The Furuba Radio Drama is the Best Thing You Haven’t Heard (Yet)

A few years ago, I read and reviewed the whole Fruits Basket manga, one of the most popular shoujo manga series in both Japan and the US. I found its storylines compelling, its character arcs both tragic and sweet, and its overall concept enjoyable. But I would never have gotten into the series had it not been for the work of JesuOtaku, an anime reviewer from That Guy with the Glasses whose love of the manga led her to create a radio drama adaptation.

However, I imagine that some people, including non-manga readers, might have some questions about my enthusiasm for this series.

Why Fruits Basket?

By its definition, shojo manga is marketed to girls between the ages of 10 and 18. However, as so many fandoms have proved, age and gender demographics don’t mean much when it comes to interest in a good storyline.

On that note, Fruits Basket is more than the story of a girl named Tohru Honda who gets involved with the Sohma family, many of whom live under the curse of transforming into one of the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac, with Kyou Sohma (The Cat) being an odd exception. It sounds like your typical romantic comedy with a supernatural twist… except it’s not typical.

This is a story about broken-hearted people, from the main cast to the least obvious side characters. By exploring every story and character arc, we get a rich tapestry of old wounds, inner growth, joy, depression, and relationships both healthy and toxic. Thanks to the excellent cast of voice actors chosen for this project, every character is unique and the actors deliver their stories wonderfully.

Why a Radio Drama?

Radio dramas had their heyday back in the Thirties and Forties, when people were more likely to gather around the radio for their entertainment, following serial dramas with a set troupe of actors and attracted to every musical note and sound effect the studios provided. Of course, once TV came along, we found our drama there, but the art form hasn’t died out completely.

What works about the Furuba Radio Drama is the quality of both the story and the sound effects. Because JesuOtaku is adapting every manga chapter into its own episode, we get a complete story for each sitting. This fits both the appeal of following a comic book series and the ease of listening to new tracks of a story on your computer or car stereo.

But more importantly, I like the fact that you can listen to a great story delivered through dialogue, sound effects and the occasional bit of narration from Tohru. The radio play lets you create the scenes in your head, carried along by a great delivery of every line, whether hilarious or tragic (or sometimes both).

Where to Start?

At the beginning, of course! I recommend visiting the official website and downloading one or two MP3 tracks for a good taste. The cast interviews are also available and you can get updates about the series on the Facebook page Go Team Riceball!

Even if you don’t care about anime, manga, or Fruits Basket in general, I ask that you give this radio drama a chance. It’s a very clever project put together by enthusiastic people and delivered with high-quality acting, editing, and sound effects. Projects of love always deserve a chance and this show is no exception.

Rotate Your Mind: The Bridge

I’ve written before that, when it comes to video games, I tend to enjoy titles that have a little bit of artistic value and some intellectual challenges (you can begin writing your “pretentious hipster” rants in the comments section below). It was out of that same spirit that I decided to download and start playing an indie game called The Bridge, developed by game designer Ty Taylor and artist Mario Castañeda.

Copyright @ 2013 by The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild

Copyright @ 2013 by The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild

The Bridge is both a puzzle game and art game, with as much detail put into the intricacy of its mazes and obstacles as into the classic lines and shadings of every game level. You play as a small gentleman who wanders through each maze, slowly unlocking pieces of a larger story as you progress through each “Chapter” or specific set of puzzles. Using arrow keys, you can tilt or rotate every setting, using a combination of M.C. Escher-style architecture and some manipulation of gravity and momentum to solve each puzzle.

Hands down, this game is a delight to look at. Combined with an ethereal soundtrack by Kevin MacLeod, the game offers a mind-bending experience as you try to navigate architecture based on impossible objects, much like Escher’s Belvedere or the famous Penrose stairs. At the same time, the ethos of this game is very unusual. The grinning balls you have to avoid in some levels (known as “The Menace”) look like something out of a German Expressionist film and reinforce the dream-like, almost nightmarish quality of the game.

In playing this game (much like when I played Dream before that), I soon realized something about myself: I have a very limited amount of patience for actual puzzle solving. My mind seems to be very good at observing certain patterns and piecing items together, but not as good at the kind of strange geometry and physics manipulation that The Bridge has to offer. I got about as far as Chapter 4 before I began seriously contemplating putting the game aside, and even then I only made it that far thanks to the awesome walkthrough videos produced by Christopher Odd on YouTube.

At the same time, there wasn’t much of a plot or a story to follow. Of course, most video games don’t require one, but I felt like there was something deeper going on and I couldn’t reach it. The game has a strong dream-like quality and the player character feels something lurking like a ghost, while passing monuments of what looks like an older version of himself. Much like the puzzles, I grew frustrated with the lack of clarity in the overall plot, though I was kept engaged with the texture and geometry of every illustrated game level.

At the end of the day, however, The Bridge is a nice combination of mind-bending challenges and beautiful hand-drawn geometry. Even as you’re tearing your hair out over how to not lose the final key or avoid getting killed in one hit by a grinning ball, you can’t help but marvel at how beautiful and imaginative it looks.

The Bridge is available for purchase through Steam and Xbox Live Arcade.

Bibliography: The Bridge. Developed by Ty Taylor and Mario Castañeda. Designed by Ty Taylor. Illustrated by Mario Castañeda. Published by The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild. Microsoft Windows, Xbox Live Arcade, Steam. Original release date: February 22, 2013.

My Top 10 Favorite Films

Originally, I didn’t think I could ever make this list. I mean, I love so many movies and how could I ever rank them against each other? But to be honest, movies that we hold dear to our hearts are dear for a reason. They resonate with us every time we watch them, no matter how many lines your video tape gets from overuse or how many lines you can quote word for word, thereby annoying everyone else in the room.

So finally, after some deep consideration, here are the movies I consider to my all-time favorites to date.

10. Wings of Desire

Copyright © 1987 by Road Movies Filmproduktion.

Copyright © 1987 by Road Movies Filmproduktion.

Why? Because it has beautiful German poetry, Peter Falk, and a beautiful use of color in Act III.

9. Hot Fuzz

Copyright 2007 by Rogue Pictures

Copyright © 2007 by Rogue Pictures

Why? Because Simon Pegg is brilliant, the back-and-forth banter is impeccable, and the action scenes really are that awesome.

8. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Copyright © 1998 by Universal Pictures

Copyright © 1998 by Universal Pictures

Why? It’s a trip through the madness of the American Dream, fueled by drugs, alcohol, a disregard for the rules, and the strange language of Hunter S. Thompson.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy

Copyright © 2014 by Walt Disney Pictures

Copyright © 2014 by Walt Disney Pictures

Why? This is what space opera and big-budget science fiction is supposed to look like. Giant sets, colorful alien lifeforms, huge battles, and brilliant acting.

6. Batman Begins

Copyright © 2005 by Warner Bros. Pictures

Copyright © 2005 by Warner Bros. Pictures

Why? It’s a fresh take on the origins of Batman and a real look at the corruption of Gotham City.

5. The Dark Knight

Copyright © 2008 by Warner Bros. Pictures

Copyright © 2008 by Warner Bros. Pictures

Why? The late, great Heath Ledger is one of the most memorable Jokers in history and this was the “escalation” we were promised at the end of Batman Begins.

4. The Godfather

Copyright © 1972 by Paramount Pictures

Copyright © 1972 by Paramount Pictures

Why? This is half the reason we watch shows like Game of Thrones and House of Cards: to watch people go down dark roads for the sake of protecting their families and securing their power.

3. The Lord of the Rings trilogy

A simple shot, but with a powerful impact.  Copyright © 2001 by New Line Cinema.

A simple shot, but with a powerful impact. Copyright © 2001 by New Line Cinema.

Why? Nothing’s more timeless than watching a small group of hobbits become heroes in a big-budget and beautiful fantasy setting.

2. Star Wars trilogy

Copyright © 1983 by Lucasfilm Ltd.

Copyright © 1983 by Lucasfilm Ltd.

Why? Lightsaber battles, heroes saving princesses, blowing up planets, epic showdowns between father and son. Take your pick!

1. The Bourne Identity

Copyright © 2002 by Universal Pictures

Copyright © 2002 by Universal Pictures

Why? This movie is already an excellent thriller and action film, but it gets better as a drama of a man in search of his identity, carried out by the talent of Matt Damon.

If you want to list your own favorite films and explain why you love them so, please do so in the comments section below!

Getting Lost in Lovely Landscapes: Dream by HyperSloth

Copyright © 2014 by Hypersloth

Copyright © 2014 by Hypersloth

Indie video games offer a pretty great opportunity for new environments and new styles of gameplay, whether it’s killing demons with a BFG or wandering through a deserted island like in Dear Esther.

Speaking of Dear Esther, it was a major influence on Hypersloth, a small UK developer who produced the indie game Dream.

Dream is about a young grad student named Howard Phillips, who lives alone in a house left to him by his Uncle Edward and undergoes a series of strange dreams each night. As the player, you get to traverse those dreamscapes, from brightly-colored deserts to never-ending mazes and Escher stairs. You solve puzzles in each environment and explore new layers of your subconscious, which seem to revolve around internalized stress and your uncle’s legacy… at first, anyway.

Copyright © 2014 by Hypersloth

Copyright © 2014 by Hypersloth

What attracted me to the game at first was the beautifully rendered landscapes, like the desert where you begin or the Escher stair sequence. Honestly, most maps in this game are gorgeous. The amount of detail in this game is impressive; it’s clear that open landscape games like Dear Esther were an inspiration. I could just wander around and feel good about it, and the idea of solving puzzles in these finely designed territories really got me interested.

However, once you get past the beauty of the landscape, it’s the rest of the gameplay where I felt less enchanted and more frustrated. For example, the mazes in the desert are clever, but you have to travel them while eluding a smoke monster—one that’s more irritating up close, but with a terrifying motor sound. Fortunately, all it can do is drop you out of the maze without undoing your progress, but given enough encounters, it’s quite aggravating.

The same can’t exactly be said for some of the other puzzles; I’ve gone through so many walkthrough videos just to figure out half of them. Even then, when you switch between maps, they don’t stay solved, so if you’ve only completed two out of four maze challenges and reload the game later, you have to go back and solve all four challenges in the same sitting in order to advance. But then again, this game is designed for non-linear storytelling, so I suppose it’s only fair the gameplay is non-linear, too.

Speaking of smoke monsters, another aspect about Dream is that it very quickly changed to a horror game with no clear end in sight. Some players may like the creepy atmosphere and dark environments you have to navigate at times, but not me. I’m more a fan of semi-dark, desolate areas like the island from Dear Esther or the Enrichment Center in Portal than some creaking old house where something’s moving through the shadows and the background music suddenly cuts out.

While I had high hopes for an exploratory, imaginative puzzle game like Dream, I just wasn’t satisfied with the results. Yes, it’s big and unusual, but after a while, you find yourself wondering what’s the point after you fail the Graveyard Puzzle for the 87th consecutive time and you can’t bloody figure out the sequence. I feel like a good puzzle game is based around a single mechanic, like the Portal Gun in Portal or rewinding through time in Braid. In those games, you have a single tool, but the trick is how you use it to solve different challenges. Here, all you have is an inventory of random objects that you collect, no clear direction, and several bizarre clues or twists that don’t seem to really tie into Howard’s waking life. At least, not so far as I can tell.

Dream is available for purchase and download on Steam.

Bibliography: Dream (video game). Designed by Ashley Sidebottom, Lewis Bibby, and Samuel Reed. Developed by HyperSloth Ltd. Steam relase date: August 13, 2013.

Sitting Down with Jodorowsky’s Dune

Way back when I got serious about doing reviews on this blog, I remember what my first choice for a review was: Frank Herbert’s Dunea science fiction novel with an epic scale that still generates interest to this day. Eventually, I did watch some of David Lynch’s film adaptation, which does well on some levels and fails on others.

However, nothing could prepare me for the wonder that could’ve been the movie produced by Alejandro Jodorowsky. I recently sat down and watched a documentary called Jodorowsky’s Dune, where I marveled at the science fiction legend that could’ve been talked about for generations.

Copyright © 2013 by Sony Pictures Classics

Copyright © 2013 by Sony Pictures Classics

The documentary charts the history of the Spanish filmmaker and his attempts to storyboard, cast, and produce a “spiritual” film adaptation of the novel by Frank Herbert in 1975. We hear from Jodorowsky’s own mouth about the grand vision he had for Dune, bringing in a surrealist’s touch to an already imaginative setting and a colorful cast of big-name celebrities, including David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, and Salvador Dalí. But it was too big and too weird for Hollywood, so it was never realized.

By all accounts, there’s something about the proposed adaptation of Dune that I would’ve loved. Even though I’m a bit skeptical because of how much of a Surrealist Jodorowsky is, I would’ve liked a science fiction movie where the soundtrack is done by Pink Floyd, we have character designs by H.R. Giger (long before he did Alien), and it opens on a tracking shot that spans across the entire galaxy.

However, it’s the other elements that throw me. Every director’s allowed to play with the source material for the sake of making a good movie, but I wonder about some of Jodorowsky’s decisions (like having Duke Leto Atreides, the father of the main character, be castrasted and Paul is conceived from his father’s blood fertilizing his mother’s egg). Even Jodorowsky admits that his ending of his 14-hour film (meant to evoke Paul as a Messiah figure) doesn’t fit with Herbert’s original premise, but it does keep to his ultimate spiritual interpretation of the source material. It would’ve alienated some audiences, but we might have respected it for being so daring at the time.

As for the documentary itself, it’s quite a treat. Besides listening to the mad director expounding on his team of “spiritual warriors” and watching the way old producers’ and artists’ eyes light up when talking about the project, the documentary is visually stunning on its own. We get to see tidbits and glimpses of the Movie That Never Was, from Giger’s designs to a Mick Jagger-looking Feyd-Rautha. Some of the storyboards are animated in their own right, and thanks to the depth used by Jodorowsky and his artists in making them, it’s a little like watching the lost film itself.

Given the sheer scale of this film and its uber-surrealist director, it’s hard to see how Jodorowsky’s Dune would’ve ever gotten financed, let alone produced and distributed. But as the documentary points out, you can see its creative fingerprints everywhere from Star Wars to Alien to just about any big-budget science fiction film today. It was ambitious in all the right ways, driven more by visual poetry than clever marketing or trying to fit a particular genre. Like its namesake, watching the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune is an experience, carrying you into the mind of the director and expanding your imagination in ways you never thought possible.

Jodorowsky’s Dune is available through Sony Pictures Classics and can be purchased through Google Play and Amazon.

Bibliography: Jodorowsky’s Dune. Directed by Frank Pavich. Produced by Frank Pavich, Stephen Scarlata, and Travis Stephens. City Film; Snowfort Pictures. Sony Pictures Classics. Original screening: May 18, 2013.