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Monday, February 8, 2016

Death Note Relight 2: L's Successors

This is it. The last of the animated Death Note movies, and the last piece of animated material out of the franchise. (For now at least)
Last week, I covered Visions of a God. While it wasn't totally awful, there was too much bringing it down for it to be actually good. However, there were a few good pieces of original animation holding the whole thing together. The pacing sucked, and they cut the plot down beyond what could possibly be called "the bare minimum", but it was still somewhat entertaining to see how they'd arranged the whole thing. Plus, they didn't waste much in the way of screentime. At the very least, they included almost everything you needed to know to understand the plot.
Spoiler warnings for the last half of Death Note, as well as the entire film.
After the apparent popularity of Visions of a God, Mad House decided to make another TV movie to finish out the series. Unfortunately, they dropped the ball on this one spectacularly. Some of the issues come from the way the last movie ended, since Visions of a God prematurely discarded the really cool framing-device at the end. I suppose they weren't expecting to make a second movie. So, what have they replaced it with? L, (who at this point in the series is supposed to be dead) starts out the movie talking to the audience. Directly to the audience, stating what the purpose of the movie is. L states that this movie was created for people who had never seen Death Note before, even though that literally doesn't make a lick of sense. If you haven't seen Death Note, why would you be watching a Death Note movie? For that matter, why would you be watching the second Death Note animated movie? If you're not familiar with the series, why would you bother watching one of the sequels?
L then proceeds to spend the next nine and a half recapping the events of the series up until then. I know they did this in the series after L died, but there was a reason for it! Their entire database had been deleted, and they had to go back over everything they knew had happened so they could have some kind of record of what happened. Plus, since it was narrated from L's perspective, it helped compound his recent death. Another thing to mention was that the recap that took up half of Episode 26: Renewal was both much more complete than the recap they made for this movie. Possibly because they weren't trying to recap an already butchered plot. Plus, they didn't just replay the last scene from Episode 25: Silence verbatim.
Then we come to the runtime. The last movie was almost three hours long, and that was barely enough time for everything they were trying to sum up. This movie isn't even two hours long, and it spends almost ten minutes of the runtime recapping the last movie. Seriously, I couldn't believe my eyes when I looked at the clock and saw that I was almost ten minutes into the film without a single piece of footage that didn't come from the last movie. At all. Off to a flying start, and it only gets worse from here.
Let's have a quick rundown of what's been changed, shall we?
The biggest change that's been made is that the Mafia subplot has been completely removed. Yeah, they cut out one of the most important arcs of the series. Not all of what happens overtly afffects the plot immediately, but there are so many important things that happen in the Mafia arc that directly affect how the series ends that I'd think that's the last thing you'd cut. But on that subject, Soichiro Yagami has been completely written out of the story. The Japanese version makes an offhand reference to him retiring after Light joined the task-force, but the English version doesn't even mention it. This brings up some fairly significant questions. Since Soichiro's heart-attack was written out of the first movie, so for all we know, he was in perfect health. What would your first thought be there? Maybe he retired to take care of his daughter, who's obviously suffering from PTSD. But that can't be the case, since the mafia have been written out of the story.
Later on in the movie Mello shows up at the SPK headquarters with a massive scar on his face and absolutely no explanation as to why. He then proceeds to do nothing until the very end of the movie. Removing the mafia means that everything Mello did has been erased, which basically makes him a pointless character in this movie. Maybe if they hadn't had a ten minute recap at the beginning, they'd have had the time to adapt some of the mafia arc.Or maybe if they'd had thirty minutes or more of extra screentime, they could have adapted it, and had time for some of the other things they cut. Or maybe if they had another hour and cut that ten minute recap, then they could have done something resembling a decent job.
You see, without the mafia arc, no SPK members are killed, Light never learns Mello's name, Mello never gets his scar, Soichiro never dies, Light never has to give up one of his Death Notes to get rid of the Shinigami Sidoh, and most importantly, since Light doesn't know Mello's real name, he has no way of telling Takeda who Mello is in the event she has to kill him, ergo Mello never dies.
Certain things have been changed to accommodate the mafia's erasure, but the recovery is utterly incomplete to say the very least.
For instance, one of the compensating factors is that rather than Mello and the mafia killing off most of Near's team, Kiyomi Takeda and Teru Mikami are the ones responsible. Even though they cut out the scenes of the United States turning the relevant information over to... Literally anyone. At that point in time, the SPK had never even shown their faces to anyone at that point. Since the SPK wasn't involved with the mafia investigation, that means Light had no reason to know of their existence to kill any of them.
Mikami's origin has been completely removed. Oh, and since most of the FBI arc was cut out of the first movie, we have no explanation as to who Takeda is. She was Light's girlfriend in High-school. She was on the Spaceland bus when he set up his plan to kill all the FBI agents. In the actual series we actually knew who she was. In this, she's not mentioned at all until she just shows up in this film.
Takeda feeds information to Mikami over the phone. This scene is comprised of recut stock-footage of Mikami writing names in the Death Note with original footage of Takeda feeding him the information.
Another thing I should mention before I forget is that rather than having Mikami kill off a bunch of guys from the Sakura TV Kira Worship Service, he instead kills off a group of people who dislike Kira on a Pro-Kira vs Anti-Kira debate. Something Light wouldn't have supported or allowed at this point in the series. What the hell was this about? Why didn't they just re-use the footage from the show?
Anyways, in addition to all of the stock footage from the series that they use in the SPK massacre, they also use pieces of original footage for some reason. One shot shows one of the SPK members head twisting around a hundred and eighty degrees. EVEN THOUGH THAT'S NOT POSSIBLE!
Let's go back to the first season of Death Note, where Light experimented with the limitations of the power. Something which is not physically possible cannot be made to occur by writing it in the Death Note. You can't make someone from a prison in America die by jumping off of the Eiffel Tower. By the rules of the Death Note, that guy should have died of a heart-attack, plain and freaking simple. But, since they cut all of the specifics of that experimentation, as well as literally all of the rules of the Death Note, I suppose that's all up in the air! Even though setting up all those rules was critical to the Death Note not being incredibly overpowered.
Speaking of Death Note rules, they only ever mention one of the fake rules in the Death Note, carrying on from what they were doing in the first movie as well. Even though that second rule was critical to them not just flat out destroying the Death Note. You know, the rule that said that destruction of the Death Note would kill literally everyone who touched it? That rule? That incredibly critical rule?
Anyways, almost all of Light's plotting around the Kira task-force to keep in contact with Takeda and Mikami has been removed.
The whole movie is basically a rush to the last episode, which plays out almost in its entirety, with a little bit of abridging thrown in to make it a little shorter. There's also the dinner between Misa and Takeda, which ultimately seems pointless when Misa and Takeda alike have had an incredibly small amount of screentime in this movie.
Long story short, Mello kidnaps Takeda, she kills him (Even though she doesn't have any way to do that. She doesn't own a Death Note, ergo she can't bargain for the Shinigami eyes.) and Light kills her. Mikami's entire routine and most of the SPK's surveillance of him has been cut, as well as him retrieving the Death Note from the bank (at least until Near tells Light this at the end of the movie) so we don't even have any hint that Mikami was trying to kill Takeda until the end. We also don't get any kind of communication between Mikami and Light, so they never establish that Light wasn't able to move freely, ergo Mikami just seems like an idiot working on his own, rather than applying a bit of logic to the situation like he did in the comics and animated series.
They then speed to Light's death at the hands (or more to the point, the pen) of Ryuk. They skip the symbolism, the mirage of L looking over the dying Light, everything that made that a powerful moment.
Something I found particularly strange is the extensive use of original animation in areas where stock footage would have worked just as well, if not better. Most of the original footage centers around Near and the SPK, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense. They had plenty of footage of Near and the SPK from the series, and get this, most of the new footage is Near screwing around with puzzles and games and whatnot. Stuff he did plenty of in the show.
The only noteworthy piece of original footage is a flashback to L talking to the Whammy House kids and answering their questions. That's literally it. No other piece of original footage serves to do anything unique. Even then, that little clip was adapted from a one-shot tie-in to the comics.
All in all, this movie is loaded with plot-holes, it's terribly paced, and above all, it's way too short.
The plot lurches around without much care for coherency, moving too fast for its own good at some points and then grinding to a halt at others. The comics and the animated series alike knew how pacing worked, bringing things down slowly and then slowly building back up to the intensity they needed.
Then we come to the voice-acting. In Visions of a God, the newly recorded-lines, while not on-par at a writing level matched the original lines in performance quality. In L's Successors, there are a few of Light's new lines that sound just off enough that I wonder if this special was rushed to completion. The same goes for some of Near's new lines. It's almost as if they didn't have enough time to do multiple takes. I'd say this goes for the Japanese as well as English voice-tracks, but Light and Near's Japanese VA's didn't really have far to sink.
What I'm trying to say is, this movie is bad. Incredibly bad. It's even worse because it came from something good. In that regard, it's incredibly similar to the first Hunger Games movie. In fact, that's the best comparison I can draw. So many things have been cut from the source material that the final product literally doesn't make a lick of sense. Even Visions of a God had a bit of redeeming value to it, what with the original footage in the beginning, middle and end of the movie. This film on the other hand just butchers the plot of the show without giving any significant reason why you should watch it if you've already seen the animated series, and if you're a first-time viewer, you should just watch the animated series.
In the end, I give it a 1.1* rating. I didn't enjoy this film either as a critic or a fan of the series.
Next week, we'll either be tackling a videogame, or the first live-action Death Note movie. We'll see what happens.

Image from walmart.com

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Power Rangers Dino Supercharge: E1, When Evil Stirs

Originally written for OutLoudculture.com

If you guys follow my YouTube channel (You should, it's where the OLC podcast is uploaded) you know I'm a huge Power Rangers fan. Been one for most of my life, and I'm never ashamed to admit it. The fact that I bring up Power Rangers RPM whenever I see an opportunity to should be proof enough of that.  Unfortunately, for a fan such as myself, there hasn't been a good (new) season of the show since... Well, since RPM back in 2009. Part of the problem was that RPM was intended to be the last season of the show, and in knowing this, the writing staff went all out, making bold decisions, massive changes to the formula, and changes to the world the likes of which we hadn't seen since the end of the Zordon era of the series. I won't spoil how RPM ended, so let's just say that when Saban bought the rights to Power Rangers back from Disney, they found it incredibly hard to write around, and thus wound up creating an alternate universe where the series could continue. A single point of divergence where the world was taken over by a rogue computer-virus in one universe, and where it wasn't in the other. The added benefit to this was that Saban could then exploit nostalgia from the previous seasons of the show without having to contradict RPM directly. This might have been excusable if Saban had then gone on to make a single subsequent season that was as good as anything that came before, but the moment the first episode of Power Rangers Samurai aired on Nickelodeon in 2011, the fandom realized that they were in trouble. Samurai had stupid jokes, terrible, worn out ideas, and worst of all, it had been sliced in half. You see, for those not in the know, Power Rangers is typically adapted from a previous season of the Japanese Tokusatsu series, Super Sentai. Each Sentai season is around forty or so episodes in length, and for the most part, Power Rangers has followed that same pattern, with a few more or less episodes per season depending on original content. Starting with Samurai, however, Power Rangers has averaged twenty episodes a season, with each Sentai adaptation being split into approximately two seasons, sometimes with elements of other Sentai seasons mixed in. And by "mixed in" I mean they dropped the adaptation of one Sentai series halfway through production when they realized they were coming up on the twentieth anniversary of the franchise and rushed to adapt the subsequent anniversary Sentai season. This mess was know as Power Rangers Super Megaforce, colloquially known in the fandom as "Super Mega Fuckup," since they took one of the most beloved seasons of Super SentaiKaizoku Sentai Gokaiger and pounded all of the wit, and charm, and personality out of it. I could write a whole series of articles on why Super Megaforce failed, and I might at sometime in the future. For now, we're covering the first episode of Dino Supercharge, the twenty-third season of the series, as well as the followup to last year's Dino Charge. Suffice to say that Dino Charge wasn't great. Granted, it was a huge improvement on Super Megaforce, but overall it was pretty lame. I'd go into detail, but I fear I'd just be repeating myself later on in my review of this episode. All in all, it was a massive waste of potential held together by a few awesome fight-scenes. Right, with that out of the way let's dig into the episode. Spoiler warning, as I'll be deconstructing this episode on an almost minute-to-minute basis.
Right off the top of your head, what's the most memorable part of Mighty Morphin' Power RangersKamen Rider, or Super Sentai? The suits, yes, the characters sure, but for me at least, the music is the first thing that grabs me and the last thing I forget about a show. For a long time, between the original Saban era and the end of the Disney era, Power Rangers had entirely original scores. The background music during downtime, the combat anthem, everything was made for the series, and that was part of why it was so memorable, because you weren't going to hear that music anywhere else, unless it was from another season of the show. That still rings true for Super Sentai and Kamen Rider these days, with memorable soundtracks filled with unique music. They use different musical cues for different scenarios, even going so far as to have theme-music for individual characters or teams. I bring all this up because literally the very first thing you hear in Dino Supercharge is a piece of stock music called Careless Talk by The Royalty Free Music Crew. Something you might recognize if you've been on the internet at all for the last decade or so. It's been used by countless YouTuber's over the course of its existence, as well as by Power Rangers Dino Charge at least three times during the course of its run. Four if you count this one. My point is that among the many, many budget-cuts Saban has made since buying back the franchise. Sure, there's still some original music, the theme-song is pretty cool and every now and again they have a decent piece of original background music, but for the most part the series lacks anything that could be considered a "unique" soundtrack. Even with all of the budget-cuts Super Sentai appears to have endured, they still use mostly original music for the soundtracks. As far as music goes, we start as we mean to go on.
Tyler Navarro, the Dino Charge Red Ranger (Played by Brennan Mejia), spends the entire intro sequence recapping the events of the last half of the series. The framing-device for this is him writing the events down in his journal, but he's already written most of these down at least once already in the last season. One would reasonably wonder why they had to recap the series at all, seeing as the season finale aired only a few weeks prior to this episode. Then again, I've got a mind like a steel trap (most of the time anyways) and I don't forget details like this. This helps me in my critiques of long-running franchises such as this, especially when they introduce plot-devices and storylines that contradict previously established canon. I'll come back to this later on in the series, because they're bound to introduce things that don't make sense based on the series up 'till then.
The opening credits sequence is selling a show that's way more action-packed, way cooler, and way more interesting than the show we're likely going to get, based on both this episode, and the previous twenty-two episodes. (though more like twenty and a half since the two holiday specials were glorified clipshows) This is something I detest, an opening sequence which oversells the show, or else shows that just don't deliver.
Another, rather interesting thing to point out (Which was made aware to me by @Razzle1337 and @Evilspacewhale on Twitter) is the fact that in the final shot of the intro-sequence, rather than creating a new shot to accommodate the female Purple Ranger, they just re-used a shot from Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger (The source material for this series) and recolored Kyoryu Cyan purple. Because it's not like their helmet-designs are based on two very different dinosaurs or anything. Or like there are people who watch Super Sentai and Power Rangers who would notice that. Or for that matter like the two Rangers in question are the opposite gender! Come on, Saban. That CGI skirt isn't fooling anyone. Especially when you compare the builds!
Then there are other issues in the opening, such as when the two times the T-Rex charger is seen in the opening, it has "Gabutyra" written on the side. For those of you not in the know, Gabutyra was the name of the Red Dino Charge Zord in Kyoryuger. But those are just minor issues compared to the real meat of the matter. For instance, most of the CG in the opening sequence looks atrocious. Toei is to blame for part of this, since they appear to have taken Saban's lead in cutting production values as much as they can, possibly in an attempt to see how little effort they can put into a series and still make bank on toy sales. (Although that's pretty unfair since Ressha Sentai ToQger, the series that immediately followed Kyoryuger had much better effects) Saban still takes a great deal of the blame, however, since they were the ones who chose to re-use sub-par assets instead of throwing the sub-par CG models out and starting over fresh with a higher polygon count, better rigging and better shading.
Earlier in January I was rewatching some of Power Rangers Jungle Fury, and I was astounded by how good the effects were. Just unreal enough to give the show a magical quality to it, but decent enough that stop-motion animation with the toys wouldn't have been a step up. Compare that to the CGI from this show. For the most part, it looks like someone took the toys (The American ones, not the Japanese ones) and scanned them into a computer using really bad 3D modeling software, did some rudimentary rigging and then dropped them into the scenes without bothering to shade or light them properly. As such, you wind up with CG that looks worse than filming toys on a diorama.
Mind you, these are all issues we see before we even get into the bulk of the show. We haven't even touched on some of the bigger problems. So, before we dig into the rest of the episode, let's introduce the cast so far.
Tyler Navarro is the Dino Charge Red Ranger, and third Red T-Rex Ranger (Fourth if you count the one from the RPM toyline). Supposedly he's the leader of the team, but he's never really shown taking charge of either the team or the situation. The Rangers basically take turns leading the team whenever their particular "expertise" is required. Tyler's whole motivation in life seems to be to find his father, who happened to disappear approximately a decade prior. You know. About the time that Tommy Oliver was leading the Dino Thunder Rangers against Mesagog. I don't know if they're trying to make any connections to Dino Thunder, and I certainly hope they're not trying to imply that one or possibly two of the Dino Thunder Rangers are Tyler's parents. I know Kyoryuger had a crossover with BakuryĆ« Sentai Abaranger (Japanese counterpart to Dino Thunder) and Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, (Japanese counterpart to Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers) so they could be trying to lead up to some big "We are your parents" reveal later on in Dino Supercharge as part of an MMPR/Dino Thunder/Dino Charge crossover, but considering how badly the last few crossover events worked out, I doubt it.
Tyler appears to have more personality than, say, Troy Burrows from Megaforce had. He's still got a heaping deficiency of personality or authority though, otherwise he wouldn't get roped into some of the teams stupider plans. I tell you this, he's no Jason Lee Scott from MMPR, or Tommy Oliver from take your pick of the five teams he led, or Casey Rhodes from Jungle Fury, or RJ also from Jungle Fury, or especially Scott Truman from RPM. All of those I just listed were field commanders that wouldn't have gotten roped into lobbing construction equipment at a team-member until they found someone worthy of being a Ranger. It's a shame too, because I really want to like Tyler, and the series seems to be doing its best to make him a likable guy, but he doesn't have a whole lot of charisma, and his voice just isn't suited for a commanding role. I don't know if this is an issue with Brennan Mejia's acting or if it's just a direction issue. Either way, something different needed to happen, because I would buy Ziggy Grover from RPM as a leader before I'd buy Tyler as one.
Before I go on with the cast, I'd like to point out that it took me a while to remember all the Ranger's names in this series, and I still barely remember them now. I barely watched Power Rangers SPD and I can still name you most of the names of the characters off the top of my head, and I basically know the names of the entire lead and supporting cast of Mighty Morphin' Power RangersJungle Fury and RPM by heart, even years later. Dino Charge, on the other hand took about half a season before I could list off Ranger names. It got to the point where I had to have the Ranger Wiki open on my other computer while I was recording my commentary videos just so I could stop referring to the Rangers by suit color.
Anyways, next on the list is Chase Randall, played by James Davies. Black Parasaurolophus Ranger, and the token acknowledgement of the country Power Rangers has been filmed in for about a decade. Yes, we've finally got a Kiwi Ranger on the team. Not that you'd know that if they didn't plaster him and his gear in Kiwi birds and dedicate somewhere around four episodes or so to gushing all over New Zealand culture, since his accent is so broad he could pretty much be from England or Australia. Funnily enough, the actor himself is from New Zealand, and I actually know a guy from New Zealand who has a similar accent to Davies, so it's entirely possible this is his normal speaking voice, and not just something the directors cooked up to make American audiences more comfortable. Who knows?
Chase is sold as the Hot-Shot of the group, using his Morpher-gun and Parachopper as his primary fighting weapons. He's supposed to be this brash, bold figure who charges into battle guns-blazing, but all I see him doing is exploiting his catch-phrases and gimmicks while attempting to form a "unique" identity in a series which stomps on unique ideas, proper pacing, decent characterization and good storytelling until they can fit into manila folder. Chase seems like he was intended to be the new Dillon from RPM. They're both Black Rangers, and they both have Zords which act as cannons when attached to a Megazord. The difference is that Dillon was mysterious, talented, and sarcastic. He had flaws, goals, ideals, relateable emotions, and some kind of purpose in the story! Chase is a bunch of Australian and Kiwi (But mostly Australian) stereotypes holding a fancy magic gun while he spouts off his "radical" catchphrases. Dillon is cool. Chase was manufactured to be cool without any real idea of what makes a character cool.
In fact, let's compare this Chase to another Black Tokusatsu hero from 2015, one who just so happens to share his name. Spoiler warning, go watch Kamen Rider Drive, it's a really good show, and much better than anything Saban's put out in the last five years. Fans of Kamen Rider Drive will already know that I'm talking about Chase, AKA Kamen Rider Protodrive, AKA Kamen Rider Chaser. Another character that uses a gun a lot, but unlike Chase from Dino Charge, Chase from Drive had an arc, decent development over the course of the series, emotional conflicts he had to come to grips with, and actual relationships with his fellow Kamen Riders. You got to see Chase in Drive change, and learn things over the course of the series. Something which Dino Charge's Chase didn't do at all. I'd say it has to do with Drive not having to try and characterize somewhere in the order of eleven main characters over the course of its run, but Power Rangers RPM had seven Rangers, and they were all incredibly well-characterized, so it's basically down to a writing issue here. If it wasn't for all the episodes they spent piddling around doing jack squat, maybe we could have some good characterization. Who knows. No matter what, Chase from this series isn't cool, he's manufactured cool. He's never gonna be cool.
Moving on to our Blue Stegasaurus Ranger, a cave-man Koda, played by Yoshi Sudarso. Koda is about the closest thing this series has to a decently-written character, although the way his character was written back in Dino Charge was inconsistent to say the least. Fortunately there are some good character details that help to clear up some of the questions I had about the character. Unfortunately however, this episode starts off with a few character details we could have done with earlier in the series. Like how for instance, Koda is afraid of ice after having been frozen alive for thousands of years. The basis of Koda's character could have been summed up as "dumb guy jokes" back in Dino Charge, with a total of one episode dedicated to him adjusting to modern life. I hope they intend to play up Koda's innocence and drop the incredibly bad jokes made at his expense, because then we could have at least one character worth remembering. If not, then it's just gonna be one more thing to add to the pile of reasons why Saban shouldn't be making Power Rangers anymore. I'll say this for Koda though, no matter how many bad jokes or puns are made, either by him or at him, you can't ever hate him. It's just not possible.
Next up is the Green Raptor Ranger, Riley Griffin, played by Michael Taber. His gimmick is that he fences a lot, so he uses a sword. He's also apparently the requisite nerd of the group, since he happens to be able to calculate angles and pounds of force in his head. Not that this is ever of much use, except for that one time he got into a match of 3D chess with a monster-of-the week. No, seriously. Riley is another character that I can't summon up any dislike for, for no other reason than I can't really figure out what he's supposed to do. You could have easily cut him from the team, rolled his personality traits into one of the other characters and wound up with a tighter-knit group. As it is, outside of the handful of episodes dedicated to him last season, he doesn't seem to really do much outside of fill space.
Our fifth Ranger is for once not a Yellow Ranger, but a Pink one. A Pink Triceratops Ranger, Shelby Watkins, played by Camille Hyde. Shelby is Tyler's sort-of love interest when the writers actually remember that they're supposed to be having some kind of relationship. Because Daigo and Amy had a romantic relationship in Kyoryuger and we're too cheap/lazy to try and make the suit footage match actual characters!
No, seriously. Saban actually recreated some scenes and basically the entire plot from Samurai Sentai Shinkenger shot for shot, blow for blow while making Samurai. The reason why I bring this up now is because there are some shots in the episode that I'm told are taken from Kyoryuger footage which literally make no sense in context otherwise. Not between Shelby and Tyler, but between Tyler and the ninth Ranger in this little catastrophe of a team.
Shelby is... Odd. She's a waitress, but she's sort of way too smart to be a waitress, while also lacking much in the way of common sense. Then again, that basically describes most of this team when they're not in their suits. Shelby's whole gimmick is basically that she's a stereotypical girl about some things, and not others unless she feels the need to be with Tyler in that moment. For instance, the whole reason she gets roped into one of the dumber schemes the team cooked up back in the first season is because she thought Tyler looked hot in a military dress uniform. I'd love to try and give a more in-depth opinion of Shelby, but like most of the characters in this show, she feels like someone got done writing about a quarter of her defining traits and then someone was asked to write a script around them. All I ask for is a bit of consistency and detail. Show me what they like and what they don't like. A bit of personality, a taste even would be enough to shut me up at this point, at least until Saban digs more plot-holes.
The sixth member of this motley crew is Sir Ivan of Zandar, portrayed by Davi Santos, a knight from Medieval times and a country which doesn't exist. He's the Gold (Sometimes Yellow depending on the footage used) Pteradactyl Ranger. He was sealed inside one of the main villain's bodies for some reason, and was released by Tyler hundreds of years later. He joined the team after going off on an incredibly stupid journey to recruit more worthy team-mates. Picking elderly crossing-guards and pensioners rather than any of the scores of Rangers that have come before. (technically after, but I'm not even sure Dino Charge takes place in an existing Power Rangers universe) Ivan comes close to being a good character, but falls just short due to the desperate lack of any kind of development beyond "chivalrous and brave knight." We've had brave characters before, we've had honorable characters before. We need something that makes Ivan stand out. Personally, I can't hate Ivan much since he'd be just about perfect if the writers put even a little more effort into his character. I'm basically a sucker for a good time-displacement story, and Ivan is literally from one of my favorite periods of history. He fights with a longsword too! And he shoots lightening from it! He could only be more awesome if he was in charge of the team! But alas, he's not. It's a shame, because Davi Santos has exactly the kind of command to his voice that I'd expect out a Red Ranger.
The next Ranger on our list is Prince Phillip III of Zandar, played by Jarred Blakiston, crown prince of the fictional country and the Graphite Pachycephalosaurus Ranger. He became a Ranger after finding out about the Dino Charge Rangers and deciding that he wanted to help out. So, he scoured the globe for an Energem and started doing good deeds in an attempt to prove his worth to whatever mystical force governs the Energems. Long story short, he succeeded in that task and became a Ranger in his own right. Unfortunately, he never seems to show up when he's needed. Mostly because he runs a country, but also because the Graphite Ranger didn't have a whole lot of screentime in Kyoryuger, and Saban wanted to cut down on original footage. Kind of like how Tommy didn't show up until the very end of a lot of fights in the first season of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers because his Japanese counterpart lived in stasis cave and only left when his teammates were in extreme peril. This brings up some fairly major issues later on in this episode which we'll get to later. Honestly, Phillip is pretty cool. He's literally the only member of the team who joined voluntarily as opposed to being roped into it by chance, luck or circumstance. Phillip, Ivan and Koda are easily the three best characters in the show, since they've got the most personality. Right off the bat, from the moment Phillip was introduced, you could tell that he was cut out to be a Ranger. Unlike how civilians or governing figures tend to handle alien incursions in Power Rangers, he decided to pitch in and help. Hell, he went a step further, devoting the resources of his country to bolstering the combat effort. Just a shame that this has to be set in a fictional city in California (No doubt somewhere near Angel Grove) instead of a fictional country in Europe. It would have been something new at least. And they wouldn't have been able to drool over New Zealand like they did. Nothing against New Zealand, it's just that Saban seemed determined to fulfill some sort of "New Zealand promotion quota." I'll tell you this much, it was harder to watch than the sightseeing in ToQger was. At least that series is set in the place it's touring. I guess what I'm trying to say is that they should have just set the show in New Zealand, and let us see a team of Mighty Morphin' Kiwi Rangers. Some kind of change of setting at least. Something to shake things up.
Finally, we come to the last Ranger, (for now at least) Kendall Morgan (Claire Blackwelder), the Purple Plesiosaurus Ranger. For some reason, even though she's obviously the same age as or younger than the other Rangers, she insists that they call her Miss Morgan. What's her personality like? Well, it's best described as a bad knockoff of Doctor K from Power Rangers RPM. Except that unlike Doctor K, nobody sees any reason to call her out on the fact that she's placed herself in a position of authority above them despite being about the same age as the rest of the team. There's literally no other way to describe her, she is literally a bad knockoff of Doctor K, with all of the unique personality and character dynamics hammered out. And rather than making new equipment that the Rangers might actually need or have some use for, she makes useless stuff like the Dino Cupid Charger. Or a flamethrower Charger that's only ever used once. Or the Dino Stretch Charger, made completely irrelevant by the fact that they have two flying Megazords. Or, god forbid, the Dino Gas Charger, which literally causes the Megazord to fart gas into the enemy's face. Not. Making. This. Up. Rather than building new Zords, she waits for them to come to her. Rather than being pro-active and constructing some kind of Energem-powered laser-cannon to blow Sledge out of the sky, or converting his ship into something the Rangers can use, she just keeps building pointless crap, and things that barely work. Then again, they don't really establish to what extent Kendall actually built the Ranger equipment, so for all we know most of it was created by the Energems. Kendall is utterly devoid of personality, and basically just serves to fill the team roster and the base-commander role without actually doing anything unique that couldn't be done by a completely different character. Combine Kendall, Riley and Shelby and what changes? Not a whole lot.
Anyways, down to the plot.
Last time, the Rangers crashed Sledge's ship, and like idiots, didn't search it to make sure him and his crew were 100% dead. So, a new villain named Snide had taken over in his command and promised all of the inmates he rather stupidly didn't turn in for the bounties on their heads millions of years ago that they would gain favor with him if they were to bring him an Energem. Second verse, same as the first on that front. The Rangers, idiots as they are, have given up their powers and gone their separate ways for a few weeks before getting abducted by a freezing monster and taken to Snide to steal their Energems. Why they don't just break into the Ranger's base is beyond me. It's only got three Rangers on duty at this point, and abducting three Rangers from around the country, possibly even from around the world seems incredibly counterproductive, when you could just send in a single spy to monitor Ranger activity for a few days, determine that they're not even guarding their damn base most of the time, break in when nobody's there with the entire ship full of backup, kick Keeper's ass, and steal all the equipment. Keeper's staff can un-bond an Energem, so all they'd have to do is un-bond the energems and re-bond them to their own people so they can have the power all to themselves. But they don't do that. Instead, they abduct four of the seven Rangers with only Koda and Tyler escaping, although it's never really explained how Tyler escaped. Prince Phillip is nowhere to be seen for some reason, even though Snide's people managed to track Chase to New Zealand (Or possibly not, we're never actually told where he was, although he said he was going back to New Zealand at one point.). Maybe Phillip was the only one they couldn't take, because between his security and the fact that nobody seems to know where his country is, they just decided not to bother.
Most of the time, Power Rangers only leave their Morpher's behind when they've burnt out, or need repairing. Hell, Adam Park had a damaged Mastadon Morpher that he kept on him, and it still worked! So why, when you could stick a Charger in your pocket and when you appear to be able to literally summon gear from thin-air (Point Kyoryuger, at least they had holsters) would you not keep a Charger or two as backup? Why wouldn't you just use the Power to fight street-level crime the way Albert Smith, the original Dino Charge Purple Ranger did? With great power comes great responsibility, and if I had Ranger powers and had just annihilated all known alien threats, I'd keep the gear around, because you just know you're going to need it!
The only two Rangers that stayed with Kendall at the Museum after Sledge's defeat were Koda and Ivan. Koda at least makes sense, where else is he gonna go? But Ivan should be in Zandar with Phillip, he is a Knight of the Realm after all. Maybe he chose to stay there, who knows? I'd love for these things to mean more than they seem, but I'm hesitant to try and make sense of this series plot. After all, the last prediction for the show I came up with was what Koda's origin was, and I was almost entirely wrong.
Anyways, Tyler and Koda make use of Koda's earlier technique of letting clothing get caught in the ice and then ducking out, but unlike before, they do so with their Ranger suits, to which I call shenanigans. First off, I've seen behind-the-scenes footage of Power Rangers, you cannot get out of those suits without some kind of help. Second, the only part of the suit you can take off while inside it is your helmet. If you demorph, the suit vanishes back to wherever it comes from. This is a well-established rule of the franchise. It was even partially explained in Power Rangers RPM. Then again, Saban seems to take pleasure in attempting to undermine every point RPM made about the franchise. And third, I've worn paintball gear and baseball gear less complicated than those suits are, and I still can't get out of them that fast! Fourth, this raises the question as to what those suits are made of. Part of the reason I like Kamen Rider is that the Riders actually get suits that can pass for armor, whilst Power Rangers and Super Sentai teams are usually wearing Lycra or Spandex, neither of which would provide adequate protection against most of the attacks sustained in a typical episode.
Long story short, they use that flamethrower Charger to melt their team-mates, they kick some ass, the requisite Megazord fight ensues, Rangers save the day, Rangers get back together after two weeks apart due to them not following up on their last kill.
Now, let's cover some specific issues. First off, back in Dino Charge, they introduced a resurrection machine to bring back dead monsters, but it only works if they have a piece of the monster to bring back. The Rangers knew that Sledge had this technology, so why didn't they steal it? I know of more than a few dead Rangers and one dead space-wizard that they could use that on. Hell, the Rangers could use it on themselves if one of them was ever killed, that way they have a means of resurrecting fallen comrades. Hell, that machine would make death utterly irrelevant, so why didn't they take it? Or salvage Sledge's entire space-ship and turn in all his prisoners to whoever runs the space-jail for the bounties on their heads? It'd eliminate a bunch of potential threats, and turn them a nice profit as a bonus! That's money they could spend on maybe expanding the Corinth Project beyond just one city. Earth seems to deal with alien-invasions all the time, it'd be nice to have a huge shield around the planet. We are coming up on the actual time of Power Rangers SPD, so they might as well start stepping the general technology up a bunch so they don't have to erase that from continuity as well. Maybe it'll just get shunted into the main universe where all of the good shows live and whatever series airs in 2020 can just be Blando Mcboring Rangers. Season Nine.
Then there's Keeper, basically Dino Charge's attempt at creating a Zordon-style character. Except Zordon had a reason for not doing much other than giving advice, he was literally trapped between dimensions. In a lot of ways, Keeper does even less that that, since he only shows up ever now and again, occasionally fighting monsters, but for the most part, Keeper doesn't serve much real purpose. Another case of a character that could have been sliced out of the final product without any major consequences.
Finally, we get to Heckyl. Heckyl is the human form of Snide, and he would be a great villain if only he knew what an inner-monologue was! As it is, he all but incriminates himself in front of the Rangers multiple times across every episode he's been in.
This brings me to an issue with the music. There's a scene where Heckyl is talking to Kendall about getting a job at the cafe (Oh yeah, another criticism I could make that I'll get to later) and the music they play is so upbeat and cheerful that it ruins any drama the scene might have had! If this was Death Note, or Kamen Rider Drive, or Jungle Fury or RPM there would have been a much more appropriate musical cue playing behind the conversation. One that truly demonstrated the gravity of the scene.
Then there's the fact that A) The Rangers seem to feel the need to keep their identities secret despite there being plenty of very public Power Rangers teams beforehand, and it's pretty much pointless since the monsters know their faces and names, and B) That the Rangers work out of a cafe in a museum. I know in Jungle Fury the Rangers worked out of a pizza parlor, but those guys had the excuse of both being broke and having an incredibly roundabout teacher who used the pizza preparation as lessons in teamwork. These guys don't have that excuse.

So, all in all this episode kinda sucked, but it was still better than some of the worst episodes of the last season. Last season had about six episodes worth of decent content at best, but I'm holding out some hope that this season doubles that amount. Who knows? Maybe the next series, Power Rangers Ninja Steel (Yes, that's actually the title) will have higher production values and better writing if we can prove to Saban that that's what the fans really want.
Oh, what's that? Saban Capitol Group just donated two million dollars to Hillary Clinton's campaign for president? Well, so much for that then.

In the end, I give this episode a 4.0* rating.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Death Note Relight: Visions of a God

It's been a while since my review of the Death Note animated series, and I know I've been trying to cover as many games, series and movies from 2015 as possible before the end of January, but I seem to have failed in that regard. Since I still plan to review the live-action Death Note series, I figured I should go back and tackle the two animated television movies first. Maybe I'll be done with 2015 by June of this year, who knows?
Anyways, for the uninitiated Death Note Relight is a two-part series of animated movies put out on Nippon Television in Japan, in 2007 and 2008 respectively. They present an abridged look at the plot of the animated series, utilizing stock footage and dialogue in conjunction with new dialogue and original footage to bridge the gaps. The immediate reaction one would likely have to this is "Whaa? Death Note was perfect as it is, you can't cut anything out and have it work as well as it did!" possibly followed by "Well, they might surprise me, let's give it a shot!" Unfortunately, for those of us who've seen the films, we know that our first instincts were correct. Let's dig into the first of the two movies, Visions of a God. Spoiler warning for the special and for Death Note as a whole, so go watch the show if you haven't. It's on Netflix. Just be sure to choose the English audio track, the voice-direction in the Japanese version is terrible.
This particular movie is set after the events of the animated series, and starts out with a few minutes of original animation. An unnamed Shinigami finds Ryuk, and asks him to tell him about his trip to the human world. Ryuk appears to have aged quite a bit since the events of the animated series, and agrees to tell this Shinigami about his adventures.
Right off the bat, we've got an interesting setup for the story to come. Ryuk is telling a story to a fellow Shinigami about his adventures.
Unfortunately, this is when things start to fall apart, since the following scene is a montage of Light writing things down in the Death Note, which isn't supposed to be the first thing you see in Death Note. The first thing you need to see in Death Note is either Ryuk being bored in the Shinigami realm or Light deciding that the world is rotten and needs to change. A montage of violent crime would have worked much better without giving away any massive plot details the way this montage did.
The movie gets better from there, but the montage literally didn't need to be there. The screentime it took up could have been dedicated to a few more seconds of plot. When you're adapting around eighteen and a half twenty minute episodes into a two hour, forty minute film, you can't afford to spend any screentime on something that you're going to reiterate later on in the movie. This is similar to an issue we'll see later on in the second movie, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
So, what's been changed?
First off, as one would naturally presume from the shortened run-time, most of the story has been fast-tracked to the highlights of the first half of the series, cutting down on time for character development, but hitting all the right beats for the most part. At least, until we get to around the midpoint of the film. I'm going to try and cover everything in order as much as possible, without jumping around too much.
The first victim of the cut runtime was the "How to use it" notations between scene transitions. This basically means that if you don't already know what the Death Note can do, the movie isn't going to bother explaining. Most of Light's experimentation with the Death Note has either been cut down, or removed entirely, which all but destroys the few rules-related plot-points they left in the film. All of Light's precautions about protecting the Death Note have been removed as well, at least until L starts his surveillance. They skip Light's first two kills entirely, even though those were part of Light's character development. The second one is flashed back to as part of a montage later on in both this film and the next, but it's not really given any kind of context that would give it any kind of weight. We don't see any of Light's transformation, he just goes from regular schoolboy with a warped sense of justice to mass murderer without any real inquiry into his motivations.
After Kira becomes known to the world, they skip through a lot of the ICPO conference straight to L's first confrontation with Light, which is itself sped through at a breakneck pace. Speaking of which, L reveals himself to the NPA with hardly any build-up. They just cut to the remaining NPA members showing up at the hotel with L.
The FBI sub-plot has been almost entirely excised, except for one scene where Ryuk notices Ray Penber and points him out to Light. The bus gambit was removed, which means Light would have no idea what his name would be to look up him or his commander back in the States. This is one of the only plot-holes I could find in the movie, the rest of the issues were entirely based in the breakneck pacing and the lack of decent character development. You know, all the problems the animated series didn't have.
After that, they run straight into Naomi Misora, kill her off, and then speed straight into L's surveillance of Light. You'll be happy to know that the potato-chip scene has been left mostly intact. They then cut almost immediately to the Sakura TV sequence, having cut out the scenes where Light meets L entirely, and thus erasing Soichiro's heart-attack from existence. I'd also like to point out that the reveal of him being Light's father has also been cut. It doesn't exactly induce any plot-holes, but it certainly makes things a little more puzzling until they drop some hints later on in the movie.
The removal of Soichiro's heart-attack makes his intervention in the Sakura TV incident a lot less bad-ass. Plus, since they had to compress the story, the whole situation is a lot less bad-ass in general.
After that, Light meets L for the first time. This whole sequence is original animation, and it's almost five solid minutes of exposition. They spend five minutes connecting the first half of the movie to the last half of the movie, possibly because they couldn't figure out how to adapt the college sub-plot without it taking up the entire last half of the film. It did, after all, take up at least four episodes, possibly more if you expand your scope to everything the arc affected, which is basically everything that follows it, up to and including the entire last half of the series. This removes some more of Light's brilliant gambits from the movie, since it removes his direct influence from the Second Kira case.
Rem then explains to Misa about how she got the second Death Note that Misa now owns, as well as explaining how she knows how to kill a Shinigami. This scene in the animated series was very touching and very very sad. It actually brought me to tears when I saw it, and I had already read the manga. I knew what was going to happen, and it was still sad. Due to all of the things they cut out of the scene, however, the impact of the scene was reduced significantly. They basically just pared it down to the guy trying to kill Misa and the Shinigami saving her. They also failed to explain the fact that when a Shinigami dies saving a human, that Shinigami gives the human their remaining life-span to extend that of the human. You know, one of the most critical plot-points in the entire show? Not like removing that raises any questions based on how she lived on beyond what was supposed to be her natural life-span. Based on the rules of the Death Note, she should have collapsed from a heart-attack unless she was given some kind of extension to that life-span.
Misa then shows up at Light's house (A flashback shows that Light and Misa crossed paths by complete accident at one time. As opposed to her planning to find out who Kira was through a complex manipulation of the rules of the Death Note and the police.
L then shows up at Light's school for no reason to talk to him and Misa for a bit before arresting Misa under suspicion of being the second Kira. Light then sets a plan into motion, with the movie showing us even less of the gambit than either the comics or the animated series did, with him getting locked up and erasing his memory. The scenes where he told Ryuk what to do under what circumstances are gone, as are the scenes of him burying the Death Note. This was literally one of the most important moments in the series, and it was definitely one they needed to leave uncut. Honestly, at most they would have added five or ten minutes to the film. Then again, they cut out a bunch of other critical plot-points, so who knows what the editor on this project was thinking.
Light gets locked up along with Misa for a while (Soichiro's imprisonment has been edited out), the Kira killings stop for a while, and after a little while (The timespan is cut down by a lot) the Kira killings restart. After an unexplained period of time (the sequel, L's Successors reuses the original line from the show, but based solely on this movie it could have just been two weeks later) Light and Misa are released, but kept under surveillance. There's also no explanation as to why Light and L are handcuffed to each other.
A good question to ask right now would be why L wants Light to help him with the case now? He wasn't helping him with it before in this continuity, and basically all he did was show that he's a viable suspect for the Kira investigation. It's not like he helped L put the reigns on the second Kira in this universe. It's not like they went to school together, or solved puzzles over coffee, or even really spoke to each other much in this version of Death Note.
Light and L have their little fight-scene, Matsuda feels useless, so he breaks into the offices of the Yotsuba group (because they actually bother explaining that they've linked a lot of Kira killings to Yotsuba) gets caught, and the task-force sets up a rescue mission for him. This all takes about three minutes. Since they cut out the breakup of the official task-force, they also removed the explanation as to why L and Light had to be the ambulance attendants when they picked up Aiber in the Matsuda wig from the street.
I'd also like to mention that Aiber and Wedy are introduced without much ceremony. Their names aren't even mentioned initially.
Rem then touches Misa with a piece of the Death Note when she overhears Kyosuke Higuchi, the third Kira talking about how he wants to marry Misa and possibly kill her for life insurance money. Rem then reveals to Misa who the third Kira is.
This is where their usage of stock-footage from the animated series begins breaking down. In the animated series, Misa disguises herself to get away from her police bodyguard so she can nab Higuchi with a confession. To do so, she disguises herself in a nurses outfit she borrowed from a friend of hers. But in this movie, they just cut from Misa's interview to her being in Higuchi's car, and as such, Misa's outfit changes from scene to scene. Why they didn't just use a bit of original footage for Misa's confrontation with Higuchi is beyond me.
In the upcoming scenes we can tell that the scenes where Light and L manipulate the rest of the Yotsuba murder group into cooperating with the Kira investigation have been left on the cutting-room floor. They set up the Sakura TV thing with Matsuda, and Higuchi goes off on his little quest to kill Matsuda. Long story short, they capture him and grab the Death Note, the team sees Rem, Light gets his memories back, and kills Higuchi. The difference between the animated series and this movie, however, is that the Kira task-force was never officially disbanded by the NPA, the members didn't subsequently quit, and Aizawa never left the Task Force, so it turns what was a Big Damn Heroes moment in the animated series into basically a standard police operation.
Misa gets her memories and her notebook back, but not her Shinigami eyes. This wasn't particularly well explained in either the comics or the animated series, it's just sort of assumed that you lose all of your Death Note related powers when you give up the notebook. Honestly, it didn't really have much of a purpose and could have been totally dropped without losing much. I mean, it contributed to Rem wanting to save Misa's life, but there were enough reasons for her to do that anyways that you literally could have removed it entirely without losing anything. This was pretty much the only thing which bugged me about the original Death Note comics and the animated series. Unfortunately, this isn't that kind of movie.
Misa reveals to Light that she can't remember L's real name (You see, this is why you repeat things in your head until you can't forget it.) and Light puts Misa in a position where Rem must kill L for them in order for Misa to not be caught as Kira potentially.
The people constructing this movie completely botched L's death scene, as it doesn't have nearly the same impact as it did in the animated series. It could be that we haven't had enough time to get to know L for his death to have much meaningful impact on us, or it could be how the editors constructed the scenario. For one thing, all of the scenes of L being kind to Light before his death have been completely removed. Not to mention all of the scenes from earlier in the series that were either shortened or skipped entirely of them working together. The consequence of skipping most of the Yotsuba arc is that we missed out on seeing enough of non-Kira Light becoming friends with L. That removes a lot of the shock of L's death, since you almost didn't expect Light to have him killed in both the comics and the animated series. Here, since you don't really get more than a glimpse of the differences between Light without his Kira memories and Light with them, nor do you get to see how Kira-Light and L consider each other worthy opponents, it basically removes all meaning from this scene.
Fortunately, the ending is much better, with them actually covering L's funeral, and Light gloating over L's grave, before they cut to Ryuk, staring at Light's name in his Death Note, with the Shinigami walking off to the Human world. The sound fades out, as (the first ending) begins to play.
For the most part, I'd say that the original animation in this episode was pointless. Aside from the intro and ending, there's nothing new here worth watching. While I liked L's funeral, I think they should have held off on completing the framing narrative until the end of the second movie, especially considering how weak the framing-device for L's Successors is.
In order to patch the gaps between stock footage, new dialogue has been recorded, and the English casts performance is on par with their performances in the animated series. Unfortunately, the quality of the narrative has taken a bit of a nosedive, and sometimes characters are forced to talk in scenes when they didn't talk before. For the most part they do a good job of abridging the stock footage from the animated series into a cohesive whole, but there are enough continuity errors that you wonder why they didn't use a bit more original footage. There are also times when I question why the editors left certain scenes in. For instance, Misa's singing is left pretty much untouched from how it was in the animated series, but they cut out Ryuk explaining certain things about the Death Note to Light. Plus, Light's experimentation with the notebook has been reduced to a footnote basically, which leaves certain questions up in the air which were otherwise answered in the animated series and the comics alike.
The new animation is at least as good quality as that of the original series. I didn't see any massive issues, such as transparent hair or ridiculously off-model animation. Mad House, as always, delivers on precision animation. However, for some strange reason, Misa's cross jewelry has been changed to misshapen fleur de li's. I don't know why, but they did. It's bizarre, and it looks incredibly out of place.
Then we come to the sound-design. In my review of the animated series I praised the care taken with sound cues and music, since it added to the atmosphere of the show. Unfortunately, for the most part, that hasn't carried over into the film. Track placement is haphazard, and there's not enough breathing room for
All in all, I wouldn't recommend Visions of a God to a first-time Death Note viewer, or to a fan, for that matter. It's much better to just watch the animated series, as it's actually a complete story as opposed to just a highlights reel. Hell, the animated series had a ten minute recap in the middle of the series right after L died which was more complete than this movie is. The good thing about that was that it actually served a purpose in the plot. What little original animation there is is few and far between. The exposition scene towards the middle just raises a bunch of questions, with the funeral scene at the end of the movie leaving me to wonder why they didn't just include that in the animated series instead of leaving it to languish in this Frankenstein's monster of a film.
In the end, I give this film a 3.7* rating. It's well below par, especially considering how high the bar was set by the animated series and comics alike. You wanna know what the worst part is though? Out of the two Relight films, this is the good one! Tune in around Wednesday, when I'll be reviewing Death Note Relight 2: L's Successors!

Image from Walmart.com.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (Guest review)

*Editors Note*
My buddy Nathan Green has written a followup to his Danganronpa review, and since I've been having some technical issues with The Consuming Shadow after its latest update, so I wasn't able to get the review done in time. Meanwhile, enjoy this guest review!


IMPORTANT:
Please go and read my Danganronpa review first before reading this one. A lot of stuff isn’t gonna make sense if you haven’t. This review is long enough already, and I don’t want to have to explain everything that I did in the first review as well haha. To those of you who have read that review, Enjoy!


Welcome to Jabberwock Island! An island of sunny beaches, fun attractions and high school students trying to murder each other!
Yup Danganronpa is back for another round of class trials, investigations, epic music and more pepto bismol blood than you can shake a monokuma at and oh man it is a wild ride.
I picked up Danganronpa 2 the very day my Playstation Vita arrived in the post , finished it the following week and man... what an experience. I've got a lot to say about this one, so buckle up! It’s time to look at Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. Let's take a little trip to Jabberwock Island!


Danganronpa 2 was originally released in Japan on the PSP in 2012 under the name Super Danganronpa 2. It didn’t see a release in the western market until two years later when it and the original were localised by those wonderful people over at NIS America. The versions we got were based on the updated Playstation Vita rereleases, and are therefore only available on the Vita outside Japan.
Now, I want to quickly touch on the localisation. When the game was localised, NIS changed a few things here and there, some of which make sense, others however are kinda weird. For one, instead of each student having a super duper high school trait they now have an Ultimate trait. Really all the localisation changes are small nitpicks which don’t really effect the game much at all. The translation itself was pretty good, I saw no grammar or spelling errors ,however I did spot a few typos in the script. Overall the localisation is certainly one of the better localisations of recent years. NIS also added a full English voice cast to the game, which I will talk more in depth about later.
Anyway, onto the story.


Like my review of the first game, I'll only be giving a basic plot summery and setup overview to avoid spoiling the game (and trust me, you don’t want it spoiled).
For starters, Danganronpa 2 does NOT take place right after the first game. In fact, you play as a completely different character by the name Hajime Hinata. He, along with fifteen other students have been chosen to attend Hopes Peak Academy (Note: I incorrectly called the school Hopes High in my previous review. Whoops)
However, upon walking into the school our hero passes out and finds himself on a tropical archipelago with fifteen other students. The only way to get off these islands? Kill a fellow classmate and get away with it.
I really can’t do the story justice without spoiling something. This game, like the previous game is masterfully written and full of plot twists, character development, insanity, and a bit of humour as well. However, Danganronpa 2 really turns it up a notch with the story when compared to the first game. You thought the original had a good story? Somehow Danganronpa 2 manages to top the first game and then some. It’s amazing. If you liked the story that the original had then you will be right at home with the second games story.
10/10
Gameplay:
Gameplay for the most part remains largely the same, however there've been many tweaks and refinements made to the game to spice things up a bit.
The first of these changes is in the exploration. Like the first game, you explore the archipelago from a first person perspective. However, due to the scale of Danganronpa 2's islands they've added a sort of overworld where you control Hajime from a sidescrolling perspective to move about the archipelago. You're also given the ability to quick jump to different buildings that you can enter in the overworld by using the directional buttons, which is a nice addition if you just want to get from point A to point B fast.
First person freeroam sections remain from the first game and are basically just like they were in the first game. Fixed First Person exploration sections are also present and again, remain basically unchanged.
Your electro-ID’s (called E-handbooks in the official localisation) have received a few tweaks. You can still warp around the islands like you could in the previous game using the map but I found I never used this feature due to being able to quick jump in the overworld. A whole new feature/mini-game has been added to the E-handbooks which has you taking care of a sort of Tamagotchi like virtual pet which levels up and grows as you run across the archipelago. Personally I find this feature pretty pointless and it only really seems to exist for trophy hunters to fiddle with to get the bronze and silver trophies attached to it.
The visual novel sections are still here obviously and again, remain largely unchanged although they did remove the Re:act system from the previous game (Basically if a certain purple section of text popped up in a diologue box you could hit triangle and ask about the topic that was written in the purple text). I have no clue why they removed it.
Most of the gameplay changes however are present in the class trials. Almost every mini-game that was present in the previous game has had something changed about it. Like my previous review I will be going through these mini-games one by one depending on how often it appears.
Non Stop Debate:
Like the previous game, this mini-game appears the most by far. The base gameplay is pretty much identical to the previous game, but there have been some additions to make things more interesting.
Now not only can you point out and shoot down peoples contridictions but you can also do the opposite and provide relevant evidence that backs up someones point. These points are differentiated from normal weak points through the use of blue text. Yellow weak points act the same as the previous game. The ability to pick up weak points and use them to knock down another weak point returns in this game BUT you cannot pick up a weak point and use it to try and backup someones statement (i.e pick up yellow text and use it on blue text)
White noise returns (although the text is ironically purple) with a vengeance. Some pieces of white noise take multiple shots to go down, which can be a little irritating at times. However, you can tap the Vita’s rear touchpad to shoot down white noise, which is my preferred method because it auto targets.
The rest of the debates are the same as they were in the previous game, although these twists certainly add more to the mix.
“Improved” Hangmans gambit:
And here lies one of my only major gripes with this whole game. “Improved” Hangmans gambit is HORRIBLE. Sure Hangmans Gambit from the previous game was pretty bland but in this game is it just BAD. You have to pick up letters using the X button and drop them on another of the same letter (I.E pick up and O and drop that O on another O). Problem is, the letters are constantly moving all over the screen from all corners and if 2 different letters collide then you take damage. In the later class trials you will see your life meter drop like a god damned BRICK due to how many letters are on screen.
You can destroy paired letters by using the X button and send them down into the hangman thing at the bottom of the screen using the triangle button, but half the time you either have no idea what you are supposed to be spelling or there is so much crap on screen that you can’t keep up. This mini-game is just CRUEL and is by far one of the worst things about this game. It doesn’t help that unlike hangmans gambit from the first game you are given NO HINTS this time round. In the first game a few letters would be done for you but you don’t get that here. Even worse is that the words you have to spell will usually be very long! It just doesn’t work at all. By far the worst of the new mini-games and the fact that it appears often doesn’t help matters.
Oh and you can’t check any of your evidence while you are playing this game just to add insult to injury.


Logic Dive:
And here we have a brand new mini-game which unlike hangmans gambit is actually pretty fun.
Logic Dive has you controlling Hajime on a snowboard (yes a snowboard) down a tron looking halfpipe avoiding obstacles and stuff like that. The logic part comes into play when you have to answer 3 questions about the murder. You are given pre-written answers which each correspond to a different coloured path. Pick the path that you think is correct and you continue on. You control Hajime with the Left Stick, make him accelerate with the X button and Jump with the L button. You can also brake by pulling back on the right stick (useful if you need some time to think about an answer).
Logic Dive is by far the most entertaining of the games. It may seem odd seeing an action centric mini-game in a puzzle/mystery game but Danganronpa 2 implements it very well. It also helps that the music track that plays during this mini-game is extremely catchy. I only wish that there was an option to play a sort of infinite logic dive without the questions as an extra as that would be a fun distraction.
Rebuttal Showdown:
Another new mini-game! This one has you in a one on one battle against your opponent with you literally slicing away at their words. You can slice by using the directional buttons, the left stick or the touchscreen (although the latter is a bit unresponsive so I’d recommend the D-Pad or left stick).
A showdown is broken into multiple stages most of the time. To pass one stage you have to make it through the round while taking as little damage as possible. If done correctly the little bar in the middle will have moved in such a way so that Hajime’s space covers most of the screen.
On some occasions, usually when you end a round tied with your opponent, you will have to mash the X button to try and edge your opponent out to move onto the next stage.
Now it is important to know that the technique to playing this mini-game is to try and get as many words as possible in the path of your slice as you have limited slices. It’s all about being as efficient as possible.
When you have advanced to the final stage weak points will begin appearing in the text. Similar to the Non Stop Debates you need to counter these with the appropriate evidence. If you have the correct evidence to contradict the opponents claim you will cut through their statement.
It is also important to know that if text has weak points in it you DO NOT try slicing through it otherwise the opponent will gain considerable ground. If the weak point isn’t the one you want then you just have to leave it and wait for the next piece of text to come on screen.
Overall once you know how this mini-game works properly it becomes quite entertaining. If you have no idea about the techniques though then it can get pretty frustrating.


Panic Talk Action:
The rhythm game returns but it has now been revamped. The core concept is still the same but instead of pressing the X button in time with the music you now have to hold it. Holding it locks onto statements and releasing fires. Holding the square button reloads and the R button puts you into fever mode which gives you infinite ammo and ups the tempo.
These changes do help make things a little more interesting I will admit but sometimes timing your press and release can be a little more difficult than in the previous game. Either way this one isn’t bad.


Closing Argument:
Like the previous game this mini-game has you reconstructing the events of the murder in order in a manga style. Unlike the previous game however you now receive panels in “stocks” of 5 (up to 3 of the panels are correct panels and the remaining ones are dummies) and are judged on if you placed a panel correctly or not immediately. This change isn’t bad but I personally preferred having access to all the panels at once like in the first game.
What is also worth noting is like in the first game if you happen to lose all your life you can restart on the spot with a full lifebar and try the mini-game again.
PHEW that was a lot of mini-games to cover. As you can see most of the mini-games have either received a change, tweak or complete overhaul from the previous game, most of which are pretty good (except blooming hangmans gambit)
One other thing to mention about the class trials is how they are MUCH longer than the class trials in the previous game, so long in fact that halfway through the trial they have an intermission. Personally I am really happy with this change as I found the class trials in the first game were a little short.
On the other hand, the sections leading up to the class trials are also longer and particularly at the beginning of the game can drag for a little longer than you really want them to. Also due to how the archipelago is so much bigger than hopes peak academy from the first game you will probably feel that some of the islands are just… well a bit empty. Granted that is kinda true as Hajime and the rest of the slowly dwindling cast are really the only people on the archipelago, but this means that you will be doing a lot of running around to get to relevant places.
Also, while each island is chock a block full of buildings, some of these buildings never get used for ANYTHING. Like you will go into them to check out what is inside them when you first explore the new island but after that they are never bought up again. This is a shame really because in the first game each room was at least relevant to something while here some buildings and places just seem to exist for no reason whatsoever. To me it feels like a missed opportunity.
However the fourth case in the game certainly harkens back to the first game mainly because the setting is completely different. Basically all the rooms are used for something in this case and it is refreshing to see especially when some buildings just sat around being as useful as a chocolate frying pan the entire game.
While I appreciate what the developers were going for here I feel that they ended up just making the game a little too expansive, leading to some redundant landmarks and buildings as well as giving the player tons of opportunities to use the quick warp feature on the overworld. Bigger does not always mean better. Here’s hoping that Danganronpa V3 has realised this and has attempted to hit a sweet spot between the first and second game in terms of size.
Overall I appreciate most of the tweaks made to the game and the wider variety of mini-games is really nice but some things such as “Improved” hangmans gambit and a lot of unused buildings and areas does prevent me from giving the gameplay a perfect score.
9/10
Graphics and Sound:
The graphics for Danganronpa 2 look pretty good. The setting of Jabberwock Island allows for richer colour palletes and more varied and unique environments that weren’t possible in the first game. However you'll be seeing A LOT of yellow and blue due to the Island setting.
Danganronpa 2 was originally a PSP game, so basically all of the assets are from the PSP version albeit they have been rendered in higher resolution. 3D models are used every now and then as well, usually on the overworld and these look quite nice and maintain the games unique art style despite being in 3D.
Speaking of which the art style is just as gorgeous as the first game. Danganronpa's art style is very distinct and even transitions well to 3D.
I was playing the game on my Vita 1000 and it looked lovely on the OLED screen, it is certainly a lot more colourful and varied in its style than the first game was which works in its favour.
Unfortunately, the game is not without its flaws. I was kinda disappointed in the performance. While Danganronpa 1 on the PSP ran perfectly with no frame drops at all, here I spotted a few performance issues throughout the game. Mainly when I was opening my E-handbook, which took a few seconds to do and ESPECIALLY when I was scrolling through text in the transcript log. The game also runs at 30 FPS and while it usually keeps up with that frame rate there were a few times when I saw the frame rate dip a little below that, namely when there was a lot of stuff on screen.
What is really odd though is that the game is in fact able to run at 60fps. Through the use of a glitch it is possible to get the game running at 60fps until you open up a menu and it runs really well, which just makes everything even more odd especially because the Vita is way more powerful than the PSP, so it should be able to handle this kind of game without a hitch.
However, as this game came out on the PSP first it's most likely they either didn’t put in enough work properly porting up the engine to the Vita ,or they just didn’t know how to do it as well and cut some corners which is disappointing. It's not a deal breaker, don’t get me wrong, but it certainly does make stuff like scrolling through some menus a total nightmare due to the lag. Here’s hoping that Danganronpa V3 performs better as that game will be Vita exclusive handheld wise (it is also coming out on the PS4).
Sound wise the game sounds amazing. Masafumi Takada returns at the helm of the music and as usual he delivers. Tunes such as Kill Command, Tropical Despair, Trapped by the Ocean Scent, Dive Drive and others really make for an awesome soundtrack. Other tunes such as Sing the Empty Happiness really provide an errie feel to fit the mood in some areas. On top of that tunes from the first game return in full force. It’s great hearing tunes such as New World Order, Break, Turn up the Heat and Closing Argument return from the first game, as well as other standout tracks. This really helps power Danganronpa 2’s soundtrack into the relm of outstanding. And just like the first game you can listen to the entire OST in the game itself which is something I really appreciate.
Since this is the official English localisation of Danganronpa 2 I am talking about the game received a full English voice cast. While I played the game predominantly with the Japanese voice track (which is an exceptional voice track and really captures each of the characters personalities perfectly) I did give the English voice track a shot and to my surprise, it’s actually pretty good! It isn’t as good as the Japanese voice track in my opinion, but as far as English dubs go this is by far one of the better ones. Then again this game was localised by NIS so that is kind of expected from them. Although Brian Beacock as Monokuma is positively ear grating. Hearing freaking Johnny Yong Bosch as Hajime is flipping amazing though. He does one excellent performance along with Derek Stephen Prince as Fuyuhiko, Kyle Hebert as Kazuichi, Carrie Keranen as Mahiru and Julie Ann Taylor as Ibuki. This is one all star voice cast in this game and it works quite well. A few performances are a bit naff but most of them are very good and make the English voice track a valid option if you prefer your games in English.
Overall while the framerate on the graphical side has a few issues the soundtrack is still amazing and a solid Japanese and English voice cast certainly help outweigh that minor issue.
9/10
Extras:
Before I move onto enjoyment I’d like to quickly cover the little extra goodies that Danganronpa 2 has up its sleeve.
First is Magical Miracle Girl Monomi. A side game which has you controlling the character of Monomi (basically female Monokuma but a rabbit instead of a bear) in a quest to take down a bunch of monsters and stuff. I haven’t played much of this one but it is quite entertaining from what I have played.
Secondly there is Danganronpa IF, a light novel story that is unlocked upon finishing the game. This basically details an alternate timeline that focuses on what would have happened had the cast of the first game found out how to escape Hopes Peak Academy earlier in the game. It’s a good read.
Finally there is Island mode. This basically is the free time sections where you interact with your fellow classmates to learn more about them expanded into a full extra game. For trophy hunters it’s pretty good as it has quite a few trophies attached to it and also helps you learn more about characters and their backstory.
It also solves the problem which plagued the first game on the PSP where you had to replay chapters of the game in order to fill the report cards of each character. It’s an optional mode but it is there if you want it.
Finally hiding under the extras menu are galleries where you can view events, movies and listen to music from the game. Danganronpa 2 is certainly not short on the extras and these extras are exclusive to the Vita version as well.


Enjoyment:
OK so did I enjoy Danganronpa 2? Silly question. Of course I did. Despite some minor gripes with the game being a little “too” large as well as the pain that is “Improved” Hangmans Gambit I still enjoyed the game a ton. The story manages to somehow one-up the first games story, and on top of that the game is LONGER than the first one. They actually increased the length of the game in ways that weren’t artificial which I am super happy with as I always found the first game a bit short.
The extras that the game has will be keeping me occupied for a little while longer I’d say and the addition of trophies to the Vita version are good if you like that kinda thing.
I finished Danganronpa 2 in around fivedays. On the final two days I was playing for around four to five hours straight if not more due to how gripping the story was. Again, like the first game the story is what really makes Danganronpa the awesome time sucking game that it is. Sure once you have finished it there isn’t much need to go back but on your first playthrough you will most likely find it difficult to set the Vita down unless someone forcefully crowbars it out of your hands. You don’t want to put Danganronpa down until you have seen those credits roll. It’s that good.
The puzzles are more complex and clever, the class trials longer and more engaging, the music even better, the story is one of the best I have seen in a video game, I can’t call it the best story I've seen because 999 on the DS edges Danganronpa 2 out by a decent amount but it is still damn good.
10/10
Final Verdict:
If you liked Danganronpa 1 then… ok well you will have most likely played this game already, BUT if you haven’t you need to go and buy this game NOW. Go, now. It’s not too expensive on PSN and at the time of this review there are discounts on the game on in Europe so what the heck are you waiting for?
Like the first game I give Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair a highly recommended.


PHEW. That was one long review. Guess I got nothing else to do now but wait until Danganronpa V3 rolls out so I can review that eh? Oh wait…
Yup we are still not done with Danganronpa yet. We have one more game to look at before I move onto reviewing other Vita games and it is certainly the oddball of the series for many reasons. Namely because it’s a Danganronpa themed third person shooter. Wait what?
So join me next time when I review Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls! As soon as I finish it that is…
This is Nathan Green, signing off.


Age ratings:
OFLC: M (Unrestricted)
ESRB: M
PEGI: 16


Image from Atlus.com