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Anime Series Review: Tiger & Bunny

Episodes: 25 (English dubbed version)
Tiger & Bunny Online: IMDB
Genre: Science Fiction, Superhero, Mystery, Conspiracy, Action, Comedy, Drama

In a world where powered heroes known as “NEXT” are sponsored by corporations as part of a crime-fighting and disaster aversion reality television show, aging hero Kotetsu “Wild Tiger” Kubaragi, is partnered with a mysterious young man named Barnaby Brooks Jr., that shares his own power. With new equipment to boot, Wild Tiger must navigate having a partner for the first time in his career, as well as a greater mystery relating to the murder of Barnaby’s parents and the impact that it has on the show.

I first became familiar with Tiger & Bunny back when there was only an English sub available. I found those first few episodes enjoyable, but I was waiting for an English dub version so that I could watch it with my husband. As expected, we both really enjoyed the series. Though it begins with shorter arcs wherein the sponsored NEXT deal with criminals and calamity, we know right from the beginning that Barnaby’s own situation will likely relate to a longer story arc and we see these breadcrumbs leading up to the second half of the series. The show is well-paced throughout.
The characters and world-building put a nice twist to the usual superhero setting. Kotetsu has to manage a relationship with his teenage daughter Kaede, that doesn’t know the real reason why he misses many of the big moments of her life leading into adulthood. He and Barnaby’s baility was somewhat unique as well, a power that enhances their physical attributes for five minutes. This creates its own tension, as the pair need to make creative use of their abilities within the time limit. This is made even more difficult by Kotetsu’s over-zealousness and habitual independence.
We also get a look into the lives of the rest of the sponsored NEXT. Each NEXT has their own important role to play in the longer story arc, but some need a bit more encouragement than others, such as young contracted photobomber Ivan “Origami Cyclone” Kavelin. The young man’s arc goes into some detail about NEXT academy. All of the team are really likable, even the demanding Dragon Kid and broody Blue Rose. It is apparent that the team actually see a need for their powers that go beyond the financial incentives as well, making them genuine heroes. The points system used by the show becomes more of a way to rate and test their own skills than simply about glory or money. Their powers and personalities are distinct as well, such as flirtatious drag queen Fire Emblem. Fire Emblem is probably my favourite character actually. He is smart and confident around others, a strong and loyal, if eccentric, hero. His also tends to have better luck with his powers.
Whilst the end of the series didn’t end in the secret organization being dispatched in full, it did give us enough breadcrumbs to suggest that those associated with the murder of Barny’s parents were dealt with and that the organization will likely be in disarray for some time. This gave a high level of gratification, but it also gives us an indication that the heroes have a genuine threat to deal with.
In conclusion, if you like superhero stories with a conspiracy then you will probably like Tiger & Bunny. The greater story arc also offers a genuine feeling of the scope of the conspiracy that Bunny and the others are dealing with. I would love to see future installments, though I am curious as to how the writers will move the story forward given the events of the previous series. Anyway, go find a copy and watch the crap out of Tiger & Bunny because this show is well worth the time!


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TV Series Review: Scream Queens

Episodes: 26
Scream Queens Online: IMDB
Genre: Comedy, Horror, Camp

When Grace Gardner (Skyler Samuels) arrives at college, she is astonished when a new policy forces the prestigious sorority that her mother used to attend to allow membership to anyone that wishes to join. With new friend ZayDay Williams (Keke Palmer) and a host of other new recruits, the entire members of the sorority is rocked when a newcomer is murdered by way of a ride-on mower during one of the initiation rituals. So begins a rather amusing, campy parody about college serial killer thrillers.

I was somewhat unsure as to how the series would pan out going in, but I decided to give it a run based on the unusual premise. It turned out to be a gem, poking fun at a bunch of cliches. The plot and pacing were both solid as well, but the willingness for the cast to play out the silly scenario allowed the audience to enjoy the silliness and occasional talk of threesomes. It also didn’t hurt to have Jamie Lee Curtis as Cathy Munsch, a role that she knocked out of the park.


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TV Series Review: Silicon Valley Season 2

Episodes: 10
Silicon Valley Online: IMDB
Genre: Comedy, Programming

Following their win TechCrunch at the end of the first season, Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) and his friends at Pied Piper go about the task of promoting their new company but are shell-shocked when Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch) dies whilst on a hunting trip in Africa. Wooed by numerous potential backers, they also have to contend with the ongoing machinations of Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) at Hooli. Things get even more tricky when Belson starts a law suit stating that Richard created and developed the script on Hooli hardware.

This is a great follow-on to the previous season, allowing for character development and forcing the main characters at Pied Piper out of their comfort zones. The crew of neurotics have to contend with the ongoing process of cleaning up messes that are the result of their own social and mental disabilities. They will also need to deal with hiring new staff, negotiate room for working on the project, dealing with a crappy neighbour and sort out hardware problems. Nelson “Big Head” Baghetti (Josh Brenner) is dealing with a boon in lieu of Belson’s obsessive behaviour and attempts at manipulating perception of the masses. This creates its own share of hilarity as we Belson becoming increasingly irrational and reckless. We also learn more about his relationship with Peter Gregory.
This season was an excellent addition to the story as it offered different challenges for the members of Pied Piper. New players, such as their new financial advisor, forced them into situations where they needed to adapt and evolve. Even though some of the changes were minimal at times, it did teach Richard and the others the cut-throat nature of business. This has the notable affect of forcing them out of their comfort zones and to look for potential issues both inside and out of the growing organization. And this is what makes it a compelling addition to the ongoing and amusing story of Pied Piper.


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TV Series Review: Silicon Valley Season 1

Episodes: 8
Silicon Valley Online: IMDB
Genre: Comedy, Programming

Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) is an underappreciated programmer working in the headquarters of one of the biggest tech companies in the world, Hooli. He lives in an incubator with several friends, working on a music search website in his spare time. It is only after he shows some douchebag co-workers the website that folks begin to realize that he is extremely talented and that he has a ridiculous compression algorithm. With numerous companies vying to buy his program and repurpose it, he has to decide whether to keep his baby or take the money.

The series features drug use, swearing, sexual references and other adult themes.

WARNING: Some spoilers…

Silicon Valley is a show focusing on an incubator. An incubator is a residence where programmers work on and further develop their ideas in the hope of making it big. I had heard of incubators from articles previously, and found it a smart way of bringing talented people together. This series discusses what happens when one of those ideas is world-changing, high level compression software.
The household in this case is owned by Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller), a man that made some money selling Aviato. Bachman is a pot-smoking man-whore with a gift for the gab, but is an all-round dick. He’s made numerous deals where he owns a small percentage of the creations that his residents create should the idea be picked up. He also wears a trademark green shirt reading “I Know HTML… How to meet ladies!” which gives you a further idea of his personality. Miller does a really great job of playing this obnoxious yet occasionally brilliant character.
Richard Hendricks is a brilliant programmer with social anxiety. He is a nice guy, but tends to make things worse due to over-reacting to a situation. He is loyal to his friends almost to a fault. He is allowed to stay in Bachmann’s house in exchange for ten percent of Pied Pipper. The nervous genius comes naturally to Middleditch, and I am somewhat interested to getting some idea of his acting range.
Richard’s long-time best friend is Nelson “Big Head” Baghetti (Josh Brenner), an easy-going if naive guy that Bachmann allowed to stay in the house because of a really crappy Nipple Radar app. Yes, it is as crap as it sounds. He also worked in the same company as Richard, but is kicked out when Pied Piper is formed. He does make out like a bandit though, getting lots of money as a scapegoat and insider. This entails sitting on the roof and chilling with other employees used in the same manner. Brenner is adorable in this role.
Bertram Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) is a Satanist security expert living in the household. I forget what his app was, but a good portion of the show revolves around his competitive relationship with Dinesh Chutgi, which mostly involves pranks and sarcastic remarks. He is a Canadian living in the USA illegally because his car broke down at the border, he walked into the USA but never got around to registering for citizenship because of laziness. I took a liking to Starr’s acting in Party Down, and found his role in Silicon Valley to be an evolution of the sarcastic creative.
The last notable member of the household is Dinesh Chutgi (Kumail Nanjiani). Dinesh is the system administration expert from India. He is a lonely guy that is looking for the right girl, something that Gilfoyle periodically takes advantage of. Nanjiani’s role of Pinder Singh in Franklin & Bash is somewhat similar, but still worthy.

Some of the show focuses on the competition between former friends Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) the co-founder of Hooli, and Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch). Both men are insanely rich and are using Pied Piper as a means to get piss with each other. In this case, the neurotic Peter Gregory sees the brilliance of Pied Piper and decides to purchase part of the company in the hopes of developing the algorithm. In contrast, Gavin Belson showed interest in Pied Piper as a way to get back at Peter. Gavin is even willing to play dirty in order to mess with Peter, which creates a certain amount of the conflict in the first season.

Silicon Valley is a bit of a sleeper series and tends towards a bit of a computer-savvy audience that can stomach characters that regularly sabotage themselves. However, it is not the same sort of comedy as the likes of Big Bang Theory which deals more with scientists that don’t smoke weed. Being part creation of Mike Judge, it also has a comic/cartoonish feel to it. It works as well, not taking itself too seriously and allowing each character to dig themselves out of the messes that they’ve made. If this sounds appealing, then be sure to give the series a watch.


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Anime Review: Gantz

Language: English Dub version
Episodes: 26 episodes (2 seasons of 13 episodes each)
Gantz Online: IMDB 
Genre: Action, Psychological, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror

Gantz is a series featuring high level violence, gore, sex, death and adult themes.

When sex-obsessed student Kei Kurono is killed by a train after reluctantly helping an old school friend save a homeless man that had fallen upon the tracks, the two are transported to a room with various people that have also been digitized and reformed moments before their death. A large ball manifests nearby and informs them that they must dispatch a specific alien target within the time frame otherwise they are dead. The stakes are high, and there will be many corpses before the final curtain is drawn. Who will survive?

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

First up, this series is not for kiddies. The bizarre nature of the world and the creatures that the Gantz assigns the participants to fight pose a genuine threat to each participant, though many find out too late the extent of the threat that they are up against. The psychological nature of the Gantz often pits each person up against each other as well, though much of this is an extension of existing selfishness, saying a lot about human nature in the process.
The game has numerous rules. The first one is obviously the need to kill or capture the target before the timer runs out. There is also a game zone, in which people have their heads explode if they walk out of the area before the current game concludes. If the target is dispatched, then the surviving members get to go home until they are called up again.
Equipment is customized for each participant, and if they leave it at home, such as Kurono did in the second battle, then they are in deep shit. Given the limitations of the equipment though, such as limited number of activation during a match, each person does need to pick their moments to use it. The various equipment assigned also requires members to work together.

Kei Kurono is a difficult protagonist to like for the most part. He is out for himself and tends to expect the small and selfish gestures that he offers other people to make the females desire him sexually. That being said, he has a strong sense of self and high survival instinct that go well with his physicality and long-suppressed daredevil tendencies. We do see some character growth during the series, but this is weighed down heavily by the shitty situation that Gantz’s game puts the participants in.
In comparison, Masaru Kato is a lot more admirable, but even Kato has his own issues. Kato cares for others, but is contending with a crappy home-life where his aunt who has taken Kato and his little brother under her roof. She is both mentally and physically abusive. As such, Kato tends to deflect his anger towards his aunt onto the bullies at school. Kato has always admired Kurono, but tends to view Kurono as being more heroic than he is.
The third of the main protagonists is Kei Kishimoto, a girl that attempted to commit suicide. By some odd twist of fate, she also has a double out in the real world as her other body was revived at the hospital. Kei Kishimoto cares about people as well, but tends to be subject to sexual harassment and bullying from other participants. In our first sequence, she is rescued by Kato from an attempted rape by a member of the Yakuza that was in the first batch of participants. We see some character growth for Kishimoto during the series, but she often falls back on old, destructive habits. She is the constant damsel in distress with martyr tendencies.

The series was a difficult one to watch because the content was so confronting. That being said, it did get me to consider character traits across the wide spectrum of humanity. We got to see people attempting to protect others, whilst several latter competitors manipulated and picked other participants for no other reason than they found it enjoyable. It is often only in times of testing that we get to see how well our convictions hold up to scrutiny.
In conclusion, this series is for mature audiences that can deal with difficult subjects and stomach the violence. It also deals with issues of life after death, which some folks might find difficult to deal with due to existing beliefs and worldviews. There is a certain level of dark humour as well, the idea that each participant is connected because of ethical weakness. Note further that some questions about the game will remain unanswered, though this leaves things open for the audience to discuss and/or future installments.


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TV Series Review: Powers Season 1

Powers Online: IMDB, wikipedia 
Genre: Science Fiction, Police Procedural, Crime, Action, Drama

This show features violence, gore, swearing, sex, drug use and other content for mature audiences.

Powers is based on a series originally created for Image Comics and now owned by Marvel through their Icon imprint. Set in a world where super-powered people are part and parcel of most aspects of modern life, the story focuses on Detective Christian Walker (Sharlto Copey), a former superhero known as Diamond that lost his abilities after trying to capture his former mentor turned mass-murderer Wolf (Eddie Izzard). Walker now works in the Powers Division of the LAPD, a poorly funded division that is made up of volunteer police officers that take on superpowered villains. When Walker’s partner is killed whilst trying to put a recently captured criminal in a cell, Walker is assigned rookie partner Deena Pilgrim (Susan Heyward). After the death of a member of his former superhero team, Olympia, Walker comes into contact with wannabe hero Calista Secor (Olesya Rulin) and quickly learns that his former best friend Johnny Royalle (Noah Taylor) that affected the prison break of Wolf is still alive. Events are set in motion that will lead to many dead bodies before the action-packed finale.

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW!!!

To begin with, I never read any of the comics. Although I enjoyed the TV adaptation as a whole, Walker strikes me as one the most annoying protagonists. He is a hypocrite, highly judgmental and spends much of his complaining about being helpless when something bad happens, even willing to do risky things in the hope of getting his powers back. Sharlo Copey does a great job of evoking this shallow character whose own misunderstandings of what is going on creates a reasonable share of the conflict in the show.
In comparison, Johnny Royalle, an expert teleporter, is a lot more sympathetic and less shallow. Royalle is just prone to making poor choices that would have been quite different had he had access to certain information. And when he does recognize that he’s made a mistake, it usually results in him trying to rectify the problem. Of course, he is prone to teleporting heads off of people, but they are usually not great people to begin with. I was taken aback when I learned that Noah Taylor was playing the role, but it was a great change from previous clean cut heroes and supporting characters in the past. His role comes a close second to that of Michelle Forbes.
Deena Pilgrim is an odd character. The daughter of the police commander, she is trying to stand on her own rather than follow in the footsteps of her occasionally corrupt father. She specifically requested Walker as her partner because she believes that he can give her insight into how a person with powers thinks. The banter between the two is actually quite funny. She is quite likable as a character. As my introduction to the acting of Susan Heyward, I am quite impressed with the ease at which she makes this character her own.
As for Calista, well she is a pain in the ass. She has some daddy issues because of her upbringing. She is constantly lying and is obsessed with unlocking her latent powers. Her dance between the various sides makes her a difficult character to like, but I am okay with not liking her. Olesya Rulin does a great job of playing an annoying teenager prone to not considering how her behaviour will affect others.
Wolf was a jaw-dropping, genuinely scary character. His tone was dark throughout, moving between willful destruction and homicidal rage. The flashbacks do a great job of showing the progression from respected philosopher and teacher to mass-murderer that eats his victims. We don’t get to see much of him, but what we do see has significant impact on the cast of characters and the world as a whole. Wolf is violent and raw and bloody, a dark intelligence mixed with the capacity to boost his abilities by feeding on his victims. Eddie Izzard has played villains before, but there is something in this particular role that freaked the crap out of me.
Of all of the characters though, I feel the most empathy for Walker’s old flame and superhero Retro Girl (Michelle Forbes). Retro Girl comes off as a little abrupt and controlling initially, but you quickly learn that she is takes the role of hero seriously and feels deep loss whenever she is unable to save people. We also get to see how vulnerable she is in the moments when she is with Walker, a man that she is deeply concerned for now that he no longer has the means to protect himself. Retro Girl is one of a handful of genuine heroes in the series. Though familiar with some of Michelle Forbes’ previous roles, she steps things up a notch with this one. To be honest, I am skeptical as to how many people could play Retro Girl as well as she does. The character just seems made for her.

The horror aspects later on in the first season took me back a bit and showed just what was at risk if Wolf got loose. That threat brings people together and gives them a chance to be heroes. Some of the characters really get their chance to shine, such as Zora. There is also a cost that is paid in the process, but beating the villain feels that much more significant for those losses. It also offers some personal growth for Walker, though his attitude towards his former best friend remains a point of contention even after Johnny’s intervention to stop Wolf in the finale.

Though the series has numerous flaws, it is a show that I enjoyed a lot and I look forward to each new episode. Throughout, we see how complicated things are and the realization that we often don’t see the full picture. The world is a complicated place to live, and Powers does a great job of giving us a glimpse at the length and breadth of human nature.


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TV Series Review: Battle Creek Season 1

Battle Creek Online: IMDB
Genre: Police Comedy, Crime, Drama

Battle Creek tells the story of the small town of Battle Creek. The police are heavily underfunded, having to police with unreliable equipment and poor training. The story begins with a focus on Detective Russ Agnew (Dean Winters), a man that often has to use unconventional
methods for finding bad guys. He is placed in an odd predicament when FBI Agent Milt Chamberlain (Josh Duhamel) gets based in the same building. Milt, a talented and genuinely agreeable fellow, offers to help the local police with resources clearly lacking, but Russ is suspicious that how Milt is presenting himself might be an effort to hide something. Thus begins numerous cases where Russ also attempts to uncover Milt’s secrets, often bringing other members of his police station into the silliness. These attempts are often funny, but we get the distinct impression whenever he is alone that Milt has some issues that he is dealing with.

I really loved the banter between the skeptical and abrupt Russ and the professional and polite Milt. The casting for the two characters was spot on, with Duhamel and Winters knocking it out of the park. The supporting cast was also fantastic. Each character was unique but it didn’t feel artificially created to me. An example is Detective Niblet (Damon Herriman). Herriman is an Australian actor that has been in a few high rating shows in the past few years, which includes his portrayal of Dewey Crowe in the series Justified. Detective Niblet is a slight deviation from such roles where he usually plays a criminal, with the character being a thoughtful, if at times bumbling police detective. This character and characters such as Fontanelle White (Kal Penn) are products of a workplace where they often have to be creative in their policing because they don’t reliable equipment and decent training. In the case of Fontanelle, he wants guns to deal with violent criminals due to situations such as tasers not working properly. We also see many of the outcomes affected by office assistant Holly Dale (Aubrey Dollar), a non-police officer that is mutually attracted to Russ. She is highly perceptive and shows solid deductive reasoning that had a noticeable impact on several investigations throughout the first season. There are a few other regular characters in the show, but the series is focused on the odd friendship between Russ and Milt.

Battle Creek was a stealth classic. Due to this, many people such as myself, missed out on a genuinely funny, well-written show when it first went to air. The lack of promotion for the show has without a doubt affected its success negatively because a lot of folks missed out on Battle Creek. But I still hold out hope that there will be another season because it was an excellent show and I felt like there was a lot more story to tell about the characters.