Monday 30 December 2013

Anime REVIEW: Blazblue Alter Memory

Blazblue Alter Memory

Video games are something I wish I still had the time and money for. My healthy love affair with the Nintendo 3DS aside, the world of work, action figures and other worldly commitments has made a dent in my relationship in console based gaming. Blazblue is just one of the many gaming franchises I've wanted to try for a while now (I know there's a 3DS version, but it looks more like a game best enjoyed on a console) - a wonderful 2D fighting game with unique and great-looking characters. However with a lot of time passing and still not finding the time, I (along with many actual fans of the franchise) was excited to hear that Blazblue would finally be receiving the anime treatment. Even better news for me was that the series, Blazblue Alter Memory, would be following the game's plot line and thus serve as a good entry point to the franchise. Surely a fool-proof plan right?

Blazblue Alter Memory Ragna the Bloodedge
Vash the Stampede Ragna the Bloodedge

Blazblue Alter Memory loosely follows the story of the first game, mostly from the perspective of main character Ragna the Bloodedge. The year is 2199, and humanity is awaiting the dawn of a new century following the end of a series of magic-based wars.Word spreads that Ragna the Bloodedge, an SS-class rebel with the highest ever bounty on his head and a powerful form of Ars Magus known as the "Azure Grimoire", has appeared in the 13th Hierarchical City of Kagutsuchi. To collect the bounty and his Azure Grimoire, a motley array of fighters converge on Kagutsuchi. Not only are bounty hunters after him, but soldiers of the Novus Orbis Librarium - the multinational task force Ragna has been charged with trying to destroy. Among those after him is a lieutenant named Noel Vermillion, a woman who not only gets sucked into the world of Ragna the Bloodedge, but has a much more sinister purpose in the world that even she is unaware of...

Blazblue Alter Memory Noel Vermillion
Noel the tits and ass

At least that's what I think the plot of Blazblue Alter Memory is, because the truth is unless you have any knowledge of the games you will struggle to know what the hell is going on here. The show doesn't really explain ANYTHING during its 12 episode run, introducing more characters and convoluted plot points to confuse you before you've even wrapped your head around the last ones to be introduced. Characters have barely any introduction so are memorable for their traits rather than names, although so few have any real focus its only worth remembering the few that matter anyway. After watching every episode and attempting to read episode summaries online, I'm still not entirely sure what I watched and I'll be damned if I'm going to watch it again to find out.

Blazblue Alter Memory Rachel Alucard
Rachel the character you won't fully understand unless you play the games

So the story sucks, but surely being based on a fighting game it has some pretty awesome fight sequences right? Wrong. The series was animated by virtually unknown studios TeamKG and Hoods Entertainment (the latter responsible for a lot of in-between animation on more well-known series) and is about as generic as it comes. Credit where it is due the Blazblue cast have some great designs (although that's more credit to the game than the show) which look great on screen, but in motion everything is rather bland and certainly not worthy of such a popular game.

One thing the anime DOES do right is bring back all of the game's voice cast for their respective roles, which is something even a newcomer to the franchise would be able to appreciate. It means everyone's already comfortable in their roles, and even if the dialogue their spouting is nonsense at least they sound quite good doing it.

Blazblue Alter Memory Tao
Tao the best character

Considering the Blazblue game franchise looks like it was born to be a fully-fledged anime, it's painful to say that Blazblue Alter Memory is one of the worst anime series I have ever had the misfortune to watch (beating out Maken-Ki!, which is a pretty impressive feat). I have absolutely no idea who this series is aimed at - it is in no way an entry point for newcomers and long-time fans are (from what I gather) being presented with a storyline they've already seen with subpar animation and minimal action. Anyone who is thinking of picking this up as a quick and effortless way to get into the franchise needs to avoid this as much as possible, because it'll only serve to put you off it. Stick with the games, and try to forget this sorry excuse for an anime even exists.

Saturday 28 December 2013

Toybox REVIEW: Doctor Who Eighth Doctor with Dalek Alpha

The eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) and Dalek Alpha

Despite 2013 being a celebration of Doctor Who's 50th anniversary, anyone remotely in the know can tell you that it hasn't been a great year for Character Options' 5" toy line. Not only have the modern series figures been replaced with a brand new 3.75" line, but the classic figures have halted to a non-existent snails pace. Its not outright stopped because thankfully there's a 5" War Doctor (with alternate eighth Doctor head) coming in February 2014, but that's still a while off. So what has the line given us this year to celebrate this momentous anniversary? More Daleks of course!

Love it or hate it, Doctors and Daleks seem to be one of the few sure sellers this scale has and so CO have decided to kill two birds with one stone by making 11 Toys R Us exclusive Doctor/Dalek sets for each Doctor. While all of these are only repaints, some of them are quite interesting - like this one for example, the Eighth Doctor and Dalek Alpha.

The packaging of this Toys R Us exclusive set

The bios on the back of the boxThe insert tray

With only a TV movie and Night of the Doctor minisode to his name, eighth Doctor Paul McGann doesn't have a whole lot of on screen appearances to draw from. Opting to go the comic route rather than draw on McGann's popular Big Finish audio stories, Character have dived into this Doctor's selection of stories from the official Doctor Who magazine and gone for Children of the Revolution, a story that acts as a sequel to the second Doctor's The Evil of the Daleks.

The box has the same standard design of all the previous Doctor Who figure sets that have been released over the past few years - blue 70s style vortex design with the 90s logo. The back features a picture of Paul McGann from the TV movie and a brief bio of the eighth Doctor and the Daleks. Its a shame that the Dalek one is just a generic "evil aliens" paragraph , because Dalek Alpha is actually one of the nice humanised Daleks. A little synopsis of the comic might have been good too, because all things considered it is fairly obscure.


The eighth Doctor - Paul McGann

Remoulds were off the table, so getting an eighth Doctor figure based on his brand new look from Big Finish's Dark Eyes (and presumably onwards) was sadly never going to happen (although with a new slightly hairless McGann coming with the War Doctor, fingers crossed for the future!). Since the Doctor's standard suit has already been made available in the 11 Doctors figure set, this figure also takes its design cues from the comics and places the eighth Doctor in a repainted version of his normal costume with a rather fetching blue coat.

The Doctor strikes a pose

The front of his comic costume......and the back

Character Options' human sculpts can be hit and miss at even the best of times, but this particular figure has a pretty good likeness to Paul McGann as he appeared in the 1996 TV movie. Looking at the face too closely through a camera with flash makes it seem like he has some sort of weird make-up on, but in hand the shading looks far more muted and adds a nice bit of depth to the eyes. As a straight repaint of the 11 Doctors set Eighth, it has been sculpted with the right hand clenched to hold his sonic screwdriver - however this release sadly does not come with the Doctor's trusty tool.

Running away from a DalekTaken prisoner by the Dalek Time Controller

Character Options' articulation still feels a bit outdated in comparison to American toylines (there's no point in even comparing them to Japanese collectors' lines), but for what it's worth this Doctor actually has a decent range. Being on a plug the head has a bit of up/down motion as well as being able to turn naturally, and the arms have four points of articulation at the shoulders, biceps, elbows and hands. Moving down the body we have a waist swivel, which is rounded off by an upper leg cut and knee hinge. The coat is made of soft plastic so will easily move out of the way when bringing the legs forward, but don't expect to the upper part to move back very far.


Dalek Alpha

One of the three original Daleks infused with the human factor in The Evil of the Daleks, Dalek Alpha is a rarity among Dalek toys as it is the first classic Dalek to be released in red (technically the first red Dalek in the line is the Supreme from The Stolen Earth/Journey's End). There has been some discrepancy as to whether this figure is accurate, as the comic strip itself has Alpha as simply red and silver for the most part. That being said, the comic doesn't have amazing detailed colour to begin with, the silver is more dark grey and the hemispheres are black in at least one panel so who knows. Personally I prefer the red/silver/black as it adds a better deal of colour variation to the toy. 

Dalek Alpha in all his red glory

From the front......and from the back.

To put it quite simply, Alpha is possibly the most beautiful looking Dalek that Character Options have released. The colour choice really makes it stand out from the endless swarm of silver and grey ones produced, and the alpha decal on the side of the dome may only be small but makes it feel like something unique. Alpha has three wheels on the base and so can be rolled along a flat service freely, and features a 360 degree rotating dome and moveable appendages. Essentially it does everything a classic Dalek should do, but looks considerably better doing it.

Alpha meets the DoctorConversing with the Daleks

It would be easy to just sit and moan about how eleven Doctor/Dalek repaint packs is both cheap and disappointing, and in many cases I'm sure it will be. However I don't think this one should be considered among them. This is only the second figure the Eighth Doctor has gotten, and with movie likeness rights possibly up in arms other characters may not end up happening. As a huge fan of the more obscurer releases, I'm ecstatic to see Character Options tried with this set to release something truly unique. They may both only be repaints, but a different McGann figure is always welcome and Dalek Alpha has never seen release before and probably never will. In terms of originality, this set without a doubt stands as the winner among all 11 and certainly the only one I'd consider a "must have" for collectors. The more love the eighth Doctor gets, the better.

Thursday 26 December 2013

Reviews in Time & Space: The Time of the Doctor

The Time of the Doctor poster

After a bombshell of a season finale and a triumphant 50th anniversary special, it's finally time to say goodbye to the Eleventh Doctor. Matt Smith has led the show since 2010 and seen it through seasons that have been met to varied reception, but his eccentric and childlike incarnation has certainly been a popular one. But the special thing about The Time of the Doctor is that not only that it covers Smith's regeneration into number 12 Peter Capaldi, but it also addresses something fans have wondered about since it was first mentioned back in the days of the classic series...what will happen when the Doctor reaches the end of his natural life with no regenerations left?

When a mysterious but untranslatable signal leads thousands of alien races to an unknown planet, the Doctor is first in line to take a look at what mystery it holds. Passing through the forcefield set up by the Church of the Papal Mainframe to keep all of the Doctor's enemies out, he finds one final crack and a message from his lost home of Galifrey - the oldest question, "Doctor who?" With the Church refusing to let Galifrey out for fear of starting another Time War and the Doctor refusing to lose his home again, so begins a stalemate that lasts centuries. As races fall and only the Doctor's deadliest enemy is left, time is counting down for the Time Lord's eleventh incarnation.

The planet is Trenzalore, and the clock is striking twelve.

The cracks of season 5 return
Thought you'd seen the last of me? Muahaha

In some ways The Time of the Doctor is less a new episode and more a culmination of all the hanging plot threads that have been gathered since Matt Smith first stepped into the TARDIS four years ago. Massive questions such as what caused the TARDIS to explode back in season 5, what "silence will fall" means and just what are the Silents are finally answered - and to be perfectly honest more often that not these answers feel incredibly underwhelming. The Church of the Papal Mainframe or, as they later become, the Church of the Silence are the string that tie all these things together - headed by the enigmatic Tasha Lem whose unexplained history with the Doctor makes her come across as a poor River Song clone. And speaking as someone who greatly dislikes River Song, this is a fairly impressive achievement.

The Cybermen's unconventional new upgrade
Meet your new eco-friendly Cybermen

As a Christmas special the Christmas theme has to be tied in there somewhere, and while the episode arguably does it in a wholly unnecessary fashion that doesn't mean it's not something that's done badly. Clara's rather awkward family Christmas dinner aside, the Doctor stays to defend Trenzalore he spends hundreds of years as sheriff of the snow covered town of Christmas, fixing toys and putting on Punch and Judy shows when he isn't battling Sontarans, Weeping Angels and even wooden Cybermen. Moffat's Comic Relief special The Curse of Fatal Death once referred to the Doctor as like Father Christmas and here it couldn't be any more apparent. Even with some dodgy old man make up (which gets progressively better the Doctor ages even further), the Eleventh Doctor shines throughout his swan song through a performance that very much feels like something only he could pull off.

Matt Smith dons some old man makeup
So when will old man 11 team up with old man 10?

Since Matt Smith is officially number 11, that begs the question of how the character has suddenly used up 13 lives. Eager to please all parties the episode neatly explains this - we already heard about the War Doctor in The Day of the Doctor, and then its finally confirmed that David Tennant's clone Doctor from the season 4 finale makes 13. Sure it might be rushing things along a bit hastily, but the BBC probably don't want the thought looming over their head for another how many years and neither do the fans so it may as well be covered now. This was both casual and hardcore fans can get behind the premise of the Doctor meeting his final days, a premise that might actually have some gravity behind it everyone under the sun didn't already know Peter Capaldi was taking over. It's one thing to have it announced by the media, but the guy has already cameoed in the show for god's sake. It was always obvious that the Doctor wasn't going to die to the audience, so the important parts were how the character would react to it (one can only assume Doctors 1-11 + War weren't aware Capaldi's evil eyebrows were present at the saving of Galifrey) and just how the Doctor's new lease of life would be handled.

And the way it's handled was perhaps the most logical choice of all, a brand new regeneration cycle granted to him by the Time Lords. Predictable as it may be, it works because it means the show can continue on without breaking any of its already established rules. That being said, Galifrey's "return" was one of the more poorly handled aspects of the episode. Having them appear behind the crack ties things back to how the 11's tenure began, but to have them not physically appear and then swan off again without any real thought behind it (especially after so much of a fuss was made about it in the story) worries me that the Time Lords coming and going will become a recurring thing for the show from now on. Either bring them back or don't, another "last Dalek" scenario is not what the show needs. The regeneration process (or in this case, the de-aging process) is also something that needs to be toned down because things are getting a little ridiculous. Having 10's destroy the TARDIS interior was one thing, but 11's has the power to take down an entire Dalek invasion force.

The Daleks are back
One day, one day we might be a threat again!

Speaking of the Daleks, their inevitable crushing defeat aside the monsters are beginning to claw back a little of their former glory after the train wreck that was Asylum of the Daleks. In a swift move that episode's ridiculous ending was seemingly retconned, and the hateful pepper pots were back to screaming the Doctor's name and knowing all about his incoming demise. While the episode features some great moments from all the aliens appearing (although Sontarans being played for laughs is getting a bit too much now), the Daleks stand victorious amongst them are stand firm as the universe's biggest threat.

The 12th Doctor makes his debut!
Dem eyebrows.

All that's really left to talk about is the exit itself, which can be best summed up in one word - dignified. Matt Smith's departure is in a similar vein to David Tennant's in The End of Time, but the over-sentimentality is thankfully toned down and we get a Doctor that is accepting of his fate rather than going out like a blubbering idiot. That's not to say the sequence doesn't try its damned hardest to pull at the heartstrings (the surprise vision of Amy springs to mind), but at least here everything feels right rather than unnecessarily forced. Matt Smith has always excelled at delivering epic speeches, and his final words about treasuring every moment he's spent in this body will certainly go down as one of his best. Then in a flash of light we have Peter Capaldi, ready to take the reins as a much older Doctor. First impressions? Well, 20 seconds isn't a whole lot to go on but anticipation is certainly running high...

All in all The Time of the Doctor isn't a perfect episode by any means but it is both a fitting and moving end for the Eleventh Doctor. His run may not have been the best, but the impression he's left on the show is one that will be fondly remembered by many for years to come. "Raggedy man, goodnight" indeed.

Monday 23 December 2013

Toybox REVIEW: Doctor Who Enemies of the First Doctor Collectors' Set

Doctor Who Enemies of the First Doctor Collectors' Set

With the 5" classic Doctor Who line now limited to one or two releases a year, now is the perfect time to start raiding the back catalogue of previous releases. I recently received the Enemies of the First Doctor set as Christmas gift from the wonderful admin guys at Tokunation, which was perfect as it was a set I've been longing to get since it was released back in 2011. Unfortunately the "Enemies of..." sets never really took off, with only a Third Doctor version being released not long later.Still, this set features some of the iconic villains from the First Doctor's run - a Cyberman, a Roboman and of course, a Dalek.

The front of the packaging

The back of the packagingInside the box


The Roboman Figure

Moving along these First Doctor enemies in chronological order, our first stop is the set's only brand new figure - a roboman from the 1964 serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth. I use the term "new figure" lightly, as in reality this is in fact a re-purposed Primeval figure with new colouring and some fashionable Dalek zombification headgear. It's a bit of a lazy move on Character Option's part, but at the same time it's not something that is at all noticeable unless you happen to compare the two figures (I myself only know because it was plastered all over the internet upon release.

The Roboman strikes a pose

Roboman from the front......and from the back!

While a roboman was never going to be the most detailed of figures, it's a fantastic representation of the very first set of Dalek slaves. Not only that, but the articulation is among the best the 5" Who line has to offer. Altogether there's a turning head, bicep/upper leg swivels, hinged arms/knees,t-joint hips and even rotating hands. The vacant headsculpt may just be due to Character Option's varied sculpting, but if there was any figure that kind of expression was going to be appreciated on it was this one.

The Daleks' Invasion of Earth

DALEK with flame arm

Master Plan Dalek with flamethrower arm

Our next stop takes us to 1965-66 and the fourth appearance of the Doctor's oldest enemies - The Daleks' Masterplan. At an impressive 12 parts it is currently the longest Dalek story ever produced, but unfortunately only three episodes (two, five and ten) are held in the BBC archive with the remaining nine still missing.Still, the audio for the story still remains in its entirety, as does a popular clip from the second episode which inspired this particular Dalek variant.

"Activate pyro flame!"

Dalek from the frontDalek from the back

The Master Plan Dalek uses the same base mould as the Chase version also released back in 2011 (so silver with light blue hemispheres, vertical slats, and orange dome lights), but with a brand new appendage in place of the standard sucker arm - the flamethrower arm or "pyro flame" as it was referred to in the story. Despite only still existing in the 10 second clip, this alternate appendage has gone down as somewhat of a fan favourite and previously saw release in Dapol's classic Dalek figure set. Not only does the Character Options version have the edge in terms of accuracy, but the flame piece is also fully removable from the arm itself. Articulation-wise there isn't a whole lot to has everything you'd expect a Dalek to have.



Tenth Planet Cyberman figure

Finally we reach October 1966 and the First Doctor's final story, The Tenth Planet. Of course this story was also famous for being the first appearance of the Doctor's second most famous enemy - the Cybermen. And while the Cybermen have changed rather drastically over Doctor Who's 50 year history, the original Tenth Planet are still by far the creepiest in terms of passing the race of as humans that have had their bodies slowly replaced by prosthetics.

The Cybermen have arrived

Bulky frontSmooth behind

The Tenth Planet Cyberman had previously seen release as part of the Collect & Build Cyberman wave, however this version features slightly revised paint apps with darker hands and face mark (see comparison image above/below). Other than that it's the same old Cyberman figure, which is still a nicely articulated figure despite the bulky chestplate with protruding tubes. Despite being the original silver giant the Cyberman has a little bit of colour variation,so the overall silver finish is complimented with clear plastic and black detailing. Articulation is the same as the Roboman, save for the lack of an upper leg swivel. My one complaint is that I'd have liked to have maybe see this version of the Cyberman come with a black cloak, just to differentiate it even more from the original release. Omega got one, so why not this?

The Cybermen invade!

So is this set worth it? Well, there are a number of factors to take into consideration. Its about two years old now and still in reasonable supply, so in many cases sports a lower price tag than it did on initial release (which was £35...perhaps a bit TOO much). At the same time, this set is made up of a re-purposed "new" figure, a variant re-release and a Dalek a new appendage...not the most appetising selection for existing collectors. It is however a very nice set and a great way to pick up a long-discontinued Cyberman, a popular Dalek variant and perhaps the only Dalek henchman we'll ever get in the 5" range (can't say I'm holding my breath for Ogrons anymore). The variety is certainly divisive, but at the very least you can be certain each figure included is of great quality.