The Review Heap: 2020 Directions (Checking In)

I’d planned something to mark the 1st year of The Review Heap but June hasn’t felt like time for much in the way of a celebration, so I’ve deferred my original idea for now.

I still want to mark the moment, I guess, so I’ll do a bit of a ‘check-in’ perhaps, and update any progress on what I’d planned for 2020 in this post, so let’s see how many goals I maybe made progress on!

Here’s a summation of the goals I had in mind back in Jan:

  1. Keep reviewing at my own pace
  2. More Anime
  3. Review albums
  4. More discussion posts
  5. Review more games
  6. Do more collaborations
  7. Release a book

  1. The plan for The Review Heap was just to review (nearly anything) at my own pace.

This is still going as intended 😀


2. More Anime

Yes and no.

Below are some of the ones I’d planned to review, and while my reviewing pace has been fair, I didn’t get to many of these… yet!

  • Buccano!
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service
  • Black Lagoon
  • Samurai Flamenco
  • Count of Monte Cristo
  • Perfect Blue
  • Shigofumi
  • The Twelve Kingdoms
  • Gunbuster

Here’s a quote from below which is essentially still true, though I feel a little more relaxed about reviewing them in the future at least:

There are also more than a few big-impact anime that I just haven’t got around to reviewing yet, such as Astro Boy, Neon Genesis, Cowboy Bebop, FMA, GITS etc and I’m super-keen to write them but I’m mostly paralysed by the question what could I hope to add to the discourse? They’re so massive and so storied that it’s hard to bring much new to the conversation.


3. Review Albums

No and no.

I wanted to review a few albums (having the common theme of being albums that were released right after a band broke-up) but zero progress on that so far. Will try to do at least one or two in the next 6 months.


4. More Discussion Posts

No and no.

So, this didn’t happen either! I had no ideas for any such posts, and so I didn’t write any 😀

I might give it a shot… actually, I do have just one idea based around a quote from Mamoru Oshii (below), and maybe such a post around anime and age will eventually appear on the heap, I’m not sure.

“I’m not watching anything. There are zero titles I’m interested in. I mean, I’m over 65. Trying to get into anime aimed at young people is impossible. That’s true for Japanese films in general, not just anime. Everything is made for a young audience.”


5. Review More Games

None.

This one is indeed pending. I’ve played plenty, both since I was a kid and lately, but haven’t had the time or drive to write up any thoughts. I am playing the ‘new’ Xenoblade, which does of course appeal to anime fans.


6. More Collaborations

Yes!

Okay, so I have one new collaboration (see here) and another two in the works, so I’m happy to report that this goal for 2020 is on track 🙂

I love and recommend doing collaborations, so I’m very pleased that things are going well there.


7. Release a book

Nope 🙂

Here there has been a little progress I guess – I’m still writing reviews, after all, but I’m still not sure how to structure it. Nor am I sure it wouldn’t just be a project for me hahahaha


So, some progress, which I’m happy with, and some things I’ll try to put more focus into but for now that’s a wrap! One year on the Heap 🙂

Again, thanks for reading!

Ashley  

The Review Heap: 2020 Direction(s)

Okay, roughly 8 months into the blog now and as I mentioned in my ‘About’ section, the new year is time for me to assess and look ahead a bit 🙂

The plan for The Review Heap was just to review (nearly anything) at my own pace.

So far so good on that front – I have no schedule and I post anywhere from 4 to 0 items a day. That’s something I think I’ll keep because I like to stay flexible where I can, and also be able to adjust post frequency based on how busy either of my jobs become at different parts of the year.

Of course, I could schedule posts for any ‘lean times’ but I’m not sure whether I’d be consistent enough even trying that. I think that instead, I should stick to posting at my own pace.

With that sorted, what will I change?

Maybe not a whole lot.

Basically, I’d like to review more of the mediums listed in the menu. So far, I only have 1 game review up, 1 music review and 3 books. Room to grow there, right?

So that’s going to be part of 2020’s focus for sure. Below I have a few more specifics but I’ll add that I know animation, especially anime, will be the core focus here. I do have a few US-productions reviewed at the Heap but I’d also like to learn more about the animation of other continents.

Specifically now:

  • 1. More Anime

Okay, but which ones you ask? Well, as you probably know I don’t have a theme here and I’m also not able to watch a lot of seasonal stuff while it’s live, so expect more from a range of eras and genres but only a few ‘current’ shows.

However, some of these titles are maybe due in the first few months:

  • Buccano!
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service
  • Black Lagoon
  • Samurai Flamenco
  • Count of Monte Cristo
  • Perfect Blue
  • Shigofumi
  • The Twelve Kingdoms
  • Gunbuster

Beyond those possibilities are works I’ve seen over the decades, some I’m only discovering now and a few I have to review from memory almost, while others might end up getting a heap of images + analysis, the way Ushio and Tora did. (I also have a tiny ‘what I’m watching now’ widget too but it’s buried at the bottom of the site while I’m using this particular theme.)

There are also more than a few big-impact anime that I just haven’t got around to reviewing yet, such as Astro Boy, Neon Genesis, Cowboy Bebop, FMA, GITS etc and I’m super-keen to write them but I’m mostly paralysed by the question what could I hope to add to the discourse? They’re so massive and so storied that it’s hard to bring much new to the conversation.

  • 2. Post Break-Up Albums

That heading is a little misleading, I realise.

What I mean is, as part of expanding my musical focus here, I was thinking of making a themed-post where I occasionally look at some albums that were released after the break-up of a big band/after an artist moves on or changes direction.

For instance, The Plastic Ono Band or Curtis for instance. Maybe even Pictures at Eleven, which was Robert Plant’s first solo album. But I don’t want it to be so narrow as when one person leaves a group, for instance there’s Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell, which is what the band did after their singer left, instead of the other way around.

Ideally, I’d have something a bit like this on anime or perhaps directors or studio shifts perhaps.

  • 3. Discussion Posts

I’ve only written one of these I think, and it was to explore the idea of what is a classic – and it was long and rambling post, even for me, but it was really helpful in letting me figure out what sort of metrics I should use to judge a text. So maybe if I try more discussion based things I could make them a little more topical, not sure.

  • 4. Collaboration Posts

This is something I’m super-excited about 🙂

Once the endless threat of bushfires in my area eases for a while, I’d like to announce my first collaboration at The Review Heap, focusing on the film Tokyo Godfathers. Collaboration is something I used to do a lot back in the poetry world, so I know I’ll enjoy the process here just as much. I’ve also been thinking about other ideas and hope to approach a few folks/am open to ideas from anyone during the year.

  • 5. Book Idea

This is very much in tadpole stage. (Yep, I skipped over ‘embryo’, because in a sense, I have already been building material for a possible book by accident – I’ve got nearly 100 reviews here so far it seems).

HOWEVER, of all the things I want for 2020 this one is by far the most up in the air.

Since my blog has no theme it’s hard to know where to focus any potential book. Sure, it could be a collection of reviews but I’m no ‘film cricket’ (to quote Homer Simpson) and so no-one in the reading public is going to seek out my thoughts, nor would it be that interesting perhaps to re-read these reviews in a compiled form.

And I certainly don’t have anywhere near the viewing experience to create anything close to an encyclopaedia-style collection either, even for a single decade or sub-genre.

Invariably, this project might end up being something fun, just for me. And knowing me, I’d end up going the whole hog a bit too, and commission cover art and editing too 😀

So, who knows about that one!


And thanks!

For the previous items on my list, that’s where I’ll start and we’ll see how it goes. I should also add that I’d like to keep up with what everyone else is up to around the community, as I’ve met great folks and found a whole heap of new titles that I should watch, so my list is growing at a kind of alarming rate 😀

And finally, a big thanks also to everyone who visits me here!

Ashley  

Granblue Fantasy The Animation (Guranburū Fantajī Ji Animēshon)

Granblue Fantasy The Animation (Guranburū Fantajī Ji Animēshon) 2017

Granblue Fantasy is a fun (if too-short) fantasy-adventure series but thankfully there’s another season coming, which should continue the main storyline.

It’s a bright, kinda cheerful animation that seems to really evoke the game’s characters, setting and feel – though I’m not able to do much in the way of comparison here, since while I did try and play the game, parts of it were just buried by pop-ups and flashing loot-box bullshit distractions, so I put it down fairly quickly, even though I was enjoying the story a lot (compare to the upcoming Relink, which I’d love to play).

And maybe I enjoyed the anime adaptation because it’s a straight forward ‘underdog hero’ or ‘quest’ narrative but there’s a lot of imagination on display, a whimsical setting and some great battle sequences to go with fun characters, most with enough backstory and secrets to keep me interested. On that note, I can’t decide if the overload of new characters appearing during the climactic episodes was kinda madcap fun or just nuts, but it’s memorable at least 😀

In terms of unresolved plot threads, I’m quite keen to see how things with Eugen’s past play out in season two and of course, I’m hoping Katalina and the rogue Rackam end up ‘together’ as it were, as I think a relationship between them could add some extra depth to the show but also a few extra comedic elements too.

So I’m looking forward to the next part of the story but might finish the review by recommending the curious among you to wait for season two before starting this one – especially if you like to binge a show.

4 Stars

(Also worth watching for the ace design on Rackham’s beautiful ship!)

Castlevania (TV Series)

Castlevania (2017 -)

Castlevania as an animated TV series was a long time coming.

The first four episodes were released back in 2017 after around ten years of development ups and downs, with the next batch following late last year – leaving most viewers pretty keen for the third season, it seems.

And I’m one of them for sure; in part it’s due to the art style, in part the storytelling and probably the ace performances of the voice actors too. Generally, I have limited knowledge of which dubs are super-high quality for most anime or animated works (obviously I know that Cowboy Bebop’s is top-notch and many Ghibli ones are great too) so it was nice to hear a range of accents in Castlevania.

Maybe it’s ‘impossible’ to write spoilers about the storylines for fans of the franchise, since they are close to the games, but there’s a lot of familiar character conflict and bitterness mixed in with the gore and fantastic fight sequences as Belmont, Sypha and (in time) Alucard set out to destroy old Vlad Dracula Tepes.

While some of the gore was kinda casually employed (rather than being used to have an impact on the main cast) and the cursing worked perfectly 50% of the time and seemed like posturing the other half of the time, I still think the series is otherwise fairly close to an ‘instant classic’ – at least, the first two seasons are. The initial four episodes have perfect pacing and while the second season wallows a bit in Dracula’s court, the finish is big enough to compensate for me. And all the action throughout is satisfying I reckon, from a visceral and technical standpoint, especially the Belmont/Cyclops and Belmont/Alucard battles. I’d link to the whole thing here but it’s probably going to have more impact after watching the lead-up.

Perhaps above and beyond those aspects are the character design and voice acting.

The look and feel of the characters clearly (and wonderfully) go for a Symphony of the Night / Ayami Kojima feel, with the regal/Elvish vampire approached used to full effect. The creature designs are good too and the settings are suitably grim, and the somewhat dimension-twisting architecture of Dracula’s castle really stood out in the second season especially.

Finally and quickly to the voice acting – I thought Graham McTavish really nailed the power and menace of Dracula, but also humanised him so well. Somehow now, I can’t imagine anyone else’s voice when I think of Dracula. Richard Armitage really killed it as Trevor too, and while everyone else sounded great to my ear, I wanted to also mention someone I didn’t recognise at first, Peter Stormare in season two as Godbrand.

I’m fairly confident in saying fans of the Castlevania franchise will enjoy this adaptation, so too horror/supernatural fans, though perhaps not so much folks who might consider themselves general anime fans – though the Amercian and Korean studios who produced the animation certainly nailed the anime aesthetic.

4 Stars

Hollow Knight (Nintendo Switch)

Hollow Knight (Nintendo Switch) 2017

This is the first game I’ve reviewed for the blog and I’m not sure how to make the review anything but an endless list of ‘things I love about Hollow Knight’ actually – so I’ll just jump in and see what happens I reckon 😀

As someone who grew up with the Sega Master System and then Sega Megadrive (and then grabbed a Dreamcast just as Sega to really started recede into the background) I remember largely snubbing my nose at Sony and Microsoft when they were arriving. Instead, I switched to Nintendo for the Nintendo64 and then, once it became ‘old’ I drifted away from gaming for a fair few years.

Thankfully, the release of the Nintendo Switch and Breath of the Wild caught my eye and I found myself once more immersed in that exciting mix of narrative and participation that you tend to only get from gaming.

Okay, so let’s get to Hollow Knight already!

Well, I stumbled across the game on Kickstarter some time after the campaign ended, and immediately downloaded a copy for my Switch. Since then, I’ve played it through a few times over the last couple of years because I feel like it really does have excellent replay value.

I’ve also been purposefully keeping my games library incredibly small re: physical copies, but I definitely intend to add Hollow Knight to my collection, now that the game is no longer digital-only… and… yeah… so, how riveting is this Purchasing Habits section, right? But I mention it as one marker of how much I love the game; I’m happy to buy two copies!

And I think if you enjoy beautiful 2D games in the modern platformer/metroidvania style then you’ll like Hollow Knight a lot. There’s lots of action and upgrades to abilities and functions, tonnes of secrets hidden throughout a really expansive world, a clear art style, haunting music and smooth controls, it’s a joy to play.

But part of what kept me enthralled was the vastness of the world you inhabit when playing the game – it’s a crumbling kingdom filled with a range of odd, cute and oft-times creepy insect-like creatures. And the sense of history and ‘ancient’ atmosphere is so well-captured by non-verbal cues, it’s all really stunning. So much so that I have (to quote Cosmo Kramer) “memory burn” of when I first reached a section of the game called ‘Greenpath’ and saw the plant life there that had reclaimed the ancient city. And coupled with the sombre yearning of the OST (by Christopher Larkin) I realised I’d found a game that I would be utterly enchanted by.

There is a (at first very) subtle mystery being told as you explore the game. Finding these hints and clues was just as fun to me as any other aspect, though the game’s Charm system provides more than enough variety on the ‘fight/upgrade/unlock abilities to progress’ cycle common to most action/adventure games. But again, Hollow Knight feels like exploring a living place, like your character is rediscovering a piece of forgotten art (maybe kinda like Gris in a way) and so it’s easy to forget those classic game mechanics and lose yourself in the world.

There’s many, many more wonderful touches and attention to detail (and humour!) that I appreciated but I’ve blathered on quite long enough, so I will just sneak in the mention of one – I understand that some backers on the Kickstarter were able to provide voices for some of the creatures, which is pretty ace, but more than that, I think the fact that Team Cherry decided to create a language to be used for the occasional pieces of spoken dialogue really added to the deep immersion I felt when playing.

Now, I do have one obvious bias here – Team Cherry are an Australian developer and so I feel some patriotic stirrings when I talk about the game, and there’s some sort of odd nostalgia/rediscovery/warm feelings thing happening too (as I alluded to in my rambling introduction).

So when I say I feel like this game has virtually no flaws, keep that in mind. But it has no flaws, let me just add that here too 😀

And finally, unlike some gaming companies Hollow Knight comes with a lot of DLC content for free, so if you purchase a copy now you get all the expansions bundled in already, which was tops. (As an aside, I can’t remember if the White Palace was DLC or just hidden in the original main game, but it was a tough nut to crack and really upped the ante on the platforming.)

And so for me, Hollow Knight deserves every accolade it’s received since its release.

5 Stars