Archive for June, 2009

Grump Alert – Bootlegs, Ethics and Navigating the Gray Zone

June 27, 2009

Real life friend, fellow blogger and erstwhile Grump Factory contributor, Film Walrus, has posted a lengthy article on his own thoughts concerning the potential ethics of downloading or obtaining movies through other potentially illegal means.

Oh god, if bootlegging/piracy is a tumor on the back of live-action film, it’s full-blown terminal cancer for anime. Nowhere have I seen such widespread senses of entitlement and just-plain apathy for copyright than I have in the so-called “anime fan” community.

Anime has problems getting to America in a timely fashion. Not only do we usually have to wait for the Japanese DVD release to come out, but there’s often a lengthy delay due to an extensive dubbing process, licensing issues or even just a perceived lack of interest making a particular property not a high priority to be licensed. There’s PILES of classic Japanese animation out there that is unlicensed, and likely won’t EVER be licensed because anime more than a few years old just doesn’t sell, because the American market is very, very fad-centric. The same could be said of the Japanese market, but at least titles like Galaxy Express 999 and Astro Boy carry some cultural weight that they lack in the States.

Anime has had a long bootlegging history in America. In fact, it’s largely responsible for it becoming as popular (relatively speaking) as it is today. Back in the 80s and 90s, practically the ONLY way to have access to Japanese animation, outside of bowdlerized home video adaptations of Macross or Nausicaa, was to have it fan-subtitled and distributed from fan to fan on crappy 4th generation VHS copies. Some major anime licensing companies today actually formed out of fansubbing circles that decided they wanted to go legit. Fansubs can be credited for starting a grassroots movement for anime interest in America and serving as an indicator of fan interest for shows for companies to license, but I would argue that nowadays, they have no reason to exist. While there are some fansubbing circles out there that do indeed withdraw their fansubs once a property is released, there’s plenty of groups out there that don’t give a damn. Likewise, anime “fans” that continue to watch fansubs to the point of ignoring legitimate releases likely outnumber those who support them.

American anime licensing companies do themselves no favors, either, although one can hardly blame them for not having the resources to pursue and prosecute fansubbers and their audience. In a particularly blatant example, Bandai Entertainment explicitly released a statement warning people NOT to fansub the movie Solid State Society with the threat of facing legal action, but when fansubs started popping up, I alerted the company and they didn’t do anything but twiddle their thumbs.

With the advent of streaming anime on sites like FUNimation, Crunchyroll and Hulu, fansubs have really sort of lost their excuse. Yet they continue to thrive, especially to the detriment of the legal alternatives. Fans have been complaining for YEARS about wanting new anime simultaneously broadcast in America the same time it premiered in Japan. FUNimation finally got permission to try to do so with a wildly popular series, only to have the episode copied from their (admittedly insecure) servers before the Japanese air date! This caused the entire enterprise to come to a screeching halt and even the entirety of FUNimation’s streaming site was yanked for weeks while they beefed up security. It’s absolutely insane the amount of selfishness that goes on in the anime community.

That being said, I do find myself downloading fansubs of anime series and movies that are unlicensed and likely to stay that way. The vast majority of Japanese anime releases contain no English subtitles, so a region-free player still wouldn’t solve that problem. Plus there’s the problem of the American anime market nearing the bottom of a crash for the past several years and not having the money to license many new series from Japan’s licensors who by and large still believe that they can charge the same inflated prices they were from years ago.

A particularly bad release was last year’s Moribito, which started an Adult Swim run for 10 episodes, then repeated and eventually got pulled from the schedule. Apparently the original American licensee went belly-up and the dub production was interrupted and carried over to another company. It’s FINALLY going to start back up this summer… a year after its initial debut. And several years since the Japanese release. How many fans gave up and just watched fansubs inbetween that time?

If I DO download something that’s unlicensed (but very likely to GET licensed) I try not to watch the whole series so that I have incentive to buy the episodes as they get a legitimate release.

I did download one emulated ROM of a game because it was one that was extremely rare and likely to never be chanced upon in real life: Snatcher. And to be fair, I hardly played it.

I don’t really resort to downloading mainstream Hollywood movies or TV shows except in the event that I missed the broadcast of one and for some reason my DVR didn’t pick it up (happened a few times with Battlestar Galactica).

If we’re talking about downloading MUSIC… man… I don’t even really have a legitimate rationale for doing that, but I’m trying to become better and either buy legit physical copies or download MP3s from an online store. Some stuff is just out of print and nowhere to be found, though.

So, where do you stand on these sorts of issues? Be sure to let us know either in the comments below or in Film Walrus’ original article!

Grump Alert: Comedy Grumps at Julius Bloop’s New Site

June 25, 2009

I got news, comrades. I’m branching out. Or, well, I’ve been branching out. I’ll explain:

Julius Bloop, of Julius, asked me a while ago to write grumps for his comedy site.

“But I already write reviews, man. I got my own blog thing. You’ve seen it,” I explained. As he tried to retort, he tipped his martini glass too far and an olive dropped in my lap.

“I know, good shir, but thish shite is a comedy shite,” he slurred between hiccups. “Show you sshould write reviewsh of comedy moviesh onlyy.” He took a moment to belch, and I sat there thinking, rolling the estranged olive between my thumb and forefinger. I wasn’t sure if he was drunk or doing a poor Sean Connery.

Well, it couldn’t hurt, I thought. I can always link to them from Grump Factory. Each time I post a review on Bloop I can make a post here, alerting the common folk to its existence. A sort of symbiotic relationship, as it were.

I shook Mr. Bloop’s gloved hand in agreement, surprised to find his fingers bare. (Surely, the gent must have gloves with the fingers still attached somewhere.) After wiping the excess grease from our handshake on my handkerchief, I stood, dropped the oliva back in his drink, tipped my hat and took my leave of the establishment. Judging from the discordant music and screaming of the manager behind me, Mr. Bloopfound the place’s piano. I hurried my pace.

And that brings us to the present. His site recently relaunched with a fresh new coat of paint, along with my latest Comedy Grump available to read there – The Hangover.

It’s sort of a mystery movie. We don’t see the fun night in Vegas, we see the aftermath, when the friends are left with a bunch of baffling questions – where’d this baby come from? Where did their friend disappear to? Why are there guys shooting at them?

The movie stays fresh as your favorite muffin as they try to recount their night, discovering new leads and clues in their pockets and along their path of drunken destruction. Plot threads and gags get introduced constantly. It’s like a dumbass investigation movie. If Old School is the stupid, frat boy version of Fight Club, Hangover is the stupid, drunk version of Memento.

well. wanna get some bagels?

Henry Hatsworth – A Troubling Adventure

June 22, 2009

I’ll keep this brief.

Hatsworth suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. With its mix of action platformer and Planet Puzzle League game play — and lighthearted “tea and monocle” aesthetics — it aims to draw in the more casual crowd; yet halfway through the game the difficulty ramps up so much that I doubt the intended audience would have the patience to get even as far as I did. It doesn’t help that the game also contains some of the many game play elements that continually get my ire up, such as:

  • Checkpoints only at the start of a level section, so have fun playing the last 5+ minutes again if you happen to die right next to the exit.
  • “Upgrades” that merely keep you on even footing with the enemies, rather than giving you any apparent advantage against them.
  • Enemies that take too many hits to kill later in the game, without posing an equal amount of challenge to warrant such a high amount of health.
  • Bosses with too many “Gotcha” attacks and more phases than necessary.
  • and finally, Artificial challenge: the amount of Special Power you get from clearing puzzle blocks is significantly reduced during boss fights without explanation.

I have to admit that I was sour towards this game before even playing it, due to a rumor I had heard from the ListenUP podcast and a few other places. Supposedly, the second half of the game was not put through the normal play-testing regime so they could release it sooner. I’m not sure how true that is, but after experiencing the overly long levels and numerous unbalanced fights I can at least say the game should have been given a few more passes in the testing department.

So if you like games that are hard or just slightly broken, give it a look. If you’re a more sensible person however, stay away from Hatsworth. You aren’t missing much.

Grump Alert – Remembering Final Fantasy VIII

June 20, 2009

Can you believe that in a few months it’ll be almost TEN YEARS since the 9/9/99 release of Final Fantasy VIII? And unfortunately, those ten years have plagued the Playstation RPG with Internet douchebags ragging on Final Fantasy VIII for being a horse of a different color from the installments that preceded and followed it. It’s been, by far, the least-popular Final Fantasy from the latter six entries in the franchise, with fans citing just about everything aside from the graphics as an abomination.

But, really, FFVIII isn’t as awful as all of that. And finally there’s a thoughtful article that agrees with me on this.

I think it’s helped a lot of people put FFVIII in a new perspective now that it doesn’t have to compete with the ultra-success and expectations brought upon by FFVII and now that the people that played it when it was released have had more life experiences with which to relate to the complex themes of the game. Hopefully this article can inspire players to revisit or even visit this installment for the first time.

I also wanna take this opportunity to relate why FFVIII has such a tender place in my heart via an embarrassing high school memory. So FFVIII came out on a Thursday and I was sooooo stoked for it and got it on Day 1 and played a few hours of it that night and was on cloud fucking nine. Then I went to school the next day and… had a really unpleasant lunch period that heralded the beginning of the end of a friendship I’d had for a few years. It cut me so badly that I actually had to get up from the lunch table, go to the bathroom and cry in the stall. I felt miserable the whole rest of the day and when I went home I just buried myself in FFVIII for not only the rest of the day, but the whole weekend. I allowed myself to be swallowed up by it. Here, I was having a parallel high school experience, but instead of being a gibbering geeky mess, I was a cool soldier that got to fight giant mechanical spiders and summon magical creatures! It really helped me through a shitty time of my life and it was probably exactly the right game at exactly the right time for me.

I’m not expecting sob stories or anything, but maybe in the comments you can mention any interesting memories you have about Final Fantasy VIII as well! And remember to check out Pop Matters’ fantastic article about it.

And now, Faye Wong.

inFAMOUS – Energy non-Crisis

June 12, 2009

I’ve been struggling to write this for awhile now. It’s very easy to talk about something that’s bad; the bile flows easily from my mind and into text, and soon I have an over abundance of complaining to work with (see: Bionic Commando). When confronted by a truly good game — one where the enjoyment is mainly derived from actually playing it — I’m kinda at a loss as to how I should discuss it.

So I’ll try to keep this short, simple, and electric pun-free.


The Sky Crawlers: Flying Bassett Hound Brigade

June 10, 2009

Even though I was excited to see that another one of Mamoru Oshii’s movies got released in the U.S., The Sky Crawlers sat around for a few days at home, mostly out of a vague sort of dread. What if it was the one that ruined Oshii for me? What if it was a turgid, boring mess that took itself way too seriously? But it garnered a buttload of awards in Japan and seemed to be fairly well received by fans of his work, so I popped it in late one night and hoped for the best!

crawlin to your heart~


(grumplet) Drag Yourself to Drag Me to Hell

June 5, 2009

Director Sam Raimi exhibited some signs of campy horror withdrawal in his Spider-Man series – if you remember the operation scene with Dr. Octopus’ tentacles you know what I mean – and with Drag Me To Hell he gets to do what he really loves again. I hope he has more in store ‘cuz I love it too.

His first horror/comedy since Army of Darkness, Drag Me To Hell plays a lot like that goofy flick. A terrible, often invisible evil – a gypsy curse – torments poor dopey Alison Lohman who takes as many slapstick hits as Bruce Campbell did in Army. Campbell ought to be proud of his successor as Lohman is quite the trooper. She puts up with a lot of gross shit and it’s a lot of fun to see the abuse Raimi puts her through, physically and psychologically. As the curse puts her through the paranormal ringer she has to make some decisions and the way they’re all handled are hilarious.

ohhh somebody clean me~~

It’s classic storytelling that sets up all sorts of conventions, rules and gags that pay off in the end. Raimi shows what you can do with a simple idea (a gypsy curse) and how far you can take it. In today’s horror film atmosphere Hell is unique – there are no kids anywhere to be seen, no busty scream queens getting chopped to bits, no torture gadgets, it’s not boring, it doesn’t take itself seriously and it’s not a remake. It’s juuuust about a near-perfect horror movie… rated PG-13 no less.

There is one scene in particular that involves an anvil that goes so over-the-top it pulled me way out of the flick. It’s not even that necessary, it felt pretty throwaway. I guess that’s the one complaint I have with the movie. The other thing I was worried about, Justin Long as Lohman’s kind-hearted boyfriend, turned out to be nothing to worry over. I was lukewarm towards the guy before, but this is probably the best bit of acting he’s done. He manages to play the whole movie with a straight face. Not once does he crack a wry smile or wink at the camera – that’s for Sam to do.

So, yeah. If Raimi’s excellent work in the past, or the incredibly warm reception from critics doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will. I grinned and laughed the whole way through. It’s a scary, funny, gross, fun fucking time at the movies Go to a theater with GREAT sound and drag as many people as possible with you.

ahhhh nooo I dont want to go to Lodi, NJ