Monday, April 14, 2014

Psycho Pass

Still chugging along on my +Hulu subscription. One of my amigos recommend Psycho Pass in the anime category. The Wiki is over here.

Animation? I dug it. Soundtrack? Again, good without intruding on the show itself. Storyline? Wow. That was powerful stuff. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for some Utopia plagued society bits that has a ton of elements from all over that somehow conspires itself into one kick ass tale.

Apparently its so well done that there will be a second season, novels, manga and other bits. Things to look forward to.

The character designs are well done. One of the main characters, Kogami, has that 'Spike' look and seriousness to him and is well placed against his new nemesis, Shogo who is platinum blonde with long hair while Kogami has short cropped black hair. Our new police officer, and hence, the viewer's guide to this new world, is Akane, who is a slender youth with short brown hair. She stands out in vast contrast in terms of thinness to the other women of the show, especially the cyber expert whose a buxom, flirty blonde.

The guns, Dominators, are also slick. Their appearance changes depending on what mode they're in so that you get a few different varieties of the weapon.

The non-spoiler review is over. If you like anime, you might enjoy this if post modern stuff hits your pleasure centers. Below I'll be discussing very specific spoilers and why I think it's a fantastic set up for any modern role playing game.

1. Cyberpunk but not: When I was growing up in the 80's and 90's, Cyberpunk meant Cyberpunk 2020. It meant people with bionic limbs that lost their humanity the more cybernetic they became. It meant missions for one mercenary company against another. Psycho Pass has elements of isolation to it. It has elements of the society not caring about its fellow members. But it does so on the positive side of such a coin. The isolation and sterilization of modern man, isn't done by cybernetics, its done through the elimination of things that may lead to revolutionary thoughts and ideas. Corporations aren't the issue, it's big, no, super government that only has society's best interest at heart, even if that means failing some of the people.

As a matter of fact, Shogo's last big plan? To destroy the capability of Japan to feed itself, is so awesome farming itself so rarely touched on in traditional Cyberpunk stories, it is a perfect bit to directly steal for a cypberunk game for anyone who hasn't seen Psycho Pass.

In this instance, it would be the introduction of a virus into the crops that is supposed to protect the crops from other viruses and insects. The players would have to find out where the automated farms are, where the 'brains' of those farms are, how to work around or with the security, and then stop the eco-terrorist.

2. Minority Report: The police of the setting use guns called Dominators. The dominators are capable of reading a person's 'psycho pass' and their crime coefficient. The higher the later, the worse the former. People can be taken in before they commit any crimes because they are capable of committing the crimes. Highly reminded me of minority report.

Another big nod to future corporations or media involvement, was that everything is networked. For example, the guns the police use? They have to have network access in order to flash their scan back to the databanks in order to get that reading.

People are surrounded by holograms that promote a better life. Their clothing for example, can switch to different images and outfits, as can their furniture, as can outside furniture, like benches or water fountains. There's a 'hidden' layer of reality beneath it all.

3. GIGO: Despite everything being 'jacked' in, there are huge voids in the grid. Whole areas that are not on the grid, or at least on the 'official' grid. For example, underground railroads that were supposed to be discontinued long ago. The 'eyes' of the city stopping in certain neighborhoods because its not efficient to go and fix them over and over again. When the data going into the system is bad, the police sometimes have a hard time compensating for it.

4. Ministry Chosen Professions: One of the things that's fascinating about the setting, is how things are doled out. For example, people take tests that determines where they'd best fit into society. If you're not that smart or not that capable, you wind up in low paying jobs with little opportunity for advancement. Some of the 'free spirited' things like say, music creation? Heavily watched and controlled by the government. Other professions like criminal profilers? Due to the stress it puts on people's 'psycho pass', are gone.

How about farmers? Well, here's the thing. The country genetically modified wheat and does all of the farming with automation so there are no farmers. A whole profession wiped out by automation. Anyone looking around at how farming is done today in say, America, might be thinking, that's not necessarily a good idea. Turns out in Psycho Pass it isn't either.

The good news is that society as a whole has a remarkably lowered crime rate. The bad news is that the people aren't necessarily better off. For example, where there are riots, its difficult for the police to react quickly and effectively because there are so few of them. In addition, as anyone working today at the 'standard' nine to five can attest, having a job does not mean you have happiness, but its worse in this series because you don't have opportunities to get out of those jobs.

For example, if you work in a factory in this future, you don't even get internet. You get to work, eat, live, and well, probably die in your factory. But hey, you have a job man! Good work.

What's worse though, if your psycho pass gets 'cloudy', they throw you in an institution until it recovers or well, they leave you there or you are eliminated from there. Those who have a certain aptitude are put to work for the police as enforcers as opposed to detectives.

5. Software: One of the interesting things about the series, is that it embraces the flawed software model and acknowledges that no system is perfect. For example, those 'Dominator' guns?

Well, the internet access thing is a bit annoying but in a fully wired city where wi-fi is generally not a problem? Not a big problem. But when the gun is not able to read certain types of people because of their abnormal brain function? Individuals that might be called sociopaths in today's society?

Well, you have no standard gun, you have no knife. What now? Another potential problem, is that software can be tricked. In the series, one inventor creates a helmet that mirrors the 'psycho pass' of other nearby people so that your own murderous intent and ability might be hidden by someone else's lower rating.

The interesting twist to it though, is that not a lot of the 'criminals' have guns or other weapons either. They have to do with things like construction nail guns or with hammers or other objects of everyday use.

6. Characters:

At the end of the day, Psycho Pass is all about characters and how they interact and sacrifice and what they can and cannot change about themselves. For example, the inspector Ginoza, keeps heading down the path that his father and partner took in that the more he tries to handle, the worse his psycho pass and crime coefficient get until he winds up serving not as a detective, but as an enforcer. Masaoka doesn't have a 'huge' character role or arc, but he plays mentor to Akane, appreciates the depths to which Kogami works, and tries to kept his son, Ginoza safe in the system. He doesn't necessarily get all of those things done.

Psycho Pass has a lot of themes running through it involving isolation, society, government, individualism, and things that make you think and look around. It packs enough punch that I'm having a hard time thinking of how a second season is going to live up to the depth contained in the first season.

Psycho Pass is broken up into two packages on bluray/dvd combo. The first  and second parts are $29.96 and each is supposed to be over 50% off. Sheesh. On Amazon Instant, the episodes are available, but aren't part of the free pass so here's where +Hulu has an advantage of Prime.

Check it out.

For those other big fans of anime out there, are there any other series you'd recommend in a similar vein? I just finished watching Darker Than Black Season 2 and was like, yeah, they should've left it alone at the first season. Tried watching Skull Man but started dozing into the second episode. Did it get better? Psycho Pass and some other recent anime like Attack on Titan have me excited for the future and hidden gems I may have missed.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Return to Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd Edition

I don't play every game out there. Some like the World of Darkness, I'm just not into. I get their popularity, but all spectrums of the hobby don't engage me. Not a big fan of the whole 'monstrous genre modern times' thing to be honest. Strangely enough 'horror' on the other hand I can dig quite a bit and enjoy a lot of Brian Lumley's stuff or at least did when I originally read it. The whole WoD thing seemed way too off for me though.

But my friends moved on to playing Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd edition by Green Ronin. I know, some may go, but what about Fantasy Flight's version? I kid you not, if Fantasy Flight wants to send me a copy, I'll ask my amigos to give it a try but several of us have a lot of the Green Ronin books and some of the original 2nd edition books started out by Fantasy Flight and we enjoy them. Not only that, but WHAT is that game costing from Fantasy Flight? I know that it's changed formats and all that but no one at the table was even remotely interested in checking it out.

The session consisted mostly of making characters and allowing the 'newbies' a chance to test out some combat. The GM allowed us to make three rolls out of the normal book and one out of the career compendium. I had two options I find appealing due to my previous play of such characters.

The one was a human bounty hunter. One of my favorite characters was a human bounty hunter although damned if I can remember his name now. Don't know if that's old age, senility, or alcoholism taking over there. The other was a troll slayer.

Went with the troll slayer. Man I rolled like crap on many of the things that I should have been top dog at. Still, with you get that free advancement and can take it in Attack? Yup. That's a good thing for me.

I remembered more about the layout of the book than I thought I would. For example, even the GM couldn't remember where the 'real' starting equipment was. In your career you get some starting equipment but there's also a baseline of actual starting equipment and some random gold to go with it that's in a separate part of the book.

I also was surprised by how much the book reminded me of 3rd edition. Ganging up on people for a small bonus, breaking actions up into different parts and other bits. Mind you, that's just from my own poor recollections of 3rd edition at this point and the contrast/compare isn't necessarily 'fair' as a lot of things in Warhammer were either already there, like the different careers, or are still different enough, like the % parts of the system that the two games may have some similairites but are worlds away.

While I have a Weapon Skill of 40, and a Strength Bonus of 3, the real benefit being the dreaded Great Weapon and rolling two dice for damage and picking the better of the two, the real 'hero' of the fight was the halfling slinger. That dude with the 3 + 1d10, managed to take out three of the enemy while I injured one and killed another. It was good to see how things went and that combat and especially character creation, went VERY quickly.

Looking over my old bookshelf, I see that Green Ronin did a fantastic job of supporting the game. It'll be interesting to see where the GM takes us but I'll be more curious to see how the group gels. I'm so out of touch with actual play and we have a new player I haven't played with before, and another I haven't plaed with in a long time, and a few of the 'regulars' that I usually do okay with.

Anyone else find that years later they wind up picking a game up and running with it when a group happens to decided, "Hey, you know what would be cool?" I enjoy those moments I tell ya. Maybe 4th edition will be like that one day. We'll all be looking at it and be like, "Hey, remember when Wizards didn't completely dominate the game and clerics weren't mandatory?" Ha!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tiger & Bunny

Super heroes are my favorite role playing genre right after fantasy. In terms of reading, I'd say that might be true as well if we count comics as 'reading' material. My comic collection was so vast at one point it took up a whole room in and of itself despite stacking those boxes way higher than they should ever have been.

So while I have +Hulu I figured I'd hit up two of my favorite bits as Tiger & Bunny is an anime tale about super heroes in a futuristic city. The Wiki page over here does a pretty good job of breaking down Tiger & Bunny.

Seeing as how this isn't a new anime and it's streaming in a few places and has already had a few movie tie ins and a mangan, I'm going to hit some of the high points.

The setting, Sternbild City, is visually appealing. It's a true technological miracle of tomorrow. But like all such things, it is a bit well, comic book stupid. For example, they build up and those higher buildings are supported by columns which are easy to attack as we discover later on. When developing your city and other setting bits, are there things that shouldn't work, but because of the setting itself do?

In terms of character origins, if you don't feel comfortable with the word 'Mutant', just make up your own classification like they did here with 'Next'. In part, that's one of the things I like about the show. While it's not 'deep', the show does have bits that resonate with any X-Men fan in terms of the Next thinking their superior, the Next being treated differently, and many of the Next just not having abilities that are all that useful or powerful.

Another nice nod to comics, was that time marches on., In this instance, we have super heroes, but they also rely on technology. For example, Tiger is initially seen in a suit that would resemble something like a humours Batman. When he joins with Bunny under a new corporation, he gets a 'hardsuit'. The suit has all sorts of technological bits to it and is very difficult to damage, being shown to withstand high degrees of heat for example, like from a flamethrower.

But on the flip side of that technology, comes androids. One of the themes running through the second half of the series is that with the right technology, the Next themselves are obsolete.  Having a variety of enemies and options to draw from allows anyone who wants to run a game like Tiger & Bunny a little more leeway than having normal villains or just rogue Next be the bad guy of the week.

In terms of campaign twists though, the whole corporate sponsorship is an interesting one. While not a brand new idea by far and in super hero comics, we see many corporations with their own super powered individuals, not necessarily heroes mind you, but body guards and enforcers, the idea here is that these corporate sponsored heroes fight crime and earn points based on how good of a job they do. Their costumes incorporate company logos and they are connected via network to a specialized television program that highlights their adventures and assigns points on them.

Nick names and catch phrases have their place here. For example, the series title, Tiger & Bunny, comes along because Tiger gives that name, Bunny, to his partner, Barnaby, because of the 'ears' on Barnaby's suit. Not to mention that it's pink. Blue Rose, a female super with the ability to create ice, has a catchphrase "my ice is a little bit cold, but your crime has been put completely on hold."

Heck, the Bunny nickname actually winds up saving Tiger when Bunny is mind-controlled into attacking him. You see, Barnaby hated it so much he recalls that and snaps out of it.

Tiger & Bunny may have a silly name but it's a solid anime and fans of super heroes should check it out.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

I was fortunate enough to pick up Red Country in hardcover at Half Price Books not that long ago for a cover price of $12.99, but it was during one of their many sales so I think my final price on it was well under $10. Not bad considering the hardcover at Amazon is just under $20 and the kindle version is just under $10.

I've enjoyed Joe Abercrombie's previous works. I like how he takes certain assumptions of the genre, like the 'good wise ancient wizard' and turns it on its head. I like how certain characters wind up threading through the different books in different capacities. Having read the others in the series, of which this book is the next chronologically, I was looking forward to seeing what he did here.

I've heard the book described as a fantasy western. To a point, that's a good description. We have frontier towns. In many fantasy settings, those in and of themselves are not that unusual. Anyone who has played the beloved Keep on the Borderlands knows that it's a staple of the genre.

There are a native people whose technology doesn't quite match that of the 'civilized' nations. Again, this is old hat if you will with fantasy games. One of the most famous characters in fantasy literature, Conan, for example, comes from such a people and others like Kull, make their way into kings.

Outlaws and grudges abound. Anyone who knows about westerns knows that grudges especially are a popular bit from that lore, some of them going back generation upon generation. Looking at other parts of the world though where tribalism is the main standard, it's not necessarily a western only element.

Then we have the setting itself; the great plains. Now this is an element I don't see get a lot of airplay in many other genres. The flooding, the difficulty of survival out in the open? The vast night skies? Those are Western for sure and haven't been co-oped by many other genres.

More important than that though, is the gold rush. The West, with a capital W, came about in many ways due to the unslakable thirst of people for 'easy' money. This leads to those dangerous frontier towns and to many a dangerous situation. The drama Deadwood is perhaps one of my favorite shows in terms of playing out characters and factions against one another.

While those elements are present though, they are minor as opposed to the main quest of Shy and her step father, Lamb. They are not seeking treasure. They are not bounty hunters. They are not lawmen. They are not settlers.

They are seeking Shy's younger brother and sister who have been kidnapped and so must follow those who've taken them into 'The Red Country'.

Joe does a solid job of making this an easy to read book. There are numerous characters that are dragged together by circumstance who might otherwise never have met and it's good to see some of the old friends, like Lamb, even if they are never called by their... 'proper' name. Which to me is a bit of a waste. Whenever someone recognizes 'Lamb', well, it doesn't tend to end well for them.

If you're looking for a rousing action packed fantasy, Red Country by Joe Abercrombie hits that nail on the head fairly easily. I'll be talking about some specific plot points and spoilers below, so for those who wish no spoilers, read no further.

We have the old hero coming out of retirement for one last big showdown. In many instances, I think people would like to compare 'Lamb' here to say, Clint Eastwood's character from Unforgiven. That to me is a very false comparison which I'll discuss when I get to spoilers. The old hero though? It's also a classic of the genre. We have, what I'd consider the 'modern' version of this archetype thanks to David Gemmell and his classic Legend, as well as others like Kell from the Clockwork Vampire Chronicles.

One of the nice things though, is that Joe Abercrombie doesn't blather about how old, weak, and ineffectual Lamb is while then going on to describe how dangerous he is. No, when the initial switch happens at the start of the novel, Lamb goes from one entity altogether to another with few complaints about the aches and weariness he faces. For this, I'm grateful. As I've mentioned before, there is no use bemoaning how crippled up the characters are if in every single action sequence they act like none of that matters.

For other archetypes, we have Sweet, who is in many ways, a ranger, a frontiersman who leads people back and forth between the old civilized world to the new world. Sweet's role is that of scout, of reader of weather, of outdoor survivalist. His skills in dealing with the natives and knowing what their moods are, are all things that rangers would traditionally handle.

I mentioned up thread that I wouldn't compare Lamb, aka the Bloody Nine, to William Munny because it takes WIlliam a long time to get into gear. William can't shoot at first. He's a 'real' family man. He is unsure about the mission. He's doing it for money for his family, but for money. He's not going out to save them from slavery. He also suffers a sever beating initially and it isn't till later on in the movie where his 'real' persona clicks.

Lamb? Not quite so much. As soon as Lamb see what's happened to the farm, his dead friend, and the missing children? It's on.

And that's great. But it's what makes Lamb the Bloody Nine and a killer right off the bat, not like William Munny who has to gradually assume that form.

In terms of role playing games? I like the Dragon People. Not because they are the 'Noble Savage', but because they bring children in from outside their bloodline because they are all sterile. In a role playing game, this would be a fantastic background element to showcase different races raised together. For example, need a reason why dwarves, elves, and half orcs are all part of one group? They are all part of the 'Village' so to speak.

The idea of the book itself could easily make a role playing session of three in and of itself. Players could either have their relatives or family members captured and taken for slavery purposes, or players, most of whom are damned lone wolves to begin with or would relish at the though of those damned NPCs being slain, could be hired by other NPCs to find and bring back their family members with the reward dependent on how many NPC's are returned alive and unharmed.

Sidetracks could happen such as that of the duel, where the players are pitted against another group of adventurers of similar powers and abilities. They could be hired to perform this task, could be 'tricked' into it by being called out say, by the other group that wants to make a quick name for itself out in the frontier town.

The environment can play against the characters as well. The threat of storms showing up from no where and creating flash flood situations, lack of shelter, the heat, and of course, the native hazards such as snakes and other inhabitants of the plains should be on the character's minds.

For those thinking about staying in the long term, outside of the whole prospect of building a town or joining an already existing one, there is always the prospect of mining but then the characters have to deal with the natives who are already there. Natives who may have their own gods and goals.

A way to make it more uncomfortable for the players? Give the natives some means or measure that the players need that the players initially don't know how to use. Some type of ritual or item that requires specialized training. Will the players throw away such a tool in exchange for some quick easy treasure? Red Country has one answer, players in a long term campaign may have another.

Red Country has a lot of potential adventure seeds and tons of quirky characters that a Dungeon Master could easily yank out and place into any frontier town like The Keep on the Borderlands.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Rare is the time I get to see a movie while it's in the theater. Yesterday however, while visiting Adepticon to pick up my Kickstarter rewards from Tectonic Craft Studios, my amigos and I had some time to kill and visited the local AMC Theater and saw movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Very good movie and while I'm not sure it's the 'best' super hero movie or even the 'best' Marvel super hero movie, it's well worth watching.

One, while it uses a good deal of humor and has some catchy bits, it's also got a lot of gravitas to it. The situations are taken from many concerns people have these days in terms of security versus freedom. It may not be a movie of the times, but it is certainly reflective of the times.

Two, the action sequences are fantastic. I'm not one of those who mourns the death of 'shaky' camera when it comes to fight scenes, nor was I ever a fan of seeing little of the action in exchange for seeing some dude's face grimacing in pain and wondering what the hell was actually going on. The scenes are shot in enough detail and speed where you get the 'full effect' so to speak.

Three, the scenery. Not all of the action takes place in exactly the same spots. We have a battle on the freeway that is worthy of comparison to the Matrix II as well as many other great scenes.

Four, the characters. While this is a great Captain America moment, the 'secondary' characters like Nick Fury, Black Widow, and the Falcon, all have great moments of their own. They might not necessarily have the 'character' moments that Captain America himself does, but they get their share of the action.

If you're interested in getting more background on the comics this movie draws from, I recommend the following:

Captain America: Winter Soldier Vol 1: $3.99 in Kindle format.
Captain America: Winter Soldier Vol 2: $8.79 in Kindle format.
Captain America: Civil War: $3.99 in Kindle format.
The Death of Captain America Vol 1: $3.99 in Kindle format.
Captain America: Road to Reborn: $3.99 in Kindle format.
Captain America: Reborn: $3.99 in Kindle format.

Ed's strength in the comics, is that he was able to take elements like the Civil War that was going on in Marvel at the time and adapt them to the story he was already telling. A lot of these were on sale so they make a great jumping on point for those who enjoy comics.

I'll be doing spoilers next so for those who want no specific spoilers, read no further.

First, I'd like to thank Ed for breaking the rules of 'no one stays dead in the Marvel Universe except Bucky and Uncle Ben' For decades that was an excepted rule and was rarely broke. There was much fan angst about it when it happened but damn if a lot of great stories haven't come out of the whole thing.

In addition, while issues like work for hire and ownership of things continue to crop up in the comic industry, especially as the become mega movies, if you're able to, really LOOK and experience the movie, and then look and experience the original comic books. No, not the ones I'm suggesting you read about Winter Soldier, but like, Avengers #4. You know, the one from 50-60 years ago. Those comics, regardless of how great a footstep they started, have very little to do with the movies success today. Thank the current creators and artists who've made the movies, in my opinion, that much better than the previously were in decades past.

In terms of specifics, I thought that there was some weaknesses to the movie. When you look at villains, the Winter Soldier, due to his training and his physical augmentation in the form of at least a robotic arm, make a great foil for Captain America.

Someone like that is needed due to the sheer physical power Captain America brings in the movies. At the start of the movie, Steve, good old Captain America in civis, is lapping a fellow runner over and over and not actually trying to, he's just that good.

As the movie progresses and we see just how good he is, you might wonder, what can stop him? Apparently a super soldier who Steve knows and doesn't necessarily want to fight, but rather save, is the answer.

And again, the action sequences between the Winter Soldier and Captain America aren't the problem. It's that 'Bucky' isn't necessarily the villain. He's just the hammer if you will.

The real 'villain', Robert Redford playing Alexander Pierce, is completely wasted. We don't really get a good grip on why he does what he does or even what the whole 'Hydra' mission is about. It's hard for me to take it seriously when in his current position he's always got pretty much everything he wanted. There's really no 'agenda' outside of Pinky and the Brain methodology. What exactly would Pierce get in his new world order? He also gets so little screen time that I think his talents are wasted.

When building your villains, it's always great if the players have good fights and challenging fights. If they can use the environment around them and challenge their enemies in different ways while facing threats that might not normally be part of the standard.

But if the end result is some dweeb that doesn't really have an end game plan in mind? M'eh.

Another nice thing about the movie, is that it's essentially accepted that this is the Marvel Universe. They don't spent any time on the 'origin' of the Falcon. He's a soldier who happens to know how to use a specific type of super suit. We don't have to have a special origin tale to determine how he got it, or how Bucky as the Winter Soldier has a bionic arm. We can just accept those things now.

In terms of 'big', it's also great to see that the Marvel Studio isn't afraid to shake things up. By the end of the film, S.H.I.E.D. is in shambles and things appear to have taken a very different turn than anyone would probably have assumed they would. With the 'mega' structure that brought characters together previously, how will future movies like the Avengers work? How will the television series itself continue? Marvel has a little bit of a hook here with this option.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Amazon's April Kindle Sales

One of the nice things about a new month is new sales from Amazon.

Marvel 1602: Neil Gaiman makes comics and does a great job of them. This is a popular tale of his looking at how the Marvel Universe would be in the long ago past. So popular it even had a sequel. $3.99

All-New X-Men, Vol. 1: Yesterday's X-Men : So Marvel didn't eliminate their previous history and destroy all that continuity like DC did with 52 during their 'Now' phase. They did bring the original five X-Men to present times though. $3.99.

New Avengers Vol 1: Breakout: Written by the same guy! This is where we got characters like Luke Cage taking a more central role in the Marvel Universe as well as Spider Man on the Avengers and the 'reintroduction' of the Sentry. This runs for $1.99 so is even a better deal.

Runaways Vol 1: Another comic series! One of the problems I have with Marvel comics, hell, comics in general these days, is that they are so tied into the various events. Runaways, and Young Avengers at first, were relatively isolated and very well written. Good stuff if you want teen angst in your heroes. Also at the low end of $1.99

Today's deal?

Axe Cop Vol 1. Dark Horse is not afraid to publish the weird and humorous. $1.99

Ask, Measure, Learn: Using Social Media Analytics to Understand and Influence Customer Behavior: Okay, this one is weird because it's not really Amazon's daily deal, it's O'reily's daily deal, but Amazon is matching price on it. I'm always looking at stuff about analysis so it's up my alley even though it's $9.99 but that's half off it's regular electronic price, which itself, is more expensive than buying the physical paperback from Amazon. Ah pricing versus electronic books. Bad companies.

Did anyone see anything else worth picking up that I missed? Thankfully I've got a month to pick up a few of those as I intend to head to Adepticon this weekend and won't be picking up any of those, except that last one, today.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Three Outlaw Samurai by Hideo Gosha

My membership to +Hulu expires every now and then and every now and then I feel a need to watch some Samurai action. +Hulu for whatever reason, appears to have an excellent relation with +The Criterion Collection , a company renown for their taste in films and giving those films 'deluxe' treatment and restoration but perhaps more importantly to the people I know, tons of Samurai films including the classics like Yojimbo, Samurai trilogy, and Seven Samurai.

When looking for something new to watch, I recognized the title Three Outlaw Samurai from another movie I watched not that long ago, Sword of the Beast. (I think the guy was also in Kill!)While I haven't written about that one, one of the actors from there is present here as well so that was a plus for me. Being a selection on Hulu from The Criterion Collection was another plus.

Looking into the history of the movie, it's old, from 1964 and it's DVD and bluray versions are fairly recent, 2012. It's apparently based on a television show of the same name, which I've never seen available. This is an 'origin' tale in how the Three Outlaw Samurai first met and joined together if Wiki is to be believed.

So on it went to the old Samsung Pro 12.2. Let me tell you, I've been using that tablet to watch cartoons like Ugly Americans and Bob's Burgers, but it did a fantastic job streaming Three Outlaw Samurai. I have to imagine that a lot of the crispness of the image and the quality of the sound, even from that tablet, was due to the excellent restoration job that the guys at Criterion did.

In terms of plot, pacing, and characters, Three Outlaw Samurai doesn't necessarily follow the 'standard' that other movies have often utilized, but it does have elements of them. There will be some spoilers below so if you'd rather have none, go sign up for a trial of Hulu or buy the DVD and enjoy it's awesomeness.

But in terms of cliches that work well because, well, they're still true today in the  dreaded real world?

For example, corrupt government? Check. Corrupt isn't necessarily the correct word here if taken into the full context of 'evil'. Rather, there are instances in the samurai society that when a man's word is given, especially between two samurai, that it's unbreakable. Such is NOT the case here where words are exchanged, punishments agreed on dealt out, but then instead of letting things go, power and appearance of power must be maintained and so the honorable thing is left to the wayside.

Note that this 'corruption' goes further than that. For example, while the farmers are rebelling against what they feel are unfair payments and taxes they must make, due not to their unwillingness to pay mind you, but poor harvest thanks to seasonalities that they can't control, they take prisoner the daughter of the magistrate. In turn, the magistrate takes prisoner one of the farmer's daughters and has her beaten in front of the farmers to demoralize them and get his daughter back. The daughter knowing the importance of her father's mission though, bites her tongue off in order to prevent herself from being used any further against the peasant cause.

Incompetent government? Check. Note that the two things are not quite the same. Towards the end of the film, when the outlaw samurai are fairly easily dispatching the foes sent against them, the 'villains' decide to burn the mill that the samurai are hiding in. If that had been done at the start of the film, the whole thing would've been vastly different.

Nobility: This one is a little trickier. In A Game of Thrones, Ned Stark has been dead since the end of season one. His name is still invoked by people who talk about how much they respected him and what he tried to do and what he stood for. It winds up getting some killed and winds up in part, setting some on a different path. The presence of nobility, or a noble spirit, even when set against another, such as the case of Shiba and the things he forces the magistrate's daughter to see as they really are.

Status Change: One of the things that threads its way through the story, is that the peasants may be poor off, but the Samurai as a caste, are not doing much better. The magistrate, while having his own forces, hires various thugs and prisoners to do his dirty work because the samurai are out of work and hungry. Not hungry for work mind you, but literally hungry. Their era as knights who are well provided for due to their nature of being on the front line, is no longer needed.

Faceless Hordes: One of the things about many Samurai movies, is that there are 'skilled' samurai and then people who pretty much hold a sword and hope that they don't get in a fight. The Three Outlaw Samurai are of course the former but if you were using a game system that didn't say, involve morale, even they would fail to the faceless hordes. Instead, when the Three Outlaws prove their merit, and do it quickly and with style, those who aren't 'professional', such as hired ronin, tend to flee, or breakaway and reform.

Status Unchanged: In Seven Samurai, one of the classics of the genre, even though the heroes have triumphed at the end of the movie, things haven't really changed. The peasants are going to continue to have a hard time of things just without the bandits. The samurai who are dead will get no hero burial. Their legends will not live on. Here, despite the broken promises of the magistrate and despite all those killed, the peasants don't rise up, the world doesn't change. The Three Outlaws survive and go onward to new adventures but the world remains much as it was at the start of the film.

Wandering Ronin: The initial meeting between Shiba and the peasants occurs because Shiba is a wandering ronin. The other two he eventually teams with, are also wandering ronin, even though initially one of them is a retainer for the magistrate. Problem with being a ronin working for a corrupt magistrate is that you've completely expendable.  In many ways, role playing games are built off of the whole concept of wandering adventurer so much so that these adventurers have come to jokingly be called 'murder hobos'.

Three Outlaw Samurai is worthy of being considered a classic of the genre and its many twists and turns can easily be incorporated into most types of role playing games.

IMDb entry found here.

Wiki entry found here.