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aphenine (London, England)

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Fairy Tail: Collection One [DVD]
Fairy Tail: Collection One [DVD]
Dvd ~ Shinji Ishidaira
Price: £17.45

4.0 out of 5 stars Funny and charming chill-out anime, 12 Nov. 2013
I really enjoyed this show a lot more than I thought I would from reading the description of the plot.

Broadly, in a world where magic is common, lies the Kingdom of Fiore. Although magic is commonplace, some people dedicate their lives to its practice. These people are the wizards, who band together into magical guilds. One guild, which stands above the rest, about whom many legends are written and who will doubtless create many more into the future, is the guild of Fairy Tail.

Lucy is a wizard looking to join the guild and the series starts with her introduction to Natsu, the dragon slayer, who inducts her into the guild, where she meets many more wizards, forms a group with the ice mage Grey and the sword mage Erza, to take on jobs for the magical guild.

Fairy Tail's tagline is that their magic spells destruction. This is certainly true. The wizards in Fairy Tail all tend to be individualistic and ever so slightly insane, creating some great characters and some great character interactions. For example, Natsu believes every problem can be solved by smacking someone down or destroying something and only his dragon slayer fire magic tends to let him survive the first few minutes of rushing in and getting his arse kicked, Grey is angsty and moody and consistently looses his clothes in company (there is a decent explanation for this, but you have to wait until some episodes in to find out if it's pervy or not), Erza has no people skills but terrifies everyone in the guild (including Natsu and Grey) and will occasionally steamroller over everyone in her desire to get things done while Lucy tends to whine a lot about everything and can be quite self-centered. They are supported by a decent cast of characters ranging from the other Fairy Tail guild members (who are each dysfunctional in their own way), to the guild masters and the magical council, to the enemies they fight.

The plot in Fairy Tail is primarily centered around being fun and being funny. This makes Fairy Tail easy watching and, although I loved this show, that's one of the reasons this show only got 4 stars. It's not pretending to be great anime and that's part of its strength and charm, something it succeeds at really well. This is perfect chill-out anime to watch after a difficult day dealing with lots of difficult people. The plot is easy and simple to follow most of the time and the series has a lovely narrator who tells you important things at key points, keeping the anime nice and tight, and there are enough recaps without being silly. The series works very well in either individual plot episode or multi-episode plot arc form, which is what happens soon after the first few episodes.

Despite this, at key points in the plot, the thought behind Fairy Tail can get surprising deep, which doesn't make it jarringly bad, despite it's brain-dead appeal. For example, what does happen when Natsu goes up against a fire mage who can control his fire and send it right back at him? How does he defeat him? Or Grey when he goes up against an ice mage? What about defeating wind magic with fire? This makes some of the fights really tactical and if you can't figure out what's going on and how one character beats another (or cannot be bothered), the narrator or one of the characters will explain it to you too, keeping the plot moving (the illustrating diagram of how Natsu beats a wind barrier spell by a wind mage is a joy to behold, especially if you have a physics background). The way the characters work together can be quite interesting too, although, as you expect, for a bunch of rabid individualists, this can be the hardest part for them. This is what makes fairy Tail great anime.

Added to that, although most of the time the anime focuses on monster-bashing and silliness, there can be moments where it will suddenly get very emotional and serious, for example as with Grey's back-story in the Galuna Island arc.

The magic systems used in the show are pretty fun to explore and is one of the show's more interesting bits. Each wizard usually uses and expresses one form of magic which they have mastered, which falls into one of two groups. One set are ability wizards, whose magic grants them special abilities, while others are item wizards, who get their power from the use of items. For example, Natsu is a fire mage who uses fire, but he's also been taught to change his body by a dragon, so he is impervious to fire and can breathe it in and spew it back out and it's what gives him his toughness. Erza, on the other hand, keeps a pocket dimension from which she can draw different swords and weapons for any battle, or even change them mid battle (or mid-stroke sometimes). She's also learned to master this for armour too, which makes her more formidable than the average sword mage.

The animation in this anime uses lots of still scenes, which is something that I usually find irritating and usually something that spoils an anime for me. But thanks to the narration, clever cutting between scenes and the fact that all the fight-scenes and action scenes are generally fluid, this is not an issue and did not detract at all from the anime. The general quality of the drawing is high. There are some issues with there being lots of big magic-attack sequences which sometimes get in the way. So Natsu will unleash Fire Dragon Fire Fist from three metres away but take a whole cut scene and twenty metres to unleash it, which can get annoying. Also there's maybe a little too much scantily dressed women at times for the whole thing to make sense. But then, as part of its humour, Fairy Tail also makes fun of these things, so they work. So Erza's magical armour transformation sequence loses some of it's luster when she uses it to change into pyjamas for a sleep-over, while there's a lovely section on Mirajane and her appearance in Wizarding Weekly magazine's photo shoots. These lovely little touches keep the show fresh and funny throughout.

The background music can be quite fun sometimes too. Music is not the show's strongest point, but it's definitely not the show's weakest and ironically, it's what made me buy this anime in the first place, as the theme Dragon Force is one of the most epic fight bits of music I've heard. You don't really get to hear it much in this collection, though, but there are lots of decent themes throughout for the characters and various scenes.

Overall, this is some really good anime and highly recommended, especially if you're looking for some humour and adventure to relax to. It's funny, charming and has great characters you can care about.

The Atrocity Archives: Book 1 in The Laundry Files
The Atrocity Archives: Book 1 in The Laundry Files
Price: £4.31

4.0 out of 5 stars Computer Geeks Get Magical, 11 Jun. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is the first in a series about Bob Howard, IT consultant for the Laundry, a super-secret organisation inside British Intelligence tasked with all matters occult.

In a world where the multiple Universes of Quantum Mechanics leak into each other, and performing mathematical proofs can get you noticed by the beasties in the other dimensions (let alone writing code and running it on computers), the secret services exist to protect the public from the various horrors waiting to jump into our Universe at the slightest chance.

Bob Howard gets co-opted by the Laundry for accidentally trying to landscape Birmingham and is forced to work for the Laundry as their IT systems administrator. Life is safe and boring for him until he gets noticed by the active branch when a training course goes wrong. At which point, his life starts to get very interesting.

A great tale for geeks in general, with lots of computer related fun and a plausible plot to make the computer geek as hero. Lots of references to various bits of horror and geek culture (Lovecraft is real), enough paranoid conspiracy theories to keep a Libertarian convention going and an interesting spy-type thriller to boot.

Dragon Age: Origins - Ultimate Edition (PC DVD)
Dragon Age: Origins - Ultimate Edition (PC DVD)
Offered by 6 Hungry Weasels
Price: £16.03

18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Additional Content Expires, 8 Feb. 2012
This is an additional review specifically for the Dragon Age Origins Ultimate Edition.

I've just opened the game and installed it, and discovered the extra content, which is advertised heavily on the pack and the product description, expires in July 2011. This product therefore doesn't contain the extra content packs which it advertises any more. At the time of writing, the original and expansion pack were, collectively cheaper than this version, so I'd recommend that other people don't make the mistake I did and buy this version at a higher price, only to be disappointed.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 28, 2012 11:28 AM GMT

City Life 2008 (PC DVD)
City Life 2008 (PC DVD)
Offered by gamebooth
Price: £3.33

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pretty good city builder with many small flaws, 28 Dec. 2011
= Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars 
City Life is a city builder game in the vein of the Sim City series. It brings lots of new ideas into the series, and departs radically from the traditional Sim City approach in many areas. This is both good and bad as there are lots of radical new ideas (both good and bad), new things to play with and old things missing.

Unlike Sim City, the game gives you full control over everything in your city. You build all of the industry, leisure facilities and other such things that are usually handled by the zoning concept in Sim City. This is pretty fun sometimes, because you can build your city exactly like you want it, and annoying at others, because sometimes it feels like you're just building the same old same old with no sense of organic growth. Although there is no zoning, housing does come in small, medium and high density.

One of the great improvements in this game over the Sim City series is the ability to build streets at any angle and align buildings on the new grid, which is absolutely fantastic and allows for more natural city alignments. However, the feature isn't completely ironed out, and if you depart of the right-angle grid, it can get very frustrating especially as the streets often refuse to line up outside of the housing area drag tool. Also, the ability to build roads at random angles allows for building pleasing switchbacks and curves up the sides of steep hills, although it takes a lot of getting used to the first time and is very frustrating.

One of the key new features are the six different population types, who start with the Have Nots, branch out into Fringe and Blue Collars, who can each evolve into a higher type (Radical Chic and Suits respectively) who both evolve into Elites, the highest level. The idea is quite fun in some ways, and not thought out in others. It leads to the building of almost separate segregated parts of the city in order not to have social conflict between the groups and then it's an annoying detail, especially since the groups are almost verging on the insulting in the kind of stereotypical way they're handled. However, your population have different priorities, which makes your city have different neighbourhoods with different characters and different services. This is an amazing idea and it would be nice to see it developed better.

The way the game enforces the different types of neighbourhoods is through the happiness system. It rates all the services at a house by giving points on a bar, and the overall quality of the neighbourhood is determined by the lowest bar. Dark green bars are "free" levels of satisfaction, which your city services add to. So, for example, a Fringe worker will have several free bars in security, because they are less bothered by security, and fewer in education, meaning Fringe neighbourhoods need schools and colleges in order to improve the quality of the neighbourhood to make them want to move in, but don't need police stations unless you're aiming for up-market neighbourhoods. Blue collars, on the other hand, are the opposite, and won't move in without adequate security, and to hell with their kids, but the more discerning like to have their kids educated. Have Nots have lots of free bars because they'll live anywhere and don't particularly care. Some services apply to the whole city and some to just an area.

Another absolutely fantastic thing is the fact that scenery matters. If you have a nice area and you keep it free from pollution, people will want to live in them preferentially over the more grotty neighbourhoods (although the lower population types care less about scenery). This means it actually makes sense to develop river banks and high hills overlooking the city, which in Sim City were just pointless and thankless task only reality pedants ever attempted. The scenery counts as another bar in the happiness system, and is put together with pollution.

The cost of all these good things is that a lot of things that were standard in SC are dumbed down. Gone are the utilities systems, and any advanced road transport features, that made road planning a joy in Sim City (assuming the map had no angles in it...). It's easy to get income, as you own the industries (instead of taxing them) and so you get all the profits. There's no designing maps and there's no neighbourhood system, as in SC4. The game also has many bugs. I found myself prone to the save game not working bug in the campaign mode. Thankfully, I could just go into the free mode and play the same maps there.

I've given this three stars because it's a good game with lots of new and crazy ideas which haven't entirely meshed yet, not to mention the bugs and half-working features. I'm really interested to see where this goes in the later games. If you like Sim City 4, it's definitely worth buying.

Crossover (Cassandra Kresnov Novels)
Crossover (Cassandra Kresnov Novels)
by Joel Shepherd
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Future sci-fi cyber thriller at its best, 2 April 2011
While the League and the Federation fought a war over the limits of technology, the League, vastly outnumbered, created super-soldiers to help even the conflict. Entirely artificial, these faster, stronger, more accurate soldiers, called GIs, turned out to also be impossibly stupid. In an effort to fix this, the League decided to create an android with a brain as fully modelled on a human as possible, capable of lateral thinking, and turned it loose in a special operations unit. Meet Cassandra Kresnov, a super-soldier android. Completely artificial, and very human.

Cassandra grows up as a very successful super-soldier and GI special ops commander. But the same things that make her so successful at combat also lead her to question her side's morality in the war, as well as the point of conflict. At the end of the war she defects to her old enemy, the Federation, in search of a peaceful existence. She settles in the megapolis of Tanusha, on the world of Callay as a civilian programmer. But soon her past catches up to her when the Federal Intelligence Agency kidnaps her to study her. The grisly study and lack of humanity shown by the FIA leads to some sympathy among the Tanushan police, who rescue her, but no one knows what to do with her. When Federal politics turn ugly and the FIA attempt to assassinate the President of Callay, Cassandra is in a position to intervene and joins in Callay's hunt against the FIA. But will the Federation, a society that precludes her right to exist, ever recognise her? Will they ever treat her as anything more than a killing machine gone rogue?

The chief theme of this book is exploring the meaning of being human. Through the artificial Cassandra, the book explores what makes us human, and whether something artificial can ever be human. It also deals with the age old question of what makes a good soldier and whether a super-soldiers can ever really exist. However, the book has lots of other themes as well.

The society of Tanusha is highly networked and technologically advanced, and an artificial human like Cassandra slides through the network infrastructure with ease, hunting on both the physical and network realms. As a result, the book contains a well developed cyber side that is often interesting in its own right. It tends to be more true to how hacking and network security is actually done, but it does make the plot occasionally very hard to follow.

Politics plays an important role in the books too, although not so much in the first book. The politics is particularly well developed and every bit as murky, strange and muddled as it gets in real life, and politics ends up behind the FIA attacking the Presidents of one of its own worlds using League troops, as well as behind whether Cassandra will ever be accepted.

The author is Australian, and the books explore the cultural significance of a future dominated by the Indians and Chinese in a very refreshing and non-Western centric way. The culture is also handled through the ideology of the two sides (the League wants to progress at all costs and regards cultural baggage as a hindrance, the Federation celebrates culture, although it still has race and religious radicalism). Tanusha is particularly Indian in character, and the characters come from a diverse range of backgrounds.

Finally, the books also explore future architecture and town planning, through the fascinating megapolis of Tanusha.

Apart from the themes, the characterisation is also really good. Cassandra Kresnov's character, and her struggles with her own nature, as well as the friends she makes and the people she meets are the primary way the themes are explored. Kresnov tends to be very self aware and intelligent, although she's also very immature at times, and woefully unprepared for some of the realities of civilian life, lurching from utterly possessed but lonely killing machine to a very vulnerable social human with no control of her life.

Gundam Seed Complete Collection 1/2 - Anime Legends [DVD]
Gundam Seed Complete Collection 1/2 - Anime Legends [DVD]
Dvd ~ Mitsuo Fukuda

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome Mecha Entertainment, 30 Sept. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I bought this expecting to get a reasonable series about giant robots fighting it out that might be diverting to watch. However, it proved to be so much more.

The series follows the young Kira Yamato as his home orbital is attacked by the forces of ZAFT in the war between genetically modified humans (Coordinators) and those that aren't modified (Naturals). Kira ends up in the seat of an advanced prototype mecha weapon, called a Gundam. ZAFT forces already have mecha units and the Earth Forces have used the neutral country of Orb to develop their own counter. This is what draws the initial attack on the orbital. Kira is startled to find himself pitted against a childhood friend, Athrun Zala, and is faced with the moral dilemma of fighting on behalf of the Earth forces against ZAFT despite being a Coordinator.

This series has loads to offer on many different levels. The sci-fi elements are great. Little details that normally get missed are there. Ships fire thrusters to move and characters float in zero g environments. The orbital habitats look right for a society without artificial gravity, the various ships and mechas use and have issues with their operating software and the combat scenes would be easily reminiscent of current military ship technology adapted and extended. Pretty much most scenes have some really well thought out sci-fi element that make the series a joy to watch for that alone.

Then there's the combat elements. The initial battles are pretty awesome and there's a decent array of action sequences and scenes, ranging from dueling mechas to ship to ship combat with flying missiles, CIWS systems and beam weapons building up to a final battle that can only be described as epic. There's also a fantastic array of ship, mecha, aircraft and tank designs, with a brilliantly crafted back story for all parts, including development histories and lineages. This series firmly fits into the believable robot group, and you get to see how the main characters' prototype super-mechas get adapted for mass production units, as well as how the characters actions fit into the greater strategic picture and help influence it.

There's also a good political element. The political situation is pretty well handled and impressive for a show that mainly deal with mecha combat, providing a satisfying backdrop for the combat sequences to play out on, and for the motivations of the factions involved. Perhaps some of the factions seem to be a bit too trigger happy to be believable, but the fact that the writers bothered to flesh it out so much speaks volumes and means you'll get something extra out of this if you know your history.

The show also has huge moral and philosophical elements. None of the sides are particularly well or badly portrayed overall and there are no clear good or bad guys (at least at the beginning). The horror of war is clearly portrayed and made poignant by the fact that two best friends are trying to kill each other, and Gundam Seed does not pull the punches when it comes to killing off characters. Some of the deaths are brutally shocking when they happen and it makes sure you care about the characters as you never know if they'll survive. The story deals with heavy topics in a mature and sensible way, including every hairy topic regarding war (reasons for taking up arms, hostages, prisoners of war, and the morality of genocide and total war) and the morality of genetic engineering. This does make the series heavy going and quite challenging, but worth it, and it avoids being morally sanctimonious.

There are also amazing and complex characters, and everybody should find a character who appeals to them. The extreme situations the characters find themselves in push the characters to develop fully and in surprising but very believable ways, and not all of them good. The series also includes one of the most awesome female characters in all anime, Lacus Cline, who seems to be a very stereotypical pop-star female character interested in peace and harmony between the warring factions. However, she has this deep iron core to her personality and isn't afraid to act on what she believes in and yet has the brains to temper her idealism. Somehow, the writers managed to create a character than is never less than fluffy or feminine and yet is someone who I would not want to cross, ever, and there are many other good strong female characters to satisfy a female audience.

Finally, there's the adequate animation and a really amazing soundtrack. The opening and closing songs are pretty good, have contributions from groups like TM Revolution and See-Saw and all the openings (of which there are four) are well animated and match the mood of the music and series. Music during the series has many martial themes that suit the action taking place and have some epic themes to suit the parts of the series that are epic. I'd say that the music is one of the high points of this anime.

To finish off, this series contains something for everybody on whatever level you feel like watching this. If you just want fighting robots, this'll do (although there's probably better stuff out there) and if you want more from this, it'll deliver it too, whether its sci-fi, a modern moral fable or comments on history and politics.

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