I’ve had my heart hurt this month. Hurt, I tell you! I’ve been accused of not introducing people to the good stuff stuff in a timely enough manner. Me, the POP CULTURE DESTROYER! Thus this month’s columns is at pains to push what I believe is the coolest shit around. Also to badmouth the baddest of cultural detritus, since one has to take all good with the bad. And if you fail to take my recommendations, for whichever prejudices, then it’s entirely YOUR LOSS. Don’t come whining to me!
You all surely started watching the fourth season GAME OF THRONES started recently, and with that probably whinged on spoilers somewhere on the internet. I’ll use this to detail the POP CULTURE DESTRUCTION spoiler policy – it’s proportional to how much I actually care about whatever it is I’m writing about!
That said, the one TV show I really care for this season is PING PONG: THE ANIMATION, an adaptation of the eponymous Taiyo Matsumoto comic by animation legend Masaaki Yuasa. I’m actually on a Yuasa kick right now, so I might write about his KEMONOZUME or THE TATAMI GALAXY sometime in the future.
Excellent news – Japanese 3DS oddity TOMODACHI LIFE is coming over here! I have no idea what this game is about, but that only makes me want it even more.
If you’ve an hour to spare, make sure to listen to this impressive DJ set by Jazzy Jeff (starts at around the 13:00 mark)
NOAH (dir. Darren Aronofsky, 2014)
NOAH is one of the most curious Hollywood blockbusters of recent years. I don’t mean this solely from the narrative perspective, although I’ll get into that in a bit, but also from what it is. Think about it – this is a big budget adaptation of not a comic or genre novel, but an honest to goodness Bible story. It even refers to midrashic and apocryphal sources, although ultimately NOAH remains the story of, well, Noah. The one with the flood, and the ark, and all the animals.
As interpreted by Aronofsky, NOAH is also something of an environmental fable. Set in a vast, desolate landscape more fitting a Viking saga than what one usually thinks of the Fertile Crescent (just as well it’s shot in Iceland), NOAH‘s pre-flood world is one literally devoured by what was once a mighty industrial civilisation, now reduced to what look like refugees from THE ROAD led by scavenger king Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone). Here live Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family, the only human beings deemed worthy by The Creator (the film is at pains to never actually refer to “God”) to save what remains of the innocent – meaning all non-human animals and birds – before the pressing of the cosmic flood-based reset buttons. Noah finds aid in this task from the Watchers, fallen angels turned giant stone monsters. Animated in a lovingly juddery style reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion monsters, the Watchers are described as being at least partly to blame for humanity’s destructive ways, and thus want to redeem themselves.
The Watchers actually have some Biblical basis, but Aronofsky also uses NOAH to indulge the kind of genre-based world building of the kind seen in THE FOUNTAIN, a film to which NOAH is something of a companion piece – and as such the animals boarding the ark are strange quasi-prehistoric creatures, glowing ores are in use and characters refer to a mysterious Edenic history. It’s also hugely spectacular in parts, particularly during the actual flood, where massive (CG) waves convincingly smash and engulf all. One jaw dropping moment sees the ark pass a mountain top covered in near-naked figures hanging on to dear life, a scene looking like a Renaissance painting given cinematic flesh. Later on the film even gives its own version of the creation story, one that’s part Genesis, part COSMOS, and part the universe sequence from Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE.
However this creation sequence marks the beginning of NOAH‘s weaker third act – trapped within the claustrophobic confines of the ark, the cinematography and screenwriting turn to melodrama, as the increasingly intense Noah and the scheming Tubal-cain (who conveniently stows into the ark in order to provide some conflict) threaten to bite right through the big boat as they turn the scenery chewing right up to 11. Meanwhile the rest of the unconvincing cast (Emma Watson is just about the only other actor with a performance of note) blankly looks, the Clint Mansell-penned soundtrack gets unbearably louder and, frankly, it all gets more than a bit painful.
Mercifully all floods come to pass, and the film ends with a pleasingly humanist twist on the original tale’s moral. Aronofsky might not be wholly successful at conveying his message, but this hugely ambitious film remains fascinating in the least and thought provoking at best. And in a cinematic world flooded with dull, bloated comic-based blockbusters, NOAH ends up being something of an ark for genuinely interesting cinema after all.
JODOROWSKY’S DUNE (dir. Frank Pavich, 2013)
Do you know the story of the greatest genre film never made? You probably do, but in case not here’s the gist – in 1975, Alejandro Jodorowsky (EL TOPO, SANTA SANGRE), was slated to adapt Frank Herbert’s classic novel, DUNE, into film. With the aid of a number of industry luminaries this DUNE was to be the first proper gigantic science fiction blockbuster (this was before STAR WARS) and, according to Jodorowsky, make audiences feel like they were on LSD without actually imbibing on the drug. However, the project went bust before even an inch of film was shot, and all that remains of it are a couple of brick-sized tomes detailing its pre-production.
It’s a sad enough legend, one told numerous times across the year – this Pop Culture Destroyer got to know of it from the fine David Hughes-penned THE GREATEST SCI-FI MOVIES NEVER MADE, for the record. Anyway, now it’s the turn of documentary maker Frank Pavich, together with Jodorowsky and DUNE producer Michel Saydoux, among others.
The documentary tells the aborted film’s making as being something of a quest, one involving the search of a group of “Spiritual Warriors” set to bringing it to the world. These made the core production team, with names such as the late, great Jean “Moebius” Giraud, who sketched out the entire film in storyboard form, as well as costumes, machines and more. Legendary cover painter Chris Foss designed spacecraft and sets, while Dan O’ Bannon, fresh from working on John Carpenter’s DARK STAR (initially Jodorowsky wanted Douglas Trumbull (2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY) but found him spiritually lacking) was to do the special effects. Pink Floyd and Magma were enlisted for the soundtrack, Dali (through whom H.R. Giger was brought to the pre-production team) was to appear together with Orson Welles, Mick Jagger and Jodorowsky’s son Brontis, among others. The rest, as mentioned above, is history.
The actual documentary – as in the one being reviewed right here – is fine enough, fitting comfortably within the about-a-much-loved-subject mould. Jodorowsky makes as genial and charismatic an interviewee as one would ever hope for, and truly convinces as either visionary genius or cult-leading lunatic as he flips between English, French or Spanish languages, sometimes mid-sentence. Of the surviving “Spiritual Warriors” Rob Cobb and Giger have their say, while Dan O’ Bannon is heard in one memorable recording. As such documentaries demand, outsiders also get to throw their remarks, in this case directors Richard Stanley (HARDWARE) and Refn (ONLY GOD FORGIVES), while subtle animations breathe life into a couple of the Moebius storyboards and concept art.
In a drastic departure from the source novel, Jodorowsky’s DUNE was to end with the death of hero Paul Atreides bringing about the spiritual and physical rebirth of the desert planet Arrakis. In a way, the film’s death also brought about creative life, as its collaborators went to work together on projects such as ALIEN and THE INCAL, and its post-mortem influences are felt in films as varied as CONTACT, INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE and PROMETHEUS. One hopes JODOROWSKY’S DUNE reignites further interest in the material, if not hugely ambitious and genuinely interesting genre filmmaking. Failing that, a commercial printing of that epic production tome wouldn’t go amiss…
This month, as part of Schlock Magazine’s partnership-of-sorts with Chômu Press (check out our Schlock Talks with Léon and Quentin Crisp here!) POP CULTURE DESTRUCTION gets reviews of not one but two short story collections from the publisher, I AM A MAGICAL TEENAGE PRINCESS and I WONDER WHAT HUMAN FLESH TASTES LIKE. And because reading and writing is hard work Teodor is here to give me a hand. Say hi, Teodor! Tell us what you think about the first of these books, will you?
I AM A MAGICAL TEENAGE PRINCESS (Luke Geddes, 2012)
“Television will rot your brain”. A common refrain for a generation – perhaps even two – and I’m sure every preceding and subsequent generation had and will be put through a similar accusation, with just the surface details changing: this time around, it’s probably the internet and the myriad micro-technology devices that are rapidly taking over our day to day life.
Which makes Luke Geddes’s quirky short story collection – otherwise an entertaining confection in its own right – feel strangely vital.
The entry point for all 16 tales in the collection is simple and complicated in equal measure. Appropriating – typically female – American pop culture icons from (roughly) the 1960s-70s era, I AM A MAGICAL TEENAGE PRINCESS infuses cartoon stereotypes such as Wonder Woman, Betty and Veronica (from the ARCHIE comics) and the Flintstones with a jolt of realism, forcing them to be jolted out of their primary-coloured, two-dimensional confines to deliver stories infused with – among other things – desire, resentment, grief, disappointment… all the emotions you wouldn’t traditionally find in the source material Geddes steals from.
In a lot of ways Geddes – a Wisconsin-based writer for whom this book is a debut – is living proof that television, and pop culture in general, has the power to infect the minds of its recipients, burrowing through our minds and sitting in our memory with all the power and persistence of a contemporary myth.
That’s what I would rebut with, anyway, were you to ask, “why bother?” upon hearing about Geddes’s quirky project. There is, undeniably, an undercurrent of futility here: why should even try to molest now-defunct cultural clichés into yielding up something meaningful? But they still exist in our memory – sometimes as strongly as things that happened in our real lives. So we might as well make something out of them.
The inter-generational aspect of changing entertainment trends – of what, in particular, will “rot your brain”, and when – is exploited wonderfully in the story “Invasion”. Though “The King” is never mentioned by name, the story details the grip and Elvis Presley-like singer holds over a suburban American town – specifically, its females (young, and eventually, old alike).
The way Geddes details the zombie-like horde that accumulates around the cult of the magnetic singer is amusing in its utter ridiculousness, deliberately resorting to hyperbole for grotesque effect. Here is how he describes the mothers finally succumbing to his spell (much to the males’ chagrin):
“How had they never noticed it before? The glint in his eye, those smooth cheekbones and plump lips. The mothers reached out to stroke the photographs, the paper coarse against their dry fingers. They took the baskets to the laundry rooms and poured the clothes into the washers the fathers had bought them for their anniversaries. They initiated the setting for heavy loads, untied their apron strings and pushed their pelvises against the vibrating machines.”
The story’s final twist – too good to spoil here – points to how defining cultural trends can morph at any minute, and Geddes masterfully translates this into fiction, lending a creative dynamism to what would otherwise be relegated to magazine articles, Wikipedia entries and academic essays penned within and for Cultural Studies departments at universities. But apart from his high concept starting point of mashing up ‘flat’ pop culture icons with a more questioning, three-dimensional narrative perspective – in many ways little more than a gimmick – what makes the collection compelling is the clarity of Geddes’s style.
Opaque and simple on sentence-level, the prose serves as an ideal groundwork for the offbeat material to play out. It holds him in good stead particularly in the more ambitious stories. Perhaps the chief of these is “Another Girl, Another Planet” – a first-person account by the sole female member of a space expedition, the rest of the crew being taken up by teenage boys, all of whom she refers to as “Tommy”. Having presumably shot off into outer space after a cataclysmic event ravaged Earth, the ship now circles aimlessly, its crew – and our increasingly bitter protagonist – growing more and more bored with each (incalculably long) moment. After the boys – none of whom she was ever really infatuated with in the first place – grow bored of her as a sexual partner (opting for a newly-discovered ‘sex-bot’ instead) she assumes a maternal role, which also begins to unravel rapidly. The story ends up being a deeply existential fable about loneliness and technology, with shades of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”.
It also perfectly illustrates Geddes’s “gimmick” at its best: taking things we’re familiar with as entertainment commodities and lending them a strange, dark power. Sometimes it’s the shorter pieces that express this more effectively, perhaps by dint of the fact that sustaining such an outlandish concept for more than a couple of pages can be a strain. “Wonder Woman’s Tampon” – a self-explanatory two-and-a-half pager – may seem like a bit of sensational titillation, but it actually turns out to be a perceptive treatment of how we build images of our heroes in our heads. The narrator spots Wonder Woman at the airport, and observes how: “She carried herself gingerly, like someone with a history of apologizing for broken furniture – imagine her gawky teen years: pimples rimming her tiara like jewels, the familiar golden W on a training bra, baby fat softening diamond-sharp cheekbones – but still, people got out of her way.”
It’s perhaps a given that you need to be in on the joke to fully “get” most of the stories, which means not all of the stories will go down well with non-American audiences. But Geddes actually suffers more when he takes on universally beloved subjects; namely Scooby-Doo and The Flintstones. That is not to say that the stories in question don’t have curiosity value. The Flintstones story, “The Modern Stone Age”, lends an unsettling erotic edge to the domesticated Bedrock families we know and love; while “And I Would Have Gotten Away With It If It Wasn’t For You Meddling Kids” foregrounds the familiar Mystery Machine crew against the internal angst of a Native American theme park owner. But the source material ultimately swallows him up in these stories, its reputation hemming him in.
But despite these niggling concerns – which are perhaps inevitable in a project this crazy – the collection remains a strange, worthwhile discovery. It is yet another example of the daring nature of its publisher, which are currently busy charting ‘new vistas of irreality’ by publishing works from unique voices with a tendency of blurring the boundaries of literary genres, and in handsome volumes too.
If this is the product of pop culture rot, it’s certainly interesting to observe.
Teodor Reljic, 2014
Oh hey, Marco here. I’m baaack!
I WONDER WHAT HUMAN FLESH TASTES LIKE (Justin Isis, 2011)
Do you ever wonder what’s the deal with cannibalism? I do at least every so often. Maybe it’s a symptom of latent misanthropy. This debut short story collection by Justin Isis does not really deal with cannibalism (barring one title story, but even then it’s not really about that) but misanthropy is a running thread throughout, together with self-absorption and obsession. Running 10 stories strong, this collection features a dreamy, hazy style that’s difficult to pigeonhole in any literary category, beyond the very vaguest of “The Weird.” A comparison to the earliest of Haruki Murakami’s short fiction comes to mind, although Isis shows a darker, crueller edge to his writing.
He also comes up with a few damn fine turns of phrase, from the description of a girl’s behaviour as “canine” and music as “a gnarled forest of noise” to “left illegible in the language of flesh.”
As mentioned earlier, various strands of obsession make an appearance in just about every story. For instance, “The Garden of Sleep” has an older man falling hard for a teenage androgyne turned transvestite, before all too inevitable betrayal from both sides of the rather unequal relationship. “The Eye of the Living is No Warm” has a pair of youths obsessing over the virtue of a Japanese pop idol, the eating of meat takes over the minds of two sisters in “I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like, Etc” and, most weirdly of all (which is saying something) the pizzeria owner from “The Quest for Chinese People” turns obsessive over, well, the large amount of Chinese people in the world. Which is, admittedly, a lot.
All these stories flit between various degrees of lucidity, and while the supernatural never makes a direct appearance, one can perhaps feel an otherworldly darkness over at least some of the proceedings. A chief example is the title story, “I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like”, which while not featuring any cannibalism (boo?) does have the protagonist’s female companion straight up killing a dog in lieu of cold, anonymous sex in a public bathroom. Before going for ice cream. You know, as one does.
It’s all readable enough – although not as transcendent as Chomu publisher Quentin Crisp suggests in his overly glowing introduction to this volume. The closing novella, “A Thread from Heaven”, would have benefitted from editorial pruning, and by the end one tires of the self-absorption of it all. Consciousness of the self is fine, but one also requires outside perspective for at least some measure of balance. But then again, that appears to be the point of Isis’ collection, and as such one can take that as a mark of consistency.
TRUE DETECTIVE (creator Nic Pizzolatto, 2014)
It’s always nice to see something whose intentions are so intently pinned on its chest. As named after the very first “true detective” magazine (err, 1924’s TRUE DETECTIVE, obviously) there’s no doubt what TRUE DETECTIVE aspires to be, beyond genre descriptions as trite as “crime drama”.
So, what’s this show about? It’s mainly about a pair of detectives called Martin Hart and Rust Cohle. Hart (Woody Harrelson) is the one with the face like a clenched fist, a man of this world with two daughters and a wife that’s all too regularly cheated upon. On the other hand, Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) is the exact opposite, a rangy fellow with a propensity of darkly muttering a peculiar brand of existential nihilism. Both actors’ performances are best described as intense mumbling, seeing how they hardly raise their voices above somewhat sinister whisper. It actually makes for riveting television, as one is constantly kept on edge as to whether Hart and Cohle’s dysfunctional relationship will erupt in either violence or fucking. And since the two are too macho to express the latent homesexuality every straight man carries, a late fist fight between the two has to make do. Anyway.
Cohle and Hart are brought together by the corpse of a teenage girl (what else?), one adorned in spiral tattoos, antlers, carefully arranged bundles of twigs and other such nature-themed paraphernalia. Thus a weird mystery kicks off, one told via bouncing between the ’90s, ’00s and ’10s in the name of making life difficult for TV recap writers. Seriously though, the narrative structure adds little to proceedings beyond general novelty. Thanks to Cohle’s skills with police filing systems and, later on, Hart’s Google madskills the duo unearth a murder-rape cult that’s been operating within the swamps of Louisiana for decades, and set about to stop it – all while dealing with the slow-motion train wrecks that are their personal lives. The genre demands that, after all.
Frankly there’s nothing in TRUE DETECTIVE that hasn’t been seen in other shows. The murder-rape cult’s work is small potatoes compared to the grand guignol seen in HANNIBAL which, lest we forget, also a thing involving antler-themed murders (also an episode involving a giant totem made entirely of corpses), while the actual investigations let the actual grit of the similarly themed THE FALL or other procedurals such as SPIRAL or the classic HOMICIDE. Promising themes are dropped without much ado, be it the murder-rape cult’s ties to a powerful Louisiana family, police corruption or born again Christianity, much like the initial promise of supernatural elements. Ultimately it’s all the the work of man. A very bad man, to be precise, one who leads the cult, indulges in diddling his sister AND does a mean line in lawn mowing and house painting, but let’s face it, horrible serial killers are dime a dozen in this day and age. What if he actually were a green tentacle monster? Wouldn’t that have been something else? In the least that would have brought actual depth to the “King in Yellow” and “Carcosa” mythology, which as it stands is just pointless kindling to the tedious speculation fire.
Speaking of further sticking to genre, what about the show’s idea of female presence? As well as all the victims being young girls, both our heroes have issues with women, what with Hart’s aforementioned cheating and Cohle’s seeming disinterest. Eventually Mrs. Hart has enough of her unfaithful husband, but not before she has sex with Rust – a scene alluded to with the very first meeting between the two, because Lord forbid a male-female relationship that does not conclude with fucking. Actually by that time Rust finds himself a woman, a relationship that also goes in the half-forgotten plotline pile. And that’s before the dead prostitutes, raped little girls and the cameo by a genderqueer hooker. Seriously, it’s the 21st century – it’s inexcusable to fail to be as progressive as Chandler.
At least the photography manages to elevate the dross. Others have bandied descriptions such as “stylish” and beautiful”, and while I agree there’s also a whole parallel storyline within the shots of swampland and urban degradation, one of humanity tethering to the last vestiges of civilisation. Nature threatens to swallow all (especially when the show turns post-Katrina), and faced with such a situation perhaps it’s no wonder some men regress to murders involving antlers and twig tchochkes. Worth mentioning are a few seriously phenomenal sequences, from an early tracking shot involving a ruined church and its still intact stained glass to a town erupting in gang warfare (part of a – you guessed it – another dropped plotline) and the finale set in a Civil War tunnel complex, one simultaneously immense and claustrophobic.
However by the time the credits to the final episode roll dissatisfaction has long creeped in, and there’s no way it will ever let go. TRUE DETECTIVE is simply a “fine” show, and all the worse for it. This supposedly golden age of serial entertainment deserves more than this.
KILL LA KILL (dir. Hiroyuki Imaishi, 2013)
So, anime. It’s either a generic term for Japanese animation or a specific referring to flashy, substance-free cartoons consisting of much of sex and violence. And KILL LA KILL, the first full-length TV series from Trigger, a young-ish team of ex-Gainax (EVANGELION, GURREN LAGANN) veterans, neatly encapsulates that stereotype, being a ludicrously stylised piece replete with much ridiculous outfitting and oversized weapons. Not that I’m complaining, mind.
Thankfully, it also fails to take itself too seriously. It tells the story of one Matoi Ryuko, a delinquent schoolgirl in the search of her father’s killer. Her quest for justice takes her to Honnouji Academy, a city literally centered around a mega-high school led by one Kiryuin Satsuki and her four high school council leaders. Anyway, long story short (or not – what I’m telling is covered IN THE FIRST EPISODE) Ryuko finds a talking, sentient school uniform that transforms into a combat-slash-fetish outfit, and gets in fights against colourful characters clad in similar power-enhancing uniforms. Yes, folks, we’ve already reached Peak Anime, and that’s before the plot turns into an epic about alien clothing threatening to engulf the world. I did mention how a good number of Trigger staffers worked on EVANGELION, right?
In reality, KLK is more of a celebration of animation in all its forms, from “sakuga” (the nerd term for fluidly animated action scenes; i.e. animators showing off) to the more budget-friendly measures of old school shows such as the replacement of near-entire sequences with elaborately painted freeze frames, a technique pioneered in the 70’s by the likes of Osamu Dezaki (ASHITA NO JOE, ROSE OF THE VERSAILLES) and even the simple indulging in funny drawings. For instance, the crude looks-cheap-as-hell-because-it-probably-was fourth episode (one of my favourites, actually) can be hardly described as animation, yet provides a fantastic tribute to the anarchic spirit of the Looney Tunes shorts and their ilk. Also namechecked is Go Nagai, the man who actually created the peculiar delinquent-magical-girl genre KLK belongs to with CUTEY HONEY, and to whom Trigger’s staffers owe a major stylistic debt. Admittedly the show does lurch between its two stylistic extremes – the cartooniness undermines the drama of the more dramatic sequences seen elsewhere – but since such tension is present within the show’s storytelling as a whole, one can say it’s also a mark of consistency. A weird kind of consistency, perhaps, but one that never fails to entertain.
However one still has to address the uncomfortably dressed elephant in the room – yes, a lot of fanservice is involved. The show makes some lip service to the idea of empowerment in no matter what one decides to dress themselves in, although frankly it feels like Trigger wanting to have their cheesecake and eating it. That said, director Hiroyuki Imaishi and character designer Sushio (both from GURREN LAGANN) never bothered to hide their love of drawing attractive characters of the gentler sex, and in any case the fanservice is, at least, somewhat equal opportunity as even the males get to bare all. Hell, the 26th and final episode ends with near damn every character getting naked, including Guts, the hoodie-clad mascot pug dog of sorts. Also, here’s something that might blow your minds – for all the tits and ass, KLK is a wholly female-driven show, and one that passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours. Even the ultimate villain of the piece is a female mother figure (and also the worst parent in pop culture history since EVANGELION‘s Gendo Ikari).
Anyway, I liked KLK a great deal. Yes, it’s inconsistent and the art might be uncomfortable, and thus my reservations stand reserved, but checking it out won’t hurt. Or don’t. After all, the show’s final message demands one should be allowed to wear (or do) whatever the fuck they want.
MERCENARY KINGS (Tribute Games, 2014)
Despite a belief of the worthiness of games as a perfectly valid art form, sometimes what one really wants is to run from left to right while shooting at cartoon soldiers in the face. Too bad the run-and-gun-’em-up, the genre typified by the mighty METAL SLUG on Neo Geo-powered arcade machines, is currently out of fashion. Enter Tribute Games, an outfit formed by the developers of SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD: THE GAME, whose first title happens to be a tribute (see what they did with the name there?) to that series, specifically 1ST MISSION and 2ND MISSION, the under-appreciated miniature versions on the Neo Geo Pocket. With chunky pixel art led by Paul Robertson, a kicking chip-based soundtrack and a nifty weapon crafting system, MERCENARY KING should be a winner. Go play it as the review is over, right?
Not quite. While first first impessions, well, impress, cracks soon appear on the pristinely animated facade. The game structure of choice is primarily to blame – instead of being a “pure” 2D shooter of the run from left to right (and sometimes right to left) in the name of getting to the final boss, MERCENARY KINGS adopts a design more akin to the MONSTER HUNTER series, where one sets out in different missions within a limited number of large open areas. These might involve the finding of hostages or materials, as well as simply hunting down bads or bosses. However these areas are somewhat overlarge and visually dull, while the map screen is something of an unhelpful mess at the best of times.
Further annoyances pop up. Missions have tight time limits, further compounding the aforementioned level size and map issues. Enemies respawn all too soon, healing items all too rare, and player characters carry an all too limited inventory (it makes something like DARK SOULS feel outright generous). Bosses are able to teleport from one end of the map to the other, a GEARS OF WAR-inspired weapon reloading system only adds distraction to a game with unlimited ammunition, and even the smart weapon crafting system loses its lustre all too quickly. Furthermore, player characters can’t shoot in diagonals despite being upgradeable cyborgs, and some enemies demand fiddly ducking to shoot and hit. Even smaller design quirks grate, such as the slight delay in jumping and melee attacks caused by having animation frames dedicated to the character bending their knees or producing a weapon from their backpack. Looks nice, but makes the controls feel unresponsive.
There’s a core of an absolutely brilliant game snuggling in MERCENARY KINGS, of thrilling fights against excellently animated foes. And there should be plenty of that, even if the literal hundreds of missions available feel like bloat. So it looks like it’s back to METAL SLUG for this Pop Culture Destroyer. Shame, that.
DONYATSU (Kozaki Yuusuke, 2012-ongoing)
DONYATSU is the WATCHMEN of cartoon animal comics. This ain’t my declaration, even if I wholly agree with its sentiments – it came from my pal Robert soon after I introduced him to this comic. And it was done only half in jest. Hell, even a quarter. Or its entirely stone-cold serious. Dude is something of a mad genius, but at any rate I’ll elaborate. On DONYATSU, not Robert’s genius.
Just like WATCHMEN is nominally about superheroes, DONYATSU‘s cute surface appears to be sweet-themed cartoon animal mascots. And like how WATCHMEN tears the spandex to show flawed, broken human beings, DONYATSU’s adorable dessert mascots (yes, really) are actually a vehicle to portray life in the ruins left by an extinct humanity. You don’t believe me? Check this page out.
Okay, maybe the WATCHMEN comparison is ever-so-slightly exaggerated – at the end of the day this comic remains a slice of life comedy about weird animals going on their daily lives, but the gags are juxtaposed with moments of genuine apocalyptic horror. One chapter has the protagonists clearing a piece of land in order to make way for farmland, only they keep digging up skulls, weapons and even an undetonated explosive. Chilling stuff.
Eventually the mystery deepens even further with the discovery of nothing less than a giant robot.
What really makes DONYATSU all the more effective is Kozaki Yuusuke’s artwork. You may have seen Kozaki’s work grace games such as NO MORE HEROES and FIRE EMBLEM: AWAKENING, and here the artist convincingly renders both vast, ruined landscapes and, ridiculous mascots bearing ludicrous pun-based names. Names such as Baum-Cougar (a cat shaped like a baumkuchen) or Kumacaron (Japanese for bear plus macaron), but not Bagel, who’s a cat that’s also a… bagel. No, of course I don’t know why. The three volumes released so far hint at the greater mystery of why humanity is extinct and how come these animals are all that’s left, but no answers are available as yet. I hope there will never be, frankly. Over-explanation tends to kill the fun of these things. Remember what happened to LOST with that ending? Exactly.
Anyway, DONYATSU has placed itself firmly in my list of Favourite Things Ever, and it’s only begging for an official Western release. As it stands, you can read it in scanlation form here. I encourage you to do so. The world only needs more celebration of the donut cats of the post-apocalypse.