Monthly Archives: July 2015

Knights of Sidonia Season 2 Review – Don’t Mecha Around

Knights of Sidonia

While the first season of Knights of Sidonia managed to blend realism with robots and aliens into a decent drama, the second season stumbles just as much as it flies off into the great beyond. It often fails to deliver its narrative with any appreciable pacing and occasionally dips into unfortunate cliché territory, but it still crafts a worthwhile, character-driven story.

Picking up right where the first season left off as a streaming Netflix Original, we find Nagate Tanikaze in the throws of fame following the spectacular battle with the Crimson Hawk Moth. But of course, the Gauna once again are at the doorstep of Sidonia, but with an interesting twist: they’ve developed countermeasures to the previous silver bullet armaments of core-piercing rounds.

This is where we’re introduced to the big impetus for the season in Tsumugi Shiraui, a Gauna/human hybrid “piloted” by “Norio Kunato.” Now let me explain the scare quotes. First off, as a hybrid, Tsumugi doesn’t actually need a pilot. Instead, she is a fully conscious being that can simply be directed how to act in battle. Second, Kunato isn’t actually Kunato. He’s been taken over by a parasite and now is under Ochiai’s control.

On her own, Tsumugi is a pretty interesting creation. Standing at the same height as a mechanical Garde with a Gauna-like complexion, she is as unsettling as the things that have been ravaging what remains of humanity for the past millennium. However, she only bears the awareness of a newborn, though her intelligence seems to be fully developed.

Tsumugi, much like everyone aboard Sidonia, doesn’t quite understand what she is. Her first formal introduction to the Garde pilots is disastrous as she causes what is basically an earthquake with her gentle swaying, rekindling the fears of those present for the previous hybrid debacle a hundred years prior.

It’s fascinating to watch her meander around the trust and admiration of those aboard Sidonia, just as she delves more personally into the lives of Tanikaze and Izana Shinatose. Despite being part Gauna and bearing the voice of his mostly dead girlfriend Shizuka Hoshijiro, Tanikaze is immediately engrossed by Tsugumi’s existence. This happens simultaneously while Izana, a middlesex friend and fellow pilot, nurtures feelings for Tanikaze that emerged last season.

Knights of Sidonia – Season 2

This makes for a strange but entirely interesting love triangle that informs a great deal of the drama in the season. It makes for each character’s arcs and resolutions and actions all the more weighty and believable. (Well, as believable as a space opera about mechs and aliens can get.) You mix in Tanikaze’s lingering memories of Hoshijiro and Tsugumi’s rapid and tumultuous integration into human society and you have a delectable story.

It would be a lot more digestible, however, if the pacing was simply better. It’s incredible how much of each episode is incredibly pointless in both the overall plot as well as character development. If you wanted, you could get away with just watching the little recaps at the beginning of each episode and nothing else.

The show seems to mire itself in frivolity while giving the viewer an incredibly compressed retelling of major events. It’s not that all of the side dishes are fluff, but they seem to come up at the immense sacrifice of providing any meat. For example, the aforementioned Ochiai parasite controlling Kunato? It played like an everyday event. So did the sudden acceptance of Tsugumi with the vast majority of Sidonia. Weren’t these people angry at her existence just, like, five minutes ago?

Knights of Sidonia – Season 2

There seems to be some additional transformation into a stereotypical anime as well. While the first season seemed to relish the idea of only wearing an anime’s skin and steeping itself in the rigors of a Battlestar Galactica, this go-round falls for far too many traps of the genre.

The drama of going into a Garde seems to have all but evaporated as the constant worry over space logistics has disappeared and the suits have reached Gundam-levels of durability. Tsumugi starts out and never leaves the realm of a deus ex machina with a voice, basically bending previously established rules to her will.

And then there’s the thick smattering of anime-style sexuality and the jokes that derive therefrom. The number of times Tanikaze stumbles across a set of barely covered breasts or visually vulnerable upskirt even in the first few episodes is laughable, eye roll-inducing, and generally off-putting. Then the predictable recourse manifests: punched in the face, kicked into a wall, girly scream while cutting to an exterior shot.

Knights of Sidonia – Season 2

Perhaps it won’t bother many other viewers (if you are part of a genre, sometimes you just have to embrace it), but it came across mostly as childish in terms of both craft and content. And when you throw in the talking penis with tentacles that is the extremely mobile, expressive, and handsy appendage of Tsumugi’s, it only serves to remove you from the previously compelling and well-developed world of the show.

There are so many problems with the second season of Knights of Sidonia, but with a quality story involving a handful of complex characters, it’s hard to see them as much more than quibbles. Once it’s all over, though, you can’t help but look back and see them all piled up in the corner and wonder how it is you managed to look past it all. It’s still a good show, but not as good as you’d like it to be.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

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Watch the Full E3 2015 Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Demo

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

You’ve undoubtedly seen the demo for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End from the Sony press conference this year at E3. It was, also beyond the shadow of a doubt, a banger of a demo. With the frozen Nathan Drake, we learned that the project was far along enough to show it live. And we learned that it is a big, beautiful, and exciting game.

I guess we already knew that last part, or at least assumed it. Coming from Naughty Dog and after three other very successful and rather good Uncharted games, that kind of quality and scope is expected. What we saw, though, appeared to be almost exactly what we’ve seen before: shooting dudes, jumping on stuff, and slinging sass.

Apparently, that is not totally representative. Uncharted 4 sounds like it’s going to be skewing slightly towards the ideal of an open world, not that we see it even in this extended demo with Drake’s brother Sam working alongside his explosive antics. (Hot damn is it gorgeous, though.) In this interview with Polygon’s Megan Farokhmanesh, it’s stated that there won’t just be vehicle set pieces like in the past but they will rather play an integral part in exploration.

During the demo, for example, players are free to escape the market at their own pace. All roads will eventually take you to your destination — which is essentially just the bottom of the hill — but how you get there is up to you.

Lead designer Kurt Margenau continues on to say, “Everything you see, you can go to. We’re not going to arbitrarily block you.” They’ll still continue to bring the heat in terms of huge, memorable beats and whatnot, but there will apparently be a lot more flexibility in terms of where Nathan can go.

That’s an interesting decision because I never quite found the linearity of the past Uncharted games to be all that limiting. The entire franchise was built around the premise of bringing the flawed but enchanted heroism and adventures of Indiana Jones to the video game world, and to that end, they succeeded. They hit all the marks of what makes Indy, well, Indy.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

But perhaps this is playing into some idea that this game needs to do something more than just incrementally improve on what many viewed as a platonic ideal for action-adventure games. The series has already gone the predictable arc of trilogies, and there’s certainly nothing wrong in proving you can do something better than you’ve done before (and we have seen the truck-jumping bit before), which makes this seemingly internal pressure to try something brazenly new all the more interesting.

If you recall the demo from the PlayStation Experience last year, we saw Drake clamber around a rather sizable jungle environment and take out a bevy of bad guys. Looking back on it, it definitely felt like the breadth of the geography was indicative of an open world. It’s the kind of setting you would cross a few times between hub-like structures (I doubt it’s going that open) before getting into a scrape.

Or maybe that’s confirmation bias. Who knows. The Uncharted 4 development story gets more interesting considering how much of The Last of Us is going into it. Not only is the enemy AI making a showing (guess that The Last of Us Remastered port to PlayStation 4 is bearing bonus fruit) but since former series creative director Amy Hennig and game director Justin Richmond’s departures in March of last year, The Last of Us leads Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley took over.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

And in that transition, they apparently scrapped eight months of work, according to voice actor Nolan North (who plays Drake) in a recent MetroCon panel. It doesn’t quite sound like an entire finish product was thrown away but rather Druckmann and Straley took where the game was already headed and added their own creative spice to it, which is totally understandable. It’s difficult to take something in someone else’s voice and both finish it and make it better when both the past and present styles are so specific and recognizable.

Of course, it’s all up in the air. You can’t and shouldn’t judge an unfinished game because, very obviously, it’s unfinished. You can express opinions regarding that thing that it is, but that’s not a product for you to hold with or against a studio, just like you don’t look at a stack of notecards and tell Steven Spielberg it’s a terrible movie. But as it sits now, Uncharted 4 looks like a particularly interesting thing.

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