My Current Obsession: Lemony Snicket’s All The Wrong Questions

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Back in January, I went through a “A Series of Unfortunate Events” phase by watching the Netflix show and reading all 13 books. Since the show is now renewed and will fully adapt the series by the end of Season 3, I’ve been in the mood for more Lemony Snicket. I have yet to read the “Unauthorized Biography” or “The Beatrice Letters,” but I’ve recently managed to get my hands on the prequel series called “All The Wrong Questions.”

For those who don’t know, Daniel Handler wrote this series just a few years ago. It depicts adventures of the shadowy narrator Lemony Snicket, who’s only 12 years old during this time. Alongside his bumbling older associate, S. Theodora Markson, Snicket solves various small town mysteries that may have a connection between them. The titles of each book revolve around four questions Snicket asks during these mysteries that are ultimately the wrong things to focus on.

I’ll mention here that I’ve only read two of the four stories so far, and my plan is to read the supplemental “File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents” next before I continue. However, I’m already really enjoying this series so far. I’ve always loved mysteries, so the noir feel to these books appealed to me immediately. I also appreciated that Handler’s familiar writing style shown in ASOUE was brought back here, albeit slightly more polished. He made a simple difference between both versions of Snicket in that the younger one is a bit of a smart aleck like some pre-teens can be. And even for such a young boy, he’s competent at what he does.

Another thing I’ve liked is that the stories involve a sort of hub location: the desolate town of Stain’d-by-the-Sea. The descriptive narrative makes it easy to picture, but I also like that Handler keeps focus on the town rather than having Snicket jump to a bunch of other locations like the Baudelaires did. I think it’s a testament to Handler’s writing that I haven’t felt remotely bored by this setting. In relation to that, the cast of characters is smaller and easy to get invested in. S. Theodora and the Mitchums (the local police and married couple) are a prime example of the “adults are mostly useless” trope seen in ASOUE. Thankfully, even though they usually aren’t much help, the books occasionally have adults that are. For example, a pair of twins in the second book are actually cooperative with Snicket’s investigation. It’s kinda sad that that’s even a positive in this universe, but it still highlights how most of the kids, such as Snicket’s journalist friend Moxie, are the ones with the smarts to get things done. One of the only other competent adults seems to be the mysterious and villainous Hangfire, so I can’t wait to see the inevitable final showdown between him and Snicket.

Despite this series being only about a quarter of the length of ASOUE, I think “All The Wrong Questions” is a solid bunch of stories so far. It does reference lines and characters from ASOUE, but since it’s a prequel series that didn’t bother me whatsoever. I think I would even recommend newcomers to try reading this first before ASOUE if continuity is a big deal to you. Of course, as I’ve found out, reading them in the reverse order isn’t bad either. No matter which series you choose to read first, ATWQ is definitely a good addition to the Snicket line-up.

My Current Obsession: Broadchurch

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As you can no doubt tell, lately I’ve been on a bit of a TV kick. Specifically, outside of “Iron Fist,” a British TV kick. And since the final Steven Moffat-penned season of “Doctor Who” starts next month, I figured I’d further get acquainted with his soon-to-be successor, Chris Chibnall. I figured what better way to do so than by finally checking out “Broadchurch.” Now, I’ve only watched the first season of the show, hence why this is a “Current Obsession” blog.

So, what is the show about? Well, it’s a crime drama set in a seaside little town called Broadchurch. The first episode kicks things off with the death of 11 year old Danny Latimer. Once his death is ruled to be a homicide, the show delves deeper into the town’s residents and plants clues and red herrings about who committed the crime. Everybody is considered a suspect, save for the detectives working the case, local resident Ellie Miller (played by Olivia Colman) and city slicker Alec Hardy (played by David Tennant). The stakes are high, the melodrama is in full force, and the case is resolved by the eighth episode’s end.

I initially watched the first episode a year or two ago. While I did like it, I found I wasn’t in the mood for a crime drama at the time and promptly set it aside. But once I dived back in to continue Season 1, I was hooked immediately. Sure, mysteries are always fun to solve, and I liked getting to know the diverse cast of characters. But part of the draw was the setting as well. I live near a small town and have visited small waterside towns nearby, so I took to Broadchurch’s quaint aesthetic instantly. I could understand why some of the characters felt drawn in by the town, while others felt trapped. I’VE felt that way living where I do, so it made the town feel all that more interesting to me.

I was surprised by how easy to get to know the show’s large cast. Every character served a purpose, even if some got the spotlight more than others. I don’t feel like there was a bad actor in the bunch, honestly. Some of my favorite characters included local vicar Paul Coates (played by Arthur Darvill), store owner Jack Marshall (played by David Bradley), and Danny’s mom Beth (played by Jodie Whittaker). But my personal highlight of the show is the dynamic between Detectives Miller and Hardy. They have great chemistry as they learn to work with each other despite their opposing personalities. I thought Olivia Colman did a fantastic job portraying a woman who has close ties with everyone in town and is forced to attempt to be impartial despite it. And I can’t say enough good things about David Tennant. Yes, most people know him as the Tenth Doctor (and possibly Kilgrave at this point), but I equally loved his more serious and moody role here. Plus, it was great hearing his natural Scottish accent and a far cry from the shouty-ness I’d grown used to with Peter Capaldi.

If I had any gripes with this season, it’s that the writing at times felt a little too…poetic? I’m not sure if that’s the right word for it, but some of the writing seemed a little unnatural occasionally. While I liked the cinematography, I felt they relied a little too much on the use of slow-mo to make some moments feel more dramatic. Not saying it didn’t work at all, but it felt a tad overdone. And finally, I wish there had been a few more indications of who the killer turned out to be. It didn’t feel like it came out of nowhere, but it still felt like most of the other characters got more attention even though they amounted to red herrings. I suppose that could have been the point, since the show makes a statement about not trusting anyone whatsoever. I just think the execution could have been a little better.

Overall, I can see why “Broadchurch” is an appealing show to so many people. It’s got an intriguing mystery, solid characters, and a charming setting to bring everything together. At this point, I’m not sure what to expect from the next couple seasons. It’s strange to think they were allowed to continue since the story in this season was wrapped up pretty well. However, I’ll gladly revisit the show’s world and characters again. It’s just that good.

My Current Obsession: A Series of Unfortunate Events

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Yes, one week later, and I’m still obsessing over this series in one way or another. Last week, I focused on the new Netflix adaptation that premiered this month and gave a few random but mostly positive thoughts on the 2004 movie (Netflix still has the better adaptation, in my opinion). I also mentioned how I’d read summaries of the books. This is mainly due to me being both tight on money and busy with school at the time. But thanks to the internet, I’ve been able to continue this little obsession of mine. Over the last week, I found and read all 13 books in the main series. I can safely say that the ASOUE series was a fun read. Yes, these books get downright depressing at times and I can see why that would turn some people off. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to love dark material, and I found myself wanting to keep reading in the hopes that the Baudelaires would get even a semblance of a happy ending to all of this. They kinda do, though it’s left ambiguous enough to let your imagination fill in the rest.

I will say that I appreciated many of the changes Daniel Handler made when adapting the books. While Mr. Poe is a moron in both cases, he does have the occasional if infuriating moments of clarity in the Netflix series. Count Olaf definitely comes across as an evil man in the books, but there are small bits of characterization beyond that near the end that the Netflix series seems to be taking notes from. And as for the V.F.D. stuff, while it doesn’t feel like it comes out of nowhere in the books, it IS shoved in around the fifth one and takes over the series quite a bit from there. The series then has to clarify their involvement during the events of the first four books, when the V.F.D. probably wasn’t even thought up by Handler yet. However, while the Netflix series includes this subplot from the beginning (albeit sometimes too blatantly at times), it feels kinda like what Handler would have added if he could’ve re-written the older books to tie them much more closely to the rest of the series.

 I did like some books slightly more than others, mostly for the situations the Baudelaires end up in. But I also didn’t think any of the books were outright bad or weak. The “Olaf gets disguised to steal the Baudelaires’ fortune” plot could get repetitive, along with some of Snicket’s narration of defining words, but there’s just a weird, morbid charm to this series. It didn’t bother me enough to stop reading, and all of these books only took about an hour to two hours each to finish. I even found myself wondering how each book would be adapted into the Netflix series, including what stuff might be changed or removed and feeling genuinely excited about the important plot moments happening with that cast. I thought about who they might get to play the new characters and how they’d handle a big sort of reunion scene that happens in the second-to-last book. I don’t even feel like I’ll have to nitpick the series for not being closer to the books as it comes out, because I love all the little touches they’ve made to separate the two.

All in all, I’m happy I finally got to read and appreciate the books for what they are. However, there is one more thing I failed to talk about in my last blog, and that was the video game adaptation of the movie. I played the Gamecube version at some point after having seen the movie. As a teenager, I thought it was alright and was mostly proud to have beaten it before my rental time was up (yep, back in those days). After having watched a playthrough of the game on YouTube recently, I can admit that it’s not very good. The graphics obviously haven’t aged all that well, the gameplay is repetitive and makes the game’s length feel unnecessarily padded, and even though they brought back Jim Carrey, Emily Browning and Liam Aiken to voice Count Olaf, Violet and Klaus, their performances all feel phoned in (Jim does get to ham it up some, though). I think the only positive I can say about it is that the narration by Tim Curry as Lemony Snicket seemed pretty good. I found out he also voiced many of the audio books for ASOUE, so in hindsight it makes sense why he has that role in the game. Overall, it’s nothing special, but I still wouldn’t call it the worst movie game out there.

Aside from continuing to watch the Netflix series, I’m thinking I’ll also find and read the spin-off books Handler released. As for the ASOUE books, I consider myself a fan of this series now more than ever. Even though I still prefer “Animorphs” as my favorite children’s series, I think “A Series of Unfortunate Events” deserves all the appreciation and praise it’s received. I’ve never seen any other series aimed at kids like it, and I doubt I ever will.

My Current Obsession: Asagao Academy: Normal Boots Club

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I originally was thinking of making this a review post instead of a “Current Obsession”, but I prefer to review games when I’ve fully beat them. That said, it’s probably still going to sound like a review since I have mainly good things to say, but I digress. So, what is “Asagao Academy: Normal Boots Club” (or “Asagao Academy” for short)? It’s a anime-esque visual novel game similar to Japanese ones of the genre. The game was funded via Kickstarter and developed by Illus Seed, which was founded by Danielle Hargrave and Cara Hillstock. The game combines traditional Japanese visual novel tropes with the likenesses and personalities of web/YouTube video producers from the sites Normal Boots and Hidden Block.

The basic gist of the game is this: You play as a transfer student named Hana during her first year at the prestigious Asagao Academy. There, you meet your energetic roommate and quickly-made best friend Mai. However, you also run into the all-male members of a popular gaming club called Normal Boots and soon befriend them. Through a series of choices, you then get to decide which guy to pursue as you also practice for a gaming tournament to determine if you’ll join their club. There are good and bad choices, but it’s up to you to make the right ones to get both the guy and the club membership.

When this game was announced roughly two years ago, I was excited. By that point, I was (and still am) watching most of the Normal Boots crew and some of Hidden Block as well, so I was well-versed in their personalities and in-jokes. I’ve only completed two of the available paths so far, but I can already tell that the game’s team took great pains to capture each person’s personality pretty faithfully. The characters also have references to their real life counterparts, such as ProJared’s love of D&D, for example. The only thing really separating them from the real deal is their age (high school teenagers in-game) and their roles in the visual novel setting (the pretty one, the nerdy one, etc.). I love all the little references they added and have gotten a few chuckles from them both in the dialogue and background art.

You get your choice of all the boys in the picture above, namely ProJared, PeanutButterGamer (or PBG for short), Jirard (The Completionist), Continue? (specifically Paul), JonTron, Shane (from Did You Know Gaming?), and Satchbag (aka Satch). There are also a couple hidden routes that for the sake of spoilers I won’t divulge. These guys also kindly lent their voices to the game, as did the team from Hidden Block, in the form of a few audio clips. They add just the right amount of “character” to it, I feel. At any rate, there’s quite a lot of game here, with the first chapter serving as an intro and allowing you to choose your guy to pursue by the end, and each guy has three more chapters aside. Plus, as is the norm with this type of game, you can get various endings ranging from the best to the worst. You also slowly unlock scenes within each chapter, CG artwork and music as well to replay/peruse any time you want. Needless to say, I plan on 100% this game. I just can’t help myself.

As for complaints so far, I’ve found I’ve only had minor ones on the technical side of things. The first could be more my computer than the game, but I’ve noticed at times the audio clips will sometimes be choppy. The other noticeable thing would be occasional typos I’ve spotted. This IS a visual novel after all, so they do stand out. However, they haven’t be frequent enough to be bothersome and I’ve found myself caught up in the story enough to not care.

Overall, though, I would recommend “Asagao Academy” easily to fans of Normal Boots and Hidden Block (though it heavily leans towards the former, of course). I would also suggest people who like this style of game give it a shot. While some may not be fans of these guys, you don’t need to know who they are to enjoy the game. Sure, the names are odd and there are definitely references in there for fans, but I feel anyone could play this without having seen any videos of them. Of course, if you DON’T enjoy visual novels or games with a ton of reading, this won’t change your mind. But as a final incentive, the game is free! That’s right, you can easily download this game for Windows, Mac or Linux at no charge. So, all in all, I adore it. It’s a game with a good bit of replay-ability, nice artwork, likable characters, original music (that’s very soothing, by the way), and some fun writing. And for me, as a fan of these guys, it’s feels like a great tribute to them.

My Current Obsession: Fire Emblem Fates

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“Fire Emblem: Fates – Birthright/Conquest” came out almost two weeks ago, and I’ve been heavily enjoying my copy of Birthright, the easier, more “FE: Awakening” game of the two. This isn’t going to be a formal review, however, as I’m…only halfway through the game. Don’t take that the wrong way – I’ve been playing nearly every day for at least a couple hours. So why am I only at the halfway point? Well, there is both a real life reason and in-game reason for that.

Firstly, though, for those who haven’t seen previous blogs of mine or aren’t familiar with Fire Emblem in general, the series is a set of action-strategy games set in fantastical lands where, pretty often, wars break out among different groups within the country. You play out battles, moving your team of characters (or units) around a grid to attack or defend against enemies. Up until recently, the older games were renown for being perma-death, where if you lost a character in battle, they STAYED dead. No revives, no continues, nothing. The newer games, “Awakening” and “Birthright/Conquest” are a bit more beginner-friendly in that regard, as both added modes where units are revived after a battle ends. Many of these games also have a detailed support system between characters in your team, and you can even get married (and spmetimes produce children to use as additional units) if your rank with someone is high enough. It’s all really addicting gameplay and the series has eased me into the genre because of it.

But let’s get back to “FE: Fates – Birthright” and why, despite this addiction, I haven’t made much progress. The real life reason is that I’ll be driving my mom to physio soon enough so she can get more strength back in her recently patched up shoulder/arm. Unless I decide to go off into town and do other things, I’ll be stuck in a waiting room for over an hour. I figure stretching out my time with this game for that purpose (since I only have one other “new” game left to play on my 3DS) would make for a great time waster. As for the in-game reason, I’ve become addicted to the online system (aka My Castle). Being able to visit other people, collect supplies for weapons and items, recruit other players after battles and create/upgrade my own castle has taken up a ton of my time. Not that that’s a bad thing, because I’ve also been generally taking my time with this game as opposed to plowing through like I did with “Awakening.” I’ve been grinding up some, actually bothering with the support system than just hooking everyone up and calling it a day, and making sure I get a ton of money to buy better stuff. All in all, “Birthright” has been a lot of fun to delve into so far.

I’m still looking into more games in the action-strategy genre, but the Fire Emblem series has still been a great jumping on point for me. I would definitely encourage others looking to try out action-strategy games to give the series a shot. While I don’t know if I’m brave enough to tackle one of the older, perma-death games, I’m definitely going to keep up with the series as long as it keeps coming out.

 

My Current Obsession: Earthbound

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It might seem like blasphemy, given that I’ve been a huge Nintendo fan all my life, but I never knew “Earthbound” existed. I had a VERY small amount of SNES games back in the day and it wasn’t until I played “Super Smash Bros.” for the N64 that I discovered Ness and by proxy the game everyone knew him from. After that, I’d heard plenty of good things about the game, but I never bothered to track down a copy or even watch other people play. With “Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam” coming out tomorrow, I decided as part of 2016 to jump into playing more RPGs, whether strategy-based like the Fire Emblem series or just ones I overlooked as a kid. And thanks to the wonders of emulation, I now know the appeal of “Earthbound.”

The basic premise of the game is as follows: You play as a young boy named Ness (or whatever you choose to call him) and come across a sinister alien invasion plot. With the help of your psychic abilities and a few friends, you travel through the world of Eagleland to defeat strange enemies and restore each town. There’s plenty more to the story, but since I’m roughly halfway through the game, I won’t spoil what I’ve personally experienced. Needless to say, the plot’s a bit quirky, but it does a great job at setting up this child-like and yet kinda dark adventure.

I really love the atmosphere in this game. The tone is mostly upbeat, but underneath it is some pretty intense stuff. There are a surprising amount of adult stuff (not TOO adult, mine you) hidden in the dialogue, which people would only discover if they took the time to talk to the NPCs. I personally enjoy exploring in RPGs and doing that sort of thing, even if it does eat up a lot of time. The characters involved have nice touches of personality sprinkled in their dialogue, and while the plot seems simplistic, I’ve already found it takes some interesting turns. The quirky humor the game is known for is also a lot of fun and it’s neat to see all the crazy enemies that pop up with each new area.

One thing I’ve always found tedious about RPGs is grinding for levels, and while “Earthbound” doesn’t quite get away from that, it isn’t as painful as other RPGs tend to feel. However, I do feel this is one game that’s tough to shy away from grinding completely, because the enemies in each area WILL kick your butt if you’re not prepared. You can only hold so many items at a time, so relying on them isn’t always possible and you have limited PP at a time for magic attacks/healing. Even on the area I’m at now, Fourside (or at least the turning point of that “chapter”), has enemies that hit hard despite my guys being around level 35 or so. My gripe with grinding in any RPG is that I’m usually playing the game for the first time and don’t jump into the genre often, so I find it hard to know how much leveling up is enough. Despite that, it’s easy to gain experience, and dying doesn’t penalize you too harshly beyond taking some money, your PP, and sending you back to the nearest phone checkpoint. So, unlike with some RPGs I’ve played, I don’t get as frustrated with it.

I honestly didn’t plan to play “Earthbound” until a later time. I’d mainly been waiting around for “Paper Jam” to be released, but now I almost wanna hold off on playing that once I get it in favor of finishing up “Earthbound.” The game just has a ton of charm and I wish I’d known about it as a kid. Although, given that my first RPG back then was technically “Pokemon Yellow” and I had little concept of grinding levels between characters, I’m not sure I would’ve liked it as much as I do now. I’m glad I decided to give it a chance and can’t wait to play it through to the end.

My Current Obsession: Marvel’s Jessica Jones

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I promised myself I’d wait until I was at least three episodes into “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” before blogging, but I’m just too eager to talk about it. Netflix has been on a roll with me lately in terms of giving me shows that are oddly captivating to watch, from “Marvel’s Daredevil” to “House of Cards” and now this. And, much like with “Daredevil,” I’ve found myself caught up in the dark vibe the show’s going for.

The basic gist is that the show revolves around the titular Jessica Jones, a PI who happens to have superhuman strength. While the show has made the point to give slim pickings of her background, I do know that her comic iteration was a super-heroine who became a PI thanks to a traumatic event involving a man named Kilgrave aka the Purple Man. This show loosely follows that continuity in that Jessica is haunted by her memory of Kilgrave and his ability to control people via speech. He’s also firmly established as the clear baddie of the season and is only shown sporadically in the shadows (and with purple lighting as a nod to his namesake) as early as the first episode to really build up how terrifying he is. I’m looking forward to more of him, as while I liked David Tennant’s role as the 10th Doctor on “Doctor Who,” I’m really intrigued to see how he handles playing a villain.

Having only watched two episodes so far (I COULD marathon, but I wanna make all 13 episodes last for a while), I can say that I didn’t find the first episode captured my attention quite as hard as “Daredevil” did. However, I’ve always been into female-driven shows (“Xena: Warrior Princess”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Alias”, etc.) and I already feel “Jessica Jones” is one of the best to come out in recent memory. Krysten Ritter plays Jessica as a gritty, brazen PI with just the right dose of snark and humor when it calls for it. Sure, those character traits have been seen before, but the great thing is that she doesn’t feel written as “just a female character.” She feels like a character period, with the complexities and flaws to match. Even fellow “superhero” Luke Cage gets time to shine before his own series gets thrown onto Netflix, and he’s easily my favorite supporting character so far.

There are a couple other things I also enjoy. The intro, for one, has nice visuals and low-key music, really capturing the sort of noir-esque style the show has. To add to that, Jessica also has narration when she needs to direct her thoughts, whether important/trivial or serious/funny, to the audience. I remember “Daredevil” did that for about three episodes before dropping it altogether and it felt like a necessary change just because it didn’t add much to the story. Here, though, it fits the style and tone of the show and I hope it stays throughout the season and possible future seasons.

If I had to complain about anything at this early stage of the show, it’s the lack of strong supporting characters. Now, as you can obviously tell, I really liked “Daredevil” and that includes the dynamics it set up between Daredevil, his foes, and his allies. And while I like that Jessica has a darker outlook from being essentially tainted by Kilgrave’s influence, it kinda hurts her case to not have a close social network. Sure, characters like Luke Cage, her lawyer “friend”/confident Jeri, and her apparently best friend Trish pop up here and there, but because she prefers to keep people safe by keeping her distance, it doesn’t give them as much screen-time to develop. Granted, that could easily change as I watch the rest of the season, but it’s been tough to get used to.

From my very early impressions of the show, it’s easily one I’d recommend even if you AREN’T following the films/shows from the Marvel universe. This kind of set-up allows for a show that’s more detective drama  than superhero action. If you’re looking for something with more emphasis on dramatic storytelling than comic book-style fight scenes (though they occasionally pop up), then give this show a watch. Heck, if you’re looking for something with an interesting female lead, I argue this show may just be what you’ve been waiting for. Thirteen episodes is not a big ask for some quality entertainment, but be aware that it’s easily the darkest/grittiest work Marvel’s put out so far.