Monday, March 9, 2015

Dusting Off the Cobwebs, Previewing Things to Come!

Well, break out the Endust, yours truly, President Dog is finally back to his old stomping grounds! A lot has happened over the last... six months?! It's been that long? Wow, my bad. Anyway, a lot has happened since my last post around these parts, so let's catch up, shall we?

First of all, and this is the biggest, I completed my course in broadcasting from The Sheffield Institute for the Recording Arts in the beginning of December. I officially graduated at the end of January and am currently looking for an on-air position in the industry, so if anyone knows anyone out there looking for quality voice talent for their radio station or even voice-overs, let me know and I'll send a resume, demos and whatever they need to get in order to be considered. Using my voice in my work has always been my dream and I'll do what it takes to make it real.

Second, I've been a horrible procrastinator in trying to get back to not only watching anime, but reviewing and podcasting. The only show I've been reliably watching is the re-release of the original Sailor Moon on Hulu, despite my efforts to plan and find new anime to watch. Combine that with an uncertain way to consistently find places to post my podcast (Soundcloud is not going to work, with its strict time limit before paying) and my malaise towards reviewing has only been augmented. Again, if anyone can point me in the direction of a quality hosting place for me to upload my podcast, I'd highly appreciate it. I know I could potentially post it on YouTube to some degree, but I'd rather not use an audio-only format on there if possible.

Finally, in a big move and look towards the near future, thanks to a generous tax refund, yours truly will be heading on a major Spring vacation to Orlando, Florida! My initial destination is for MegaCon, an excellent convention for all kinds of nerdy things and is boasting an unreal amount of guests that I'd love to meet. Personally, the ones I'd love to meet the most are the voice-over artists, which include Jeremy Shada, Olivia Olson, the voices for all three of the Warners from Animaniacs (Jess Harnell, Tress Macneille, Rob Paulsen) and finally, my VO idol, Grey DeLisle. Her alone is one of the biggest reasons I'm attending this convention. The convention runs from April 10th-12th at the Orange County Convention Center, right in the bull's-eye between Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld and Walt Disney World.

Speaking of the theme parks, I know I'll be hitting up at least one, but I'm not sure which. I've been to Disney World once before when I was in high school on a band trip, but I never got to experience the entirety of all four parks (I unfortunately got sick on our EPCOT/Animal Kingdom day near the end of the trip.) On the other hand, I haven't been to Universal Studios in any capacity, it's closer and less expensive than Disney, even when including access to a water park and due to its reduced size doesn't require as big of a commitment to complete. Plus, I've been dying to try a cold mug of Butterbeer from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Though the same could be said of Disney treats like the legendary Dole Whip Float.) I feel that I'd get more of my money's worth from Disney World, even though I'd be spending more, but the traveling time is also going to be a concern. If all else fails, I could just split the difference and do a pair of shorter passes to both theme parks instead of a whole 4 or 5 day pass to Disney which I may not completely use depending on activities of the convention. Plus if I need my Disney fix there are other more accessible, less committment-heavy options like Downtown Disney/Disney Springs. Considering I'm going for 5 days in total surrounding that convention, I'll have lots of time for other attractions in Orlando. A work in progress to be sure.

Anyway, that's just a quick update on my life, why i haven't been around and what should bring me back here in the near future. I guarantee pictures from my Orlando trip will be coming, there's just too many things to see and do that it'd be criminal not to take a ton of shots. In the meantime, stay tuned here, because President Dog is back around the Doghouse and will be bringing the fun along for the ride.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

President Dog Takes On: The Podcast!

Hey everyone, just wanted to give you all a special treat and a new project I've been working on: a real-life actual podcast! It's just like the blog, only in audio form so you can take me everywhere you go! In this premiere episode, I talk about movies, including Marvel's newest blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy, I break down episodes 2 and 3 of Sailor Moon Crystal and give a preview of Otakon 2014 in Baltimore, MD, plus a few tips to survive any convention! Give it a listen and enjoy!

President Dog Takes On Podcast Episode 1: Sailor Guardians of the Galaxy: The Pre-Otakon Edition

Sunday, July 13, 2014

President Dog Takes On... Sailor Moon Crystal

...or Let's Get Overly Critical AND Nostalgic! The Double Whammy!

Hello everyone and welcome back to President Dog Takes On... where this time around we're blending the old and the new together into a return to form like no other! And no, I'm not just talking about me finally reviewing a current anime again, for once. I'm talking about the return of the Sailor Guardians in the newly rebooted series Sailor Moon Crystal. Now any otaku worth their salt know about Sailor Moon, the story of a klutzy crybaby of a 14-year old girl name Usagi that becomes a sailor-suited fighter for love and justice striving to defeat Queen Beryl and the evil Dark Kingdom. Granted most people would switch the name Usagi for Serena and Dark Kingdom for Negaverse, depending on how attached to the '90s dub version they are, but the story remains the same: the quintessential magical girl series of anime and a major gateway series for young anime fans of the time. Before we start getting in depth here, I want to share with all of you a little something I created for a contest called “What Does Sailor Moon Mean to You?” The contest required a visual medium plus a 100-word answer to said question and here is mine:

Even more so than any of the big action anime of the 1990s and 2000s, Sailor Moon was a cornerstone of my childhood and one of the prime reasons I became an otaku. I knew that no matter how bad my day at school was, how much homework or how many chores I had to do, I still had that 30 minutes of Sailor Scout goodness to enjoy and it made everything better. The series filled countless blank VHS tapes for me and I wore them out watching them over and over. In short, Sailor Moon was my sanctuary.

In short, every weekday at 4 PM, it was Sailor Moon time in my mind. It was the portal that opened up Toonami and all the rest of anime as a whole to me and I owe this series a debt of gratitude. That being said, when I found out that only did Viz Media acquire the rights to the original series in its uncut 200-episode glory, but that there was a new Sailor Moon series coming, I, to borrow a phrase from the wonderful author John Green, lost my ability to even. After enjoying several weeks of the original series (currently through 18 episodes at the time of this writing), the day has finally arrived for the premiere of the first episode of Crystal and it's time to break it down as only I can.

First of all, let me state two things. 1.) I enjoyed what I saw of the first episode, but I have a number of trepidations about this new series going forward. 2.) I understand this new series is keeping to the structure of the original manga, but for the purposes of this I'm going to compare it to the first anime. I know that may end up being an apples-to-oranges comparison in due time, but at this point I don't care. Let's start from the top of this episode and progress from there, shall we? 

We open on a big sweeping star-scape, panning through the Milky Way and the Solar System until we arrive at the palace of the Moon. A young figure in a white dress (Princess Serenity for those already up to speed) runs forward to meet a knight in black (Prince Endymion) where they meet and are just about to kiss... until we cut to Usagi's mom bugging her to wake up and get ready for school. 

This is going to be the underlying theme of this entire breakdown: what did the creators add or change to the overall framework of the original series? For all basic intents and purposes, this first episode is a retelling of the first episode of the original series, nearly scene for scene. However in certain spots it's slightly different. Obviously in the original we don't have the foreshadowing dream sequence, plus this new version added Usagi falling down the stairs of her house while in her rush to leave for school, just to emphasize her klutziness just a little bit more. Again, don't get me wrong, the art style is lovely in the new version and the opening dream sequence it's a grand way to kick off the show, but if all we're doing is giving the original series a fresh coat of paint and tweaking a few moments that were likely unnecessary, is it really worth it? Anyway, I digress. On to the opening sequence!

The new theme, Moon Pride, is extremely upbeat and downright rocking in some places, certainly a change of pace from the original theme, Moonlight Densetsu. The visuals fall right in line with the show, showing all five Sailor Guardians right from the start, even including little nods in the lyrics to each of their powers. However, speaking of the opening theme lyrics, I have to point out the obvious, overt girl power message in lyrics such as 'We will fight on our own / Without leaving our destiny to the prince' and 'We are not helpless girls / Who need men's protection.' Don't get me wrong, a girl power message has always been woven into the tapestry of this franchise from the start, but never at such a dead-center and consistent point. Plus, need I remind everyone that for a group that supposedly believes in these ideals, they get saved by a prince in a tuxedo (or white Arabian getup, Moonlight Knight) on a regular basis? Kind of talking out of both sides of your mouth there. Regardless, this is a great dynamic opening overall and sets the energy level high for the show itself. 

Getting back to the show proper, the scene right after Usagi leaves the house is the part where she finds Luna. Now in the original, Usagi finds Luna after she is being harassed by a bunch of little kids, shooing them away. A pretty fitting origin, I'd say. In Crystal, however... Usagi not only trips over Luna, but STEPS ON HER. 

Not right, not right at all. 

To make it even worse, what I can only assume is Usagi trying to give Luna a kiss out of forgiveness leads to her getting her face scratched. Seriously, do you pick up random street cats and try to kiss them often, girl?

 No wonder you're a ditz.

Anyway, let's press on. We get a subtle mysterious setup to our main antagonist next; first thing of note is that it's not the full Dark Kingdom yet, we only see a dimly lit cave with pillars, some brief shots of Jadeite summoning his monster and the command to seek out the Legendary Silver Crystal. There's no sign of Queen Beryl at all in this introduction, though the original version did setup why the Dark Kingdom's forces are collecting energy in a much clearer manner.

Speaking of setup and world-building, another major difference seems to be how characterization is built up for the initial supporting cast. In the original series, the characters and their personalities play off each other in their dialogue and interactions and establish how they relate to Usagi. In Crystal, she flat-out narrates to us that Ms. Haruna's her English teacher, Naru's her best friend that Umino is an annoying nerd. Show, don't tell, please! This is one symptom of a bigger, growing problem so far in the new series: the pacing is far too slow, at least in comparison to the original. To be honest it's somewhat hard to put into words, but if you do as I did as watch the first episodes back to back, you'll see what I'm talking about. The dialogue feels quicker in the original series and leads itself to better characterization for everyone involved. In the discussion I've already had over this show so far, people have been quick to point out how the show tends to rely on the style of narration ripped directly from the manga as well as the pace, which make sense in its nature of being a more direct adaptation of said material. However, certain elements can't be ignored. 

 After working in retail long enough, this seems downright tame to me.

Take for example a later scene where Usagi and her friends visit Naru's family's jewelery store because they're having an huge sale. In the original series, the store is packed to the front doors with customers; it genuinely looks like a feeding frenzy on par with a Black Friday holiday sale at a Wal-Mart. In Crystal, sure, they may have added some additional signs around the store saying there's massive discounts, but for the most part there's a much smaller crowd huddled around one single display case of jewelry. To my disappointment, the chubby old lady from the scenes in the original series isn't part of the crowd either.

Moving right along to another pretty sizable thing that is still baffling me: why are they fussing around with Mamoru and what he's doing as Tuxedo Mask so much? Usagi even makes a good point in her dialogue in that scene: why is he just walking the streets in a tuxedo in the middle of the day? This version of him is certainly not above drawing attention to himself and unfortunately, the level of general antagonism between Mamoru and Usagi is missed in my opinion. 


Blends right into the streets of Tokyo, doesn't he?

Due to the opening dream sequence, their first real-life meeting gets played up for the romantic angle immediately, even through the teasing of Usagi's bad test and hairstyle. The sniping comments of called Usagi 'bun-head' are still there, but it doesn't feel right in the mood Crystal sets for their initial encounter. Once again, it makes me long for the original series where the characters were mostly oblivious to Mamoru being Tuxedo Mask. I think it may be a pretty safe bet that we won't see Rei go on any dates with him in Crystal like she did in the original. Another element to Mamoru's character this time around seems to be how clued in he is already to the machinations of the Dark Kingdom already, saying aloud how he's already looking for the Silver Crystal and even showing how he arrives to the scene of the battle even before Sailor Moon ever shows up. I hate to say it, but it kind of ruins his mystique that he built up. Either that or it's just another example of sticking close to the manga and offering a different, yet still rather implausible reason as to why he's always on the scene of the battle at the most convenient moment.

Anyway, I don't want you all thinking this is a negative, 'not my Sailor Moon' kind of review here. There are definitely elements of this show that I'm well on-board with, such as the various art styles the show is giving us, from the main animation's clean, vibrant look, to the nouveau-style title and bumper cards, to even the computerized chibi animations for the revamped Sailor V video game at the arcade. Other than the computer animation of the transformation sequence, which is simply jarring compared to the rest of the show and even the transform of the original, I don't have much of a qualm with it visually. 

 From beautiful and stylish, to cute and energetic, this series has quite a lot going for it visually.

I also enjoy how Usagi still gets kicked out of the house by her mom after she sheepishly has to own up that that horrible test and still tries, and fails, to kick her brother after she gets teased. Unfortunately, Shingo doesn't kick Usagi square in the backside like the original, which I always loved.

So after Usagi finally gets let back into the house, she ends up napping and returning back to the dream from the same morning, only to get a rude awakening by Luna, scratching her face again. Our feline advisor always had a little bit of a mean streak towards of heroine, especially in the face of laziness and unheroic behavior, but that was just mean. So Luna explains how their first encounter, specifically when Usagi removed the bandages that covered up her crescent moon spot, helped find and locate who our heroine was and gives Usagi the iconic transformation brooch, which has gone through a design change and from what I can assess, a size reduction. The biggest omission, though, was that the brooch just appears against a sparkly background and, poof, Usagi has it in her hands. That's right, they took out Luna's backflip to summon new magical items. That one really hurts and seems like a mistake; there was an air of ceremony to her doing that instead just pulling a magical item out of hammerspace or something. So Usagi does her first transform, my opinion already stated on that for the most part already and I'll let you be the judge on what transformation sequence is superior, but there's a few odd tweaks to the iconic costume of Sailor Moon, namely the addition of a second smaller version of her brooch attached to her choker and the white feathery barrettes that previously came around in later seasons of the original series are present right from the start, keeping more in line with the manga's visual representation. I personally think they're a bit much to have at the start, but I'm a guy, what do I know about fashion?

Speaking of the little accessories to the outfit, I'm happy to see the red parts on Sailor Moon's hair still flash their one and only alert in the entire run of the show and personally, I hope that's a thing they fix with this new show. Having Sailor Moon be able to get alerted to other danger and hearing the cries for help from innocents is really a handy ability. I also like that once she arrives to save Naru from the monster and it demands to know who she is, Usagi pretty much names herself Sailor Moon. Quite a departure from the original where Luna basically says 'You're Sailor Moon, go fight evil,' but a good, clever change in my book. The fight between Sailor Moon and the monster is about the same: monster summons hypnotized, energy-drained people to do her bidding and swarm Sailor Moon while she's still rather stunned and afraid, albeit with significantly less minions, a slower pace and for some reason, Luna directly saying that Sailor Moon needs to kick the monster's butt. 

Never thought I'd hear Luna use that kind of phrase. 

Another part I'm glad stuck around was the fact that a large amount of Sailor Moon's initial success came from her scared crying being turned into sonic blasts and disrupting the mind control on the innocent people attacking her. The early fights in the series always portrayed Usagi as a reluctant hero who slowly gained more confidence the more often she went into battle and while Crystal may have downplayed it, this scene gets taken up another notch entirely, making her cries powerful enough to shatter glass! The joke of Tuxedo Mask saying that crying won't solve anything before being proven wrong is missing, however. With the spell broken and the monster stunned, Luna tells Sailor Moon to summon her finishing maneuver, which is the new, improved Moon Tiara Boomerang. 


Time to get your Xena on.

I like the revision here, looking quite Warrior Princess-like and resembling a chakram, a bladed throwing disk, rather that just an energy-coated version of her tiara. So in short, she defeats the monster, saves her friend and gets one more dreamy look at Tuxedo Mask. It's important to point out two more things about him from the battle: first, he doesn't actually save Sailor Moon from anything the monster does to her. He simply shouts a few words of encouragement from the shadows and doesn't properly introduce himself until after the battle. No iconic rose throw, no nothing.

Second, his costume is pretty much exactly what he was wearing that afternoon, save for the top hat, cape and mask. Once again, not really hiding the disguise very well. Good thing Usagi's such a dim bulb, especially in this version where it feels like they ratcheted up all her negative attributes.

Already? Seems a bit soon to me...

Finally, the last major change Crystal has to pull it in line with the manga's pace is a last second tease to the introduction of Ami, a.k.a. Sailor Mercury. Now here's where I feel like this is going to be the point that makes or breaks Crystal. In the original show, Ami is not introduced until the eighth episode, giving lots of time for Usagi to grow as a character and heroine in her own right before starting to build up a team. It bolsters her fighting confidence and develops her character as well, making the melding of the Sailor Senshi team a fuller experience. A lot of people I debated this with since the premiere of Crystal wrote this length of episodes off as filler and unnecessary when it couldn't be further from the truth. I realize that having to pack, at the very minimum, the Dark Kingdom storyline into 26 episodes is a daunting task and stories will have to be cut to fit that episode count down to nearly half of its original length, but from the way I'm expecting it to go, we should be at the trio of Sailor Moon, Mercury and Mars by the end of episode 3 of Crystal, a feat that the original series spread out until episode 10, though quite heavily towards the solo Usagi fights and only one episode where Usagi and Ami work as a pair. Combine that with the fact that the show itself is following an uncommon, every-other-week release schedule and this timing is all over the place. Seems as though the creators of Crystal are trying to artificially lengthen the show out when they could've it better through their own world-building and character development. That in and of itself seems like the critical flaw of this entire show, eschewing strong development and pace for sticking to the letter of the source material. Granted, one episode is hard to judge the full pace of the series from, but if the precedent set by the manga is to be trusted, I think I may still prefer the classic Sailor Moon series in the end.

Sailor Moon Crystal seems to be both a loving nod to the classic show many of us grew up on and an attempt to reinvent the wheel in terms of the franchise, which makes it a confusing series to assess at the moment. It's not quite for us classic Moonies of the '90s, but there are elements being brought in that don't hold up quite as well to new viewers or those simply judging it on its own merits of writing and characterization. I'll hold off judgment for now until we get a few more episodes, but I have to say sadly, my excitement towards this relaunch of the franchise has been tempered significantly. At this point I'm slightly more excited for the two episodes of the classic series we get on Hulu every Monday than one episode of a brand new series showing every other Saturday.

Friday, June 6, 2014

President Dog Takes On...: The Fault In Our Stars (Or The Opinion of a Critical-Eyed, Mid-20s Male Nerdfighter)

Hello everyone out there, kind of a different entry to the blog this time around, as in we're not talking anime or anything animated for that matter. So pardon me if I eschew my typical introduction and get down to brass tacks a little sooner. Last night, yours truly was part of the local viewing audience for the highly anticipated movie premiere of The Fault In Our Stars, based on a wildly popular novel by John Green (A young adult fiction author and YouTube star that I have quickly grown to enjoy in several aspects). I'll spare the overall details for those who haven't read the book and/or seen the movie yet, but it's a romantic drama about two teens with different forms of cancer who meet, grow and fall in love together, told in a realistic style with buckets and buckets of real genuine emotion throughout.

Before I go on, let me say something that will likely dismiss my opinion from a lot of people's consideration: I haven't read the book this movie is based upon.

Yes, I'm the evil spawn of hell for not reading the book before seeing the movie, but hear me out on this one, I have a method to my obvious madness here. I wanted to go into viewing this story as blind as possible to let the movie make its own impact on me without external influence. I'm sure the vast majority of people who either have seen the movie or will see it and have read the book will be matching it up to the source material along the way, decreasing the film's chances for its own unique impact on the audience. Personally I prefer my approach because I feel any adaptation of a previous work needs to be able stand on its own to truly be worthwhile. For example, a few years back I saw another movie adaptation of a book series, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, on a whim one night and was blown away by its visual flair, fun story and fast-paced action, all of which carried over well from its source material. Being read after gaining the context of the movie, the books enriched my experience, adding scenes, jokes and characterization the movie didn't or couldn't capture. I'd imagine if I had read the books first I'd be complaining about certain scenes not being included or maybe even interpreting characters differently than what the film was trying to establish; in short, I'd be disappointed in all that was removed instead of knowing I had more to add onto my base visual experience. That being said, I certainly hope that the source material of this movie enriches this experience far more because if the movie stands on its own I do have at least one or two pretty significant issues with how the movie panned out.

After viewing this film I've had two major opportunities to express my opinion on my experience, even going so far as to write them out, but not submitting them, not wanting to ruin the chorus of the target audience's praise, which included multitudes of teenage females talking about crying their eyes out and how beautiful the main leads Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort were together. I've held back on those pages because the praise and criticism I have for the film seems rational beyond the years of said target audience and quite frankly, I don't feel like facing the targeted wrath of emotional teenage girls at the moment. Plus I have this little place to express every unpopular opinion I have, so why waste that on a Fandango review page with a character limit? That being said, I'll give you the short version I was going to put together for Fandango:

I highly respect the effort and passion the cast and crew put into adapting John Green's hit novel and for the most part it results in a well-shot, well-acted movie, but I did have a few caveats with the characterization, namely in our male lead. Now I'll forgive Ansel Elgort if Gus is supposed to come of as arrogant and intentionally just a little too perfect, but regardless, that's how he felt to me throughout the entirety of the film and it dragged the relationship down so much for me. All the other major characters felt like real, genuine teenagers/young adults except for him, lost in his pretentiousness and ego he built for beating his disease. On a positive note, Willem Dafoe's role as the recluse drunken author Peter Van Houten left the most impact on me and his scenes were my favorites, without a doubt, especially the Swedish hip-hop scene. Also, Nat Wolff's character Isaac deserves a mention for being an excellent comic relief, whether chucking eggs or breaking trophies.

Yes, I'll get it out of the way. I couldn't stand, at least in this interpretation, the character of Augustus Waters. I say 'this interpretation' because as I'm writing this, I'm currently listening along with a reading of the first chapter of the book (read by John Green himself and provided at the end of the paragraph) where his dialogue and mannerisms could easily be interpreted much differently than what I expressed above. In the book I personally hear a snarky, sarcastic tone with tongue planted firmly in cheek through the more cheesy pieces of dialogue rather than the self-absorbed, arrogant attitude Ansel Elgort brought to the role. His performance, like I mentioned before, took me out of a lot of the development between Gus and Hazel, which is truly a shame because I did highly enjoy Shailene Woodley's heartfelt, genuine performance of a girl falling in love for the first time and dealing with the heavy weight of life that has fallen on her all at once. It's just unfortunate that she was paired with a romantic lead that felt far too perfect and fell into that dream romantic interest cliche to me, from bumping into each other for their first meeting, him somehow getting a way to contact Hazel's author idol, Peter Van Houten, to all the cheesy, fake sounding lines played for being something deeper than what they should be and realistically would never fall out of a typical teen's mouth.


Speaking of Van Houten and getting to a more positive note, Willem Dafoe stole this entire movie for me with his performance, albeit a short and, in my opinion, unjustly vilified one. The one major scene that I will defend him is where Gus and Hazel travel to Amsterdam to visit him, trying to get answers related to his book called An Imperial Affliction. Granted, he does get rather short with our leads in his responses to them, breaking his seclusion in a moment of a weakness, but in likely my most favorite scene in the movie, he tries to make a point on emotion and tone using music, in this case Swedish hip-hop music. Trying to answer how his style and abrupt ending to his book were a thematic choice beyond the direct words printed on the page, he expresses that the music still portrays its intended emotion and mood without the knowledge of the words. Of course our leads miss the point, Gus going as far as rudely grabbing the stereo's remote and turning the music off, refusing to think deeper on their questions and their emotions on life, which lead to emotions flaring and Gus and Hazel getting kicked out of Van Houten's house. The whole time I felt like our leads were being irrational and refusing to accept answers from someone who at least felt was on a higher level of thinking than they were when they didn't match up to their expectations. To be fair, I do see it from both ends of the argument, being invested in something so deeply and wanting to know answers, but also knowing sometimes those questions don't have answers and should probably stay that way, especially in the case of fictional characters when our own lives are of far more importance, whether or not our time on this earth is limited. Even when Van Houten appears again closer to the end of the film, they still undercut him and make him out to be the bad guy when all he's trying to do is add a deeper perspective on things, not to mention deliver something special to Hazel that bookends the story overall.

Also, like I mentioned briefly near the end of that short summary, Nat Wolff's performance as the blind mutual friend of Gus and Hazel, Isaac, was a real joy and a necessity to keeping this whole story from plunging into depression in a nosedive. Two scenes stick out prominently: the first is when Isaac's girlfriend breaks up with him after he undergoes his surgery that leaves him completely blind. In order to handle his grief, Gus offers Isaac the chance to break one of his old basketball trophies to let out his rage, which evolves into a great run of comedic screaming, breaking of several more trophies and a great release in the face of growing romantic tension between our leads, even overshadowing a dialogue between them. The second scene involves Gus, Hazel and Isaac getting revenge on Isaac's ex-girlfriend by egging her car and house. From guiding our blind companion towards aiming right to the throw where he almost lands a direct hit on his former girlfriend's mother, it's just gold.

Beyond those major things, I don't have many other strong feelings about this movie. It does tug at your heartstrings plenty throughout, it's wonderfully shot and the music, although nothing I'd run to buy the soundtrack for, fits the movie well and I can tell that all involved believed highly in making this the best interpretation of John Green's original vision it could be. I didn't expect to be blown away and give this film unending praise and I was right, but I certainly don't think it was a waste. I loved being able to support a creative work of Mr. Green's, beyond my own viewership of his online work (BTW, definitely check out his YouTube work between vlogbrothers, CrashCourse, Mental_Floss and all of his brother Hank's works, including SciShow and his music) and I have even higher hopes for movie versions of his other works, such as the book Paper Towns, to be even better films overall. This film, however, was clearly not made with someone like myself in mind. I will not discourage those who this would appeal to from seeing this however, I'm sure millions of bawling, yet excited girls can't be wrong when it comes to something like this. Anyway, thanks for reading my thoughts on this matter, however odd, unpopular or incorrect they may turn out to be. I promise I will read the actual book when I get it back from my mom and sister, to whom I gave a copy as a gift last Christmas and have yet to get a chance to retrieve it. Next time, I promise we get back to normal programming and indulging in our typical animated fare.

To give you all something special near the end here and to break up this giant mountain of text, here's the latest trailer for Sailor Moon Crystal, which premieres in Japan on July 5th. DFTBA everyone!

Friday, May 2, 2014

President Dog Takes On... Zenkaikon 2014!

Hey everyone, welcome to a President Dog Takes On... special feature covering the 2014 edition of Zenkaikon from Lancaster, PA!

This was a rare opportunity for me to get out and take a trip to visit an anime convention on my own as just an attendee, which I value highly in multiple respects. In the interest of full disclosure, the only major anime convention I get to participate in is Baltimore's Otakon convention, the second-largest of its kind in the U.S., but as a staff member. Needless to say, this limits what I can and see on my own as my priority is to help the actual paying attendees have the most amazing convention experience possible, though I get rewarded with other perks that am not at liberty to divulge. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything, but it's nice to witness the convention experience from the other viewpoint every so often.

Due to other obligations I could only attend the Saturday portion of Zenkaikon, but was still an absolute blast and I'd like to share with all of you my journey, some highlights and great memories I'll be taking away from this excursion.

First of all, the location for this convention, in my opinion, is excellent in both travel time relevant to where I live (basically a 1 hour, straight shot ride from northeastern Maryland that barely required GPS assistance) and the actual building, surrounding area and parking. The organizers of this convention selected the Lancaster County Convention Center and the adjoining Marriott hotel and it could not have been more suitable for a convention of its size. Unlike Otakon, which has to able to accommodate nearly 35,000 people over its weekend plus cram as many video rooms, panels rooms and other activities as possible into nearly every available space in the Baltimore Convention Center (even having to utilize the Baltimore Arena for its masquerade), Zenkaikon is a much more intimate, small-scale convention (approximately 4,000 attendees this year) which means a significantly larger amount of breathing room. Lines were never too long for any major event (except for maybe an autograph or two) and unless you were at the very tail end of a line, you could easily get a decent seat for a panel. To go along with that, props definitely go out to whoever set up the seating for the panel rooms. There was never a lack of seating for anything, even major events like the big voice actor's panel; I wasn't anywhere near the front of any given line throughout the day, but still managed to get a seat roughly 5-6 rows away from the stage at worst to any given panel. Granted, the one event that may have flown in the face of this would've been the masquerade, but I typically don't attend those and didn't in this case either. Another big plus came in the form of discounted parking for the local parking garages, which I was quite pleasantly surprised to see. I always approve of anything that keeps extra money in our wallets and parking is always a racket in normal cases, so big time thanks for cutting my parking expenses by more than half. One last location-related positive was the abundance of quality food options in the immediate area of the convention center. Beyond a random Subway sandwich shop, all the restaurants I saw in surrounding area of the con were local non-chain eateries, from a little hole-in-the-wall pizzeria (where I got an excellent, well-filled calzone for dinner), to a smoothie shop to an an actual Japanese restaurant, not more than a couple minutes walk away from the con at most. Not even Baltimore can boast that relevant to the BCC's location. Let's also not forget that in the same adjacent area, there is the oldest continually operating farmer's market IN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY in the Lancaster Central Market. Regardless of what you personally go to Lancaster for initially, if you are ever there on a Tuesday, Friday or Saturday morning or afternoon, go to that market. You will not regret it.

Anyway, on to the events themselves and I'll be going step by step throughout my journey through Zenkaikon, starting from registration to the end. I started my day by easing my way into things, heading to a video room and watching, of all things, Super GALS! Yes, I know I just reviewed it and I own the whole thing already, but I wanted to see if anyone else knew about the show. Sadly, most people seemed to peek in, saw what was being shown and promptly left. Granted, I think the showing had a couple of strikes against it: 1) they were showing the dub and 2) they were showing the first four episodes, which to the untrained eye aren't all that exciting (except for maybe the moment where Ran slaps Aya in the face in episode 1). Oh well, their loss. 

After watching a few episodes, I headed over to the vendor/artist's alley hall to do some exploring and not too far along into my journey I had my first big awesome moment. I ran right into one of the big guests of the convention, Doug Walker. For those of you who don't know, Mr. Walker is the man behind The Nostalgia Critic, a fairly popular Internet reviewer character and the mastermind behind the website, which hosts dozens of other online reviewing personalities. Of course I didn't want to be a bother to him during what appeared to be some free time in his certainly busy schedule, I asked for a quick hello, picture and handshake, to which he was more than gracious enough to oblige. Apologies for the terrible quality on the picture, but I only had time to get it with the front camera on my cell phone. 

After that exciting moment, I headed on my main reason for going to the artist's area, meeting up with one of my favorite artists, and at this point, friends, Jessi, who runs the excellent nerdy webcomic Geeks Next Door along with her husband Matt. I've given them a lot of business through conventions over the years and I've always praised their works immensely. Plus they're just wonderfully nice people to put up with me always hunting them down at cons and distracting them from their business. Seriously, check out the webcomic and buy a shirt or something from them, they deserve it. I mean, if Jessi's willing to dress up as a donut-themed Sailor Scout, the least you can do is check her webcomic out.

After catching up with my friends it was finally time to do some shopping, which means indulging in some art for the most part. I didn't bring a lot of funds, put I did pick up a few prints that caught my eye for one reason or another, such as an odd King of the Hill/Sailor Moon crossover, a stylized graveyard that the artist originally made out of paper scraps, a sweet Shaun of the Dead poster and an additional badge of a delightfully manic Harley Quinn. Maybe one of these days I'll do a feature on all the art I've collected from cons, because I certainly have my fair share.

Next on my agenda was my first big panel, the big collected Voice Actor's panel with, among others, the other major guest I came to see, Jim Cummings. Best known for his work with Disney animation, most people will know Mr. Cummings as the voices for Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Darkwing Duck and many more. He was even part of the singing voice for Scar in The Lion King, which seriously shows off his skill. Many didn't even recognize him for that since the blending of his voice during the song was so seamless. Along with him at this panel were four other voice actors:

  • Marc Swint, known as The Engineer in his work with online reviewer Bennett the Sage and his major role in the anime for Mass Effect as Mason.
  • Greg Houser, a veteran of voice over in several fields as well as roles in the recent Evangelion movies.
  • Bill Rogers, the current (not original, as there was some confusion at the panel) voice for Brock in the Pokemon anime, as well as roles in Gravitation, Boogiepop Phantom and Genshiken.
  • and finally Brina Palencia, the voice for Ciel in Black Butler, Natsuki from the movie Summer Wars, Tony Tony Chopper in One Piece, Mad Moxxi from the Borderlands video games and many more.
The panel consisted of two major parts, a few sessions of fan Q&A, and my personal favorite, reading from famous movie scenes as their respective characters. Since this part was too good to pass up, I filmed it to preserve and share with all of you. Please enjoy and forgive any jitters from my handheld camera.

Following that panel I took a little time to eat and explore the various gaming areas, both an expansive area for board, card and tabletop games with an impressive library of games for all to play and rather intimate video game room that include a few arcade machines, such as this excellently preserved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cabinet. 

 Later on I attended a more dedicated Q&A with Jim Cummings, where he went a bit more in depth on his background and the business of voiceovers, from being the class clown of a Catholic school in Ohio to shaping the childhoods of multiple generations from his iconic characters. He also shared a few funny stories and bits of insight, such as a certain musing about how much fun villains are as their own characters and if they ever get a song, it's usually a tango or something of the sort, unlike heroes whose musical choices aren't nearly as fun. I was also lucky enough to get his autograph and a picture with him afterwards and I value his time spent amongst us, the fandom. 

With another big meet and greet out of the way, I then shifted to having some real fun and attended a panel on bad video game cartoons which turned out to be a real hoot. To give any of you a tip as to how to either run a convention panel or pick which ones to attend, leading off by dumping out several huge bags of candy and promising to toss out every single piece to the crowd is a good way to start. We were encouraged to make fun of the terrible cartoons, which consisted of an episode of Captain N: The Game Master (Episode 8, “Mr. and Mrs. Mother Brain”) and a episode of the Saturday morning Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon (Season 2, episode 1, “Game Guy”), to which the snarky quips and chocolate flew to all, not to mention other weird things, like (no fooling) a plush Hungry Little Caterpillar I grabbed for shouting out how terrible and off-model Rotor the Walrus looked in the Sonic episode we watched. Yes, the same Hungry Little Catterpillar from your elementary school library. In between shows we had random bad trivia games and even worse NES challenge competitions, though I think the problem was in the competitors rather than the games, which made it more hilarious and more agonizing to watch people fail at completing basic things such as getting through World 1-1 in Super Mario Bros. as fast as possible or knocking out Glass Joe in Punch-Out!!. I will give them a little slack about trying to get through the first level of Contra on three lives, that does take a little practice. At the end of the panel, they even made cleaning up everything into a game which they rewarded people with random junk prizes. I cleaned up and got a DVD copy of the awful Will Ferrell/Jon Heder figure skating movie Blades of Glory to go with my Hungry Little Caterpillar plush. Weirdest prizes ever. 

So after that blur of sugar-rushing weirdness I thought I'd wrap up the day with a pair of panels run by Doug Walker himself, the first being a quite stimulating discussion panel on movies, specifically ones where we have a differing opinion to our peers. Whether we enjoyed a movie the majority of people hated or we couldn't stand a film that everyone praised, it was up for discussion here and made for a very engaging and entertaining group exercise on expressing our own structured opinions despite what the majority thinks, which as always been a personal driver for me and this blog as a whole. Unfortunately I didn't get called on for my personal choice of movie, which would've been Shrek 2 and its appealing to the lowest common denominator, but those who did share praised films such as The Rocketeer and the recent Ender's Game movie, while deriding popular films such as Frozen, The Nightmare Before Christmas (providing an interesting comparison to the classic Land of Oz books) and even such supposed classics as The Breakfast Club. Following that panel, along with a game of convention-style musical chairs involving leaving the panel room and getting in line to back into the same panel room, we had a more dedicated Q&A towards The Nostalgia Critic and Doug's website as a whole. Doug went into details about learning from mistakes and projects that failed to find their audience, as well as more about his personal favorite choices of his catalog of work. He really expressed his love for all forms of media and showed to us that the only way to succeed in anything creative is to try everything you can and learn from all the experiences. And of course someone had to get him to do his classic Nostalgia Critic freakout over the Bat Credit Card from his review of Batman and Robin. 

Also, enjoy this funny scene of Doug interacting with a flirty dragon hand puppet in the dealer's room:

Alas, that was all for me for this one day as the siren song of the road home and my bed was calling and I could not stay longer. Overall, I think Zenkaikon was a wonderful experience and a refreshing change of pace from the big cons I'm so used to attending and working. It really felt like you could do anything and everything you wanted without waiting in never-ending lines or fighting through crowds. From the guest lineup to the layout of the space to all the fans and attendees involved, everything went smoothly and pleasantly and makes me want to come back next year, hopefully for an entire weekend in that case. Don't get me wrong, I love the atmosphere and fellowship that Otakon and its tens of thousands bring each summer, but for a more focused experience, a con such as Zenkaikon was most definitely worthwhile. To wrap this up, I'll share a few nice pieces of cosplay I found in my journeys throughout the convention center halls and encourage you all to come back for another edition of President Dog Takes On... where I'll (hopefully) be getting back into the swing of reviewing anime. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter from President Dog Takes On!

Hey everyone out there, President Dog here wanting to wish all who celebrate it a happy Easter. Of course, what's better than celebrating than with a few bunnies? Why, bunny girls of course!

Also, I'm watching the new crop of anime for the spring and these are the ten shows I'll be keeping an eye on, along with the day of the week they air or get uploaded so you can follow along:

Brynhildr in the Darkness (Gokukoku no Brynhildr) - Sunday
The Irregular at Magic High School (Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei) - Sunday
One Week Friends (Isshuukan Friends.) - Monday
Black Bullet - Tuesday
Majin Bone - Tuesday
Soul Eater Not! - Wednesday
No Game No Life - Wednesday
Hitsugi no Chaika - Thursday
Nanana’s Buried Treasure (Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin) - Friday
Selector Infected WIXOSS - Friday

So enjoy your sweets, celebrate the zombie Jesus (if that's your thing) and dig in a new batch of anime! New reviews and features are coming soon!

P.S. If the stars align, I may be heading for a day trip to Zenkaikon in Lancaster, PA on Saturday, April 26. I don't get to many anime conventions as an attendee, mostly due to being staff at the major one I attend, so if I go, expect a special feature on it!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

President Dog Takes On... Super GALS!: A Retro Review

Hello everyone and welcome back to President Dog Takes On... this time with a special retro anime review!

Since I started on this journey of writing and reviewing I've been wanting to go back and honor a few underrated gems of the past that I've bonded with for one reason or another. To lead things off here, there's not a bigger show that comes to my mind than our subject today, Super GALS!


Now before I get into what the show's all about, a little bit of backstory is in order, both for the subject matter and what bonded me to this show. I first discovered GALS! when I was in high school, somewhere either in 2004 or 2005, as part of a collection of on-demand programming through my cable TV subscription. For those unfamiliar, as part of most major digital cable packages in the U.S. and other countries, cable companies will often give their subscribers a small library of shows they can access at any time, ranging recent episodes of popular shows to obscure, new or unknown programming with a more dedicated focus than a typical cable channel. The anime available through these services came mostly from The Anime Network, though a few other collections existed from Funimation and other companies, and rotated through series on a week-to-week or month-to-month basis. Being the naive pup for anime that I was at 16, I decided to basically spin the wheel of what was available and try my luck. Fate happened to land on GALS! (specifically episode 23, “Tear it Off! Rip Rip! Teacher's Golden Image) and with its blend of action, drama and comedy with just a touch of romance and heaping helping of solid characters, I was sold. I quickly found the first half of the show on DVD and watched it all the way through, only reluctant to the fact that after episode 26, it previewed another episode that didn't exist on that set. It wasn't until a few years later when I was just starting my first year of college that the second half of the series was finally released, albeit only in subtitled form as opposed to the sub and dub options on the first half. Undeterred by that small fact, I gladly ate up the rest of the series, especially as a way to pass the time in between classes or when I would have to take public transportation to the campus.

The series was one of my first looks into more direct Japanese culture as GALS! is a slice-of-life show in the sense that it looks at a specific subculture of teenagers, the kogal, as well as the cultural center for fashion and said subculture, the Shibuya ward of Tokyo. Like how otaku and technologically-minded people flock to Akihabara, the fashion-minded and (at least during the turn of the millennium and the time in which GALS! takes place) the kogals flock to Shibuya. It's still a major focal point for the fashion world in Tokyo, but as with any trend, the kogal subculture passed and the female youth of Japan moved onto other things. If anything, this show would just be an interesting little media representation of a subculture and nothing more. Fortunately for GALS!, it is much more substantial.

Our show centers around Ran Kotobuki, the self-proclaimed 'World's Greatest Gal.' Now most people tend to have a bit of a split in intelligence, either towards education (a.k.a., book smarts) or learning facts of life and good morals (a.k.a., street smarts). Ran seems to have a pretty lopsided split towards street smarts. Usually lazy and absent-minded when it comes to school (the only class she doesn't tend to fail is PE and she often mooches homework answers off her more adept friends and acquitances), Ran truly shines on the streets and when dealing directly with people, always willing to dispense good advice about friends, life, or when needed, a good swift kick in the rear or slap in the face. Literally. It all comes from Ran's upbringing, living in a family of police officers and instilling within her a deep-rooted sense of justice. Unfortunately for her folks, she has no desire to join up to the family calling and decides, at least for now, to keep on being herself while dishing out a bit of vigilante butt-kicking on the side. In between shopping, karaoke, parapara dancing, octopus balls and other fun things in Shibuya, of course.

As we follow Ran, our cast naturally builds around her, from her best friends, Miyu and Aya (a former troubled teen saved from her delinquent ways by Ran's older brother, Yamato, and a smart, yet sheltered girl that Ran helps to come out of her shell and enjoy life as a gal, respectively) to a few guys from a popular all-guys school, Rei and Yuya (An aloof, somewhat snarky guy who Aya falls in love with and his upbeat partner-in-teen-idolness who has eyes for Ran) and eventually grows to include rivals, other boyfriends (including Tatsuki/Tatsukichi, Ran's energetic, silly and very monkey-like squeeze) and many others. There's no shortage of colorful, interesting and intriguing characters to be had here, which keeps episodes fresh. Another aspect of GALS! that keeps the viewer engaged is the variety and balance the stories provide in each episode while maintaining an evolving state of relationships. Plots can range from the serious, such as romance, finding jobs, or even family issues, to the silly and absurd sometimes. No joking at all, there are at least three episodes where Ran gets either hypnotized or hit in the head and her personality changes completely. It even gets lampshaded after the first time it happens in the episode previews. The most gripping overall plotline of this show has to be the relationship between Aya and Rei, as it's the longest-running and it quickly gets the viewer invested emotionally. Several times throughout I felt myself feeling so sad for Aya and getting increasingly angry at frankly, how much of a stone cold jackass Rei as acting towards her, but that's just my reaction and things do eventually grow towards the positive for both characters.

I do recommend checking out this series in one form or another between the anime and the manga (of which I also own a few volumes and gives its own spin on the show, but includes many if not all of the same stories), but the anime itself is an odd duck in the way of how it was licensed and translated, as I alluded to in my introduction. The first half of the series was distributed by the now-defunct ADV Films in both its original Japanese and an English dub. As much as I highly enjoyed the dub, which I can't say for very many anime in general, and its colorful choice of slang and dialogue, I have to recommend that any prospective viewers watch this series in its original Japanese because that is the only way the second half of the series is available, as the transfer of distribution rights to Right Stuf International neglected to continue the dubbing. However, Super GALS! is an ample length at 52 episodes, has enough going on to keep a viewer invested and is an enjoyable, albeit not the most original show. It does fall in line with some of the main character archetypes of the early 2000s era of anime and usually sticks to their guns about it; although characters do grow, not everyone truly does and those who do tend to do so very slowly. Another small nitpick is that the art style doesn't stand out all that much compared to its contemporaries. All the girls tend to have the same thin, almost twig-like body type just differentiated by their clothes and hair and such and outside of some colorful choices of palette, a lot of the set pieces are your typical cityscape of streets, shops and public areas (location accurate hotspots such as the Hachiko statue and the Shibuya 109 building are present and prominent, however, so points for detail). Overall, as an objective review, I give Super GALS! 3.5/5, but with my sentimental value factored in, it's at least a 4 to me. An enjoyable show with an ample length and story, but may not be something that sticks with you long after the final episode.

As a special bonus for anyone interested in checking out the show, not only is the entire subtitled version available on YouTube, I compiled all 52 episodes into a playlist for your viewing pleasure. Just follow the link below and see what it's all about.