Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Transformers and Micronauts, Together Again

In the current era of shared universes that was popularized by Marvel's blockbuster movies and their spin-off TV shows, it seems that every major media company is finding ways to shove multiple franchises into a single narrative setting to increase their collective profitability. Multiple shared universe movies are currently in development, and a few titles in the toys-to-life genre of video games used shared universes as a way to mix and match characters, vehicles and settings from different franchises. Even comic books are getting into the act, which brings me to the topic of this post: IDW publishing is launching a set of comic book series under the umbrella title of Revolution, a title that brings together several toy lines that are owned by Hasbro into a single shared universe. Stories in the Revolution title will consist of characters from G.I. Joe, Transformers, Action Man, M.A.S.K., Rom, Micronauts, and possibly others.

On the surface, IDW's Revolution title is just another attempt to hop on the shared universe bandwagon (see also the Future Quest comic book series by DC). But for Japanese toy robot enthusiasts like me, Revolution marks the semi-reunion of a toy line that was imported from Japan and repackaged into two separate lines in the U.S. during the '70s and '80s: Micronauts and Transformers. Mego imported the original Microman toy line from Japan and sold it under the name Micronauts between 1976 and 1980. The New Microman toy line ran in Japan from 1981 to 1984, and Hasbro imported some of the Microman "Micro Change" robot figures for use in the Transformers toy line, which also consisted of imported toys from Japan's Diaclone line. As the name "micro" suggests, the Microman toys that appeared in the original Transformers line were those that transformed into smaller objects (e.g., hand guns, tape recorders, cassette tapes, cameras, microscopes, etc.) while the Diaclone toys were those that transformed into larger objects (e.g. cars, trucks, airplanes, etc.).

Above and below: The Micro Change robots as they were originally advertised as part of the Microman toy line.

Since the Revolution title has been launched with the obvious intent to promote Hasbro toys, I doubt that its stories will do anything to reference and utilize the shared origin of Micronauts and Transformers. Nevertheless, if I were in charge, I'd mash together Microman, Diaclone and Transformers with a few other similarly-themed Japanese robot toys lines (such as Machine Robo and Zoids) to produce a series of video games, manga and anime titles along the lines of Super Robot Wars, a Japanese shared universe franchise that began in 1991 and still runs to this day. A nerd can dream ....

A cutaway diagram of one of Mircoman's pre-Transformers Micro Change Robots.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Killer Kids Double Feature Review: Cooties (2014) and Sinister 2 (2015)

The killer kids trope has long served as the go-to narrative device for whenever horror story tellers really want to disturb audiences. (Sure, monsters, ghost and maniacs can be scary, but precious little children? That's inconceivable!) Yet like any other trope, there are ways that it can be used for maximum effect and ways that devoid it of shock. The films I'll be looking at in this review, Cooties and Sinister 2, fall into the latter category but for very different reasons: one could not come up with enough material to support the trope, while the other laid out the trope so explicitly in its dialog that it lost any capacity to surprise or scare. Read on for my complete reviews (with spoilers ahead for those who have not seen the first Sinister movie).

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Photograph the Angry Spirits of Rougetsu Island in Fatal Frame 4: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse

I finally did it--I made it to the end of Fatal Frame 4: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, the game that was released exclusively in Japan in 2008 for the Nintendo Wii. Just getting my hands on this game alone was a chore (you can read about that effort here), so finally finishing it feels like quite an accomplishment in my video game geek-ified mind. Personal obsessions aside, Fatal Frame 4 (or FF4) is an impressive game in its own right and a great addition to the Fatal Frame series. Read on for my complete review.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Evolution of a Cult Classic: Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead

As a horror film buff, I've seen plenty of things over the years. I've watched plenty of timeless classics, competently made yet forgettable films, and godawful turkeys. I've heard other fans talk about various horror film titles from all sorts of critical perspectives. Yet of these many experiences, one that fascinates me more than others is to watch a film grow from being an obscurity into a cult classic. Such is the case of the film I'll be talking about in this post: Lucio Fulci's City of the Living Dead, which was initially released in Italy in 1980 and arrived in the United States in 1983.

Even though I just picked up a region-free copy of Arrow Video's deluxe Blu-ray release of COTLD, I first learned about this movie back in 1985 under one of its alternate titles, The Gates of Hell. While the film itself has mostly remained the same since it first appeared, perspectives about it have undergone significant changes between the '80s and now. Read on for my retrospective of this Fulci fright flick, as well as some thoughts as to how such low-budget films like this one keep popping up in the horror film fan community when so many popular mainstream films fall into obscurity in the years after their theatrical release.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Rewriting the Past to Rewrite the Future, Anime Style: A Review of Erased

I don't consider myself to be a die-hard anime fan, but I understand anime enough to know--and appreciate--that it can be the go-to medium for stories that won't be found in U.S. movies and television. Case in point: Erased, a 12 episode sci-fi/mystery anime series that was released earlier this year and can currently be watched on Crunchyroll.

Erased begins in 2006 and it centers on the character of Satoru Fujinuma. A former manga artist in his late 20s, Satoru has a unique ability that he calls "Revival": an ability that allows him to relive small moments in time (a few minutes at most) to prevent fatal incidents from happening. After he finds his mother stabbed to death in his apartment and the police identify him as the prime suspect, Satoru experiences a Revival that sends him all the way back to 1988, when he was still in elementary school. During that year, three of his classmates were kidnapped and murdered, so Satoru becomes convinced that if can keep his classmates alive in 1988 he can prevent his mother's murder in 2006. But how does one prevent a series of murders if the identity of the killer is still unknown?

Even though it uses the outlandish sci-fi concept of time travel as the foundation for its plot, Erased is a very poignant and personal story. The kind of changes that Satoru seeks to make in time are not momentous and will go unnoticed by most of the people around him, yet he remains resolute in his determination to save the lives of people that he lost in his original timeline. As such, Erased is not so much a sci-fi thriller as it is a slice of life drama that takes place in small town Japan during the late '80s (albeit through the eyes of a child who has the knowledge and experience of an adult from the future). The topic of child abuse plays a dominant role, and it provides many heartbreaking moments as the story progresses. Furthermore, changing the past to change the future is never easy for Satoru, since the changes he sets in motion provide new outcomes that Satoru doesn't anticipate. Even in Erased, no good deed goes unpunished.

The once and future Revivalist: Satoru as a child (left) and as an adult (right).

Some sci-fi fans might be bothered by the series' time travel logic, while some mystery fans might be disappointed in how this particular mystery is solved (and not solved, so to speak). But what makes Erased worthwhile is that is uses plot conventions from sci-fi and murder mysteries to tell a moving parable about the values of compassion and devotion when pushing back against cruelty. Many heroes in the sci-fi genre have traveled through time to save the world, but Erased emphasizes that the most heroic deed of all is to simply be there for others who have no one else.