Video Gaming in Saudi Arabia

Six weeks ago, my wife, children and I left the UK to live and work in Saudi Arabia. We were excited to leave but I was a bit concerned due to the fact that I thought that by going to Saudi Arabia I might have to put a lot of my pop-culture hobbies and interests behind me. Yes, it’s a first world problem for sure but from what I had heard and been led to believe, the availability of pop culture paraphernalia and video games was limited and, as an avid gamer, this could pose a huge problem for me.

Gaming is a huge part of who I am. I first discovered it when I was 6 and lived opposite a video rental store in East Ham, East London. The shop had a few arcade machines including the sit-down cocktail Pacman table, Space Invaders and some other ones which I can't remember. I fell in love with the colours, lights and sounds and blame it for getting me run-over when I was rushing with my pocket money across a busy street. Luckily, I only had a graze on my head and lived to tell the tale and play games.

I asked my parents for a computer but money was always tight so I had to content myself with playing my friends' computers. They had a ZX Spectrum and Spectrum +2 and the games wowed me but when my best friend got an NES for his 10th birthday my whole world changed- Nintendo was in my blood now. Together we would play our way through Double Dragon, Mario 1 and 3, Zelda, Micro Machines and many more. At the time I was playing my best friends NES, my parents bought an Amstrad CPC 464 with a green monochrome screen for my birthday. I loved the aged Amstrad machine, particularly enjoying Rainbow Islands, Bubble Bobble, the Dizzy games and Target Renegade, but wanted an upgrade and so worked hard on my car-washing round to purchase a Master System (as the NES was still very expensive). The Master System was a good machine but the NES was much better in terms of its gaming catalogue and so I still played it much more around my best friend’s house.

When the Megadrive came into the picture with Sonic, my friend got that for Christmas and again I played through many of the best games with him, including Streets of Rage 1 and 2, Aladdin and Street Fighter 2. These were the times of the console wars and you were either Sega or Nintendo but never both. I was definitely Sega but this changed when another friend of mine gave me his beat up old Gameboy. It was scratched up real bad and had no back for the battery casing but that didn't matter, I loved it! So between my fix of the Megadrive and Gameboy I was all set. Later on I would swap my Master System and library of games to get a second-hand Megadrive (I had to sell the shirt off my back to Rodney’s Books and Games for that!)

Rodney’s Books and Games was a staple of my weekend.

Rodney’s Books and Games was a staple of my weekend.

I missed out on the SNES as none of my close friends had it but I came back to it once the new console generation began. This was when Nintendo would become my gaming constant. I got the N64 second-hand and completed Zelda: The Ocarina of Time and Goldeneye. The N64 was awesome at the time but, due to the huge gaps between games, I also purchased a second-hand Playstation and loved that too- completing amongst others Final Fantasy 7, Syphon Filter and Parasite Eve II.

When the Gamecube came out in 2002 I bought it on the day of release with my brother, giddy from the money from my weekend jobs at Peacocks Clothing, a clothing chain, and a youth centre. It was the first ever console that I bought brand new and so it has a special place in my heart. Even though it had quite a small library it did have some of my favourite games ever including Zelda: Windwaker, Metroid Prime, Beyond Good and Evil and Resident Evil 4 (an exclusive at the time). As the consoles library dried up I purchased a second-hand Playstation 2 specifically to play Ico. The game had me intrigued and so I brought a shrink wrapped copy of that game and the console one Saturday after work at the youth centre and devoured the game in a few days. Of course I played loads of other PS2 games but Ico was my ‘in’, a strange ‘in’ to be sure.

I then bought the Xbox 360 in 2007 and loved that system; it's online service was amazing and I played some phenomenal games including Bioshock, Assassins Creed 2, Gears of War, Red Dead Redemption and Deadly Premonition. However I noticed something; all those achievements and the quest for useless XP points was getting in the way of the games for me. The simplicity of the games were being diluted with fetch-quests and the search for random doodads, a lot of the games coming out had no respect for my time and I started to dislike them for this; why did I need a 3 hour tutorial on how to move my character around a screen?

When the Wii was released, I was one of the lucky few who had pre-ordered from Game and got it on the day of release. The system was a revelation and yes I am one of those people who have the story of 'my parents never played any computer system but they did play Wii Sports.' The image of my dad playing tennis with my older brother by waggling the Wii-mote around is a happy memory for me and not at all as sinister or sordid as it sounds. The Wii had some amazing games including Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Muramasa: The Demon Sword, Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 and Donkey Kong Country Returns but, as usual, the games dried up and the shovel-ware came in.

When we moved to South Woodford, my man-cave was pretty awesome!

When we moved to South Woodford, my man-cave was pretty awesome!

When my wife and I moved to Cambodia to teach for 2 years, she bought me a cracked Wii and I had over 200 games on it. She went away for a girlie weekend and found me in a catatonic state, sleep-deprived and I'm sure a bit smelly as I am a completist and had stayed up pretty much the whole weekend playing loads of the games worrying about how I would complete them all. That is obviously not a good state to be in and so I decided to relax about games and not get caught up in the whole 'complete everything' spiral. I went back to the Xbox 360 but was very picky in what I played as so many were very padded experiences; I started critical pathing some of the games which made them still very worthwhile in my opinion. I also only played the Wii games I was interested in and completed pretty much all the ones I had wanted.

I then bought a Wii U and even though it has been a commercial failure, it has had some phenomenal games; Bayonetta 2, Super Mario 3D World, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (which incidentally has one of the greatest soundtracks ever) and Rayman Legends. I even found myself more relaxed about my gaming habits and, again, only played the games that interested me and respected my time.

That brings us up to the present. My gaming life has been impacted over the years by the introduction of children into my life, but my interest in video games has not wavered. When coming to Saudi Arabia, I brought along my Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4. I play Nintendo games for the unique and refined experiences they provide. I've found that even though I have more responsibility in terms of finances and family, Nintendo has been a constant. It offers me hours of comfort and, pound or pound, has given me more joy than any other medium. I often get people asking me when I have the time to play games and the funny thing is that even though I don't have the time I used to have when I was in my adolescence or teens, I do have a spare couple of hours most evenings.

Most of my old gaming systems are in storage now.

Most of my old gaming systems are in storage now.

My daughters go to sleep at 7-ish most nights and my wife is close behind at 9:00, being a lark whilst I am most definitely an owl. This means I get a couple of hours gaming in most nights and over the past month I’ve spent the lion’s share of my gaming time on Skyrim, a game I’ve bought twice before (on the Xbox 360 and PS4) but never actually got around to playing before.

After a busy day at my school, we often go to the swimming pool for a bit, my daughters have dinner and a bath and then it’s bedtime for them. My wife and I have dinner and then we do a couple of hours school work (yup, I do school work at home most evenings now- my school has a heavy emphasis on planning.) I take a brain break (and body break from the heat) with a journey into Skyrim, a Norse-mythology inspired land full of tundra, lush woodlands and clear waters. Bethesda’s Skyrim has been available on most systems over the past few years and is not a Nintendo property but only with the portability and freedom of the Nintendo Switch have I actually got around to playing it. Okay, it’s not perfect and some quality of life patches which modders have created for the PC version aren’t available, but the fact that I can lay on my couch, legs in the air and headphones on and immerse myself in the world of dragons, vampires and mages has drawn me in. I have the PS4 with God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, Spiderman and a few other titles stored but it’s been all about Skyrim for me!

This is not to say that other video games are hard to find here in Saudi Arabia. Having been here for several weeks now, I can state that video games are definitely available and haven’t been restricted, at least from what I can see. I went to the Sony Store in a shopping centre and saw God of War heavily promoted with cracking GOW omega logo t-shirt; this was not what I had expected in a land apparently not big on visual entertainment and technology. So it seems that video games are here to stay for me and I look forward to many more years of uninterrupted gaming!

LINK- An English Geek in Saudi Arabia

LINK: Japan: My Journey to the East

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: And So It Ends

LINK- The Moomins 80's Soundtrack Vinyl Review

LINK- The Mysterious Cities of Gold Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Akira Soundtrack Vinyl Review

LINK- Manga Exhibition at the British Museum

Bot Or Not

Alan Turing, the mathematical enigma code breaking genius, has been announced as the new face of the 50 pound note. This is a monumental moment for the great man who, even after achieving so much and saving millions of lives through his breakthroughs died an ignominious death… just because of his sexual preference. I have been reading up on the great man and, following my trip to the AI: More Than Human Exhibition at the Barbican, learned a little more about the Turing Test. Simply put, it asserts that if an artificial intelligence can persuade 30% of the people it was interacting with that it was a human, through the responses it gave, then the artificial intelligence passes the test. Now for some people this all sounds scary and conjures up images of the Terminator, Skynet, Ed-209 and many other dystopian images. The reason that we find the concept of robot developing AI are both practical (they could start to kill us) to the more philosophical, as we have the concept of the muse, spirit or soul in the West, which came from Greece. However, in Japan the Shinto belief that ‘kami’ or spirits exist everything in the world; rocks, plants, furniture, and even computers means they are more accepting of AI.

AI puts the fear of gosh into most of us.

AI puts the fear of gosh into most of us.

This is all heady stuff, but for a lighter side check out Bot Or Not, a website that presents different poems and asks you to decide whether it was created by a human or an AI. I did the Digital Writers’ Test, which presents 10 poems and asks you to guess if it is a bot or not. I was shocked when I only correctly guessed 4 out of 10!it can be challenging. Check it out and post your score.

I consider myself quite quick off the mark but apparently…. I’m not!

I consider myself quite quick off the mark but apparently…. I’m not!

An English Geek in Saudi Arabia

Precisely a month ago today, my wife, children and I left the UK. When deciding to move abroad and work away for a few years, I was excited to leave but something was holding me back. Yes, family and friends, but I knew we'd still be in touch regularly through various means (all being well) but something else... it was my large comic book collection. Yes, I know it sounds incredibly materialistic but I'll explain.

Whilst clearing through our belongings and deciding what to put into storage, I decided to sell most of my 300+ DVDs and 200+ CDs to CEX for a pittance. I thought I'd miss parting with my collections because I'd built it over many years and I’d always reasoned I'd need them in case streaming services or the internet went kaput. However, thinking through this process I realised that in a Mad Max-style dystopian world people would have more pressing concerns than getting a CD of Jean Michel Jarre's Oxygene or a VHS copy of Hello Dolly, and yes that was a timely reference to Wall-E.

However, with my comics I felt differently... I couldn't bare to part with them. For me it wasn't even an option. I started comic collecting when I was about 7 years old and my first loves were Tintin, Iron Man, Spiderman and Zoe Ball. The affection I have for my comics collection isn't just based on the rather large financial commitment required over the years but more to the memories and nostalgia I have attached with them. I still vividly remember lying in bed listening to Interpol's Antics whilst reading Maus in 2005, or lying in bed reading Craig Thompson's Blankets whilst listening to Bjork's Vespertine. A lot of my memories involve me lying in bed and listening to music, especially when it comes to comics and graphic novels. The music I listened to and certain comics I read are forever intertwined in me as they were often formative.

At the time of leaving England, I had built up a mighty and eclectic collection of over 500 graphic novels and many comics too. I had signed ones by Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Swamp Thing, League of Extraordinary Gentleman) , Jeff Smith (Bone), Erica Henderson (The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl), Becky Cloonan (Demo, Chance or Providence) and many more. This may not sound impressive and compared to many collectors out there, it isn't, but what I loved most was meeting each and every one of the artists or writers I had sign my graphic novels. This was more important than the signed comic itself, the chance to have a quick chat and tell my heroes what I thought about them and their work. I remember this one time, whilst browsing the basement area of Orbital Comics in its original location opposite the British Museum, I saw Alan Moore signing his works quietly. There was no queue or gaggle of fans, just Mr Moore, two of my friends and I. Trying to be nonchalant, I walked up to him and spoke of my admiration of his work. I walked away feeling like a boss, feeling like I’d spoken with eloquence and gravitas until my friends informed me I had sounded like a pre-pubescent teen and had been shaking all the time I had been talking to him. Nope, this was not my finest moment but one I will treasure forever because… comics!

I thought that by going to Saudi Arabia I might have to put a lot of this behind me as comics and the availability of pop culture paraphernalia was limited, at least from what I had heard and been led to believe. I know that you can get comics on tablets, phones etc but in the same way I put up with reading books on my Kindle for convenience sake rather than a love of the format, I knew I would miss the tactile nature of holding a comic, smelling the print and all that other stuff old duffers like me often say. Comic shopping is quite a social thing, although for many newbies going into comic shops it may not seem so… but, once you break through the knowledge-bomb dropping bravado, comic nerds are alright and just want to talk about their hobby.

However, having been here only a month so far, I have been excited to learn that Saudi Arabia does actually have a quite vibrant fandom scene. Okay, it’s not London level fandom but it is growing. In the past few weeks I have been to various game sessions and many more game-meets have been planned for the future. Also, I learnt from a colleague that the local hypermarket was running a models and maquette meetup. Fellow model enthusiasts brought along their elaborate models and dioramas to share with an appreciative audience, which included video game, anime and comic fans. Also, whilst shopping at the local shopping centre I came across Toca Boca clothes (they make cool educational apps) and Cuphead figures!

I have also been incredibly surprised and pleased to learn that the school I work at now houses a very impressive graphic novel collection in its library. Granted, the more controversial and adult-themed comics aren't there, it is a school after all, but what is there is mightily impressive and has pleased this old comic fans heart.

Ms. Marvel TV Series Announced

So, it has just been announced that Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, will be getting a TV series which will air of Disney’s streaming platform. This is huge news and not just because I’m a HUGE Kamala fan but because I believe that this is just what the world needs right now.

Ms. Marvel TV Series

Ms. Marvel received a lot of hype due to her status as the first Muslim character to headline a Marvel series, but several year on and the comics series has become one of the industry’s best selling titles because it is an intelligently written superhero comic with wit and pathos.

Superhero stories featuring teenage characters are notoriously difficult to write for, but to create a monthly comic with a teenage girl of faith is something nearly unheard of in mainstream comics. The fact that the religion in focus is Islam is an interesting dynamic. Islam plays a major role in the life of Kamala as it forms a major part of her narrative, it greatly influences her behavior and decision-making, adding tension to her life that doesn’t come from the more traditional sources like romantic interests or the masked supervillain. In a medium which has been pretty hegemonic in portraying powerful white heroes until quite recently, the wave of real world representations in comics is exciting.

In the first comic of Ms. Marvel, when Kamala first meets Captain AmericaIron Man and Captain Marvel she is surprised to hear them speak Urdu, to which Captain Marvel replies,

A beautiful moment from Ms. Marvel #1

A beautiful moment from Ms. Marvel #1

"We are faith. We speak all languages of beauty and hardship."

This is a real nice touch that speaks to the universal humanity in us all, the underrepresented now being represented in a medium supported by the diverse community invested in these characters.

As a longtime comic book fan (I first started collecting when I was 7, Iron Man and Spiderman were my first loves) the fact that the main protagonist, Kamala is a child of immigrant parents from Pakistan, Muslim and a millennial changes the hitherto well tilled soil of fertile comic tropes. I have loved comics for years and certain aspects I could identify with, Peter Parker being picked on by Flash Thompson in High School, the various aspects of loss in the Death of Superman and striving to achieve against all odds, which is a common comic book trope but with Ms. Marvel it's different. I can identify with her, even though I'm not a millennial teenage girl I am a Muslim comic book geek who enjoys pop culture. I remember what it was like as a young teen trying to find my way through school and life where balancing my home life and religious beliefs and practices with those of my mostly white Christian friends was difficult. I wanted to go to parties, go out clubbing and have relationships. Other comics have covered these aspects but the fact that the struggle Kamala has in balancing her home and life outside rings true for me.

A moment that touched me occurs in issue 6, Kamala seeks guidance from Sheikh Abdullah, an Imam. Fearing she will be told off for not following her parents will she is surprised to be told,

"... do it with the qualities befitting an upright young woman: Courage, strength, honesty, compassion, and self-respect.”

Ms. Marvel © Marvel

Ms. Marvel © Marvel

This message is one of positivity, which against the current media obsession with violence done in Islam’s name is interesting and challenging.

Another scene in the graphic novel 'Mecca' has Kamala's brother, Aamir, placed in detention after being accused of not conforming to 'societal norms'. It's a powerful scene as he explains how, just because he is brown and wears traditional dress, he isn't to blame for all the ills in the world but because he stands out, it’s easy to target people like him. This storyline was in direct response to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency's policy of separating children form their parents at the border, an extremely controversial policy.

The fact that a comic character speaks truth against power, something I'd normally have to go to indie comics to find, is amazing. Add to this that this topic has been broached by the biggest comic company and in one of the most popular comic series in the world is heartening; there is a sea change in the representation of BAME people and that has been long overdue.

Art is of its time but it can have a long-lasting cultural and societal impact on the world. By encouraging a sense of community and a forum for discussion change can occur, and comics are an excellent medium for showing or even introducing that change. The fact that it is now going to be made more commercial and public through a television serial has me excited.

I feel a connection to Ms. Marvel in the same way that Miles Morales speaks for another, often underrepresented or unfairly represented demographic. Ms. Marvel speak to me and many others in a profoundly deep way and that is why there is such a buzz about the upcoming series.

LINK: Japan: My Journey to the East

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: And So It Ends

LINK- The Moomins 80's Soundtrack Vinyl Review

LINK- Inspector Gadget Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Ulysses 31 Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- The Mysterious Cities of Gold Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Sonic Mania Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack

LINK- Thomas Was Alone Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack Review

LINK- Akira Soundtrack Vinyl Review

Carmen Sandiego- Complete Season 1 Review

Carmen Sandiego is the latest rebooted animated series on Netflix which is based on an older property, in this case many edutainment video games and multiple prior animated series.

The Carmen Sandiego story is pretty simple; she is a master criminal who steals treasures from around the world. However, this series is a bit different from what has gone before in that this is a younger Carmen who has a new and exciting origin story that changes the context of her modus operandi. Carmen was abandoned as a baby in Argentina and was raised by the criminal masterminds at VILE (Villians International League of Evil) Academy in the Canaries. However, as she grew older Carmen realised that her surrogate parents were taking the riches of the world for themselves and thus depriving the world of culture and heritage. She philosophises, “I realised stealing isn't a game. It does harm people, especially when you're willing to steal lives," and so she decides to embark on many international heists, where she tries to retrieve and return the treasures that have been plundered by her former guardians.

The first two episodes are great at building the character of Carmen but after that the show turns into a caper of the week serial but with a light continuity that builds on the mystery of her parentage.

The show itself is beautifully animated with a stylish noir art style, reminiscent of Batman: The Animated Series or Samurai Jack.. At times, the film-noire tropes come into play as shadows and odd angles are key to the animation style.

There are many highlights from the show but one standout moment is the filmic almost balletic sequence in the Sydney Opera House, as Carmen battles a VILE operative in the rigging above the stage whilst Bizet's opera, Carmen, is performed below. The cinematography is stunning and elegantly done. Another thrilling moment involves a high speed super car chash through the streets of San Francisco, recalling that Steve McQueen classic, Bullitt.

The voice acting is good overall with lead voice actor, Gina Rodriguez, growing into the role and becoming more natural as the series progresses. Finn Wolfhard of Stanger Things plays Carmen's able remote assistant Player and plays his role well, however the two siblings, Zack and Ivy, from Boston over-egg the pudding and come across quite cheesy, almost Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins bad. However, this is a small blip in the over high quality voice acting.

Overall, Carmen Sandiego is a fun kids show with a smattering of educational facts thrown in for good measure. If you're looking for a way to teach your kids history, art and geography in a fun and non-edutainment way, then Netflix's Carmen Sandiego is the way to go.

LINK- Disenchantment- Complete Series 1 Review

LINK- Gravity Falls Complete Series Review

LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Complete Series 1 Review

LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Series 2 Review

LINK- Ms Marvel Can Change the World

LINK- Gravity Falls Complete Series Review

The Hollow- Complete Season 1 Review

The Hollow is a 10-part animated show with an intriguing central mystery. We are introduced to three teenagers, Adam, Kai and Mira, who wake up in a cell with amnesia. They work together to escape and figure out who they are, where they are and how to get back home.

The three main protagonists have a great dynamic; Adam is a strong leader with super strength, Kai can fix machines and Mira can talk to animals. With their abilities they try to survive in the harsh and mysterious worlds they seem to be inexplicably pushed around in, and as they do so they find the other powers they have.
The premise is très J. J. Abrams, but what separates this from ‘Lost’, apart from it sticking the landing--which is does, is that it does things I haven't seen other animated shows too. It is quite unique in the way it pushes animation boundaries. Once you're a few episodes in an overriding mythology comes through and so, predicting the ending may be possible but the finale is very original and a bit left field.

In terms of animation, there is an issue for me here. Whist I love the story and characterisation, the animation style left me a little cold. I like and character designs and world building but the Flash animation-style cycles look very dated. This is a shame as even shows with a poor animation legacy like Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated have remained true to their origins but updated it so it looked incredible in 2011, whilst this looks... like 1960s Hanna-Barbara, or gosh forbid, Filmation quality animation. But dodgy animation aside, the show is well worth a watch as the mystery will keep you guessing to the end. In fact, without spoiling the ending, the show could continue with different animation styles as the story lends itself to this quite easily. I look forward to seeing where the creators take this show next.

LINK- Disenchantment- Complete Series 1 Review

LINK- Gravity Falls Complete Series Review

LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Complete Series 1 Review

LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Complete Series 2 Review

LINK- Manga Exhibition at the British Museum

LINK: Japan: My Journey to the East

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: And So It Ends

LINK- The Moomins 80's Soundtrack Vinyl Review

LINK- The Mysterious Cities of Gold Retro Soundtrack Review

Enter the Anime- Review

Enter the Anime is an hour long documentary about the Japanese animation industry and the various counter-cultures it has spawned in the well-ordered and often rigidly structured country. What made this documentary an intriguing prospect was that the trailer stated that it would be presented by a self-proclaimed novice to the field, Director Alex Burunova. So, intrigued by the trailer I dived right in... but was it worth it?

Over the course of an hour, we journey with Burunova as she tries to discover the 'soul of anime' by talking with some of its key creators and people influenced by it. The entire documentary is shot in a kinetic style to suit who she is talking to and, at moments, is quite beautiful to look at but there is a major problem... the documentary only covers the anime on Netflix rather than the medium as a whole. The fact that most of the anime presented and discussed has only been released within the last 3 or so years means that, for an art form that spans over 70 years, the scope is somewhat limited.

With these limitations, we discover the following:

Adi Shankar, writer of the excellent Netflix Castlevania anime, was influenced by early 80s OVA's, which helped to inform the look of the Castlevania show, which is produced in the West but in the anime style.

The Director of Aggretsuko, Rarecho, believes that anime is art taken to its limits and that's why it has niches, sub-cultures and sub-cultures within subcultures. When there is the mundane people seek the unusual and different.

The 'three edgiest outlaws', Tetsuya Kinoshita, Yuji Higa (Producers of Kengan Ashura) and Seiji Kishi (Director of Kengan Ashura) discuss their love of hand crafted anime using CG and the time they met Arnold Schwarzenegger at the original Gold's Gym. They talk about using real martial artists to create the fight sequence and then the animators slow it down to animate the sequence.

Studio Toei Chairman Kozo Morishita tells us that as one of the longest running and well known anime houses, much of its catalogue is classic childhood fare, much like Disney is for many people here in the West. It has handled such properties as Dragonball Z, Slam Dunk and Saint Seiya. Morishita rather honestly states that Toei was created to raise the spirits of children after the loss of World War II.

This is all hardly groundbreaking stuff. The fact that the relationship between manga and anime isn't even looked at is a huge oversight in my opinion. The two art forms feed each other and are so intertwined, so to exclude one is to the detriment of the other.

Burunova also (briefly and only through one artist) explores the anime music scene and shows how the two are linked by chatting to Yoko Takahashi, singer of Evangelion's 'A Cruel Angel' s Thesis.' Takahashi makes an appearance and talks about her experience of Evangelion and the ardent fan base.

Kawaii (cute) culture is looked at and Rilakumma makes a giant headed appearance to discuss Japan's obsession with kawaii culture as a measure against 1960s stuffiness. In a similar way, Director Rarecho believes that Aggretsuko is a expression of female frustration in the workplace and sees the character as one of empowerment and a voice for many women in the workplace, which seems prescient in the time before #MeToo became a thing.

The rise of CG anime and the processes of its painstaking creation are discussed, but the general feeling is it makes the cost of the series more manageable and affordable in this online streaming world.

Overall, this is a disappointing documentary, one that will find it hard to reach the appropriate demographic. It is not comprehensive or detailed enough for your hardcore anime or Japanaphile (weeaboo) yet I think it will be too broad and meandering for a younger audience. In this day and age when anyone can be a content creator, I have found more interesting and informative videos on YouTube than this documentary provides. It is a shame as manga and anime has entered the zeitgeist in much of the world yet this documentary does a disservice with its Edge-Lord stylings and musings. Considering there is a huge exhibition at the British Museum currently and considering that Neon Genesis Evangelion, a landmark in anime is finally stream able after years out of circulation, reducing the medium to 'creators be cray cray, psycho, mad and other silly terms diminishes the artform.
Watch it if you must but not one I'd recommend to anyone. I've listed a few documentaries that I would recommend in the links below.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Complete Season 3 Review

The first two She-Ra and the Princesses of Power series have been a bright and generally breezy reboot of the classic 80s Filmation series, but boy does season 3 crank things up a little. There are three main through-lines over the course of this season; Hordak's plan, which is suitably nefarious, involves portals and the Horde army travelling through space and time to take over Etheria; Adora and her Best Friend Squad deepen their bonds on a journey through the Crimson Waste to find more First Ones technology and learn what happened to Mara, the previous She-Ra, and Catra and Scorpia become closer as they search for the tech in the Crimson Wastes too. The three storylines converge in dramatic fashion and, from episode 5, get pretty heady.

This series has a laser focussed storyline but the true area of development is character as we delve further into all our invested parties.
A surprising addition to this is that we learn about Hordak's motivations, and even though he is the big bad in this series, it is hard not to feel a little sympathy for him. Special mention must be made of the cool artistic style to present Hordak's back story, all art deco edgy stuff, similar in style if not colour palette of Batman: The Animated Series. This episode, episode 2, also sees his friendship (maybe romance?) with Entrapta grow. What could have been a 2-dimensional bad guy, becomes more intriguing and the storyline goes to some pretty heady places, not Pulp Fiction level dark but for a 7+ kids show... pretty noir. Alternate realities, the darkest timeline and time and space being all wobbly wobbly feature in this series and actually play a huge part in the finale.

Fans of this blog will already know how much I like this series but this series ups the ante and delivers powerful, tour de force storytelling whilst remaining humorous and true to the characters it has developed. I've said it twice before, but I will say it again: miss this show at your peril.

She-Ra Season 3 Airing This Friday

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power on Netflix is a modern reimagining of the classic ’80s Filmation series. She-Ra is a part of the He-Man universe and so holds a place in many fans’ hearts, and as expected this led to many debates about the redesign of the characters. Some arguments seemed to be reasonable, like some complaining about the more cartoony super deformed art style, or the redesign of She-Ra herself, but some seemed purposely argumentative and toxic like why was there a wider LGBTQ and minority ethnic representation on the show and why She-Ra herself was less 'feminine'.

I personally thought that She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Season 1 was an excellent 13 part animated series with a lot of heart. I knew that it would not please all fans of the 80s show but as a father 2 young daughters I liked the strong female lead, the characterisation of the entire cast and the well told Heroes Journey tale.

I thought that the second series continued well from where the last series ended with She-Ra still being trained by Lighthope and making slow progress. The Princess Alliance was holding strong against the continuous daily onslaught of Horde robots. At only 7 episodes the second series was light on storyline but it really focused on the characters and the world of Etherea. Along the way it tackles some heavy topics like toxic friendships, ageism and bureaucracy through the lens of animation.

So, it is with bated breath that my daughter and I have been waiting for the third series to drop and with the trailer dropping this week, it seems like the wait isn’t going to be so long! I am ecstatic and super excited to see where writer Noelle Stevenson et al. take us next.

Alita: Battle Angel- DVD Film Review

29 years after the original source material first came out, Alita: Battle Angel finally hit the theatres in early 2019. I’d been a HUGE fan of the series since its release in 1990 and over time had waited with bated breath for James Cameron, Mr Terminator / Aliens / Titanic / Avatar to release the film he had optioned for sooo very long. With the success of Avatar, Cameron became too busy and passed the task onto Robert Rodriguez, a great / good director with a variable success rate. I was concerned when the film was pushed back from its December release date and the trailers, while exciting, had me concerned. The online backlash *sigh* against the size of Alita’s eyes had me concerned that people were sharpening their knives for the film… so with some trepidation I kept away from all review, reports and social media on the film to see it fresh and uninfluenced, and I’m glad I did as the film did not disappoint and was quite successful in worldwide box offices.

Alita: Battle Angel

The recently released Alita: Battle Angel DVD had me revisiting the movie for a second time, the first experience having been at the cinema. To clarify for those not aware of the history of the character, Battle Angel Alita is an ongoing manga comic book series that is a masterful piece of sci-fi. The story tells the dark tale of Alita, a young cyborg girl who is discovered broken but with her brain intact by Dr Daisuke Ido. Ido is delighted with his find and takes Alita to his home and repairs her. Over time, there develops a father-daughter bond but Alita has amnesia and is unhappy as she wants to find out more about her mysterious past. Over time she learns that she knows the powerful 'Panzer Kurst' fighting technique and enters the Motorball Tournament, a Running Man / Rollerball style gauntlet filled with cyborgs and other hideous mechanical marvels.

Over the course of the first 4 graphic novels Alita enters and becomes the champion of Motorball. The other 5 graphic novels see Alita try to live a ‘normal’ civilian life but life has other plans and there are plots to overthrow the floating city and bring equity to the Scrapyard… all pretty heady stuff!

Trying to fit over 1000 pages of comics into 2 hours would not be possible or advisable and so the film covers the first 3 to 4 graphic novels. The first 5 minutes of the movie whizz along at a cracking pace and the whole film moves from set-piece to set-piece effortlessly.

My heart soared with joy at seeing the scenes I'd imagined in my head for many years play out so spectacularly on the big screen. The scrapyard was bathed in a dirty golden glow as Ido finds Alita's broken body, her head and chest intact. The world of the scrapyard and the mysterious floating city of Zalem is beautifully realised, being one of the best cityscapes since Valarian, Blade Runner 2049 or Ghost in the Shell. The enlarges eyes of Alita drew initial criticism but within the first minute or so they just... blend in. When you have people with cyborg bodies roaming around slightly enlarges eyes on a robot girl seem less jarring, there isn't the uncanny valley that I and many others were worried about.

The fact that the United Republics of Mars - Earth conflict from much of Last Order and Mars Chronicle (the second and third Alita series) is mentioned is a nice inclusion for longtime fans as that’s a pretty deep cut, however it is covered well, as is the Panzer Kunst and Berserker Body. Without heavy exposition the concepts and background are explained, this is good work indeed, especially from a writing team not known for good scripting.

The love story doesn't always work as Rosa Salazar (Alita) is a much stronger actor that Keean Johnson (love interest, Hugo) in this film but the film works for me, not as an apologist for bad manga and anime conversions but generally as a bold sci-fi film. It is the best manga conversion so far and granted the bar was low but as a long time Alita fan (29 years) I was extremely happy with the end result.

Watching it from the comfort of my home, I found that the 3rd act doesn't grate as much and the at times cheesy dialogue doesn't wind me up as much, maybe it's because having seen it once before I could let the visual splendour of the film wash over me and immerse me in this beautifully crafted dystopia without worrying that the film wouldn't be faithful to the source material. Whatever the case, its a wonderful sci-fi story well done and beautifully realised.

With the DVD and Blu-Ray release there are two extras on the DVD: Alita's World and From Manga To Screen. Alita's World contains 4 mini documentaries are all done with voice overs by the many actors and talk about the different parts of, funnily enough 'Alita's World'. All docs are presented with moving CGI storyboards, which may sound hack but is actually quite interesting. The duration for all 4 docs is only about 15 minutes but that's alright to present you with the essentials of this often complex manga adaptation.

The Fall looks at the history of the Mars- Earth war and talks about how Alita was born and in her prime became a Bezerker in the intergalactic war.

Iron City looks at the different sectors that surround the scrapyard below Zalem and in a concise fashion, gives you just what you need to know about the different sectors and the industry and entertainment contained within.

What It Means To Be A Cyborg is narrated by Ed Skrein as Zapan and explains why people give up their biological body parts for a machine upgrade.

Rules Of The Game goes through the sport of Motorball and provides the rules, all presented in hyped up speech.

The other extra, From Manga To Screen, is a more meaty proposition, coming in at just under 20 minutes. It explores the origins of Manga after World War II and how Yukito Kishiro, the manga-ka (artist and writer) developed the concept of cyborgs living 'normal' lives to become a more fully fleshed character and series. The Director, Actors and even Producer, James Cameron, all add their bit into the discussion of how the film was made and it is really insightful and interesting. The fact that you learn that James Cameron worked so closely with Kishiro goes some way to explaining why the film turned out so well, rather than being a Western 'interpretation' that ignored what made the source material so amazing.
We also find out why Avatar was created first and why there was a delay in the making of Alita: Battle Angel. In short Avatar was a proof of concept for the motion capture technology and Alita was that realisation that would feed back to the Avatar sequels. Cameron is one smart cookie as he was tackling both projects simultaneously. The introduction of Robert Rodriguez as a collaborator is discussed and the intense planning to ensure respecting the source material is explored.

Overall, this is a solid DVD package with some neat extras but the visual fidelity alone is worth the price of entry.

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 3- Comic Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 2- Comic Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 1- Comic Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: And So It Ends

LINK- The Moomins 80's Soundtrack Vinyl Review

LINK- Inspector Gadget Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Ulysses 31 Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- The Mysterious Cities of Gold Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Sonic Mania Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack

LINK- Thomas Was Alone Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack Review

LINK- Akira Soundtrack Vinyl Review

The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince- Video Games As Art

I recently finished a beautiful little puzzle-platforming game called The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince. The game has a stunning storybook art style and tells the dark fairytale-like story of a wolf who loves to sing. Once night, whilst singing her voice attracts the attention of a Prince who tries to find out who the voice belongs to. The wolf, worried that the Prince would see her monstrous form, accidentally blinds the Prince. The Prince is found by his troops and, due to his blindness, is considered imperfect and thrown into jail. Feeling guilty, the wolf visits a witch and gives up her voice for the ability to transform into a Princess. Using her newfound ability, the wolf/Princess busts the Prince out of jail and takes him across various levels back to the witch so can restore his sight.

The tale is very Hans Christian Anderson or Brothers Grimm but the lush art style is all manga. The game is a bit floaty and not as tightly controlled as Limbo or Inside but for a 4 to 5 hour game it is a great experience. Check out the screenshots from my play through.

Scary Stories by the Children's Film Foundation- Cult TV Review

The Children’s Film Foundation’ was founded in 1951 and over 30 years produced many high quality films and drama to healthily entertain the younger generation. Three of the stories are collected here under the ‘Scary Stories’ theme and that is an apt description for this trilogy of tales. I had never seen the series before but was recommended it by Amazon based on my previous purchases so thought why not give it a whirl?

‘The Man From Nowhere’ is the first and oldest of the tales and can be considered a gothic story, in terms of the atmosphere and mood created. A young orphaned girl, Alice, is sent to live with her rich uncle in an isolated country house but is soon menaced by a mysterious figure in black, warning her to leave the accursed place. The foreboding figure emerges suddenly and just as quickly vanishes into the ether, leading to the adults not believing Alice. With the help of some plucky local orphans Alice soon gets to the bottom of the mystery.

This is a gentle gothic tale but a well crafted one that builds tension as Alice is worried that she is losing her mind. A great start to the collection!

Tale two, ‘Haunters of the Deep,’ is a mystery thriller set against the dramatic backdrop of the Cornish coast. When an abandoned mine is found to contain a rich vein of precious metals, an American business man and his daughter come to investigate the possible investment opportunities. However, they ignore the warnings of an old miner who says that the mine is cursed with the ghosts of dead miners. When the prophecy of doom comes to pass, the businessman and miners are trapped in the tunnels with a supernatural force as well as the Atlantic Ocean seeping in.

For such a short tale the tension cranks up pretty quickly and the supernatural element is sufficiently spooky to be Dr Who-esque level scary.

The final tale, ‘Haunters of the Deep’, is shot on location in the village of Eyam, Derbyshire, a town known for being selfless when the villagers of the time quarantined themselves when the Black Death arrived there in 1665. The film relies on this fact to present a spooky tale about a young family who decide to move into a cottage there, only for the children to be plagued with visions from the past.

‘Out of the Darkness’ is an excellently presented children’s thriller which blends strong historical drama alongside solid acting from young and old cast alike. The last 15 or so minutes are genuinely quite tense and exciting and the fact that you learn a lot about the history of the area is a real boon.

Overall, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with this collection as all the stories were all effective and, considering the obvious budgetary and production limitations, well done with just enough spookiness to be mildly scary without terrifying the youths it was intended for. The child actors, who are in the lead roles for all of the tales, are all solid and perform honestly and earnestly without meandering onto cheesy melodrama.

At just under 3 hours this collection is pleasant stuff and, whilst not mind-blowing, is lovely matinee viewing at home with a nice cup of tea and biscuits. Preferably on a rainy Sunday….

LINK- The Secret Garden (BBC)- Cult TV Review

LINK- Children of the Stones- Cult TV Review

LINK- The Dead of Night (BBC)- Cult TV Review

LINK- The Stone Tapes (BBC)- Cult TV Review

LINK- Jim Henson’s The Storyteller- Cult TV Review

AI: More Than Human- Exhibition Review

The Barbican is currently running a centre wide exhibition looking at Artificial Intelligence (AI). The AI: More Than Human exhibition looks at the complex relationship between humans and machines, asking us what it really means to be human. To answer this question the exhibition brings together people from a variety of disciplines including scientists, artists, philosophers and researchers and offers an often interactive way to engage with this most heady of topics.

AI: More Than Human Exhibition @Barbican

As I was early, I explored the various interactive installations that were housed around the hall before entering the exhibition proper.
Along the long Silk Street corridor, there were two large screens with what looks like atoms connected. There was a spot on the floor with footprints and when you stood on it and moved your limbs the atomic structure changed. It reminded me of an Xbox Kinect experience, so not too flashy but there were several young children who were engaged and were fascinated that they were an active agent for what occurred on the screens. The vision of Barbican in 2065 through a three screened walking simulator was interesting, as it showed the brightly lit cityscape strewn with wind turbines, but I felt like it missed a trick by not using a VR headset. The sense of immersion would have been greater with this medium utilised.
Down in the Pit, was the highlight of the interactive exhibitions, teamLab’s ‘What a Loving and Beautiful World’. It contained projectors which interacted with people's shadows and movements to create an output, be it trees growing, pink cherry blossom drifting by slowly or birds flying. It was wonderful and quite meditative and an early highlight.

Thoroughly impressed, I then entered the ticketed part of exhibition and saw that it was split into 4 sections:
The dream of AI,
Mind machines,
Data worlds, and
Endless evolution.

In the first section, The Dream of AI, I was greeted with a provenance that stated that there were many tales of non-living things coming to life through magic, science, religion or Illusion.
Comic books, religious texts, alchemical paraphanalia, models and figures were displayed to show how, throughout history, this has been a large area of interest for humans, whether to understand what life is, play God or to extend life and cheat death.
A sepia toned video installation titled AE/MAETH by Hurlig and Weitz was a stunning look at how much AI, cyborgs, golems and the like have become a part of pop culture, transcending its Judaic origins from Rabbi Loew's 16th century golem story.
The Japanese belief of Shinto and animism is explored as inanimate objects are said to have kami, a life force, which means that Japanese culture is more accepting of the concept of AI, thus the prevalence of characters such as Astrobot and Doaromon in their pop culture.
This section had a few film clips from Frankstein, Blade Runner, Der Golem, Ex Machina and much more to show how the fear of AI has been a long running human preoccupation.

AI: More Than Human

The next section, Mind Machines explained how AI developed through history and had much on show, from Babbage's Analytic Engine, the first 'computer' which was powered by steam to Turing's The Bombe Enigma code breaking machine used in the film, 'The Imitation Game.' The video wall with a time line of breakthroughs and achievements was great to follow but with such a large crowd it was difficult to read everything and take it in.

In Data Worlds, the ability of AI to change society was examined. As I entered there was a racing video game and next to that a screen where your reactions were monitored and the emotion you were sensed to be feeling shown on screen. There were a variety of different neural networks on show, which you could interactive with. Issues such as racial bias and privacy were explored. The Future of Life letter, which argued against the use of AI controlled weapon systems was on show, undersigned by Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak amongst many others, highlighted the very real danger that AI could pose if not properly controlled.

The final part, Endless Evolution, looked at the future of the human race. It showcased a robot interacting with people as they passed a few video installations of where AI should be going and the future of artificial life.

As a whole, the exhibition is interesting and engaging but it is all a bit overwhelming. There is so much to see and hear that you need a good couple of hours to appreciated it fully. Some of the videos looked interesting but the ambient noise level made it difficult to hear anything clearly. So, is it worth the money? Well, I enjoyed it but did find it not as well organised or curated as the Robot Exhibition from a couple of years ago at the Science Museum. It's worth a look if this is a field of interest but for the casual onlooker I don't think it will appeal.

Edith Finch Releases on Nintendo Switch Today

What Remains of Edith Finch Edith is available on the Nintendo Switch today and I am super excited to play it again. In my opinion, it is a phenomenal game and a wonderful piece of art.

The story casts you as Edith, the last member of the apparently cursed Finch family, who goes back to the family home to find out what fates befell her forebears. The game is presented like an anthology series as you explore the home and replay the final moments of each person's life.
The sense of discovery and the design of the Finch family home is amazing as it requires further exploration and light puzzle solving.

I played this game a couple of years ago and, whilst it only took me about only 3 hours to complete, I was fine with the length and appreciated its brevity. I think that's primarily due to the deep emotions I quickly attach to the family members; I was invested. The house felt lived in and the musical score is sublime, really creating a sense of tension with a mix of whimsy.

There are several stories but the two that affected me the deepest were the one in the bath tub that dealt with a child's death and the one within the a canning factory, where a young man let's his imagination run away with itself.

During these stories I felt joy, sadness, fear and hope but in other stories I felt fear, curiosity or even humour. Each 'episode' of the anthology is a treat and I'm sure that each person will have their own story preference and gamut of emotions.

Edith Finch could easily have been a book or a film but by making it a video game it gives us, the player, agency; we are Edith exploring this higgledy-piggledy house and sharing in her highs and lows. That's what the best stories do in any medium, they engage and enthrall us in equal measure. This game is truly an experience that should be enjoyed by everyone.

LINK- What Remains of Edith Finch- Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack Review

End of an Era As Ms Marvel Co-Creators leave After 5 Successful Years

After 5 years, 50 comics and numerous comic and cartoon crossovers, two of the co-creators of Ms. Marvel, G. Willow Wilson and Sana Amanat are leaving. For those not in the know this is kind of a big deal.

Since her debut Ms. Marvel has become a pop culture icon and a voice for hope. She received a lot of hype in 2013, primarily due to her status as the first Muslim character to headline a Marvel series, but 6 years on and the comic series has become one of the industry’s best titles because it is simply, an excellent superhero comic book, which is written with wit, pathos and heart.

Ms. Marvel has had a 10 graphic novel run, an impressive feat for a series that was only supposed to be a 10 comic limited run series.

Ms. Marvel has had a 10 graphic novel run, an impressive feat for a series that was only supposed to be a 10 comic limited run series.

Superhero stories featuring teenage characters are notoriously difficult to write for but to create a monthly comic with a teenage girl of faith was something nearly unheard of in mainstream comics, let alone the religion in focus being Islam. Islam features quite prominently in the comic series as Ms Marvel, Kamala, is Muslim and as such it forms a major part of her narrative; it greatly influences her behavior and decision-making, adding tension to her life that doesn’t come from the more traditional sources like romantic interests or the masked super villain of the current story arc.

In a medium that has been pretty hegemonic in portraying powerful white heroes, the recent wave of real world representations in mainstream comics has been exciting. It is explained well in the very first Ms. Marvel comic when Kamala first meets Captain America, Iron Man and Captain Marvel. She is surprised to hear them speak Urdu, but Captain Marvel replies,

"We are faith. We speak all languages of beauty and hardship."

This is a real nice touch that speaks to the universal humanity in us all, with the underrepresented now being represented in a medium supported by the diverse community invested in these characters.

As a longtime comic book fan (I first started collecting when I was 7 in 1988 and Iron Man and Spiderman were my first loves) the fact that the main protagonist, Kamala, was the child of immigrant parents from Pakistan, Muslim and a millennial changed the hitherto well tilled soil of fertile comic tropes. I had loved comics for years and certain aspects I could identify with; Peter Parker being picked on by Flash Thompson in High School, the various aspects of loss in the Death of Superman and striving to achieve against all odds, which was a common comic book trope but with Ms. Marvel it was different. I could identify with her, even though I'm not a millennial teenage girl I am a Millenial Muslim comic book geek who enjoys pop culture. I remember what it was like as a young teen trying to find my way through school and life where balancing my home life and religious beliefs and practices with those of my mostly white Christian friends was difficult. I wanted to go to parties, go out clubbing and have relationships. Other comics have covered these aspects but the fact that the struggle Kamala has in balancing her home and life outside rings true for me.

In issue 6, Kamala seeks guidance from Sheikh Abdullah, an Imam. Fearing she will be told off for not following her parents will, she is surprised to be told,

"... do it with the qualities befitting an upright young woman: Courage, strength, honesty, compassion, and self-respect.”


This message is one of positivity, which against the current media obsession with violence done in Islam's name is interesting and challenging.

Another scene in the graphic novel 'Mecca' has Kamala's brother, Aamir, placed in detention after being accused of not conforming to 'societal norms'. It's a powerful scene as he explains how, just because he is brown and wears traditional dress, he isn't to blame for all the ills in the world but because he stands out, its easy to target people like him. This storyline was in direct response to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency's policy of separating children form their parents at the border, an extremely controversial policy.

It's for these reason that I wanted to give thanks to Wilson et al. for creating a comic character that speaks truth against power, something I'd normally have to go to indie comics to find. The fact that such subjects have been broached in the biggest comic company and in one of the most popular series in the world is heartening; there is a sea change in the representation of BAME people and that has been long overdue. I feel a connection to Ms. Marvel in the same way that Miles Morales speaks for another, often underrepresented or unfairly represented demographic. Ms. Marvel speak to me in a profoundly deep way.

Art is of its time but it can have a long-lasting cultural and societal impact on the world. By encouraging a sense of community and a forum for discussion change can occur, and comics are an excellent medium for showing or even introducing that change.

Even though I'm sad that after 6 years the original team is breaking up, I'm excited to see what the next team do with such a well loved and respected character. Now roll on the Ms. Marvel movie!

My daughter likes Ms. Marvel too.

My daughter likes Ms. Marvel too.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Season 2- Complete Series Review

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power on Netflix is a modern reimagining of the classic ’80s Filmation series. She-Ra is a part of the He-Man universe and so holds a place in many fans’ hearts, and as expected this led to many debates about the redesign of the characters. Some arguments seemed to be reasonable, like some complaining about the more cartoony super deformed art style, or the redesign of She-Ra herself, but some seemed purposely argumentative and toxic like why was there a wider LGBTQ and minority ethnic representation on the show and why She-Ra herself was less 'feminine'.

I personally thought that She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Season 1 was an excellent 13 part animated series with a lot of heart. I knew that it would not please all fans of the 80s show but as a father 2 young daughters I liked the strong female lead, the characterisation of the entire cast and the well told Heroes Journey tale.

Well, this second series continues from where the last series ended with She-Ra still being trained by Lighthope and making slow progress. The Princess Alliance is holding strong against the continuous daily onslaught of Horde robots.

The story works from there as the Princesses start getting used to being friends as well as allies. Meanwhile, Catra is making good progress as Horde Captain by taking over many of the kingdoms but becomes increasingly disillusioned by the paperwork, red tape and slow bureaucratic busywork of it all. Hordak, meanwhile, is busy with his portal machine, looking for an intergalactic endgame. So, from this briefest of overviews you can see that there's a lot going on.

At only 7 episodes this series is light on storyline but it really focuses on the characters and the world of Etherea. Along the way it tackles some heavy topics like toxic friendships, ageism and bureaucracy through the lens of animation. The episode focusing on Shadow Weaver is excellent and offers us a look into her past, showing her descent from the light side. The MVP of this series however is Scorpia, the wannabe bestie/ lover of Catra. We see her try to get Catra to open up to the possibility of friendship and maybe more but to little success. Don't get disheartened though, it's not all edge lord stuff, there's plenty of fun and the D&D episode, 'Roll With It' shows that the writers are on a winning streak with this series.

I'm glad that this series exists, one with strong characters that aren't afraid to work together to challenge the status quo.

Wandersong- Video Games As Art

I’ve just finished Wandersong, a puzzle adventure game in which you play as a little Bard who solves puzzles and attempts to save the world through singing. He's a naively optimistic protagonist, a gaming trope for sure, but his ability to make friends with everyone and selflessly help them, even though it will take him away from his main task of saving the world, endears him close to my heart and makes him one of my favourite video game characters ever.

He does this all just to spread some kindness in a world that is destined to die. Wandersong affirms that anyone can make a positive difference in the world; you don't need to be a superhero to do that, just kind and thoughtful. In an oft-jaded world, Wandersong offers light in the darkness and shows that a gentle approach works just as well, often better, than a more heavy-handed approach.

This game is a joy to play and there are moments that will stick in my mind for a long time to come, not bad for a game coded by one man with music supplied by a team of just 2. You owe it to yourself, and the game makers, to play this wonderful video game. Check out the beautiful art below:

Ah, those were the days...

Avengers Endgame made $1 billion in 5 days, which is impressive until you consider that it took the video game Grand Theft Auto V 3 days to achieve the same thing. As credited by the Guinness Book of Records, ‘GTA V sold 11.21 million units in its first 24 hours, and generated revenue of $815.7 million (£511.8 million), going on to reach $1 billion (£624.45 million) in sales after just three days on September 20 2013.’

It went on to make over $6 billion and counting due to recurring user spending with dlc, online etc. This dwarfs the $4 billion achieved by best-selling films such as Star Wars, Gone with the Wind and even Avatar, the highest grossing film of all time at $2.8 billion.

Gaming is on the up and while it faces teething issues like any other medium before it such as video game violence, toxic online communities, positive LGBTQ+ and diversity representations to name but a few, it is maturing, developing and undergoing its own issues including archiving and the rights of gaming staff, much like cinema before it.

This got me to thinking: Will I be talking about the year of '97 which saw the release of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Final Fantasy 7, Metal Gear Solid, GoldenEye and Half Life 2 as much as film lovers talk about the year Rocky, Star Wars and Annie Hall fought it out at the Oscars?

mr+anjums+influence_map_PSD.jpg

From my arthritic hand will I still be playing the latest iteration of Mario? I don't know... Will my misty-shortsighted vision ever set eyes on the remake of FF7? I don't know. Will my bladder still hold when I hear that the biggest ever entertainment event at the time will still be GTA, probably up to part 69 by then? I don't know but as the biggest entertainment industry which accounts for over half of all entertainment sales in the UK, I don't see why not.

LINK- DIC: Series Of Your Childhood page

LINK- Mysterious Cities Of Gold Nostalgia

LINK- The Moomins 80's Soundtrack Vinyl Review

LINK- Inspector Gadget Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Ulysses 31 Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- The Mysterious Cities of Gold Retro Soundtrack Review

Manga Exhibition at the British Museum: Review

In Japan, manga has been a part of the culture for a long time. The origins of manga are debated and The Handscroll of Frolicking Animals by Kitazawa Rakuten is considered a major influence, but generally it gained prominence in the post World War 2 era where artists such as Osamu Tezuka brought some levity and lightness to proceedings with Mighty Atom or Astro Boy as he's known in the West. Tezuka was to manga what Will Eisner was to American comics; the medium existed before their arrival but they brought it to the fore and forever changed it.

Astro Boy is iconic and will feature heavily in the 2020 Olympics, which will be held in Japan.

As a young boy growing up in east London, England, I didn't know anything about manga or anime but I was consuming it unknowingly through shows such as The Mysterious Cities of Gold and Ulysses 31.
One Saturday I went into my local WH Smith and saw issue 22 of a magazine called Manga Mania and was taken by the big eyes, spiky hair style and tiny mouth and nose of the cover star that reminded me so much of the animation style I liked. When I picked it up, from the top shelf next to the more salacious magazines, I felt a bit of a rebel but upon opening it the kinetic imagery and artistry blew me away. Flicking through it I saw a mention of The Mysterious Cities of Gold in the letter pages and knew I had found something special. From then on I would buy Manga Mania monthly and purchased graphic novels, VHS films, soundtracks and even anime cels. The shop Forbidden Planet became nerd nirvana for me and I'd visit it monthly. Manga was one of my first true loves and one that has survived to this day, at least to some lesser extent. Manga is in my lifeblood and even though it doesn't feature as prominently in my daily life as it once did for me, it was formative in my youth and for that I am still grateful.

I loved getting my monthly Manga Mania fix.

I loved getting my monthly Manga Mania fix.

Since those heady underground days in the early 90s, manga has grown and thrived and its influence is spreading across the world. So, when I heard that the British Museum was hosting the largest manga exhibition outside of Japan I wasn't surprised and knew that I had to go. The British Museum has dipped its toes into the manga and anime pool before over the years but these have been smaller, more focused exhibition. This promised to be a much larger, grander affair as manga is still developing and evolving, the form has and is still contributed rather uniquely to modern culture and I'm glad that a venerable institution as the British Museum is recognising this. I visited the Kyoto International Manga Museum several years ago, which is the largest repository of manga in the world, and wanted to see how this exhibition would compare.

So the question is, is the exhibition worth visiting? In a word, yes.... but this comes heavily loaded with a proviso, which I'll go into later.

The whole show feels less like a staid exhibition but more like something you'd see at more immersive and engaging galleries, no surprise as manga means 'irresponsible pictures' and what is on show is a riotous walk-through of the medium. Being a family oriented exhibition the more controversial elements have been excised but that doesn't diminish what's on show, rather it still offers a smorgasbord of artists and genres that covers the art-form well without excluding younger generations or upsetting some sensibilities.

The exhibition starts with an introduction about the origins of manga and provides a guide on how to read it, from left to right. Then there is a section on the manga-ka, the artists who produce the manga, and the tools of their trade.

On an impressive display of collected comics are a few televisions with the chiefs and editors of the weekly manga collections which are published weekly and sell in the millions. They offer their insight into the creative, production and distribution process.

Around the corner, there is a brief look at the influence of woodblock and scroll works on the medium. There are a few stunning pieces on show but a couple stood out to me, the one where a recent piece of work by artist Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira, Domu and Memories) was compared to his woodblock forebear. The current breed of artists have built on the shoulders of giants and their influence is appreciated here.

After that, the bulk of the exhibition is split into little islands where different themes of manga and artists are explored like Love, Sports, Horror etc. This is all quite dynamic and exciting as there are banners and posters hanging from the ceiling and giant murals and original art pieces stuck on the gallery walls.

In the middle of the exhibition, there is an impressive library of manga on offer and many soft seats in which to read at your own pace.

Manga Exhibition at the British Museum

The last section of the exhibition has a couple of art installations. Kawanabe Kyosai’s theatre curtain from 1880 was painted in just four hours after the artist had imbibed several bottles of rice wine. He painted the 17 metres by five metres high piece using a huge brush and it was done in such a rush of inspiration that you can still see his footmarks on it!. It really is an impressive achievement and whilst not manga, it shows the kinetic frenetic art style that would feature in so much manga years down the line.

Kawanabe Kyosai ’s theatre curtain certainly is an impressive piece of work.

Kawanabe Kyosai’s theatre curtain certainly is an impressive piece of work.

Near the exit, a large projected montage of Studio Ghibli films at the end is a fitting bookend to an impressive exhibition.

The exhibition is a great primer for the common manga fan or someone with a cursory interest in the medium but someone looking for a deeper look into the minutiae of manga, this is not that. In my opinion the exhibition, whilst well organised and curated, had some glaring omissions in manga-ka such as Rumiko Takahashi (Mermaid Saga, Urusei Yatsura and Inuyasha) and Masamune Shirow (Ghost in the Shell, Aplleseed and Dominion Tank Police),  but on a personal level I'd have loved to have seen some works by Yoshitoshi Abe (Serial Experiment Lain, Haibane Renmei) and Yukito Kishiro (Battle Angel Alita). I understand that with such a large number of artists it is not possible to get everything in the exhibition but Takahashi and Shirow are titans of the medium and needed some mention or recognition. It’s like having an exhibition on Italian masters and forgetting to mention any of the Turtles; Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo, it just wouldn’t seem complete. However, as the first real look at manga outside of Japan this is an excellent exhibition and well worth the 90 or so minutes of your time. It is an amuse-bouche to the promise of something more and for that I’m excited.

LINK: Japan: My Journey to the East

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: And So It Ends

LINK- The Moomins 80's Soundtrack Vinyl Review

LINK- Inspector Gadget Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Ulysses 31 Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- The Mysterious Cities of Gold Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Sonic Mania Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack

LINK- Thomas Was Alone Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack Review

LINK- Akira Soundtrack Vinyl Review

(Gaming) Self-Care Isn't Selfish

As is usual in our house, my wife went to bed at 8:30pm and I went into my man-cave to play on the Playstation 4 to relax and unwind, sloughing off the days hard work of teaching. This is the daily weekday routine in our house and initially I had a sense of guilt of staring at the screen late into the light (until about 11pm) whilst my wife and children were sleeping; shouldn't I be doing something more productive instead? Looking through the bills or doing some chores?

However, as time has passed so has my sense of guilt. Some perspective: often my wife goes to bed with her iPad ready to catch up on some BBC documentary about India or women's rights whilst I decompress by jumping on some Goombas, explore a dungeon or climb some colossi, ready to plunge a sword into their sacred sigil (not a euphemism) and I realised... we both spend quality family time together with the kids until 7pm, then it's the usual bedtime routine for the sprogs and a chat and dinner for my wife and I, followed by a quick look at Channel 4 news.

Usually this is followed by an episode or two of the series we are working though, which at the time of writing is Jane The Virgin. Then, it's off to bed for the missus and into Skyrim, Hyrule or some other fantastical land for me.
We each have our way to chill and it isn't always Netflix... This is a love story for the ages, unwinding in your own unique ways keeps marriages and relationships healthy.

RE 7 and PSVR