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Hey Mummyboon, why you no post?

Well, I got married! And between all the planning and a full time job that is basically writing things for the internet my urge to blog has not been high.

But I know what my fans want and that’s Kit-Kats.

Take it away Toffee Treat

Toffee Treat Kit-Kat

Okay so, the latest U.K. Kit-Kat variant is Toffee Treat. They have done toffee Kit-Kat’s before so this isn’t terribly exciting but let’s give it a shot.

So the packaging is… dull; basically a standard Kit-Kat wrapper but with a quarter given over to a light brown box showing us the name and the individual kat. It’s… fine. The main thing I like about it is the off register font for ‘Toffee Treat’ which promises wackiness.

Flavour wise it’s, it’s toffee. Quite nice, caramelly, and…

Can I be honest with you guys?

I’m just not feeling it.

It’s a toffee flavoured Kit-Kat. They’ve done these before. Growing up we had Caramac Kit-Kat’s which were the bee’s knees, legs, shins and entire lower half. This is fine but I don’t know what to say about it.

Basically I’m not that excited to talk about Kit-Kat’s today.

That’s because I want to write about Oreos instead.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Oreo Red Velvet Oreo S'mores Oreos

So at my wedding the lovely, beautiful and generally great person Liz Anistranski gave me some limited edition Oreos as a wedding present.

Liz knows me very well it seems because I am super excited about these. They’re just as creative and bizarre as the best Japanese Kit-Kats but they’re also All-American and so represent an exotic diversion for me.

I am possibly too excited about limited edition biscuit flavours, sorry, sandwich cookie flavours.

Oreos don’t have the same cultural impact over here as they do in the states. Up until about a decade ago they weren’t even available in U.K. supermarkets and even now we only have the standard versions. They’re nice but they’re not the ubiquitous childhood classic Americans think of them as. That honour probably goes to Kit-Kats. As such they’re seen as very, very American to British people and Nabisco have enhanced that reputation by combining them with 3 equally quintessentially American things. Red Velvet Cake, S’mores and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

The packaging for all 3 is very similar but that’s okay because I think it works great. Basically a big Oreo logo with a picture of the object they’re flavoured for in the background and a picture of what the individual Oreo cookie looks like in the bottom right. It’s a well-designed and expertly comped image that makes sense, isn’t over cluttered and looks attractive. Looking at them standing there on a table how could you resist their charms?

There are some little American touches that make me laugh like the enormous bit of copy saying “ARTIFICIALLY FLAVOURED,” in all caps no less. It takes up the same real estate on the packet as “limited edition” or the name of the flavour, both of which are actually USPs. It’s like they’re proud to be artificially flavoured. I assume the size and the fact that they have to include this information is mandated by law but in the U.K. we’d still try not to draw attention to that whereas in America they’re all; “fuck that pansy shit, none of your natural girly bullshit in these cookies just good old fashioned American ingenuity.”

Oreo Warning

I also love to pieces the little instruction on the side telling me how to open them properly. That’s just adorable. I could make the typical Americans are dumb comment here about how Americans need to be told how to open a packet of biscuits but frankly I want more food to feature cute little stop signs on the side.

Red Velvet

Red Velvet Oreo

Red Velvet is red, white and blue, the true colours of France, the U.K., The Netherlands, etc. Seriously why are Americans so proud of their flag colours? Nearly everyone has a red, white and blue flag. It isn’t that special guys.

Anyway the cake on the packet is somewhat off putting with its violent shade of red but all that delicious cream cheese frosting sure is pretty. I also love the little place name stand telling us that the crème is cream cheese flavoured. They could have just added the copy directly but the little stand immediately conjures up backyard parties, weddings and the 4th of July (I assume, different culture and all I have no idea if people ever have place names on the 4th of July but dammit that’s what it made me think of). This packet is practically singing “Stars and Stripes Forever” as it encourages you to eat cake.

The actual cookies are closer in colour to actual red velvet, thankfully and the cream cheese crème might be artificial but it 100% captures cream cheese frosting as a flavour. Initially I wasn’t a huge fan of these as the cream cheese has a faintly sour quality which is, whilst accurate, unexpected in a cookie. They’ve grown on me though and despite being an artificially flavoured American cookie they’re not too sweet, something I was worried about. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to eat more than 1 or 2 in one go but I was worried that one bite would put me into a diabetic coma, so I’m pleased they’re not as sweet as I was anticipating.

My big complaint is that the crème feels weirdly gritty. It’s okay with the crunchy biscuit to hide it somewhat but on its own the crème feels like toothpaste, not nice. Really nice biscuit though. Oreos have always had a little bit of salt in them which lifts the super sweet crème and makes them kind of moreish (well for kids, as I say, too sweet for an adult). These have that slight saltiness and with the sour crème it’s a surprisingly complex flavour profile.

S’mores

S'mores Oreos

Of the 3, these are my absolute favourite and it’s all about the biscuit. They could have just made regular chocolate Oreos with marshmallow filling and called them s’mores and it would have worked. But they went for graham cracker biscuits. Not only do the pale golden cookies look nicer but they look more like a s’more and having that visual similarity really helps sell that these are s’more flavoured.

I should probably explain for Brits what a s’more is. It’s toasted marshmallows sandwiched between 2 graham crackers and with a piece of chocolate included. The heat from the marshmallows melts the chocolate and you have a gooey, crispy treat that’s a delightful combination of flavours and textures.

Americans are probably shocked right now. “You don’t know what s’mores are?” No, we don’t. See, we don’t have graham crackers and without graham crackers you don’t have s’mores. Graham crackers are big biscuits that come in flat layers like crackers. They’re probably most similar to the biscuit you get on a custard cream except lightly spiced with cinnamon. And guys, I love me some cinnamon. The nutty cinnamon flavour really meshes with the sweet marshmallow and rich chocolate to make an amazing treat. I was introduced to s’mores by American friends in Japan and have wept ever since for my wasted childhood and the lack of graham crackers in the U.K.

So from what I can remember, these taste astonishingly like s’mores. The biscuit is doing most of the hard work. It looks, tastes and has the texture of a graham cracker. But it’s not all biscuit. Chocolate crème is no big deal but whatever wizards managed to capture the taste of marshmallow in crème form have powerful arcane abilities indeed. They need to be on a list in case they use their magic for evil. I didn’t even realise marshmallows had a distinctive flavour beyond generically sweet until I ate these. They’re almost marshmallowier than a marshmallow.

Incidentally, my spellchecker recognises “marshmallowier” which is delightful.

One final bit, again they could have just written “Graham flavored cookie” but the little wooden board helps sell the idea of camping and making s’mores by the fire. It’s a nice touch.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Oreo

This variety doesn’t get a cute little sign telling you what flavour it is instead just opting for the Reese’s logo for understandable but disappointing reasons.

It does have an image showing you that these are 2-toned crèmes with half chocolate and half peanut butter. Which is cool…but if the biscuit is chocolate flavoured why don’t we just have all peanut butter crème?

So unlike Oreos, Reese’s products have definitely made a splash in the U.K. Peanut butter wasn’t really a thing when I was a child. It came in jars; odd people had it on toast instead of the more socially acceptable jam or Marmite and sometimes foreign people made satay with it.

Now it’s huge. Peanut versions of chocolate bar favourites, peanut butter ice-cream, peanut butter crisps and snacks, there are even peanut butter Kit-Kats.

And Reese’s led the way. From peanut butter cups being a niche product they’ve spearheaded the peanut butter revolution into U.K. supermarkets and their curious blend of salty/sweet peanut butter (that’s been dried and made oddly paste like) with decidedly not great chocolate that still somehow contrives to be OMG YUM! is now everywhere.

As such I know what a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup tastes like.

This tastes like one, almost exactly. But even more so it smells like one. If you were blindfolded you would definitely think you were about to eat a peanut butter cup, and then the crunchy biscuit would shock you.

It’s no surprise that cookies and peanut butter work well together nor that peanut butter and chocolate is a great combo, so unsurprisingly these are great. And with the slightly salty peanut butter and slightly salty Oreo biscuit they’re verging on savoury. Okay, that might be overstating it as they’re still incredibly sweet but the salty flavour profile makes them a bit moreish and balances the ultra-sweetness.

A brief google reveals that Nabisco has whole heartedly embraced the limited edition world with cookie dough, banana split (bleurgh), cotton candy, key lime pie and even birthday cake all hitting shelves in recent months. I might just have a new hobby on my hands.

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Devil Story (1985)

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Directed by Bernard Launois

A little known French horror film that the only extant English version of is a badly scanned copy on youtube with subtitles in Greek. Why am I watching this?

Well for starters because Braineater drew my attention to it but mostly because, well, look at that poster.

Zombies in SS uniforms, ghost ships, a Mummy (!) a man on fire…what on earth is this thing about?

Having seen it, I am still asking myself that question.

So Devil Story starts with some kind of mutant in an SS uniform (unexplained element number 1) running around the French countryside killing people and very quickly a few things about Devil Story become obvious.

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  1. This film was shot for no money whatsoever. The biggest clue to this being the blood ‘effects’ achieved by squeezing a hand pump full of red water onto an actor.
  2. Boring things like motivations, narrative, dialogue and sense will not be troubling the audience today.
  3. The cinematographer doesn’t actually know how to use a camera. One of the great things about bad movies is the way they, by making mistakes, reveal all the talent in good movies you’d never notice. Devil Story features such joys as a guy picking the camera up, stand and all, and walking backwards away from the subject of the shot complete with shaking and the noise of the camera operator grunting. Plus one of the most bafflingly terrible cinematography decisions ever, but I’ll get to that later.
  4. At some point somebody who did know what they were doing adjusted the exposure of the cameras. This allowed the cameras to film at night pretty effectively for such a low budget film. However, they neglected to adjust the exposure again for the scenes shot during the day. As such every scene shot during the day is painfully washed out to the point of being nearly invisible. It’s a white screen with coloured blurs moving on it.
  5. This film was scored by somebody who bought a Casio 2 days ago and now thinks they’re Goblin.

Like, 2 minutes into this stinker you know you have stumbled upon bad movie gold.

So our mutant murders some campers for oooh, a good 15 minutes at least. We have no idea who these people are, their names, why the mutant is killing them, etc. It’s just murder, cut to blood, murder, cut to blood in an endless repetition. Then the mutant pounces upon a couple with a flat tire. Then we cut to an entirely different couple with car troubles whom our mutant does not trouble. Instead, as the man (no name is given as far as I could tell) tries to fix the car our heroine (Veronique Renaud)* wanders off into a quarry to be menaced by a cat (unexplained element number 2).

Just, an ordinary cat, whose evilness is generated by shooting it from a low angle, playing scary music and having our heroine stare at it with a frightened expression.

Then it jumps on her, or rather, is thrown on her from off screen by a grip. Poor kitty.

So after ooh, approximately 4 days of looking at the adorable  evil cat our couple drives to a nearby inn run by exposition woman and some old French guy who keeps an enormous hunting knife in his sock and loads and unloads a shotgun for fun.  And by nearby inn I mean the Palais Bénédictine in Normandy a structure so gothic and intimidating it is accompanied by Tocata in Fugue in D Minor when we first see it. Don’t know the music? Here, let me jog your memory.

Yup, it’s that music. Aka the most stereotypically ‘scary’ noise imaginable.

Anyway, exposition couple start to regale boring couple with the story of the local legend.

Some time in the past lived a family of wreckers. Wreckers are people who would light fires to lure ships onto rocks to shipwreck them, then loot whatever washed ashore. One night the family lured the wrong ship ashore though as they’ve targeted a clipper coming from Cairo carrying all sorts of Egyptian artefacts.

The ship does wreck, but then the cliffs themselves come alive, eating the family and the ship. The only one spared was the youngest sister who grew up to become a powerful witch and now lives alone with her son nearby, and that son is the mutant we saw earlier. Oh and a daughter whom nobody has ever seen.

Having been told this tale, boring couple decides to go to sleep. The husband promptly disappears from the film entirely but the wife is awoken by the sound of an evil horse (unexplained element number 3). How do we know its evil? It’s black and runs up and down in front of the inn repeatedly. And boy, do I mean repeatedly. Shots of that horse running or rearing comprise, what must be 50% of this film’s running time?

Having been startled by this horse our heroine decides, for some reason, to drive away from the creepy inn whilst wearing her nightie. I’m not sure what her thought process was here since the horse seems fairly incapable or getting past the gates, through the doors, up the stairs and to her bedroom. I guess bitches be crazy? (unexplained element 4?)

Of course, this being a horror film, her car won’t start so she takes the eminently sensible option of running off into the woods!

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French survivalist dude also decides he’s had just about enough of this evil horse and goes out to kill it. The horse runs away into a field where the Frenchman chases him and begins shooting at him. This effect achieved by watching the man spin round firing wildly intercut with shots of the horse rearing. This footage of the guy spinning and shooting makes up the other 50% of this film’s running time.  Yes I know that adds up to 100% and yet I’m describing other scenes. It doesn’t make sense does it!

Welcome to my nightmare!

So whilst the epic battle of man versus horse continues the scene shifts to the mutant and the witch burying the young girl. Said young girl is also played by Veronique Renaud so when she shows up in their graveyard the old woman and the mutant are somewhat surprised and, I think, assume that she’s the daughter come back to life and that they need to bury her again. The mutant gets distracted from his burying duties by the evil horse then suddenly the evil horse is at a cliff and, in a scene I think is stolen from another film entirely, the cliff splits apart and the ghostly clipper from Cairo emerges from the cliff in the form of a toy boat. (unexplained…ah fuck it.)

We scarcely have a chance to process this development when we cut to a massive sarcophagus standing on the beach. The lid swings open to reveal, yes a mummy. Ancient Egypt, when will you leave us alone!!

It also reveals that the sarcophagus isn’t, it’s just a lid, without a back. So it was less the mummy emerging from his sarcophagus than it was the mummy standing behind a door waiting for the camera to look at him so he can make a dramatic entrance.

Back to the mutant, the girl and the devil horse. The mutant is prevented from burying the girl by the horse and so begins a fight between SS Nazi Mutant and Demonic Horse (not quite up to the standards of zombie vs shark but what is). This fight goes about as well for the mutant as can be expected and after a headache inducing fight scene the girl suddenly has a chance to escape.

Then the mummy shows up.

Fortunately he seems more interested in raising the daughter from her grave than the living Veronique. So she hides behind a gravestone whilst the mummy commands the dead to live. However, when she sees her lookalike she lets out a startled cry that alerts the mummy to her presence.

Now, I don’t know why the mummy  decides to try and kill her at this point, let’s just chalk it up to the inscrutable evil of Ancient Egypt. But he does and our heroine (*snort , snicker*) fights him off by clawing his face off. This reveals a rotten face that vomits a clear white liquid for oooh 4 hours? What’s that, this film’s only 72 minutes long? Well I can’t explain it folks but suffice to say this badly realised gore effect lasts way, way, waaaay too long.

The girl runs away, the mutant gets up and chases her and the mummy decides to wander away with his new zombie girlfriend into a sequel with infinitely more promise than this pile of rubbish.

Then comes what may be the worst shot I’ve ever seen.

We’re back to daytime by this point so everything has been turned back into a white featureless void with shapes that might conceivably be trees. The camera is pointed at these trees and it begins to pan left,

And keeps panning

And keeps panning

And keeps panning as the road comes into view

Suddenly mummy!

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Then it keeps panning

And keeps panning

And keeps panning

And keeps panning

And cut.

…what!

What!!!?

If for nothing else watch Devil Story for this shot. In fact, helpfully, the whole thing is available on youtube so you have no excuse.  This shot is the most baffling choice in a film consisting entirely of baffling choices. I can kind of see why the first part of the shot works. Panning across the landscape to suddenly reveal something is a time honoured trick and a good way to pair the shock of the jump scare with the tension created by anticipation. Basically if you pan across a featureless landscape in a horror film the audience knows something bad is going to happen but they don’t know when, and that is a great way to scare them.

But there is absolutely no goddamn reason in the entire world why you would keep panning after the reveal. It achieves precisely fuck all effectiveness. It’s so inherently wrong that it’s straight up comedy gold.

So, morning now and our heroine still has to get away. She makes it back to her car pursued by the mutant and this time it starts. He does the standard splay himself on the windscreen and roar menacingly thing and she, in what is to give this film some credit quite a well shot sequence, smashes him into a lamp post. The mutant begins coughing blood over her windscreen and she does something I have never seen a final girl do before, she turns the windscreen wipers on!

Then she reverses away leaving the pretty badly mauled mutant lying collapsed on the ground.

Now, most final girls at this point would just drive away but Veronique Renaud has had one terrible fucking night and is having none of that shit. She gets a canister of petrol from her car and douses the mutant in it whilst he lies bloody and bleeding, then, retreats to a safe distance and lights him on fire!

It’s a strategy with pros and cons. Pro, that mutant is definitely dead now. Con, as she drives away (completely ignoring her disappearing husband) her car runs out of petrol. Oh irony, thy name is Devil Story.  This wouldn’t be so bad except as Veronique scans the horizon she sees, lurching towards her the mummy again.

Cut to.

Veronique waking up the next morning after her nightmare and driving off with her husband as the mutant looks on.

Oh hell no.

An it was all a dream ending? Yup, they went there. The most hackneyed, cliché and downright terrible way you could possibly think of to end a horror film  and Devil Story does it. They even have the goddamn cheek to add a ‘but was it?’ coda. If nothing else you have to admire the sheer ballsiness of the filmmakers here. Actually scratch that if, you should admire nothing else.

Not the real poster but the best summary of this film imaginable.

Not the real poster but the best summary of this film imaginable.

This summary makes Devil Story sound 1000x more coherent than the experience of watching it is. Basically most of this film is shots of a horse rearing and a Frenchman spinning in circles with a shotgun intercut with insanity. Nobody has any names, characters do things for no adequately explained reason and characters move from location to location without any sense of transition. And yet, it gives itself an out with the stupid “it was all a dream” ending. Of course it’s incoherent and weird. Of course people do things for no reason. Of course a Frenchman can have an infinite supply of shotgun shells it’s all a dream!

That doesn’t make it good though. You can do dreamlike horror but it is, if anything, harder to do than horror where the subject matter is explicitly real in the text. The makers of Devil Story are not up to the task nor are they up to the task of, really anything to do with making a film.  Rarely have I seen anything quite so incompetent and if it weren’t for one fairly major problem I’d be recommending this as a forgotten bad movie classic.

That problem? It’s kind of boring. Despite the insanity too much of the running time is repetitious and tedious. It’s short enough and weird enough that I would recommend it but only for the dedicated bad movie buff.

*Imdb doesn’t have the character’s name and damned if I picked it up whilst watching this turd. That’s a sign of a quality movie right there folks.

So, this is a thing that I was recently made aware of.

Most people my age have fond memories of Fox’s X-Men cartoon from the early 90’s and one of those fond memories is likely to be the excellent opening theme. For those that don’t remember it,  prepare for a treat.

From the ominous driving church bell to the squealing guitars and the building sense of tension it is a  classic. It also helpfully shows off every member of the team, their name and their powers so it serves as a useful piece of exposition for anyone coming late to the party.

The show was a big hit and, even more importantly, the accompanying toy line was a massive success. And where money can be made off toys the Japanese aren’t far behind. So the show made the rare move from America to Japan with a Japanese dub.

And the Japanese team promptly took one look at the American intro and decided, nah, not nearly Japanese enough.

Thus was born, this.

It’s impressive that only 3 minutes of screen time could produce quite so much baffling insanity:

    • Yes those aliens are brood who do show up in the cartoon (looking nothing like this) but why does Magneto have the ability to summon them from the ground?
    • Brutal violence and decapitation!
    • SHOCK!
    • Beast can punch the ground hard enough to create earthquakes.
    • This shot of Professor Xavier being an absolute pimp.
    • Mummyboon X-Men Japanese Intro Rogue, Storm Pimp Xavier
    • Rogue’s super-power appears to be flirting.
    • Mummyboon Japanese X-men Intro Rogue
    • Jubillee and Professor X seem to need to do Katas in order to use their powers.
    • Oh and telepathy can repel magnetism, apparently.
    • Cable gets his own intro and his super-power appears to be “owns big guns.” (this is not wholly inaccurate). Cable is not a member of the X-Men in this cartoon, he does feature but only as an occasional guest star. I can only imagine that Japanese fans were baffled at why the gun toting guy in the intro didn’t feature in the show.
    • Are those phalanx? On motorcycles?
    • Mummyboon Japanese X-men Intro Phalanx on bikes
    • This amazingly emo bit of Drama with a capital D
    • Mummyboon Japanese X-men Intro Emo Cyclops, wolverine & Jean Grey
    • Iceman makes it into the intro? He’s in this show less than cable. Hell, he;s in this show less than Maverick!
    • Krakoa!
    • Mummyboon Japanese X-men Intro Krakoa

And of course

  • CRY FOR THE MOON! – which is now officially my favourite Engrish sentence in a Japanese song EVER!

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Long-time readers of this blog know that I’m a sucker for limited editions, unusual flavours and basically turning any familiar food into something new! Especially Kit-Kats.

I was therefore a perfect mark for Walker’s “Do us a flavour,” campaign. A couple of months ago Walker’s set up a website that lets users invent their own new crisp flavours. This website did not publicly display the entries because Walkers has learned something from when they tried the same experiment in America earlier this year and got entries such as:

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And my particular favourite.

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There is in fact a tumblr devoted purely to these parodies.

6 flavours were chosen as winners and have now been made are on sale. Another website located here lets you vote for your favourite and the winner will receive £1 million plus their flavour will become a permanent part of the range.

So enough wittering, what do they taste like.

Hot Dog with Tomato Ketchup

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Ketchup flavour crisps have been knocking around for a while now and are somewhat controversial. For me, the mix of tangy vinegar and sweet tomato works well on a crisp and is at least as good as prawn cocktail (another not uncontroversial choice but one with staying power at least). Others though find ketchup crisps to just be wrong on every level.

These are still mostly sweet and taste of tomatoes but they lack the vinegar kick of most ketchup crisps. Instead they have a meaty under current that is probably the hot dog. They’re surprisingly savoury too, still very sweet but not as sweet as I’d expect. I can’t say they astonish me though, they’re just somewhat average tomato flavour crisps.

Pulled Pork in a Sticky BBQ Sauce

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The last time I visited the States was in 2003 and that was the first time I ever tried pulled pork. I was instantly smitten with it. Moist, tender, meaty, flavourful, juicy and just delicious in every way imaginable. Going back to the U.K. I didn’t think about it again until Man vs Food began airing on these shores and introduced Brits to the full plethora of creative and delicious ways Americans have invented to kill themselves with diabetes. It was revelatory, and now, about 4 years later, pulled pork is everywhere slathered all over menus like grease on a pig. It’s like piri piri all over again.

Whenever you see X meat with Y sauce flavoured anything assume that the main thing you’re going to taste is the sauce. These are no exception, they taste like sweet BBQ sauce. And since sweet BBQ sauce is basically tomatoes and honey they’re not dissimilar to the Hot Dog flavour. A bit fruitier and much sweeter but not very interesting.

Chip Shop Chicken Curry

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I’ve had chip shop curry flavour crisps before. Growing up , for a very limited time, there existed Beano* themed crisps and being a comic obsessed kid I wanted them. Amongst the frankly bizarre flavours on offer was chip shop curry and to my mouth they tasted like some kind of exotic masterpiece.

I have loved chip shop curry ever since. Chip shop curry, for the uninitiated, bares only the faintest of resemblances to Indian food. It is basically gravy with the meat juice replaced by generic curry powder, the tiniest whiff of turmeric so as not to frighten old ladies with its foreignness and enough yellow food dye to make this season’s Norwich home kit. As tastes have adapted it has gradually got spicier and more like actual curry but I still seek out the truly naff stuff. There is something about the way the claggy fat on a chip allows it to cover the inside of your mouth with the spicy goo and then when you drink a hot, sweet cup of tea the whole inside of your mouth tingles in response. I love it.

Norwich 13 14 Home Kit

It should be noted that most of these crisps are sort of lightly dusted in their flavouring powder and so the colour is still predominantly the light brown of a crisp. These though, these are stained brown with the masses of curry powder dumped into the bag or bright yellow where the turmeric hits them. I’m pretty sure Walker’s didn’t bother creating any kind of flavour powder here but instead just bought a job lot of curry powder from a cash and carry and said, that’ll do. And it does, by heavens it does. Do they taste like chicken chip shop curry? Oh heaven’s no! Do they taste like Bombay mix? Yup, exactly like Bombay mix. They’re basically crisps drowned in curry powder and that is no bad thing my friends.

Sizzling Steak Fajita

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Whereas the pulled pork in STICKY BBQ SAUCE tasted of the sauce and the chicken CHIP SHOP CURRY tasted of curry this steak fajita does actually have some slight beefiness to it, enough that if asked what flavour these were supposed to be without knowing you would probably guess correctly. Mostly though they taste of two things. Firstly they taste like fajita seasoning mix, the blend of cumin, coriander, cayenne and other spices beginning with c that you use to season Mexican food. Again, I suspect that part of the reason this flavour was chosen was that Walker’s didn’t have to do much more effort than ordering a job lot of pre-mixed seasoning from Old El Paso and then knocking off early for a long lunch.

The second thing they taste of is green peppers. They have a really, really strong green pepper flavour from the first taste to the after taste. Consequently they’re quite bitter which is an unusual flavour for a crisp. Not a bad flavour, just an unusual one. They’re also super savoury. I checked and they’re not really any saltier than the other flavours but Christ, you wouldn’t know it to taste them.

Overall though, I like these. Bitter and savoury is kind of unique for crisps and it works surprisingly well.

Cheesy Beans on Toast

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Out of 6 flavours I cannot believe we had 3 that basically amounted to, tomato. It’s not like tomato is a universally loved crisp flavour either, it’s actually quite divisive.

These are horrible, just gross. They neither taste of cheese nor beans nor cheesy beans. They don’t even really taste of tomato. If blindfolded and asked what these were I might plump for foot sweat, rotten onion or maybe, just maybe that plastic they make fake vomit from. These are foul, avoid!

Ranch Raccoon

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Walkers are jumping on the Guardian’s of the Galaxy bandwagon I see.

Guardians of the Galaxy Mummyboon Rocket and Groot 3

You loved his antics in the movie, but what does he taste like?! This could be a whole new kind of tie-in marketing. Ratatouille with real rat flavoured crisps for Ratatouille. Penguin flavoured chicken bites at KFC for Happy Feet. Human liver flavoured ice cream for Hannibal! You could really invest yourself in the story when you’ve eaten one of the lead characters.

Kidding aside I am dreading this flavour. Not because it is raccoon. I love eating weird meats and would jump at the chance to eat a raccoon in real life. I’ve personally consumed snake, alligator, jellyfish (it tasted of nothing), sea snail, kangaroo, various insects and hot dogs before now.

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No I am apprehensive because these are in ranch dressing and creamy crisp flavours are of Satan. I am a firm atheist and whilst I’ve seen no evidence that god exists, the existence of cream cheese and chive flavour crisps certainly strongly implies that old scratch has a job at Walkers somewhere.

Well I can’t tell you if they taste like raccoon but they sure don’t taste like ranch dressing. And whilst that might be a relief these are disgusting in their own unique way. I actually can’t tell you what these taste like. I’ve tried an entire bag now and my best guess is like something that used to be food but now should be thrown away. To start with they smell bad, like meat that’s juuuuuust starting to turn and after that smell I think that my brain intervenes and shuts my mouth down. I can’t detect any distinct flavours just a big red flashing light in my brain going “warning, warning spit this shit out of your mouth at once you moron or we’re going to get e-coli.”

A check of the ingredients reveals this to mostly be parsley, dried milk and dried sour cream. So I guess when you dry sour cream it starts to taste like rancid meat. That makes a certain amount of sense, why did someone decide to make crisps this flavour?

Final Verdict.

Ranch Raccoon is almost intriguingly bad. I urge you to eat it just to have a point of comparison that will help you appreciate normal food all the more. Cheesy Beans on Toast however is both boring and terrible.

Hot Dog is okay, Pulled Pork is marginally better and basically the same thing. It’s a slightly more complicated flavour and less obviously tomato.

Sizzling Steak Fajita and Chicken Chip Shop Curry are both far and away the best. In both cases they’ve basically just drowned the potatoes in spices but since I like spices and since there are a lot of conflicting and complementing spices going on they’re a winner for me.

In the end though there is a reason Bombay mix is already a thing. The Chip Shop flavour is basically Bombay mix and that has to be the winner.

*The Beano is a children’s comic available in the U.K. with a series of short humorous strips. It was launched in 1938 and has been telling pretty much the same jokes ever since. It may once have been ground breaking and artistically inventive in the 60’s and 70’s when it was the U.K.’s answer to MAD but it hasn’t been good in the 28 years I’ve been on this earth. Still, as a kid with no taste, I loved it!

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Time to get back to my roots!

Nestle has a new Kit-Kat flavour and you know what that means.

Yup it’s time for another dose of “bring pretentious about mediocre chocolate!” WHUT WHUT! (throws up hands)

(realises he is sitting alone in his living room)

(puts hands down)

(sobs once, gently, and quietly)

(takes deep breath)

(steadies self)

(begins)

So the new Chunky Double Caramel is a bizarre beast. It’s a Kit-Kat Chunky divided into only 2 sections, one with a smooth caramel and the other with a crunchy caramel.

Starting with the wrapper then and it helpfully makes this all clear for us with an illustration showing a cross-section of the Kit-Kat and the contrasting caramel centres.

Oh and as a warning from the future, said illustration grossly exaggerates the amount of caramel you’re getting here.

Beyond that I have most of my usual complaints. The wrapper is far too busy with three different logos fighting for space and no attempt at any kind of evocative design. It’s just, how can we fit all this copy on here in the way that looks least crap. It is shiny and gold though.

Oooooh, shiny.

So taste test then and…HOLY SHIT!

When did Kit-Kat chocolate get this good?

I usually moan that Nestle chocolate is soapy, waxy, vaguely pasty, bland and too sweet. This is still very sweet but it’s smooth, creamy and delicious. It tastes way more like real chocolate than any Nestle product I’ve had in years. I mean, it still isn’t great but it is a marked improvement. Well done Nestle.

In contrast the wafer has gone to shit. I’m used to the wafer being inoffensive but competent, it is there to be crispy, nothing more. This wafer though, is soggy. And that’s a big no-no. There is no redeeming a soggy wafer in a biscuit,it’s just inherently unpleasant and it nearly ruins this. And I have no idea why. I’ve written something like 80,000 words on Kit-Kats at this point and I don’t think a soggy wafer has ever been an issue. Was it a trade-off for the nicer chocolate? Is it something to do with the filling?

Anyway onto the caramel. The smooth one is what you’d expect, the standard caramel you get in a chocolate bar. Similar to Cadbury caramel or Galaxy caramel. It makes the whole thing waaaay too sweet but I think it might have been salted slightly which does make the caramel itself taste nice (and might also be the reason the chocolate tastes so much better).

The crunchy caramel is a sort of caramel crème paste filled with bits of hard caramel. It too is slightly salted and the caramel crème itself tastes nice but makes the whole affair too sickly. The crunchy bits do help with the soggy wafer a little bit though so I’ll give the edge to this half of the pair.

Also the word caramel has ceased to have any meaning as I proof read this. Caramel, caramel, caramel.

Caramel.

Caramel.

Aftertaste wise both are hugely chemically and sweet. Like drinking anything with saccharine in it (even though it is pure sugar all the way). Having said that it is soooo sweet that it pairs quite well with unsweetened tea and the tea counteracts the aftertaste quite nicely.

Overall a success! Sweet, salty caramel and much nicer chocolate than I was expecting. Sort out whatever has gone wrong with the wafer and you have a winner here. I don’t understand the half and half gimmick at all though.

Pokémon X and Y have to be the worst Pokémon main series games I have ever played.

(waits as internet erupts in outrage)

Okay have you guys calmed down now? How about now? Still going? It’s okay I’ll wait.

Feel better? Okay, I’ll continue.

I stand by that statement but I do have to offer two caveats.

The first is that even the worst Pokémon game is still really good and I did enjoy playing Pokémon X.

The second is that Pokémon X and Y are genuinely innovative and they’re trying to change what a Pokémon game can be.

Black, White and their sequels were basically the most polished and well executed version of a game that dates all the way back to the Red, Blue, Green, Yellow days of 1996.

This is a version of the game with sprites, an overhead view and Pokémon battles that have minimal sprite animation. A version of the game where you get given a choice of 3 starters from a Pokemon professor. A version of the game in which your either catch Pokémon and forfeit experience or grind them into the dust. A game in which you start off not being able to catch much but  a few Pidgeys and Rattatas and that when you walk into a cave mobs you with Zubats.

Black, White, B2 and W2 were basically the most perfect possible version of this game. The sprites were gorgeous, colourful, beautifully rendered and full of character but they were still sprites and short of hand animating every Pokémon’s every move they looked as good as they were going to. The story was clever and inventive and challenged the very core of what Pokémon is all about but it was a story that felt very grounded in the rules established by the Pokémon world in previous games. What’s more there were lots of small touches, refinements and improvements that just made the overall game experience better than anything before. Putting shops inside Pokécentres for example, or the BWT or taking away poison in the over world.

Having created basically the perfect Pokémon game the only thing you can do to go forward is to change what Pokémon is, to fundamentally alter what the base level of the games is about and throw loads of new innovations in there. And X and Y have dozens of new ideas and completely game changing shifts. The addition of Fairy type, the nerfing of weather, adding loads more variety of species to each area, Mega Evolution, experience on capture, Horde Battles, Sky Battles, the list goes on.

Some of these innovations are welcome and great improvements to the game. I love that we get more variety of species in each area, particularly early on. Whereas in most games you fight nothing but small birds and small rodents in the first few areas by the end of the second route I pretty much had a full team with a wide variety of types. That’s great, it makes the game interesting and varied from the off. Some of the changes are less well thought out. Horde Battles are basically something I avoided as much as possible. If I’m trying to get somewhere I quite like being able to one shot scrub enemy Pokémon and just get on with the story. Forcing me to attack 5 times doesn’t provide me with a greater challenge but it does drag out the time. Similarly Sky Battles are really ill conceived. They add no depth to the combat except to exclude a bunch of popular Pokémon and provide a much more limited meta game. If Sky Battles had some kind of movement mechanic they might be interesting but as it is I basically skipped them.

Some ideas are good but need more polish. The additional XP should be nice but X and Y were the worst scaling Pokémon games I have yet played. In every game I’ve ever played yet the badge limits to control monsters hasn’t been a factor. Designed properly you should have monsters that are roughly equal in level to your opponents at any time. The badge mechanic is to stop you just grinding out one powerful monster and dominating the game or trading in a level 100 beast from an old game. What it should not do is kick in when you’re playing normally . The gaps between gyms early on in X and Y are ridiculous. My Blaziken had made it past lvl 30 before I reached gym 2 and I was deliberately trying not to use him. Then once you’ve beaten the 8th gym there is a loooooong grind to lvl 100 and not many ways to gain the XP needed to get there. Black and White were probably the most perfectly balanced and scaled Pokémon games yet providing me with a real challenge when I reached the Elite 4 for the second time but lots of ways to gain more XP to beat them.

The biggest changes of course are the graphics, Mega Evolution and the Fairy Type.

In terms of the Graphics Pokémon has gone from a top down sprite game on a fixed grid to a 3D polygon game. This is a mixed blessing. In battles it works amazingly well. The new Pokémon especially take advantage of the opportunities for a greater range of animation and more integration between what the monster is doing and the attack. This is the best looking game for battles yet, surpassing the home console versions easily. In terms of the map it’s much more mixed. Generally it works roughly the same as any old game did with a largely top down viewpoint. Whenever it goes behind your character though it is a mess. Lumiose city is practically unplayable its so hard to navigate. The problem is there’s no camera button so it becomes really hard to orientate yourself in what is basically a big circle where everything looks the same. It’s a nightmare and I avoided going to that city like the plague. And that’s a shame because it is full of stuff to do and clearly the centrepiece of the game but I’m sorry X and Y I just couldn’t find anywhere in order to do stuff. In the end I had to resort to using an FAQ and riding cabs constantly.

Then there’s Mega Evolution

Evolution is where one Pokémon turns into a different Pokémon gaining a stat boost in the process, changing its appearance and sometimes gaining new typing or abilities.

Mega Evolution is the same in every respect but the following.

1. in normal evolution the Pokémon cannot change back to the Pokémon it was before, but Mega Evolution only lasts for the duration of a Pokémon battle.

2. Mega Evolution happens during a Pokémon battle.

3. In order to mega Evolve the Pokémon must hold a special stone and the trainer is required use a special device which looks an awful lot like a wrist watch.

I don’t like it.

It’s hard to explain why I don’t like Mega Evolution but it basically has something to do with the story function of evolution. Evolution in Pokémon is not like evolution in real life since it happens to individuals and not to the species as a whole. Evolution in Pokémon is more like metamorphosis or puberty, an irreversible change that happens to an animal as it gets older. That’s why we get things like Caterpie evolving into Metapod evolving into Butterfree. It mirrors the life cycle of a real caterpillar as it undergoes metamorphosis and turns into a butterfly.

It may not function exactly like something in real nature but it gestures towards it and helps reinforce the nature theme of Pokémon. This isn’t an RPG where levelling up is some kind of arbitrary mechanic but instead relates to an animal ageing and maturing.

It also allows for some cool story telling ideas built into what is ultimately just a game mechanic. Look at Magikarp to Gyarados or Feebas to Milotic which reference an ancient Chinese myth and the ugly duckling respectively. Cool evolutions can lead to some really cool Pokémon concepts. In fact Gen 6 actually has some of the most imaginative evolution mechanics I’ve seen in any games so far.

The key thing that cements the reality of this mechanic for me though is that it isn’t reversible. Once you’ve evolved that’s it, you can’t go back and whilst you always get a stat boost from evolution you can lose something in the change in appearance or even in a type or ability change.

Being reversible Mega Evolution is more like a form/forme change like when Rotom turns an electric ghost into an electric ghost possessing a washing machine, or a refigerator, etc. Or Cherrim opening up its leaves during the sunshine.

Form changes have been a part of the game since the 3rd Gen and I have never had a problem with them, in fact I actually really like them. The reason I like them over Mega Evolution is twofold.

Firstly Form changes usually only have an aesthetic change like Sawsbuck’s appearance changing with the season. When they do have an in-game effect it usually has an advantage and a drawback i.e. the various forms of Deoxys which sacrifice defense for speed as one example.

Secondly the form changes all said something about the Pokémon in question, they opened up a story telling ideas. Why can Deoxys change form? Because he’s virus themed and viruses mutate rapidly. Why does Sawsbuck change forms? Because his horns are tree branches and he’s showing the cycle of trees as season’s change.

Mega Evolution doesn’t do this. Every Pokémon that mega evolves does so in the same way, magic stone plus wristwatch and the designs don’t give any kind of storytelling idea other than slightly spikier version of existing monster.

What Mega Evolution most resembles is the concept of Henshin, or change, that you get in shows like Power Rangers or Kannen Rider. Think about it, with the wristwatch device, the magic stones, the special effects and the striking a pose doesn’t Mega Evolution remind you of the Power Rangers Morphin’ Sequences?

Once you realise that it becomes clear that Mega Evolution fits into a tradition of transforming and powering up that is huge in Japanese culture and all over anime and computer games. Super Saiyans in DBZ, Guyver, Digimon, Power Rangers, Gurren Lagann, Super Mario, and on and on and on.

And so whilst this is an accepted pat of anime story telling it isn’t something that has ever been part of Pokémon before and it has nothing to do with nature or mythology which is traditionally what inspires the designs and stories in Pokémon.

It’s taking a very un-Pokémon concept and inserting it into the game and it doesn’t make a good thematic fit.

It doesn’t help that it isn’t even really a very strong gameplay mechanic, a power-up with no real drawback doesn’t add much strategy to the game. In almost all cases why wouldn’t you just mega evolve any Pokémon you have that can? The only reason not to is if your Pokémon needs another item such as a leftovers to be viable.

It’s also weird that Nintendo generally gave these Mega Evolutions to Pokémon that were already very, very useable. Blaziken is only of only two non-legendaries to make it into the uber tier (well this was the case when I started writing this but now plenty of Megas and Aegislash have made this jump) and is so powerful he’s outright banned in some competitions, he did not need a Mega Evolution, neither did Garchomp or Mewtwo. Charizard appreciates the boost as does Mawile but for the most part these seem kind of superfluous.

Having said my piece let me now say that the presence of mega evolution doesn’t ruin the game for me. I don’t like it but I don’t have to use it and it is really a very minor part of the mythos.

So since we’ve talked about it so much lets review some of the Mega Evolution designs.

Mega Blastoise and Mega Venusaur

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One thing I should stress is that whilst I don’t like Mega Evolution as a concept that has no bearing on what I think about the designs. Most of the Mega designs are awesome and I kind of wish they just replaced the existing final stage of the monster in question. Mega Blastoise is a great example of this. Giant turtle with a cannon on its back is already a pretty neat idea but I always wondered why Blastoise had two cannons pointing at different angles. They couldn’t fire together at the same target and he’d have to angle his head out of line with his target to fire straight. Even as a kid I recognised that this was dumb. Mega Blastoise though has no such problem. His three cannons can all move so they can all aim at one target and his new one massive cannon fires straight ahead! Also his bigger cannon just looks more intimidating and overall his design looks more balanced. I’ve gotta give him points for his stlyin’ goatee too, the first in a theme of awesome beards that defines this generation.

As for Mega Venusaur…..sorry guy but you got screwed. An extra flower, extra leaves and some garlands does nothing to improve your ugly mug.

Mega Charizard Y and X

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Most people’s favourite starter gets not one but two Mega Evolutions and both are awesome for different reasons.

Y fixes all the issues I had with original Charizard and in my head canon this is just what regular Charizard looks like now. My main issue was that Charmeleon had all these design elements going on, horns coming out the back of his elbows, a single horn on his head, etc that Charizard just drops. Y puts them back in though turning the elbow horns into arms wings and giving him a crown of horns that again looks more symmetrical and aesthetically pleasing than Charizard’s original horns. I love the bigger scalloped wings too which make it look much more like it could fly. And taking the patch of colour all the way up to the mouth avoids giving the impression that Charizard has a fat tummy like he did before. It’s just all around better than Charizard, more refined and improved and shows off just how far Sugimori has improved over the years.

Charizard X is awesome though because he is METAL AS FUCK! HE’S A BLACK DRAGON WITH AXE BLADE SHOULDERS AND SPIKES AND BLUE FIRE AND HE’S BLACK AND OH MY GOD I NEED TO PAINT MY ROOM BLACK AND LISTEN TO SOME SLAYER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mega Mewtwo X and Y

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The other OG to get two Mega Evos is Mewtwo one of the most complex Pokémon and one of the few to have a personality, motivation and character. The Mega Evos are one of the rare examples of a Mega Evo that implies a strategy. X gains a secondary fighting type when he evolves so the Evo is far more muscular with more powerful looking legs and arms, a shorter tail and big manly shoulder pads. Y in contrast just goes all out on the psychic power so the body gets smaller, the feet and arms become even less developed and the head becomes much larger combining with the tail. The contrast in designs really sells the contrast in abilities and both designs work. I prefer Y overall though even if that seems to be a controversial opinion. Everything about Y’s design seems to sell unbelievably strong psyker for me whereas there’s stuff in X’s design that either doesn’t work or just isn’t aesthetically pleasing. I hate his feet for starters which look gangly and weird for a fighting type. I also think his big purple diaper looks goofy and so do his shoulder pads.

I can’t let any discussion of Mewtwo’s Mega Evos slip though without mention Freiza. You know Freiza? The popular villain from Dragonball Z. Changes forms and looks at various stages like this.

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Yeah there’s some inspiration going on there and I’m just going to leave it at that.

Mega Aggron and Mega Tyranitar

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One of the things I do like the in the Mega Evolutions is the idea that these monsters are somehow unnatural. That their evolution isn’t something to do with nature but something forced upon them by an outside force. Consequently many of the Mega designs look like the animal is exploding with power, almost deformed by the strength they now possess. I don’t think any two designs better express this than Mega Aggron and Mega Tyranitar. In both cases they take the design and basically add loads o spikes but they do it in a very clever way, turning design elements from the previous monster, like Tyranitar’s head spikes, into exaggerated versions of themselves. It looks intimidating, it looks effective and it really ties in with the Mega Evolution concept.

Mega Aggron I like because his ability makes him the ultimate tank. He has the highest base defence in the game and is immune to super effective attacks making him a wall. And he now looks like a wall, wider, stockier and dumpier than before. I find his weird linked head spikes going through holes to be fussy and cluttered but overall I like Mega Aggron. Mega Tyranitar similarly kicks Tyranitar’s ass. His design is just so much more balanced. Whereas before he was weirdly lacking in the head and shoulders department compared to his body and legs the addition of head and shoulder spikes makes him look more balanced and overall just bigger and more intimidating. I particularly like his chest face. I don’t understand why his tail now looks like a peeled banana but I’m happy overall.

Oh yeah and he totally looks like space Godzilla now too.SpaceGodzilla

Mega Gardevoir

 

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I’m on record as not liking Gardevoir because a disturingly high number of perverts on the internet seem to be sincerely sexually attracted to her. Putting her in a wedding dress does nothing to fix this issue.

Mega Heracross and Mega Pinsir

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Japan absolutely adores beetles, in particular two varieties of stag beetles they nickname Atlas and Goliath. Elementary school kids adore catching these things, putting them in boxes and making them fight each other. And now you understand why Bug Catchers are a thing in Pokémon games. Every Japanese man at some point in his life put on tiny, comfortable shorts, got a net and captured innocent beetles to fight for his own amusement.

As such I am not surprised Pinsir and Heracross got some Mega Love. Thing is, these both could work as just regular evolutions for these Pokémon who are just single stage evos in the game. They don;t have the exaggerated almost deformed thing going for them that many Megas do nor are they vastly improved versions of the original designs, they just look like what Sugimori’s sketch for an evolved Pinsir probably always looked like.

Of the two I like Heracross  more since his proportions, small head, short body, short legs and massive arms, really sell the idea of strength and power. That and I have no idea what the hell those orange things are in Pinsir’s design.

Mega Manectric

 

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Are you okay Mega Manectric because that looks really heavy. That, that can’t be good for your neck. Do we need to get nurse Joy to help you little guy?

Mega Aerodactyl

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Continuing our theme of awesome beards, Aerodactyl is positively satanic with that Van Dyke and the new spiky evil eyebrows help sell it too.

Mega Alakazam

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So the evolution line for Abra, Kadabra and Alakazam goes like this.

Starts with no spoon.

Gets both spoon and moustache.

Gets an extra spoon and an even bigger moustache.

Following that logic the only place to go with a Mega is multiple spoons and an epic hermit beard. And he pulls it off well. I particularly like the yoga pose.

Mega Alakazam, you can’t fault the logic.

Mega Kangaskhan

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On the one hand Mega Kangaskhan feels very natural. What’s the ultimate form of a Kangashkan? Why using it’s baby in its attacks. Makes perfect sense and helps fill in some gaps in the Kangaskhan life cycle.

On the other hand, I really wish the baby Kangaskhan looked more like a Cubone so that this bit of fan canon could be true.

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Mega Blaziken and Mega Lucario

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Two examples where I massively prefer the mega form to the original design and wish this design just replaced it.

In Blaziken’s case I love Torchic and Combusken and despise Blaziken. May main complaints are that his hair is stupid, he had some weird feather cock thing going on, he didn’t look like a chicken and his hair is stupid. Well he still doesn’t look like a chicken but his feather cock is gone and his hair is much less stupid. In fact the change in shape to his chest and head balance his design much better giving approximately equal space to his body, head and legs. Unrealistic, yes but aesthetically pleasing. The new chest is more reminiscent of samurai garb too typing in with his martial arts theme. And the colour scheme just seems more dangerous and imposing.

Lucario is similarly much improved. I never got the love for the standing up, kick boxing dog before as he looked like a mess of randomly combined elements. I like Mega Lucario though. Like Blaziken his new shapes mean that space is more evenly distributed, the flare to his collar and dreadlocks add much needed visual interest to his head area and his slightly thicker, chunkier thighs balance out his height. Plus the addition of extra smaller spikes make the big hand, foot and chest spikes seem more organic. I like the change in colour scheme too which again seems darker and more imposing.

Mega Garchomp

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You know how adding the colour red and more spikes actually seemed to improve Lucario? Well it doesn’t work for everyone.

Plus the original scythes looked more badass, your Mega can’t be less badass, that makes no sense.

Mega Scizor

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Scyther was such a good design and whilst Scizor wasn’t better he still had charm. This though. It’s all square and boxy where it should be sleek and knife like. And those legs, they looks barely attached and just weird and angular. This is a mess of a design and all the worse because both Scyther and Scizor are really great designs.

Mega Gyarados

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You know how we all think Gyarados is bad ass? How he has such a cool, sleek design that just screams rage and power. Yeah. It is amazing how much of that is owed to his neck. For some reason get rid of his neck and he goes from being bad ass and dangerous to unbelievably derpy. Magikarp is, in fact, marginally less awkward looking than this.

Mega Abomasnow

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What I don’t like about Mega Abomasnow is that design concept has disappeared. Abomasnow is supposed to be a tree covered in snow but nothing about these shapes suggests that in the slightest. Divorced from the concept though and this is a nice design. It conveys power really effectively. The stocky design with the head in the centre suggests size and the hunched over pose where it can’t even support itself really suggests weight. The exploding effect caused by all the lines radiating from the centre says power too, almost as if Mega Abomasnow is nearly exploding with restrained strength. It’s a cool design but it isn’t Abomasnow.

Mega Meditite

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So Meditite is one of the worst design ever, combining slutty lips, hammer pants and the kind of hat stoned people who went to India once routinely wear.

Mega Meditite retains the  hammer pants and draws more attention to them, retains the slutty lips and replaces the dumb hat with, and I didn’t think this was possible, an even dumber hat. It also adds some scarves.

I suppose the logic is that Meditite is ridiculous so for the Mega we’re going to double down on the ridiculous? It kind of makes sense.

Mega Ampharos

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So Ampharos is an electric/pharoah/giraffe. What is the natural next step in that deeply confused concept?

Got it.

Pirate

Male Model from the cover of Harlequin romance. It was the missing link all along.

Mega Absol

 

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I think everybody likes Absol. He has such a unique design. He doesn’t really look like any distinct animal you can name but he does look like an animal and his yin/yang thing was subtly but effectively incorporated into his design.

Mega Absol is more of the same really except they’ve really, really leaned heavy on the emo thing. Absol always had this emo aspect to his concept since he was the harbinger of disaster and as such people hated him. They’ve now refined that by making him a literal angel of death and giving him the hair cut of Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy. He pulls it off though.

Mega Mawile

 

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I’m on record as not really liking Mawile because on first glance it is nigh on impossible to tell what is going on. Namely that I know it has a second face but could never see it. Mega Mawile though, so much better. Getting rid of the forward facing top knot, adding a second mouth and having the mouths stand up just looks so much better. The mouths both more obviously read as hair and look more like they’re attached to Mawile.Plus the new mouth design looks more threatening. This is another Mega that should just replace the original.

Mega Gengar

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Mega Gengar is considered one of the game’s absolute power houses, banished to uber tier he is regarded as annoying, amazing and powerful.

It is a shame then that his design is horrendous.

What’s wrong with Mega Gengar, oh god what’s right with it? Let’s start with a list of design elements that seem to serve no purpose. What is that gold thing on his head? What are the arm things he suddenly has if they even are arms and similarly what is that weird tail thing? Why is he glowing from beneath? On good Pokémon designs I understand why something is there, it’s either a signifier of some meaningful element (i.e. Bulbasaur has a bulb because he is a grass type) or to improve the aesthetics (i.e.  Charizard has a band of a second colour on his chest to break up what would otherwise be a large flat space. On Mega Gengar though I have no idea what anything is doing.

Even worse he used to have a cleanly defined design concept, he looked like Celfable’s shadow, and now that has disappeared.

However the biggest sin Mega Gengar commits is that he is at worse poorly drawn or at most charitable drawn in a style that doesn’t match the other designs. By this I mean that the other Pokémon are drawn with a realistic approach with regards to perspective, whereas Mega Gengar is drawn more like a comic strip character. Judging from how his body and arms are presented Gengar is in 3/4 profile here so he’s looking at about a 45 degree angle to our left and down. The means we shouldn’t be able to see his whole mouth, it should curve round to the other side of his face where we can’t see. similarly his right eye should be lower and his left eye either higher or gone entirely. It just looks wrong and disconcerting.

Mega Gengar looks better in game but this is easily the worst artwork from Sugimori. Not only is it a bad design, it’s a bad drawing.

 

Mega Houndoom

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Remember back when Pokémon started and became the biggest thing on the planet? Remember the religious groups in America who saw it as a tool of Satan? Can you imagine how hard they would freak out if Mega Houndoom existed back then?

Mega Banette

 

 

 

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Speaking of child unfriendly, hey everyone it’s the gimp themed pokemon. Whose arms and legs are actually evil monstrous tongues. Because you’re never too young to learn about consensual S and M.

One of my running jokes is that the pokemon designs often reflect whatever the designer was looking at in his office that day. I wonder if that implies to the gimp mask pokemon.

 

The Fairy Type

The other massive change to the game in X and Y is the addition of a new typing, Fairy, the first new type since 2nd ed. This is a massive change but a very welcome one as it re-shuffles the meta game making long term threats like Hydreigon weaker whilst boosting some weaker monsters that have been languishing in lower tiers (Azumarill). It’s particularly welcome in that Fairies are Dragon killers and prior to 6th ed Dragons were easily the most over powered typing. With a massive suite of resistances, only two weaknesses and only one type that resists Dragon, Dragons were just the best typing on paper. And as one of their weaknesses is Dragon type the best way to kill them is often to have a Dragon yourself. Fairies having an immunity to Dragon attacks puts a solid counter on this but not so much that Dragon’s have been utterly nerfed, as can easily be seen by the fact that Garchomp is the most commonly used Pokémon in competitions.

In addition to nerfing Dragons, Fairies are pretty tough themselves. Most are specially defensive focused with a sideline in special attack and good neutral coverage. Xerneas using Moonblast can walk through teams until he reaches a special wall and the edge on Fighting and Dark types just makes them better. They lack a diverse movepool to make them as uber as Dragons but Fairies arrived as a top tier challenge. The effect of this is to create the need to try and get some Poison and Steel attacks onto your team to take out Fairies, and Steel and Poison are not normally considered attacking types so this shakes up the meta further.

My main complaint with Fairy types is that I don’t get the concept of the typing. With something like Water the concept is clear, this animal lives in or shoots water, make it a Water type. But what makes something a Fairy? It mostly seems to be the big pink blobs of previous generations like Clefable and Jigglypuff but then Chansey and Audino are big pink blobs and they didn’t get Fairy. Fairies in mythology are tied to elements and usually represent different flowers, rocks and other natural phenomena but that idea largely inspires Pokémon anyway and is way too broad for a typing. In practice the only common theme seems to be that Fairy types are cute, playful and free spirited so it reflects a personality more than an element. But then there are lots of cute playful Pokémonthat didn’t get fairy either (Pikachu, Plusle and Minun, Cherrim, Pachirisu) Fairy doesn’t seem to have a defined conceptual space and that bothers me.

Sylveon

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The first Fairy we ever saw sets the tone for most of the new Fairy designs in this generation. It’s pink, it’s cute, it’s covered in bows and frills and it references some stereotypically girly hobby or activity. In the case of Sylveon that would be the practice of dressing up your dog in cute outfits with little bows. It’s a nice spin on the eeveelutions = dog breeding thing without been too on the nose. Plus I just like Sylveon, it’s a balanced, striking design. One thing that does weird me out though is that the bows and ribbons are a part of her, like, made of flesh. Euuurggh,

Swirlix and Slurpuff

 

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Girly activity number 2, eating sweets. Yes, I know men enjoy cotton candy just as much as the womenfolk but in Japan going out for sweets is seen as a very stereotypically feminine thing to do, so we get the sweet pokemon. Unlike Vanillish, the ice cream monster, Swirlix and Slurpuff do have legs so they’re marginally less silly, only marginally though. And that gap gets wiped out by Slurpuff’s hilarious face. I can’t tell if he’s happy or suffering from a concussion.

Spritzee and Aromatisse

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Hey guys, did you realise that the Kalos region is supposed to be France? Oh, you did? What was your first clue? Was it that the region looks exactly like France? Maybe it was how the game seems to pack in every single stereotypical thing about France Gamefreak can think of. So we get fashion! art! fine dining restaurants! and perfume, personified by giving a cockatoo a big nose and making it pink. It kind of works but the lack of a mouth robs Spritzee of much of her personality.

Then we get to Aromatisse who personifies…can can dancers.

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I know I requested less sexy Pokémon but this, this is not what I wanted. Aromatisse is horrifying, her flirtatious leg haunts my nightmares. Can can dancers may be French but they are not suitable subject matter for a children’s computer game or as the basis for designing cute animals.

Flabebe, Floette and Florges

 

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The most Fairy looking fairy-type. For me the defining characteristic of a Fairy is that it’s a flower spirit. However, Pokémon already has the Grass type, about  a hundred designs of plants with faces so how do you convey Fairy? The solution hit upon here, of having an animal that sits on a flower, carries it and eventually wears it is ingenious. Beyond that though I don’t have nice things to say. I don’t understand Floette’s enormous eyebrows (the work on Florges as exaggerated eyelashes), I don’t understand Floette’s ear/hair, I think the faces for all three lack personality and generally these are pretty meh. Also minus one point for yet another Pokémon in a bra. No! Bad Nintendo. No!

Dedenne

dedenne

This generation’s electric rodent is Dedenne (his name is straight from Japan, it’s an onomatopoeia for the noise of electrical wires) and I think he’s great. I love designs that take an element and incorporate their element logically and interestingly and Dedenne is a textbook example of that. His whiskers turn into electrical transmission wires and his tail into a power cable and he looks like a cute, happy mouse. Sugimori can do this kind of thing in his sleep by now but I’ll always welcome this kind of design.

Klefki

klefki

So I’ve started writing the entry for Klefki about 5 times now and each time it just devolves into rarge blargle OMG SO VERY VERY STUPID. Do I even have to write about it? We know it’s lazy, we know it’s dumb, we all hate it right? They didn’t even have the decency to put a spike on it. This is every lazy and horrible trend in pokemon design embodied in one beast, one horrible monstrosity that OMG SO VERY, VERY STUPID!!!!!!

Carbink, Diancie and Mega Diancie

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I’m not normally keen on the inanimate object style Pokémon but there are things you can do with it that I like. Geodude is one of my favourite Pokémon of all time despite being essentially a rock with arms but he has a couple of things going for him. 1. Limbs. 2. a face. 3. a personality. Carbink lacks all these things. It’s a rock with eyes, and eyes drawn in such a way that I can infer no personality. It’s just boring.

Diancie in contrast has limbs, has a face and has a personality and as such I like her. I don’t love her (I wonder where she got the dress from) but she’s okay. If you’re going to do Rock Fairy this is what a Rock Fairy looks like to me, cute, happy, perky with adorable jewels, pigtails and a big poofy dress (the rock). Like other Kalos Fairies she embodies the stereotypically girly notion of precious gems but they don’t go overboard with it in her design. That of course is because they saved the overboard for her Mega which…I like. If the design concept for the Megas is OTT version of the original then yeh, Mega Diancie certainly pulls that off.

Xerneas

xerneas

The legendary Pokémon for X is a fantastic design. He looks like a real animal but incorporates dozens of clever ideas and concepts. His X shape is subtly but effectively incorporated(if you can’t see it the X forms between the front legs and the crown of horns), the crown of horns are a striking visual in their own right but really connote the idea of some powerful forest spirit, his sword legs look cool and dangerous, his expression is imperious and proud and the colours in his horns suggest his Fairy typing without painting him pink.

In keeping with the theme for this generation of “plagiarism” I can’t help but feel like I’ve seen him before though.

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Chespin, Fennekin and Froakie

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So normally I review each evolutionary family as a whole but I thought I’d do something different this time. As news was coming out about Pokémon X and Y we got the starter monsters revealed as a trio, then their 2nd stage and finally they’re 3rd stages. I thought I’d replicate the impact somewhat here. So let’s look at these three on their own. Well, out of just this Fennekin is easily the winner. Fennekin is simply but she’s cute and the ear hair being turned into flames is one of those design elements I was discussing with regards to Dedenne. Chespin has more potential but I can’t work out what he is. Is he a squirrel? a chipmunk? a rat? He’s certainly some kind of rodent but I don’t know what. I can’t parse his hat as any kind of plant either. Normally it’s pretty clear what the plant aspect is meant to be but again, no clue.

Froakie meanwhile looks like Benjamin Franklin.

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You can never unsee it now.

Quilladin, Braixen and Frogadier

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BWA HA HA HA HA HA

quilladin

Just, oh my god, breathe. BWA HA HA HA HA HA! *gasp* inhale. BWA HA HA HA HA

Really? Really?? Do I even need to say anything? Look at him, just, stare at it. It is majestic in its awfulness.

You know what makes it better. The way its drawn here he looks like he’s fallen over and can’t get up. Like he’s lying on his back. And he’s just so gosh darned cheerful about it! Life has dealt Quilladin a bum hand but he is not going to let it get him down.

Frogadier is just kind of there. Oh and Nintendo, you don’t have to make the water starter always blue guys. We get that frogs = water without the help.

Braixen though is just awesome. She really reads as witch with only a few witchy icons but they work very well. I especially lover how her fur becomes a cute skirt. She looks like a teenager too which works for a 2nd stage. And I just love the flaming branch she uses. I like when Pokemon have natural weapons (Cubone, Leavanny) and a witches staff that shoots fire just feels like a natural fit.

Yes sir the Fennekin family definitely one the design lottery this time.

Chesnaught, Delphox and Greninja

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And then Delphox shits the bed.

She just looks ugly and awkward, there’s too much…stuff. Her design doesn’t feel flowy or balanced it feels baggy. I know she’s wearing a robe but it looks like she has just too much fur, and worse some of the fur doesn’t make sense as witch clothing like whatever is going on at her shoulders. Plus her ear hair is just ridiculous now, it doesn’t look like fire anymore it just looks ugly. What a tragic waste of a good design concept.

Chesnaught however, redeems himself. Revealing himself to be a hedgehog…groundhog…muskrat okay I still have no idea what animal he is, but he does at least look knightly now and suitably intimidating. His overall shape works now, still being rounded but now the round shapes are all in the shoulders and back which convey power rather than roly polly cuddly chubbiness. He still isn’t very planty though.

Greninja goes from meh to undisputed coolest design in this generation. He’s a ninja, always cool and like all the best designs they convey ninja without giving him anything that doesn’t also convey frog, it’s all in the pose, the colouring and the body shape. That and the tongue which is inspired. Turning his long frog tongue into a scarf is just a terrific idea, even if it does go back to this year’s theme of “plagiarism.”

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Playing one of the great enemy’s games were we Sugimori-san? Shame on you.

Greninja also retroactively makes Froakie make sense. To reflect the setting of Kalos we have our fairy tale character, the knight, the witch and the thief. The Ninja look subs for thief but Froakie looks like a stereotypical Japanese bandit.

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Bunnelby and Diggersby

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This years useless mammals you catch early in the game are a better effort that most generations. Rabbits are good animals to base designs on having several iconic features you can fiddle with, in this case the ears. And in my opinion turning the ears into hands is a neat little idea that works well. The Diggersby evolution of that concept I also dig, turning the ears into excavators and giving him a control panel to manouveour them.

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Other than the ears and Diggersby 5 o’clock shadow (another one for the beards list ) there isn’t a huge amount else going on here though.

Fletchling, Fletchinder and Talonflame

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Talonflame….?

Talonflame?

You didn’t even try did you localisation team? Talonflame is actually a really neat design, He’s a hawk, on fire!!! And he has warning stripes on his tail. He looks menacing and you just panicked didn’t you.

Talonflame.

Here are 10 more creative names for a bird on fire than Talonflame.

1. Falcook

2. Hawkindle

3. Falcomet

4. Napalcon

5. Scorchawk

6. Firaptor

7. Robinferno

8. Peregrill

9. Hinoraptor

10. KFC

Scatterbug, Spewpa and Vivillion

scatterbugspewpavivillon

God, do I have to?

Scatterbug and Spewpa are just a mess, somehow bland and cluttered at the same time and I have no idea what the high concept is behind them. Easily the worst caterpillar in all of Pokémon.

Vivillion though, I like, a lot. She’s themed around LCD televisions and consequently that’s why her wings look like patterns of pixels and why her antennae resemble digital TV antennae. She’s a nice twist on a butterfly design already but what really makes her is all the different wing patterns.

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Sure it’s a blatant ploy to make it feel like there are more designs in this Gen than there actually are but it’s kind of cool. I also like that the different designs are linked to different geographic regions. That’s something that’s true of real animals and so  it’s nice to see it incorporated into the games. It also forces you to trade internationally which is a nice way to big up the new GTS and Wonder Trade improvements.

 

Lileo and Pyroar

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So we have had a lion Pokémonbefore (the Shinx family) but Lileo and Pyroar are the first lion monsters that really resemble the animal. Again, considering how iconic lions are and how often they feature in children’s picture books I’m surprised it took us this long.

There isn’t a huge amount to say about these two, they’re basically just cartoony drawings of lions, I’d have liked a bit more fire integration personally.  The one cool bit of fire integration they have done is incorporate the Kanji for fire into the pattern of Pyroar’s mane.

Skiddo and Gogoat

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In contrast Skiddo and Gogoat are much more what I like. Animal they haven’t done before? Check. Element incorporated sensibly into the animal’s shape? Check. Lack of unecessary clutter? Check. Use of patterns to break up large areas of flat colour? Check. Everything I want and in addition to the element these two also have a secondary theme of being motorbikes. Can’t see it? Check the horns, Skiddo is meant to be a dirt bike and Gogoat has the swept back handlebars and backrest of an old school Harley chopper.

Pancham and Pangoro

pancham pangoro

Another pair that tick all the boxes, animal we haven’t done, no flat blocks of colour, uncluttered design, element incorporated, etc. What really sells me on Pangoro though is his evolution mechanic. Pancham only evolves when he levels up and there is a dark type in your party. And when he does he goes from being slightly cocky troublemaking kid to a full on bancho.

What’s a bancho? Well it means delinquent or gang member, and they look like this.

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I love that, he only evolves when another dark type acts as bad influence on him. That’s such a fun idea and such a great example of how evolution can be used a story telling tool (and another reason why I hate Mega evolution.)

Furfrou

furfrou

Furfrou is a pokemon that exists for one reason and one reason only. As if there weren’t enough clues, may I remind you that the KALOS REGION IS MEANT TO BE FRANCE!

DO YOU GET IT YET?!!!

So of course we have to have a French poodle. But wait, Furfrou doesn’t look like a French poodle? Well he does when you take him to the hair dressers and pay to have him styled like thus.

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The concept of a customisable Pokémon design is one I quite like. I’m a big fan of Rotom for example and adding more options like that I think is a good thing. But beyond the gimmick there isn’t anything else to Furfrou.

Espurr and Meowstic

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Please enjoy some of the internet’s finest Espuur death stare Memes.

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86f

8ce

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Also female Meowstic has a beret becasue IT’S SET IN FRANCE!!! FRANCE!!!!! FRAAAAANNNNNNNNNNCE.

 

 

Honedge, Doublade and Aegislash

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So this is a much better way to do the “it’s set in France” thing. France of course has a long history of chivalry and knights and the chivalrous values to some extent are still relevant in France today. Doing something with knights is a good idea and Honedge is a truly fantastic idea. A ghost sword is just inherently cool. Weapons are cool and weapon themed monsters are cool but the idea of this ancient blade coming to life to fight again just resonates with so much personality.

You can ruin a good concept with bad design though but fortunately Honedge is great. I love how the scabbard works as face but also reads as believable scabbard design. I love how the ribbon becomes a hand grasping the blade and I love the eye that appears to be part of the scabbard but is in fact built into the hilt. It’s a great idea executed flawlessly.

Doublade and Aegislash I like less but I still like. I’ve never been a fan of the combine two together evolution style so Doublade gets points off for that and Aegislash’s handle doesn’t look like any sword handle I’ve ever seen but overall a fantastic set of designs.

 

Inkay and Malamar

inkaymalamar

So these two are just weird. In case you don’t know, to evolve Inkay you actually have to turn your 3DS upside down. This is because Malamar is just Inkay upside down so the tentacles turn into Malamar’s hair and the head fins turn into Malamar’s legs.

It’s a very clever idea and takes great skill to pull off effectively as they have but I can’t say I’m in love with the actual design of either monster.

Binacle and Barbaracle

binaclebarbaracle

So its fair to say that Binacle is dumb. It’s a hand stuck to a rock with a face. Worse, it’s two hands stuck to a rock and I never liked the designs that feature more than one monster since something about it just strains my credulity. For example, you hatch an egg, you should get one Binacle, not two and a rock.

That said your theme is barnacle pokemon. I’m impressed you did it this well.

Oh and in case you’re wondering why they look like hands, they look like a Goose Barnacle which is a variety native to Japan.

binacle

In case you’re wondering why that’s in a bowl, it’s because it’s food. Japanese people will eat anything that comes out of the sea.

Barbaracle should be everything I hate. I hate monster designs where more than one animal comes together, I didn’t like Binacle and I don’t like anthro monsters but Barbaracle is just kind of brilliant.  Having each limb also be a head is just neat. This isn’t like having three Diglett’s hanging out somehow equals a new organism this is 5 different organisms working together as one monster. That makes Barbaracle a  siphonophore, a colony of specialised multi-cellular animals so closely integrated they cannot survive on their own, like a Portuguese man of war. It also makes perfect sense, you never see just one barnacle you always see a few sticking to one rock, but having them co-operate to turn that rock into a body is clever.

Plus he looks grumpy, and I love all the grumpy faced monsters.

Skrelp and Dragalge

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I’ve said it before and I will say it again. I completely understand why they have so many fish, that doesn’t mean any of them are interesting.

Clauncher and Clawitzer

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I fucking love this!!!!

Firstly Clawitzer is based on an animal which is inherently awesome. He’s a mantis shrimp and if you don’t know why they’re fantastic watch this video.

 

BTW Nintendo, the one time it would have made sense to colour your animal like a clown having an accident in a paint factory you chicken out and make it blue.

So a mantis shrimp has the fastest punch in the animal kingdom, it can punch so fast it literally makes explosions!!! So how do we exagerate and cartoonify that?

Let’s turn one of its claws into an enormous cannon which is also shaped like a shrimp!

Genius!

I love Clawitzer and everything about it except it’s boring blue colouring, I want my Mega Evolution with an even more enormous cannon and a tiny body still the same size and I want it now Game Freak!

Helioptile and Heliolisk

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I don’t know why but I’ve always had a thing for frilled lizards. I think I can trace it back to The Rescuers Down Under where a frilled lizard is one of the cast and I just always thought he looked cool. Heliolisk however is no frilled lizard. This is a frilled lizard.

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That pathetic wimpy thing Heliolisk has round his neck can’t compare. I get that it’s meant to be a sunburst but  don’t get why they’re sun themed in the first place. They’re an Electirc type, sun is more of a fire type thing.

Tyrunt and Tyrantrum

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and

Amaura and Aurorous

amaura aurorus

It has taken us 6 generations to get the most obvious dinosaurs out of the way. A T-Rex and an Apatosaurus,  probably the most famous and iconic dinosaurs that every kid aged 6 knows about. Before we got to them we did ancient sea scorpions, archaeopteryx and even trilobites (all hail Lord Helix). And I can easily see why, Sugimori just doesn’t have any interesting ideas for what to do with a T-Rex and an Apatosaurus.

Tyrunt starts well, the proportions sell baby dinosaur well and he looks both cute and powerful. Tyrantrum though, it’s a T-Rex. Admittedly It’s a T-Rex with an awesome beard but aside from a head crest (which is okay) and a fur collar (which is baffling) it’s just so-so.

Aurorous is much better. The basic problem with an Apatosaur design is one of body proportions. To fit the shape into the size restrictions in Pokémon you end up with a massive gap between the head and body. Adding the fin helps this and balances out the design but turning the fin into the Aurora Borealis and the curve of the Apatosaurus’ neck into a snow covered mountain side is just inspired.

Hawlucha

hawlucha

I think we’re all agreed that Hawlucha is everyone’s favourite design this generation right? I mean, it’s a luchador hawk. All luchadors are inherently awesome and have visually interesting designs and the choice of animal, a high flying beastie with an intense stare just suits it perfectly. This little guy just exudes personality.

Goomy, Sliggoo and Goodra

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Okay, let me spoil Goomy for you.

Those two adorable little dots. Those aren’t eyes, they’re nostrils. The cute green chubby cheeks? They’re its eyes. Instead of being a cute cuddly wuddly goofball Goomy is in fact creepy and alien.

So Goomy, Sliggo and Goodra are based on slugs, snails and a H R Geiger guest directed episode of My Little Pony respectively. You’re probably thinking, okay, snails, that means France again right. And you’d be right. But you might also be wondering why the hell they’re dragon type? Well, let me tell you all about the Lou Carlcolh.

From Wikipedia

Lou Carcolh, or the Carcolh, is a supposed mythical beast from French folklore. It was described as being both a serpent and mollusk at the same time, taking characteristics from both types of animals. Its massive and long body carried an enormous shell upon its back, much like a snail‘s shell, that was believed to live in underground caverns in southwest France. Its gaping mouth was surrounded by several long, hairy, and slime covered tentacles that could extend for miles. These appendages stretched out from the cave it inhabited for a long distance and laid upon the ground among its own viscous slime. They would ensnare and drag back to its abode anything within reach. It would then swallow the victim whole with its gigantic mouth.

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image taken from Atlas Games

And since Dragon type refers more to being based in myth than any physiological characteristics, Goodra is a dragon.

Also beard. Horrible slimy chinbeard but still, beard.

Phantump and Trevenant

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So is Gen 6 the generation of “I can’t believe it took them this long to do that idea?” Because evil tree seems pretty obvious. Evil tree is like on of the first 10 monster ideas I come up with when I’m DM-ing. Certainly way before evil mask, evil candle or evil keys.

That said the reason it may have taken this long is again that I don’t think Sugimori has anything new to add to the idea. Trevenant is a generic evil tree that could appear in anything from Final Fantasy to a Mario game. In fact, with the relatively realistic proportions and high level of detail it doesn’t even feel particularly like a Pokémon design.

Pumpkaboo and Gourgeist

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I showed my fiance Pumpkaboo’s design when X and Y first came out and I don’t think she’s stopped squeeing since. I personally don’t get it. I agree he has a cute, fat bottom and his name is inherently funny but I kind of find him creepy.

I also like that they avoided the obvious route when making a Jack O Lantern monster. The added bat touches really make Pumpkaboo his own monster and give him his own distinct feel.

Bergmite and Avalugg

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I do like these two. Avalugg in particular has such a unique design, the flattened top is so distinctive and so different from not only every other Pokémon but most monster designs in general. And in a weird way it makes him seem powerful and imposing. It’s also a nice spin on the idea that iceberg’s are small on top and huge underneath. Bergmite is all top and is small, Avalygg is all bottom and is huge. And in addition to that it references one of the more bat shit insane moments from history. Check his Pokédex entry.

“The way several Bergmite huddle on its back makes it look like an aircraft carrier made of ice.”

That is a reference to a plan the British had in WW2 to build aircraft carriers in the North Sea made out of Pykrete, a sort of frozen cement made of wood chipping. Pykrete is actually an amazingly durable material, about as strong as steel and very cheap to make….provided of course you keep it frozen, but that isn’t as hard as you might think. Ice is a great insulator and the original Pykrete aircraft carier took 3 years to melt. Yes, years. The Mythbusters once made a boat out of it. You can read more about it here and find out why it was ultimately scrapped.

Noibat and Noivern

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It is entirely possible to read Noivern’s ears as the eyes of an owl looking sideways, this marginally improves this dull ass design.

Also another fur collar. Going back over the designs I actually count 18 fur collars this generation. That compares with only 5 awesome beards and that is catastrophic.

Yveltal

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Fur collar number 19. I know why it is here though, it helps balance out the shape.

I really like Yveltal. I’m a sucker for a few things and birds with horns are one of them plus turning those wings into hands. Yveltal has not one, not two but three weird hand wings (beating previous champion Lugia) and his pose makes him look like one massive grasping talon reaching out to get you. It’s all very cool and intimidating helped further by the black and red colour scheme, the lack of a mouth (which is always scary) and the weird but sinister black veins. It also incorporates the Y shape subtly but effectively. Between Xerneas and Yveltal we got two great legendaries this generation. Also, Gen 6 gives us the fewest legendaries yet with just 3. Yveltal, Xerneas and Diancie. Yeah I know about Hoopa and Volcanion but until they officially release them I won’t be reviewing them because I won’t be able to get a decent image and…

I forgot one?

Which did I forg..ohh. Oh.

Zygarde

Zygarde

 

Is a piece of shit.

You want more, okay. He’s a Ground/Dragon. Nothing on his design says ground or Dragon. His Z is barely there and the shape is ruined by his back crest which is just one of many design elements which signify nothing. Why the back crest? Why is he covered in hexagons? Why is he asymmetrical?  This design is a combination of elements that neither work individually nor as a whole, he’s crap and I didn’t want to end the generation on him so let’s look at Hawlucha again.

hawlucha

 

So much win.

In general Gen 6 is a mix of trying too hard but failing and succeeding but being boring which applies to the gameplay as much as the designs. That said Gen 6 has staked out a course. The first 5 Pokemon were all in one evolutionary tree getting better and better. But now, now nothing will ever be the same again and franky, I’m excited to see what comes next.

 

 

Summer Wars

Summer Wars 1

Summer Wars is very nearly a flawless movie.

And I use that term very specifically. A flawless movie means that I can’t find a single thing wrong with it. It doesn’t necessarily mean the movie is great merely that you can’t find fault in its execution. I’ve seen a very few flawless films in my time but even of the ones I have seen they aren’t my favourite kind of film. I’m much more interested in films that are trying to do something new or interesting even if their reach exceeds their grasp. Ambitious failures are more exciting than lazy successes.

Summer Wars is flawless and its got just enough creativity, engaging themes and new things to say to compensate for a straight forward plot and ideas that are not particularly original.

Summer Wars tells the story of Kenji Koiso (Ryûnosuke Kamiki) a high school student who has just missed out on the chance to represent Japan at the math olympics. He’s preparing for a dull Summer in a job as an administrator for OZ.

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What’s OZ? Well it’s a social media platform that has kind of replaced traditional browsers. In OZ you can do anything you can on the internet, banking, work, shopping, social interaction and of course play games. But rather than just reading text on a screen you have a custom avatar that inhabits a virtual world and interacts with its surroundings visually and in multiple dimensions. Want to go shopping? Well you can take your avatar to a shop and have it wander around the same as you would on the high street.

Kenji’s boring Summer plans get interrupted when he gets offered a Summer job working for Natsuki Shinohara (Nanami Sakuraba) a girl who has just graduated high school this year and also a girl that Kenji has a massive crush on. She wants him to accompany her to her Grandmother’s home to attend her 90th birthday party. What Natsuki doesn’t tell our hero until he arrives is that he’s pretending to be her over achieving fiance from a perfect family. Turns out Granny Shinohara hasn’t been feeling well recently and Natsuki said she wasn’t allowed to die until she met her boyfriend, a boyfriend that didn’t exist.

Kenji of course thinks this is both unfair and impossible and has a stressful day answering questions and being sized up by the extended Shinohara family including black sheep uncle Wabisuke Jin’nôchi.

He gets distracted from his problems though when a mysterious message arrives composed of numbers. Thinking it’s a maths problem he spends all night deciphering it and then sends the finished code back to the mysterious sender. And this turns out to be the secret backdoor password into OZ. And Kenji has just given the password to a malicious A.I. named Love Machine that immediately starts causing chaos and havoc in OZ. Worse, since OZ effectively is the internet the chaos has major ramifications for the real world, fire engines are dispatched to fake emergencies, traffic seizes up into miles long gridlocks, medical monitoring equipment stops working. Whoops.

Now the race is on for Kenji to fix what he did and he discovers along the way just how much the Shinohara’s are inextricably linked to the fate of Oz, himself and the world.

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At face value Summer Wars is a Cyberpunk story, and not a particularly original one. The notion of an alternate virtual world that reflects how the internet works goes all the way back to William Gibson’s Neuromancer in 1984 and variations on the idea have appeared in Snow Crash, The Matrix, Johnny Mnemonic, Tron, ReBoot and even Digimon.  In fact Summer Wars is in part a re-make of the second short from the first Digimon movie known in Japan as Bokura no wô gêmu! Or “Our War Game.” Director Mamoru Hosoda was also responsible for that short and the plot, basic concept and a lot of the animation is freely recycled from his earler effort.

What many of those other examples share though is that they’re set in the future and so feature other sci-fi or fantasy elements. Tron and Digimon feature people actually travelling to the digital world. Neuromancer and snow Crash features cyborgs and other SF technology that reinforce their theme of how people and technolgoy interact.

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In contrast Summer Wars is firmly set in real world Japan pretty much exactly how it works, looks and feels in 2010. And this is because Summer Wars is only half a cyberpunk story. The other half is concerned with the family and relationship drama of the Shinohara’s. The dynamics, tensions and alliances of the Shinohara’s are beautifully observed and feel so real to me. Kenji’s stress and panic when he’s the one outsider in a group of 20 or so people, all with names he struggles to remember, completely echoes the way I felt when I first stayed with my fiance’s relatives in Tokyo. Even if you don’t have any experience of Japanese culture though you’ll recognise and empathise with the way each family member teases the others, slots into a defined role, makes sub-groups within the larger family, etc.

Summer Wars really is about the contrast between communication amongst families and communication online. It’s about how the human dynamics of 2 thousand years adapt to the technology of the modern world. And it’s a story that could not be told more perfectly than in Japan. I’ve remarked numerous times that one of the things that stands out to me about Japan is about how the very high tech and the very ancient live together. Outside of Japan countries adapted to the changes of technology gradually, each new invention necessitating changes in how human beings lived and thought. But Japan remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years until the Meiji Revolution when, boom, all the benefits of the industrial revolution came completely overnight.

It meant that Japan had to adapt fast to change and the way they managed it largely was to isolate and section off their lives, this bit is traditional, this bit is new. Like the paper walls that section off a Japanese home they could create invisible notional walls that left both the old and the new in the same place, but separate.

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The Shinohara’s are a particularly good example of this. A samurai family with a large traditional house that made their money from silk. They have unusually strong ties to Japan’s past and are proud of their heritage. But they all have cell phones, the kid’s all have game boys, one son is a professional baseball player, another is a computer programmer and one more sells computers. They’re as much a part of the modern world as anybody.

Summer Wars is not alone in being about the tension between technology and tradition in Japan, Mononoke Hime and Hi-No-Tori cover similar ground in greater depth and complexity. What Summer Wars does get right though is that it doesn’t pick a side. Very often in films about the importance of family or the environment tech gets demonised and the audience is encouraged to root for nature. Not so in Summer Wars. Tech can cause problems but it also, ultimately, saves the day. The strong family bonds of the Shinohara’s help them organise and get through the crisis but it’s a failure in family dynamics that inadvertently causes the threat in the first place. And one character dies explicitly because tech that was keeping them alive no longer works. Tech is not the bad guy, nor even is the reliance on tech.

What is the bad guy though, in every instance, is a lack of communication.  Kenji not knowing the situation he’ll be in stresses him out, which leads him to solve the maths problem and not knowing who sent that problem leads to the problem in OZ. Wabisuke not knowing that he is loved and forgiven leads to the creation of the Love Machine. Equally every problem is solved through communication. There is an amazing sequence of Granny Shinohara phoning people up during the first OZ crisis and pulling seemingly the whole of Japan through the problem with stern words of admonition and others of encouragement. Kenji is able to get the gear he needs to fight Love Machine due to the family connections of the Shinohara’s each of who can contribute a particular skill or talent showing that we’re stronger together than fighting alone.

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If there is one criticism of Summer Wars it is that technology doesn’t work that way. The depiction of OZ is one thing but the damage that Love Machine is able to do because he hacks OZ is simply impossible. And the idea that punching a giant monster, which is rendered in code in a graphics engine, with a rabbit avatar which is equally rendered in code in a graphics engine would somehow re-write or alter code is frankly silly, a useful visual allegory but silly. I think the film gets a buy on this though. Every film gets to do one impossible thing and for me with Summer Wars I’ll let it slide that the internet doesn’t work that way. Partly because although the internet doesn’t work that way the way the film depicts how people use the internet, what our relationship with communications technology is and what it does to us is 100% spot on. I know for some people though this is an insurmountable obstacle, and all I can say is I wish you could get past it to experience just how good Summer Wars is.

Every other element is, as I say, flawless. The acting and script are just perfect. The movie has a very naturalistic feel despite the big SF concepts which again supports the contrast between the real world and OZ. Even better the script is brimming with humour and nice character moments. This film has a huge cast of characters, many of whom get maybe one line of dialogue and most of whom have names I couldn’t tell you. Yet they don’t feel interchangeable, everyone feels like a real person and distinct from the others. With only a few lines of dialogue, the acting and the animation everyone is able to bring each character to life.

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The animation too is spectacular, right up there with Ghibli. Supplied by Madhouse, who also did the stunning The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Millennium Actress, the scenes in the real world look nearly photo realistic with amazing attention to the background details. The characters are just stylized the right amount, nobody looks like an obvious cartoon like Disney or Ghibli but they still move and emote with energy whereas many realistic animated films feel stiff and lifeless.

That realism is crucial for selling the contrast between the real world and OZ. In OZ though the animators are free to indulge in their wildest fantasies and OZ is full of striking, inventive and memorable visuals to rival other eye candy anime like Evangelion or Spirited Away. I particularly like how there are no  black lines in OZ, everyone is instead outlined in another primary colour such as red. It gives the effect of making OZ seem more ethereal and the real world more real by comparison.

Pacing, direction, music, atmosphere; everything else is just perfect for what the film needs them to do.

Summer Wars is an absolute must see.

 

 

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