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GLOW: A Review

 

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GLOW is a Netflix series based on a television series that ran from 1986 to 1989. The show centers around a bunch of misfits, mostly actresses, trying to find meaningful parts. They come to an audition that turns out is actually going to be a female-centric wrestling show.

The 1980s where a time of changes in the world. Wrestling was no exception. Up until that point wrestling happened in territories owned by men of means. The McMahons were signing wrestlers based on talent, not territory and putting together television with this talent. Thus helping wrestling in becoming mainstream. However there was still no place for women. Women who wrestled were a sideshow, booked to help sell tickets when things were stagnant. Or they were arm candy for men, to be kidnapped and bedazzled at ringside.

Then GLOW: GORGEOUS LADIES OF WRESTLING aired. It was campy. It was full of glitter and drama. It had a cast of all female wrestlers who entertained America. It also ended all too soon, without warning, even for the ladies who worked it. Netflix took this story to make their own, and it is wonderful.

Don’t let the glitz fool you. GLOW also has hard hitting themes written in the script. They address the difficulty of women finding work in both fields of acting and wrestling at the time. The show is also hilarious. They also have worked to put real instances from the original into episodes,  including an episode in season two which looks exactly like the original.

The costumes are fantastic. The everyday dress of the characters really helps to add to the story. The hair and makeup is used to help show the difference between the wrestling world and the actresses who portray them. The soundtrack is also a great tool that the show uses. The music perfectly lines up with the story, adding to the mood of the scene.

In short I adore GLOW. As a little girl I drew strength from some female wrestlers. As a women who has rediscovered my love of it I am thrilled by the strides women have made in the industry. GLOW helps remind us fans how far we have come and how far we still have to go while giving us some serious laughs. I root for so many of these characters. I love their high moments. My heart sinks when they have a low point.

 I would highly recommend this series to anyone.

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ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!

 

Review: The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit

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At E3 2018, DONTNOD Entertainment announced that they would release a new, free-to-download game at the end of June, set in the same universe as Life Is Strange. The game turned out to be more of a demo that sets up Life Is Strange 2, titled The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. It’s available on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows. While Captain Spirit only takes about 2.5 hours to complete, it felt wonderful to be back in the Life Is Strange-verse, even for a little while.

Captain Spirit stars a new character, a nine-year-old boy named Chris with an active imagination. He lives with his father; both are struggling to cope with the sudden death of his mother. His father does this through drinking; Chris does so by pretending to be a superhero called “Captain Spirit.” In the game/demo, your objective is to complete a number of “awesome” things that Chris has planned for the day.

First things first, a trigger warning: the original Life Is Strange dealt with some very heavy topics, including suicide, abusive parents, and kidnapping/assaulting young women. The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit doesn’t get as dark as the first entry in the series. (It doesn’t have the same amount of time to do so anyway.) But it does show Chris with a dad who drinks heavily; it’s strongly implied that he’s physically hurt Chris when drunk, and he verbally lashes out at him more than once, depending on the choices you make. He’ll almost immediately backtrack and apologize, and he’s clearly trying to be a good parent, but that doesn’t excuse his actions at all.

My own parents are loving, supportive, and have never given me anything worse than a lecture. So, while I can say that I liked how Chris’ story was written, I can’t say whether or not his relationship with his father was handled correctly.  Regardless, if this situation hits a little too close to home for any of you, you might want to play something else.

That said, I immediately identified with Chris in another way. He spends a lot of time in his room or in his yard, playing with his toys as he acts out their adventures battling his arch-nemesis, “Mantroid.” I couldn’t stop smiling, because that’s exactly how I used to play with my toys. He does feel like a real nine-year-old kid.

There are a few little shout-outs in the game to remind you that Captain Spirit takes place in the same universe as Life Is Strange. This initially gave me the wrong impression that Chris might be related to Max or Chloe somehow. While I missed the previous cast of characters and would’ve liked to see a stronger link to them, I liked Chris so much that, ultimately, I didn’t mind switching over to his world.

The game plays the same as Life Is Strange, in the sense that you’re choosing what you want Chris to do and how to respond. But Chris doesn’t have time travel powers, so you’re stuck with the consequences of whatever you do. That felt weird at first. I’m used to trying something out, rewinding, trying something else, and then picking which outcome I liked best before proceeding with the story.

There’s also a hilarious mini game that you can play if you can unlock Chris’ dad’s phone. It’s a side-scroller starring “Hawt Dawg Man,” who dodges obstacles with his mustard jetpack. Although I never beat Chris’ high score, I had a lot of fun trying. It’s a nice bonus to flesh out the game and gives you something else to do besides your short list of tasks.

Captain Spirit ends on a good cliffhanger and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Chris’ story in Life Is Strange 2. The first episode of that game will be released on September 27 for the same systems as Captain Spirit. If you loved the original Life Is Strange, you’ll love this one too. And if you’ve never played a game in this series before, this is the perfect way to get a sense of what they’re like and whether or not you’d enjoy them.

Aggretsuko: An Anime Review

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Aggretsuko is an anime that centers around a socially awkward office worker named Retsuko. Retsuko is like many of us. She dreamt of joining the workforce but now that she has spent a few years in it she can see that her “dream job” isn’t all that she thought it would be.

Retsuko is probably one of the most relatable characters I have ever encountered. She is just trying to find happiness in her life. Retsuko isn’t enchanted, fighting a war or on some magical quest. She is just trying to get through her ordinary life and find moments of joy within it. Retsuko is also trying to find herself.

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As if dealing with the pressures of working for a big company weren’t enough Retsuko also has an interesting cast of characters surrounding her. Her boss is a chauvinist pig. She has gossips to deal with. A flighty friend whose life is the opposite of hers. Extra work is constantly being given to her. How is a girl supposed to deal with all of that stress? Secret sessions of death metal karaoke of course.

Aggretsuko is a surprisingly refreshing anime to watch. I was unsure how I would feel about such an, well for lack of a better term, ordinary anime. The character designs are adorable. As they should be since Retsuko started out as a mascot for Sanrio. I love the difference in style between every day at the office and when Retsuko is singing death metal. Different musical styles are also featured throughout the series.

The characters also have a lot of depth. Since the cast isn’t very large we are able to see some different sides of characters other then Retsuko. The show also doesn’t shy away from showing sides of characters that are not positive. It is always nice to see characters as people with different personalities which Aggretsuko does very well. Also Aggretsuko is a very bingeable series as the episodes are less than a half an hour long.

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So if you are looking for something funny and relatable I would suggest Aggretsuko. It is a must watch anime that is a great palate cleanser!

Always keep sparkling!

 

Review: Yuri on Ice (Anime)

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Yuri on Ice is a beautiful anime that centers around figure skating. It deals with many issues as well. Including mental health and relationships. Yuri on Ice is also full of humor and amazing animation.  

After suffering a disastrous defeat in the Grand Prix Final and falling into a bout of depression, Yuri Katsuski returns to his childhood home. Here, Yuri tries to decide if he is even going to continue to skate professionally. He finds comfort in food and familiar things. Searching for answers, Yuri returns to the rink he started skating in. He mimics the performance of his favorite skater, Victor Nikiforov, for a friend. When a video of the performance goes viral, Victor ends up at Yuri’s door, announcing that he will now be Yuri’s coach.

The events that follow show Yuri’s awkward and humorous return to skating. A rival appears in the form of anther Yuri, this one from Russia. Yuri also struggles with his self confidence and anxiety. Then there are also those pesky feelings for Victor that Yuri continues to try to sort through. Yuri starts on not only the road back to skating but to better understanding himself.

The animation alone is a reason to watch this anime. It is simply gorgeous. The sheer amount of emotion that is shown is amazing. Whether it be during the skating scenes or just of Yuri reacting to things around him, the range of animation really adds to the show. Also, they use adorable little chibi Yuris at different points in the story, which I think shows how talented the animators are to use different kinds of animation. 

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The soundtrack is also worth mentioning. As this is an anime about skating, music is very important. There is a point where two different versions of a song are a plot point and it was so cleverly done. Every routine has amazing music to go with it. The main theme, History Maker, is also one of my favorite songs at the moment. It is so uplifting.

Yuri on Ice is a must see anime in my book.

Always keep sparkling!

 

Review: Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia

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The heroes from the Final Fantasy series cannot catch a break. Having been sent to a paradise world to rest from their battles, they discover that monsters have infiltrated said paradise. It’s up to them to band together and fight…again.

Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia is a game for iOS and Android devices, recently launched in the United States. (It’s been running in Japan since early 2017.) Dissidia has become a crossover subseries of the larger Final Fantasy franchise. It started out with two games on the PSP, followed by the Theatrhythm music games on the Nintendo 3DS, and now an arcade version on the PlayStation 4, titled Dissida NT. They essentially exist to throw the major Final Fantasy heroes and villains together in one universe to battle it out.

In the first two PSP games, the heroes and villains wake up in a strange world with no memories of their previous adventures.  They have a vague idea of who they used to be, and they know that they have homes they want to see again, but that’s it.  The goddess of harmony, Cosmos, and the god of discord, Chaos, enlist them to fight in a great battle for control of the universe.  The characters strike alliances with one another and grapple with various personal issues while trying to end the conflict for good.

Theatrhythm pretty much kicked the plot out the door from the get-go. Technically, the heroes are fighting Chaos again, but there’s no dialogue between them. You just pick a song from the series and try to keep up with the beats. They’re fun rhythm games and probably my favorite entries in the series, even though they don’t contribute anything to the story.

Now, we have Opera Omnia on mobile phones. This game changes things up by having the characters clearly remember their previous adventures in their home worlds, but have no recollection of their Dissidia battles. If you enjoyed Zidane and Squall’s odd friendship or Vaan saving Terra from Kefka, you’re out of luck.

In this way, Opera Omnia comes off as a soft reboot of the Dissidia series. The game doesn’t solely stick to major heroes and villains. You begin the adventure with Warrior of Light, from the original Final Fantasy, Rem from Type 0, Sazh from Final Fantasy XIII, and Vivi from Final Fantasy IX. As you progress through each chapter of the game, you gain more and more allies in the fight. And there are lots of allies from the entire series. Other characters can be unlocked for a limited time through special event quests. As of this writing, we’ve gotten Squall, Vanille, Setzer, Balthier, Eiko, Tidus, and Prishe in this manner.

Just to give you an idea, my current roster of fighters consists of twenty-eight characters. And I’m still on Chapter 4.

While playing this game, I got the impression that Square-Enix might’ve finally noticed that they’ve been giving Final Fantasy VII a little too much love compared to other entries in the series. While you pick up Cloud, Tifa, and Yuffie early on, they don’t appear as often in cutscenes as Zidane and Vivi from IX. And Final Fantasy VI has started to receive more attention at last. The Japanese version of Opera Omnia already has Terra, Shadow, Setzer, Cyan, Edgar, Sabin, Celes, and Kefka. Considering that the first two games only ever gave us Terra and Kefka as playable characters, that’s impressive.

So, what goal do the heroes need to accomplish this time around? It turns out that the paradise world they inhabit has become infected by “Torsions.” Torsions are basically dark wormholes that spew out monsters. The goddess Materia summons Mog the Moogle to collect warriors who possess the ability to seal the Torsions. Then the worlds can finally be at peace.

Did you understand all of that? Well, don’t worry if you didn’t. Mog and co. will repeat this information many, many, many times. It reminds me of The Room, the greatest bad movie of all time, where characters would often repeat dialogue and have the same conversations. But at least in The Room, the writing was so bad that it was funny. With these games, the writing’s just competent enough that it’s more annoying than funny.

And that’s always been a problem with the Dissidia series. I remember playing Duodecim for the first time and loving it. Yet as I got further and further into the story, I groaned every time someone brought up the manikins- the game’s enemies- which was often. “These manikins are everywhere!” “How do we stop the manikins?” “Oh no, here come more manikins!” “If we don’t stop the manikins, we’re all going to die!” “BUT HOW DO WE STOP THE MANIKINS???” Replace “manikins” with “Torsions” and you get the same problem in Opera Omnia.

It’s not all bad though. There’s a mini-arc of trying to catch and recruit Yuffie after she steals some of the party’s weapons- and then Zidane, who has acted very upset about losing his dagger, decides he’s going to flirt with her anyway. There’s another cutscene that consists of nothing but Zidane trying cheesy pickup lines on every female member in the party, with no success. And Chapter 3 has the heroes grappling with whether or not to join forces with Seifer and his friends. On the one hand, they seem to be fighting a common enemy. On the other hand, the two groups can’t stand each other and eventually decide to go their separate ways. This has always been the strongest aspect of Dissdia: when the writers indulge in the appeal of the crossover and have fun letting the characters bounce off of each other.

While the strength of the writing fluctuates, the battle system is a fun throwback to older Final Fantasy games that successfully mixes in some of Dissidia’s style as well. You get three party members who face off against enemies in turn-based combat. There are two types of attacks that can be used: Bravery and HP. The amount of Bravery that your character obtains determines how powerful your HP attacks will be. So, if your character has 0 Bravery, and you hit an enemy with an HP attack, the enemy will take no damage. This leaves some room for strategizing how you will attack enemies.

That said, as much as I love having so many characters at my disposal, it does make leveling up more of a pain. The game developers made an attempt to fix the problem by giving out extra rewards on certain quests if you use a particular character. You can also gain more experience on quests by using certain characters. Still, it’s a struggle, and it would help if the new characters you acquire throughout the story didn’t always start at Level 1, no matter where you are. It would make more sense to have them at different levels depending on when you acquire them, like other Final Fantasy games have done in the past.

Since this is a free-to-play game, Opera Omnia does rely on microtransactions to some degree. The quickest way to acquire the best weapons and armor comes from the Weekly Draws and Event Draws. You can either pull for one weapon using a Draw Ticket or eleven weapons using 5,000 gems. You earn gems and tickets by logging into the game and completing various tasks. Or you can go to the Gem Shop and buy them.

The game gives you different purchase options, from a Bronze Chest that gives you 120 gems for $0.99, to an Adamant Chest that gives you 12,000 gems for $74.99. I can’t imagine spending $75 in one transaction for fake money, and for a deal that only allows you two pulls from one of the draws, it doesn’t seem worth it. But I’ve found the game to be playable without drawing for weapons very much. Time will tell if that changes as I get farther and farther into the story and the difficulty increases. It’s also worth noting that you can enhance your weapons yourself with materials that you find. But if you want good weapons fast, the draws are your best bet.

So far, Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia has been a fun experience and I enjoy playing it. I can’t wait to see what other characters get added to the lineup. (Locke? Rinoa? Where are you?) While the plot is still a little weak, I love watching the characters play off of each other and setting up a party for turn-based combat. If you’re a fan of any of the Final Fantasy games, it’s most likely that you will enjoy it too.

Initial Thoughts on “Hogwarts Mystery”

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It took almost two decades, but I finally received my letter from Hogwarts. And if you download the app for Hogwarts Mystery, you can get yours too!

Hogwarts Mystery is one of two mobile games set in the Harry Potter universe. The other, Wizards Unite, has not yet been released. While the latter appears to be similar to Pokémon Go, the former focuses more on the story and the chance to see yourself as a wizard in whatever House you choose.

After selecting a look for your avatar, you set off for Diagon Alley, as Harry did, make new friends and enemies, practice spells, and brew potions. You get to choose what rewards you earn for completing certain objectives in class. Every avatar has opportunities to level up in three ways: Courage, Empathy, and Knowledge. How you respond to various questions determines how fast you level up in each category, and sometimes an answer will be locked because you don’t have enough Courage/Empathy/Knowledge to say it.

You’ll also discover that your avatar has a mysterious family past: his/her brother got expelled from Hogwarts and disappeared. It looks like this will be the story arc that carries over for all seven years at Hogwarts. Luckily, your avatar finds a best friend in Rowan Khanna, who supports you in your quest for answers and defends you from anyone who tries to mess with you.

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I love her.

Rowan has been my favorite part of Hogwarts Mystery (outside of the wish fulfillment of going to Hogwarts). His/her gender changes depending on what gender you select, but I’ll refer to her as “she” for this review since that’s what I picked. She’s kind, funny, and loyal, and there’s something about her that just reminds me so much of the friends that I have in real life.

Unfortunately, I can’t hang out with my friends in real life while playing Hogwarts Mystery. I’d hoped that there would be some kind of multiplayer feature that allowed my avatar to interact with others. But so far, that doesn’t appear to be an option. Hopefully, it will come with an upgrade somewhere down the line, because I don’t want to imagine going to Hogwarts without my real friends by my side.

Hogwarts Mystery looks great, with fun, colorful graphics that remind me of the old Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets games that I used to play on my GameCube. There are times when my avatar’s facial expressions look awkward, but it’s not a deal breaker.

And speaking of those other video games, Hogwarts Mystery has some nice shout-outs to them as well. Your avatar will eventually learn the Flipendo spell, which never appeared in the books or movies, but was the go-to spell for just about everything in the video games. You’ll also learn how to brew Wiggenweld Potion, which Harry used to heal himself. It makes for a nice blend of the canon established by the books, movies, and video games, with something for every fan to love, regardless of how they were introduced to Harry Potter’s world. (Now, if they could just throw in a reference to A Very Potter Musical, I’ll be set.)

I’m enjoying the story so far. At first, I felt disappointed by the choice in setting because I wanted my avatar to be a random Hufflepuff having adventures during Harry’s years at Hogwarts. Now that I’ve actually started playing the game, I can admit that it was a good idea to place it in the time period between Voldemort’s initial defeat and Harry’s school years. This choice allows for an original story about your avatar and their friends, and we still get to interact with most of the teachers from the books, i.e. Professor Snape and Flitwick. Our avatar’s backstory has only been revealed in bits and pieces so far, but it’s intriguing.

I also like how we get to choose our House, rather than take another quiz. Granted, I never had a preference until Pottermore’s quiz put me in Hufflepuff. And if you like taking quizzes, you’ll find the Sorting Ceremony a little anticlimactic. But then again, doesn’t this tie into one of the themes from the books?  As Professor Dumbledore says in Chamber of Secrets: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

So, the story’s great, the characters are wonderful, and the visuals look good. It’s a Hogwarts fan’s dream!

Except when it isn’t.

With a free-to-play mobile app, there will always be issues with micro transactions. After all, the developers have to make money somehow, and I don’t take issue with that. I do take issue with how the game prevents you from doing very much at any given time before you either wait for your energy bar to refill, or start paying.

Your avatar has an energy bar, and mine currently has a maximum of 25 points. Whenever you take lessons, your character spends energy doing things like studying, talking to Rowan, collecting potions ingredients, etc. And these are all things that you have to do in order to complete the lesson and move forward. More than once, I have run out of energy mid-lesson and needed to put the game on hold until the bar refilled. It’s also not very exciting or fun to tap away at your phone while your character “does” things and nothing’s really happening.

The game becomes more fun when you get to do things that don’t cost energy, like bonding with Rowan over a game of Gobstones and trying to guess the right responses to heighten your friendship. I’ve only just learned how to duel, but that looks promising as well. You need to pick whether to assume an Aggressive, Sneaky, or Defensive stance against your opponent, and then select spells or healing potions to use.

There’s one other major issue that I have with Hogwarts Mystery: the lack of customizable options for your avatar. Although you can adjust the shape of the face, nose, and eyes, all avatars have the same body type. You only get a handful of options for hairstyles and such when you first start the game, and everything else needs to be unlocked by spending gems and coins. This includes glasses. Why do we need to pay money to unlock glasses? Lots of people wear glasses. Harry Freakin’ Potter wears glasses. It’s not going to matter to most people, but it’s one of my pet peeves when a game doesn’t give you that option right from the start.

Given time, I’m hoping that the developers of Hogwarts Mystery will iron out the issues with the gameplay and find other ways to profit off of micro transactions. The game has a lot of promise with good characters, an interesting story, and shout outs to the Harry Potter franchise in all of its forms. If you’re a diehard fan, you will have fun here. But it requires either a lot of patience or a lot of Galleons to get the most out of the experience.

Inuyasha: An Anime Review

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Inuyasha is an anime that ran from 2000 to 2004. That means that it was airing perfectly in time with my tenure in High School. It was also a magical time where Cartoon Network ran anime everyday after school. Inuyasha helped cement my lifelong love of anime.

When highschool student Kagome accidentally falls down the ancient well that sits on her family’s shrine she is transported back in time to a parallel timeline in feudal Japan. Kagome stumbles upon a figure trapped to a tree by an arrow. When she frees him it seems like a terrible mistake. It is the half-demon Inuyasha who was trapped to prevent him from stealing a powerful jewel. Through a series of crazy events Inuyasha and Kagome find themselves bound and on a mission to find shards of the jewel.

This mission will lead them both on a series of dangerous adventures. During which they will encounter other demons and threats. Together they have to fight off the forces of evil. They collect allies as well as shards along the way. However both Kagome and Inuyasha have other problems though. Kagome keeps returning home to try to balance her new mission with her school life. Inuyasha has to face his own demons so that he can protect Kagome long enough to get his hands on the jewel.

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Inuyasha is a slightly older anime but the art is still lovely. I particularly love the different colors used to differentiate between scenes set in feudal and modern Japan. The soundtrack also does a wonderful job of adding to the story. Whether it be humorous or ominous the score is so well written. I love the characters and all the work that has gone into their designs. They are all so layered and complex. The relationship between Kagome and Inuyasha is one of my favorites in anime.

 

One thing about Inuyasha that I am very grateful for is how the lore of ancient Japan is mixed with rest of the story. That is to say that by splitting the settings of the story Inuyasha is able to create a world were demons exist. This was the first way that I learned about some of my dearest myths to this day.

I would most certainly recommend Inuyasha. It’s blend of humor myth and darker themes make it a wonderful anime for anyone to watch but particularly someone new to anime.

Always keep sparkling!