Friday, November 7, 2014

Anime Review: Neon Genesis Evangelion


Neon Genesis Evangelion
  • Studio: Gainax
  • Licensor: ADV (1997-2008), Section23 Films (2009-) (USA)
  • Network: TV Tokyo (JP)
  • Air Dates: 4 October 1995 - 27 March 1996 (JP)
  • Episodes: 26
  • Director: Hideaki Anno
Previously on the SDP, I reviewed Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, an anime series created in 1990 by director Hideaki Anno.  Five years and one (surprisingly important) bout of depression later, he produced his most famous work yet: the giant-robot saga Neon Genesis Evangelion.  Evangelion is a singularity among anime.  How can the same show attract so much praise and simultaneously so much scorn?  How can it explore so many deep topics about the human psyche, and at the same time get merchandised up the wazoo?  (If you're seriously asking that last question, then let me remind you, this is a Japanese property.  They pull this kind of stunt all the time.)  As for everything else, I would more than likely end up in over my head if I attempted to answer all that myself, so I suppose I should start, and hopefully finish, my knowledge quest by reviewing Neon Genesis Evangelion in the context of my own impressions of it.

The story is as follows: In the year 2000, a cataclysmic explosion in Antarctica wiped out an entire half of the world's population, an event known as Second Impact.  Fifteen years later, the creatures responsible for Second Impact -- varied, mysterious beings known as Angels -- are coming to Earth once more, because... reasons.  But in the intervening time, mankind, specifically the organization NERV, has developed a weapon to combat the Angels.  Such weapons are giant humanoid robots known as Evangelions, or Evas for short.  As the Angels advance one by one on NERV's base in Tokyo-3, it's up to the Evas and their juvenile pilots to protect the base and the secrets held therein.  Failure to do so could trigger a disaster even worse than Second Impact.  So, no pressure, really.

The main protagonist is a 14-year-old lad, Shinji Ikari (EN: Spike Spencer, JP: Megumi Obata).  (Yeah, apparently Eva pilots need to have been born after Second Impact, because... reasons.)  As the son of none other than NERV's commander Gendo Ikari (EN: Tristan McAvery, JP:Fumihiko Tachiki), Shinji is often reluctant to shoulder his responsibilities as an Eva pilot, so much so that he even attempts to run away from home.  More than once.  That alone is all well and good, as connoisseurs of giant-robot anime may have at one point wondered how all those teenage robot pilots would have reacted to their situation in real life.  But the problem is, that's Shinji's only character trait -- well, that, and coming through in a pinch.  If Shinji's too scared to pilot the Eva, then what would he rather be doing with his life?  Questions like these are never answered, at least not in the canon of the original series.

Rather, Shinji's character is defined with how he reacts to the situations thrust upon him by other characters.  For example, there is Rei Ayanami (EN: Amanda Winn Lee*, JP: Megumi Hayashibara).  A pale, blue-haired, and very shy girl, she was Tokyo-3's designated defender just before the show starts.  But in her very first scene, she is wheeled out on a gurney, beaten and bandaged, in front of Shinji, in order to convince him to pilot the Eva in her stead.  And it indeed gives him a reason to fight; whether that reason is chivalry or a straight-up guilt trip, I approve this moment for the sole purpose of giving Shinji at least a bit of character.  Once Rei recuperates, the two become fast friends, inasmuch as Shinji is able to make friends.  And while her status as an ace pilot is, at first, naught but an informed attribute, once the show picks up momentum, she more than holds her own in some rather awesome Angel fights.


The Eva/Angel fights are impressively written and animated,
especially given their intricate character designs.
Call me crazy, but my favourite parts of Neon Genesis Evangelion are what, in any other show, would be its "filler arc" -- the "monster of the day" episodes wherein a new Angel rears its ugly head (assuming it even has a head), and our heroes at NERV must concoct and carry out some new plan of stopping it.  What I love about these episodes is that they all bring something new to the table.  One of these Angels splits into two halves that must be vanquished simultaneously.  One of them is a larva that must be extracted from out of a volcano.  One of them is a computer virus that must be hacked out of commission.  One of them takes place at sea -- and did I mention the Eva's can't swim?  And through it all, you might even learn something about one of the characters.

So the show has its fun for a while, but then along comes Episode 18, which I dare say is a masterpiece in a dramatic sense.  Without wishing to spoil, it opens up the discussion on topics such as the use of child soldiers.  And I'm like, that would have been a great thing to base a series on.  But as the series gets progressively darker in these penultimate episodes, its attention span gets a little flighty.  As the series wraps up, the Angels arrive in more and more insidious forms, quite a number of plot twists rear their ugly heads, and the psyches of Shinji, Rei, and Asuka get torn to the breaking point and back again.  But because they waited until this far into the series, none of these plot points get the chance to truly stick.  So it turns out that Rei was one of many clones created by Gendo from his late wife, you say  That's great and all, but how does that affect the overall story?  Not at all, as far as the series proper is concerned.

But it all has to lead up to something, right?  I mean, sooner or later, you're gonna wonder where the Angels came from and what beef they have with us Earthlings, no?  Well, ask into one hand, spit into the other, and see which fills up first.  It turns out that the final two episodes eschew any sort of action, at least into the format we've grown used to, and instead focus on the internal monologue of its characters, as they contemplate their worth as humans and soldiers in the front lines against the Angels.  For a total of fifty minutes.  Now, if you want to give your characters their moments of introspection, that's all well and good; it shows a fair bit of smarts on your part.  But this sort of scene should be a couple minutes long, not the entire runtime of your series finale!  (Oh wait, that already describes Episode 20!)  There is a clever bit in one of these episodes where the show is temporarily re-imagined as a slice-of-life school drama, and the "congratulations" scene where Shinji finally makes a breakthrough on the causes of his mental maladies is just as rewarding for the viewer -- but only because we've wasted fifty minutes of our lives that we'll never get back.


Get used to "animation" like this throughout the final two episodes.
Before any commenters pounce upon me with a precision nerd strike, I wish to state two things for the record.  One, I am at least aware of Evangelion's expanded universe, which covers not only the original TV series, but the follow-up movie End of Evangelion (which effectively serves as a replacement for the final two episodes), the reboot film series Rebuild of Evangelion, and multiple manga series, each with their own interpretations of the Eva universe.  Perhaps some of the questions I asked a couple of paragraphs ago are answered in End of Evangelion, but I have not seen it as of this posting.  And besides, if your show is dependent on an auxilliary movie to tie up any loose plot threads, then that's just the mark of lazy storytelling.  I mean, when even the lead actor talks smack about your ending, then you have failed.

And two, I am well aware of this show's lack of budget.  Despite the impressive action sequences when we get to watch an actual Eva/Angel fight, the animators managed to cut corners in every other way manageable.  That's not to say the show doesn't "look" good.  The designs of the sets and characters (more so for the Evas and Angels) is unique, providing the show with its own cool aesthetic, and many scenes are "shot" with clever composition.  But what I'm saying is: if don't care about your liver, you could make a drinking game out of spotting how many times characters speak with their mouths conspicuously covered, or the "camera" is zoomed out so far away as to make animating lip-flaps not worth the effort.  Heck, some scenes even linger on one shot with no motion taking place whatsoever, such as a rather infamous moment from one of the final episodes, which is two minutes of nothing but Shinji's Eva holding some guy in its mighty, oversized hand.  And in the interest of saving you two boob-less minutes, here are some spoilers: said guy is Kaworu Nagisa, an Angel in a human's body, and the only one who's ever showed Shinji any form of unconditional appreciation throughout the series, and he gets crushed at the end of it, merely by "virtue" of being an Angel.

Speaking of budget cuts, one area of anime production which typically operates under such lack of resources would be foreign-language dubbing, and for some reason lack of money usually translates into lack of caring.  But chronologically speaking, the English dub of Neon Genesis Evangelion (produced by ADV films in 1997-98) may be the first truly great example of its kind.  How can I make this broad claim?  Let's take the case of Asuka Langley Soryu (EN: Tiffany Grant, JP: Yuko Miyamura), a hot-headed, half-German Eva pilot who first shows up a couple of episodes in.  When her Japanese actress speaks German, it sounds a bit forced, like a Japanese person speaking German.  But when her English actress does so, she sounds like an actual German speaking normally.  (And I should know; I've taken five years of that language in high school.)  That should be all I need to say in regards to how seriously ADV took their jobs, but apart from that, I can honestly say that for the most part, the performances in both the English and Japanese tracks suitably develop the personalities of their respective characters.  There are a couple of side characters whose voices get under my nerves more so in English than Japanese, but they're few and far between enough that I can live with that.

If I were to compare Neon Genesis Evangelion to any other franchise, it would be the Metal Gear games -- specifically, Metal Gear Solid 2.  See, when they do what they set out to do at the start, they're really good at it.  It's when they let their auxiliary message take precedence over the original plot that they start to lose favour in my eyes.  (Face it, you took some level of offence when you realised Raiden was nought but a surrogate for the player.)  I'm not saying writers shouldn't try to incorprorate more in-depth themes into their works, far from it.  I'd just prefer there to be a balance between them and the plots set up within the story's own universe.  For an example of this done correctly, I point you to Anno-sama's other claim to fame, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water.  From time to time, the heroine's words and actions reflect upon the value of life, and it's hard for the viewer's mind to stay out of the mental discussion.  But that series never forgets that there's an antagonist who needs to be put down, and a protagonist who needs to do so.  A little more focus have made Neon Genesis Evangelion the end-all-be-all of giant-robot anime.  As it is, it's a series of worthwhile thoughts and moments that doesn't amount to much in the end.  And the way it treats its loyal fans by the end of it all, building up so much suspence and shattering it with an unsatisfying ending, is certainly infuriating.  But if I may counter its amateur philosophising with a life-view of my own, I still think Neon Genesis Evangelion was worth putting onto this Earth.  As long as it leaves us even with nothing but those thoughts and moments, it's certainly a worthwhile product, no?

*NB: Cast listings refer to the original series.  Certain characters have been re-cast for different adaptations, such as the Rebuild movies.

Positives
+ The Eva/Angel fight scenes are beautifully animated.
+ Brilliant artistic design and scene direction.
+ The voice acting, both in Japanese and English, is some of the best to have been recorded before the new millenium.
+ It makes an effort to explore the mindsets of its characters.
Negatives
- The non-action scenes suffer a severe shortfall in terms of the animation budget.
- The final two episodes take all the intrigue the show has built up and throw it out the window.

Acting (English): 5 Angels out of 5
Acting (Japanese): 4 Angels out of 5
Writing: 3 Angels out of 5
Animation: 3 Angels out of 5
Visual Design: 5 Angels out of 5
The Call: 90% (A-)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Game Review: Dance Dance Revolution (PSone)

Previously on the SDP, it's been four long years, but my "Dance Dance Retrospective" mini-series has finally come to its bittersweet end.  I guess there's nothing left to do now... but to do it all over again!  This time, however, I'm going to review the different DDR games as I would any other work on this blog.

Dance Dance Revolution

  • Publisher: Konami
  • Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo
  • Release: PlayStation, 2001
  • Genre: Music, 1-2 players
  • Save: Memory Card, 1 Block
  • Rarity/Cost: 
Dance Dance Revolution is a game series that has been around for over fifteen years, and each new game to come along has brought along new content, whether in the form of new songs and/or new modes, to make each successive entry better than the last.  Well, in quantifiable terms, anyway.  But it had to start somewhere.  For American gamers, those first impressions may have been forged in the arcades, or it may have been the first Dance Dance Revolution home game we got for the PlayStation, back in 2001.  Does it still hold up today?  Let's take it back to simpler times, before all the speed mods, Shock Arrows, and Justin Bieber licences, and find out!

Dance Dance Revolution, and indeed all of the series' home games, are fully playable with a regular controller, but to stay true to the arcade experience, are designed with a special floor-mat controller in mind.  What's always bugged me about their official controllers is that there are no Square or Triangle buttons, however the American games all use Triangle to back out of menus.  This was fine for the Japanese games, which instead used Circle to advance and X to back out, but apparently something got lost in translation.  And it's not like there aren't PlayStation games sold abroad which use that setup; heck, even Konami's own Metal Gear Solid games do so!  Fortunately, the Select button is also used to back out, but it feels weird using that button, tucked away in that upper-left corner.  I am, however, thankful for a particular option unintuitively called "Dance Mode", which toggles the ability to use the four face buttons as well as the D-Pad to hit arrows.

Even in Double Mode, the game is just as playable
with a controller as it is with a dance pad.
This particular DDR game runs on the same "engine" as DDR 3rdMIX.  For those who neglected to take notes when reading its entry for Dance Dance Retrospective, that means all three difficulty levels (the easy "Standard", medium "Difficult", and hard "Expert") are available at any time from the start, without hiding behind any button codes.  Likewise, all the songs in the game are selectable at any point during a game, as opposed to the first version in Japan which added or removed certain songs depending on whether it was your first round, second round, or otherwise.  It also includes extra modes such as the Nonstop courses, sets of 4 songs each played back-to-back, the Workout mode, which records Calories burned as you play, and the multiplayer-exclusive Unison mode.

DDR's songlist is composed entirely of 26 selections from the first three Japanese games.  Just shy of half of those are licenced songs, although there's nothing the average American listener would recognise, unless he or she were familiar with the DDR franchise already.  The artists featured herein are all various flavours of Eurpoean dance-music acts who had essentially no presence in the States until this game.  If you're lucky, you'll here a familiar sample or cover version here or there -- the immortal riff from Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" is one such sample -- but that's it.  And I'm not saying these are bad songs, either, but they have their own share of '90s Europop cheese.  By my money, the standout tracks are the original songs made by Konami's own artists, which explore different musical genres, and generally provide a higher range of challenge in their charts.

Your choice of character doesn't
matter in gameplay terms.
Upon starting a game, you have a choice of characters who will dance in the background during your game.  There are quite a few of them -- 16 in all -- however, you can only select the male or female characters (8 of each) depending on whether your controller is plugged into port 1 or 2 of your PlayStation console.  And even then, they don't alter the gameplay itself in any manner.  Do they let you trigger different abilities to make your experience easier or more challenging?  No, they're just another layer of background animation to distract you from the arrows you're supposed to be focusing on.

DDR has all the basic elements that make a Dance Dance Revolution game good, but not much on top of them.  There's a certain simple charm in booting up a game and having all its content available to you at the start without even needing a Memory Card to save to, but that statement is a tad misleading because there is no content to unlock.  The replay value in this game is limited to setting high scores for all the charts on all the songs, doing the same for all the nonstop courses, and perhaps starting a regular exercise program in Workout mode.  While it may be a bad Dance Dance Revolution game, if only in terms of content, this introductory entry is not a bad video game.

And finally, in honour of Rerez, a YouTube gaming channel I discovered recently, I shall close out this review, and all other reviews going forward, with a list of the positive and negative qualities which stood out to me whilst playing, watching, reading, or listening to the work in question.  (It's also a handy way of planning out my reviews before I start writing them.)  As always, this shall be promptly followed up by the category grades and the final call.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  So:

Positives:
+ One of the first great examples of "exergaming" in a long time.
+ No need to unlock anything.
+ The inclusion of Beginner, Unison, Nonstop, and Workout modes.
+ Some of the step-charts have become unforgettably fun.
Negatives:
- A relatively small music selection, with nothing to unlock.
- Not many of the songs will be familiar to non-fans.
- Some of the music is cheesy -- "Let Them Move" especially.

Control: 5 out of 5
Design: 3 out of 5
Graphics: 3 out of 5
Audio: 4 out of 5
The Call: 75% (B-)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Top 10: Dumbest James Bond Moments

James Bond is one of my biggest fandoms.  I'm saying that here in case you couldn't infer it from the year-long mini-series I did on this very blog, reviewing all its movies.  But part of being a good, sane fan is admitting any sins the subject of your adoration may have committed.  And James Bond is certainly no saint in that regard.  (Except for Roger Moore, who played on a TV show called The Saint.)  Yet at the same time, I don't think these movies ever get so bad to the point they become unberarable to watch.  On the contrary, their occasional bouts of stupidity only serve to make them more fun to watch.  To a point, anyway.  That's why I'm going to count down the top ten dumbest moments of the James Bond movies, and see if and when we cross that line.  I've selected and listed these entries based on the following criteria: 1) How embarrassing is it to watch the scene?  2) Does the scene work in context?  And 3) Is there anything good about the scene to balance it out?  So break out your favourite Q-gadgets, because Here.  We.  Go.

10) "Turning Japanese"
from You Only Live Twice (1967)

In this scene, James Bond and his allies in the Japanese SIS have located the secret base of SPECTRE, but need to set up shop without raising suspicion.  And in the homogenous society of Japan, that's easier said then done when one among your numbers is a six-foot-something Scotsman.  So what to do?  Why, give him a plastic-surgery makeover to give him an Asian appearance, of course!  I'll give it this, among the "great" moments of "yellowface" in cinema, this is nowhere near as offensive as Mickey Rooney's character in Breakfast at Tiffany's.  But that's the problem -- the effect used here is so subtle, I forgot about it after a while!  Still, given our modern society's hair-trigger response to racism, this could have turned out much, much worse.

9) "James of the Jungle"
from Octopussy (1983)

In this scene, James Bond has escaped from the villain's palace in India and is being chased through a nearby jungle.  The resulting action sequence is... uneven, to say the least.  Sure, there are clever moments to be found, such as when Bond hides underneath a henchman's elephant and unfastens his saddle.  But as for me, I'll remember this scene instead for two parts -- one, he encounters a tiger, and before it can pounce upon him, he sternly calls to it, "Sit!", and it does.  And two, he swings on a series of vines, with a stock Tarzan yell playing in the background.  Because... funny?

8) "Surfin' USSR"
from A View to a Kill (1985)

The cold-open of A View to a Kill takes place in, appropriately enough, a cold place: Siberia.  In this scene, James Bond shows up here to investigate the body of a fallen 00 agent, retrieving a microchip from his person.  Then some Soviet patrols shows up, and he proceeds to high-tail it out of there.  At one point, he knocks a guy off a snowmobile, pulls off its hood, and uses it as a makeshift snowboard.  Oh, and I forgot to mention -- Roger Moore had turned 57 at some point during production of this movie, the oldest a James Bond actor's ever been to date, and he did not age well IMO, so the mere sight of him snowboarding at his age should be enough to warrant a rank on this list.  But as if that alone were not enough, we also have the choice of music to deal with.  As snowboarding culture had not yet fully formed by 1985, the music director went with a surfing song -- a cover of "California Girls" by the Beach Boys!  Guys, when I think of the Beach Boys, I do not associate them with icy, snowbound Siberia!  Or a 57-year-old snowboarder.

7) "Spoiler Alert: Bambi Lives"
from Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

In this scene, James Bond is searching the home of a one Willard Whyte.  Suddenly, he comes across two lounging ladies named Bambi and Thumper.  They tell him where Mr. Whyte may be found, but before letting 007 go, they rough him up a bit, in what is perhaps one of the series' worst-choreographed fight scenes.  Bambi and Thumper tend to take turns throwing hits or getting in position, including some impressive gymnastic moves.  I ain't complaining about that in concept, especially since one of them's in a bikini, but more often then not their moves serve no practical purpose in terms of fighting!  It's like they just want to show off!

6) "Flipping the Bird"
from Moonraker (1979)

In this scene, James Bond has just disposed of some assassins who tried to get him along the canals of Venice.  So, naturally, he did so from a gondola -- a motorboat gondola, of course.  Now, that chase scene is perfectly fine; there's a knife thrower hidden in a casket, so of course Bond keeps him in there -- permanently.  But the problem comes afterwards.  With no more threats to take care of, he flips a switch to turn his gondola into a hovercraft, and drives onto the pier.  This peculiar sight is met with all manner of astonished reaction shots from the locals, including -- get this -- a bird which does a double-take.  As in, the editor repeated and reversed a bit of footage to make it seem as though the bird had the brain capacity to recognise a peculiar sight when it saw one, and react accordingly.  Throw in a sprightly Strauss composition on the soundtrack, and you've got one surreal scene.

5) "Blow My Whistle, Baby"
from The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

In this scene, James Bond (with, unfortunately, Sheriff J.W. Pepper) is in the middle of a car chase across Bangkok, when he notices his target on the opposite side of a river.  With the nearest bridge miles behind him, he improvises: he finds a set of ramps and does a perfect corkscrew-jump between them.  Sounds like an awesome moment, doesn't it?  Well, it is, except for one thing: this stunt is accompanied by a slide-whistle sound effect.  I've read numerous accounts claiming this moments as one of the series' worst, and it's hard for me to disagree with those opinions.  But no matter how stupid that sound effect was, it's still just one piece of a scene with some other, better components, which is why this entry isn't higher on my list.  Besides, how cool can you make a stunt like that when it's preceded by the one-liner, "Ever heard of Evel Kneivel?"  Because... the Seventies?

4) "Surfin' CGI"
from Die Another Day (2002)

In this scene, James Bond is in a rocket-sled, being chased across the Icelandic ice fields by a satellite laser beam.  The chase leads over a cliff, with Bond saving himself by deploying the craft's anchor.  Rather than use the laser to fry him directly, of course, our villain instead cuts off a chunk of the icy cliff, with intent to drop him into the ocean.  But with a bout of improbable MacGyvering, Bond fashions a makeshift surfboard and parachute, and rides away on the ensuing wave.  And then... he para-surfs along the ensuing wave.  This sounds outlandishly extreme enough, but this scene was accomplished by such stilted, flawed CG animation that whatever sense of danger we get from other such stunts in the Bond series just cannot be matched here.  And another thing, if the wave caused by the ice chunk travelled away from the cliff, how could Bond have turned around to lift himself up over the cliff?

3) "Your Head Asplode"
from Live and Let Die (1973)

In this scene, James Bond and Solitaire are in the clutches of our villain, Dr. Kananga.  He has the couple tied up over a shark tank, and cuts 007's arm with a knife to draw blood.  Never mind that he could've killed them more directly with that knife of his.  So Bond frees himself and Solitare using a buzz-saw in his wristwatch -- a function that was never so much as foreshadowed -- and proceeds to fight Kananga.  The fight ends with Bond forcing a compressed-air bullet into Kananga's mouth.  As the gas expands inside his body, he lifts out of the water and blows up like a balloon.  Literally.  As in, the special effect for this scene involved a Kananga-shaped balloon.  Now, I normally wouldn't mind any opportunity to avert excessive blood and gore, but the way they chose to go about it is so unreal, it could never be taken seriously in a million years!  Couldn't they have chosen some other way for him to die, something that could be feasibly re-created and still keep a PG rating?  I mean, they've got a perfectly good shark tank to use, and corporal inflation was the best they could come up with?

2) "I Know Kung Fu... Not"
from The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

In this scene, James Bond has been knocked out and captured, and wakes up in a Thai martial-arts school.  He spars with a couple of opponents and then makes a break for it, wherein he catches up with his ally, Lieutenant Hip and his nieces.  Who promptly go to town on the pursuing gang of bads, Street Fighter style.  In fact, Hip and co. have things so well-in-hand that Bond is left with nothing to do throughout this brawl.  His only contribution is pushing down some guy who was already disabled.  And then Hip and co. drive off in his car... without Bond!  What's the matter dude, I thought you were on his side!  This missed ride leads to Bond leading a tepid motorboat chase, punctuated only by its own awful moments: a downright terrible one-liner ("What you might call a Mexican screw-off, gentlemen!"  Seriously, dude, no one says that.), Bond taking advantage of a beggar child, and of course, Sherrif J.W. Pepper.

1) "Goodnight, Sweet Princess"
from The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

Yeah, I've used this movie three times in this list.  I regret nothing.  In this scene, James Bond is dueling with Scaramanga on the latter's private island, while Bond-girl Mary Goodnight is being watched over by a maintenance man.  Proving her capability, she knocks him out -- only for his body to fall into a liquid-nitrogen vat, setting off a slow-burning chain reaction which will eventually destroy the island.  But that's not the worst of it.  Right afterwards, she accompanies Bond as he tries to remove some solar-energy unit from a laser chamber, when she leans back on a console and her bum pushes the switch to turn on the solar collector -- with Bond inside it.  And she has no idea how to turn it off -- ya think she could've felt the switch pushing against her skin and tried flipping the same one back!?  Madam Goodnight was nothing if not a liability in 007's mission.  Lucky we viewers also had Maud Adams's character to keep us company.

Wildcard) "Missile Command-er Bond"
from Never Say Never Again (1983)

I'm sticking this in the Wildcard slot partly because it comes from one of the non-EON Bond films, and partly because I had picked out enough entries from the official canon to fill this list anyway.  In this scene, James Bond pays a visit to the villain's casino party.  When the two men meet, the villain invites Bond to play a game.  ...A video game, of his own creation.  It is a rather impressive-looking game for early-80s technology, and it makes for a rather tense scene as the stakes go up and up.  But come on, a video game!  Bear in mind that this scene's counterpart in Thunderball, which Never Say Never Again is a remake of, is a round of Baccarat.  Riddle me this: which game would you associate with James Bond's upper-class Englishman image?  If you guessed the video game, then you seriously need to hit the books.  As in Ian Fleming's Bond novels.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dance Dance Retrospective: The Mobile Games

At last we have reached the final installment of Dance Dance Retrospective, and with this momentous occasion upon us, please allow me to say...  This series was a mistake.  A mistake I made whilst blinded by fandom.  Pretty much all I did in those articles was describe the changes each game made from one installment to another, no how irrelevant they would be to readers without my level of interest in the franchise.  I even planned a video series at one point, but never finished even the first episode once I realised I was wasting all my time on so much minutiae.  Oh well, I suppose I let some critical observations slip in from time to time, so it can't have been a total waste.  Spoiler alert: I'm going to be doing just that for this article as well.

Okay, so I've covered all of Dance Dance Revolution's arcade games, all the home console games, so what's next...?  The mobile market, of course!  With pocket-sized touchscreen devices proving their feasibility as gaming platforms ever since the invention of the iPhone, Konami eventually saw fit to introduce their venerable DDR property into the market.  Their first foray was DanceDanceRevolution S, which first appeared on the iTunes Store on 25 February 2009.  (Ports were later made for Android and Windows Phone platforms, but they were only sold in Japan.)  As you might imagine, this game was played by tapping the arrows on a virtual dancepad on the bottom of the screen.  As with most mobile games that use virtual-gamepad inputs on a touchscreen, there was always the problem of missing the buttons and not getting any feedback that you did so, but I suppose that could be less of a problem for some gamers.  There was also the "Shake Mode", where you shook the iPhone unit in four directions instead of tapping the notes.  It was only available for Basic and Difficult charts and, as with any kind of motion control, the lack of physical feedback makes your timing even more imprecise, but as an added bonus, I guess it was fun for a little while.  There were 25 songs packed into DDR S, mainly revivals from the Hottest Party games.


Gameplay in DDR S, using a virtual dance-pad at the bottom.
In my opinion, DDR S didn't have the most engaging setlist, but they rectified that issue, in a sense, with DanceDanceRevolution S+ (iOS, 5 October 2009).  This game had a price of just ninety-nine cents, but only packed three songs within.  That is, unless you count the DDR Store.  There were a total of 219 songs released, across 67 song packs, as DLC for S+, spanning more-or-less the entire franchise, including tracks from (the real) DDR X2.  There was even an option to purchase a "Starter Pack" of 150 songs for US$65.  This was a pretty strong showing, considering that the 2010 DDR games only got a couple of DLC song-packs.  And with so much content available, you could pick and choose your favourites to create your own custom Mix.  But, I'll say the same thing I said about DDR 2010: if you have to pay extra to get the best content, then the game's just not worth it.  Besides, that all-songs pack is a monster case of sticker-shock, you know?

And finally, there was DanceDanceRevolution Dance Wars (iOS, 14 February 2013).  Dance Wars followed the example of all those free-to-play games that sprouted up over the past few years.  First, a "stamina" system limited how many songs you could play in the main Battle Mode within a certain time frame.  (A free-play mode was also available which doesn't include the stamina limit, but you could not unlock new songs this way.)  And second, you could invite other players to your "Dance Crew" to unlock content faster.  A total of 47 songs were available in-game, mostly revivals from all across the franchise, although only 4 were available without unlocking.

However, I've been using the past tense to describe all these games, because they have all suffered some degree of unavailability.  DDR S was taken down from the iTunes Store at some point, perhaps because of S+, which is still available to this day, but recently I've had trouble getting the game's online store to open.  And Dance Wars was not only taken down from the store as well, but the online service was shut down on 31 August 2013, barely six months after the game's debut.  And with Dance Wars being one of those always-online games, this shutdown rendered the game literally unplayable.  I never even got the chance to play it myself due to it not being compatible with my outdated iPod Touch model.

The last time we heard anything from DDR in the North American market was something called DanceDanceRevolution Pocket Edition, which is played on an Apple TV sling-box and an iPhone in your pocket as a motion-sensor, eschewing the physical dance-pad setup entirely.  I don't have a lot of information on this edition; apparently it follows the S+ model of a free app with three songs, and about 300 more available as DLC.  And it also appears to have been removed from the iTunes Store as of this writing.

And... that's all I've got.

So this is how it ends, huh?  It looks like Dance Dance Revolution isn't coming back to the arcades or "traditional" home consoles anytime soon, especially now that we've got the new generation forcing its way onto the market.  DDR has managed, of late, to gain a foothold in the mobile-platform market, and I'm just starting to come to grips with this reality.  I mean, if other games like GTA: San Andreas and Bioshock can run on iOS or Android, what do I have to complain about?  But Konami managed to screw that up too, what with them taking some of their games offline.  And having read about Pocket Edition, I should be more supportive of that one, too.  For one, they managed to solve the problem of wearing out countless dance pads by taking them out of the equation.  And an Apple TV unit is bound to be cheaper than a PS4 or XBox One or what-not...  Oh wait, I forgot the exorbitant cost of an iPhone or iPod -- one for each person who wishes to play -- so never mind.

But more so than anything else, my creeping sense of doom for the future of DDR franchise was brought on by the franchise itself.  As you may have gathered by reading the past articles of Dance Dance Retrospective, the later games have somehow failed to capture my interest.  Maybe it's my own tastes that are shifting towards other genres of gaming, maybe it's a case of running out of new ideas, or maybe they've gone so far from what I interpret as the essence of DDR that they've become irrelevant.  And what I envision as the "essence of DDR" may vary from someone else's vision.  Like, my vision involves a return to the musical styles of the first few games, with more modern conventions elsewhere, and to cap off a running gag from this series, how 'bout USB UNLOCKS FOR ONCE!!  There's always the possibility of DDR making a major comeback, but with the gaming market shifting as it has these days, it may not be in the form we expect.  But wherever there's good music, there will always be someone who wants to dance to it.  Specifically, to Dance Dance to it.

...

Ah [verb] it, there's always StepMania.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Editorial: The Simpsons Guy

Television history was made on Sunday, 28 September 2014, when the animated universes of The Simpsons and Family Guy converged for a one-hour crossover episode.  As a longtime Simpsons fan who only recently got back on the bandwagon (thanks largely to the recent "Every Simpsons Ever" marathon on the FXX channel) and a former Family Guy watcher who had personally boycotted said show at some point, I have to say I had been off-and-on excited for this event.  And for the most part, my excitement was sated upon watching the thing.  But seeing these two shows in such close contact with each other made me wonder: what problems exist with these shows, and what could they learn from each other to better themselves?  Let's find out.

I've been a Simpsons fan since 2002, more or less, and given my relatively late introduction to the franchise, I've enjoyed many of the episodes from within the past couple of years before then, as they helped formed my first impressions of the show.  But lately I haven't been able to drum up the interest in it anymore.  There wasn't any one moment that killed my attachment forever, but my interest just sort of faded gradually.  As first-day fans would've claimed took place by the time I got on board, for some reason or another, the newer episodes just haven't managed to bring the heat.  Sure, these recent seasons can pack some pleasant surprises every few episodes, but for the most part, watching The Simpsons is like being a member of the MTV generation: I feel neither highs nor lows.

Now Family Guy, on the other hand...  I started paying attention to Family Guy since about the time it got un-cancelled (in 2005), and I liked it at the time.  I've never minded its reliance on cutaway gags, as they at least kept up a fluid pace, with few exceptions (I'll touch on that later on).  But after a few years passed, I started noticing something: Family Guy is offensive.  It's racist, misogynistic, homophobic, politically partisan, and all-around unpleasant.  Season 7 (2008-2009) was the worst, hosting such episodes as "I Dream of Jesus", "Family Gay", "Fox-y Lady", "420", and perhaps worst of all, "Not All Dogs Go To Heaven".  Family Guy's writers seem incapable of portraying minority demographics as anything but their stereotypical images, worst of all in the case of Jews (i.e. the pharmacist Mort Goldman, his son Neil, and the entire Jewish community of 1939 Warsaw) and homosexuals (i.e. Brian the dog's cousin Jasper, and Peter himself when he underwent medical experimentation to make him temporarily gay).  And Brian has become nothing short of insufferable in his "holier"-than-thou attitude as an atheist and political liberal.  Yeah, I might be a blue-stater myself, but his preachy, my-way-or-the-highway method of exposition regarding those subjects just goes above and beyond my standards, you know?
I don't see anything ugly
about this girl.  Do you?

But it was the repeated abuse of the character Meg Griffin which broke the proverbial camel's back for me.  Even from season 1, many if not all of her plots involve struggling to fit in with her school comrades, or getting along with her family.  And that alone isn't a problem if done right, as an estimated 100% of teenagers in American fiction have to deal with those kinds of things.  The problem in Meg's case, however, is that these scenarios have been turned up to 11 in terms of the abuse she deals with.  Peter, her own father, can be counted on with regularity to either ignore her well-being or outright assault her.  Not even the other members of her family are likely to show her any sympathy, either.  And her social life?  Let's just say potential suitors would rather kill themselves -- literally, given the nature of this show -- than take her to the next prom.  Why?  Is it because she's hideously deformed?  Going by how she's drawn typically, she looks like a perfectly cromulent young lady. And another thing, why does Meg, and to a lesser extent Lois, have to struggle to keep up with standards of beauty, whereas the men of the Griffin family are allowed to let themselves go physically?

So yeah, it didn't take long for the writers' intentions to completely backfire on me, for Meg to capture all my sympathy and Peter to turn into public enemy #1 as far as fictional characters are concerned.  Moments like Quagmire's rant in "Jerome Is The New Black" and the entirety of episodes like "Dial Meg For Murder" show that the writers are at least self-aware of their faults, but as the next week's episode rolls around, we find that they have learned absolutely zip from their efforts.  Oh, and that 3-minute Conway Twitty cutaway was unforgivable, if for other reasons.

Okay, enough ranting for the moment.  I assume you read this article title and thought I was going to focus my attention on the titular crossover episode itself, so I suppose I should do so.  It was... janusian.  It had its good moments and one or two bad ones.  This episode was strongest when it leaned on the fourth wall, with the characters of one show spouting criticisms of the other.  For example, the way Homer and Peter argue over their Duff and Pawtucket Patriot beers echoes the arguments one could make regarding being the first vs. being the best.  And I especially liked how Fred Flintsone played the judge in the ensuing court case, bringing that issue to a head.

With this episode's "hot" moments out of the way, what about the "not"s, or at least the "not-so-hot"s?  Well, there's a sub-plot with Meg and Lisa Simpson, where Lisa tries to find something Meg could be good at, and as it turns out, they're both good at playing the Saxophone.  This moment in and of itself was all well and good, as for one brief moment, it appeared that Meg would finally get over her P.S.I. (Poor Self Esteem).  (And yes I do know "esteem" doesn't start with "I"; that's how they did it in the episode I linked to.)  But as the Griffins pack up their car to leave Springfield and Meg clutches her new saxophone with hope in her eyes, Peter just throws it in the garbage like it was no big deal, since there was allegedly no more room in the car.  I'm not ashamed to admit I threw an F-bomb in Peter's regard while watching this scene for the first time, because of how something I've so desperately wanted could be delicately built up only to be so abruptly dashed.  (Wouldn't be the first time though.)  But for the purposes of this blog, I'll just make do with this meme-pic:



I'll close up this editorial by bringing up one more scene from "The Simpsons Guy": the part where Bart and Stewie prank-call Moe's Tavern.  Bart's part is your typical fare, tricking Moe into saying an embarrassing fake name, and it's just as funny as it's ever been.  But for his turn, Stewie says only one line -- "Your sister's being raped" -- before abruptly hanging up.  And that scene, more than anything, illustrates the differences between The Simpsons and Family Guy.  The Simpsons sticks to its time-honoured routines that may or may not elicit laughs.  And Family Guy aims for whatever shock value it can muster within the confines of a TV-14 rating (not even that, if you're watching one of the uncensored DVD releases).  There are pros and cons to each of these approaches, so I say the two shows could stand to learn something from one another: The Simpsons to punch up its comedic stylings, and Family Guy to learn some much-needed sensitivity.

Or Family Guy can manifest into some physical form, only to kill itself, for all I care.

Top 10: Next Worst Pitbull Lyrics

Previously on the SDP, I listed the top ten worst lyrics by the rapper Pitbull, that I was familiar with at the time.  You may be familiar with this list; for some reason, as of this writing, it is the most-viewed article on this very blog.  I have no idea how this happened.  Maybe a lot of people hate him as much as I did back then, maybe the Russian Mafiya's doing some favours behind my back, I don't know.  But I do know two things.  One, I don't hate Pitbull nearly as much as I did back then, when his stuff was overplayed on the radio and such.  With all the filth that I've exposed myself to in the intervening time, cough Lil' Wayne cough, Pitbull's mannerisms have practically become cute by comparison.  And two, when populating my first list I was not in want of lyrical bombs, but I had limited my entries to the hits, the songs I had been exposed to on free media without delving further.  Well, thanks to the magic of Spotify, I've been able to listen to the whole of Pitbull's albums without directly spending a dime, so that I may bring you a more complete list.  (Edit 28 Nov. 2014: And I've added a Spotify playlist for you to follow along with!)  Well, excluding the ones I put on the previous list.  So here goes: the Top Ten Worst Pitbull Lyrics of All Time.  ...That I didn't already mention.



Before starting this list, I'd like to make an addition to an entry from my previous list.  My #8 entry was from Usher's "DJ Got Us Fallin' In Love", wherein Mr. Worldwide threw out a pickup line involving a Flintstones reference and the promise of making the girl's bed rock.  Get it, "bedrock"?  Yeah, I'm not going to go back on my decision to include it.  But when I posted my video version of that article, I got a nice young man in the comments suggesting that I should've included the line directly before it, namely:
She don't wrestle, but I got her in a headlock
And I've gotta say: you're right.  It would be more impressive if the line had read "I don't wrestle" as opposed to "she [doesn't] wrestle".  As it stands, I have no choice but to interpret this line as Pitbull assaulting a defenceless woman.  So no wonder that he's teamed up with Chris Brown every now and again, am I right?  ...  Alright, I can't keep on beating that horse forever, so let's just get to the frigging countdown already.

10) "Back In Time"
from Men In Black 3 [OST] (2012)
Like Agent J or Agent K, and I wish the whole world would
Okay, I'm tryin' make a billion out of 15 cents
Understand, understood
Even though this line isn't at the top of this list, I could make the case that the song itself, "Back In Time", is the worst song Pitbull's ever done.  I believe I have done so, as a matter of fact.  Hardly any of its elements make sense together, especially not as a single meant to promote a movie such as Men In Black 3.  For example, these lines.  So Pitbull says he wishes the would would... do something for him.  He never says what; he just jumps into declaring his intent to make money, and lots of it.  And he never explains how he plans to do that either, he just assumes his desires are understood by us, and moves on whether or not they are.  You ever try to hold a conversation with someone who keeps cutting themselves off mid-sentence?  Whether it's Mr. Worldwide or my own mother,

9) "Mr. 305 (Outro)"
from The Boatlift (2007)
I'm one of the best, one of the rawest
Nah I ain't perfect but [noun] I'm flawless
"Perfect" and "flawless" are the same word, ignoramus.  By definition, you can't be one and not the other.  Hit the thesaurus sometime, you might learn something.

8) "On The Floor" w/ Jennifer Lopez
from LOVE? (2011)
Now pump-pu-pump p-p-p-pump it up
And back it up like a Tonka truck
In my days as a music consumer, I've born witness to many, many alternate methods to command girls in the vicinity to shake their butts, but I've never seen this one employed before.  Nor do I expect it to be employed again.  For the uninitiated, Tonka is a brand of scale-model toy utility trucks.  In other words, very small trucks.  Comparing the Miss New Booty's... um, booty to a toy that's, like, a foot long doesn't have quite enough impact, not when there's a perfectly forceful full-size counterpart you can compare it to.  I can understand this choice of word, likely having been inspired by such legendary lexicon entries as "badonkadonk", but when you think about it, the analogy falls flat.  Like a flat badonkadonk.

7) "Dance Again" w/ Jennifer Lopez
from Dance Again... The Hits (2012)
You want the recipe?
It's real simple
A little bit of Voli™
Is your open-sesame
This is one of the most blatant instances of product placement in music that I've ever witnessed, and not just within Pitbull's ouevre.  Declaring that said product is the key to having a good something-or-other?  Why not just insert a full-on commercial spot while you're at it?  And besides, the way he ordered the two preceding lines ruined the rhyme scheme.  It would not be a stretch for him to have swapped the first two lines and rhyme "sesame" with "recipe" instead of "simple".  On second thought, there's still the bloody advert to deal with, so I'd just scrap this bit entierly.

6) "Party Ain't Over" w/ Usher & Afrojack
from Global Warming (2012)
Tell the pope to come see me
I got asses, by the masses
As a secular Christian, I'm familiar with certain jokes which question the right that a bunch of eighty-something-year-old celibate men like, say, the pope and the chief cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, have to control matters of sexuality.  So it is within this mindset that I say: I very much doubt that His Holiness would consider setting aside some time in his globe-trotting schedule to give Mr. Worldwide a visit, based solely on the promise of booty.

5) "Back In Time"
from Men In Black 3 [OST] (2012)
Miami equals
Black mask, black clothes
With a little bit of rope to tie (I flipped it)
I'd apologise for double-dipping from the same song, but I've done so in my last list, and apparently "Back In Time" was so bad that I'm doing it again here.  In fact, I consider this a form of penance on my part.  See, in my original review of "Back In Time", I failed to notice how incongrous these opening lines were.  Apparently Pitbull may have caught his mistake at the last minute, because he then goes on to describe "Black suits, white shirts/Black glasses with a matching tie".  You know, like what the titular men in black actually wear.  But such is the curse of the verbal backspace: it doesn't actually delete the words you meant to delete.  You know, like what a backspace key actually does.

4) "Dukey Love" w/ Trick Daddy & Faboo of D4L
from The Boatlift (2007)

I'm bending the rules for this entry because I'm not referring to a specific line from the given song, but rather a specific word that gets repeated throughout:
Dukey!
Now, I'm familiar with this word being used within a hip-hop context.  For example, in the song "Dazzey Duks" it refers to "Daisy Dukes", another term for hot-pants.  But with the way it's delivered in "Dukey Love", the way it's emphasized, my first instinct is that they are instead using another slang euphemism for, as Pitbull himself said in a different song, "number twooo~!"

3) "Come and Go" w/ Enrique Iglesias
from Planet Pit (2011)
Baby, you the Internet
And I'm looking for a download
Just the fact that he's attempting a pun-based pickup line sets the bar dangerously low right out of the gate, but its actual content lowers the bar to subterranean levels.  First of all, the Internet is a many-faceted behemoth of an entity, so it's entirely within the realm of possibility for his romantic quarry to infer one of its worse interpretations.  But I take further umbrage with the line "I'm looking for a download".  For those unaware, "downloading" involves the receiving of data from a given source, and "uploading" entails the opposite, sending data to a source.  If one were to apply this relationship to the mechanics of sex, wouldn't it make more sense for Mr. Worldwide to ask for an "upload"?

2) "Candyman" w/ Twista
from The Boatlift (2007)
Yes-yes-yes, I'm a freak-freak
that eats-eats [noun] like Jeffrey Dahmer
For the uniniated, Jeffrey Dahmer was a real-life murderer and cannibal active about Wisconsin during the late 1970s and 80s.  You may have heard of him in another pop song of recent memory, namely "Dark Horse" by Katy Perry and Juicy J.  And the reference to a literal cannibal, used in a figurative context, was just as creepy when Juicy J did it last year as when Pitbull did the same seven years ago.  Arguably, the latter case is even more creepy because oral sex is involved.

1) "Shake Senora" w/ T-Pain and Sean Paul
from Planet Pit (2011)
My girl got a big ol' booty
Your girl got a little booty
(repeat ad nauseum)
"Shake Senora" is a song that offers a buffet of verses from Pitbull, Sean Paul, and depending on your version, Ludacris, stitched together by a hook from T-Pain.  And just when you think it's over, the track starts up again and Pitbull starts chanting this little bout of bragging.  Yes, it's not enough that his pet lady is well-endowed in the trunk, he has to take your bird down a peg as well by claiming that hers is anything but(t)!  I guess my problem with these kind of lines is that we don't generally know who these insults are aimed at, and if we are to infer that they are aimed at us, the listeners, it's very possible that what he's claiming about us doesn't have any grounding in fact!  What if my girlfriend has an even bigger waist measurement?  What if I don't even have a girlfriend?  Ever thought of that, Mr. Worldwide?  With that said, allow me to close this segment with a piece of advice: do NOT play this song at your wedding reception, lest you run the risk of offending the bride and adding an unnecessary layer of tension on your honeymoon.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Music Review: All About That Bass vs. Anaconda

"All About That Bass"
  • Artist: Meghan Trainor
  • Album: Title [EP]
  • Genre: Pop
  • Label: Epic
  • Release: 2 June 2014
  • Writers: Kevin Kadish, Meghan Trainor
  • Producer: Kevin Kadish
"Anaconda"
  • Artist: Nicki Minaj
  • Album: The Pinkprint
  • Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap
  • Label: Cash Money
  • Release: 4 August 2014
  • Writers: Nicki Minaj, Jamal Jones, James Strife, Jonathan Solone-Myvett, Ernest Clark, Marcos Palacios, Anthony "Sir Mix-A-Lot" Ray
  • Producers: Polow da Don (Jamal Jones), The Internz (Ernest Clark, Marcos Palacios)

[Video not safe for work - click to view]

The year was 1992, and our collective culture was nothing short of up-ended by the first rapper from Seattle to get a number-one hit.  That rapper was Sir Mix-A-Lot, and that hit was "Baby Got Back".  And with the success of said song, the very definition of beauty changed.  For the first time in recent history, it was considered cool to have a wider waist measurement.  Then again, that paradigm shift was intertwined with an element of female objectification.  Its greater message can best be summed up as, "Ladies, don't feel bad just because you don't fit the traditional, size-0 definition of female beauty.  You, too, can get laid!  Specifically by me."  So perhaps "Baby Got Back" was a little bit janusian (a word I just invented to describe something posessing two or more conflicting qualities, and a word which I expect to use a lot more often on this blog, so take notes) in its approach.  But I like to think it got hit with some bolt of mental lightning, or some other paranormal affair took place, because the spirit of that song has split up into a good and a bad side, and each side has inhabited the souls of two songs released in close proximity over this past summer.



In this corner, we have "All About That Bass", the debut single from the young singer-songwriter Meghan Trainor.  And in this corner, we have "Anaconda", the latest hit from a more established leading lady, rapper Nicki Minaj.  As both songs seem to posess the influence of "Baby Got Back" in some form or another, I saw fit to pit them up against one another.  One of the questions I will be asking is, how do these songs utilise the power bestowed upon them by "Baby Got Back"?  I'll start with "All About That Bass", and I'm happy to state up front that Meghan Trainor chose to take the message of that song, trim out the more sexualised parts, and re-package it for a younger crowd who may have insecurity about their body image.  And just as Sir Mix-A-Lot opened his song with a solid declaration we all know and respect, "All About That Bass" hits close to that mark as well:

I think it's pretty clear
I ain't no size 2
But I can shake it, shake it
Like I'm supposed to do
Meghan Trainor's body is not totally trim.  And yet she is happy, if not for it, then at least despite it.  So tell me, what other points do you wish to bring up?
I've seen those magazines
Them pictures Photoshopped
We know that [noun] ain't real
Come on now, make it stop
Why yes, Sir Mix-A-Lot also made reference to the tendency of popular media to present the skinny body type as what we ought to look like.  And kudos to miss Trainor for updating this accusation, by pointing out that said images are out-and-out faked.  But then again, she also has a tendency to get catty about the other faction:
I'm bringing booty back
Come on and tell them skinny [noun]s that
I wasn't aware that booty left in the first place.  The world has changed since 1992; it's true that the messages that spurred Sir Mix-A-Lot to write his plea for big-booty rights haven't left, but in the intervening time we've been exposed to so many booty jams that we've accepted the alternative just as well.  I suppose that when it comes to starting a revolution, one can't make a proverbial omelet without breaking a few eggs.  Even Sir Mix-A-Lot expressed displeasure with those whom he called "knock-kneed bimbos walking like hoes".  But by striking a blow for one demographic, you end up alienating another.  What about those girls who are underweight and on the verge of anorexia?  How do you think they'd react?
And no, I ain't no stick-figure silicone Barbie doll
So if that's what you're into, then go ahead and move along
But at least this time, she's accounting for taste!  Fellas, if your taste in women precludes her body type, then you have obviously been corrupted by the system -- sorry, I meant to say, at least she recognises your demographic and is willing to give you an out.  Oh, silly me, I haven't discussed the chorus yet.  It's just one repeating line, which goes thusly:
I'm all about that bass
'Bout that bass, no treble
(etc.)
And get this -- during the chorus, the treble track does, indeed, drop out, leaving us with the bass!  Huh, get it?  Meh.  I approve of this song in principle, don't get me wrong, but for some reason it just didn't click with me to the point that I'd want to buy a copy.  Maybe miss Trainor's not dynamic enough of a singer, or her producer not interesting enough of a beat-maker.  Maybe I'm concerned at how she burns as many bridges as she builds.  Maybe it's because of the obesity crisis these days that I wonder how far a song like this might be interpreted by those who could seriously do to lose a few pounds purely for their health's sake.  Or maybe I'm just feeling a little jaded at the moment.  Regardless of whatever my misgivings are, I will support Meghan Trainor in the face of whatever controversies she may -- nay, will encounter as a result of "All About That Bass".  Because you know what the media is like these days.



Meanwhile, in terms of "Anaconda", I can guess the thoughts that crossed the mind of Nicki Minaj (or in actuality, the males controlling her life and image): "You know what's easier than making some positive, revolutionary statement about female sexuality?  Exploiting it!"  Now, "Anaconda" does indeed evoke "Baby Got Back", but in a more direct manner.  Namely, it samples the song's melody for much of the song, albeit with a smattering of random indistinct noise layered atop to ruin the track, as seems to be de rigeur with pop production these days.  And the chorus is just a sample of Sir Mix-A-Lot saying, "My anaconda don't want none if you ain't got buns, hon'".  So if I were to compare the hooks of these two songs, "All About That Bass" would take that category by default, solely by virtue of Meghan Trainor singing it for herself.  (To be fair, there's a second part to the chorus where Nicki speaks a different line from "Baby Got Back".)


So, is there any originality whatsoever withing "Anaconda"?  Of a kind, actually.  Each of the two verses are short stories about different men Nicki, or her character, has had sex with, so at least it's an idea beyond the typical bragadoccio.  For example:
Boy toy named Troy
Used to live in Detroit
Big-time dope dealer
He was getting some coin
Oh boy, placing drug dealers upon a high pedestal.  The more things change in the rap game, the more they stay the same, I see.
This dude named Michael
Used to ride motorcycles
[noun] bigger than a tower
I ain't talking 'bout Eiffel
Hey, wait a minute!  If you're not comparing mister Michael's meat-and-two-veg to something as awe-inspiringly big as the Eiffel Tower, than what, pray tell, are you comparing it to?  Then again, exaggerated metaphors and similies are part and parcel of the rap game, so for all I know, you might want us to have some even bigger tower in mind.  Which there are, mind you.  And besides, having a "disco stick" the exact size and shape as the Eiffel Tower would cause more problems than you'd be led on to believe.

Sorry for digressing, I was supposed to be talking about Nicki's sexual exploits.  With her being the song's protagonist, one would hope to learn a reason for her doing so.  Typically, the act of sex is depicted as being desired by the male more than the female, but with the focus being from the female's point of view, we finally get to learn what she wants out of it.  And that "it" is... getting the male to buy her fancy clothes and/or shoes.
Bought me Alexander McQueen
He was keeping me stylish
[...]
And when we done, I make him buy me Balmain
I'm on some dumb [noun]
You can say that again.  *sigh*  You had a chance to revolutionise this aspect of sexual relations, and you chose to blow it on shallow materialism.  Nicki, I am disappoint.  As am I equally disappointed in how she performs much of the song in her singsongy airheaded "rapping" (Let me put it this way: she plays the part of the mallrat who says, "Oh my God, Becky, look at her butt!" all too well.), as opposed to straight-up singing or her more intense rapping style, which does show up in this song, but too little and too late.  And I am just as equally disappointed, perhaps even more so, in the lack of lyrical content present.  At the end of the second verse -- 1:44 into this 4:28 long song -- there are no more new parts to be found.  Just more repetitions of the bridges and chorus, and an unsettlingly long ad-lib section where Nicki throws about random shout-outs involving her [noun]s, their fat [noun]es, and/or the mother[verb]ing club in which they may be found.

You may think that Nicki Minaj is more qualified to stand up for big butts than Meghan Trainor, as evidenced by the single artwork which I decided to censor.  But she doesn't do anything with her role; instead she seems content to wallow about the female version of the common rap subjects.  Instead, this song may cause more harm than good, because even though a female is calling the shots when it comes to her sex life, in the end it's all about straight-up materialism.  And the music video is even worse in that regard, as virtually every dance move employed by Nicki and her entourage is distressingly dorsum-centric.  Attention everyone involved in the next rap music video: would it kill you to put some focus on a different body part for a change?  Listen, I'm not trying to be some "stop having fun" guy.  Not all songs need to change the course of history, "Anaconda" certainly has a right to exist in this world.  But for a scene in desperate need of an image change, this is just not the kind of song I was hoping for.


"All About That Bass":
Lyrics: 4 out of 5
Music: 4 out of 5
Performance: 4 out of 5
The Call: 4 out of 5 (B)
"Anaconda":
Lyrics: 1 out of 5
Music: 1 out of 5
Performance: 2 out of 5
The Call: 1 out of 5 (F)