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The Ideal Sponger Life: The One with the Canonical Waifu (Volume 1 Review)

I’ve known about The Ideal Sponger Life for over a year now. The problem was that only the manga, published by Seven Seas, has been available in English. Fortunately, J-Novel Club has come through and FINALLY licensed the original light novel series for Western consumption. Has it been worth the wait?

In The Ideal Sponger Life, a salaryman named Zenjirou Yamai is summoned to another world, by a queen named Aura Capula. She wants a hubby, and Zenjirou fits the bill. Obviously, he decides to marry her.

However, it isn’t that simple. Zenjirou really thinks through with his decision, and it’s made readily apparent that there’s more to this arrangement than meets the eye. For some reason, Aura wants him to just lie around and occasionally have sex. The early chapters of the volume also showcase that fantasy worlds are great and all, but are incredibly uncomfortable if you’re too used to modern technology. Unfortunately, this aspect is quickly made a non-issue when Zenjirou is able to briefly return to earth to bring a generator back to the fantasy realm.

The big problem with this volume is that it’s not… wrong enough! I thought that this was going to be all about Zenjirou having sex with Aura and a bunch of maids; that would’ve made for some interesting debates and whatnot. In fact, this thing skips any raunchy content with a mere “After they had sex, blah blah blah…” I’m being adamant about this because Sponger Life isn’t that remarkable otherwise. The only real plus is that there’s an actual explanation for the “isekai language” trope, but that just results in some needlessly tedious language lessons that he doesn’t need because he can already speak their language AS A RESULT of the “isekai language” trope!

Sponger Life’s writing is about as problematic as most light novels. It HAS to be a translation issue, because they all (even the good ones) have bad grammar and redundant word usage. As a blogger, I’ve become less and less tolerant of that kind of stuff, and honestly, it’s really bad that it’s coloring what’s supposed to be the core content I cover. 

Speaking of redundant, guess who doesn’t like any of the characters: me! Zenjirou is kind of okay; too okay! He’s smart and composed, which some critics would respect, but he doesn’t help make this series controversial enough. Aura isn’t the iron-fisted lady I was expecting either. I was hoping she was more dominant, but due to the in-universe sexism, she’s actually incredibly awkward. One scene implies that she is very physically strong, but due to the aforementioned sexism, I doubt she’ll be showcasing her strength too often. Another case of Sponger Life trying to be as ethical as possible is when they introduce a private tutor named Octavia, a wife of some noble guy from another nation who would—in ANY other setting—be sent to seduce Zenjirou because of politics. Hopefully that’ll come up in future volumes.

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Verdict: 7/10

I probably shouldn’t have let multiple years build up to something like this. The Ideal Sponger Life has all the setup for an incredibly sexy isekai, but ends up being extremely typical. I can only hope that things ramp up from here, or else it’ll be ANOTHER drop on my part.

Project Winter is Better than Among Us: A Rant

If you’re reading this, then the unthinkable has happened: One of the biggest gaming trends of 2020 has managed to stay trendy into an entirely separate year. Yes, even an uncultured swine such as myself has been aware of Among Us, the game that coined the term “sus”, which is a shortened version of the word “suspicious”. As to be expected, things that are trendy tend to be inferior to a more niche product of its ilk. In this case, an online multiplayer deception game known as Project Winter is significantly better, and I will detail why.

Just take my claims with a grain of salt; I have not played either game myself. One of my biggest gripes with online multiplayer games is that they’re considered so great, despite the fact that you need eight or more friends in order to play them at all. That kind of hurts what little confidence I have; it’s as if having over eight friends is NORMAL in life. Personal issues aside, I at least have some confidence in this post because I have watched many-a gaming video of both games, specifically those uploaded by ZeRoyalViking and ChilledChaos (who you should watch by the way because they have really good multiplayer gaming videos). 

How to Play

Before getting into the topic at hand, I must explain the basic mechanics of both games, just in case someone is as uncultured as I am. In Among Us, you are a bunch of little bean astronauts who are marooned in a base that needs fixing. They all must fix the various areas of the facility to win. However, there are two imposters who can kill crewmates. No one is able to speak while walking around in Among Us, except in two circumstances: either someone reports a dead body, or uses one of their limited uses of the Emergency Meeting button. This triggers a brief period where the players can talk to one another, and eject a player through voting; their only way to defeat an imposter. If the crewmates finish all tasks or defeat all imposters, they win. But if the imposters kill enough people so that there is one crewmate left for every imposter, then the imposters win.

In Project Winter, a group of people are stranded in a randomly generated frozen world. In half an hour, a giant blizzard will appear and snuff the life out of them. They must quickly craft, hunt, and repair in order to call a rescue vehicle to save them. However, there are two traitors in the group, who must try to stop the survivors’ efforts. Both traitors being felled DOES NOT declare survivor victory; the only way survivors can win is for at least one of them to escape. Traitors must see every survivor fall; even if they themselves die, it still counts as long as they bought enough time for the Mega Blizzard to finish off the survivors.

Among Us: Pros

Among Us is the more accessible of the two games. It can be played on pretty much any system, including mobile devices. That makes it so anyone can play! It’s also a lot simpler, since you don’t talk to people for that long. 

What makes Among Us fun is the lack of communication. Imposters must take advantage of what the crewmates know or don’t know in order to build abilis for themselves. Both sides have a good number of tools at their disposal. Imposters can use vents to quickly travel around the map (as long as they aren’t seen), such as getting a kill and quickly escaping the crime scene so that no one’s like “Uh I saw that guy walking away from the body”. They can also shut off the lights, or trigger a nuclear explosion that instantly gives them the win if two people do not stop it together, which also gives the imposters an opportunity to off two people. 

It would be too easy if imposters could just kill willy-nilly. Both imposters have a kill cooldown, and they need to try to act as “un-sus” as possible during that time. Crewmates also have access to cameras, which can be decisive evidence if a killer is caught in the act. Imposters can talk during the meetings to spread discourse among the crew. They can also stick with players for long periods without killing them in order to “marinate” them. Crewmates will need to be clever, and observe every insignificant detail of the players’ pathing; one of them could’ve used a vent (or you could be Ze who gets accused just by walking around).

Among Us: Cons

I don’t know if they fixed it, but one of the dumbest things in Among Us is the fact that the codes for private lobbies are constantly displayed at the bottom of the screen (and since Ze and Chilled have not moved their webcams from that spot, I assume the issue’s still there). That’s just plain dumb. 

As far as gameplay is concerned, things can get stale fast. I don’t know if playing Among Us is better or worse with experience. Rookies are likely to play with settings like Visual Tasks, which show animations to all players and can guarantee someone as a crewmate, or Confirm Ejects, which will tell you if you offed an imposter through voting. With those disabled, the game is more fun… or is it?

In an experienced lobby, there are so many nuances that are just understood that it almost puts an unfair advantage in favor of crewmates. Imposters usually spend time standing next to a task to “fake” it. But when you’re a veteran, you know the exact amount of time—down to the second—that it takes to finish a task, and there aren’t many that they can defend themselves with (like the asteroids or card swipe tasks). It’s also understood that the imposters will clarify whom the crew is voting against during a meeting, just so they can off a crewmate. Experienced players also have a system on when to vote and when to abstain based on the amount of people left, which can be used against them by imposters, but still makes games redundant.

There are also a lot of little “cheap” things that anyone can do. The Emergency Meeting button cools down faster than the Imposters’ kill button, but the Imposters’ sabotage ability is ready to go right after a discussion. With good timing, imposters can kill the lights or set off the reactor to where their cooldown is complete before the crew can fix those areas (since the Emergency Meeting won’t work during a sabotage). If they only need one kill (or two if both are still alive) in order to win at that point, then they win. The only way for crewmates to prevent a double kill is for one of them to mash the shortcut key for interacting with something in order to potentially report the first person’s body the instant before they themselves are killed, but it’s not always possible.

Crewmates also have annoying perks. They can stick together, making it impossible for imposters to win unless they get the rare “stack kill” (but even then, it’s possible to tell who did it because of subtle details with the server’s latency). The crewmates can also have someone camp the light fixtures, instantly fixing them as soon as they go out, disabling the imposters’ best tool. There’s also a rock in one particular map that someone can hide behind and catch someone using the nearby vent. Overall, I feel like Among Us can quickly devolve into the same thing over and over again. The whopping three maps don’t help its case either.

Project Winter: Pros

Unlike Among Us, everyone talks constantly. However, Project Winter has proximity chat; a piece of 21st Century technology that dynamically adjusts the volume of players’ voices in the call based on their distance. Things get more interesting thanks to the radio items. By pressing the CTRL key, you can talk to anyone who has the same color radio over any distance. Traitors also get a free red radio to coordinate on. 

Project Winter plays like Minecraft; you have to worry about hunger and warmth along with your actual HP. You can cook food, and craft weapons and resources. Every game of Project Winter requires you to fix two facilities located somewhere on the map. These can require sets of mechanical parts, electronic scrap, and gasoline, or batteries and buried pieces spread throughout the world.

What makes Project Winter fun for traitors is having to hold a conversation with the survivors, while also coordinating with each other over their radio. Imposters get better firepower and items through traitor-only boxes found throughout the map, but obviously, they cannot be seen opening them. The ideal strategy for traitors is to spread discourse among the survivors. While they can try to get survivors alone, it would look extra sus if they were the only one of two people to return to the hub area. If tasks are being done, they can try to sneak a sabotage on the repaired objectives. Unlike Among Us, traitors can still try to win even if caught. There is a voting system to exile them from the hub, but they can easily live off of traitor crates around the world. 

Nature itself will try to mess with the crew. Wild animals will attack, for starters. Also, random events will occur. They can scatter boxes throughout the map, or do things like make everyone go crazy, turning them into bunnies who look indistinguishable from one another (a perfect opportunity for a traitor to launch a surprise attack). While not nature-related, there’s also the possibility that an escape pod will spawn, allowing one player to abandon the mission and secure a win for themselves (like Ze did in that one video).

I’ll admit that Project Winter wasn’t at its best in earlier versions, but it gets a lot more depth with current patches. One notable addition is that of roles, special abilities that both traitors and survivors can have. You can have a scientist, able to bring a player back to life at a special area on the map (although that player will be muted), or a hacker who can open bunkers by themselves. There’s also the defector, a survivor who can open traitor crates; an easy alias for traitors to claim.

Project Winter gets even MORE interesting with its new Blackout mode. In the Blackout, there is only one traitor. However, that traitor can convert survivors to traitors in one of two ways: as a Demon, they can revive a downed player to convert them, and as a Whisperer, they can use an AOE attack to slowly fill up a traitor gauge and convert players. It’s a really good, long-con style mode that can go south for the survivors if the traitor manages to convert several people (although one of them could accidentally throw when they get converted for the first time by yelling out “They made me a traitor!” in a panicked stupor). There are also some scary new events, like darkness covering the whole map (except for traitors, who can see with “red vision”), and sending the spirits of all the animals that players have killed against them. Blackout also has the yeti, a neutral role who cannot be converted, and must merely live to the end of the game to win, even if it means siding with the traitors.

Project Winter: Cons

Since I obviously like this game better, there aren’t as many issues. One annoying traitor tactic is the ability to steal necessary parts to repair facilities and hiding them behind structures (which cannot be seen due to the fixed camera). There’s also the fact that dead players can use their chill ability on the traitors to send a message from beyond the grave. This isn’t necessarily a flaw, as dead traitors can also use this to spread discourse, but I doubt it was the dev’s intention for the dead powers to be used this way. Inventory management is also abysmal, even by survival game standards. 

The Most Important Ingredient for Both Games…

The thing with online multiplayer games comes down to one simple monniker: they are only as good as those you are playing them with. The digital world is full of toxic people. But even in private lobbies, you get bad games of Among Us AND Project Winter, even with your personal friends. This passage is probably because I’ve only watched YouTubers play these games. I get that they’re entertainment, but it’s annoying when they throw “for content” (even if Tay killing everyone because of Chilled getting her to write Ze’s name from beyond the grave was pretty hilarious). 

I’ll admit that a bad Project Winter match is worse than a bad Among Us match. Everyone in Ze’s group has good enough experience in Project Winter to know exactly what to do, yet Ze tends to be the only one who actually tries to help, even as a traitor! The others, even as crewmates, will just mess around, and sometimes consider offing someone for shits and giggles (however, I’ll admit that the one time Chilled made poison berries and stuck them in the community chest was pretty funny). It’s unfair for both sides, because the survivors would be losing a valuable person, or they could just get a lucky BS shot on a traitor. While it does capture that “survival drama” feeling really well, it’s annoying to see only one person (i.e. Ze) carry the game EVERY SINGLE TIME. 

Overall, Project Winter at its best is a really fun experience. There’s more opportunities for role-playing, which can be really fun if you have really good friends. The random maps make it to where you can’t just memorize everything like in Among Us, requiring players to not just play fast, but learn fast. And even if the traitors get a really good gun, it’s possible for a survivor to win with just punches (even if it’s unlikely). 

Conclusion

It’s pretty consistent in popular culture: the less depth, less thinking required, and more accessible something is, the more popular it’ll become. Project Winter takes a lot to get used to—but dammit—it’s better than Among Us by a longshot! Well, that’s another item on my list of popular things I don’t like. I think the lesson learned is that gaming is better if you have eight or more friends… Man, there goes my confidence again.

SAO’s Unital Ring Arc is Off to an Overwhelmingly Okay Start

Fans and critics of the massive and iconic Sword Art Online franchise can easily agree that it’s been a wild ride. From waifus to gratuitous sex to inherent appeal to contrived B.S., it’s been a very fascinating series of ups and downs. With the anime caught up to Alicization, only one arc remains exclusively in light novel territory: Unital Ring (I’m pretty sure it’s the final arc, too). I would normally wait until it’s finished and cover it in one post (since individual volumes tend to make no progress), but I just HAD to get my first impressions out, since there’s a ghost of a chance that this one is actually good.

In Unital Ring, Kirito is hanging out in Alfeim with his waifus, Alice and Asuna, when they suddenly find themselves playing Minecraft. Like, literally, the game just changes to something completely different. Since their stats also get reset, Kirito is no longer Mr. Perfect… right?

The titular new game is, for all intents and purposes, the most well-realized in the series (which isn’t saying much but still). The game is very intuitive since it plays like Minecraft; you find resources and build stuff. However, SAO is SAO, and Unital Ring has some issues. While a large number of items can be instantly crafted through the menu, as to be expected, the game tries to capitalize on its “V.R.” gimmick and makes it so some things have to be crafted by hand. This would sound cool, but the problem is that you need real-world knowledge on how to make this stuff, and there isn’t exactly anything in the game that can teach you. 

Unital Ring also has a weight system, where items in your inventory will actually, well, weigh you down. While this does allow for some creative situations in combat of all things, since you could drop materials from high up and let gravity take care of the rest, I feel like this mechanic was created solely to make Kirito have to spend the early parts of this arc in only his underwear (i.e. “manservice”). 

This volume is, as expected, merely the characters getting acquainted with the game world and its basic mechanics. Beyond that, there’s no real plot progression. Bizarrely enough, this is probably one of the best volumes of the series. The only sexualization is of Kirito, and there’s relatively low exposition dumping. Since Unital Ring seems to be all wilderness, it at least doesn’t look like there’ll be any rape-faced villains in this arc. The volume ends with the introduction of a new character and a returning character whom I don’t remember at all, and since it’s a cliffhanger ending, they’re likely to be important moving forward in this arc.

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Verdict: 7/10

SAO has really grown up. It’s gone from tedious and pseudo-intellectual to just above average. Unital Ring might not be as impressive of a start as Alicization, but since this is the first entirely new arc (as opposed to the original web novel), Kawahara will be going into it from scratch as a full-fledged adult with an adult brain who might actually be uncomfortable with sexual assault as a plot device. Next time I post about SAO, it’ll be a review of Unital Ring from start to finish, so stay tuned for that!

A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem: A Criminally Underrated Trilogy

American history can be one of the most boring subjects in school. If only there was a more fun way to learn about it, specifically about America in the late 19th Century. While not ENTIRELY accurate, Christopher Healy’s A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem series is perhaps one of the best historical fictions ever.

A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem stars Molly and Cassandra Pepper; a rare daughter and mother pair (respectively). Cassandra’s aspiring to be an inventor, and submit a machine to the 1883 World’s Fair. But you know, sexism, so… she’s SOL. When she and Molly break into the venue to sabotage a competitor’s machine, they discover a Dastardly Plot (book 1 title drop) to take over the world!

The story is incredibly simple. A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem is more-or-less an episodic trilogy where Molly and Co. go on adventures to stop the Saturday morning cartoon villain. There’s no real depth, but unlike those cerebral critics, I’m fine with that. Children’s media has evolved to where people aren’t afraid to expose them to horrific things, from sexual assault to racism to PTSD to the Holocaust, etc. But seriously, sometimes we just need to be entertained, especially since this generation is being exposed to social media, allowing news networks to beat all the despair in the world into their innocent little skulls. 

What brings this series to life is the amazing writing. The descriptions are vivid, and it’s so freaking funny. I don’t think I’ve ever LOL’d so consistently in a kids’ book series ever in my life! The pacing is also lightning quick, with sequences that would normally mark the end of an installment happening less than halfway through instead. Most importantly, the humor is absolutely on fire. But if you don’t like sarcastic comments, you might not enjoy this one.

The characters are also some of the best I’ve seen in Western fiction. Molly and Cassandra have great chemistry together, instead of the mom normally holding the kid back. The male lead is Emmet Lee, and since this is an inventor-themed series, I had to picture him as my boy Senku from Dr. Stone. Healy could’ve made real torture porn out of him, because he’s a Chinese-American living in a country that would ban Chinese immigrants at that point in history, but thankfully he didn’t. The biggest issue with the cast overall is that they sort of have the same delivery when it comes to comedy, despite all being different people…

…Well, except for my favorite character, Robot. Due to story events, an automaton made by Bell ends up gaining sentience, and Molly adopts it and names it Robot. He delivers some of the best lines in the entire series, in that robotic deadpan manner. And by the way, I can’t actually discuss the main antagonist, since they’re identity is a spoiler for book one. Just know that they’re the silly, mad-scientist-type villain.

If there are any real issues, it’s that there are snippets of that Disney-movie-trope of character-drama-that-you-know-will-inevitably-resolve-itself-because-it’s-too-light-hearted-to-not-do-so. Every instance is very short-lived, making it feel like the author put them in as a formality. Regardless, as the reader, you can choose to blitz through that crap and get back to the good stuff in a jiffy. There’s also kind of a bad case of virtue signaling, specifically with Feminism. I wouldn’t normally bring it up, but the difference here is that the story is good enough to not need to rely on the “Secret Club of Empowered Female Historical Figures.”

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Final Verdict: 9.45/10

I know that this is a really short review given that I covered an entire trilogy of books, but like I said before, A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem is a clear-cut, silly little ride. It’s absolutely fantastic (and most importantly, not pretentious… for the most part), and I loved it to the bitter end. I recommend it if you are uncultured enough to want to have fun.

I Miss Hard Science Fiction: A Rant

Honestly, I don’t even know if I wanna post this, but it’s something that’s bothered me for a couple of years and I wanted to get off my chest. If you’re familiar with my other rants, you’d know that I had very different tastes back when I was a teenager. I was SO edgy, I did things that not even edgy kids did. For music, I only listened to classic rock. For movies, I only watched old movies; from classics like Dead Poets Society to freaking Spellbound (which is a boring slog that’s only any good in the climax). And for books… I read hard science fiction. 

Hard? Haha, like a—

I know it’s a euphemism, but hard science fiction is a genre. Think of popular science fiction like Star Wars. Epic battles, witty dialogue, memorable characters, spectacular spectacle… Now, think of the opposite of all that; think of Star Wars’ rival older cousin, Star Trek. Slow pacing, tons of dialogue, tackling some very difficult ethical issues… That is hard science fiction. 

As implied by the title, hard science fiction is meant to read like a history book of the future. And also implied by the title, it’s difficult. Perhaps more difficult than any genre to comprehend. They really pour everything into trying to make their worlds as immersive as possible, and it’s a damn undertaking. Tolkein was impressive enough with his Middle Earth. But hard SF authors had to do the same thing, only with multiple star systems, each with as much history as Middle Earth itself. Most adults would have a hard time reading it, and as a teenager, well… Results varied.

Greg Bear

Okay, so, technically, my first hard SF novel was Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But, well, that one is just technically a satire and definitely not meant to read like a future history (right?). However, when I first bought it, I saw some books by a Greg Bear next to it. And, well, after finishing Hitchhiker’s (and almost having my brain fall out), I tried out some good ol’ Bear. You saw the last two words of the previous passage, right?

The first novel of his I read was called Darwin’s Radio. The premise was simple.: Sscientists discover ancient cave drawings (or something) that show that mankind has been slowly evolving into a new species. There was a lot of dialogue, a lot of which was just buildup to the revelation that mankind has been evolving in the first place (oops, spoilers).

As expected, racism is the immediate public response (side note: one of my most distinct memories is Bear actually writing in dialogue from a certain someone who I can’t name because he was a celebrity until people realized he was a rapist. But it’s still funny how it makes the novel dated due to whom Bear chose). This isn’t “racism” as we know it today; unlike people with other ethnicities, this is a legit new species. And another curveball is that mankind had a decent basis to become racist. Due to how evolution and natural selection works, Homo sapien was essentially going to go extinct due to this new species, and thus they respond in fear, which is expressed in the form of racism. 

I remember being both bored and engaged with the novel at the same time. It was weird, but I loved it. There was also a sequel, Darwin’s Children, but all I remember is that there’s some kind of concentration camp for kids of the new species and it’s supposed to make us, the readers, angry that they’re being treated that way. One big issue with both novels is that they had incredibly loose endings. To this day, I have no idea if Bear wrote a third book (or if he even still writes). 

The Bear doesn’t stop there! I was hooked enough on his writing prowess to read a rather thick standalone novel: The City at the End of Time. This book went places. What I remember most is that there were these people who had these emblems and had to stop… something from happening. It was nonsense for the sake of nonsense, from the objects getting folded and crumpled into incomprehensible shapes, to cats guiding some guy through some weird castle. Beautifully written, but with no purpose nor meaning. After this, I would read several pretty lackluster standalones from Bear, and then…

I read Queen of Angels. A lot of positive reviews consider this his best novel, and I definitely agree. It had two different plots going on at once. Half of the book focused on this old guy (that I remember picturing as Jerry Stiller for some reason) who was supposed to investigate a murder, which would eventually involve entering the accused’s consciousness, and the other half was about some other guy who had to help an A.I. attain sentience. It was an amazing mess, with themes focusing on mental health and what constituted as being sane in the first place. It iconically ends with an entire page of I’s spelling out a giant capital I. Hilariously enough, it’s actually part one (or even part two) of a four-book series, and I didn’t know that because it ended so loosely, like all of Bear’s other books. I have not read Queen of Angel’s sequels to this day.

Kevin J. Anderson and Stephen Baxter

I was mixed towards Greg Bear. Afterwards, I would try to read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and fail spectacularly. It was too large in scope for me to handle, and I have always wanted to re-attempt at reading it to completion someday. However, after having given up the ghost with Foundation at the time, Kevin J. Anderson and Stephen Baxter would help hook me on hard SF.

Anderson writes books closer to Star Wars in pacing and action, but with more hard SF scope and mind-bending concepts. His epic series, Saga of the Seven Suns, was the first long book series I was able to read to completion (yes, before Harry Potter), and I remember it being great. I also read the much more recent sequel trilogy, Saga of Shadows, but I don’t recall it being as good.

If Anderson was the weak attack that staggered me, Stephen Baxter was the heavy finishing blow. I only read two novels from him, but they were bangers. I forgot their names, but I definitely didn’t forget what they were about. In one, the main character is trying to find his missing ex (or something), and stumbles upon a secret cult of women who have lived underground for so long that they evolved into an entirely different species. The other one is supposed to have been that book’s sequel, even though it’s set about a million years in the future, and involves some guy who needs to fight aliens… of some kind. Baxter wrote a lot of wild stuff, but my library decided not to stock them. He would’ve become one of my favorites if I had more access to his bibliography.

Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton

Now I was getting into the good stuff! I recall Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton being real good at incorporating crazy ideas in ways that were relatively easy to comprehend thanks to their writing prowess. Their novels felt like narratives, and not history books. 

My library had a lot of stuff from Reynolds in particular, so I was more familiar with his works. He was definitely the more imaginative of the two authors discussed in this section. To list off a few examples, Reynolds’ novels include but are not limited to: a disease that fuses people with nearby machines, a mad scientist plan of reversing a planet’s rotation, someone getting cut into 150 individual pieces while still being alive (sort of like Law in One Piece), and some alien race’s simulation of an alternate 1950s where WWII never happened, which was also infested with mutant five-year-olds for some reason. 

Peter F. Hamilton is a guy who thinks big. He’s written a lot of books set in various eras of his fictional Commonwealth world. I mainly read the Void Trilogy. It was… complicated, but I remember it being about this guy who dreamt of a parallel dimension where some wizard boy is supposed to do… something. There was also some android girl being chased by an assassin, maybe? I always wanted to read his gigantic Night’s Dawn Trilogy. But since I have this blog, and that series is about 4,000 pages in total, I think I will not be able to fulfill that desire.

Kim Stanley Robinson

Things got iffy again with Kim Stanley Robinson. From a literary standpoint, his books are absolutely phenomenal (at least out of the ones I read). They are among the most realistic-feeling science fiction novels I’ve experienced. He’s most known for the Mars trilogy, which is an incredibly well-thought out epic showcasing mankind’s colonization of Mars. It felt so real it was like reading an actual history book from the future.

But given what I think about realism, Robinson’s books didn’t do it for me. They were so real, so human, so grounded in reality, that I couldn’t get emotionally invested. I just don’t like people very much, and the characters all felt like people. Also, the hypothetical politics regarding things like preserving the natural beauty of Mars, to a parallel of the United States declaring independence from Britain, felt so real that I hated them as much as regular politics. If you can get into this guy’s stuff, then you’re a lucky duck.

Ending on a Great Note

I read one or two books by several people for a while, all with varying degrees of success. The last hard SF media I’d consume would be the best of all of those previously discussed. It was written by Cixin Liu, a Chinese SF author. I know, controversial little China.

Yep, I’m talking about the Remembrance of Earth’s Past Trilogy, better known by the individual novels: The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death’s End. THIS was a thing! Remembrance of Earth’s Past is a simple first contact story, but with none of the tropes and all of the innovation. It begins when a Famicom-style adventure game is released, and is meant to test people on how to solve the titular Three-Body Problem. Those who solve it are roped into a secret first contact cover-up that ends up being publicly revealed anyway (I forgot exactly how). I will be spoiling the rest of the trilogy from here!

It starts off slow, but gets REAL crazy. In the second volume, the aliens have more-or-less announced their presence, and the government—in desperation—assigns five random people, offering all the resources that can be provided to stop the aliens. These people cannot actually communicate what they come up with, or else the aliens will know. Almost every single person comes up with something unethical, like destroying or brainwashing humanity along with the aliens. The one guy who spends most of his money on a summer home with his girlfriend (I think he actually bought the girlfriend too I.I.R.C.) comes up with the best solution. The basis for the solution is the Dark Forest theory, which I think deserves to be recognized as the best hard SF theory since Asimov’s Laws of Robotics. From what I recall, the Dark Forest states that all civilizations are hunters in a dark forest; they try to keep themselves hidden, and indiscriminately pick off any sign of life they see. In galactic terms, this means that aliens will not attempt first contact in the grandiose way you see in movies; no, they will fire a probe and end it stealthily. No peace, no war. The guy’s solution is a thing that will alert other aliens to Earth’s existence, which will scare off the current aliens, but doom mankind.

It’s cynical, and if you’ve read a lot of my blog, you’d know how I feel about cynicism. However, Liu does cynicism in a way that’s almost beautiful, and Death’s End shows it. It does start off confusing at first, because its main protagonist is a diplomat sent to the aliens during the events of The Three-Body Problem. All this time, he’s been schmoozing the aliens. But in the meantime, the aliens have pulled a 2112 and assumed control over humanity. A butt-ton of the human race gets killed off (by androids or something), and it’s at this point that the Dark Forest Flaregun thing is used. After a series of reality-bending events, we learn that the weapons that various alien civilizations have been using on each other have been slowly reducing the universe to nothing, one dimension at a time. Again, it’s cynical, but beautiful. This is hard SF at its finest. You should be able to see why I miss this genre so much. 

But… Do I Really Miss It?

I’ve been thinking of getting back into hard SF. But at the same time, I don’t know if I can. Since finishing Liu’s books, I have become fully immersed in the otaku world of manga and light novels, while also focusing on kids’ and teens’ literature in general. 

As an example, I already made an attempt to return to the genre as recently as 2019. I read the self-titled opener of Peter F. Hamilton’s newest series, Salvation, only a few months after it came out. I did not like it. It started out with your usual premise: aliens send spies to live among humans, yadda-yadda-yadda, and some ship crashes in Antarctica or something. I know that setup is a thing, but Salvation is 99% the backstories of the main characters with 1% alien intrigue, and only two of the characters’ stories are actually plot relevant I.I.R.C.! The reviews on GoodReads were smarter than usual, and they mostly checked out positive. As such, I blamed myself. I was dumbed down by otaku culture, and could no longer enjoy hard SF. I no doubt would have loved it if I had read it as a teen, but ironically, I didn’t love it as an adult.

The way I look at things from a writing perspective has changed. I attribute long bits of dialogue as infodumping, for example. I’ll criticize lack of action, too. Also, ever since reading stuff like Monogatari, I probably would attribute any themes explored in hard SF as pretentious bullcrap. But most importantly, I have realized that those books contained an excessive amount of… sex. People say ecchi is bad, but there’s entire markets here in the good ol’ US of A that revolve around sex. I hate confessing this, but, er… this is how I first learned about the process. It wasn’t like watching “that video” in health class, but it was pretty close. I recalled not being disgusted as much as confused.

But there is one glimmer of hope, that I probably shouldn’t bother hoping for, and that is the impossible union of hard SF scope with the youth and accessibility of children’s media. As far as I know, it has been attempted thrice. The first time is the famous Time Quintet, starting with the iconic A Wrinkle in Time. It’s kind of… something. While the application of hard science is good enough, it has some of the usual bullcrap. The main protagonist, Charles Wallace, is one of those “special-for-no-reason” characters, and good ol’ nakama power ends up winning the day. Other than that, there’s the usual ham-fisted commentaries against Communism that show that the author grew up during the Red Scare. I think the series has aged relatively poorly, overall.

However, the glimmer of hope shown once more in two obscure and modern series, the first of which is called Randoms. It was a trilogy that started off like a typical wish-fulfilment fantasy, but ends up going into Star Wars Episode I-levels of space politics. I was very interested, but a lot of very arbitrary and forced drama scenes would come up starting in the second book and make me really livid. I actually haven’t finished the series, but since book three is the shortest, I might just push myself for the sake of discussing it in more detail.

There was also hope in The Chronicle of the Dark Star Trilogy. I read this one to completion only a few months before starting this blog. It had scope, it had hard science, it had youth, it had ethical quandaries; this one was a winner! It handled the ideas of time travel and multiple universes in ways that made it easy for kids to grasp. It only had two problems, the first of which was that the main protagonist was just as special as Charles Wallace (the characters literally say stuff like “Wow, you’re the only human who can time travel without exploding!” and it never gets explained). I also did not like how the series resolved. In the final book, the plot basically becomes a Star Trek episode, where the characters find this weird thing, and endlessly discuss how weird the thing is. In the climax, it ends up being almost a clone of the climax of Wrinkle. And similar to that, the main character ham-fists those American values of “individuality is more important than survival of the whole race!”, and leaves no room for debate nor interpretation. And of course, everything ends happily for all those involved. This could’ve been something to raise ethical debates, but like in The Giver and Arc of a Scythe, it reinforces the same viewpoints that readers have grown to understand instead of making them question those viewpoints. I know of no other hard SF series for young’uns, and if there are any, tell me in the comments!

In conclusion, I—to this day—have no idea if I want to try hard SF ever again. It takes me all of my free time just to keep up with manga and light novels, even after I get more gung-ho with DNF’ing stuff. This is something that will haunt me to my dying day, that’s for sure. In any case, if you’ve made it here, you’re amazing! If you’d like, leave a comment on your sci-fi experiences and tell me if there’s anything in this ballpark you’d recommend.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps: A Beautiful, Death-Trap-Infested Game

I never played Ori and the Blind Forest, but I did watch Josh Jepson and ProtonJon play through it, hence my interest in the sequel: Ori and the Will of the Wisps. I needed a metroidvania to keep my mind off of the upcoming Ender Lillies. So yeah, that’s why I decided to buy this (also the fact that Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin had been murdering me at the time).

Ori and the Will of the Wisps picks up right where the first game left off. Ori and the gang watch over the bird egg that was left behind until it hatches into a baby crow named Ku. After much trial and error, Ori helps Ku learn to fly. And while flying, they happen upon some island that seems to be in a BIT of a bind.

Will of the Wisps is nowhere near the emotional gut punch that Blind Forest was. While the opening sequence is startlingly similar, the only emotional aspect is “Oh no our burb couldn’t fly” versus “Holy crap my mother just DIED”. There is a part at around the one-third point that is utter tonal whiplash. And five minutes after that, it’s like “OKAY BACK TO VIDEOGAME AGAIN”. We get to find out the identity of the super-deep narrator in this game, which is pretty cool. Other than that, it’s pretty typical videogame stuff.

The game has a LOT of character, thanks to how it presents itself. The hand-painted-like visuals and orchestral soundtrack give Will of the Wisps the same whimsical feel as the previous game. While none of the individual tracks really stood out to me, they do a good job dynamically changing as you go through a given area. The Switch version does have some loading issues if you move too fast (fortunately it doesn’t happen when speed matters), and takes over a minute to boot-up. But hey, at least it’s not Sonic 06.

If you’re wondering if you need to play Blind Forest in order to enjoy Will of the Wisps, don’t worry; the gameplay has changed a LOT. While Ori still gets his usual mobility options, combat is completely reimagined. Ori doesn’t have his Jiminy Cricket friend from last time, so instead, he gets a SWORD. Ori’s sword has great range, and moves fast; like the optimal melee setup in Hollow Knight but without the needed charms. This attack, along with many other abilities, need to be assigned to Y, X, and A. You find a lot of abilities, by either interacting with trees or straight-up buying them. Because of this, combat has a lot more depth than the previous game. Plus, your attacks pack a real wallop, which can stun enemies or send them flying. Uniquely enough, you can un-assign your standard attack if you so choose. But in any case, you can re-assign your moves instantly at any time, so it’s not that big of a deal.

But that’s not all! There’s also spirit shards. These are basically charms from Hollow Knight, but they all take the same amount of slots. They have perks, from being able to stick to climbable walls, to having applications in combat. Some of them can be upgraded, and it’s definitely worth doing (even if they cost more than a pretty penny). 

As far as being a metroidvania is concerned, Will of the Wisps does a great job. I still have doubts that any metroidvania could beat Hollow Knight in terms of exploration, but I had a great deal of fun running around this new world. The map marks off most points of interests for you, but if you want to know where everything is, you’ll have to pay the map guy. There is also a lot more to do compared to Blind Forest. In addition to the Life Cells, Energy Cells, and secret pockets of cash scattered about, you have to worry about fun combat shrines, less fun speedrunning challenges, and hidden spirits shards. You also have Wellspring Glades, the dedicated hub area. To spruce this place up, you need to find Gorlek Ore to fund various projects, and seeds to plant to allow access to other parts of town.

If you aren’t too familiar with Blind Forest, then you might be wondering what exactly makes Ori stand out from the other nine hundred ninety-nine metroidvanias out there. Pretty early on in the Ori games, you obtain the bash ability. At the push of a button, this move allows you to grab hanging lamps, enemy projectiles, and enemies themselves to literally yeet Ori in any direction of your choosing. You can use this to redirect projectiles back at the enemies, but more often than not, you use this for some straight-up ridiculous platforming. Will of the Wisps gets more insane when you obtain the new grapple ability. This thing has obscene range, able to grapple to targets practically offscreen. However, it’s a lot touchier compared to bash because this one doesn’t let you change the angle that Ori is launched in.

These crazy movement abilities allow the Ori games to have some really cinematic chase sequences. They were pulse-pounding in Blind Forest, and the ones in Will of the Wisps are no slouch. But as fun as they are, there are tons of chances for instant death. If you’re going for the no-death challenge, then… prepare to hate these sections of the game.

Blind Forest was notoriously difficult. By comparison, however, Will of the Wisps is significantly easier. The wider range of combat options make most enemies a joke, even with a shard that greatly increases their stats in exchange for more money. It is still easy to die, but the incredibly generous checkpoints kind of encourage more reckless play. The chase sequences are also a lot shorter and easier this time around. I haven’t played the game on hard mode, since it—you know—would require another playthrough, and I don’t exactly have the luxury to replay a game, but I imagine that veterans will want that mode right out of the gate.

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Final Verdict: 8.75/10 

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a great metroidvania that’s much better than its predecessor. I recommend it if you like Ori and this type of game in general.

Dungeon Busters: Pokémon Go But You Don’t Get Hit by a Car (Volume 1 Review)

I love myself some JRPGs (even if I don’t have time to play a lot of them anymore). The fantasy settings are (usually) very vibrant and pretty (I wish I could sleep in some of these settings), and you can hunt animals for money without having to worry about a mass extinction! Dungeon Busters brings the idea of living in a JRPG to our world.

In Dungeon Busters, a middle-aged salaryman named Kazuhiko Ezoe finds a dungeon in his backyard. When he enters, he initiates the “Dungeon System”, which will cause dungeons to appear all over the world. In eleven years, all the monsters of any uncleared dungeons will destroy all life on Earth. Kazuhiko is determined to clear all the dungeons and save the world.

Well… technically, he doesn’t clear all the dungeons himself. His goal is to grind up enough money to start funding his own organization to take down dungeons. As someone who likes JRPGs, it feels good to see Kazuhiko evolve and gain skills (and min-maxing, of course). The “game” mechanics are also very well thought-out. It is quite repetitive with exposition dumps, but that’s because Kazuhiko kind of has to reiterate it a lot in the context of the story; it shouldn’t be like this moving forward.

Like any incomprehensible phenomena that impacts the whole world, the dungeons get political. As you can expect, all of the governments of the world respond less efficiently than one man’s individual efforts. At the very least, they tackle the real-world impact of an infinite source of money and energy, ordinary humans being able to grow stronger than a pro wrestler, potions that can restore body parts, and other videogame tropes. The weird thing, however, is the fact that every nation except for Japan has a different name (also, the president of the U.S. is based off of Trump, which will very shortly make this series quite dated). This could be foreshadowing a twist, since the opening chapter shows the world—curiously enough—already being destroyed. What if Dungeon Busters IS an isekai, only it’s an alternate version of our own sekai?

As someone who’s read so many light novels, the writing of 99% of them feel exactly the same. Despite that, there’s a wild sense of variance in quality. Dungeon Busters doesn’t feel like it does any writing differently, but it’s more than sufficient for some reason. There is one problem, however: the P.O.V. changes are awful, sometimes switching into a minor character who never appears again. They also don’t show you who they’re changing into after the first time shifting to that character. 

Of course, it wouldn’t be an issue if the cast had personality, but sadly… that’s not the case. Kazuhiko is likeable enough at least. He’s down-to-earth, as to not come off as a sociopathic a-hole, but he at has some definable personality quirks; he’s very composed and utilitarian, always considering all the possibilities of the situation. Kazuhiko is essentially a chiller version of Seiya from Cautious Hero.

Dungeon Busters wouldn’t be a light novel without some controversy, and this leads into the inevitable harem. There is a card mechanic where you can summon monsters and items and stuff. The rarest type of card summons a girl straight out of one of those “waifu mobile games”, and Kazuhiko gets two of them. His first, Akane, is a sexy ninja girl who’s constantly trying to have sex with him. She’s at least a legal adult, but Emily, his other waifu card, looks like a twelve-year-old. Both of these girl cards only serve to discuss dungeon mechanics and be waifus. And it gets worse with Kazuhiko’s niece, Mari. She seems harmless enough; just your typical moe blob who exists just to pander. However, there is one scene that implies that she might have a crush on her forty-year-old uncle. 

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Verdict: 8.5/10

Finally, a decent light novel debut! Dungeon Busters isn’t perfect, but it at least has standards (ooooh, burn!). I’m curious to see what direction this thing goes in (and how much more political it’ll get). I recommend it to fans of DanMachi and slice-of-life fantasies.

Dual Alter World Continues to be One of Japan’s Most Underrated Prog-Metal Bands with their World Distonation EP

One of my first posts ever was introducing three new voices in Japanese music from 2019, with a very underrated metal duo aptly named Dual Alter World being one of them. Personally, I’ve changed a lot since that post; I cringe at having been a Queensrÿche OG lineup purist, now that I’ve grown to like the current lineup in its own way (which is why I’m NOT posting a link to the old post *shivers*). Also, Dual Alter World really isn’t that much like Queensrÿche. My tastes have expanded so much since then, that I now have a better idea of how to describe their style. So now, let me rectify what I said before by reviewing their new EP, World Distonation.

For those who don’t know what this band is (which you probably don’t because these bands don’t like marketing), Dual Alter World (henceforth known as DAW) is kind of a poppy prog-metal band that formed in Japan in 2019. I don’t know much about the members’ backgrounds, except that lead vocalist Kotori Koiwai is a voice actor, and the guitarist—simply named Ryu—is a veteran of the trade, having been in a band called Blood Stain Child, which dates back to the 1990s. DAW’s debut album, Alter Ego, was a concept album about an android (I think?) and it was actually really good and underrated. Think of Amaranthe meets Dream Theater and you’ll sort of get an idea of what DAW is like.

World Distonation has the same electronic metal style as before, but more refined. It also seems that the weird “futuristic record scratch” synth effect (whatever it’s called) is going to become a staple sound in their music. There is still that poppiness in their choruses, but the vibe is way more prog this time. They even went as far as to hire other voice actors to narrate and sing with Koiwai. I don’t know all of them, but people would definitely recognize Asami Imai, the voice of Best Girl Kurisu from Steins;Gate.

I really can’t say much more, other than World Distonation is really good, even more so than Alter Ego. Not only do you have your usual narration tracks, but they also have narrated bits at points in the actual songs. I have no idea who has the creative input here, but whoever it is knows what they’re doing. They’ve really been going all-out. 

It’s just a real shame that they don’t seem to be that big, even by “under the radar” standards. For starters, the official hashtag for them cannot be typed on a non-Japanese keyboard; it’s in hiragana, followed by the letters DAW. I know most Japanese labels don’t seek out international fans, but that’s just excessive. Also, the fact that this is probably a side project means that I have no idea how long it’ll last. From what I could glean of both members’ social media, they seem to act like DAW doesn’t even exist until a new release is announced. This could be their last album, or just the beginning; that’s the risk with following a young band like this.

Another big issue that only pertains to non-Japanese fans is the language. Normally, music itself is universal and transcends language. However, DAW’s albums aren’t just both concept albums, but possibly part of a linear story; the only other bands I know that do that are Gloryhammer and Dark Sarah. Concept albums are very heavily reliant on the lyrics, and without being able to know what they’re saying, DAW becomes a very hard sell. 

Overall, if you can at least appreciate the effort they put in, World Distonation is an incredible EP. Dual Alter World is a great little band that doesn’t get the traction it deserves, and probably never will. If they were more popular, there could even be an anime adaptation based off these albums (as if adaptations of concept albums have never failed before). I recommend checking them out, especially if you can fluently understand Japanese.

Weeb Reads Monthly December 2020

Well, this post’s a bit late. The reason is because the latest volume of Otherside Picnic came out too close to  the end of the year. But hey, at least I got this out on the same week as New Year’s Eve, right? Anyway, let’s do this.


Sorcerer King of Destruction and Golem of the Barbarian Queen Volume 2

I had a sliver of hope for this one. After all, it started out as a pretty lonely, post-apocalyptic isekai. However, it doesn’t take long for Nemaki to reach a town. At this point, Sorcerer King pretty much turns into your run-of-the-mill slice-of-life isekai.

If I was a more generous reviewer, I’d say it’s fascinating to see the fact that Nemaki doesn’t exactly understand Gol. She’s very trigger happy, and her clothes are more than just cosmetic. Nemaki genuinely does not know what she’s capable of, nor what makes her tick, giving a genuine sense of mystery and concern. Unfortunately, I’m not a more generous reviewer. From rubbing cheeks to looking at her underwear, Nemaki’s interactions with Gol are no different than that of a typical isekai waifu. It seems like she was made as a golem just to pretend that Sorcerer King is subversive. And with the usual stiff writing, I have little to no interest remaining in this series.

Verdict: 6.5/10


May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace Volume 2

Before getting into this volume, I must clarify that I did not cover The Eminence in Shadow Volume 2 like I planned. First off, I ran out of money because, well, Christmas. Second off, I had too many doubts about that series. The fact that Cid’s made-up enemy turns out to be real, along with them actually skipping how his own organization comes about… It’s just plain stupid. Combine that with the subpar characters and you have another series that, in my opinion, does not at all deserve to place on the Kono Sugoi Light Novel rankings. 

I also had doubts about May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace. Like most time travel narratives, Leaden Battlegrounds is kind of… iffy. But for some reason, I enjoyed it because I was curious as to how stupid it could get. So here we are!

The main premise of the volume is Rain and Air getting into a scuffle with some Western soldiers, one of whom is a cute girl named Deadrim, and the other person is… there. Once again, most of the volume proves to be boring, but there’s just enough intrigue at the end to make you wanna buy the next one. The only other noteworthy thing is that fact that Air should be using the Devil Bullet on Rain, but that whole aspect of their relationship goes in the direction you’d expect.

Verdict: 7.2/10


DanMachi Volume 15

It feels like it’s been forever and a day since we had a new DanMachi volume. Unfortunately, this one’s a filler volume. Sure, DanMachi has had some of the better filler in light novels, but not this time. We do get more backstory to some of our main protagonists, in addition to the backstory we already got, but it kind of feels excessive. For example, the first chapter is literally about the inn that Bell stayed at until he found out about Hestia. Do we really need that? In any case, most of the stories are pretty good, though not the best that DanMachi has to offer. 

Verdict: 7.9/10


Infinite Dendrogram Volume 13

After the relative nothing that happened last time, we finally have an event that’s been building up for a long time: a conference between Altar and Dryfe. In order to participate, Ray forms a clan with his friends and gets a new job. This new job, as always, is something wild that nobody likes which ends up being really useful for his build. In any case, it’s not even a spoiler to say that the conference goes south, and a big fight breaks out.

The one gripe I have is something that’s happened twice now in Dendro: withholding information from the reader that the main character, who’s narrating, happens to know. It’s a cheap way to build anticipation and I don’t know why any writer would ever think this is a good idea. Nemesis, once again, evolves into a new form after a small time-skip leading up to the conference. We also don’t get to see it, since this volume ends in the middle of the action. Other than that, Dendro still meets (and exceeds) expectations.

Verdict: 8.75/10


Otherside Picnic Volume 4

It feels like it’s been forever since we got some Otherside Picnic! With the anime in development, I cannot wait for yuri fans to get super toxic and scare off potential viewers. But in the meantime, we have this. As usual, it starts off [relatively] chill, with the girls going to the cult HQ from the previous volume to clear it of supernatural gook.

Other than that, it’s pretty typical stuff. Sorawo and Toriko’s relationship gets more intense, and we learn a bit of the former’s past, but that’s about it. There’s no new goal established. However, I’m fine with that, because Otherside Picnic is a CGDCT at heart, and core narrative doesn’t really matter in those. As long as the suspense is still off the rails (which it is in this volume HOLY CRAP), then I’m good.

Verdict: 9.3/10


Conclusion

Overall, we had a pretty good lineup of light novels to close off the year. Unfortunately, it looks like I’m going to be skipping this January’s Weeb Reads Monthly because there are only two volumes that I actually have interest in, excluding the upcoming debuts. February might be skipped too, because I only see ONE volume of interest on BookWalker’s Pre-Order page at the time of writing this post. Regardless, whatever I skip will all be lumped in with another month eventually!

Soul: Pixar’s Most Existential Film

I’m not one of those vocal people who thinks things like “2020 is the year of suffering” because of the media’s scare tactics regarding COVID-19, and their ability to withhold anything legitimately positive. Despite me knowing the actual facts about COVID, it was hard on me as well. Even as someone who’s not active on social media, I am around a number of people who are, and they happen to only focus on one side of the story. So yeah, I’ve broken into tears at least once a week all year. Overly long preface aside, Pixar decided to give us a Christmas present: Soul. I didn’t know what it was about, but I had to see it.

Mild spoilers in this paragraph, if you have no idea what the movie is about. In Soul, a man named Joe Gardner dreams of playing jazz with the big boys—wait, wrong movie—some lady named Dorthea Williams. He manages to land a gig, but dies on the way over to the venue. Now that he’s in purgatory, he’s gotta find a way back into his body. And his only ticket is in a literal wayward soul named Twenty-Two, who wants nothing to do with life.

Boy, this movie is sure… something else. First off, it’s definitely a twist for Disney to have a movie about one of its many, many, MANY deceased characters instead of someone who’s, well, alive. It’s kind of hilarious, actually. In any case, Pixar’s interpretation of the afterworld is more than just a world of never ending happiness where the sun shines both day and night; it’s that usual Pixar sense of imagination. Also, this movie shows just how much more lenient we’ve become with cursing in front of kids. They say the words “hell” and “crap”, which were more than enough to earn you a trip to the former back when I was a kid. Well, Disney was also the first to depict a clergyman and humanity itself in villainous roles in animated media, so… yeah.

Soul has your usual Pixar magic in terms of the storytelling. It knows how to bounce between being hilarious and emotional without feeling inorganic. This one knows how to hammer in the feels, but it gets bizarrely terrifying at times. It’s not outright horror; think along the lines of one of those psychological indie games like Arise: A Simple Story

Like any Disney or Pixar movie, Soul is definitely not new in terms of social commentary. Not to spoil it, but the takeaway is definitely something you’ve seen before, unless you’re literally the target demographic of the movie and have never seen it before. Once again, it’s something that anyone can relate to. Unfortunately, due to the fact that we HAVE to go to work and pay our bills, Soul‘s message will probably be forgotten as easily as the other times the message has been communicated.

The characters are some of the better in Pixar’s filmography. Joe Gardner is an interesting case, not just because he dies, but because he’s the oldest lead protagonist I’ve seen in a Disney animated feature. Given the nature of the movie, his journey is a bit more spiritual than most Disney flicks; definitely keeping up the trend of abandoning the tired “good vs. evil” themes of their past. As you can expect, his father is dead. Big surprise for Disney. But honestly, I feel like this is the first time a Disney parent’s death actually meant something to the plot since Bambi. That’s something at least.

Other than Joe, we have the aforementioned Twenty-Two, who’s the sarcastic and rambunctious type. She and Joe end up learning the same life lesson through each other. Running purgatory is/are a bizarre being named Jerry, along with what serves as the main antagonist: Terry. They’re pretty deadpan, but have some of the better lines in the movie. 

I shouldn’t even bother discussing visuals because Pixar pretty much always nails it. Soul is simply stunning, as good at looking both photorealistic and undeniably cartoony as any Pixar film. The movie does, at least, showcase some of the most abstract and experimental visuals I’ve seen in their entire career. Soul honestly feels like a Pixar short but as a feature film instead. I’d say that they did a great job considering COVID separated the whole team, but this movie was probably in post production since 2018.

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

Soul is one of the best Pixar movies I’ve ever seen. Everything about it is impeccably executed, and is definitely what the doctor ordered for this year. I recommend Soul if you want a straight-up great movie, especially if you’re a Disney fan.

And P.S.: Disney, can you please do the whole “release movies on Disney+ the same day they would’ve come out in theatres” more often, maybe forever?