Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Attack on Titan might end in three years - fan across the world weep, wonder what's in that damn basement

There's a bit of good news / bad news in today's post. Over the weekend, Attack on Titan's creator Hajime Isayama revealed that that manga will probably end in three years' time.

On one hand, this is incredibly sad news for dedicated superfans hoping for a titanic grand, sweeping storyline full of flashbacks and ancillary plot arcs. On the other, it might be best for Attack on Titan to maintain its "tight pace" and not verge into the 75+ volume range of some other manga I could name.

Frustratingly, Isayama's announcement gave no indication of when the next anime chapter of AoT (or SNK, you prefer) will arrive - which is sad news, no matter how you look at it since it's inarguably one of the greatest anime to make its way to the airwaves since Evangelion.

I admit, I was late to the SNK party since it looked like typical Shōnen fare where an easily overlooked teenage boy makes up for his lack of intelligence and abilities by yelling really loudly and charging forward regardless of what anyone tells him to do. Ichigo Kurosaki's been working that angle in Bleach for the better part of 13 years, and he's hardly the first to do so.

But then I sat down and watched Attack on Titan and was completely blown away. Not by its story (which is, again, nothing new for the genre) but for its amazingly progressive treatment of women.

See that bloodstain on the tree? That was a female soldier, and it's absolutely great that she's dead.


Because Isayama doesn't give women in Attack on Titan's military any special treatment. They're not mollycoddled or shielded from nasty deaths by their stalwart male compatriots. They fight, die, and have heroic moments of kickassery just like the men do - and fittingly, members of both genders meet gruesome ends with alarming regularity.

He's a real maneater 

This equal treatment of both genders in the face of death shouldn't come as a surprise, considering how uniform Isayama makes the military's, err, uniforms.

Male and female members of the military wear the exact same outfits, and there are no exposed midriffs, fetishistic rocket heel boots or super-short, super-cute skirts on the women of SNK's military.

They dress identically to the menfolk, and that's a breath of welcome fresh air in a genre that's gotten away with some pretty liberal definitions of "uniforms" in the past.

That can't be regulation...

In fact, the uniform appearance of the military in Attack on Titan has even allowed Isayama to work in a non-gendered character (who is, for better or worse, rendered as female in the anime) - which is something that would be either impossible, or treated as a punchline, in a similar anime.

Anyway, rambling aside - if you haven't watched Attack on Titan yet, get your ass over to Netflix, Crunchyroll, Hulu, or just about any other online streaming service and give its 25 episodes a watch. Chances are it'll restore your faith in the state of modern anime.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Harry Potter professor tackles vampires with chemistry - in Nebraska

Two years ago, the University of Nebraska's amazingly bright chemistry professor Dr. Rebecca Lai concocted a fun Harry Potter-themed chemistry class which aimed to bring the joys of science to a broader audience.

The class in question, "A Muggle's Guide to Harry Potter's Chemistry (Chem 192H)" was what you might call necessary, since chemistry is rarely a subject that most people - Muggle or otherwise - readily associate with fun.

It was also a complete and utter smash hit with students, and Lai's hoping to offer it again in the future. Yet the future is nothing if not uncertain, and who knows how relevant Harry Potter will be in a semester or two's time (pretty relevant, I hope!)

But you know what's relevant now?  Vampires. And Lai's looking to bring them into her next big lecture.

Just in time for Halloween, the University of Nebraska is pitting vampires, zombies, and hashtags against one another in a #TeamZomB v. #TeamVamp throwdown.

Dr. Lai's taking the side of the fanged crusaders, 'natch, with a reprisal of a talk she gave back in April called Interview with a Vampire - Decoded by Scientists which examined the scientific basis for vampire mythos.

Lai will be the first to admit that there's no scientific evidence for vampires (sorry, Team Edward!) but she'll also admit that there's plenty of  compelling scientific evidence for the fabled aversion to sunlight and craving for blood that many of us associate with the urbane undead.

If you happen to be on the University of Nebraska campus this fall, you can catch Dr. Lai square off against Doctor Raychelle Burks on October 29 to see which scientist presents the most compelling case for the supernatural. If you, like me, don't live anywhere near Nebraska, you can either follow the debate on Twitter or wait for the video to be posted after editing.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Don't be a fool - get your emper-ass in gear and check out these Zelda tarot cards

Way back in May - which feels like it was forever ago - I posted about an eye-catching set of Legend of Zelda-themed tarot cards.

They were admittedly pretty nifty (how can you not like that card art for The Moon?), but limited as a functional deck since the artist only whipped up cards for the major arcana.

Those of you who didn't go through a goth phase in high school might not understand why that's a big deal, but it basically works out to trying to play a round of blackjack with a deck made up only of face cards.

Seems like a problem, right?

Well, not so much any more - the artist behind the cards stopped by to say that she's officially dealing with full decks now.

What you're looking at looking at is a full, 78-card tarot card deck that's completely decked out with some of the greatest hand-drawn Zelda art to grace a fortunetelling table.

But Etsy seller Pixel Perks isn't just offering the deck on its own - she's tossed in a few neat extras like 9 information cards and 3 blank cards for you to festoon with your own art if, for some reason, you'd prefer to have Midna stand in for Princess Zelda as The Empress.

The full deck will set you back $40 (+$5 for shipping), but if you're tempted to go à la card carte you can buy either the major arcana or minor arcana separately for $20 each.

No matter what you decide to do, you should absolutely check the minor arcana out since Pixel Perks didn't skimp on the art for the "lesser" cards. There's some great Wind Waker designs going on in that set, although I personally would've put Tingle on the Devil card myself.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

This Dragon Quest slime nightlight makes it cool to be afraid of the dark again

Fans of Square Enix's Dragon Quest RPG franchise are dealing with a double dose of bad news this week.

First, Siliconera reported from PAX that SE isn't too optimistic about bringing Dragon Quest VII to the 3DS-owning audeince in the west - and then Sony announced a special edition Metal Slime PlayStation 4 exclusive to Japan to go along with the release of Dragon Quest Heroes.

Sucks all around to disciples of Erdrick in the west, right? Well, yeah - it kinda does... but there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel.

And it's this incredibly cute, undeniably geeky, Dragon Quest nightlight.

Taking its inspiration from the iconic slimes which have engendered everything from steamed buns to super-exclusive restaurants in Japan, this nightlight chases away all the boojums and terrors of a dark room with the a placid, reassuring smile.

Better still, its modest height of ~8" makes it easy to fit into any room's decor - although it's probably designed to be a super sweet desk / entertainment center accessory.

Normally at this point, I tack on an "unfortunately..." that has to do with shipping restrictions or ridiculous prices - but this adorable little lamp only costs $19.90 over at NCSX.com with shipping costing somewhere around $12 (depending on how impatient you are) to the US.

Sure, that bring the total for a single lamp to $40 when all is said and done - but what the hell else were you going to spend that $40 on anyway? Not Dragon Quest VII for the 3DS, that's for damn sure!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I went full-on casual in Pokemon, and I loved every minute of it

As anyone who's ever checked a Pokédex can tell you, Pokemon is a game that you can enjoy in two totally different ways.

Play through the main story - what you might call easy mode - and you can play pretty much however you'd like, so long as you have a basic understanding of the Type Chart that governs the basics of Pokemon match-ups. Water over Fire, Fire over Grass... that sort of thing.

Outside of the main story, however, lies the world of competitive Pokemon play.

This grim realm is governed by hidden stats and complex equations, and there's no whimsy or joy to be found here. Players spend weeks hashing out ideal strategies, and invest even more time breeding the perfect, most eugenically pure 'mon possible. In this version of Pokemon, a single percentage point between two otherwise identical Pikachus can spell the difference between victory and defeat.

This is, inarguably, hard mode. This is where the "real" Pokemon players live. And this, oddly, is a side of the game that holds absolutely no appeal for me.

And that's not for a lack of patience or understanding of RPG mechanics. I spent roughly four years in Final Fantasy XI and was part of a pretty elite endgame Linkshell for the better part of my last year in game. I've sunk well over 150 hours into Fire Emblem: Awakening, soft-reset Shin Megami Tensei IV 125 times to fuse Jeanne d'Arc, and spent a solid week of theorycrafting on how to score the most damage with an ablinked attack in Bravely Default.

Suffice it to say that I'm no slouch when it comes to understanding the careful manipulation and exploitation of a game's finer points. And I came close - precipitously close - to falling into the world of Pokemon's hardcore competitive mode.

But I stayed strong, I embraced my inner casual, and I loved it.

And I owe it all to this sassy lady right here:

That's right, Gothitelle - a Pokemon that actually has some strong potential for tournament play.

But I didn't know that when I first found her.  My party lacked any sort of psychic-type Pokemon, her secondary form was kinda cutesy, and so I stuck her in a box with the intention of levelling her up at some point.

That point came about 120 hours in to Pokemon Y, long after I had stomped my way through the Champion's League and entered the endgame.

My party was, by the most charitable standards, casual - but even I realized it lacked a designated Psychic-type to cover rare situations where it was needed. After benching my level 98 starter (team Chestpin, ftw!) to make room for Gothitelle, I pulled out every trick, exploit, and rare candy I could find to level her up quickly.

Shortly into this madcap campaign, I quickly noticed that her Special Attack wasn't packing the punch it should have. Knowing, dimly, that a Pokemon's nature could affect its stats and stat growth, I went in to see what the problem might be and - sure enough - she was a Careful.

To Poké-nerd out for a second here: a nature gives each Pokemon a 10% bonus to one of their five stats while applying a 10% penalty to another. Thus, a nature that's lined up to help an Attack stat of, say, 200 would raise it to 220 while a nature aligned against the same Attack stat would effectively lower it to 180.

Natures are assigned to a Pokemon when they're found in-game, whether bred or captured, and once assigned they can't be changed. Natures, then, can be pretty important to a Pokemon's overall performance, and my Gothitelle's was one that inhibited her most important stat - Special Attack.

She was, in MMO parlance, gimp.  Perhaps even gimpsauce given the circumstances.

So I did what any dedicated RPG enthusiast would do - I went to the area where I first captured her and set about grinding through random encounters until I caught 10 or so more other Gothoritas in the hope of finding one with a better nature.

Gimpery, thy name is my Careful Gothitelle

My first round of 10 yielded slightly better natures, but none that enhanced their Special Attack. I spent roughly two hours capturing more Gothoritas in the area until I finally caught one that had a Quiet nature.

Not ideal - sure - but it was at least in the right ballpark of what I was looking for - and it was even a male (Gothorito?) which was a pretty rare find. After finding this one, I figured that I'd swap out my original, gimp Gothitelle for her substantially superior replacement.

But when I got to the Pokecenter, I just couldn't pull the trigger.

I knew I had caught a better Pokemon than the first Gothitelle - its hidden stats (Individual Values) even helped it learn a more useful fire-type move, and it was only 25 levels lower than the one I had in my current rotation. An hour or two of easy grinding, and they'd be on equal footing - only the replacement would actually be stronger in almost every way that mattered.

Plus, it'd have a fire type move.

Still, I couldn't bring myself to make the substitution because I knew on a deep level that the minute I started down this path I'd be opening up Pandora's Pokébox.

What would start with a simple swap of a weak-natured situational Pokemon for one of a more ideal nature would start me down a road of breeding, black market Ditto hackingobsessive shiny-hunting, and reducing otherwise cute critters to a tally sheet of raw figures. I've done that in countless of other games - games I profess to love - and it always wound up ruining my enjoyment of the game in the long run.

And that, I knew, would make Pikachu sad.

You can't say no to this feels face.

Pokemon, on the other hand, was a relatively new experience to me and I loved it for the light-hearted, low-investment playstyle that it encouraged.

Sure, I'd never be taken to the storied heights of the Pokemon World Championships by going casual and tossing out the better Gothorita - and I knew on some level that the teenage competitive players at the local mall would (rightfully) laugh at me behind my back - but I don't care.

I want, and need, an easy game to enjoy at face value - one which can distract me from the tedium of adulthood and one which I could pick up and play for the sheer enjoyment of it. Pokemon is that game for me, and my woefully subpar Gothitelle is a reminder of this simple fact.

But more than that, she's an affirmation to myself that I *could* have gone deeper with Pokemon but I consciously chose not to.

Someone else can catch 'em all. I'm happy as hell with my gimp Gothitelle.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Here are five great, geeky songs to add to your running playlist

Fun fact about your pal here at Kawaiian Punch - I've recently taken up running.  

Not running from the truth, the law, or even from love - mind you - just running for the sake of allowing myself to eat (and drink!) more without having to worry about the caloric consequences.

But as it turns out - running's also pretty damn fun.  

Anyway, I've noticed that most runners and workout facilities have fairly predictable (read: boringly mainstream) taste in music. And while that's fine for some people,  I've never once shut down a club - so songs dedicated to that rather specific pass-time don't really resonate with me. 

Instead, I want my running music to reflect who and what I am as a person. It should be as geeky as possible, and it should absolutely involve the words "Final" and "Fantasy" together at some point - preferably in that sequential order.

If you've ever found yourself in a similar situation of workout music discontent, then I've got you covered today with a selection of five songs vetted from my own personal playlist - all of which are 100% KP guaranteed to put you in a running mood while maintaining your unassailable geek cred.

Now without further ado, let's start with some chiptune...

I Quit - Chipocrite 
(bandcamp, free)

Outside of a good pair of shoes and a masochistic desire to push one's body to its breaking point, few things are as essential to modern-day runners as a song packed chock full of electronic 32nd notes. Chipocrite's "I Quit" is pretty much the perkiest, bubbliest, chip song you'll ever hear, and the amount of diversity he's able to coax out of his Game Boy's stock sound chip is pretty damned impressive.

As an added bonus, sliding this one into an average running playlist will help your long runs feel at least 22% more 8-bit.

Tokyo Teddy Bear - Neru f. Kagamine Rin

More than half of my running playlist is devoted to upbeat Vocaloid, so picking just one song to represent the whole genre was pretty hard. Or, at least it would've been if it wasn't for this cacophonous, 204 BPM wonder. I'm not usually a fan of Kagamine Rin's vocals, but once they're mixed in with the loose, twangy bassline and unabashedly cheesy electric organ of "Tokyo Teddy Bear", it's impossible not to rock out to this one.

You might find yourself belting out "I DON'T KNOW!" along with the chorus, and that's actually ok. Most race day runners will likely view this as a sign that you've completely lost your shit and give you more breathing room as a result. Everybody wins in this situation... especially you!

His Name Is? - Revo
(khinsider, free)

Video game music on a running playlist? Absolutely.

Even if you're not a fan of gaming as a hobby (shame on you!), there's a fantastic, cinematic quality to the best game soundtracks and Revo's incredible score for Bravely Default Flying Fairy is no exception.

Fast and relentless from start to finish, "His Name is?" will kick your ear's ass with its soaring violin melody and driving guitar work. You may want to put this toward the end of your playlist, however, as the breakdown at ~2:20 makes it kinda hard to maintain a moderate running pace.

Rainbow Road to the Moon - Battlecake
(Amazon, $1)

Speaking of driving guitar work, indie geek band Battlecake delivers some of the absolute best of it with its amazing interpretation of Mario Kart's most iconic theme.

Rainbow Road's the closest thing that Mario Kart's ever had to a boss fight stage, and its accompanying musical theme has always delivered fantastic audio to go along with the surreal visual experience of careening a go kart through the vast, technicolored emptiness of space. Battlecake's version may sound a bit too Top Gun-y here and there, but it's an easy song to set your tempo to all the same.

Robot Party - Supercommuter
(bandcamp, $1)

Just like Chipocrite's awesome chiptune work, "Robot Party" is a geeky, retro-inspired nerdcore anthem that belongs on any runner's playlist. I've got a bunch of Mega Ran / Random on my playlist as well, but there's just something about the thumping bass and silly kill all humans message of "Robot Party" that helps it stand out.

Also, I'm pretty sure some famous runner said it's easier to run if you imagine that you're being chased by an army of murderous robots.  I'm pretty sure it was that guy from Rudy or maybe Prefontaine.

Yeah, it was probably Prefontaine.

Liberi Fatali - Nobuo Uematsu
(iTunes $0.69)

A bonus sixth song!

...and another video game theme to boot. This one's not nearly as energetic as "His Name is?" is, but if it was good enough for Olympic synchronized swimmers Alison Bartosik and Anna Kozlova to use it as the music in their bronze-winning 2004 performance, it's certainly good enough for your running playlist.

What "Liberi Fatali" might lack in guitar work and bass drops it makes up for in sheer epic grandeur and a chorus of ominous, singing in Latin. The crescendo at ~1:40 builds up to one of the greatest climaxes Nobuo Uematsu's ever written, so quite dithering and download this one already.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Dark Dungeons, the tongue-in-cheek D&D movie inspired by Jack Chick, is out now

So, that satirical D&D movie based on an evangelical Christian's hilariously misinformed mini-comic book is now officially a movie that you can own for less than the price of a craft beer.

Perhaps I should explain...

Way back in May of last year, an interesting Kickstarter found its way online courtesy of author JR Ralls.  The project intended to take the infamous, anti-RPG tract of right-wing hardliner Jack T. Chick - Dark Dungeons - and turn it into a feature film.  Chick's tract took an.... interesting... view of Dungeons & Dragons, claiming that the venerable game could sway people away from Jesus, lead them to devil worship, and - most hilariously - convince them to murder one another over disputes involving their characters.

Dark Dungeons became something of an in-joke with tabletop gamers in the years after Chick inked it up, but Ralls decided - rather intelligently - that he wouldn't aim to openly parody Dark Dungeons with his film.

Instead, he'd play it completely straight and bring the work of the original author to life exactly as it was portrayed in the comic with the help of Zombie Orpheus Entertainment - the company behind the truly excellent The Gamers trilogy.  The comedy, as you'll see, finds its way to the screen all on its own.

Unsurprisingly, Dark Dungeons created a fair bit of controversy leading up to its release because it didn't bill itself expressly as a parody piece.  As a result, some gamers were worried that it was going to be an anti-RPG smear piece by geek turncoats - but that is 100% not the case.

How do I know?  Ralls sent over an email with a link to the first 8 minutes of the film which he so generously put up for your viewing pleasure.  He also noted, with a bit of due pride, that Dark Dungeons debuted to a sold-out Gen Con audience... so, clearly, it's doing something right with its low key approach.

If a so-subtle-it-hurts parody of anti-gamer propaganda piece sounds like something you'd like to watch, you're in luck!  You can download the entire movie for $5.00 (with extras costing an additional $2.50)