Saturday, December 4

My Creepy Anime Fix of the Year

Forget everything you knew about anime and take a whack at Paranoia Agent.

If there’s one good thing that happened last stormy Thursday, it was that I was able to watch the trippy anime Paranoia Agent, and boy what a mind-trip that was. This 13-episode series is yet another nail in the coffin of the statement that anime is just for kids.

From the twisted mind of anime maestro Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress), Paranoia Agent is a title that resists being placed easily into any category. Part murder-mystery psychological thriller, part black comedy, party Ringu/The Grudge-esque horror, part social commentary and urban legend, Paranoia Agent would feel right at home with anime like Serial Experiments Lain.
The story begins with a young woman named Sagi, a famous character designer in Japan. She had just created a popular cute mascot, and is now under intense pressure to come up with something even better. One night, while heading home, she is suddenly attacked by a mysterious assailant. Later, when she is interviewed by the police, she relates that the attacker was a little boy, armed with a bent golden baseball bat, and wearing golden rollerblades.
While the account of a boy rampaging in the streets striking people down sounds absurd to the police at first, things suddenly take a bizarre turn when ANOTHER victim falls to the bat-wielding attacker. Now dubbed Shonen Bat (Bat Boy), the elusive suspect soon begins to strike with alarming frequency and increasing violence. Who is Shonen Bat? Does he really exist? And who will be his next target…? Is that the sound of rollerblades that I hear..?

This is one creepy anime, and you can pretty much tell that from the opening animation/credits, where you see the various characters standing before you in a myriad of locales and settings, just staring at you and laughing, while the haunting (and catchy) opening song plays. The show itself is animated excellently, with a pseudo-realistic/caricaturist visual style that is anything but wide-eyed cutesy anime. Each episode seems to focus on a prospective victim, and we see their life spiraling out of control little by little through the show. At the point when all seems darkest, Bat Boy appears like some grim reaper, dispensing pain and… relief? But as his appearances become more and more frequent, Shonen Bat’s attacks also become more vicious and sinister. What is he? Is he real or not? Can he be stopped? And who will be his next victim?

This is also a pretty mature show- there’s sex, nudity, violence and other stuff that marks this as off-limits for kiddies (as are most of director Kon’s shows). But these elements are never gratuitous, and the heaviest stuff concerns things that relate to society (particularly Japanese society), such as topics of bullying, the blurring of the lines between fantasy and reality, the need to belong and simply the terrible stress of modern life.
Not what you’d think someone like me would like, but before I knew it, I was hooked into this offbeat show. And I think a lot of you out there will be too, if you give Paranoid Agent a try. A little madness never hurt anyone. Well, a hit to the head with a bat would, but it’s only an anime. Right? RIGHT?

Just remember to always watch your back. And when you hear rollerblades, don’t forget to DUCK. Heh.

Thursday, December 2

Dark Day

Stayed home today because of Typhoon Yoyong. The office sent everyone off after lunch anyway, so it was a good decision. The skies were dark and gloomy the whole day, but only now is the rain and wind gaining strength as the storm finally reaches us. Nothing to do but hunker down, stay dry and weather it out. Let’s hope tomorrow’s a brighter day, in every sense of the word.

Wednesday, December 1

Dark Cravings

Temptation and chocolate are one and the same.

I missed out on the gang's Max Brenner night out last week, and as if by some strange coincidence I encounter the gourmet chocolate name again right at my building. There's a much-publicized tiangge (flea market) being held today, the event sponsored by HDTV. Me and my officemates trooped up to see what all the fuss was all about at the 40th floor of the nearby adjoining tower. I turns out that the 'tiangge' is a showcase of various brands supported or advertised by HDTV, and as such the prices of all the items are nowhere near a real tiangge's level. There were high-class brands like PRADA and TEFAL on display, with most items going for at least several hundred pesos apiece. A tiangge? This was more a fair rather than anything else. Anyway, the otherwise empty 40th floor had been converted into a makeshift mall and shoppers were eating it up.
Fighting back the temptation to look through a table of VCDs, I found myself in front of the Max Brenner's chocolate stand. There were gourmet chocolates with various mixes of spices, pecans and nuts aplenty, along with piles of colored boxes and tins. I had a small sample, left, then returned for a second look. The cheapest thing they had cost almost two hundred pesos, so the miser in me bristled. Eventually though, when one of my friends bought a bar, I relented and got myself a box of the dark pleasures. THREE HUNDRED PESOS FOR CHOCOLATE! DAMMMN!!!

Anyway, as another friend of mine always says, 'Live a little.' Let's have a taste of something different and new for a change. One of these days I'll make it a point to eat lunch or something at the Max Brenner's resto, and finally lay my craving to rest.

Tuesday, November 30

Last Hurrah

Within this month, the final charge of the Lord of the Rings films by Peter Jackson and company will be sounded, with the release of the Extended DVD Set of The Return of the King. As mentioned before, this 3rd volume of easily one of the best DVD packages of all time will contain an additional 50 minutes of new scenes and footage, plus more than 20 hours of material on ROTK, which is more than enough for any fan or film enthusiast. That's a whole DAY of stuff to watch! Anyone who's seen the previous two sets can attest that the featurettes, making-of's and audio commentaries are well worth the price of admission.
I can't wait to get my hands on this final set. Anyone who's interested should try and ask if your favorite video shop accepts orders or reservations (most do). Once I get mine, can you say, 'LOTR Marathon'? Heh.

In the meantime, you can check out the new 6-minute trailer to the ROTK Extended DVD Set, by clicking here.

Monday, November 29


That's how I felt the whole of yesterday.

The rains of Typhoon Winnie (EH?) pattered outside non-stop, and it was hypnotic. The air was cool enough that I kept The Sanctum's climate control off. Just wanted to curl up on the bed in the cool mattress and sheets and pillows and just sleep. Sleep the whole day. And listen to the rain with the lights off.

Well, I did pretty much that. Yeah, storms are pretty crappy... unless you're safe and snug at home that is. Heh.

Sunday, November 28

Snake in the Grass

Yesterday, I did something that I haven't done in months. Perhaps even in a year or two. I stayed at home and played a videogame the whole day. Back in the days of the PS1 and the halcyon days of gaming, these marathons were rife in the Sanctum. In recent years though, with mediocre games aplenty (despite often having great graphics) and the hectic pace of life muscling in, it's been hard to devote any large amount of time to any game.

That is, unless the game is something really special. Something like a new Final Fantasy. A new Dead or Alive, Tekken or Virtua Fighter game. Or, a Metal Gear Solid game.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater once again puts intrepid gamers into the sneaking suit of Snake, a one-man army and stealth commando working for the U.S.A. Unlike previous MGS games though, the hero of the third game lives in the 1960s, during the height of the Cold War. A group of power-hungry Russian soldiers, allied with some key defectors, is plotting to change the balance of power in the Soviet Union, using a powerful new weapon known as The Shagohod. Snake is sent in to extract the scientist in charge of the project and stop the villains' plot for world domination.
However, since this IS a Metal Gear game, you just know that nothing will go as planned. Snake has to deal with double crosses, double-dealings, a twisting plot and LOTS of historical references (and oddly enough, lots of old movie references too). He'll also face squads and squads of heavily-armed guards, booby traps and yet another crew of oddball bosses to deal with before all the drama is over.

I started playing just after lunch, and got right into the sneaking. MGS3 controls pretty much like the previous games, though it seems to be a lot easier now. There's still a bit of irritating lag time between switching from a crouched position back to standing, but perhaps that's just me. Otherwise, controlling Snake is pretty precised and slick.

Whereas the first two MGS games were set primarily in industrial, indoor areas, the majority of Snake Eater's story and gameplay takes place outdoors, in jungles, forests and swamps. As you have been dropped behind enemy lines, the game takes great pains to dramatize the need to 'survive' in a hostile environment. This includes the need to forage and hunt for food- which is basically anything organic that has the misfortune of walking or crawling in a hungry commando's way (this does not, thankfully, include the enemy guards). Stick an animal or edible-looking plant with your knife, and it's turn into a nice canned ration for you to eat. And you WILL eat, since MGS3 now has a 'Stamina' meter along with your usual Life gauge. The life meter needs to be kept up and high or your performance will be impeded, and healing with not come as quick. You'll eat everything from bugs to rabbits to mushrooms- in fact, after a while you'll be carrying a whole ZOO in your backpack to munch on.
Aside from the more detailed eating mechanic, healing has also been given a more detailed treatment. Often when you're injured, the injuries need to be 'treated' in the Cure menu- you have to use supplies like Sutures, Bandages, Disinfectants and other medicine to treat your wounds. It's a nice mechanic at first, but in the end it kinda slows the action down (since you can do it anytime). I guess in the 60s they didn't have Instant-Heal Rations yet. While it dramatizes the gritty need to survive well, in the end it's pretty tedious and I hope they streamline it better next time.

Otherwise, the game moves with gamer-friendly pacing. This also seems to be one of the more forgiving MGS games- though there is a constant need to be stealthy and invisible, you CAN actually fight your way out of most encounters if you're too clumsy (like me). Snake seems to have an incredible capacity to withstand torrents of bullets, and ammo and weaponry is in abundant supply. Guards usually aren't inexhaustible, so there's really nothing stopping you from mowing down the hapless sentinels in your way.
The Boss fights are still the high points of MGS3's gameplay. Snake Eater's band of misfit bosses are members of the Cobra Unit, each of whom seems to be named after the emotion they sow in combat; The Pain, The Fear, The End, The Fury... these guys are pretty weird even for MGS standards, but they're actually pretty fun to fight. The most unusual just HAS to be The End- a hundred-year old sniper (who looks like Santa Claus in combat gear) who engages you in a lethal game of tag in a forest stage.

LIke the past games, MGS3 also presents a long, involved storyline... as I've always said, producer Hideo Kojima has aspirations for cinema, and his latest game reflects this once again. Complete with a James Bond-like theme song, love interests, and long, long cut scenes presenting the convoluted story, MGS3 is pretty much an interactive movie you watch as much as play. While this may turn off some gamers, it suits me just fine... though some of the exposition parts are just too hokey (Yeah, let's talk about old movies while I'm in the middle of a firefight with some KGB troops!). In fact, the game doesn't really take itself too seriously, even ribbing itself with some references to elements of ill-repute from the previous chapter.

Before I knew it, the clock was at 4 AM... THE HELL??! I had been playing over 13 hours. And I haven't finished yet. This game definitely warrants a second playing, to enjoy it more thoroughly and discover stuff I missed on the way. I have to say that the old magic is still here, and the franchise is still alive and well. MGS fans will eat this up like... well, a nice snake steak, bloody raw and yummy tasty. And we'll probably be hungry for more.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is available now for the PS2. Go get it!