kasprak (Dylan Grazer), Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff), and Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs). Drawn together by unhappy family lives and local bullies, Bill and his friends band together to face a much worse threat: a monster that has preyed on the children of Derry for centuries. It takes many forms - always changing to reflect their worst fears - but It’s best known to its victims as Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård). And, despite the name, dancing is the last thing on its mind.
Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear: It isn’t a remake of the 1990 miniseries. Instead, it’s a new adaptation that strikes a balance between being faithful to the book and doing something new. The setting has changed from 1958 to 1989, and unlike previous versions of the story, the film focusses solely on Bill and his friends’ childhood years. This may put people off, but the changes actually work in the film’s favour. The book is over a thousand pages long and essentially two stories in one; it would’ve been impossible to adapt it all into one film. Thankfully, Muschietti decided to make two films - and the changes he’s made in Chapter One have all been for the right reasons. The newer setting allows people new to the story to immerse themselves in it more easily, and allows Muschietti to use new scares to keep fans of the book on their toes. In any case, fans will be pleased to find that Bill and his friends - the Losers’ Club - are still Losers. The film spends a lot of time fleshing them out as the book does, including the horrors they face at the hands of the people around them as well as Pennywise. The Losers face bullies, domestic abuse, manipulative parents, and the harsh realities of growing up throughout the film’s two-hour length - and the young ensemble that plays them are more than up to the task. Lieberher and co. give great performances as the Losers. They play, joke, and fight with each other as children do in real life; and when things get tough they pull together as only true friends can. However, as so often happens with ensemble casts, some characters get less attention than others. Mike (Jacobs) and Stan (Oleff) are the worst hit, but they still get the screentime they need to avoid being pushed to the sidelines. You will believe in them as much as you will in the other Losers - and when the horrors of Derry rear their ugly heads, you’ll want them to win. This is both true to the novel and a huge advantage over most horror films today - the Losers aren’t meat for the grinder, but living, breathing people you’ll believe in and care for.
Tim Curry’s Pennywise was the highlight of 1990’s version of It, but to compare his performance with Bill Skarsgård’s is the same as comparing Jack Nicholson’s Joker with Heath Ledger’s. Skarsgård is in a league of his own. Through a mix of practical makeup and CGI, he brings the Pennywise of King’s novel to terrifying life. He’ll still make you laugh occasionally, but the rest of the time his goal is to wreak terror, and feed on the flesh and fear of children. Skarsgård does so to chilling effect, helped by his height (he’s 6ft 4in in real life!) and natural ability to look in two directions at once. He also does more than scaring kids in his clown form; true to the book, the new Pennywise changes his shape to tap into his victims’ worst fears. In the book and miniseries, he mainly changed into monsters from the 1950s, e.g. Michael Landon’s Teenage Werewolf. In the film, however, you won’t see him change into Freddy Krueger. Instead, Muschietti has created new forms for Pennywise that draw on the Losers’ personal fears. Disease, parental abuse, racism, and even everyday objects are just four of the things he uses, and they’re all things children fear in real life. For me, this makes Skarsgård’s Pennywise even more terrifying. The only downside is that the CGI shots are hit-and-miss; some are far more convincing than others.
Muschietti’s decision to adapt It into two films allows him to take Chapter One into much darker territory than the miniseries - but it may be too intense for some viewers. The film is rated R in America (15 in the UK) for strong violence and language; from the beginning, children are attacked in graphic detail and everyone - even the Losers’ Club - swears throughout. While true to Stephen King’s work, the sight of children being bitten, clawed, and even shot to death may be too much for some people. Thankfully, there are some scenes in the book even an R-rated film couldn’t get away with, and Muschietti has wisely left them out. You won’t notice their absence if you’ve never read the book, but if you have you’ll know exactly which scenes are gone; and you’ll be glad for it. Of course, the film’s final act had to be changed dramatically - but it’s all to the good for the end result. Before the credits roll, you will seethe, cringe, cheer, jump, and finally cry as the Losers face their demons above and below Derry. It's a far more satisfying end than the miniseries', and one that will leave you eager to find out what comes next. Fortunately, with the film's warm welcome and its success at the box office (it's made nearly $210 million at the time of writing), the fate of Chapter Two's all but assured.
It: Chapter One is neither a remake of the 1990 series nor a strict retelling of the book - but it needed to be neither. All it had to be was a film about more than just a killer clown, and Andy Muschietti has made just that. It's horror with a heart. Stephen King has the right to be proud.

Let's Talk About: Fairy Tail

This month marks the anniversary of one of the most popular manga series today. On 23rd August 2006, manga artist Hiro Mashima published the first chapter of Fairy Tail, a fantasy adventure inspired by the works of Akira Toriyama and J. R. R. Tolkien. It’s come a long way since then, having printed 260 million copies and spawned an anime series currently in its seventh season. But sadly, all good things must come to an end; the manga’s last chapter arrived last month, and the anime is set to follow with a final season airing next year. So, for those of you who just got on the bandwagon - and those who are considering it - allow me to fill you in on the weird and wonderful world Mashima-san has created. Spoiler warning: you’re in for a wild ride.

Fairy Tail is set in the fictional kingdom of Fiore, and follows the hijinks of two young wizards: Lucy Heartfilia and Natsu Dragneel. After running away from home, Lucy decides to join Fairy Tail, a famous guild where wizards take jobs including (but not limited to) hunting monsters, mooks, and malevolent mages. She’s saved from one such enemy by Natsu - a hot-headed dragon slayer who wields fire - and his flying cat Happy, who take an immediate liking to Lucy and invite her to join the guild. However, it isn’t quite as she hoped it to be. Despite its heroic deeds, Fairy Tail is the wildest guild in Fiore - its members fight, bicker, and flirt with each other to insane degrees. And worse, they tend to cause more damage than the threats they’re paid to deal with. It seems like the worst possible crowd for Lucy to fall in with… but she soon discovers that Fairy Tail’s wizards are the most loyal, loving, and hard-working folk she could ever meet. Despite their differences, they can’t imagine life without each other. In short, they’re one big, punch-happy family. Over several jobs, Lucy bonds with Natsu’s other friends - ice wizard Gray Fullbuster and swordswoman Erza Scarlet - and forms a team with them. Together, they make the strongest team in the Fairy Tail guild. And that’s just the beginning.

I didn’t start getting into Fairy Tail until four years ago, and it was a long process. The sheer number of volumes and episodes didn’t help, nor the sexy artwork (both official and fanmade) I found on the Internet. I almost bailed out, but stayed with it at the recommendation of a friend at university… and I’m pleased to inform you there’s much more to the series than fanservice (although there’s plenty of it for both sexes). Friends, family, and adventure are series’ main themes, and they’re brought to the forefront by a huge cast. The number of characters in the guild alone is so large, it makes the roster of Dragon Ball Z look tiny. The miracle is that no matter how crowded it gets, everyone gets their turn in the spotlight - from Mirajane and Elfman Strauss, two siblings coping with the loss of their sister; to Cana Alberona, a sorceress who’s fallen on tough times and become the guild’s heaviest drinker. Every character has a tale to tell, slowly revealed through the course of the series. And just when you think you have someone figured out, something new is revealed that puts them in a new light. You may dislike a character one day, then warm up to them the next. This is because Hiro Mashima drew inspiration from real people when making his characters; and like real people, they have good and bad traits that will surprise, shock, and move you. They just tend to be overshadowed by the guild’s crazier habits. You’ll see when you follow Natsu, Happy, and Lucy into Fairy Tail’s hall for the first time.

As good as its main characters are, Fairy Tail wouldn’t have last long if its villains weren’t up to the same standard. Fiore is teeming with dark wizards who strike fear in the hearts of its citizens, from small-time thugs who attack Team Natsu to illegal guilds out to unleash horrors upon the world. Some are even official, rival groups who pick fights with Fairy Tail to see who’s stronger (and make some quick money on the side). However, the most interesting baddies of all aren’t the thugs, the rogues, or rivals - but wizards with bad histories with Natsu and company. In the manga’s first sixteen volumes (or the anime’s first forty-eight episodes), Fairy Tail is pitted against Lyon, an ice wizard who blames Gray for the death of their teacher; the blue-haired Jellal, a childhood friend of Erza’s who plans to wake a demon; and Laxus, an electric dragon slayer trying to take over the guild from his grandfather. These are only three of the enemies the guild faces, and the further you go in the series, the stronger they get. It sounds a lot like Dragon Ball, but what sets Fairy Tail apart - besides magic - is that no matter how serious it gets, it always gets plenty of laughs in both at the heroes’ expense and the villains’. This, together with their variety, will help keep you interested well into the series’ later chapters. And if you think you can’t keep up, don’t worry; Mashima-san’s got you covered.

Like all ongoing series, Fairy Tail’s biggest and most intimidating quality is its length. The manga ended last month at five hundred and forty-five chapters, and the anime currently stands at two hundred and sixty-five episodes (minus nine OVAs, a prequel, and two films). It’s a lot to take in, so if you’re checking out the series for the first time, you’d be forgiven for getting cold feet now; I almost gave up at the third volume before switching to the anime. However, it doesn’t drag on as much as you’d think. The first storylines, or arcs, run for two to ten episodes, and as they grow they continue to move forward at a fast pace. Even the filler arcs, which are more frequent in the anime, breeze by. Best of all, both the manga and anime are structured so you can drop in and out after each arc; good news whether you’re a newcomer or a fan returning after a long break. The anime also tries to keep you hooked by hinting at future plot threads in each arc, something Mashima-san had less time to do with the manga. Beside the obvious - like Fairy Tail’s conflict with the dark guilds - there are other, subtle clues spread across the series that lead to arcs for other characters. For example, a certain guild member might freak out at the sight of Lucy, while another gets down in the dumps when a senior member comes back. You probably won’t notice until they come into focus, but thankfully, there’s no pressure to see them through to the end. When a main arc ends, you’re free to keep going or tune out. Where and when is up to you - and like the occasional guild member who leaves, you’re welcome to come back any time you like. Just don’t expect the madness to stop while you're gone.

Whether you’re a new recruit, or an old fan returning to mark its anniversary, now is as good a time as any to get into Fairy Tail. Let us know if you’re reading the manga or following the anime - and if you have a friend who got you into it, show them some love! (This feature is dedicated to Amy, my best friend at uni, who helped me into the series one episode at a time. Thank you!)

The Lobster (Movie Review)

Surf n' Turf

The Lobster is a 2015 black comedy made by Greek director, Yorgos Lanthimos. With stars including Colin Farrell, Olivia Colman and John C. Reilly, The Lobster is set in a society where being single is treated like a disease that must be cured. Whether you're separated or your husband died the day before, you're single now and that's terrible. 

Baby Driver (Film Review)

All You Need Is One Killer Track

Baby Driver is an action film written and directed by Edgar Wright. Who created the Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World's End) and directed Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. It stars Ansel Elgort (Divergent, The Fault in our Stars); Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Lily James (Downton Abbey), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained)

Wonder Woman (Movie Review)

*Insert Girl Power-related title here*

Wonder Woman is a DC super hero film with a few goals burdened on it's shoulders. Based during the time of the first World War; Amazonian Warrior, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), bears the task of making up for the qualitative messes that were Batman vs Superman and Suicide Squad. Wonder Woman holds the stake of the DC film universe actually having potential to be critically entertaining, all whilst simultaneously kicking off a new wave of big budget, female-led superhero films. This film has received a lot of praise for having

Overwatch Needs To Update Its Standard Lootpool

Overwatch has had me obsessive in the same way Pokémon did when I was a kid, and is only rivalled by Persona as my greatest video game obsession as an adult. I love the characters, I love the lore and even though I am terrible at it, I love the game. When I first got it, I levelled up quickly, mainly because I was enjoying the gameplay and playing as the various characters so much, but those loot boxes I got whenever I levelled up were an absolutely wonderful incentive to grind. In these boxes you find randomised items that can be used on your characters, such as cool cosmetic skins (ranging from simple re-colours to full blown alternative designs), emotes, sprays, player icons, in-game currency... the list goes on for a while, but it's always exciting. Well... to a point.

I wanted to write this article so I could get my thoughts out somewhere other than the bubbling bath of displeasure and toxicity that is the Overwatch forums. At the time I write this article I am level 185, plus I've played tonnes of arcade mode, so to cut a long story short, I've had a lot of bloody loot boxes. So many that at this point they are no longer exciting. I've unlocked all the skins and other bits I wanted for all my favourite characters as well as awesome skins for characters I don't play as much. Everything in my Hero Gallery is swell. But unfortunately, with having unlocked so many things in this game, it also means that basically every loot box I receive now contains a duplicate item, which I get currency for, but even that isn't enough to re-ignite my loot box collecting spark. So at this point you might be shouting at your screen, "but what about events?!?" and to that I say, of course, I love the Overwatch events and I love the unlockable items that come with them. It definitely re-ignites that urge to grind, but unfortunately there is always that lingering knowledge that after they event is gone, those items are gone too and cannot be unlocked presumably until next year when the event repeats (we are yet to find out). There are sometimes some great skins available for cheaper during these events, but in the most recent Overwatch anniversary event all of the unlockable skins require players to spend 3,000 coins. I've saved up for that awesome Symmetra skin but that's all I can really afford. So I grind and grind, and I get more loot boxes, but luck doesn't seem to be with me. I've unlocked no legendary skins for this event so far. Of course I could buy loot boxes with real money, but who's to say I'm even going to get anything I want?

The point is, I can't grind for weeks like I could with the non-event items and eventually get lucky enough to find one of these cool skins in a loot box or save up coins to buy them (I try my best to save up, but I only ever get enough for one skin at best, and with so many events so frequently, I can't get enough coins in time if I spend them on each event). We can go back and fourth all day about what I'm doing right or wrong as a player, but what I want to request of Blizzard (I doubt they're going to read this, but one can dream) is that they update the regular lootpool of Overwatch. No, not an event, the normal, bare bones lootpool. They add the occasional emote here and there, as well as skins for the new hero Orisa, and even added in the Nexus Challenge skins, but we need new a whole bunch of new loot for all the heroes to get in those loot boxes as standard, not ones that are locked away the moment events end. 
Of course, Blizzard need to make money from the game after its initial purchase, and this is probably the main reason for events and why those legendary skins are 3,000 coins as opposed to the standard legendary skins that are 1,000. This of course, is to bait people into spending real money on loot boxes in hopes they'll either unlock the skins they want or they'll gain enough currency to do so (it would be much simpler if they could just allow you to turn real money into in-game currency instead of gambling on loot boxes). Many will defend Blizzard to the death for this, but I am not here today to discuss that. Blizzard can still hold events, in fact, never stop, I love the new game modes and what not. But players like me wish there were new regular lootpool items, and a lot of them. I mean, those lore-related skins given away in the Overwatch Uprising event should've been in the standard lootpool, just saying. Many of them were not exciting enough to be 3,000 coins each, and the pricing was inconsistent as well. Why was the Tracer Overwatch uniform skin 3,000 coins while Reinhardt's skin, which is of him wearing the same-style uniform as Tracer, only 750? What gives?
The lootpool needs to be updated so us obsessive players aren't just presented with duplicates in every single loot box. That will re-ignite the spark for myself, and I imagine many other players.  

I hope that some people can relate to this and realise that my complaints only stem from my love for Overwatch. And while more hardcore players will find issue in what I'm saying, remember that everybody plays differently and I guess I fall into the casual category. I don't play competitively and sometimes dive in for some quick play or arcade with friends depending on how I feel, so the only thing that gets me playing this game for more than just a few hours (a few very fun hours, may I add) at a time are the prizes I can get out of loot boxes. But nowadays the only time I find myself tempted to grind on Overwatch is during events and I'm not even as tempted as I used to be because I've started to accept that I most likely won't be able to get the things I want from them. The beautiful man that is lead designer Jeff Kaplan has said he wants to add more to the regular loot pool, so hopefully this will happen sometime and I'll shut up for a while.

Alien: Covenant (Movie Review)

Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers for both Prometheus and Covenant!)

Forty years ago, screenwriters Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shussett created a monster like no other: a parasite with acid for blood, pharyngeal teeth, and an insatiable drive to kill. I wasn’t alive at the time, but the script that became Ridley Scott’s Alien was so successful, it spawned one of my favourite film series as an adult. Since 1979, when the first film was released, another seven have been made; only a few came close to matching it (one being Aliens, which surpassed it). The newest - intended to right the wrongs of its predecessors - is Alien: Covenant, a second prequel directed by Ridley Scott following 2012’s Prometheus. The film intends to take the series back to its roots, and I went to see it the day it released to find out whether it does.

Set ten years after Prometheus, Covenant follows a new cast of characters: the crew of a colony ship (played by Katherine Waterson, Billy Crudup, and Danny McBride among others) bound for a new planet. When an accident in cryosleep leads to the death of the ship’s captain, the first mate Oram (Crudup) is left with no choice but to take charge. Soon after, the ship receives a rogue transmission and, against the objections of terraforming expert Daniels (Waterson), Oram intercepts it to another, unknown planet that appears to be better than their planned destination. It has food, water, everything the crew needs to start their new lives - but it has no animal life. Oram and his crew follow the signal to an alien ship - originally flown by David (Michael Fassbender) and Shaw (Noomi Rapace) in Prometheus - where they start to find out what happened to them. In doing so they also find out why there are no other lifeforms around. Needless to say, there are monsters involved… but not just the face-hugging kind.

If you haven’t seen Prometheus, I must warn you Alien: Covenant is a direct sequel to it, and you’ll need to watch it first to get the whole picture. That said, it’s very much an Alien film despite the connection. It has the same elements the original films had, only with a bigger budget and some new twists. One of the best is the Covenant crew, which is made up of married couples. It sounds like a cheap gimmick, but thanks to the cast’s performances - and a screenplay by John Logan and Dante Harper - it manages not to be. Unlike the Prometheus crew, which had come together for the first time, the Covenant are a tight-knit group who care for each other much like the Nostromo and the Colonial Marines. They still make stupid decisions, but you’ll come to care for them more than the cast of Prometheus - especially Daniels, who has the most sense of them all. When one of her friends dies, most of the time it will hit you as hard as it hits her (more so if you watch the online prologues first).

Sadly, one name overshadows the fourteen-strong group of newcomers: Michael Fassbender. He first appeared in Prometheus as the android David, who set out with the film’s other remaining survivor Shaw to find the Engineers’ homeworld. David returns in Covenant, but Fassbender also plays a new character: Walter, an upgraded model from David’s production line, and the Covenant’s synthetic. It’s always a challenge playing multiple characters in one film, but Fassbender has done it before in Assassin’s Creed - and he does a great job once again as David and Walter. It’s all the more impressive because Fassbender has much more to work with this time. Walter is the stoic, loyal caretaker of the Covenant who tends to the crew’s needs both in and out of stasis; and David… Well, let’s say he’s gone off the deep end since he embarked for the Engineers’ planet. If you liked him in Prometheus - and you want to know why he became who he is now - you’ll love him when he makes his entrance. However, if you’re an Alien fan, you may not like the role he’s being set up to play in the franchise. It’s quite the game changer.

Now, if you were let down by the lack of Aliens in Prometheus, fear not - the bitch is back! Ridley Scott promised to put them back in the spotlight, and he’s done it using CGI and animatronics to bring them to life. Although, as always, we have to wait for our first face-hugger, Scott makes up for it in the meantime by introducing a whole new beast: the Neomorph, a forerunner of the Xenomorph minus its biomechanical skin. It’s less intelligent than the Xenomorphs, but no less dangerous; the first one is barely a minute old before it starts killing. However, Scott’s use of CGI to portray the creatures robs them of their power to scare. That isn’t to say it’s bad; the CGI in Covenant is the best in the series to date. The problem is that he uses full-body shots wherever he can, leaving little to the imagination. In one scene you see the full-grown Neomorph in full long before it strikes, making the kill less shocking when it does come. The Xenomorphs also suffer the same treatment, which is a shame even though we already know what they look like. I can’t help but feel like Scott tried too hard to please the fans after the Aliens no-showed in Prometheus. They're creepy in Covenant, but with a few more close-up shots and low angles, they would’ve been terrifying.

One of the reasons the original Alien films were scary is that they built up slowly, allowing us to get to know the characters before chests started bursting. Sadly, pacing is another point where Covenant trips up. It takes the time to introduce the ship’s crew and build up to its arrival on the planet, but when the Aliens appear it kicks suddenly into high gear and doesn’t stop till the end. It softens the impact of the later deaths, and also has a serious effect on the Xenomorphs’ lifecycle - they go from face-hugger, to chest-burster, to adult in a matter of minutes. This will really upset fans as it contradicts the rules set by previous films, and raises questions that go unanswered when the credits roll. Thankfully, the film goes some way towards answering the questions left by Prometheus, namely the fates of Elizabeth Shaw and the Engineers. However, you may not like the answers you get; some of them call into question the sequels’ place in the Alien franchise. Scott has planned another two prequels, so how he plans to tie them up with the main films remains to be seen - but if Alien: Covenant is any indication, he’ll do it in ways we won’t expect. Whether we like them or not is another thing entirely.

Although it wasn't quite the return to form I hoped for, I was sure of two things when I finished watching Alien: Covenant - it's better than Prometheus, and the best film in the series since Aliens. Hopefully, Ridley Scott will get it right with the next prequel.

Persona 3 Memories

So I just finished Persona 5. I'd like to say it was a long journey, but it wasn't really long at all, as I completed it in a little over a month. I do feel a little regretful that I didn't spend enough time with it, because it was an extraordinary game. It was everything I wanted from a new generation Persona game, and then some... It totally exceeded my expectations. I would even go as far as to say it is the best Persona game yet, not only from a gameplay standpoint but also the writing is absolutely perfect as well as the characters. But would I say it's my favourite Persona game? No. That title still goes to Persona 3. Here's why.

I played my first Persona game with Persona 4 back in 2012. I had heard about the series online a lot but finally made the investment when I found it in my local second hand store (R.I.P.). My thoughts of the game? It was really cool. At that point I hadn't really figured out what the Persona series was all about so it was a steep learning curve and in the end my play through was probably a little unsatisfying. However when I introduced the game to my cousin and he got into the series too, that was when my Persona addiction truly began. He studied the hell out of these games and tutored me when I began to play Persona 3 FES. He taught me pretty much everything I needed to know, and explained things that were more complex to me, such as Persona fusion and the more intricate parts of the battle system.

In my second year of University I moved into shared accommodation with some of the best people I've ever known. I brought Persona into their lives too when I proceeded to play it frequently on my PlayStation 2 in the kitchen/living room space. Some of my flatmates would enjoy watching me play it and even those who didn't at least knew the amusing battle music (oh yeah, baby baby etc.)
Over the next two years that I spent with those flatmates, I played so much Persona 3 that I'm surprised that they didn't get sick of it. Some probably did but others were always eager to watch me play more of it, and I'd even give them a heads up when the PlayStation 2 was being turned on for more Persona. Playing this game was a blast, half because it's such an amazing game and the other half because I associate it with such fun times with my flatmates. In fact, a lot of the enjoyment I gained from Persona 3 was because I associate it heavily with those fun times.
But good times sadly had to come to an end, as University ended, and around that time, I finally completed Persona 3 too. I fought the final boss of the game and lost while my flatmates watched, before visiting my cousin for some extra coaching (which was where I learnt about personas such as Thanatos and the dungeon at the bottom of Tartarus) and some aggressive levelling before finally fighting the final boss once more and finishing the game. The ending was sad, but I am one of the minority who felt that it made sense. It was a symbolic sense of closure to my time spent with the game.

One of my all-time favourite YouTubers HappyConsoleGamer helped me realise that a game doesn't necessarily have to be the best as long as the memories associated with it are happy ones. Persona 3 is a great game, but compared to Persona 5 (and even 4) it is far from perfect. The battle system is punishing and broken, the writing is pretty lacking, the social links are mostly forgettable and the voice acting in places can be absolutely abysmal, but the memories I associate with this game are what made my time with it so precious. Just listening to the music makes me nostalgic in a mixed up kind of way. I'm not sure whether it makes me feel happy or sad. But I know one thing for sure, the fact that I am feeling nostalgic about a game that I finished about three to four years ago is a sign that the effect this game had on me was really something special.

Ghost in the Shell (2017 Movie Review)

A Shell Of It's Former Self

Ghost in the Shell is an American science fiction film set in the near future where being part robot is the hip way to be. Based on the 1989 manga and 1995 anime film of the same name, Ghost in the Shell is based in a world where technology has advanced to the point where almost everyone has at least some parts of their body replaced with cybernetic parts. Cyber-liver, cyber-eyes, cyber-arms, a cyber-USB port next to their left nipple: the possibilities are endless, all whilst the line between human and machine is questioned.

It's like New York City and Rainbow Road had a baby.

It's based around Scarlett Johansson's lead take on Major Mira Killian, the first of a human brain inside a fully mechanical cybernetic body, also known as a "shell". Told upon awakening in her new body that her parents were killed by terrorists, the Scarlett-played Major joins bureau Section 9: questing to take down a cybernetic terrorist as a cyborg badass who also desires to learn of who she was in her past life. This overlay of plots is where Ghost in the Shell seems to have stumbled in its quest to bring a live action adaptation of sweet, anime goodness to the masses. The number of positives outweigh that of the negatives but it's the significance of the latter that's halted its potential to being a critical or box office champion.

Great Outfit.

What's great to witness about Ghost in the Shell though is the look of the world it's set in. The Rupert Sanders-directed production managed to create a vibrant, life-filled city that looks like it's been ripped directly from a trippy anime canvas. Going back to the random robot body parts people have, the visual effects are done so well, and it gives a fascinating look into what life could be like when cybernetic body parts become a more viable possibility. There's a woman whose eyes are taken on and off like a visor for God's sake! You don't want to look away. Anime/manga fans alongside newcomers to the franchise will love the faithfulness applied in the aesthetic department. You know how you can get bored in a film when it keeps putting you in front of generic establishing shots to set up a scene? Well, each one is so mesmerising in Ghost in the Shell with whatever is going on, that you'll gladly welcome it each time. This is all while the nerd-tingling soundtrack is playing, that mixes in the esteem-worthy music from the anime film with a modern-yet-futuristic twist. 

Pretty things.

Same goes for the look of some of the characters too. Aside from Scarlett Jo as The Major, Pilou Asbæk (who played Euron Greyjoy in Game of Thrones) as the Major's part-cyber-bro Batou gives an epic performance as a no-nonsense, banter-fuelled solider who does what needs to be done. He lives up to, if not expands on what's enjoyable about the character. The Section 9 Commander; Daisuke Aramaki, played by Takeshi Kitano, even wonderfully fulfils the role of the kickass-with-a-bit-of-sass old man character trope we've come to love over the years. On the other hand, we don't really see much of him doing anything at all until the third act. Until then, he's just sort of there. Aside from Major and Batou, I didn't feel anything about any of the other characters. Without there given much knowledge about them or a proper look into their personalities given, there's nothing to empathise or reason to care about them. They're more like extras who say the occasional quip.

Sweet hair, bro.

For those who didn't know about the casting controversy with Scarlet Johansson's selection as Major, the film suffered a sub-par box office return. Alongside the so-so promotion and not-mainstream-friendly plot, it's been partly blamed on it being blasted by fans and critics for casting a white woman in what was assumed to be an Asian role. However, despite all this, I feel that Johansson's take on the role creates an interestingly complex and vulnerable Major, and I feel her personality, technique and talent does the character justice. Scar-Jo was even praised for her performance by the 1995 film's director, Mamoru Oshii too.

"I got youuuu under my skin".

Despite creating a great artistic portrait with Ghost in the Shell's aesthetics and the majority of its cast, the art of story telling and creating an exciting plot is a disappointment. Whilst the action scenes, plot set-up and world building established in the first act are as thrilling as a cup of coffee mixed with Red Bull, it goes off track to a messy pace. Elements from the original 82-minute anime film are chopped up and remixed in to this 106-minute retelling. There's an extra villain added in addition to the personality and presence of the original villain, making the original one feel generic and watered down. I wasn't fascinated by either of their motives and instead reminded me of whenever you see a generic villain in a 90's action film and are like "Oh no. A bad guy. Go get 'um".

Nightmare fuel.

Whilst the manga and anime mainly focused on the cyber terrorist threat, with Major's desire to question her own humanity taking a more subtle back seat, both plots are explored equally and intertwine this time around. The issue was that during the bits in between the start and the end of the film, my attention was fading more and more as the two mixing stories built up, all whilst tirelessly throwing exposition at me just to make sure I knew what was going on. It's fascinating to see Major's quest to learn about herself and her humanity on a deeper level, all whilst seeing a more vulnerable and human version of her, but the whole thing just feels bogged down.

Final Thoughts

The efforts to both be faithful to the source material and create a story that's accessible to the mainstream in today's film industry is what truly crippled the flow of Ghost in the Shell: bringing the potential for excitement to its knees alongside our ability to care about what's going on. It can't all be bashed though. It's a visual beauty, with some impressive action scenes and there are a couple of good performances (out of many cast members though). It's simply fun to see the possibility of a world where anyone could pop over somewhere to pick up a new metal arm or have 3 spare sets of cyber noses. I'd love to see more of that world but that's the problem with Ghost in the Shell: I'd love to see more from this world but not in THIS film. If I had to see it again and I wasn't allowed to skip over what happens between the first and final scenes, I'd compare it to when you realise you have to cook for once instead of getting food delivered, I just can't be bothered. There's reward in seeing it but said reward is little compared to the large husk of the viewing chore ahead of you. It's a good try and an interesting experience but Ghost in the Shell is an example of why some films should be shorter. A lot shorter.

Rating: 5/10

Shenmue: The Moment Ryo Became Human

Sometimes on gaming websites and YouTube you can occasionally see lists of the "best moments in gaming". The listed moments are usually similar from article to article and video to video, but it is interesting to see how gaming has evolved from a medium of simple interactive entertainment to something that is considered by many to have memorable moments in the same way we remember famous moments from movies, such as Heath Ledger's "you know how I got these scars?" from The Dark Knight or Jack Nicholson's "here's Johnny!" from The Shining. Nowadays we take this for granted, with new memorable gaming moments being brought to us all the time - and this is most likely due to how story-telling has become such an important part of many modern video games. Triple A titles like The Last of Us and indie-developed games like Firewatch are just two examples of games that are more than just an adventure in a virtual world - but an opportunity to find yourself wrapped up in a story as it unfolds and witness characters as they grow and develop. If we as players find ourselves getting attached to these characters, then the creation of a memorable moment is bound to occur. Just look at how many tears were shed over that one scene in Final Fantasy VII.
It wasn't until recently when I realised what my favourite moment in gaming was. In fact, I only just played it. There were some shenanigans that occurred involving me accidentally deleting my save file like a twit coupled with the fact that my Dreamcast wasn't working all that well. Anyway, years later I played and finally finished a little game series known as Shenmue, a series revered (and even misunderstood) by many (you can read more about it in this article I wrote back in 2013). Shenmue is a series that is choc-full of incredible moments, and now we're getting a third game in the series (who'd have thought we'd ever see it) I am sure we'll be getting even more incredible moments to be part of as we play further through Ryo Hazuki's quest to seek revenge for the death of his Father. But there is one moment that stands out to me from the series above all others, and it takes place on the fourth disc of Shenmue II, and is the moment in the game's story that I'd like to refer to as "the moment Ryo becomes human".

So the fourth disc of Shenmue II begins with Ryo Hazuki arriving at the small village of Langhuishan, China. After a brief stop at this small village, Ryo heads down a long scenic path to his destination - Bailu Village. After the chaotic and intense happenings of the game's third disc, this disc is a complete contrast in comparison. The gameplay, aside from the occasional quick-time event, is relaxing and just well, amazing.
While Ryo's initial trek is somewhat uneventful (but worth it just to look at the absolutely gorgeous scenery - even for the Dreamcast) it soon takes a turn when a storm brews and Ryo sees a young woman dive into the treacherous rapids of a river to rescue a drowning fawn. Ryo dives in after her and the two end up washed up on the riverbank the next day, after the storm has passed. Even the fawn survived - all is well and good in the world.

You find out that this girl is Shenhua, who lives in Bailu Village - Ryo's destination. She thanks Ryo for saving her and offers to take him to her village, a long journey that will take more than a day - it is this journey (and the events that follow it - all the way up until the game's ending) that I regard as my favourite moment in Shenmue and to me is definitely one of the greatest moments in any video game ever. Never before when playing a game have I found myself yearning for more after it was over more than I found myself with the journey of Ryo and Shenhua to Bailu Village. It's something about the scenery, the idle yet personal conversation and the absolutely gorgeous score that accompanies Ryo and Shenhua's journey that makes it such a worthwhile experience.
But it isn't just these things that make these moments so fulfilling, but the characters themselves, Ryo in particular. Up until this point, Ryo Hazuki is terribly stone-faced, you could even go as far as to say that as a character he is even one-dimensional. Dead set on avenging his Father, he doesn't have time to let his emotions show for a second and is focused solely on his mission. Even in the first game when he receives a confession of love from his childhood friend Nozomi, he does not give her much back in the way of emotion. I thought up until the fourth disc of Shenmue II that perhaps Ryo's neutral attitude to everything was intended to serve as a way to help the player immerse themselves into the game more, with Ryo functioning as an avatar for them to project their own feelings on to - but I realise now it was more down to his strong focus on seeking revenge that was the basis of his lack of emotion. But on disc four, Ryo is presented with a moment of peace and a pause from his mission. He has to take a long journey in the company of another human being - someone who he has to talk to properly unlike the many characters he has previously met, characters who he speaks to mainly just to get more information that can further aid him on his quest.

But on disc 4, Ryo reveals a lot about himself, and although at this point we have just met Shenhua, we learn more about her from the two character's chatter along their journey more than any other character that we have encountered previously in the Shenmue series, and it's good that we do too, as I have a feeling she is going to be very important in the third game. The majority of this disc's gameplay is based around following Shenhua. She walks, and Ryo walks behind her automatically. If you press the A button on the Dreamcast controller, Ryo will get her attention and you will be presented with a set of three questions, or the option to push on. Through these questions (with more popping up in the place of questions that have been asked) Ryo and Shenhua discuss their respective countries, their childhoods and even silly little things like the flowers they like and their country's folklore... and it all works well because Shenhua has lived isolated -away from technology, cars and big cities- in the tiny Bailu Village for her entire life. Someone like Ryo is almost alien to someone like her - at one point she even asks him if he could tell the children of her village about Japan.

But the most revealing moment for Ryo is when the two stop overnight in a cave midway through their journey, and after making a fire, Shenhua asks Ryo to talk to him about his life. This is where Ryo really opens up about people from his past. Up until this point, I can't lie, I might have thought many of the characters Ryo encountered on his journey were nothing more than ways to move his journey forward, but I was happily proven wrong when he remembers many of them in this scene fondly, and his fondness towards them is sincere. You can even show Shenhua photographs that you have acquired along your journey, such as the one of him and Nozomi. As an interesting aside, it is worth mentioning that later when you are walking with Shenhua again, there is a moment where Ryo mentions that his Father liked lilies and that Nozomi (who worked at the florist) brought his Father flowers one day. In response to this, Shenhua says "are you talking about Nozomi again?" as if she is jealous of Ryo's constant mention of Nozomi, to which Ryo amusingly responds "no, I was talking about my Father". This is just another little moment that makes this sequence of events so incredible to me. The characterisation here feels genuine. When you look at the story of Shenmue deeper than just its surface, it is more than just a story of revenge. It is also a coming-of-age story for Ryo. I remember Yu Suzuki saying in an interview that in the story that comes after Shenmue II, Ryo would eventually outgrow his feelings of revenge. If this is the case Ryo's ageing process will have come full circle and I will love every second of his transformation into the person he will become.

But as I'm sure the Shenmue fans reading this article will already be aware, we will potentially receive Shenmue III 16 years later, in December. SIXTEEN. It's been nearly two decades of waiting for some fans. Shenmue II ended on a pretty significant cliffhanger, and many want to see what happens next. But what I look forward to the most is more of the characterisation that preceded it. Even more than I yearn for the capsule toys, the arcade machines and a modern take on the gameplay that made Shenmue so beloved in the first place, I yearn for moments that lead Ryo to reach the height of his complexity. I would love to see more of the gameplay that is contained on the fourth disc of Shenmue II where we get to talk to Shenhua. I want to see this richly-developed relationship with Shenhua explored even further. Regardless of what happens, I know that Yu Suzuki won't let us down with Shenmue III. I can't believe it's finally here.

Shenmue forever.

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