From Up on Poppy Hill

Even though I’ve always loved Ghibli films (and for the record, my favorite is still My Neighbor Totoro), I never got around to watching the last few films that came out of the studio, starting with From Up on Poppy Hill, and those that followed. I’m finally rectifying that, and started by watching Poppy Hill tonight, and wow, what a fantastic film – I’m ready to include it in m list of favorite Ghibli films. The story is a simple one, but what really drew me in was the atmosphere of the film, as well as the beautifully animated recreation of 60s Yokohama. It’s a true visual feast, and it just goes to show that you can achieve beauty in animation even if the core of the story that you’re telling is a grounded and fairly mundane and dramatic one. It’s really great to see how Goro (Hayao Miyazaki’s son) followed-up on his disappointing directorial debut of Tales from Earthsea, but I’ve already seen him do quite well with Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, the 26-episode TV series he directed, which I quite liked (and it reminds me that I need to get back to it, as I haven’t watched the second half of the series yet). Another realization I had while watching Poppy Hill is that I wonder if the sudden adult turn that Ghibli films took starting with this one (followed by The Wind Rises, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, and When Marnie Was There) didn’t contribute to the semi-closure of the studio – these are not kids movies, and so I’m assuming they didn’t draw as big an audience, and you obviously don’t have the merchandise opportunities as well. I just selfishly hope that Ghibli can get back on track, and continue producing beautifully animated films like this.

FLCL

With the news coming out this past week that two new seasons of FLCL are going to get made, my first reaction was that I felt it wasn’t really something that needed to happen – instead, why not give these people the opportunity to do something new. My other reaction was a desire to re-watch the series, as I remembered it having fantastic visuals, but I couldn’t remember at all what the story was, and I think that’s why I’ve changed my tune a bit. First of all, FLCL is just as brainbustingly good as it was back then, and I just swallowed all 6 episodes today. But the biggest takeaway is that the genius of the series isn’t in the story, but in the idiosyncratic characters, the funny dialogue, and the crazy and eye-popping visuals and editing. Meaning, if the creators of the original still have some ideas on what to do with these characters, then I’m now quite excited to see what that’s going to look like. And if you’ve never watched FLCL, just do yourself a favor and do that right now.

From Air to Pro

The current MacBook Pro really is pretty sweet, and makes for a surprisingly great upgrade from the Air.

I won’t go through my entire history of Macs, but until recently, my computer was a MacBook Air, and the two before that were MacBook Pros. Back in the day I felt the need for Pros because I was using my laptop to do a lot of visual work (web design, photos), but as I started working at PechaKucha and my freelance writing days were mostly behind me, I felt that my computer needs could be answered by something that wasn’t as powerful – and something lighter was attractive as well.

Another thing I discovered was that Apple’s refurbished system is pretty great, and so that MacBook Air I purchased (the 2012 model) was refurbished, and I’ve been very happy with it.

But it was now time to get something new. 

My wife’s computer was my previous MacBook Pro, the one I used before getting my Air, and it was becoming unusable – too slow, unreliable, issues with the trackpad, not charging properly, etc. So the plan was that she would use my current Air – which is still fine, and she just needs it to do research/writing on – and I’d upgrade to something new. I had it in my mind that I would get another Air, since I’d been so happy with the model I had, but was surprised to see (in part because I don’t really follow Apple’s Mac releases liked I used to) that it looked like the Air was getting very little love these days, mostly because the regular MacBook and MacBook Pro have pretty much caught up to it in terms of size and weight, while trumping it with power and display (retina).

So I got a refurbished 2015 13″ MacBook Pro with retina display, and I love it.

At first I figured I’d be getting a MacBook – price is a huge issue – but when comparing everything, the MBP model I got felt like the best deal, with a slight extra kick that should mean it will last us longer.

I was warned that the best would be to wait until the summer as Apple will surely be offering upgrades to all its laptops (the current models all date back to early 2015), but I couldn’t wait that long, and in the end, with Apple, you’re always going to be lusting over the next model, no matter when you buy one.

Mark of the Ninja

I did want to play this game when it originally came out – especially considering how much I enjoy the games by Klei – but for some reason I didn’t get around to it back then. When I got to playing Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China, that I quite liked, a friend of mind reminded me that I really did need to play Mark of the Ninja. I was then surprised to find it in my Steam library (surely something I got as part of bundle). The stumbling block was still to get a controller to play it on my MacBook Air (and now MacBook Pro) – I no longer have my 360, and the PS4 controller is not supported by most Steam games, because it doesn’t do xinput, and same goes for the Nimbus controller I got for my Apple TV). So I finally got the nifty 8Bitdo NES30 Pro controller, and have been enjoying this game immensely. If you like those Assassin’s Creed Chronicles games – a 2D stealth take on the series – then you will absolutely love Mark of the Ninja. There’s just no stopping Klei in making great games.

Far Cry Primal

When I picked this up, I hadn’t really played a Far Cry game extensively since the second one (I dabbled a bit in Far Cry 3), but I was really attracted to the prehistoric setting, and so was really excited for this to come out. Since I’d been out of Far Cry games for so long, it wasn’t really obvious to me how much it aped the basic systems of those games (I’ve since been playing Far Cry 4 as well, and so yes, it does), and so for me it all felt pretty fresh, and yes, I really did enjoy being in this beautifully realized world, running around the natural environments and training/boosting my tribe, hunting, and fighting other tribes along the way. I’m really glad this game got made, it’s a great setting to be playing in.

The Division

When I started playing this game the other night I complained on Twitter that I was finding the first mission much harder than when I played it in the Beta, before the game’s release (which isn’t too surprising, as a lot of games make their demos/betas slightly easier, so as not to frustrate potential customers). But after doing more side missions and activities, and levelling up a bit, I’ve found a good groove that I’m really enjoying. The recreation of New York is just astoundingly realistic, and I’m starting to get into all the systems (levelling up, item upgrades, crafting, etc.) and can see that I’m going to be spending a lot of time with this game, like I did with Destiny (which I’ve completely exited as of late last year). I haven’t really played with others yet – I tried joining a friend’s game once, but it was too high level, and I was just constantly getting shot down – but I think that’s going to be pretty fun too. 

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD

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It’s been an absolute joy to revisit this game, and it really does look great with its new HD sheen, and like with Wind Waker HD, I enjoy the handiness of having my map and items on the Wii U controller. Sure, there are occasional frustrations – like anytime you ride Epona, with her clunky controls, or that goddawful puzzle in the Sacred Grove with the two statues – but it doesn’t detract from the otherwise fantastic time I’m having playing it (as I close in on the end). The Death Mountain temple is just so great, with the use of the magnetic boots, and the water temple is so huge and intricate. I’m finding myself much more in love with this game then when I originally played it on GameCube, and it just makes me wish they would give the same HD treatment to Skyward Sword (and if possible, remove the motion controls), which is the only mainline Zelda game I haven’t played. The Legend of Zelda series as a whole remains my favorite series in games, and there’s no game I’m more excited about than the upcoming new Zelda game on Wii U (and possibly NX).

The Beginner’s Guide

I finally got around to playing this recently, playing it in two sessions at work, during lunch time. Overall, I really did quite enjoy it – it’s a fantastic way to tell a story, enveloping a narrative by letting you experience someone’s work first-hand, and it isn’t something I think I’ve ever experienced in this medium. Part of me felt that the ending could have been a bit stronger, but at the same time, as I saw the end credits pop up, I did feel an emotional sense of completion, so it did in fact do its job. More of this please.

The Big Short

In the end I found myself enjoying this movie, but it took a while to get into the groove of it. At first, I was really annoyed by the editing style Adam McKay decided to use (lots of old school MTV-style cuts and non sequiturs) – it really felt forced to me, and so it just constantly took me out of the movie. But eventually I kinda locked into it, and started liking it. The use of pretty ladies to explain financial terms felt patronizing and overly sexist though. 

Billy Bat

The serialization of the latest (and penultimate) volume of Billy Bat was recently completed, and boy does it make me look forward to the final volume, which will begin serialization in June. I can definitely say that I’ve enjoyed Billy Bat more than Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, and even though it sometimes felt like it was going nowhere, it’s fantastic to see so many pieces come together in the end – and to see some characters go to places you never imagined they’d end up going. Really can’t recommend this series enough.