Life in Saudi Arabia 3 Months On

So my family and I have been in Saudi Arabia for nearly 3 months now and we've started to get a lay of the land. So how was our life here initially and how do we feel now?

Well, the first thing to know is that we live in the capital, Riyadh, and it's a city undergoing a massive transformation. It is being developed at an incredibly fast rate with a new rail system, road network and enlarged business district planned to be completed in 2030. They are investing over 30 billion dollars into this project and it shows. However, as a result of this development travelling around by car can be difficult as diversions are commonplace and in a country where drivers are fast and often aggressive, it can be a challenge... Like driving down Ilford Lane on a weekend in rush hour. If you miss a turn you often have to take a grand tour of the city before being able to come back to give the turn-off another go.

We live on a compound (some of my British friends prefer to call it a ‘campus’ as it sounds less harsh), this means that it's a securely gated community. Within, we live in an approximation of 1950s American suburbia; kids riding bikes in the very clean streets, a few cars driving very slowly (there's a 20 km limit whilst driving around the compound) and amazing facilities like a fully kitted rec centre with a football (*sigh* soccer) pitch, virtual golf centre and several courts for various ball games. The gym is fully kitted and has built in screens on many of the treadmills so that is where I often go to watch Netflix and catch up on the numerous animated series I'm watching. It's great because I've been to the gym a couple of times each week since we arrived, which equates to more than I've ever been in my entire life.

On site we also have a mini mart (think Tesco Express but filled with more American products), a Burger King, Sports Direct (and yes, I still feel the same shame when I go to buy some sport related good here as I did at home) and a mini cinema that has seating for about 20 people and shows unedited films from Hollywood.

There are also 4 swimming pools and one is heated for all seasons, and yes, there ARE seasons over here, or so I've been told. So the compound itself is amazing with great facilities but it is definitely an Expat bubble, a lovely bubble though!

Outside the compound, Riyadh is much more an interesting mix of Middle-East meets West. The call to prayer is heard wherever you are as it is a requirement that for every new housing or building development there be a local mosque. This is intermingled with vast amounts of American fast food chains and international shops and shopping centres (*sigh* malls). The shops are a strange mix of extremely expensive high end good mixed with their Chinese knock-offs, its very strange. You'll be walking around a large department store and see Gucci watches costing over 1000 dollars and then you'll see a fake Peppa née Baby Pig playset for 40 dollars... Pricing is inconsistent and often seems a bit arbitrary.

The range of shops is amazing, you have all the big chain brands from America interspersed with some shops that are struggling or have gone the way of the Dodo in England; Virgin Mega Store, Marks and Spencer, Mothercare, Forever 21 and Debenham's. As well as that there are many shops I wouldn't expect to be here, Victoria's Secret and tonnes, and I means tonnes, of makeup shops. Obviously I knew there'd be some makeup shops but not in the vast quantity that exist here.

Grocery wise, when you buy fresh fruit and vegetables you have to pick it, bag it and get it weighed at a counter manned by a clerk who must get polythene bags thrust at him for hours on end.

When you do buy something you will see the longest reciept you've ever seen in your life, even if you've just bought a pack of gum. They are working towards developing the recycling but ‘Bags for Life’ are not a thing here yet. We have started to re-use some of the plastic bags to ensure we don’t get new ones but the shop assistants look at us like we’re a bit weird and keep trying to give us new ones. The local supermarket knows us now and we get a rueful smile when we bust out the old used bags. Every little ‘elps though!

The shopping continues during prayer times but the counters are shut, which I think is quite good as it places the emphasis on host country's religious leanings, much like Sundays used to be in England once when only a couple of shops would be open so your parents would drag you to see some country pile or go to a museum to fill the day before that 'Songs of Praise' Sunday evening dread set in as you knew you’d have school the next day. Being a teacher that feeling never left me!

Saudi's are very family oriented and so all malls have a theme park at the top. Seriously, carousels, roller coasters, arcades etc... all in the malls. Due to prayer times and different business hour timetables compared to many other countries, this is a night culture and many families will eat out until 11pm at least. As a result, the behaviour expectations of many children is slightly different from what I've been used to in England. Saudi Arabia will have a very excitable next generation coming through!

I feel incredibly safe walking around as petty crime is nearly non-existent, it just wouldn't be worthwhile here. I feel happy that I can wander around and know I won't have people asking me to lend them 20p i. e. nick your wallet, or to use my phone, i. e. nick my phone, or some of the more serious felonies I faced on an almost weekly basis when living in east London.

Disney is massive here, and I mean massive. The Netflix has loads more Disney films than in England and the children's fashion is similarity Disney-tastic. I wouldn't be surprised if the rumours about Disney creating a theme park in Saudi were true.

I have travelled to the 'Old Town' in Riyadh and this is where the multicultural diversity and socio-economic differences are most stark. This is where much of the manual labourers and service sector workforce live, it's also where you get the most authentic south Asian spices, cuisine and best tailors at a good price.... Kinda like Ilford Lane... great food but at night a bit edgy and dangerous.

Overall, we are really enjoying our life in Riyadh and it is a country where our presumptions have been proved wrong again and again. It is a dynamic country and things are changing at a fast pace. Since we've arrived, the first load of tourists have been granted visas and the abaya, a dress which is worn as an outer garment for modesty, will not be required for visitors. I'm excited to see how the country changes further during our time here.

The Joy of Now

We live in amazing technological times where many things can be done instantly at a touch of a button... ordering anything online (food, goods, medicines), online banking, research (Googling it bro), dating (insert the myriad of dating sites here) and watching movies and shows. It makes me think back to simpler times, when I'd load up my monochrome Amstrad CPC 464 and watch the tape deck counter slowly crawl forward before a game (hopefully) loaded.

This old pic of me is sorta connected to the concept of time and nostalgia.

Maybe in these times when everyone wants everything now there's something to be said for days of yore where we enjoyed the games more because we had had to wait. The anticipation was maybe half the joy; watching the loading screen slowly appearing and bathing the bedroom in a green glow while that annoying screeching noise reverberated all around.

No doubt these idle thoughts seem like an old man wishing for a past bathed in the cathode ray tube glow of nostalgia, but recently I bought a new game for the PS4 and had to wait quite a while for the system to update and download a patch and it had me reflecting back to my youth.... The waiting sucked, it did then and it does now! In these busy times who can wait for a hefty day 1 patch to download? I’ve got box sets to get through, digital friends to chat to so I can ignore real pals, tonnes of images of my mates food to appreciate... In my youth there wasn't much to do and the pace of life was slower so sitting, waiting for a crappy port of Double Dragon to load for 20 minutes was fine, but now.... yeeesh it's painful! I could watch an episode of Carmen Sandiego in that time!

I think there is much to be said of slowing down and smelling the roses and that Bueller quote but really, life has so many more options now and waiting is boring. Now making time for yourself, being present and mindfulness are another matter, but we'll save that for another time.

*Just to note- this was an off the cuff fun piece and food for thought. It doesn’t represent my real thoughts, they’re much more complex and nuanced, as these things often are*

Anne of Green Gables- Graphic Novel Review

L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables is a literary classic, I know because I've heard of it and my wife keeps banging on about the ‘amazing’ 80s series! However, I've just never got around to reading it, seeing the many film adaptation or any other medium type that would give me an idea as to what it is about.

However, this all changed with Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler's graphic novel adaptation appeared at my school's library. Being a huge fan of graphic novels, I thought this was the most opportune time to get acquainted with the story in a quick and easily accessable format, so in I went!

I’ve known of the book for many years but have just never got around to reading it… until this graphic novel version came out that is!

The tale is a simple one: a husband and wife require an orphan boy but instead recieve a girl, Ann, who prefers to be called Anne with and 'e' as it sounds better. Over time Anne bonds with the family and builds friendships and frenemies. We see Anne grow up, attend school, then college and go on the path to becoming a teacher.

Whilst the story may be simple the artwork is anything but. The small town charm of Avonlea is beautifully realised with lush whimsical drawings that had me smiling in pure joy. When we are first introduced to Ann at the train station the artstyle makes her instantly awkward yet incredibly likable, from her flame red hair, face full of freckles and artistically triangular nose. When she does speak, Ann takes us on her flights of fancy and the wordplay is lyrical, poetic and full of heart.

However, it is the splash pages where nothing is said that stand out. These could almost be read as a silent movie, so filmic and cinematic is it's artistry. The emotions of the characters is beautifully rendered through the use of the colour palette and artistic flourishes.

I loved this graphic novel and hope to make time to read the novel proper sometime soon. This is a wonderful graphic novel that deserves to be read.

Firewatch- Video Games As Art

Firewatch is a beautiful game, set in the Wyoming wilderness. As Henry, a newly appointed fire lookout, you wander around some gorgeously rendered woodland and solve an intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying mystery surrounding the disappearance of a young boy.

At about 3 hours or so, the game isn’t long but I found myself just standing in some stunning landscape, taking in all the colours and hues. Living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where everything is beige, the colours on display really overwhelemd me and warmed me with their colourful glow. It’s a lovely game and has moments of pure beauty.

Twelve Forever- Complete Series Review

Twelve Forever is a 25 part animated series centred around Regina (Reggie), a 13 year old girl who doesnt want to throw away her toys. She instead travels to a fantastic land, called the Endless, where her toys come to life and she becomes Twelve, the super awesome athletic hero of the world. Todd, her best friend, has morphing powers and their friend Esther has flying abilities. Together they fight the ills of society and puberty. The show is cute and sweet as it is presented in a superflat art style, familiar with fans of Adventure Time, but it deals with real weighty emotional issues such as dealing but being a young carer, societal expectations of beauty, negative formative experiences and much more.

In episode 2, we are introduced to the big bad of the show, the Butt Witch, voiced by Matt Berry of It Crowd and Disenchantment fame. For the duration of the series he tries to destroy the optimistic and fantastical world of Endless by corrupting its citizens.

Across 25 episodes the three lead characters go through many of the perils we've all probably experienced in our lives but it is presented through the fantastical world of Endless. If I were being pretentious I would say that the series was showing the pre-pubescent to pubescent forms of Ego, Super Ego and the Id and its effect on youth. According to Freud's psychoanalytic personality model, the id is the primitive and instinctual part of the mind that contains our innate human drives and hidden memories, the super-ego operates as a moral conscience, and the ego is the realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the superego. The three characters represent the 3 parts of Freud’s theory which is a characterisation common in many stories ranging from Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings; Reggie is the Id, Esther is the Super Ego and Todd is the Ego.

As you can see, for a 'kids' cartoon this show does get deep and it presents quite difficult concepts at a child friendly level. As a grown up man-child the show had me reflecting on my own childhood and some of the trials and tribulations I faced. Twelve Forever is a solid show that looks at positive representation and with each episode being only about 13 minutes long, it is easily bingeable if that's your wont to do. Check it out on Netflix!

Carmen Sandiego Season 2 Trailer Drops

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. I reviewed the entire first season and liked it a lot, praising the art style and character development. So, it is with bated breath that I’ve waited for the next season to drop and lo and behold, a new trailer landed recently that announced the new season would be showing on Netflix on 1st October. I can’t wait!

Zita the Spacegirl Trilogy- Comic Review

The Zita the Spacegirl trilogy is a young adult graphic novel series that starts with a simple premise but builds into something so much more over time.

The story begins when Zita and a friend find a mysterious box with a huge red button on it, which seems to have fallen from space. Being ever adventurous, young Zita presses the button, a portal opens up and tentacles grab her friend and drag him through it. As she is to blame for her friend’s kidnapping, Zita feels that she must rectify the situation and so she presses the red button once again and travels through the portal and this is where her wild adventure begins. She soon realizes getting back to earth is not going to be easy and spends three graphic novels travelling through space helping various aliens she meets along the way whilst still trying to find her lost friend, kinda like an intergalactic Littlest Hobo.

After saving a planet in her first adventure (in Zita the Spacegirl) she discovers that fame has its price in the second novel ( in Legends of Zita the Spacegirl) and must recover her spaceship after a doppelgänger robot assumes her identity and goes off on a mission to fight an evil alien horde. In the third and final novel, The Legend of Zita, she must stop a crazy dictator as he plans to invade Earth with his galactic army. Can she stop him? What do you reckon?

The character of Zita is wonderfully realised as she no real powers, just her intelligence, determination and her sense of loyalty. She makes friends with some pretty reprehensible and unlikeable people but through her sheer good will and kindness, she commands loyalty and respect and turns some people around... like a pre-teen Teen Angel (yes, my references are old)

Writer and illustrator Ben Hatke has a fun, almost naive art style but this betrays a world building masterclass; what he has created is similar in style to the imperious Saga or Star Wars... high praise indeed, but when you read the novels you know that there is a bigger world with a wide and varied bestiary with potentially an entire lore-filled universe.

The Zita trilogy is an excellent graphic novel series that I wish I'd had in my youth, alongside Asterix and Tintin. Its premise is fun and instantly engaging and, with an expanded universe potentially presented at the story's conclusion, ripe for an imagination to let loose on and let fly. Check it out or miss it at your peril graphic novel fans!

LINK- Comics in the Classroom (article)

LINK- What Comics Have Taught Me

LINK- Roller Girl Comic Review

Disenchantment- Season 2 Episode 1 Review

Matt Groening's follow up to Futurama and The Simpsons was Disenchantment, the tale of Princess Tiabeanie 'Bean', the hard drinking, hard burping princess of Dreamland, a medieval fantasy land straight from many tales of yore. She is fated to be married to a Prince of whatever land her father sees as the most politically advantageous. However, Bean is a driven woman and her fate is linked to Elfo, an elf who escapes his magical land of pure maniacal happiness and Luci, a demon with a dark and mysterious past. Over the course of the 10 part series, the trio go through numerous adventures which builds a strong bond between them.

I said that the series was promising but rang a little hollow as I was not invested in the characters as they hadn't been developed enough and the stories, while fine, were just not interesting enough overall.
However, the last 3 episodes of season 1 were more narrative driven with a bigger story arc and a more emotional core. King Zod was after the Elixir of Life but things took a dark turn as Elfo was kidnapped and died. Bean then had a tough decision, revive her mother, who was turned to stone, or Elfo... She chose the former with dreadful consequences for the kingdom.

Bean goes through hell… actually hell, to get to Elfo.

This left the series at an exciting juncture and I hoped it would hopefully be built on to address some of the issues I felt the show had. So, after a year-long hiatus, how is the first episode for season 2?

Well, the episode takes off exactly where the last one ended. Bean travels to Maru with her mother and King Zod is left with his subjects turned to stone. Bean realises that her mother is evil and that she was born just to fulfill a dark prophecy.

Overall, the episode is not really funny but it is story driven and moves the plot forward. We find out who the 2 watchers who kept an eye on Bean in the Oracle Fire are and how they are connected to her. We also see Bean try to rectify her mistake and try to meet Elfo again… in hell!

This season definitely feels like a true hero's journey is starting and I'm here for it and there is more growth to Bean and the plot seems more cohesive and focussed. I look forward to watching the rest of the series this week and will, of course, provide a review right here!

LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Season 1 Review

LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Season 2 Review

LINK- Gravity Falls Complete Series Review

LINK- Disenchantment- Complete Series 1 Review

LINK- Carmen Sandiego- Complete Series 1 Review

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