Friday, August 27, 2010

Top 10: Best Hit Songs of the 1980s

ToddInTheShadows, over on That Guy With The Glasses, recently posted a list of the top ten worst hit songs of 1987 [link].  On his YouTube channel, he also did lists for the top ten worst [part 1] [part 2] and top eleven best [part 1] [part 2] hit songs of 2009.  The only criteria he has for these lists is that they had to appear on Billboard magazine's year-end top 100 charts.  So I thought I'd take it up to eleven and do a whole decade - that's separate lists for all ten years of the 1980s.  I also did a separate wildcard chart for the songs which didn't make it onto any of the charts but I liked anyway.  The whole thing's gonna run long, so any commentary will have to wait while I just put this out.

10) "Let My Love Open the Door" - Pete Townshend - Empty Glass
09) "Another One Bites The Dust" - Queen - The Game
08) "Call Me" - Blondie - American Gigolo [soundtrack]
07) "Refugee" - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - [...] Yankees
06) "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" - Rupert Holmes - Partners in Crime
05) "Misuderstanding" - Genesis - Duke
04) "Babe" - Styx - Cornerstone
03) "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me" - Billy Joel - Glass Houses
02) "Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)" - Pink Floyd - The Wall
01) "Ride Like The Wind" - Christopher Cross feat. Michael McDonald - Christopher Cross

10) "Lady (You Bring Me Up)" - The Commodores - In the Pocket
09) "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" - Stevie Nicks with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Bella Donna
08) "Just the Two of Us" - Grover Washington, Jr. feat. Bill Withers - Winelight
07) "You Make My Dreams" - Daryl Hall & John Oates - Voices
06) "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" - Pat Benatar - Crimes of Passion
05) "Take it on the Run" - REO Speedwagon - Hi Infidelity
04) "9 to 5" - Dolly Parton - 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs
03) "Whip It" - Devo - Freedom of Choice
02) "Celebration" - Kool & the Gang - Celebrate!
01) "While You See A Chance" - Steve Winwood - Arc of a Diver

10) "Who Can It Be Now?" - Men At Work - Business As Usual
09) "Harden My Heart" - Quarterflash - Quarterflash
08) "Don't You Want Me" - The Human League - Dare
07) "Eye Of The Tiger" - Survivor - Eye Of The Tiger
06) "Working For The Weekend" - Loverboy - Get Lucky
05) "Waiting For A Girl Like You" - Foreigner - 4
04) "Edge Of Seventeen" - Stevie Nicks - Bella Donna
03) "I Keep Forgettin'" - Michael McDonald - If That's What It Takes
02) "Open Arms" - Journey - Escape
01) "Don't Stop Believin'" - Journey - Escape

10) "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)" - Journey - Frontiers
09) "Allentown" - Billy Joel - Nylon Curtain
08) "Every Breath You Take" - The Police - Synchronicity
07) "Rock The Casbah" - The Clash - Combat Rock
06) "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" - Eurhythmics - Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
05) "Beat It" - Michael Jackson - Thriller
04) "Hungry Like The Wolf" - Duran Duran - Rio
03) "1999" - Prince - 1999
02) "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" - Michael Jackson - Thriller
01) "Billie Jean" - Michael Jackson - Thriller

10) "Self Control" - Laura Branigan - Self Control
09) "Jump" - Van Halen - 1984
08) "Somebody's Watching Me" - Rockwell featuring Michael and Jermaine Jackson
07) "Love Is A Battlefield" - Pat Benatar - Live From Earth
06) "99 Luftballons" - Nena - 99 Luftballons
05) "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" - Yes - 90125
04) "What's Love Got To Do With It" - Tina Turner - Private Dancer
03) "That's All" - Genesis - Genesis
02) "Yah Mo B There" - James Ingram & Michael McDonald - It's Your Night
01) "When Doves Cry" - Prince - Purple Rain [soundtrack]

10) "We Don't Need Another Hero" - Tina Turner - Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome [soundtrack]
09) "Part-Time Lover" - Stevie Wonder - In Squared Circle
08) "Money For Nothing" - Dire Straits - Brothers In Arms
07) "Easy Lover" - Philip Bailey & Phil Collins - Chinese Wall
06) "Take On Me" - a-ha - Hunting High And Low
05) "Smooth Operator" - Sade - Diamond Life
04) "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" - Tears For Fears - Songs From The Big Chair
03) "Born In The USA" - Bruce Springsteen - Born In The USA
02) "Shout" - Tears For Fears - Songs From The Big Chair
01) "Careless Whisper" - Wham! featuring George Michael - Make It Big

10) "Mad About You" - Belinda Carlisle - Belinda
09) "I Didn't Mean To Turn You On" - Robert Palmer - Riptide
08) "Addicted to Love" - Robert Palmer - Riptide
07) "Holding Back The Years" - Simply Red - Picture Book
06) "We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off" Jermaine Stewart - Frantic Romantic
05) "If You Leave" - OMD - Pretty In Pink [soundtrack]
04) "The Sweetest Taboo" - Sade - Promise
03) "Live To Tell" - Madonna - True Blue
02) "Papa Don't Preach" - Madonna - True Blue
01) "Broken Wings" - Mr. Mister - Welcome To The Real World

10) "Nothing's Gonna Stop us Now" - Starship - No Protection
09) "In Too Deep" - Genesis - Invisible Touch
08) "Control" - Janet Jackson - Control
07) "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" - Genesis - Invisible Touch
06) "Wanted Dead Or Alive" - Bon Jovi - Slippery When Wet
05) "La Isla Bonita" - Madonna - True Blue
04) "Sign 'O' The Times" - Prince - Sign 'O' The Times
03) I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - U2 - The Joshua Tree
02) "The Way It Is" - Bruce Hornsby and the Range - The Way It Is
01) "Land of Confusion" - Genesis - Invisible Touch

10) "Love Bites" - Def Leppard - Hysteria
09) "Shattered Dreams" - Johnny Hates Jazz - Turn Back the Clock
08) "Is This Love" - Whitesnake - Whitesnake
07) "If It Isn't Love" - New Edition - Heart Break
06) "When It's Love" - Van Halen - OU812
05) "Sweet Child O' Mine" - Guns 'n' Roses - Appetite For Destruction
04) "Father Figure" - George Michael - Faith
03) "Don't Be Cruel" - Bobby Brown - Don't Be Cruel
02) "The Flame" - Cheap Trick - Lap of Luxury
01) "Man In The Mirror" - Michael Jackson - Bad

10) "Right Here Waiting" - Richard Marx - Repeat Offender
09) "Bust A Move" - Young M.C. - Stone Cold Rhymin'
08) "Smooth Criminal" - Michael Jackson - Bad
07) "Two Hearts" - Phil Collins - Buster [soundtrack]
06) "Cherish" - Madonna - Like A Prayer
05) "Cold Hearted - Paula Abdul - Forever Your Girl
04) "Lovesong" - The Cure - Disintegration
03) "My Heart Can't Tell You No" - Rod Stewart - Out Of Order
02) "Express Yourself - Madonna - Like A Prayer
01) "The Living Years" - Mike + The Mechanics - Living Years

10) "Any Way You Want It" - Journey - Departure [1981]
09) "Like the Way I Do" - Melissa Etheridge - Melissa Etheridge [1988]
08) "Rockit" - Herbie Hancock - Future Shock [1983]
07) "Shock the Monkey" - Peter Gabriel - Security [1982]
06) "In Your Eyes" - Peter Gabriel - So [1986]
05) "Send Her My Love" - Journey - Frontiers [1983]
04) "Stay On These Roads" - a-ha - Stay On These Roads [1988]
03) "Beds Are Burning" - Midnight Oil - Diesels and Dust [1987]
02) "True Faith" - New Order - Substance [1987]
01) "In the Air Tonight" - Phil Collins - Face Value [1981]

Friday, August 20, 2010

Anime Review: Legend of the Mystical Ninja

Ganbare Goemon.  If you’re reading this without having it translated, you probably don’t know what it is.  Long story short, it’s a video game franchise that’s been around longer than Metal Gear.  Most of the games revolve around the medieval Japanese exploits of our hero Goemon, decked out in  blue hair, kabuki face paint, and armed with… a pipe.  His friends include the chubby Ebisumaru, girl Yae, and robot Sasuke.  And if you think they’re weird, wait until you see the villains.  A Catholic priestess Ebisumaru lookalike, a parody of Commodore Matthew Perry, you get the idea.

In Japan, the Ganbare Goemon franchise is big – unbelievably big.  Like, don’t be surprised if a Goemon cosplayer shows up at your gym class to promote the next game.  Although it’s cooled off in recent years, this series has got over twenty games and spinoffs to its name – only four of which have crossed the Pacific Ocean.  So, given how huge this thing is, it’s only natural for an animated series of some form to have been produced.  And in 1997, the inevitable came into being.

Anime Ganbare Goemon, as it is officially called, was broadcast on the Japanese network TBS, Tokyo Broadcasting System, from October 1997 to March 1998, for a 23-episode run.  But even though it started just months after one of the games was released – and one of the most popular ones at that – the plot of this show isn’t just a retelling of one of the games.  That would have been too easy.  No, what we get is Goemon jumping into the real world to fight his enemies in an assault on the fourth wall like you’ve never seen!  …At least, it would have been that awesome if I wrote it.

As it is, Goemon and allies… somehow… make the jump from the Game World into the human world and join forces with Tsukasa, this dippy ten-year-old.  (What is it with ten-year-old heroes these days?  All I know is it would make a kick-awesome episode of Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?.)  Together, they must fight the forces of evil who invariably cause chaos to summon a giant monster to attempt to cause even more chaos.  All this is done so that the demon lord Makuamuuge may enter the human world and conquer it for himself.  The only countermeasure they have against these threats is the giant robot Goemon Impact, who in this show must be summoned by Goemon eating a super-powered ohagi (bean cake) and blowing on a conch-shell trumpet.  And in case you're wondering, he only has to do that second step in the games, and then only when the plot lets him.  Here, the whole process eats up thirty seconds or more of valuable screen time each and every episode.  (Except for the one episode where they conveniently forgot to show him eating the ohagi and it wasn't so much as lampshaded...  Good times.)

The game-based characters are interesting enough, if only because that's how they were created for the games, in some cases over a decade earlier.  Goemon, our hammy, card-carrying hero, is just too good at being... good.  Ebisumaru, the Little John to Goemon's Robin Hood, is pretty much only a little more enjoyable than how much you like fat jokes.  Yae, the team's sole female member, is the "straight guy" and looks more awesome than she is.  And Sasuke - not that one, Narutards - is a little robot.  In this incarnation, he is used by his creator, the Wise Ol' Man Monoshiri to take pictures of pretty girls while being none the wiser.  Yeah, he's a perv.  Finally, Omitsu is Goemon's girlfriend/wife (it's never explained; I like to assume the latter), whose jobs are to provide him with the super ohagi and to get jealous over every girl with whom she misinterprets Goemon making a romantic advance towards.  That's about it.

Now onto the villains.  Seppukumaru, who was drawn from the fourth Super Famicom game, dresses in a blue bodysuit that bares his off-model midriff, wears one-ton bracelets (but doesn't do anything else with his super strength), and has a habit of attempting suicide after each of his failed plots.  Tagging along are the four Tsujigiri, these dumpling-like monsters who pretty much have no distinct personalities among them.  They do serve as decent matches to Goemon and company until the fight inevitably shifts to Impact and the monster of the day.  Halfway through the series, lord Makuamuuge swaps him out for Dr. Mudanashi and his android Protein.  Dr. Mudanashi's schtick is that he's obsessed with not wasting anything, least of all time, which almost comes off as amusing.  And protein's outfits and mannerisms not only manage to out-effeminate Seppukumaru, but he has a brief flash of love with Sasuke, a boy robot.  Yes, it's safe to say it: he's literally gay.  But this is soon forgotten in favor of Mudanashi crushing over Tsukasa's mom.

Meanwhile, Tsukasa’s involved in a constant love triangle with two other students in his class: Asuka, a girl, and Noboru, a rich snobby boy.  Noboru tries to use his resources to woo Asuka, but it always backfires, with her turning to the simple advances of Tsukasa.  These B-plots almost never intersect with the main stories, and mainly serve to provide some kind of moral to the viewers.

Now, believe it or not, this show has an all-star cast picked out for the English dub.  Well, as A-list as you can be in the anime dubbing industry, which is kind of like C-list overall.  It turns out that Goemon is voiced by none other than Vic Mignogna.  That’s right: Vic “Who are you calling a bean-sprout midget mon ami” Mignogna.  Also, Tsukasa is voiced by Tiffany “What are you, stupid?” Grant.  Oh how the mighty have fallen.  Vic's performance as Goemon is on the hammy side, with such tics as pronouncing his own name "Goy-mon".  Oy vey.  (Note that Vic did this job before Fullmetal Alchemist, the role that made him famous.)  Then again, the dialogues for both the English and subtitled Japanese have their own annoying habits, too.  In English, for example, the heroes' lines portray them as your average Saturday-morning defenders of justice (e.g. "For all that's good, Goemon Impact!"), whereas the original Japanese dialogue is a different shade of hammy (same scene: "Astonish the world, Goemon Impact!")

Legend of the Mystical Ninja may not do anything especially awful, but that's just it - it doesn't do anything especially at all.  Every episode follows the same structure: the villains start trouble, the heroes find out about it and rush to stop it, the fight evolves into a giant robot stock-footage fest, and once again the day is saved, or something.  Even genre-founders like Super Sentai/Power Rangers would mix it up by not using the Megazords once in a while, for example, but here you get no such luxury.  This show gets boring and forgettable fast.  There is certainly potential in bringing such a huge universe to the realm of anime, but so much of its potential remains utterly untapped.  I wouldn't always advise this, but maybe tying the plot directly to that of one of the video games would have been the smarter course of action.

The Call: 40% (F)

And now for another installment of "Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking".  The theme songs to the games take on the campy route I mentioned earlier, with one of them having been performed by Hironobu Kageyama, whose work includes some of the Japanese theme songs to Dragon Ball Z.  No, they didn't get carried over for this show, either; the intro and ending songs are just boring ol' J-pop.  But there's something in the ending song, "OK! OK!", that strikes me as familiar...  The last few notes in the song sound just like the title screen jingle from Contra!  Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go input the Konami code...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Game Rehab: Sonic the Hedgehog

While you may not be able to tell it by hanging around deviantArt, the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise has fallen on hard times.  Regardless of how well the franchise has been doing sales-wise, and it has been doing quite well, almost every game released since the end of the Sega Dreamcast has been critically panned in some way or another.  Game Informer magazine in particular has been harsh on the series as of late.  They have said that the character Sonic is no more relevant than the bee girl from Blind Melon’s music video “No Rain” (ouch), and in their 2009 April Fool’s Day special, they printed a fake article describing series creator Yuji Naka’s (failed) attempts to kill his own franchise through poor-quality games.

N.B.: I started writing this well before the announcement of Sonic Colors and the Sonic IV episodes.  I honestly have a good feeling about these two games, but then again, with the exception of the Wii version of Colors, they're being developed outside of Sonic Team, by Dimps, who did the only *good* Sonic games of the 2000s, including the Advance and Rush series.

Pretty much every Sonic game since Sonic Adventure has had some misstep, whether in design, playability, or both.  Before we discuss how to fix the franchise, let's look at what went wrong with all those games.

  • Sonic Adventure, 1999: The first truly 3D Sonic game (not counting the awful Sonic R foot-racing game for Saturn), Sonic Adventure re-introduced the character to a new generation of gamers.  I also understand it played rather well, unlike the 2003 remake for Nintendo GameCube and PC. [citation needed]  The one thing I couldn't get over, apart from the occasional collision glitches, was the hub world which you had to go through to get to different levels.  It’s too easy to get lost in them and too hard to know where to go next.  Adventure also introduced several game modes, such as Knuckles' treasure hunts and Big's fishing, that didn't fit in with traditional Sonic gameplay.
  • Sonic Adventure 2, 2001: Starting with Sonic Adventure 2, the Sonic games exhibit a bad habit of taking one step forward and two steps back.  Adventure 2 got rid of the hub world, presenting the levels one after the other in two parallel story lines.  However, these levels alternate among three of the play styles presented in the first Adventure.  Of these, the treasure-hunting stages are more long and boring than before, only now the player is forced to endure them to get to the end of the story.
  • Sonic Heroes, 2003: I’ll be honest with you, Sonic Heroes came close to greatness.  This game used twelve characters in four teams of three.  With each team, you controlled one character with the other two trailing behind, like Tails did way back in Sonic 2.  You could change the leader of your team on the fly, and use his/her/its abilities to get past obstacles.  Like Adventure 2, each team had a linear progression of levels with parallel storylines.  And for the first time in two console generations, they brought back the Special Stages!  While this is also the first time Sonic showed up on the PlayStation 2 and XBox, do yourself a favor and only play the GameCube version.  Otherwise you’ll hate it more than you should.
  • Shadow the Hedgehog, 2005:  For my money, this is where the series jumped the shark (or so I thought).  This game stars not Sonic, but his titular doppelganger Shadow, first introduced in Sonic Adventure 2.  In some dubiously crowning achievements in bad decisions, Shadow uses guns and even drives a motorcycle at some point.  You can alter your path in the story depending on which faction you attack the most, but when everyone’s gunning for you, you don’t have time to care about taking sides.  Of course, the lack of any manual aiming function whatsoever did anything but help manners, either.  Having been tagged for violence and mild language by the American ESRB, it’s a wonder the game managed to avoid its Teen rating.  Thankfully, this idea seems to be an offshoot the producers were wise enough to avoid pursuing further.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog, 2006/2007: I’ll admit it, this is the only game out of this list which I have not played in any form.  The development team claimed this to be a return to the basics1, in honor of the franchise’s 15th anniversary, when in fact they have learned nothing from the mistakes made since Sonic Adventure.  To start off, they went back to using hub worlds like in the first Adventure.  It also has pretty much all the problems of the previous titles on my list, *and* the PlayStation 3 version has some horrendous loading issues.  Kinda defeats the purpose of starring "the fastest thing alive".

Long story short, the Sonic franchise has sunk itself from trying to do too many new things – and not doing any them well enough.  From the racing-platformer gimmick of the Sonic Rivals games to the “werehog” segments in Unleashed, each new game seems to have some sort of gimmick and/or new characters tacked on.  Meanwhile, the core gameplay is left to rot.  Perhaps Sonic is just too fast for three dimensions to handle.

Which brings me to how I would go about fixing the Sonic franchise:
  • First of all, stop trying to add new gameplay gimmicks.  Just do one thing, and do it well.  Namely, the platforming action we know and love.
  • Consider bringing the gameplay back to 2D or 2.5D.  You know, like Sonic Rivals, only without the forced racing gimmick.  Many of the problems with being in 3D stem from the camera.  Sometimes it has a mind of its own, sometimes it can’t keep up with all the speed and gets stuck behind a wall on its way back to Sonic; there are a host of related problems.  If they could make a 3D game that played really, really well, that would be cool, but when in doubt, don’t go for that extra dimension.
  • Don’t go crazy with all the characters.  Personally, I don’t mind playing as someone other than Sonic or Tails all the time, but we don’t need to meet a new critter for every new release.  Who really cares about Jet, Wave, and Storm from Riders?
  • On that note, whatever characters are included, they should be worked in to the main mode of gameplay, and not have their own mode a la Adventure.  In other words, they should play just like Sonic, only with different abilities as necessary.
  • For the love of all that rocks, no more songs with vocals.  The lyrics always end up totally inane and silly.  It’s not even worth getting a better lyricist or translator.  Not that there haven’t been some good songs in the newer games as well, but it’s probably no coincidence that all the great music from the old games was instrumental.
  • The composer for the first few Sonic games was Masato Nakamura, from the J-Pop band Dreams Come True.  The later composers, including Jun Senoue, were okay at best, but Mr. Nakamura knows how to compose a background tune.  Or maybe it was the 16-bit synth instruments that did the trick.  Whatever it was, do that.
  • In the old games, the story may have been mostly the same ­– Dr. Robotnik trying to take over the world by turning animals into a robot army – but we didn’t need a serious story to have fun with Sonic.  If there’s anything the Adventure games did right, it was the story; there were some great, if not memorable story bits in both of those games.  So for future games, do whatever you want with the stories, but remember to tailor them to the gameplay – not the other way around.
  • I may be alone in my thinking, but I say that the 4Kids voice actors from Sonic X and the more recent games were better than those from the Adventure games.  I mean, have you heard Tails in those games?  Sheesh!  So whoever does the voice acting, they had better clean up their, well, act. 

Well, I don't usually like wishful thinking, mostly when it comes to exposing poor logic in movies, but that felt good.  Now, where's that DARN fourth Chaos Emerald...?

1 “With Sonic the Hedgehog, we have gone back to our starting point, more than 15 years ago, to reinvent the attitude and speed that made our hero a legend.”  Thorsen, Tor.  “PS3, 360 Sonic leads wave of Sega announcements”.  GameSpot.  9 Sep 2005.  5 February 2010 <>.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Manga Review: Spy Goddess vol. 1

Spy Goddess #1: The Chase for the Chalice
  • Publisher: Harper Collins / Tokyopop
  • Writer: Michael P. Spradlin / Rachel Manjia Brown
  • Artist: Yifang Ling
  • Release: 2008

Totally Spies! is one of my guilty pleasures.  It's stupid, and can't stand up to real spy fiction plot-wise, but those girls are hot! ^v^  You can expect a review of that show later, but for now, we get... Spy Goddess.  It's got some of the idiocy of TS!, none of the fanservice, and a host of its own problems.

Spy Goddess started out as a series of two novels written by Michael P. Spradlin, the first one released in January 2006.  This is the third book, and they already decided to switch to an OEL manga format.  Kinda jumping the gun there, are you?  The Artemis Fowl and Maximum Ride series had to wait at least twice as long before doing similar, to say nothing of actual street cred.  But Spradlin may not have been involved with this manga.  The script was written by Rachel Manija Brown, who wrote for several small boys' love manga titles, and the art is by Beijing-born Yifang Ling, AKA Rainbow Buddy.  She's gonna need a new alias once I'm through with this.

Our designated heroine is Rachel Buchanan.  In her backstory, she apparently got caught joyriding, and was given a choice of either going to juvenile hall or spy school Blackthorn Academy.  If you're expecting any sort of plot, not only will you be disappointed, but you could guess which one she took.  Oh, and she's a fashion-obsessed girl who sucks at martial arts - well, off and on anyway.  You call that a hero?

The equally unimpressive supporting cast includes:

  • Pilar Jordan.  Is psychic, but not an awesome Psychic like in Sapphire.  What this means is she's prone to certain sixth-sense feelings.  It's an easy talent for the reader to forget about it - but don't, or else her scenes won't make sense.
  • Alex Scott.  A frequently irate black-belt in tae kwon do, but he doesn't do much.
  • Brent Christian.  The gadget guy, usually mute.  Also doesn't do much.
  • Johnathan Kim.  Their boss.  A ninth-degree black-belt, not that he really does anyfighting for himself.  He actually has a good character design, a thirty-something with a thin beard, but said beard inexplicably shrinks throughout the book.  I never thought I'd see growing the beard in reverse. ^_^
The majority of this book takes place in Tokyo, Japan.  The problem with setting a story in a foreign location is the tendency to feel like a travel documentary with a plot attached.  I admit I fell into this trap, to some degree, while writing Sapphire, particularly Episode II which also takes place in Japan.  This can be done well, though, and make the setting that much more immersive.  But if the plot gets ignored, it tends gets overshadowed completely.  Our so-called heroes spend time shopping in Akihabara and Harajuku, eating at an Okonomiyaki restaurant (Okonomiyaki originated in Osaka, but it exists in all the big cities, so never mind), and soaking in a public bath before any of the real action starts.

In Tokyo, our five-man-band is joined by two Japanese investigators, Mrs. Kazumi Sato and Mr. Yoshi Tanaka, who are both blond... despite being of Asian descent.  Now I know about the whole Sailor Moon thing, but this here isn't that fantastical.  Yoshi arrives later, at the Okonomiyaki restaurant.  During the lunch, Rachel and Pilar have a private chat in the bathroom, where Pilar informs that she sensed an evil feeling during the shopping trip with Rachel and Kazumi.  They then proceed to steal Brent and Yoshi's PDAs to check for any incriminating messages.  Presumably on the latter, using the former to do the hacking.  It's never explained why they need the two, but with Brent on their team, I had to make that connection myself.

Now that we got all that out of the way, the plot supposedly involves a chalice stolen from a Tokyo museum of Roman artifacts.  The obvious choice of culprit is Simon Blankenship, the villain from the two novels who is convinced that he is a reincarnation of the evil Roman god Mithras.  And yes, he left a calling card in the form of a gold trinket.  I never got the idea of these calling card things.  The theft of the chalice was caught on security video, perpetrated by his anonymous horned-helmeted goons.  Look carefully and you'll see it's not even a chalice - literally, cup - that was stolen, but the thing is instead a vase.  But worst of all is that the thing is never mentioned again, and only shown in two more panels.  AND THIS THING'S PART OF THE FREAKING TITLE!!!

After leaving the museum, ruining her new outfit by falling in a koi pond, and being treated to a public bath, Rachel gets captured.  Some heroine.  Pilar investigates the room, discovers a couple of clues, and fingers the suspect...  Yoshi Tanaka!  What!?  It's not Kazumi?  Pilar had her sixth sense go off with her nearby, and in the baths, she even tipped off Rachel about the phony hair treatment where she would get abducted!  Okay, so that feeling was about another unnamed enemy spy, and Kazumi probably didn't know about the trap.  Again, I'm making that last part up myself.  But Yoshi is indeed a Mithrian, and manages to run away into the crowd.  But Alex tracks him down, having placed a tracking dot on him.  ...Or not.  The aforementioned Mithrian spy snuck a tracking dot onto Rachel's new trenchcoat, and during lunch we saw it again, still on the trenchcoat, but that's it.  There's nothing in this book even implicitly showing that Alex took the dot off and planted it on Yoshi, or even used a new one on him!!  ...I hope my anger's showing through in my writing, because this plot hole deserves it.

With that hangup out of the way, Rachel is introduced to Simon Blankenship, here a black-haired bishônen decked out in a caped Romanesque costume, complete with bull horns on his helmet... and even the toes of his boots.  Hope you like Rachel calling him out on this fashion faux-pas, because she milks the joke for all it's worth.  He explains his evil plot - sacrificing the goddess Etherea to allow Mithras to return - but we're led to ignore it in favor of Rachel and Yoshi arguing.  Oh, I forgot to mention - Rachel has been imbued with the power of Etherea, a little deus ex machina that comes in handy with her duel with Simon/Mithras.  And by the way, the two fight scenes in this manga are rather poor as well.  The poses chosen focus more on the reaction than the action, and fail to flow well together as a result.  You'll often wonder how one move led to another, or if it did so at all.

Meanwhile, the other five heroes reach the base to rescue Rachel.  At one point, they are faced with an entrance which Brent indicates, through the power of his magic PDA, is booby trapped.  A seriously funny little scene ensues in which he imagines what would happen if one of the invisible lasers were to be tripped, completely overkilling Alex as a demonstration.  Alex is not amused.  Pilar dives through a gap in the lasers, attempts to disable them using a voice command which she just happened to make up on the spot, and as luck and her psychic feelings have it, it works.  ...That's kind of a bit to buy, book, and I'm already broke.  But it turns out there's one more trapped door left, which Alex senselessly triggers in order to reach Rachel.  The trap here is... some kind of blade...  The only indication we get is a panel of some slicing wind, and another of drops of blood on a white background.  I can understand if they were trying to hide some of the violence, but like I said, I'm broke.

The team follows to find Simon/Mithras knocked into the wall by Rachel/Etherea... the duel over after just one blow.  So once again the day is saved, or something.  Kazumi proceeds to arrest Yoshi, and oh, look! Alex's arm was cut up after all!  On the flight home, one final text message comes in: "Simon Blankenship has escaped."  Oh, right, because they want to make a sequel.  ...*sigh*...  This is the *worst* manga I have ever read.  Almost all of its problems, be they the lack of explanation, poor character and plot development, or choppy fight scenes, can be traced to the fact that this book feels short.  The target size for a tankôbon manga volume is 180-200 pages, but this clocks in at 163.  Oh, and it's a one-shot; a full-length story crammed into these six tiny chapters.  With something this bad, you wouldn't think I'd be asking for more, but expanding on this would make it at least readable.  Everything else, such as Rachel being a poor excuse for a heroine, is of course a problem of the source material itself, so there's no helping that.

Artwork: 2 vases out of 5
Plot: 1 vase out of 5
Characters: 1 vase out of 5
The Call: 25% (F)

And now for a segment that I and TVTropes like to call "Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking", where after listing all these serious criticisms, I go after something trivial.  At one point early on, Kazumi joins our heroes by some vending machines.  Vending machines are everywhere in Japan; I can attest to that first-hand.  But one of the machines here sells iPods, which leads Brent to deem Japan the greatest country in the world.  Never mind that the iPod, unlike many electronic devices, is an American invention, or that it's capitalized incorrectly (Ipod) in the book.  I'm just not comfortable with this level of product placement, even if it is unsponsored.  I'm not sure that we're at the point where iPod is a generic name for this kind of thing, like what things like Xerox, Photoshop, and Google have become.  Besides, keeping things that expensive in a vending machine is just stupid.  In stores, they have to keep these things behind the counter!  Oh, and speaking of product placement, this book name-drops various anime titles - Naruto, Fruits Basket, and Full Metal Panic, plus a cameo of some Doraemon and Sailor Moon toys - but they have to make up a video game series, Neon Apocalypse Engine.  I assume they were riffing of of Evangelion, but this kind of dichotomy is just weird.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Music Review: Hey, Soul Sister

The band Train is not what I'd call a household name, but I totally hate their biggest hit, 2001's "Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)".  I don't want to get into why I just can't listen to it anymore, but anything that makes me visualize the Muppets in a poorly animated chorus line can't be good.  The rest of their stuff's been hit-or-miss, so how does their newest single, "Hey, Soul Sister" fall?

The music seems to be ukelele-based.  Doesn't that remind you of some other song?  It should: "I'm Yours" by Jasom Mraz.  Except this one has a little more kick to it, so that's good.  Pat Monahan's vocals in the opening "hey"s are pretty high-pitched; even more so in the chorus when we get to it.  But before we do that, let's dive into the first verse:
Your lipstick stains on the front lobe of my left side brains
Oookaaay, that's freaky enough to give Lil' Wayne pause.  Nothing else too remarkable until we get to the chorus, which kicks off with...
Hey soul sister, ain't that Mr. Mister on the radio, stereo
...Alright, some of my readers might not know what this Mr. Mister is, apart from redundant.  Well, it turns out that Mr. Mister is a real band that had a few hit songs around 1985, such as "Kyrie" and "Broken Wings".  That first one, by the way, did the impossible and managed make the Greek phrase meaning "Lord have mercy" work as the basis for a pop song.  Only in the 80s...  Speaking of which, as we come to the second verse...
A game show love connection we can't deny
...Seems like we have an 80s theme for the second verse.  And FYI, for my money Love Connection is *not* a real game show.  It has no business being on GSN, they only put it on their programming because of its host Chuck Woolery.
I believe in you like a virgin you're Madonna
And lo!  An 80s reference the rest of us actually get!
Watching you's the only drug I need

Somebody give Lindsay Lohan a brain transplant with this guy.
You're so gangster I'm so thug
Woah.  You haven't even been *trying* to act black up until now, for the last 11 years of your career either, so don't start now!
Come to think of it, "soul sister" sounds pretty ghetto too.  And combined with the mellow music it's all set to, the lyrics come off as jarring.  But that music is good enough to make up for its shortcomings... for now.  I could probably stand to listen to it a few more times before it suffers the fate of... that other Train song.

The Call:
2 out of 5 (D)

P.S.: The music video, on the other hand, is really cool.  I don't want to spoil the gimmick it uses, but I'll just say that it had to be a beast to clean up.