The Quatermass All-Purpose Media Review Thread

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Quatermass

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Dec 7, 2010
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REVIEW: The Rising of the Shield Hero Season 2: Episode 4: Ruins in the Fog, Episode 5: Ost Hourai, and Episode 6: Racing to Catch Up by Keigo Koyonagi, based on the light novels by Aneko Yusagi

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: ROTSH2.4-2.6, 3X25 minute episodes

So, here I am, watching more of the second season of The Rising of the Shield Hero. But will this controversial adaptation continue to do well? Let’s find out…

With Ost Hourai’s help, Naofumi and his allies enter the depths of the Spirit Tortoise, only to find Glass, L’Arc and Therese investigating. The warriors from another world, however, are not after Naofumi or the other heroes. They are instead after the man responsible for the Spirit Tortoise’s awakening, the deranged Kyo Ethnina, the rogue Vassal Book Hero from their world, and intent on harnessing the power of the Spirit Tortoise and the other Cardinal Heroes for his own malign ends. But can this insane genius be stopped?

At least with this part of the adaptation, the abbreviation is more in line with what one would expect with an adaptation. True, it still feels a little rushed, and I feel some elements weren’t quite explained. But it is otherwise a good adaptation where the stakes are higher, and some of the dialogue, especially Kyo’s, is enhanced in the dub.

Stephen Fu has found his feet as Naofumi, while Erica Mendez as Raphtalia and Brianna Knickerbocker as Filo are good as usual. Amber Lee Connors as Ost and Kira Buckland as Rishia also do well. Alejandro Saab, Erika Harlacher and Morgan Berry make welcome returns as L’Arc, Therese and Glass. It’s Sean Chiplock as Kyo Ethnina who truly steals the show, chewing the scenery as the genocidal evil genius, showing elements of his gamer past.

Production values are, on the whole, quite good. I do think there’s a few blips in the animation, like one scene where Kyo levitates, for example. But otherwise, well, there’s not much to be said other than it being good.

Overall, I feel that these episodes of The Rising of the Shield Hero are good, if not great. Not a bad adaptation, but it needs a bit more oomph…

****
 

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REVIEW: That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Episode 37: The Visitors, Episode 38: A Meeting of Humans and Monsters, and Episode 39: Ramiris’ Warning by Kazuyuki Fudeyasu, from the light novels by Fuse

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: TTRS2.13-2.15, 3X25 minute episodes

Although I have spent much of this year, the 60th anniversary year of Doctor Who, eating away at my backlog of that franchise, I’ve burned myself out on it a little. Thus, I decided to return to one of the isekai series that captured my heart, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. This series with a clunky title and a warm heart deserves my attention…but would the next episodes keep that?

The war between Tempest and Falmuth has ended. Rimuru has become a Demon Lord, those of his people who were slain have been revived, and now, Veldora has a new body to call his own. But even with the threat of Clayman looming on the horizon, Rimuru needs to engage in diplomacy not only with his allies from Blumund and Dwargon, but newcomers from the Sorcerer Dynasty of Sarion may prove to be a complicating factor…

I have to admit to mixed feelings about these episodes. On the one hand, they feel too talky and too slowly-paced, and after the heights of the battle against Falmuth’s forces has ended, it’s hard to compare to that. On the other hand, the exposition and diplomacy is well-written and adapted, so that it actually gives breathing space after what has happened, and there’s more than a few funny gags.

Brittney Karbowski, as usual, is a delight as Rimuru, while Mallorie Rodak is showing ‘Raphael’s increasing humanity. Chris Rager is clearly having the time of his life as Veldora, with the concept of an otaku dragon being a hilariously awesome one. The rest of the cast do well, though I do have mixed feelings about both the characterisation and casting of Robert McCollum as Elalude.

Although there’s not much in the way of impressive animation setpieces in this set of episodes, the production values still manage to impress. From the meetings between Tempest and allies old and new, to Rimuru and Benimaru being forced to try out some of Shion’s new cooking, the animation is used well. Honestly, what is there to say?

While a step down from the brilliant crescendo that was the last few episodes and a bit bogged down in dialogue and exposition, these episodes of this isekai series with heart nonetheless remains entertaining enough. Here’s hoping it keeps the high standards it has maintained before…


****
 

Quatermass

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Dec 7, 2010
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REVIEW: The Rising of the Shield Hero Season 2: Episode 7: Infinite Labyrinth, Episode 8: Parting in the Snow, Episode 9: Humming Fairy, and Episode 10: Katana Hero by Keigo Koyonagi, based on the light novels by Aneko Yusagi

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: ROTSH2.7-2.10, 4X25 minute episodes

So, here I am with more episodes of The Rising of the Shield Hero to watch. But how would they fare? Let’s find out…

Pursuing Kyo to another world, Naofumi and his allies are separated, with Naofumi, Rishia, and Raphtalia reduced to Level 1, and trapped in the Infinite Labyrinth, a prison set in another dimension. They meet a fellow prisoner and a Japanese summoned to act as a Cardinal Hero in that world: Kizuna, the Hunting Tool Hero. But can she be trusted? Can Naofumi reunite with Filo and stop Kyo? And what destiny awaits Raphtalia when she is unwillingly separated from Naofumi by Kyo’s cruel machinations?

One of the odder deviations from the novels appears here, where Raphtalia appears with Naofumi and Rishia in the Infinite Prison. It doesn’t really serve much of a purpose, other than for Kyo to pull a nasty move. Some nice character moments with Kizuna at her own house are removed. Yet these do not detract too badly from what is still quite an enjoyable adaptation, with plenty of key moments kept in (like Naofumi’s rescue of Filo), and some even added to (like Raphtalia gaining the Vassal Katana, as well as ‘Trash 2’, as he is named in the novel, getting a name as well as ‘Kazuki’).

Stephen Fu has, by now, fitted well into the role of Naofumi. I did find it odd that Erica Mendez didn’t try to sound more child-like when Raphtalia de-ages, but otherwise, her performance was superlative. Lizzie Freeman is cheerfully enthusiastic as Kizuna, while Brandon McInnis makes Kazuki’s entitled nature shine forth in every word.

The production values are good as always. What else can I say? True, I felt the nightmarish visions inflicted on Filo’s captor could have been better animated, but Raphtalia showing off her skill as the Katana Hero and then being reunited with Naofumi makes up for that.

Overall, these were pretty good episodes of The Rising of the Shield Hero, despite some blips. I can’t say the same for the finale, though…


****
 

Quatermass

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Dec 7, 2010
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REVIEW: Doctor Who: Under the Lake/Before the Flood by Toby Whithouse

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: Serial 9.3/9.4, 2X45 minute episodes

Not only is it Doctor Who’s 60th Anniversary, but it is Halloween. So, why not get a Doctor Who story out of the backlog that is one of the more horrific ones? This two-parter from Peter Capaldi’s time as the Doctor is one I haven’t watched yet. But had I missed out on a true classic, or had I dodged a bullet?

In the 22nd Century, a lake that once held a submerged village lies now plays host to an oil-drilling expedition. The base’s personnel have found an alien spaceship, but soon after finding it, their leader is killed, and his ghost, along with the ghost of an alien with undertaker clothes appears. Into this mess stumble the Doctor and Clara. But as the bodycount grows, and so do the ghosts, the Doctor is thrust into unknown territory. What links the ghosts and the message they utter with an alien despot? What events took place in the past that lead to the ghosts appearing? And is anyone safe?

I have to admit, a few small elements of this story bug me. The Doctor seems a bit more callous than usual at times, even for his Twelfth incarnation, deaf character Cass’ inclusion feels more like unnecessary affirmative action than something truly vital to the story, and some things make me feel like this story was two different ones bolted together. Yet for all that, this story does superlatively otherwise, integrating elements of the ‘base under siege’ story with time-travel elements that the series doesn’t utilise more often.

Peter Capaldi is a delight as always as the Doctor, as is Jenna Coleman as Clara. Of the main guest stars, Zaqi Ismail as Lunn, Morven Christie as O’Donnel, and Arsher Ali as Bennett were great. I feel that Sophie Stone as Cass was given a rather frustrating character to portray, as while her grievances against the Doctor are not invalid, Cass also feels somewhat too contrarian at times, and then grabs the idiot ball tight close to the end. Peter Serafinowicz gives the Fisher King’s voice wonderful menace.

In terms of production design, the episodes are a touch basic, but otherwise pretty good. Admittedly, I had mistaken reflections of water in the underwater base for crappy CGI water in the base. The design of the Fisher King is suitably grotesque, with Corey Taylor of Slipknot fame providing his vicious roars, and the confrontation between him and the Doctor is pretty well done too, utilising the shadowed basement well. Plus, we get an official rock version of the Doctor Who theme.

Overall, while hampered by a few elements, this two-parter is nonetheless a tense and atmospheric story. One of the best stories of Capaldi’s time as the Doctor…

****½
 

Quatermass

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Dec 7, 2010
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REVIEW: The Rising of the Shield Hero Season 2: Episode 11: Kizuna, Episode 12: Reason to Fight, and Episode 13: Flowers Offered in Recollection by Keigo Koyonagi, based on the light novels by Aneko Yusagi

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: ROTSH2.11-2.13, 3X25 minute episodes

Finally, I’m at the last episodes of the second season of The Rising of the Shield Hero. But would the finale live up to expectations? Or would it fall down flat?

Reunited at last, Naofumi, his party, and Kizuna and her friends begin preparations to take the fight to Kyo. Yet Kyo’s friend Yomogi is sent after them to take revenge on them. That clash is but the opening bout of the battle to decide the fate of two worlds. Can Naofumi prevail against Kyo?

Here in these episodes, the flaws in this abridged adaptation finally show far more. The final book of the arc is compressed into two episodes, and Kyo’s final battle isn’t quite given the full coverage it deserves. Instead, the third episode is almost entirely irrelevant and vestigial (and cringey in at least a couple of parts), and the screentime could have been devoted to other episodes. All the same, it’s still a good adaptation in some regards, just badly rushed and abridged.

Stephen Fu as Naofumi does well, even if at times in the penultimate episode, he gets too OOC at this stage of his character development. So does Erica Mendez as Raphtalia and Brianna Knickerbocker as Filo. Of the remaining cast, Lizzie Freeman is notable as Kizuna, while Sean Chiplock enjoys chewing the scenery as Kyo.

The production values are pretty good for the most part. There’s a few hiccups here and there, but the animation is pretty good, especially for the final battle. On that much, at least, it’s a good finale.

Overall, these episodes, being the finale for this season, were a step down in quality from prior ones. A shame, really. Let’s hope the next season changes for the better…

***½
 

Quatermass

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Dec 7, 2010
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REVIEW: Doctor Who: Doom Coalition- The Red Lady by John Dorney

TYPE: Audio drama

DETAILS: 8DADC 1.2, 1X60 minute episode

Throughout this year, I have been nibbling away at my Doctor Who backlog, for the 60th Anniversary, amongst other things. As the anniversary proper approaches, I have latched onto this audio story, the second part of the first Doom Coalition anthology, to continue that task. But how would The Red Lady fare against the heights its predecessor, The Eleven, reached?

The vicious and insane renegade Time Lord known as the Eleven has escaped Gallifrey. Trying to find his trail, the Doctor and Liv Chenka end up in London in 1963, where the art collection of the late Dr McCallum, instead of being destroyed like his will demands, has been donated to the National Museum. In each and every work of art and ancient parchment, there’s a strangely inhuman lady with red hair present. Forced to team up with prickly linguist and scholar Helen Sinclair, the Doctor and Liv realise that the Red Lady has an inhuman ability to entrance people who view her or read about her…which may end in their deaths…

The story is a very atmospheric science fiction horror one with a fairly novel notion. True, it feels more like an interlude in the main Doom Coalition storyline, with it more as a vehicle to introduce a new companion in Helen, and the reason behind the Red Lady’s attacks are not explained, in this story at least. But it is, for the most part, an enjoyable and tense little horror story.

Paul McGann as the Doctor is a delight, as is Nicola Walker as Liv. I do have some mixed feelings about newcomer Hattie Morahan as Helen Sinclair, if only because the character seems excessively prickly. True, that’s a hangover of her being an academic woman during a chauvinistic time, but she takes out her frustrations on the Doctor and Liv (albeit in understandable circumstances) a little too quickly, though at least she shows her mettle when push comes to shove.

As far as production values are concerned, well, what else need be said. True, there’s a few moments that were hard to discern through headphones. But otherwise, Big Finish are masters of making cinematic soundscapes, and that soundscape helps enhance the horror of this story.

Overall, this episode was a brilliant, if slightly flawed, instalment of Doctor Who. I should listen to more of the Doom Coalition anthology later…

****½
 

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Dec 7, 2010
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REVIEW: Batman: Year One, by Tab Murphy, based on the comics by Frank Miller.

TYPE: Movie

DETAILS: 65 mins

Frank Miller is a somewhat controversial figure in the comic book industry. However, there is no denying that his revamp of Batman’s origins, Batman: Year One, is a definitive and superlative work in the genre. But how would the animated adaptation fare?

Two very different people, yet with the same desire to fight crime, arrive in Gotham City. James Gordon, a Chicago cop, is faced with the corruption within the very police he is part of, acting almost as a criminal gang unto themselves. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is eager to start his crusade, yet lacks focus. This is the story, then, of how these two different men forged themselves into crime-fighters, one working within the law, the other outside it, and of how an unlikely partnership was forged…

I have to admit, something does feel a bit lacking from this adaptation. Leaving aside the abridged nature of it being compressed to fill just over an hour of running time, it also doesn’t quite feel gritty enough for a Frank Miller adaptation. This isn’t to say the adaptation is bad. It manages to keep all the right notes, dialogue and scenes that made the original great, and is a good origin story for Batman. I had just hoped for something a bit more substantial.

Of the cast, it is Bryan Cranston as Gordon that carries the show. Given that the original comic seemed to emphasize Gordon’s story more than Batman’s, this is hardly surprising. Ben McKenzie does a good job as Batman, and Fred Tatasciore lays on the sleaze as Flass.

The animation is pretty well done, as is the style, with many iconic moments from the original graphic novel. The fight scenes also have a lot going for it. Honestly, my main issue with it is that the animation style doesn’t quite feel right, feeling more like an evolution of Batman: The Animated Series rather than a Frank Miller adaptation.

Overall, this was a decent, but not great adaptation of one of the seminal Batman graphic novels. A shame, that…

***½
 

Quatermass

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Dec 7, 2010
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REVIEW: Doctor Who: The Four Doctors by Peter Anghelides

TYPE: Audio drama

DETAILS: BFDWSUB08, 1X70 minute episode

With the 60th Anniversary of Doctor Who approaching, it was past time that I did something on or at least close to that anniversary. Given that multi-Doctor stories are a thing on anniversaries (The Three Doctors was done for the 10th anniversary, The Five Doctors for the 20th, the audio story Zagreus for the 40th, and both the TV special The Day of the Doctor and the audio story The Light at the End for the 50th anniversary), I thought, why not listen to a multi-Doctor audio story? This one, The Four Doctors, was not done for a specific anniversary. But how would it fare?

The Vault of Stellar Curios, a research space station run by the biomechanoid aliens known as the Jariden, who have been fighting off the Daleks. The Fifth Doctor arrives, seeking the source of a dangerous temporal event, but Professor Kalinda is reluctant to let him search. Things become more complicated soon enough with new arrivals: Kalinda’s brother in the Jariden military, Colonel Ulrik; the Eighth Doctor; and a ruthless squad of Daleks, invited here by Ulrik himself as part of a deal the Daleks soon betray. What links these events to Michael Faraday’s laboratory in the 19th century, and an early battle between the Daleks and the Jariden? Why is the Doctor in separate incarnations being drawn in? And why is Ulrik at the centre of it all?

This is no real epic, not like most multi-Doctor stories. Rather, it is an interesting utilisation of not only four of the classic series Doctors, but also the Daleks, as well as the time-travel elements so central to the series, and yet so underutilised. True, the plot is fairly simplistic without these elements, and the ending feels a bit like a deus ex machina, but it’s an enjoyable romp regardless.

The stars of the show are the titular Doctors. Peter Davison and Paul McGann get the lion’s share of screentime, so to speak, but Sylvester McCoy and Colin Baker get some nice moments too. Of the guest cast, Ellie Burrow as Kalinda is good, as is Nigel Lambert as Faraday, but David Bamber as Ulrik shows the character throughout his life, going from a well-meaning but arrogant traitorous fool to someone seeking redemption. Nick Briggs, as always, is a delight as the Daleks.

Production values-wise, well, what need be said? Big Finish is great at doing cinematic soundscapes. We even have a subtle voice modulation that hints at the Jariden’s biomechanical nature and that even hints at their true origins without it making their voices hard to understand.

Overall, this story was an enjoyable romp, albeit not as epic as I had hoped.

****
 

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REVIEW: Robocop, by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner.

TYPE: Movie

DETAILS: 105 mins

Robocop is one of the cornerstones of modern pop-culture in science fiction and cyberpunk. Yet I have never experienced it myself, save for some vague memories of the TV series and the SatAM cartoon, as well as the recent video game Rogue City. But that has changed. Would the story and satire shine through the vicious violence?

In a not-too-distant future, Detroit is besieged by crime and corruption. The ruthless corporation Omni-Consumer Products has privatised the police department, and it is the corporation’s leader’s dream to build a new city, Delta City. But to do that, crime must be driven out of the city. When executive Dick Jones’ ED-209 proves to be a dangerous failure, ambitious Bob Morton expounds the benefits of his Robocop project, a cyborg police officer. And soon, they get their test subject, newly-transferred police officer Alex Murphy, murdered by the gang of Clarence Boddicker. Murphy, reborn as Robocop, proves to be a force in stopping crime. But his memories of his old life resurface. And worse, Jones seeks revenge on Morton for usurping him, and he’s willing to do what it takes to get to the top of OCP. Can Murphy regain his humanity, and stop not only the gangsters, but also Dick Jones and his plans?

While the plot of the movie is somewhat simple and straightforward, and some elements haven’t aged at all well, otherwise, Robocop manages to balance science fiction action with biting satire and pitch-black comedy. True, the violence will no doubt turn a lot of people off, and I do think Murphy could have been given more character development prior to his demise and resurrection. But everything else is pretty much on-point, and serves as a potent satirical reflection even of modern times.

The star of the show is, of course, Peter Weller as Alex Murphy, portraying well both the human part of him prior to his demise, as well as the colder but still human elements of Robocop. Nancy Allen is very much the heart of the film as Lewis, while a young Miguel Ferrer is clearly having fun as Bob Morton. Kurtwood Smith also enjoys chewing the scenery as the vile Boddicker, while Ronny Cox as Dick Jones and Daniel O’Herlihy as the Old Man round out the cast of OCP executives.

I have to admit, this is the first time I have watched a film (beyond clips, anyway) directed by Paul Verhoeven. And he doesn’t disappoint. While the direction is not quite as kinetic as modern thrillers, it manages to work out, with the drug lab shootout being a particular highlight. And while the very 80s styling of future Detroit hasn’t aged that well, along with the stop-motion animation used for the ED-209 robot, somehow, it also manages to somehow feel more realistic than a lot of science fiction films set in the future, feeling more like the modern day, but with a few extra bits and a bit grungier. And of course, Robocop’s design has since become an integral part of pop-culture for a reason, and Basil Poledouris’ iconic theme for the movie, Rock Shop, suits the nature of the film well.

Overall, while not perfect by any means, Robocop is an iconic science fiction film that mixes hard action with biting satire and commentary. There’s a reason why it has become a cornerstone of pop-culture…

****½
 

Quatermass

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REVIEW: Doctor Who: Doom Coalition- The Galileo Trap by Marc Platt

TYPE: Audio drama

DETAILS: 8DADC 1.3, 1X55 minute episode

Having listened to the first couple of instalments of the first Doctor Who: Doom Coalition boxset, it was past time that I listened to more. But with the high bar set by the first two episodes, how would The Galileo Trap fare? After all, it was written by one of my favourite authors from the series, Marc Platt…

Heading back in time to 1639 Italy, the Doctor and Liv, with their new associate Dr Helen Sinclair, are seeking out Galileo Galilei, an old friend of the Doctor’s. The famous astronomer is under house arrest, while in the nearby countryside, alien beasts rampage. A trap has been set for the Doctor, with Galileo as the bait, but between vicious Volkbrood mercenaries and a cyborg investigator from the Cosmos Security Services, the Doctor and his companions may not survive the trap…

As with the previous instalments of Doom Coalition thus far, this is an excellent, self-contained story. True, there’s not quite enough character development, and I feel that Galileo is wasted in it, to say nothing of a few moments of questionable plot logic. But it was an immensely enjoyable romp that promises much for the climactic story of this boxset.

Paul McGann is a delight as always as the Doctor, as is Nicola Walker as Liv Chenka. And despite my disquiet with her attitude in the previous story, Hattie Morahan’s Helen Sinclair is coming into her own as a novice companion. Of the remaining cast, it’s veteran actor John Woodvine as an elderly Galileo who truly shines, though Esther Hall as Virginia/Fortuna, Harry Myers as the vicious Cleaver, and Gunnar Cauthery as Cavalli also do well.

Production values wise, well, what else need I say that I haven’t before. Big Finish does wonderfully cinematic soundscapes. My main complaint is that, listening through earphones, I could not discern some dialogue.

Overall, this was an excellent instalment of an excellent anthology. I can’t wait to listen to the finale…

****½
 

Quatermass

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Dec 7, 2010
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REVIEW: Overlord IV: Episode 1: Sorcerous Nation of Ainz Ooal Gown, Episode 2: Re-Estize Kingdom, Episode 3: Baharuth Empire, and Episode 4: The Ruler of Conspiracy by Yukie Sugawara, from the light novels by Kugane Muruyama

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: OL4.1-4, 4X25 minute episodes

At long last, I’ve begun to watch the fourth season of Overlord. But how would this dark isekai series fare? Let’s find out…

Ainz Ooal Gown has begun his first steps to world conquest, establishing a kingdom over territory around E-Rantel. But there are many trials and travails involved in being a ruler. As Albedo heads to Re-Estize to make trade agreements, she is given a potential puppet in an arrogant young noble. Meanwhile, the Slane Theocracy, looking to strike back, seek an alliance with Emperor Jircniv of the Baharuth Empire. But the Bloody Emperor is becoming ever more paranoid, seeing plots in every shadow, and when Ainz makes his next move, Jircniv may do something reckless…

I have to admit, while it wasn’t bad, these episodes didn’t really have much plot. Considering this was more of a transitory arc between the various volumes in the light novels, this is hardly surprising. Then again, some scenes translate better to the TV screen, and there’s some wonderful character moments.

Chris Guerrero as Ainz Ooal Gown is, as always, a delight, as is Elizabeth Maxwell as the obsessed Albedo. Austin Tindle chews the scenery as the increasingly paranoid Jircniv. That being said, one particular role of note is Aaron Campbell as the arrogant minor noble Philip Dayton L’Eyre Montserrat, whose idiocy will come back to haunt the Re-Estize Kingdom later on.

Production values are excellent as usual. True, there’s still some egregious use of CGI extras in a few scenes, but otherwise, things go well. A particular highlight is Ainz facing off against Go-Gin in the arena. Plus, the series has some of the best openings yet, with this series’ opening, accompanied by Hollow Hunger by OxT, being perhaps the best ever.

Overall, while not truly great, these episodes of Overlord are a good appetiser for the arcs to come. I can’t wait to experience them…

****
 

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REVIEW: Doctor Who: Doom Coalition- The Satanic Mill by Edward Collier

TYPE: Audio drama

DETAILS: 8DADC 1.4, 1X55 minute episode

Finally, I have come to the final instalment of the first Doom Coalition boxset of Doctor Who audio dramas. This boxset proved to be filled with immensely enjoyable stories so far. But would the season finale, so to speak, have the payoff?

The Doctor, Liv and Helen have made their way to the mysterious object orbiting the Sun, pursuing the vicious Time Lord criminal known as the Eleven. But they haven’t expected a bizarre parody of a Victorian workhouse, presided over by murderous machines forcing people to work themselves to death. But the Eleven is behind it, and this satanic mill is his ultimate trap, and his ultimate weapon, one he will use to take revenge on the Doctor, and wreak terrible havoc across all time and space…

After the superlative heights of the prior three instalments, this final story of the first Doom Coalition boxset was admittedly a letdown. Even though the Eleven’s logic in turning a stellar manipulator into a workhouse is sound enough, it just seems a little too surreal, and there’s no revelation of whom the Doom Coalition is, save for a few hints from the Eleven and his past selves. That being said, this story is still an enjoyable, if simplistic romp.

As usual, Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and Nicola Walker as Liv Chenka are superlative, while Hattie Morahan as Helen has mostly found her feet. Mark Bonnar, meanwhile, is enjoying chewing up the scenery as the Eleven and his prior incarnations. The rest of the cast are fine enough, but none truly stand out.

Production values are, well, what can I say? I’ve said it before, and I will reiterate that Big Finish excels at creating cinematic soundscapes. There are some times when the dialogue is a bit hard to hear while wearing headphones, but otherwise, I have little to complain about.

Overall, this was a good, but not stellar end to the first Doom Coalition set. A shame, really, after the heights the previous episodes reached…

****
 

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REVIEW: Overlord IV: Episode 5: In Pursuit of the Land of Dwarves, Episode 6: The Impending Crisis, and Episode 7: Frost Dragon Lord by Yukie Sugawara, from the light novels by Kugane Muruyama

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: OL4.5-7, 3X25 minute episodes

I have to admit, the Dwarven Kingdom arc of the Overlord books was a surprise hit with me. But how would the adaptation pan out? Let’s find out…

Still reeling from Jircniv’s request to make the Baharuth Empire a vassal state of the Sorcerer Kingdom, Ainz Ooal Gown decides to take a holiday. Taking Aura and Shalltear with him, he seeks the kingdom of the Dwarves, only to find the city he comes to abandoned, stumbling across only a single miner and runesmith, Gondo Firebeard. Runesmithing is a dying art amongst the Dwarves, but their people are in danger of being wiped out by the vicious Quagoa, mole-like beasts who have, with the Frost Dragon Lord Olasird’arc and his brood, taken over the original royal capital. In order to gain the runesmiths for the Sorcerer Kingdom, Ainz may yet face his toughest challenge, a Dragon Lord…

Unfortunately, many parts of the novel that added to the milieu of the arc were trimmed away, which is a shame, and the Dwarves seem stereotypical for fantasy. Yet for all that, many of the better moments are preserved, like Shalltear regaining confidence in herself, her massacre of the Quagoa, as well as the hilarity of Hejinmal, the nerdy Frost Dragon. It’s certainly not an arc that overstays its welcome.

Chris Guerrero is on fine form as Ainz, as is Jill Harris as Aura. Felecia Angelle is particularly prominent as Shalltear as she undergoes considerable character development, gaining confidence. Finally, Dallas Reid is hilarious as the skittish Hejinmal.

Production values are, for the most part, excellent. The only real downside is the overreliance on blatantly CGI Quagoa. Other than that, most of the production does well, with a particular highlight being Shalltear’s culling of the Quagoa.

Overall, these episodes of Overlord were excellent, though not perfect. But given what’s to come, it’s a welcome breather before the darkness ahead…

****½
 

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REVIEW: The Sandman, Chapter 1: Sleep of the Just by Neil Gaiman, David S Goyer, and Allan Heinberg, from the comics by Neil Gaiman et al.

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: SM1.1, 1X50 minute episode

The Sandman is, to be perfectly blunt, my personal favourite comic series of all time. This dark fantasy series about the adventures of Dream, a member of the Endless, beings more powerful and older than most deities, captured my imagination. But how would a TV series adaptation, developed by Neil Gaiman himself, fare?

In 1916, Morpheus, aka Dream of the Endless, sets out to capture the Corinthian, a rogue nightmare. However, he is summoned and imprisoned by Roderick Burgess, an ambitious mage who intends to force Dream to gift him with power in exchange for his release. But Dream’s capture has consequences, far-reaching ones that will shake the world to its core…

In some regards, some of the changes feel like virtue signalling and putting in some elements meant only to check boxes for diversity, as well as making Morpheus even more spiteful than in canon, perhaps unnecessarily so, and Roderick Burgess being outright abusive towards Alex makes for uncomfortable viewing. Yet overall, this adaptation actually does a masterful job of adapting the first chapter of The Sandman comics, and such qualms are easily overcome in the face of what is a masterpiece. For something Neil Gaiman himself claimed was unfilmable, they did a damned good job regardless. They even expanded or altered matters in many ways, like showing the beginning of Alex Burgess and Paul’s relationship, or showing an abortive attempt by one of Morpheus’ ravens to save him, only to get killed, giving him further impetus for revenge.

The casting is all superlative. Tom Sturridge as Morpheus, while just barely lacking the completely otherworldly nature of Dream, is otherwise perfect casting, being able to show the age and coldness of Morpheus, as well as his more human qualities, feeling like he stepped out of the pages of the comic. So too does Boyd Holbrook as the Corinthian, who has been put into the story early, and Charles Dance is brilliant as the desperate and cruel Roderick Burgess.

The production values are, well, what can I say? While nowhere near as colourful as the editions I own of the comics, the show looks beautifully cinematic, and translates the surreal nature of the artwork to the screen, and also making it its own. Some iconic images from the comic are reproduced fantastically. This feels like how The Sandman is meant to be on the screen.

The first episode of The Sandman is a promising beginning, if at times a dark and uncomfortable one, to an adaptation of a beloved comic series. I hope it goes from strength to strength…


*****
 

Quatermass

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REVIEW: Overlord IV: Episode 8: An Unexpected Move, Episode 9: Countdown to Extinction, and Episode 10: The Last King by Yukie Sugawara, from the light novels by Kugane Muruyama

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: OL4.8-10, 3X25 minute episodes

So, here I am, going for the final arc of Overlord IV. This set of episodes adapts part of The Witch of the Doomed Kingdom novel. But how would it fare?

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, and so it is with ambitious and imbecilic Baron Phillip Montserrat. Although an unwitting pawn of Ainz Ooal Gown, he is goaded by other disaffected nobles to steal food that Ainz was sending to the Holy Roble Kingdom. Ainz soon finds himself forced into making the Re-Estize Kingdom an example of what will happen to those who defy him. But is the kingdom truly defenceless? Who is the mysterious Adventurer wielding powered armour straight out of Yggdrasil? And will Ainz listen to any pleas for mercy, even from his subordinates?

This is actually quite a good adaptation of what is, admittedly, one of the darkest arcs in the series. True, a few scenes, like Azuth Aindra getting the Black Scripture to back off by revealing their dirty laundry, is missing, to my chagrin, as is a scene where the nobles manipulating Phillip reveal their true intentions, and Nigredo is revealed with little foreshadowing earlier in the series, unlike the novels. There’s also one of the cringier scenes left in that I don’t like, involving the cleric Lilynette. But it’s still a good adaptation of the arc, with some of its best scenes kept intact.

Chris Guerrero, as usual, is excellent as Momonga. In fact, one of his best scenes is playing off against Cris George as Zanac in the ‘happiness’ scene, and his cold, calm anger afterwards after Zanac’s betrayal is palpable. The rest of the cast do well, with the debut of Trina Nishimura as Nigredo being a delight.

The production values are, for the most part, excellent. True, the overreliance on CGI for the soldiers of Re-Estize is still telling, even if it works for the undead armies. But the battle between the Four Armaments Adventurer group and a Death Knight is one of the highlights of these episodes.

Overall, while not truly superlative, these episodes of Overlord are a promising beginning to the end of this arc. I look forward to the finale…

****
 

Quatermass

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REVIEW: The Boys, Episode 1: The Name of the Game by Eric Kripke, from the comics by Garth Ennis et al.

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: TB1.1, 1X60 minute episode

Many years ago, I had the dubious pleasure of reading Garth Ennis’ controversial superhero series The Boys. I wasn’t that fond of it, due in part to its extreme edginess and its rather grotesque violence and sexual squick, so when a TV series came around, I was iffy about whether to watch it or not. But given its acclaim, I decided to bite the bullet, at long last…

In a world where superheroes exist, and the conglomerate Vought International holds a monopoly on them, and on so many other things, Hughie Campbell has had an ordinary life. That is, until his girlfriend is killed by the speedy superhero A-Train literally and carelessly running into her. Hughie finds no sympathy from either his father or Vought, who try to buy him off. He ends up meeting the charismatic and rough federal agent Billy Butcher, who opens his eyes to the dark reality of so-called superheroes. Meanwhile, young superhero hopeful Annie January, aka ‘Starlight’, has successfully auditioned to join the Seven, only to discover that she should never meet her heroes, for they are less than heroic. What trials and travails await Hughie and Annie as they discover the seedy underbelly of the superhero business?

I have to admit, a lot of the rougher edges were taken away from the comic, with a lot of the violence and squick feeling less gratuitous. Yet there’s no getting away from the fact that this is still a fairly unrelentingly grim and dark work, and one that lacks the charm and wonder of similar shows like Game of Thrones or Westworld. This rather juvenile way of doing grimdark settings hobbles what is otherwise an excellent satire of superheroes and corporate dealings, making it hard to watch. Which is a shame, as there’s some great moments, including the climactic fight between Hughie, Billy and Translucent, as well as Homelander showing his true colours in the final scene.

Jack Quaid is a delight as Hughie, giving a real human, everyman vibe to the character, as does Erin Moriarty as Annie. Karl Urban has a real rough…well, urbanity as the crude Billy Butcher, with Billy’s more human qualities being more readily apparent earlier. Antony Starr has, well, star presence as Homelander, managing to show off his seemingly heroic side, before the final scene shows his more sinister nature.

Production values-wise, well, for the most part, it’s excellent, the effects portraying all these superpowers in a manner that shows like they could be real. The fight between Translucent, Hughie and Billy is a particular highlight in both fight choreography and special effects. But I do think that one of the few things the comic did that the TV show did not was a brighter colour scheme. While it suits the tone of the show to some degree, I personally think it would have made a better juxtaposition between brighter colours and the dark reality of the world.

Overall, while most definitely an improvement over Garth Ennis’ comics, The Boys’ overreliance on grimdark and shocking incidents does hobble it. It brings down what could have been a superlative series to something that is somewhat average, unfortunately…


***½
 

Quatermass

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REVIEW: Overlord IV: Episode 11: Well-Prepared Traps, Episode 12: Invasion of the Royal Capital, and Episode 13: The Witch of the Falling Kingdom by Yukie Sugawara, from the light novels by Kugane Muruyama

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: OL4.11-13, 3X25 minute episodes

Not long after the teaser trailer for the Holy Kingdom Arc movies was released, I have come to the end of Overlord’s fourth season. But how would this final season fare? Let’s find out…

Ainz and his army relentlessly marches on Re-Estize. But Ainz knows there’s another opponent to conquer, the mysterious wielder of the Yggdrasil powered armour…and his backer. The mysterious platinum-clad knight known only as Riku Aganeia doesn’t want to save Re-Estize, he just wants to see if he can slay Ainz. But who is Riku Aganeia? Can anyone stop Ainz? Or will forces both within and without Re-Estize cause its complete annihilation?

This is, admittedly, the final stages of one of the bleakest novels in the series. There’s still some excellent humour at times, the dialogue is pretty good, and it’s a fine adaptation. But some viewers would no doubt be alienated by the darkness in these remaining episodes.

Character-wise, well, Chris Guerrero is a delight as always as Momonga, as is the rest of Ainz Ooal Gown. R Bruce Elliot makes a comeback as Riku Aganeia, aka the Platinum Dragon Lord, who had debuted in the second season, and I am glad they actually adapted his paranoid musings on what to do with Azuth and his powered armour. Finally, Jessica Peterson puts on a great performance as Renner, at the apex of her arc.

As usual, the production values are great. The fights between Albedo and Azuth, as well as Ainz and Riku, are highlights of the first episode. Another unexpected highlight is the musical number where Renner sings in the final episode, not present in the original book, but far from unwelcome. And while the destruction of Re-Estize isn’t shown in great detail, maybe it’s for the best.

Overall, these episodes were a good, if not superlative, conclusion to the fourth season of Overlord. Time will tell if it continues beyond the Holy Kingdom movies…


****
 

Quatermass

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REVIEW: Beast Tamer: Episode 1: Meeting of Fate, Episode 2: Comrades, and Episode 3: Another Ultimate Species by Takashi Aoshima and Takamitsu Kono, based on the light novels by Suzu Miyama

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: BT1.1-1.3, 3X25 minute episodes

I tend to either go for dark fantasy or isekai when it comes to Japanese fantasy franchises. Yet I found myself drawn to Beast Tamer, partly because it is also one of those subversions of the usual fantasy tropes combined with a sweet and good-natured protagonist and his allies. But how would it fare?

Beast Tamer Rein Shroud is seemingly the weakest member of the Hero’s Party, and after six months of being derided and belittled by his comrades, the egocentric Chosen Hero Arios Orlando kicks Rein out for being a liability. Rein eventually decides on the life of an Adventurer, not knowing that, weak though he is for now, his potential is yet untapped. An encounter with the vivacious Cat Spirit Kanade, a member of one of the powerful Ultimate Species of magical creature, shows Rein’s true potential, something beyond any other Beast Tamer. With Kanade willingly submitting to a contract with him, and the Dragonoid Tania soon following, Rein will soon become a better hero than his former comrades will ever be…

Let’s face it, the plot of these first few episodes aren’t truly anything to write home about. It basically has Rein beginning to assemble an inadvertent harem on his way to become an Adventurer. In addition, the cat puns in Kanade’s dialogue get old pretty damn quick. Yet it has a subversion of the usual Chosen Hero tropes, and the series itself is somewhat light-hearted and affirming, better than the usually darker fantasy or cringey stuff in a lot of isekai fare. Certainly, it shows why a profession considered weak and worthless can turn out to be meaningful.

Kevin Thelwell does well as Rein, who is admittedly a somewhat generic protagonist. Jalitza Delgado is fine as Kanade, while Molly Searcy is a definite highlight as Tania. Rounding out the dub cast is Alejandro Saab playing the egotistical and selfish Chosen Hero Arios Orlando, a role he plays pretty well.

Production values are pretty good for this show. True, there’s no real standouts in the animation, but it gets the job done, and is presented well. Character design, music, effects, cinematography, it’s done well enough, and that’s what matters.

While not really stellar so far, Beast Tamer is a delightful bit of light entertainment. Hopefully, it’ll get better as the series progresses…

***½
 

Quatermass

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REVIEW: Dune: Part Two by Denis Villeneuve and Jon Spaihts, based on the book by Frank Herbert.

TYPE: Movie

DETAILS: 165 mins

I had to admit to some trepidation at watching the second part of Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Dune. After all, I heard some things about significant changes made in this adaptation that made me wary of it. But I decided to venture forth anyway, and see what prevailed…

House Harkonnen has triumphed. Once more, they have control over Arrakis, and the valuable Spice present only there. But Paul Atreides and his mother Jessica have managed to seek refuge with the Fremen, and after a shaky start, they gain acceptance. Paul leads the fight back against the Harkonnen, as well as starting and deepening a friendship with Chani, but he intends to try and avert the holy war he sees in his visions. Jessica, however, believes this is his destiny, and she will do what it takes to push him onto that path. Meanwhile, the Harkonnens make their own moves, with the Bene Gesserit taking a particular interest in the Baron’s nephew and heir Feyd-Rautha. And no matter what, it may be that fire and blood drown the galaxy…

I have to admit, this was a pretty fine adaptation, for the most part. I do have some issues with the compressed timeline, as well as the derailment of Jessica’s character into a considerably more ruthless, and even, I daresay, malevolent force. In addition, the actions of a certain character at the very end could be considered controversial, even if I feel it to be a brave decision that may or may not backfire. And yet, it still works very well, managing to rearrange the book’s events and characters in a way that comes across better on the silver screen, as well as expanding others, including giving Irulan some screen time prior to the end, as well as deepening Paul and Chani’s relationship.

Timothée Chalamet is a delight as Paul, even as he slides into darkness. Zendaya as Chani shows a proper character arc and some likeability compared to the previous instalment, and I actually have more empathy for her than I have for Paul at the end. Austin Butler is surprisingly brilliant as the vicious Feyd-Rautha, who is given some interesting wrinkles that weren’t as present if at all in the original book. I have to admit to being disappointed by the character arcs of Jessica and Stilgar, even if Rebecca Ferguson and Javier Bardem do their damnedest in the roles.

Production values are, in a word, brilliant. Whatever the faults of the story and character arcs are more than made up for with some brilliant effects, cinematography, and fight scenes. A highlight, naturally, is when Paul rides a Sandworm for the first time, in a far rougher and visceral manner than previous adaptations. And there’s the climactic battles, as well as Feyd duelling Paul.

Overall, while a darker take that, in some regards, does a couple of characters a grave injustice, this adaptation of the latter half of Dune is brilliant.

****½
 

Quatermass

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REVIEW: Ningen Fushin- Adventurers Who Don’t Believe in Humanity Will Save the World: Episode 1: Disillusioned Adventurers, Episode 2: The Ultimate Party is Formed? Survivors!, Episode 3: Curran’s Secret, and Episode 4: The Labyrinth of Bonds by Itsuki Imazaki, Makoto Takada, Atsushi Oka, and Ryosuke Kobayashi, based on the light novels by Shinta Fuji

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: NF1.1-1.4, 4X25 minute episodes

I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the fantasy light novel series Apparently Disillusioned Adventurers Will Save the World. This deconstruction and reconstruction of some fantasy light novels and their tropes. But how would the anime series, released under a slightly different localised name, fare?

In a bar, a quartet of damaged people meet. Nick, a swashbuckler kicked out of his party by a father figure after accusations of theft, and dumped by his scammer girlfriend. Tiana, a proud prodigy mage dumped by her fiancée and disowned by her noble family. Zem, a cleric falsely accused of paedophilia by a girl who had a crush on him. And Curran, a Dragonoid warrior who was betrayed and left for dead by her prior party. Yet out of the betrayal may yet come something new when Nick suggests a bold idea: to form a party out of the betrayed…

I have to admit, this was a good adaptation. Not that it has much actual plot yet, which is admittedly a mark in its disfavour, albeit as a fault of the original light novel volume. But the character moments are mostly spot-on, and I’m glad the tensions between Curran and Tiana were relieved quickly in this version.

Kieran Flitton is good as Nick, as is Christina Kelly as Tianna and Landon McDonald as Zem. My personal favourite is veteran voice actress Brittney Karbowski as Curran, who probably has the most character development in this part of the story. Rounding out the good cast is Philip Weber as the Sword of Bonds and Ciarán Strange as the Sword’s human form Kizuna.

The production values are pretty good. Not quite as astonishing as some out there, though there’s still some good fight scenes, but there’s some surprising attention to detail. Examples include Curran’s pupils changing with her emotions in an interesting way, or Kizuna walking strangely in their human form as they learn how to walk.

Overall, while nowhere near perfect, this series takes the source material and does a damn good job with it. Here’s hoping it does more…


****
 

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