Oh Look, Another Manufactured Dead or Alive Controversy

When last we checked in with the Dead or Alive franchise, anti-SJW types were stirring up a controversy about how Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 wasn’t being released outside of Japan and this was all feminists’ faults (despite no one actually giving a shit about Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, the fact that this was 100% Tecmo-Koei’s decision, and that PlayAsia was clearly co-opting their outrage in order to make money). Fast-forward almost 3 years and now there’s a new controversy brewing about Dead or Alive 6. Sigh, what now? Are those special snowflake, easily #triggered SJWs complaining about the series’ trademark objectification of women and gratuitous jiggle physics?

Oh wait. No, it’s the anti-SJWs who are complaining again. And this time, it might be even more stupid situation than the last non-troversy was.

So, what could get people so riled up about Dead or Alive 6? Well, it all boils down to one simple statement that game director Yohei Shimbori made when the game was announced: female sexualization was going to be toned down and breast physics would be more realistic. Predictably, fanboys are threatening to boycott the game now just based on this statement alone. For example, One Angry Gamer is livid about the sheer mention of toning down and that the game is using a different engine than DOA5 and Xtreme 3Meanwhile over on Sankaku Complex, a Japanese hentai and porn news site (link is NSFW, obviously), there has been plenty of butthurt whining that SJWs have “ruined” the game before we’ve even gotten a chance to really see it in full. Perhaps even more predictably, some players are claiming that they’re going to buy Soulcalibur VI instead because it is leaning harder than ever into the fan service (for what it’s worth, I was planning on buying SC6 because I really enjoy the the gameplay of that series, until I saw how embarrassing the fan service was this time around). The reaction to this one little change really shows you how much value these “fans” put into the actual mechanics of their favourite fighting games.

Some of the funnier/stupid comments on Sankaku Complex.

Beyond that though, there’s more to why this is such a clear non-troversy. For example, read the following statement made by Yosuke Hayashi:

“We’ve always had the sex factor in the game; in the past, the female characters had to have big breasts, they had to have scanty dress. […] We’re trying to focus on the real women that surround us; the voice of a female, the mannerisms. We are being realistic about it. We want to show something that’s more high class, that adult males of our generation could look at a woman [character] and be impressed with her as a woman, not just as a pin-up. That’s what we wanted to tell our fans.”

That sounds like the sort of thing which would really rile up the anti-SJW types… except that this was said 6 years ago about Dead or Alive 5, and in terms of the sheer volume of swimsuits and new fetish-bait characters, that game ended up being the most sexualized game in the franchise (outside of the Xtreme spin-offs). Compared to this, everything said about Dead or Alive 6 has been pretty tame thus far.

This isn’t even taking into account the deluge of DLC which is sure to find its way into DOA6. DOA5 and (to a slightly lesser extent) DOAX3 both made bank off of their sexy costume packs, which would cost players literally over $1000 to purchase everything. Since DLC game into vogue last generation, fighting games have basically turned into costume factories and I can’t possibly see DOA6 passing this opportunity up. However, does this mean that all of the sexy costumes have been shunted off behind a paywall as some players are saying? Shimbori even made a point of changing series lead Kasumi’s sexy robes in favour of a more functional body suit, so are we no longer getting bikinis as default costumes? Well… it’s too early to say for certain, but somehow I doubt it. For one thing, take a look at Kasumi’s DOA6 costume and tell me that that isn’t sexy in its own right, even without having to show off skin. But not only that, the reveal trailer itself made it pretty clear that the game isn’t going to neuter the sexiness. Just look at Helena:

Camera pan to cleavage shot? Check. Panties visible? Check. Outfit that makes more sense for stripping rather than fighting? Check. Now, this is obviously just one character, but we haven’t seen what the more overtly-sexualized characters, such as Tina and Christie, are going to look like, nor have we seen whether the two most popular fetish-bait characters, Honoka and Marie Rose, will make the cut. In any case though, I do feel like the outrage that anti-SJW types have worked themselves into is premature right now at best, or downright ridiculous at worst. I’ve dragged Sankaku Complex into this article because, quite frankly, their coverage and pearl-clutching in this non-troversy has been hilarious. When Hitomi and Lei Fang were teased in fully-clothed silhouettes, they decried that “the developers [are] clearly sticking to their socjus agenda of preserving the purity of fictional video game girls”, which is particularly funny because they’re clearly wearing costumes of theirs from DOA5 and because the franchise has always had this weird sense of hands-off purity and innocent to (most of) its characters, emphasizing a voyeuristic take on sexuality rather than an active owning of it (which, honestly, is the main issue with DOA’s take on sexiness in the past).

Beautiful.

As for the breast physics, the One Angry Gamer article about claims that they aren’t even present in the current build of the game, but from what Shimbori has said, “we are trying to achieve some natural movement, so when you move, things move naturally. That’s our intention.”… so, the boob physics are going to be like the physics present in Xtreme 3 then? Yes, it does sound like they’re cutting out the exaggerated physics options which most games in the series have had… but oh well. That’s really all I can say about that, I’ve never understood the appeal of laughably exaggerated jiggle physics, especially when the game is going to aim for more natural movement similar to DOAX3.

The toning down of the sexier aspects of the franchise also coincides with a design shift towards esports and more brutal fighting. DOA has always prided itself on being the best-looking fighter on the market, which you can really see when you put it up next to Soulcalibur VI for example. Past games would dirty-up the fighters, but only to a certain point – for example, DOA5 made a big point about introducing dynamic sweat and dirt systems as the fight progressed which coincided with an art style shift, from more of an exaggerated anime aesthetic to one that looks much more natural. However, DOA6 is now building upon that more realistic aesthetic, introducing cuts and bruising which looks, quite frankly, painful. It has been stated that “the shift to more realistic graphics […] is thanks to the new engine. Characters visibly take damage during fights, with bruised faces and blood making combat feel more visceral in the process. Shimbori also said that they are thinking about adding in an option to disable those details for players less interested in violence.”

This right here feels like a fulcrum in this issue that is being overlooked by the more reactionary fans of the series. Let’s say that they kept this battle damage in and continued to play up the sexiness. Suddenly, we’d have a game which overtly sexualizes assault against women… hell, even with the toning down that they’re doing, I’m not entirely certain that it’ll be enough to make this not feel uncomfortable. Speaking as someone who enjoys this series, I’m actually questioning whether the move away from always having their fighters look “beautiful” is going to be worth it (especially if they start adding in the sexier outfits later on), but I’m willing to wait and see for now.

Other than the pervy, voyeuristic aspects that the Xtreme games really push, I don’t have a problem with the sexiness in the DOA franchise. It’s mostly harmless and the series has been tucked into its own corner for quite some time where it doesn’t really influence the industry much. However, that right there is something that Tecmo-Koei is clearly trying to escape – you can see how the excessive fan service since at least the release of Xtreme Beach Volleyball has made the series more and more niche with each entry. Clearly, something had to give if they wanted to try to broaden their audience. We’ll see if they manage to pull it off and come up with something worth supporting on its own mechanical merits.

Oh, and in the meantime, we get to laugh at people claiming that Dead or Alive now sexualizes the men more than the women (because men fighting without shirts is the exact same as women fighting without shirts of course).

95% of the comments section is people whining about SJWs to a chorus of upvotes, and then these guys pop in, say the objective truth and get downvoted, naturally.

Never change internet, never change.

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Love/Hate: Pokemon Gen 7

Generation 7 (Sun, Moon, Ultra Sun, Ultra Moon)
Love

  • Much-Needed Gameplay Refinements and Improved Accessibility – I’m going to break this down into two parts:
    • On the refinement end of things, HMs are finally dead!!! Thank freaking God, now whenever you would need to use an HM move, a Pokemon will appear which does it for you. This system is just so much better in every possible way. Gen 7 also brought in an improved battle screen which now gives you more information: the number of boosts or debuffs on a Pokemon, turns remaining for some special conditions and even whether your moves will be super effective or not. Some veterans might feel like that last refinement especially is “casualizing” the game, but I personally like it and feel like it doesn’t really hurt the game in any way – veterans already know the type matchups, so it’s good for teaching them to newer players. You can also remove status conditions after battle without having to use an item, which can be handy. On the other end of things, gyms have been replaced with island challenges and totem Pokemon, which I’m not so keen on, but the HM refinement was so good that it makes up for anything else.
    • On the accessibility end of things, getting into the competitive side of Pokemon has been made even easier than ever, to the point where Nintendo actively encourages it on the Pokemon website. Gen 7 sees the introduction of hyper training (which lets you max out your Pokemon’s IVs!), the ability to see your Pokemon’s IVs and EVs, passive EV training on Pokepelago, etc. The barrier to entry to get into the competitive scene has dropped significantly in the past 2 generations.
  • Z-Moves – Some people will complain that Z-Moves aren’t as “flashy” or “game-changing” as mega evolution was and I was initially unconvinced that they weren’t going to be more than another power creep gimmick. However, I feel like Z-Moves are a fantastic addition which has really improved battling. For one thing, they increase the viability and versatility of every Pokemon, not just a handful of special Pokemon like mega evolution did. Plus, every move gets some sort of special Z-Move effect, from increased attack power to special effects for some status moves which make them significantly more viable (eg, formerly useless moves such as Splash and Celebrate now give a +3 Attack boost and +1 to all stats, respectively, making many of outclassed moves actually worth using if you’re creative enough. You also have to strategize a lot more about who to give the Z-crystal to, which move to use it one, when to use it, etc.
  • Really Strong Story – Except for maybe Gen 5, Gen 7 has one of the best stories in the whole series, which is mainly down to some very memorable characters. I feel like Sun and Moon‘s story is a definitely more satisfying and coherent compared to the changes which were introduced in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, but they’re both definitely in a completely different league than nearly every other Pokemon game.
  • Alola Formes – These were such a fantastic idea which needs to be revisited in future releases. Basically, the Alola region has some Gen 1 Pokemon who have major type and design differences, similar to real-life animals which change in different habitats. These aren’t just small changes either, some have wildly different typings which fundamentally change how they are played. Plus the redesigns were (for the most part) great, especially the exquisite Alolan Ninetails. This feature has to be maintained going forward!
  • Alola Region Is Incredibly Distinct – There have been a number of interesting Pokemon regions throughout the years, but Alola has to take the cake for having the most personality to it. Clearly based heavily on Hawaii and its culture, the entire region, characters and its Pokemon revolve around this theme. Compared to, say, the Kalos region a generation prior, this really makes this generation stand out.
  • New Pokemon Are Design for Battling – Every single one of the new Pokemon have really unique gameplay design, which makes them all very interesting and worth trying out. Like, I’m not kidding when I say every single one, even this generation’s early-game Rattata, Caterpie and Pidgey equivalents, Yungoos, Grubbin and Pikipek respectively, have unique abilities, stats and evolutions which help them to stand out amongst an increasingly crowded roster of Pokemon.

Mixed

  • SOS Calls – Having gotten through the main game of both Moon and Ultra Sun, I really appreciate the SOS Call feature, where a Pokemon can request another Pokemon to come to its aid when it’s on low health – it’s fantastic for EV training, shiny hunting and EXP grinding. However, during your story playthrough, these things seem to happen all the time and they just become a pain in the ass if you try to fight through them. Considering that a dedicated player is going to spend the bulk of their playtime in the post-game, this feature is more of a positive to me, but I can remember myself and my brother getting extremely frustrated at all the SOS calls during our initial playthroughs so it’s worth a mention.

Hate

  • Too Many Cutscenes – Holy bloody crap this game constantly interrupts you with cutscenes. It’s so bad that it took me months to actually get through Moon because I just could not get into the game with the incessant start-and-stop gameplay. Many of these are tutorials as well which are completely unskippable, no matter how basic they may be. The cutscenes themselves are also unskippable, including the ending video which must have been at least 15 bloody minutes long. Much like Mass Effect 2 and its mining minigame that you have to perform to get a good ending, this just shoots replayability down the tubes, because there’s no way in hell I’m going to sit through all of that again.
  • Festival Plaza – Compared to the PSS in Gen 6, Festival Plaza is a huge step down in efficiency and functionality as this generation’s online hub. The idea of having your own home circus where you can meet with others is cool, but the server stability isn’t the best and it takes way longer to do anything that it should. The idea of having booths to get in-game benefits, such as levelling up a Pokemon, buying items or acquiring bottle caps, is also cool, but in execution they’re a pain in the ass because getting Festival Coins to pay for these is such an unenjoyable grind. In order to get FCs, you have to complete awful mini-game missions, limited global challenges, or talk to random people in your plaza. Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon attempted to sort of fix this by tripling the FC yields and by introducing the mediocre and frustrating Battle Agency, but even then, getting FCs has always been more of a necessary chore rather than something I look forward to.
  • Why Not DLC? – Gen 7 has some weird issues. On the one hand, there’s basically nothing to do in Sun and Moon after the main quest, other than train competitively or shiny hunt. On the other hand, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon introduce a ton of new side content, but are arguably barely worth getting if you own the original releases, only really making them a begrudging purchase because they introduce some new Pokemon for completionists. So this begs the question of why Game Freak hasn’t gotten with the times and just incorporated DLC? I mean, the answer is because they’ll get more out of you if you rebuy the game, but that is obviously utter bullshit on their part.
  • Ultra Beasts – I’m a bit mixed on Ultra Beasts, leaning towards negative. I get that they’re supposed to be not technically Pokemon, so the fact that they all have very odd designs which clash with typical Pokemon design philosophy gets a bit of a pass for me. However, some of them are just plain ugly, particularly Buzzwole and Blacephalon, and they don’t do much to allay some fans’ fears that the series was “better in the old days”.
  • Again, Too Many Legendaries – Officially, Gen 7 has the most legendaries of any game to date. This is in part because some of them actually evolve, such as Cosmog and Type: Null, but we still have the four guardians, Necrozma, the 3 mythicals and then the Ultra Beasts (I’m not sure if they technically count as legendaries, but they feel very similar in status to me and I have always seen them as such). It’s just too much for me and that means that, of the new Pokemon introduced in this generation (not including Alola formes), a whopping 29% of them are legendaries or Ultra Beasts!

Best Pokemon of Gen 7: Primarina, Rowlet, Trumbeak, Rockruff, Bewear, Tsareena, Minior, Poipole, Stakataka
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 7: Incineroar, Crabominable, Araquanid, Comfey, Turtonator, Bruxish

Thanks for reading this series, it was really fun to write! I think I’ll make Love/Hate into a new series here akin to the Retrospectives. I don’t have any other ones in mind yet, but I’ll keep this series concept in mind going forward.

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Love/Hate: Pokemon Gen 6

Generation 6 (X, Y, Omega Ruby, Alpha Sapphire)
Love

  • New Graphics Engine Shines – The pseudo-3D sprites in Gen 5 were impressive, but Gen 6’s fully 3D models were definitely the direction that the series needed to head into going forward. It looks much cleaner and refined, and is so good that they’ve basically just gone and reused all of the models in Gen 7 and (I think) Pokemon Go as well. Oh and the new 3D models meant that shines could be made significantly more creative, with Gen 6 and 7’s shiny Pokemon being universally regarded as the best in the series. The engine itself is also much faster than the DS games were, with saves being basically instantaneous, and Kalos itself is quite beautifully and distinctly designed.
  • Player Search System – The PSS is probably the smoothest and cleanest online integration in any Pokemon game, making trading and battling with friends and strangers an absolute snap. This also introduced the Wonder Trade feature, which is always a fun little roulette wheel to spin.
  • Fairy Type – Similarly to the introduction of Dark and Steel Types in Gen 2, Gen 6 introduced the Fairy Type in order to make up for some of the typing imbalances that Gen 5 had created, while also giving an offensive boost to the Steel type and giving the underpowered Poison type a huge boost. This has gotten the balance of the typings back into a good place, although some might feel that the Fairy type itself is maybe a little too good.
  • Player Customization – This was a feature I never really expected to get, but when we got the ability to customize our avatar’s look, this was basically the only thing I started spending my money on in these games.
  • Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire‘s Gimmicks – The Gen 3 remakes brought in a few new features to the Gen 6 engine which are basically just small gimmicks, but they are so cool that they’re worth mentioning. The first is the 2 different bikes, which allow you to perform tricks and reach otherwise inaccessible areas (or just straight-up go faster). The second is the Eon Flute, which lets you freaking fly a Latios/Latias in real-time around Hoenn!!! This feature is just plain amazing and has the secondary benefit of making Fly no longer a basically-mandatory HM to navigate with.
  • Friend Safari – I personally really liked this addition, which looks at your friend list and assigns them 3 Pokemon which can be caught in the friend safari (although they need to be online for you to get all 3 of them). It’s nowhere near as fleshed out as the old safari zones, but it was really cool adding friends to try to get ahold of these exclusive and Hidden Ability Pokemon.
  • Mini-Games Are Actually Fun and Useful – The mini-games introduced in Gen 6 are actually quite fun. Pokemon Amie is like Nintendogs for Pokemon, and it’s adorable and amazing, while giving some boosts in battle if you want them. Meanwhile, Super Training makes EV training easier and more accessible than ever. Oh, but the returning Contests from the Gen 3 remakes still suck of course.

Hate

  • Stupidly Easy – As anyone who played a Gen 6 game what stuck out the most to them and odds are that the first or second thing they’ll say is that these games are way too easy. The Exp Share gets a lot of flack for this, but even without it the game is just stupidly easy. Like, in Gen 4 I would often be 10-20 levels lower than my opponents, but in Gen 6 you have to go out of your way to not be overlevelled. Apparently the difficulty was scaled down because there were worries about casual gamers and mobile games at the time, but the difficulty of these games makes them boring to replay.
  • I Don’t Like Mega Evolutions – This one is YMMV because I know some people really love their megas, but I really don’t like them. They’re definitely a flashy new feature and probably the most notable new addition to Gen 6, but I really dislike them because I feel like they limit your options. I mean, there are a very limited selection of Megas and if you want to run, say, a Charizard, Aerodactyl or a Lucario, then why wouldn’t you throw a mega stone onto them? You’re basically gimping yourself if you don’t. Plus if you see one of these Pokemon on the other team then you know that there’s a very good chance they’re running a mega evolution, limiting the potential variety. Or, for that matter, if you’re running a competitive team then you’re probably going to need a mega on your team (unless you’re running a very particular strategy) because they are so much stronger than any regular Pokemon, meaning that your pool of potential Pokemon is down to one of the 46 Pokemon which can mega evolve, and the Pokemon who missed out are just even more outclassed than ever. I get that some people will argue that megas make older Pokemon more viable by giving them these kinds of power boosts, but I feel like there are better ways to combat that kind of power creep than this. Plus it’s not like all megas are created equally, so we’re ultimately just continuing the same issue of having some Pokemon be significantly more viable than others.
  • Lack of Identity – After the clear attempts to reboot the franchise in Gen 5, Gen 6 plays things much safer. X and Y feature a ton of nostalgia-baiting, bringing back lots of old Pokemon at the expense of new ones. In fact, this generation introduced the fewest new Pokemon, at 72 (which is likely down to resources going into the new graphics engine and all the new mega evolutions, which just highlighted the nostalgia-focus even further). On the one hand, this helped to bring back people like me who hadn’t played a Pokemon game since Gen 2 and get them up to speed on the games I’d missed. On the other hand, it just really makes Gen 6 itself fairly unmemorable. The fact that Pokemon Z never happened also probably affected this, as the traditional “third version” of each generation is almost always better.
  • Weak Story – After the strong story of Gen 5 and the intimidating villains in Gen 4, you can’t help but feel that Gen 6’s story is a bit of a letdown. The story mostly feels like a “power of friendship” tale, juggling 4 different “rival” characters who are more akin to friends on a sightseeing trip. Team Flare are stylish, but much closer to the goofy incompetence of Team Aqua and Team Magma rather than a true threat. Lysandre is actually a pretty interesting primary villain with a cool motivation, but he doesn’t get enough to do and shows up a bit too late to make a major impression. Plus none of the gym leaders or elite four stand out either, which just further compounds how forgettable much of X and Y can be.
  • HMs Are Still a Thing – Why, 6 generations in, are HMs still an element of these games!? I mean, in X and Y they at least scaled this back down to only 5 essential HMs, but the Gen 3 remakes are still chained to 7 HMs. It’s just so frustrating that these are still a thing, even when Game Freak clearly can see that they’re a problem and scale them back as much as they can.
  • Origin Marking System – Starting in Gen 6, only Pokemon caught or bred in games released during or after Gen 6 could be used in battles using competitive rulesets (eg, most online battles or the battle spot). The result of this is that legacy Pokemon which you could have been using since Gen 3 were suddenly unusable in competitive play, meaning that you’d have to rebreed them (if possible). I wonder if this might have been introduced due to the rampant hacking in Gen 5, but the result is enough to make me hesitant to go back to earlier games because I know that I won’t be able to use any of the Pokemon that I use and get attached to again going forward.

Best Pokemon of Gen 6: Chesnaught, Delphox (I don’t understand the hate it gets), Greninja, Vivillon, Sylveon, Goodra
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 6: Diggersby, Slurpuff, Barbaracle (the ugliest Pokemon in the entire franchise for me, I despise it)

Tune in soon for the next entry where I’ll cover the newest entries in the series, Generation 7.

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Love/Hate: Pokemon Gen 5

Generation 5 (Black, White, Black 2, White 2)
Love

  • Insane Refinement and Ambition – Gen 5 was the first generation of Pokemon since Gen 2 to have a second game release on the same system, meaning that the team at Game Freak could build on their existing engine and spend more time on the finer details which would otherwise get overlooked for time reasons. Such things include:
    • On the smaller end of things, there are the quality of life improvements such as no longer taking damage from poison outside of battle and that Pokemon Centers and Pokemarts are now combined into one handy location! HMs have also been reduced in both number and importance, and TMs can now be used infinitely.
    • On the bigger end of things, the ambition of Game Freak in this generation was insane – 156 new Pokemon, tons of new moves and abilities (including new Hidden Abilities for nearly every existing Pokemon), dynamic camera angles in the overworld and in battle, and the music is also context-based. I mean, just read this description of the music from the Gen 5 article on Bulbapedia to get an idea of how insane the design was on this game: “The overworld music also changes in certain circumstances. Almost all the routes now have instruments that differ between the seasons, and layers that activate and deactivate when the player walks or stops, respectively; while music that plays in some towns and cities have layers that can be added by talking to citizens. These people can be seen playing different musical instruments like piano, guitar, etc.”
  • Animated Sprites – All battle sprites are now animated, change based on battle conditions (eg, low health or status conditions) and the camera can pan and zoom around them. This is just an insane amount of ambition because, by this time, there are now 649 Pokemon that have to be individually animated. You can certainly understand why it wasn’t done earlier (and why they dropped sprites after this game), because the amount of work that this must have required is mind-boggling.
  • Best Story in the Franchise – If there’s one thing that Pokemon Black and White are known for, it’s their really strong emphasis on story. At times, the emphasis on story makes the Gen 5 games feel closer to a traditional RPG than any other Pokemon game. Previous entries in the franchise had made some attempts at a story, but Gen 5 makes their attempts look completely half-hearted. Team Plasma are probably my favourite villainous team in the franchise, with a plan which is actually somewhat morally grey, as they want to free Pokemon from being caught and trained (there’s more to it of course, and their ultimate leader Ghetsis is a truly sinister bastard). The biggest highlight of the game’s story though is your character’s foil, N. He’s your antagonist, but he is not an evil person by any means. He is legitimately fascinating in his conviction and in how willing he is to change if you can prove that your convictions are stronger. Also worth noting is that all the gym leaders and major characters you meet are given personalities and, by the end of the story, they will have come back (including one epic showdown with all of the gym leaders coming to your side).
  • Major Version Differences – Each of the games in this generation have some pretty big thematic and aesthetic differences which go beyond the character and palette swaps that Gen 3 experimented with. Gen 5 goes so far as to include wildly-different version exclusive areas and Pokemon, with White‘s region appearing more rural and “traditional”, while Black‘s region is more urban and even futuristic. It can feel like you’re missing out if you don’t have both versions, but at least it makes it feel like you’re not just playing the exact same game if you do get both.
  • Alternate Formes – Pokemon that can change their “forme” have been around since at least Gen 3 with Castform and Deoxys (or even Gen 2 if you count Unown), but Gen 5 really cranked this feature up a notch. Nearly every legendary and mythical Pokemon gets some sort of alternate forme that they can activate, which change up their designs, stats and options in interesting ways. It’s a creative way to fill out the roster without having to rely on new Pokemon or evolutions.

Mixed

  • No Classic Pokemon – In Black and White, you can’t catch any non-Unova Pokemon until after the main quest is completed. On the one hand, I kind of like that it forces you to use different Pokemon than you might have otherwise, but this is obviously going to piss off a lot of people who don’t care for the new Pokemon and it does restrict your options a fair bit on each playthrough. Black 2 and White 2 do open up the roster a fair bit earlier though.
  • Linearity – Basically every Pokemon game is fairly linear, with only Gen 1 having any real freedom in the later stages of the game, but Gen 5’s emphasis on story takes this to a new level. It’s certainly a worthwhile payoff in my opinion, but it does make replays a bit harder to get into.
  • Seasons – I’m mixed on the season feature in these games. The day/night cycle in previous games was fun and wasn’t too inconvenient for players to get around. However, having your seasons cycle once every month is just painful at times, especially because certain items and optional routes are only available during specific seasons. That said, it is (again) ambitious and visually stunning to change many of the areas in the game every month, so I’m a bit mixed on it. Also, Deerling and Sawsbuck’s visual design changes in each season, which is quite striking to witness.

Hate

  • The Pokemon Are Polarizing – Sure, Game Freak were super ambitious introducing 156 new Pokemon in one game and if it worked out well then it could potentially recreate the feeling of discovering Pokemon all over again from back in Gen 1. However, I can’t help but feel like this actually resulted in a design philosophy of quantity over quality, which has resulted in some major issues which undermine all of the technical refinement this generation brought us. Plus, considering that Pokemon design is the backbone of this series, the fact that this generation’s roster is so mixed is an absolutely crippling issue:
    • Many of these new Pokemon just feel over-done and straight-up ugly at times. Kyurem and its fusion formes especially look awful and are pretty much emblematic of the cliche at the time that Gen 5 came out that the “Pokemon are starting to look like Digimon“. Some players may feel like Zekrom and Reshiram fit into this issue as well, but over time they have become straight-up two of my favourite legendaries in the whole series.
    • In general, the Pokemon designs themselves are extremely hit or miss this generation. Some evolution likes are just incredibly dumb or lazy, rehashing some of the absolute worst aspects of Gen 1 design (eg, anthropomorphizing a random object [Vanillish], or adding another piece onto the Pokemon to make it “evolve” [Klinklang], etc). Like, as much as people like to complain about Garbodor*, which is literally a Pokemon made of a pile of trash, it’s far from the worst-designed Pokemon in this generation. While a number of the Pokemon in this generation have since grown on me (such as Conkeldurr, Ferrothorn and Litwick), this generation still has by far the most Pokemon designs which I straight-up dislike (see: the shittiest Pokemon of Gen 5 below).
    • There are also a lot of new Pokemon which are clearly just meant to pay homage to classic Pokemon, which just makes the generation feel more uncreative and even makes Gen 5 feel like one of those wannabe knock-off Pokemon games at times. Without making too much of a stretch, it’s pretty clear that:
      • Woobat line = Zubat line
      • Audino = Chansey
      • Conkeldurr line = Machamp line
      • Sawk and Throh = Hitmonchan and Hitmonlee
      • Gothitelle = Jynx
      • Ferroseed line = Pineco
      • Klink line = Magnemite
      • Bouffalant = Tauros
  • Power Creep – It is generally acknowledged that power creep really noticeably set in in this generation, with many of the new Pokemon being straight-up stronger or, at least, better optimized than their older counterparts (many of which were designed for a time before the physical/special split was a thing and when the movepools were significantly more limited). This also marked the point where Fighting and Dragon-type Pokemon began to run rampant and making weather conditions last indefinitely made “weather wars” a defining aspect of the competitive scene.
  • Mini-Games Still Suck – Contests have finally been dropped this generation, but in their place we instead get Pokemon Musicals, which are arguably even more throwaway (although, on the plus side, they changed how Feebas evolves now, making acquiring Milotic less of a hair-pulling experience).
  • Dream World/Dream Radar – This key feature allowed you to play mini-games online in order to acquire rare Pokemon with hidden abilities… however, the servers for it have been shut down for years now, which rendered many Pokemon’s hidden abilities unobtainable outside of trading or breeding for years before Game Freak made obtaining Hidden Abilities possible again. Back in the day, I’d probably have considered this a plus, but the fact that this important addition was so time-limited and not something you can go back to really rubs me the wrong way as someone who likes to go back and replay old Pokemon games.
  • No Auto-Levelling Online – Just… why? Gen 4 had auto-levelling in online battles, meaning that all of the Pokemon would be scaled to a fair level, but for God knows what reason, this was removed in Gen 5. This is probably why the competitive scene tends to be at level 100 in this generation, but that means you have to get each and every one of your competitive Pokemon up to level 100 to do anything.
  • XP System – Gen 5 made a weird change where Pokemon gain more or less XP when a Pokemon is defeated based on the difference in their levels, rather than static XP gains based on the Pokemon. On the one hand this means that it’s very difficult to get over-levelled and means that lower level Pokemon will catch up faster. However, I feel like this isn’t nearly enough to make up for the fact that it makes grinding so much worse. Doesn’t it make more sense to just have lower level Pokemon’s XP yields suitable for lower levels, but trivial for higher levels like it is in basically every other generation?

Best Pokemon of Gen 5: Serperior, Whimsicott, Lilligant, Carracosta, Zoroark, Cinccino, Sawsbuck, Galvantula, Elektross, Haxorus, Volcarona, Reshiram, Zekrom
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 5: Watchog, Simisage, Simisear, Gurdurr, Palpitoad, Throh, Sawk, Scraggy, Gothitelle, Reuniclus, Klinklang, Cryogonal, Kyurem (particularly its fusion formes), Basculin

Tune in soon for the next entry where I’ll cover Generation 6.

*For what it’s worth, I kind of love Garbodor.

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Love/Hate: Pokemon Gen 4

Generation 4 (DiamondPearlPlatinumHeartGoldSoulSilver)
Love

  • Physical/Special Split Totally Changed the Game – As I’ve said before, in the first 3 generations, moves were classed as special or physical, depending on their typing (eg, all Water attacks were special, all Normal attacks were physical, etc). Gen 4 brought the long-overdue physical/special split, which made it so that attacks physical or special classing was based on the move rather than the type. This revolutionized battling, build variety and build viability in so many ways. For example, Pokemon whose attacking stats didn’t line up with their typing (eg, Flareon and Sneasel had high attack, but Fire and Dark-type moves were all special) could now take advantage of moves which matched their stats. This also made the multiple Water-type HMs a bit less of an issue, since Surf was now special and Waterfall was physical. In my opinion, this is straight-up the biggest and most important change to the core gameplay that the series has ever seen.
  • Challenging Difficulty – Having played nearly every generation of Pokemon games, I can say without a doubt that Gen 4 is by far the hardest in the franchise. The difficulty in these games can be truly savage at times, but it makes battling much more satisfying as a result. Some people might get frustrated by the difficulty, but as a series veteran, I can still remember some of the most intense, down-to-the-wire battles I had where I was 20 levels lower than my opponent and managed to eke out a win through superior strategy and just a bit of luck. This generation also brought in powerful battle items such as the Life Orb and Choice items, which are key items in competitive battling and which are very helpful to overcoming the challenge in these games. The intensity of this generation’s battling is unparalleled, making it straight-up the best generation for those who love Pokemon battles, in my opinion.
  • Touch Screen is Well-Utilized – As the first Pokemon game on the DS, the new hardware afforded the series a touch screen to work with, which is used in this game to house a number of handy apps which can be selected by the player. Some of these are basically useless (Coin Toss, Calendar, Roulette), but most are incredibly handy and save you having to constantly menu-dive for information.
  • First Truly Evil Antagonists – Previous criminal organizations in these games tended to be underwhelming. Team Rocket, while classic, are just incompetent thugs who cause mischief because it’s fun. Meanwhile, Team Aqua and Team Magma may have some pretty sinister plans (either flooding the world, or increasing the landmass), but they suffer because their goal made absolutely no sense and there’s no real motivation for it. Team Galactic, while somewhat bland, are at least straight-up evil, which makes facing off against them much more satisfying. I mean, these guys set off bombs, kill Pokemon and want to reshape the entire universe to suit their needs. Giovanni is always going to have a place in our hearts, but Cyrus of Team Galactic makes him look like a punk.
  • Gen 2 Remakes – While FireRed and LeafGreen are considered good remakes of Gen 1, HeartGold and SoulSilver are popularly considered the best Pokemon games ever released, full-stop. Combo the already-great core of the Gen 2 games with Gen 4’s battling improvements, add some new story beats and cool features (most notably, the first Pokemon in your party will follow you around like in Pokemon Yellow!) and you have an absolute beast of a Pokemon game.
  • Online Connectivity – Gen 3 had actually had some online functionality, but it wasn’t until Gen 4 that this was a widely-used and well-integrated feature. While being able to trade with strangers across the globe did make “catching them all” significantly easier than it was in previous generations, it was definitely a great new feature and necessary way to take advantage of new technology.
  • Item Storage – Finally, finally, item storage in the bag is now unlimited!

Mixed

  • New Evolutions – In general, Gen 4 has a strong lineup of new Pokemon. I’m not a fan of some of their designs (Drapion’s teeth have always bothered me, Carnivine just looks silly and is there anyone who likes Burmy and Wormadam?) and others are weird but grow on you over time (Drifblim and Skuntank for me, and I absolutely love Purugly), but perhaps the most interesting taking point is that a significant number of the new Pokemon in Gen 4 are evolutions for Pokemon from previous generations (26 of them, to be exact). Introducing a new evolution for a Pokemon is a delicate affair, as it can potentially mess up previously well-liked designs. Gen 4’s handling of this is… mixed, so say the least. Some of the new evolutions are just plain fantastic (Togekiss, Mismagius, Honchkrow, Leafeon, Glaceon, Gliscor, Mamoswine and Froslass), others are either underwhelming or awful (Lickilicky, Magmortar, Probopass, Rhyperior and Mime Jr), and others just make you wonder why they even bothered (Mantyke and Happiny).
  • New Art Style is a Step Down – Gen 4’s sprite work is easily as good, if not better, than Gen 3. However, the additional horsepower of the DS has been utilized to (presumably) save the art teams work on the overworld, because the game environments are now 3D rendered. While this makes sense, it just doesn’t look anywhere near as bright or high-quality as the full sprite work in Gen 3 did.

Hate

  • Everything Is Slow – Whatever new game engine they made the DS Pokemon games on, it is slower than molasses. Saving might be the worst of it (it can take 10-15 second each time), but it’s far from the only problem – surfing, battle animations, waiting for a health bar to deplete, backtracking through Mount Coronet to get anywhere, frame rate is back down to 30, etc. The slow pace can definitely make these games hard to go back to at times.
  • HMs At Their Worst – Like Gen 3, Gen 4 has 8 HMs. However, in order to get through Mount Coronet, the mountain range that divides the entire in-game map in half, you’re going to need Pokemon with at least 6 of these moves just to navigate. Again, considering that that’s 1/4 of your available moves taken up with mandatory HMs, plus the high difficult of the game, and HMs are more of a pain in the ass than ever. I mean, at least in previous games, you could get away with boxing a Pokemon that has certain moves (eg, Flash or Waterfall) after they’ve used them. Here? Not so lucky.
  • The Underground and Pokeathelon – This feature was a bigger deal back when there was still online functionality available, as it basically functioned as a multiplayer hub for secret bases. Now, it’s just a poorly explained, mostly-pointless, confusing way to get ahold of fossils and stones. Meanwhile, the Pokeathelon is basically just another mini-game similar to Pokemon Contests, right down to its confusing mechanics (Also, it doesn’t bear its own entry, but Contests return and are similarly still confusing and skippable.)
  • Stealth Rocks – While entry hazards aren’t exactly new (Spikes were introduced in Gen 2), they weren’t a problem until the introduction of Stealth Rocks. Swapping is one of the most important aspects of competitive battling and while entry hazards are a decent counter to that, I feel like Stealth Rocks are just too good. Spikes at least require you to spend 3 turns putting down additional layers of them, and even then they only affect Pokemon on the ground. Stealth Rocks are just stupidly overpowered in comparison – you only put out one layer, it hits all in-coming targets and the damage is based on the target’s relative weakness to the Rock-type. As a result, a Pokemon that is 2x weak to Rock will take 25% damage and Pokemon that are 4x weak (such as the iconic Charizard) will lose a whopping 50% of their HP just for swapping in. It’s not just Charizard either though, Stealth Rocks have made some already awful Pokemon even more unusable, such as Delibird, simply because of their typing.
  • Too Many Legendaries – There are simply too many legendaries in Gen 4. In the first 2 games, legendaries were very rare and felt appropriately special as a result. Gen 3 increased the number of legendaries, but they were still quite rare (especially the Regis), so it didn’t feel like an issue. However, Gen 4 introduces a grand total of 14 legendary Pokemon (5 of which are technically “mythical” Pokemon), which is a whopping 13% of the total new Pokemon introduced in the game. This results in two big issues for Gen 4:
    • In my opinion, the design of the new legendaries is hit or miss. The 3 lake guardians, Uxie, Mesprit and Azelf, look basically identical and play similarly since they all have the same typing. The mascots of Diamond and Pearl, Dialga and Palkia, are also probably the ugliest in the entire franchise, feeling a bit too “overdesigned”. Also, Heatran just doesn’t look like it should be a legendary, there isn’t really anything special about it, it’s just sort of thrown into the ring randomly.
    • Gen 4 actually features the most roaming legendaries in any game, with Platinum having all three of Kanto’s legendary birds on the loose along with Mesprit and Cresselia… and good God they are an absolute pain to catch.

Best Pokemon of Gen 4: Gastrodon, Infernape, Cherrim (Sunshine form), Mismagius, Honchkrow, Purugly, Chatot, Togekiss, Glaceon
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 4: Wormadam, Mime Jr., Drapion, Carnivine, Lickilicky, Magmortar, Probopass

Tune in soon for the next entry where I’ll cover Generation 5.

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Love/Hate: Pokemon Gen 3

(Just a disclaimer on this entry, Generation 3 is the only gen that I haven’t experienced first-hand. As a result, thoughts on this generation are based on the changes that it made to the series, research on the games’ receptions and my experiences having played the Gen 6 remakes of the games.)
 

Generation 3 (RubySapphireEmeraldFireRedLeafGreen)
Love

  • Hoenn Feels Very Distinct – Perhaps appropriately since Gen 3 was basically a soft reboot, the new Hoenn region feels quite distinctly different than the Kanto and Johto regions, which were based on Japanese geography. In contrast, Hoenn features much more island-hopping, giving it a coastal feel that gives it its own identity to set it apart from other generations.
  • Introduction of Abilities – The addition of abilities for every Pokemon was a fantastic new feature which fundamentally shook up how all Pokemon are used, made battling more unpredictable (since Pokemon might have 2 different abilities to choose from) and even opened up new design and balance opportunities (most notably seen with the ultra powerful, but lazy, Slaking).
  • Introduction of Natures – While this feature could easily be missed entirely by a more casual fan, natures have huge implications for competitive battling and breeding, as they can add 10% power to one stat, while hindering another 10%. This addition just further individualizes each Pokemon, as they now don’t necessarily have the exact same stats, and opens up new options for building up a moveset.
  • Art Design – The art style in the Gen 3 games is fantastic and, I would argue, the best in the whole franchise. The overworld design in particular is very reminiscent of A Link to the Past‘s gorgeous artwork and the game moves very smoothly at 60fps, a feature which no other Pokemon game can boast (outside of Gen 5’s battle system, which exclusively runs at 60fps).
  • A Couple Big Quality of Life Improvements – While it doesn’t refine the formula nearly as much as Gen 2 did, Gen 3 introduced a couple major refinements which Gen 2 sorely needed and which would become franchise staples going forward. Probably most importantly, the PC system was finally streamlined, automatically switching when a box is filled up, and now featuring a full graphical user interface, making box management less of a hassle. In addition, Gen 3 introduced the running shoes, which allow you to move through the overworld faster, even without having to hop on the bike – thank freaking God.
  • New Pokemon Are Very Solid – The new Pokemon in this generation are very solid all-round, with some becoming all-time classics on-par with the best of Gen 1 (Gardevoir, Mudkip, Blaziken, etc). There are only a couple Pokemon that I actively dislike (Spinada, Swallot), while there are others which are just questionable (by design, Volbeat and Illumise are basically the same Pokemon, as are Plustle and Minun), but all-in-all this was another classic generation.
  • Double Battles – I can remember seeing kids playing the Gen 3 games back when I was in elementary school, and I always thought that the new double battles were the coolest feature. They definitely are a flashy addition with some real gameplay impacts (eg, some moves have additional properties in double battles, being able to hit multiple Pokemon at once), although I would argue that this feature is under-utilized in-game.
  • Battle Frontier – While I haven’t experienced it myself, everyone sings the praises of the Battle Frontier in Emerald for being arguably the strongest post-game in the entire franchise (yes, rivaling the return to Kanto in Gen 2). From what I understand, it’s similar to the battle towers in other Pokemon games, but far more fleshed out, with much more interesting and rewarding battles. If you’re into the battling side of these games, then I can definitely see how you would fall in love with the Battle Frontier and how it can add dozens of hours of additional play.

Mixed

  • Underwhelming Remakes – FireRed and LeafGreen, the Gen 1 remakes introduced during this generation, are by all accounts solid games, although they’re also very basic as far as remakes go, doing very little to change up the gameplay (including locking off new evolutions until the post-game). Other than a new coat of paint and introducing the gameplay refinements of the previous games, the only other addition is the Sevii Islands, where players can catch Johto Pokemon. This still makes them the ideal way to experience Gen 1, but they could have done much more.
  • No Day/Night Cycle – The biggest missing feature in the Gen 3 games is the lack of a day night cycle. On the one hand, now you don’t have to wait until a certain time of day to catch Pokemon, or wait for weekly events, but on the other hand, this cuts down on the replayability of going back to old areas which made that feature so good in the first place. It’s omission just feels like a step backwards.
  • Version-Exclusive Villains – By all measures, having version-exclusive criminal organizations (Team Aqua in Sapphire, Team Magma in Ruby, and both in Emerald) is a cool idea, but the execution is underwhelming. Neither team has much personality outside of their aesthetics and (nonsensical) ultimate goals, meaning that you don’t really notice much of a difference if you try out the other version of the game. Worse, Emerald has both villainous teams taking center stage, meaning that in the late game you have to battle through both sequentially instead of just one, grinding the pacing to a crawl. I’d still put this feature under the mixed heading though since version-exclusive villains battling each other is still the only thing that makes either of these teams stand out and is at least a cool idea.

Hate

  • Too Much Water – I know it’s a meme at this point, but seriously, there’s too much damn water in these games. Like, imagine if 50% of the Kanto region was Rock Tunnel and you couldn’t escape from all the Tentacools attacking you constantly. I know you can get around this with repels, but you shouldn’t have to resort to that to get some relief.
  • Too Many HMs – HMs were annoying in previous generations, especially practically useless ones like Flash, Cut and Rock Smash, but they were only that – an annoyance. In Gen 3, they became a full-on blight on the series for the first time. In order to advance, you need 8 different HMs, 3 of which are Water-type moves as well (Surf, Waterfall and Dive; remember too that at this time all Water moves are special attacks too, so this cuts down on coverage significantly). Consider that you will only have 24 move slots available on a team at a time and you’re probably going to have to use up 1/3 of your moves on HMs, and somehow find multiple Pokemon to spread the different Water-type HMs to. This was the time when HM slaves came about, Pokemon which were useless in battle, but only carried around because then you wouldn’t have to waste a good Pokemon with bad HMs.
  • Old Pokemon Can’t Be Brought Forward – For the first and only time in the main series, Pokemon from Gen 1 and Gen 2 cannot be brought forward to the Gen 3 games in any capacity. This really sucks – imagine you spent years breeding a perfect team or catching shinies and then suddenly you can’t use them anymore. You can make the argument that this is because of the changes in IVs, natures, etc, but it doesn’t change the fact that this just plain sucks (and in the initial releases, hundreds of Pokemon were straight-up unavailable until the Gen 1 remakes were released). This is also the only generation in which this would be the case, which just makes this even more of a sore point.
  • Contests Are Boring – Maybe there’s someone out there who loves the Pokemon Contests mini-game, but the game does not teach you the mechanics very well at all. It’s interesting that they added a way to use Pokemon outside of their battle stats, but the mechanics of Contests aren’t nearly as interesting as those of battling. Worse, you “level up” your contest stats through the production of Pokeblocks, whose quality depends on how well you time (and understand) button presses in a mini-game. Even worse, the number of Pokeblocks you can give are finite, and there is one Pokemon that needs to max its beauty stat in order to evolve: Feebas. The result is one legendarily difficult Pokemon to not only acquire but to evolve as well. Add it all up, and you have a gimmicky mini-game that I don’t want to even bother touching again beyond the one mandatory tutorial the game forces you through.
  • The Regi Puzzles Are Ridiculously Obtuse – Pokemon has always been intended to be a social game, but I feel that the Regi puzzles take that a step too far. Seriously, the steps required to beat this puzzle are on the level of modern-day ARGs, and would be basically impossible to decipher alone – meaning that you will have to resort to a guide, which is far less satisfying than a simpler puzzle that you could actually figure out yourself. Even worse, the Regi-trio are widely considered some of the weakest legendaries in the entire franchise, meaning that it’s only worth it for a collector. Like, just look at some of the instructions involved in order to pull it off:
    • Surf to a specific spot in the overworld and then use the Dive HM to find an underwater cave with Braille writing. Proceed to learn how to translate Braille, because all of the “hints” involved will require that you can read it.
    • Use TMs and HMs such as Dig, Fly and Rock Smash at specific points where they would normally make no sense (eg, the game has taught you that they wouldn’t work in that spot).
    • Have a Relicanth and Wailord in your party – oh, that isn’t just what’s required though, you also need to have the Relicanth at the front of your party and the Wailord in the last slot. Do this at the right spot and you will now be able to find the caves which allow you the chance to find a Regi.
    • To find Regice, you literally have to find its cave and then just not touch your game for 2 minutes straight.
    • To find Regirock, walk to a specific spot and then use Strength (on open ground).
    • To find Registeel, walk to the middle of the room and then use Fly (inside of a cave, where it normally would not work).
  • Weak Story – Gen 3 is regarded as the first game in the series that gives any sort of serious consideration to its story, but it is also often criticized for doing a poor job of conveying it. For example, your rival (Brendan or May) is pretty much universally considered a boring disappointment, while Team Aqua and Team Magma are basically palette swaps with nonsensical plans and now real motivations.

Best Pokemon of Gen 3: Aggron, Gardevoir, Mudkip, Zigzagoon, Absol, Bannette
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 3: Spinada, Swallot, Luvdisc (cute, but totally useless), Minun and Plustle (just… why? They’re not even good picks within their niche gimmick)

Tune in soon for the next entry where I’ll cover Generation 4.

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Love/Hate: Pokemon Gen 2

Generation 2 (GoldSilverCrystal)
Love

  • Quality of Life Improvements – It cannot be overstated just how much better to play the Gen 2 games are, mainly due to some major quality of life refinements. For example, players now get significantly more item slots, which are automatically arranged by item type (items, Poke Balls, TM/HMs, key items), and you can set a key item to a shortcut with the select button rather than having to open the pack every time you want to equip it. PC management is also much less of a hassle, as Bill will phone you when your PC box is full and boxes can be arranged and re-arranged much more conveniently than in the past. In addition, so many elements of the game are much more refined compared to the previous generation, such as the battle sprites and the map design (compare the flat, boring and tedious to navigate Mt. Moon and Rock Tunnel with Dark Cave or Ice Path, and the fact that this is only a couple years removed from Red and Blue is very remarkable).
  • Significant and Game-Changing New Features – More-so than any subsequent entry in the franchise, Gen 2 introduced many new features which have not only gone on to be series staples, but have also deepened the battling system and have provided entire new ways to play the game. The result is that, while Gen 1 now feels archaic to play, Gen 2 is just as much of a joy to play today as it was on release. There are just so many new and important features that I have to break them down further below:
    • The most obvious new feature is the morning/day/night cycle, which makes the game constantly replayable throughout the day. It can be a little annoying to have to wait for that perfect Pokemon you want that’s only available at night time, but it is a cool enough addition that it shouldn’t be a hassle.
    • The Special stat of the previous generation was also split into Special Attack and Special Defence, making Special-based Pokemon much more balanced.
    • Held Items are a huge new addition to the series, to the point where an otherwise-competitive team would probably be considered nearly worthless without held items.
    • Shinies were introduced here and were incredibly rare to acquire, especially compared to subsequent generations. This twist made the simple act of catching significantly deeper and more challenging, if you wanted it to be. To this day, there isn’t really a feeling I get that’s quite matched by a shiny encounter.
    • Breeding was introduced in this generation, and provided a bedrock for hardcore players to let their inner-eugenicist shine and breed a perfect team. It was certainly in its rough stages at this point in the series, but it is really cool and handy and can help you get ahold of strong and/or shiny Pokemon at higher odds.
  • New Typings Perfect the Balance – The new Dark and Steel typings were great additions, being introduced in order to balance out the type imbalances of the previous generation. In fact, you could definitely argue that their introduction in Gen 2 finally perfected the series’ typing balance.
  • Endgame Content – Generation 2 is lauded for also including the Kanto region from Gen 1 in the game, providing a whole additional mini-campaign once you have beaten the main game. It provides hours of meaningful additional content and even gives you a battle against the main character from the previous game at the end.
  • Best Rival – The game’s rival character, canonically known as “Silver”, is easily the best rival in the entire franchise. While he starts out as an abrasive and abusive asshole (which alone is enough to make you want to beat him), he eventually grows and matures as he learns what it means to be a good trainer. No other rival before or since has been nearly as compelling as Silver and it’s always a joy to take him on.
  • New Pokemon – The new Pokemon added in this generation are all rock solid, design-wise I would consider it the best single generation of them all.

Hate

  • Doesn’t Go Far Enough – While the Gen 2 games make huge improvements on the previous generation, it also unfortunately leaves some big legacy issues completely intact, which are just annoying and even baffling when you look back on these games. Most notably, the game still requires manual box switching whenever your PC boxes are filled up, which could potentially cost you a legendary or a shiny if you don’t get back and change the box in time. The fact that physical and special attacks are still tied to typing is also an unfortunate reality of this generation, especially since this game adds 2 new Water-type HMs.
  • Feels Like an Epilogue – Generation 2 has easily the weakest story in the entire series, in part because the whole setup feels like nothing more than an epilogue to the first generation, most notably regarding Team Rocket’s return and search for Giovanni. Most things relate back to events in the first generation and the game doesn’t really attempt to stand on its own.
  • Roaming Legendaries – Of all the new features introduced in Gen 2 that would be carried on into the future, probably my least-favourite is roaming legendaries. While it can be exciting to just randomly encounter one of the three legendary beasts, that’s part of the issue – simply encountering them. It’s totally random where they will be at any given time and you can’t track them until you have encountered them at least once, so capturing them can result in hours of frustration. Furthermore, their position changes based on the route you’re on, so you can’t even manipulate them into coming closer randomly. Even then, when you do find one, they will immediately run away, meaning that you need to either encounter them a dozen of times to have a chance of catching them, or you need to trap them in with Mean Look and then hope that they don’t faint.
  • Persistent Sloppiness and Bugs – While Gen 2 isn’t nearly as bad as the previous generation when it comes to bugs, there are still some truly shocking examples of sloppiness which have made their way into the final product. One of the more notorious bugs was the duplication glitch, which happens if you turn off the power in the PC boxes at a certain time – while handy, the fact that it can be triggered so easily is certainly questionable. Worse, many of the new Apricorn-based Pokeballs just straight-up don’t work as intended, such as the Love Ball. It’s supposed to have a higher catch rate against Pokemon of the opposite gender, but it ends up only working against Pokemon of the same gender instead. Considering Nintendo’s rather regressive stances on LGBTQ options in their franchises, this is pretty clearly an unintentional move.
  • Weak Pokemon Selection in Main Game – This one is actually a multi-point issue which I will break down as follows:
    • Most of the Pokemon you encounter prior to the post-game are not very competitive, especially if you don’t take the time to find the rarer encounters early on (such as Phanpy or Heracross). I’m not even talking about the legendaries here, even relatively straightforward Pokemon like Houndoom, Misdreavus or Magcargo aren’t even available until the post game, to say nothing of arguably the strongest obtainable Pokemon, Tyranitar. Furthermore, many of the new evolutions aren’t available until the post-game (Steelix and Scizor) or through very rare item acquisitions (Kingdra), and even then require trading to receive. Hell, even old mainstays that could be useful like Arcanine or Ninetails are gimped because the only evolution stones you can find before you get to Kanto are Moon and Sun Stones. As a result, players will typically end up having to rely on their starter and a constantly-shifting team due to the weak selections available at any give time.
    • Compounding the previous issue, many of the new Pokemon in this game are staggeringly uncompetitive, even for their era. Up until recently, Sunkern was straight-up the weakest Pokemon in the entire series (yes, even worse than Magikarp), and its evolution is not great either. Generation 2 brought us two Pokemon which are largely considered the worst in the entire game: Delibird and Unown, not to mention such laughable poor Pokemon as Dunsparce, Jumpluff and, at the time of their release, Azumarill and Quagsire (subsequent generations would buff them retroactively to make up for their useless stats). Furthermore, Gen 2 introduced the concept of baby Pokemon, which are basically useless competitively. They only really functioning for collecting purposes, because they’re admittedly quite cute, but there’s a reason this concept was phased out after the fourth generation. So, consider that most of the Pokemon you meet in the first half of the game are so awful, and you can see why viable team composition will be so limited. And furthermore…
    • Chikorita gets screwed so hard by this game. Like, if you pick Chikorita as your starter, you’re in for a rough time. First of all, in Gen 1 it takes quite a while to find any Pokemon with the same type as your starter, so no matter who you pick, they’re going to give you something you can’t get elsewhere. Poor Chikorita has to compete with Bellsprout and Hoppip immediately and, while it is better than both, it still makes you feel like you’re on the backfoot from the start. The gym selection doesn’t help either, as six of the eight gym leaders either are either super effective against grass (including the first two gyms), or resist grass attacks. The only time Chikorita is actually a decent pick is against the notoriously difficult Whitney, as it has relatively good bulk and can spread status attacks to her Miltank, and against arguably the easiest gym leader in the game, Chuck, since it’s super effective against his Poliwrath. All that said, I have a major love-hate relationship with Chikorita because of this – it’s like playing the second generation games on hard mode when you pick Chikorita, and the suffering we’ve shared has endeared me to the little, green dinosaur.
  • Phone Calls – The phone in the game is actually pretty handy, but at least 50% of the time you get a call, it will be something totally useless which is just disrupting.

Best Pokemon of Gen 2: Houndoom, Bayleaf, Tyranitar, Umbreon, Espeon, Kingdra, Marill
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 2: Unown, Delibird (I like its design, but it’s so frustrating to try to use)

Tune in soon for the next entry where I’ll cover Generation 3.

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Love/Hate: Pokemon Gen 1

It isn’t really something that I have mentioned here on IC2S, but I absolutely love the Pokemon franchise, particularly the flagship handheld games. I have many fond memories of getting ahold of a classic Gameboy, playing the first two generations of games and managing to catch the first 150 Pokemon in my copy of Pokemon Blue*. Like most people who were there from the beginning, I missed quite a few of the later generations as I grew up and took interest in other things. However, like some of the finest things in life, maturity only rekindled my love for these creatures and in the past few years I have become a bigger fan of this series than I ever was as a kid, playing just about every main game in the franchise at least once at this point and proudly rocking a living Pokedex.

Of course, I’m the Retrospectives guy, I love collating my thoughts on a franchise in a digestible fashion. While I’m not going to go and do a full-on Retrospective for every game in the Pokemon franchise, I will go into some of my thoughts on each of the 7 generations, specifically the things that I love and hate about each. So, without further ado, let’s move on to my thoughts on the first generation.

Generation 1 (Red, GreenBlue, Yellow)
Love

  • Creature Design – It should go without saying that the original 151 Pokemon are classics, in part due to nostalgia, but even at the time they were strong enough to kick-start the franchise’s popularity. There is a class of Pokemon fan dubbed “genwunners” who never grew beyond the first or second generation and which believe that everything was best in this generation; admittedly, fans like this lionize the first gen’s designs a bit too much (for example, Exeggcute, Electrode and Dugtrio’s designs are about as dumb as much-maligned later Pokemon, such as Garbodor or Kling-Klang, for the exact same reasons; in addition, a number of Pokemon are literally just real animals, such as Krabby or Seel).
  • Established the Formula – If you’ve played the original Pokemon games, then you will definitely recognize that every subsequent Pokemon game is simply building on the skeleton established by these releases, as the whole concept of capturing Pokemon, the battle system and world navigation have remained largely intact. It’s a legitimately enthralling formula, which is why it has remained this way for so long.
  • Following Pikachu – While having Pikachu as a starter Pokemon in Yellow is actually awful as it is so much weaker than any other starter Pokemon and can’t evolve either, the ability to have Pikachu follow you around is such a nice quality of life feature which makes you actually want to use the underpowered rodent. Considering how often it is requested, it’s surprising that this feature was only brought back once since.

Hate

  • Broken Mechanics – If you haven’t played a generation one game in a long time, then you might not remember that these games are famously broken on a fundamental design level, to the point where I have to break this down into more bullets just to cover a handful of the more egregious examples:
    • The Psychic type was incredibly overpowered, being only resisted by other Psychic types and being weak only to the very underpowered Bug type. To make matters worse, Ghost types were supposed to be super effective against Psychic, but due to poor programming, Psychic types were made immune to Ghost attacks (seriously). Even if it had been programmed correctly, the only Ghost attacking move was very weak and the only Ghost Pokemon was also part Poison, which is super weak against Psychic attacks.
    • Dragon types only had one attack, the fixed-damage move Dragon Rage, meaning that they could never be super effective or take advantage of STAB (same type attack bonus, which gives a 1.5x attack multiplier if the Pokemon possess the same type as its attacking move).
    • Critical hits and one-hit KO moves were based on the Speed stat, meaning that you could manipulate this stat to guarantee these would land every time, allowing players to cheese their way through the game.
    • All moves are classed physical or special based on the type (eg, all Fire attacks are special, even Fire Punch, and all Ghost attacks are physical). Furthermore, while physical stats are split between Attack and Defense, the special stat is only one value, meaning that a Pokemon with a high Special stat will be both specially offensive and defensive. This only compounds with the overpowered nature of Psychic types, which have high Special stats in general.
    • Against certain Pokemon, particularly legendaries, Poke Balls will miss. The only solution to this is to weaken the Pokemon as much as you can, hit it with a status move and then just keep chucking balls until the game decides that they stop missing. It might take 10-15 balls to do so, but it’s a serious annoyance.
    • Some moves just plain don’t work as intended, such as Focus Energy, which is supposed to increase your critical hit ratio, actually cuts your critical hit ratio by 75%.
  • Awful Sprites – In Red and Blue, some of the Pokemon’s sprites are just plain ugly. I mean, just look closely at those sprites in the Generation 1 heading above – they’re so bad. Blastoise looks bloated, the perspective on Seaking is super awkward, Eevee looks sinister rather than heart-meltingly cute, and what the hell is going on with Golbat!? Hell, even Pikachu, the freaking series mascot, looks incredibly derpy. Thankfully this issue was rectified in Yellow, which featured new sprites for many of these Pokemon (which is actually probably the best feature introduced in Yellow, in my opinion).
  • Clunky Pokemon and Item Management – Having to switch boxes to capture Pokemon is a pain, especially because you only can carry 20 in a box and the game does not warn you when it is about to fill up. As a result, you can easily get screwed out of a Pokemon you wanted because your box was full and you didn’t change it. On a related note, you can only carry a small number of items at a time, meaning that you’re going to be constantly storing and swapping items at your PC (which also has a finite space available, because of course it does), or constantly tossing items in order to pick up valuables you find along the way (having recently played Yellow, this was one of my biggest barriers to enjoyment).
  • Poor Map Design – While the region of Kanto is itself is laid out in an interesting fashion, giving players options to tackle the gyms out of order if they can overcome the level differences, most of the individual areas are very poorly designed. I had completely forgotten this aspect of the game in my recent playthrough, which made navigating any area a bigger headache than it should have been. The game has lots of open, unused spaces (such as Viridian and Pewter City), meaning that you can often have absolutely nothing of interest on screen while navigating. Caves are also notoriously annoying in this way, since they’re almost always flat and open (Mt. Moon is particularly egregious in this regard). Furthermore, in caves you’re often far away from a Pokemon Centre so you NEED to have tons of healing items to avoid blacking out (which compounds with the item slot restrictions). Rock Tunnel is especially pronounced in this regard, because the entire route is flat with no shortcuts to turn around if you need to stop and heal. Even some of the regular routes are just gruelling slogs to push through, such as the path from Lavender Town to Fuchsia City, which features 4 long routes to get through. The result of all of this is that generation one games just feel like a gruelling process to push yourself through at times, especially if you’ve played any subsequent game in the series.

Best Pokemon of Gen 1: Charizard, Eevee, Jolteon, Ninetails, Venomoth, Arcanine, Lapras
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 1: Mr. Mime, Jynx, Exeggcute, Electrode, Zubat/Tentacool (just because they’re an in-game annoyance)

Tune in soon for the next entry where I’ll cover Generation 2.

*Before my asswipe of a “friend” started a new save file on my copy without asking, thereby wiping out all of my Pokemon.

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Animals in Bands

I was listening to a podcast the other day and someone mentioned off-hand that there was a metal band fronted by dogs. Naturally, this revelation caused me to instantly shoot up in my seat and try to find this band, because it sounded so intriguing. It turns out that there are actually a few bands fronted by animals and the results are certainly… interesting.

Honourable Mention: No Grave But the Sea For Dogs, Alestorm
This one definitely doesn’t count, but it was my original touch-point for animal-fronted music. Basically, it’s Alestorm’s No Grave But the Sea, but with all the vocals replaced by a barking dog sound effect. It’s pretty funny if you’re familiar with the songs and the dog barking is done in the same rhythm as the actual vocal tracks, but it’s not like they had a dog in the studio just barking constantly over each track. Check out the track “Alestorm” here.

Caninus

Kicking this list off with the band which inspired it, we have Caninus, a deathgrind band headed by two pit bulls, Basil and Budgie. The band was the side project of Most Precious Blood guitarist Justin Brannan, which lent the group some musical chops to go along with the vocal gimmick. The band was actually signed to a record label, War Torn records, and had three releases – two split EPs and a full album with the absolutely amazing title of Now the Animals Have Voices. Sadly, the band is now defunct, as Basil had a brain tumour and was euthanized in 2011 and Budgie died in 2016.

As for the music itself, I’m very mixed on it. Like I said, the sound and production are quite polished and coherent than some of the other bands on this list. However, I’m not a fan of the music itself – the songs range from 30 seconds to maybe 3 minutes at most, meaning that Now the Animals Have Voices is over very quickly. I know that this is the whole point, but the music is literally just lots of snarling, growling and some barking set to music. The vocals are appropriate for the heaviness of the music, but it doesn’t amount to something that I’d actually want to listen to. They’re on Spotify though, so feel free to give them a listen for yourself.

Highlights: “Fear of Dog (Religious Myths)”, “New Yorkie Crew (Loyal Like A Stone)”

Hatebeak

After Caninus, Hatebeak is probably the second biggest animal-fronted band out there, based on the research I found for this post. Hatebeak are a death/grindcore metal band fronted by a grey parrot named Waldo. The band is signed to Reptilian Records and is still active today, having released three split EPs (including one with Caninus) and a full-length album in 2015 called The Number of the Beak. Hatebeak really pride themselves on their bird-pun titles, which are equal parts cringe and chuckle-worthy. If nothing else, I’d recommend you at least check out the titles of their songs. I mean, just look at the album art for The Number of the Beak. Hatebeak takes itself much less seriously than Caninus, really leaning into the whole joke of its premise.

Musically, Hatebeak are a mixed bag. The production on The Number of the Beak is very bad, almost demo-quality. For some of their songs, I’d say it would be appropriate to label Hatebeak “noise”, as their music is largely just distorted guitars with some squacks overlaid on it. On such tracks, the parrot vocalist feels like a gimmick. However, there are some tracks where Waldo’s vocals actually resemble grindcore “bree-brees”, such as “Beak of Putrefaction”, “God of Empty Nest” and “Seeds of Destruction”, which isn’t a musical style I’m into, but it’s familiar enough to bring a smile to my face and I can definitely see how someone could be into these tracks. “Roost in Peace” is also a pretty solid death metal track. All-in-all, I actually enjoyed bits of Hatebeak more than Caninus, even if the production is total ass and the first half of the album makes the parrot vocals feel like a gimmick. However, when Hatebeak works, it works pretty well, although it’s pretty clear that the band put more effort into their song titles than they did in the music itself. The Number of the Beak is on Spotify, I’d recommend that you give it a listen.

Highlights: “Roost in Peace”, “Seven Perches”

The Thai Elephant Orchestra

The previous two entries were bands fronted by animals, whereas The Thai Elephant Orchestra are a band made up of animals, performing their own music. The elephants are actually signed to Mulatta Records, which prides itself as “purveyors of the unique and bizarre”, where they have released 4 albums: a self-titled album, Elephonic Rhapsodies, Water Music and Smash Hits. The band’s page on Mulatta Records proudly states that the band is comprised of “Elephants in the Thai jungle playing specially designed musical instruments. The elephants improvise the music themselves. The Thai Elephant Orchestra was co-founded by Richard Lair of the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang and performer/composer Dave Soldier”.

As you would probably expect from music improvised and performed entirely by animals, The Thai Elephant Orchestra’s music is mostly just noise. There isn’t really much artistry or cohesion to it, although in this case the gimmick of having music created by animals doesn’t diminish the product itself. Elephonic Rhapsodies is on Spotify, so if you’re interested then you might want to check it out.

The Rock Cats

Aaaand here’s where we get more into the gimmicky stuff, if you can believe that after Caninus and Hatebeak. The Rock Cats are an off-shoot of The Acro-Cats, which is essentially a cat circus. Each show ends with a performance by The Rock Cats, which is dubbed “the only cat band in existence”. The sarcastic reviews on the band’s Wikipedia page are incredible:

-“An unpredictable assortment of instrument clanging, and rarely does it sound like the cats are playing the same song, let alone an actual, fully realized piece of music.”
-“Really, really fun way to spend an afternoon”
-A reviewer of a 2013 show in New Orleans was critical of the band’s musicality, and complained that the advertised “seasonal carol selections such as ‘A Cat in a Manger’ and ‘Catnip Roasting on an Open Fire'” never materialized.”
-“What they lacked in technical skill, they certainly made up for in rock ‘n’ roll catitude”.

The band also has a website which is pure 90s Geocities cheese and which apparently isn’t updated with any regularity because it has a listing of the band members, but the front-cat, Tuna, has been dead for a year now (and this despite having a listing for a show that happened a couple days ago as of this writing). The site also has a music video of the cats (and a rooster, and a gopher) playing music which seems to be 100% legit, although edited heavily to make it listenable if the band’s reviews are anything to go by. Unlike the other entries on this list, they do not have any music up on Spotify.

The Jingle Cats

…and of course there’s an entire Christmas-themed band of cats out there. Unlike The Rock Cats, The Jingle Cats merely meow over humans playing Christmas carols in a similar manner to No Grave But the Sea for Dogs. They released three albums, Meowy Christmas, Here Comes Santa Claws and a non-Christmas album, Rhythm and Mews, all three of which are available on Spotify. They also have a website which is somehow even worse than The Rock Cats’ was.

Christmas albums tend to be gimmicky enough as it is, but having cats as the vocalists just adds a whole new dimension of gimmickry to the proceedings. The music itself is very generic holiday fare, almost like something from a karaoke version of the songs, and the cat vocals grow tiresome very quickly, especially when they are arranged in a very high pitch. Also, for some reason, there’s a dog on lots of these songs as well, despite this being a supposedly cat-based band. As painful as the Christmas albums are, Rhythm and Mews is a special kind of insane, featuring cat-based covers of “Secret Agent Man“, “Home on the Range” and the freaking “The Star Spangled Banner“.

I… I’m not sure what else to say beyond that. Maybe we should just stop with these animal bands, or at least the cat-based ones, okay?

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Christian Mingle – The Almighty Cockblocker

Recently my girlfriend was looking for a movie that we could watch on Netflix and, surprisingly, asked if I wanted to watch Christian Mingle. She isn’t a Christian herself, so this was particularly unexpected, but as someone who’s interested in crappy movies, this movie had been on my radar for quite some time and of course I said yes to the offer to watch it. It was basically just a reasonably well-done version of one of those low-budget W-network romantic films, with a religious spin on things to differentiate itself. I’m not really interested in a full review of the film (I’d give it a 4/10), but the film’s religious elements did get me thinking because they were implemented in some strange ways which I feel run counter to the intended message.

First off, Christian Mingle is very much an archetypal low budget romance movie. If you’ve seen one of these before, you know the drill – you’ve got your generic white couple who get drawn together, a manipulative mother, an unbearable romantic rival, a stupid conflict that draws the characters apart and which would have been easily solvable with a little communication and common sense, etc. Perhaps the weirdest thing about all of this though is how Christianity has been shoehorned into this archetype. Usually the central conflict comes because of some nefarious falsehood or because of some sort of scheme on the part of the villain, but in this story that means that the villain is… God, or at least this form of Christianity. It might have actually been interesting if this was intentional, but it definitely does not seem like that is the case here.

Much of the early conflict in Christian Mingle is driven by Gwyn feeling like she isn’t “Christian enough” (she’s a Christmas and Easter Christian, but that still makes her Christian) and Paul overestimating her devotion to God. Gwyn and Paul fall for each other, while Gwyn tries to learn how to be a better Christian. Interestingly, the film’s focus seems to be primarily directed on Christian lingo, rather than on the actions that would set someone apart and in fact seems to be the villainous mother character’s issue as well. She’s trying to set Paul up with goody-goody church girl Kelly, who’s clearly “in” the Christian group but clearly doesn’t have a connection with Paul like Gwyn does. Then, while volunteering together in Mexico*, Paul finds out that Gwyn isn’t Christian enough and decides that they can’t be together anymore, despite both of them clearly being in love. So, what this film is saying is that because Gwyn isn’t at the same faith level as Paul, they can’t be together? I mean, she basically says she wants to be better, she wants to know God the same way he does. Isn’t this every Evangelical boy’s dream, to save his girlfriend’s soul? Apparently not, according to this movie, because they split and he gets matched up with Kelly for a while.

So what does Gwyn do? She starts praying, going to church, reading her Bible, etc. And then she quits her job because she doesn’t feel honest marketing products she doesn’t believe in (as the Common Sense Media overview of the film puts it, “Why does no one ask if there are clinical trials to back up the product’s claims?”) and goes and volunteers full-time in Mexico. As a result, she apparently reaches a point where she’s “Christian enough” and Paul seeks her out on his own accord… and reveals that he loved her all along. So, wait, would he have gotten back together with her if she hadn’t completely changed her life for him? Would he have gotten over his own barriers and accept her in order to make love work? Who knows, because the movie’s story conveniently swerves to avoid having to actually answer this! Hell, it would even have been interesting to me if they had done something to suggest that this was supposed to be a metaphor for God’s love and that he seeks her whether she believes the “right” way or not, but obviously this kind of film doesn’t have any sort of ambition to it.

As I’ve probably hammered home by now, the biggest issue in Christian Mingle is that it really harps on this exclusive form of Christian belief that Gwyn fails to measure up to, although the film never really says what that involves outside of loving God. I’m not sure if this is just Evangelical dog whistling, or if the film just thinks that if it doesn’t take a stance at all then it will be able to reach a wider audience. This makes me wonder why the hell Gwyn’s faith maturity is such a big deal, because she clearly is game to grow. The aforementioned Common Sense Media’s review put it well when they said that “most followers of Jesus tout the claim that God loves everyone, which is a policy of religious inclusiveness, but this plot hangs on the exclusionary position born-again parents take when they fear their son is being wooed by a non-believer”, and not only that but the film seems to reinforce that exclusionary message. Everyone has to begin a journey of faith somewhere, not to mention that spiritual growth develops over a lifetime, so why does everyone expect Gwyn to be fully developed in order for she and Paul to have any sort of relationship? It’s just a baffling message and I can’t understand why it is treated like a given assumption throughout the film, unless it’s just pandering to the mindset of the hardcore Evangelical bubble.

Furthermore, the film really drops the ball on what a Christian life should look like. In addition to making the Christian characters the real villains of the piece and having Christianity and God become the obstacle which is preventing love from being achieved (without any sort of self-consciousness about this message, I may add), God barely seems to have any real positive effect in the lives of the characters in the film. Like, Gwyn says that the Christian characters are all so happy and different, but that doesn’t really seem to be the case. Again, Paul’s mom is uptight, Kelly is clearly a jealous schemer and most of the Christians are portrayed in a manner which I can only describe as “low budget TV romance quirky”. Again, if you’ve seen enough of these films, you’d know what I mean – characters who are supposed to be fountains of humour but whose actions make them feel inhuman. Even Paul himself is quite bland and feels tethered by his faith, rather than liberated, and he is only actually interesting when he’s breaking free of that shell to be with Gwyn. The film also doesn’t help its case when it reveals that practically every other character in Gwyn’s life is secretly Christian, most notably Gwyn’s sassy black friend, Pam. As a result, we don’t really get any unfulfilled non-Christians to compare the faithful to. The result of all of this is that God basically becomes window dressing in a film which is clearly intended to actually be about Him. Everyone’s talking about God, but He has no actual presence in the film, which doesn’t help the resulting perception that Christian Mingle is about “authenticity […] to a specific way of worship”.

Obviously the film has other issues (the fact that it’s basically a paid advertisement using faith as a springboard being most notable), but I felt like these ones here are the most central to the film’s failings. Like I said in the intro, it’s otherwise just a competent made for TV romantic film, if you’re into that kind of thing. However, the one thing that it does to differentiate itself is handled really poorly when you apply any sort of critical thought towards it… y’know, assuming that they were actually trying to make Christianity and God look appealing anyway.

*Or, well, a super cheap cowboy set doubling for Mexico. Seriously, I laughed my ass off at this part.

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Let the Past Die

Solo: A Star Wars Story is out this week and for the first time since 2008’s Clone Wars animated movie, it seems like Star Wars fans could just not give a shit. Some of this can come down to the divisive reaction to The Last Jedi – for my part, I really liked it and feel like it will be looked upon very fondly in the future, but the fury with which many people have derided it makes any sort of dialogue on it very tiring. Some of the antipathy can also come down to the perception that, at least anecdotally, no one really seems to want a Han Solo origin film, nor do they really want Star Wars spin-off films. I also feel like Disney’s annualizing of the Star Wars franchise is dangerous to the franchise’s long-term health. Star Wars used to be a big event every 3 years (or more!), but we now are getting a new one every year. It’s hard to say that that doesn’t dampen the hype somewhat and if this is going to continue indefinitely, then who knows whether the franchise’s popularity will burn out in time.

Now, to be fair, this is probably all down to perception – Solo is still expected to break records (EDIT: well so much for that) (ANOTHER EDIT: OH SHIT**), which suggests that your average Star Wars fan is part of that silent majority who don’t participate in public dialogue. Similarly, I unfortunately can’t find the link anymore but I saw a poll on starwars.com recently where The Last Jedi was actually voted 2nd best in the series after Empire, followed thereafter by Revenge of the Sith (!!!), suggesting that the popular opinion is actually way more favourable to The Last Jedi that the Internet would have you believe (on a similar note, I’m not surprised that Revenge of the Sith is so well-regarded either, since it would be seen as the big, epic culmination of the series for many people when they were growing up).

I’ve been wanting to write about Star Wars and The Last Jedi for quite a while now, but what finally prompted me to write up a post was this rallying cry I’m seeing in the, shall we say, dark side of the fandom which calls for Disney to fire executive producer Kathleen Kennedy. This, to me, is just such a strange situation. I mean, how many executive producers get blamed for franchise woes? Hell, how many could your average movie fan be even expected to name? I mean, Steven Spielberg doesn’t get shit for Transformers, nor does Christopher Nolan get shit for the DCEU. So what is the difference here?
I feel like the answer to this has to be Youtube, right? I mean, where else is this common narrative that there’s a single architect who is destroying Star Wars from the inside going to be originating from? Just look at the most popular results that show up when you search her name on Youtube:

It’s either news, or overwhelmingly negative. Kathleen Kennedy is pushing a PC/SJW agenda. Kathleen Kennedy needs to go. Kathleen Kennedy is destroying Star Wars. On and on and on. I checked the Star Wars Reddit, which also tends to be a bastion for negative sentiments like this that could brew up, but it seemed pretty quiet on the Kennedy front and was actually less fractured than I was expecting on the whole. Obviously, I can’t prove that Youtube is the big influencer when it comes to the brewing anti-Kathleen Kennedy sentiment, but it seems incredibly likely. There are other sources as well of course, such as clickbait news sites (including this one which calls for Kennedy’s firing and says that Star Wars is in trouble because of a 71% tomatometer for Solo*, and claims that every Star Wars film Disney has made has gotten progressively worse, which is demonstrably false if you look at the audience scores, especially when compared to the prequel trilogy). That still leaves a question unanswered though – why does Kathleen Kennedy get all the flack while Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg, among other producers of discontented high-profile franchises, get off scott-free? Hell, if you really think that the Star Wars franchise is getting worse with each film, why not rage against Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote The Force Awakens and Solo: A Star Wars Story? Well, let me lay out my theory…

One of the big complaints about Kennedy and The Last Jedi is that they have been forcing politics into Star Wars, an assertion which is, in my opinion, frankly absurd. I mean, how is The Last Jedi any more political than any other Star Wars film? Decrying rich people, keeping the spark of revolution alive… these are certainly political statements, but they’re hardly pointed at any specific modern context, nor is are they more pronounced than what has come before in Star Wars. I mean, if Revenge of the Sith had come out in 2018, these alt-right types would have had an aneurysm.

Similarly, probably the most common complaint against Kathleen Kennedy is that she forces “politics” into Star Wars, and by that the complainants mean that she pushes for diversity in gender, race and sexuality in the franchise. That’s right, people are getting all riled up about “social justice warriors” again and it is, quite frankly, sickening. We’re well past the point where being staunchly anti-political correctness is an acceptable stance, ever since that mindset gave birth to the alt-right. Hell, it has gotten to a point where anti-PC types are arguably even more annoying than the actual SJW types that they rail against, having falling into this mirror image of the very thing that they oppose so vehemently. So yes, I believe that we’re seeing a micro version of the larger social zeitgeist playing out within the Star Wars fandom, with diversity being opposed by those who are calling for a return to the “purity” of what Star Wars should be. That’s not to say that there aren’t legitimate complaints about the direction of Star Wars outside of a racist/sexist/homophobic angle – there clearly are, but I feel like the more unsavory side of the fandom is co-opting that discontent to draw people to their viewpoint.

Hell, this shouldn’t really be considered news: at the time of The Force Awakens, there were people whining about there being a black lead in the film. When they then found out that a woman was the new hero of the franchise, the whining happened again. Similarly, people complained about how Rogue One was being led by a woman again (oh noes!) and that many of the leads weren’t white. This anti-diversity bent has been rumbling within the fandom for years now, the only difference is that now these people aren’t just being laughed off and shouted down. Now, they seem to be building in steam, which can only really be explained to me as a combination of the resurgence of extremism in society, and the growing sense of discontent within the Star Wars fandom in general. Now we’re looking at boycotts for Solo: A Star Wars Story, not because of anything in the film itself, but because alt-right types want to reclaim Star Wars for themselves:

“‘Disney continues to shove down their SJW feminazi agenda down our retinas.’
You mean creating characters, such as Daisy Ridley’s Rey, meant to empower women is a bad thing? Women holding an equal place within the Star Wars universe is bad? I don’t know where you get your delusions, laser brain.
Gabriel even claims that he’s not sexist.
Um, yes you are. News flash: if you use the term ‘feminazi’ you’re a sexist.”

Now I’m waiting to see what happens when the alt-right gets wind that Lando Calrissian is pansexual.

I don’t think George Lucas intentionally made Star Wars a predominantly-white franchise intentionally, it was just the reality of the business at the time and he didn’t think to change that up. Kennedy is clearly more aware of this and has the ability to push forth for more equality and so I’d say that it’s good that she tries to. Now, she could certainly go too far one way or another, but for now at least the diversity doesn’t feel like tokenism, nor are we looking at a “white genocide” by any means (I mean, just look at Solo, which seems poised to become its own white-male-led franchise here under Kathleen Kennedy’s rule).

For my own part in all this, I feel like Disney can’t mine the legacy of Star Wars forever. When I first heard that Disney was purchasing the franchise, I was hoping that they would be moving beyond the original trilogy and going forwards or backwards in time. Star Wars is a phenomenon and anchoring yourself to existing success only limits the creative expression you can have sooner or later. At some point, they have to push forward and make it their own thing if they want the series to last (and according to their claims, they plan on making them for the next hundred years at least), a reality which is going to alienate some long-time fans. I feel like The Last Jedi did this successfully, especially after the far-too-safe The Force Awakens. I read an article recently where a Star Wars fan basically agreed, saying that the film would have been fine if only Luke didn’t die at the end: “The most pathetic aspect of all of this is that Luke died because Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams, and Rian Johnson wanted to make way for the new characters. They didn’t want them to be overshadowed. This isn’t what Mark Hamill signed up for. It’s ridiculous. Rey is a fantastic character, but Luke Skywalker defines Star Wars. It won’t be the same without him.” But that’s my point – a time would be coming regardless when Star Wars would be without Luke Skywalker. In a decade’s time, the Skywalker saga might even just be a starting point in the Star Wars franchise. Really, the sooner we cut that tie to the past, the easier it will be to expand Star Wars on to future generations, including those who may not have had heroes to identify with before, and to keep the saga from being stifled. As my home-boy Kylo Ren said, it’s time to let the past die.

*Because apparently angry Star Wars fans put their faith in the tomatometer all of a sudden, and despite obviously not understanding that the tomatometer is an aggregate of how many critics gave it a 6/10 or higher, not an actual score for the film… wait, is the writer of that article equating a 71% tomatometer with a 7/10 for a video game? Because film critics aren’t as awful as video game reviewers and a 7/10 is actually a good score… bloody hell.
**POST-SCRIPT: I feel like Solo is failing in part due to people who were burned by The Last Jedi not showing up, but probably more in the general disinterest in a Han Solo movie, the negative buzz that has been dogging this film, and probably most importantly, the diluting of the Star Wars brand and “event movie” status.

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Quick Fix: Beta Uprising

In the time period between #GamerGate (ugh) and the rise of Trump (BLEH), I started reading We Hunted the Mammoth to get an idea of the sorts of extreme sexism present in our society which people are largely unaware of. However, as the American election began to ramp up, these stories began to evolve. Small communities in the “manosphere” of men’s rights activists, incels and “red pillers” were becoming more extreme and latching onto other groups. More than a year before neo-nazis came back into the public conscious at Charlottesville, I was seeing how the manosphere was drawing people into the alt-right and neo-nazi beliefs through their insulated communities centered on little more than hatred. That’s why men’s rights activism is a total joke – men face real issues which could be fixed with a concerted effort. However, trying to organize an effort to combat these issues is like trying to throw a white pride parade – the people who latch onto that cause will steer the ship towards the people they hate and blame for their problems.

This brings me to the recent van attack in Toronto, in which 10 people have been killed (so far) and 16 injured. Initially, it appeared that this might be an organized terrorist attack of some sort, as it was clearly premeditated. However, it is now coming out that the perpetrator, Alek Minassian, was likely a member of the manosphere and alt-right, specifically an “incel”, who was radicalized by the group’s hateful rhetoric. To put it simply, this rhetoric has grown from, and appeals to, groups of insecure and sexually frustrated young men who are “involuntary celibates” (hence “incel”). In their version of reality, “Chads” are the successful men who horde all the sex with the “Staceys” (aka, “sluts”, because even in this version of reality, a woman is worthy of scorn if she has sex with somebody). They also have a very social-Darwinist view of the world, where the Chads are alpha males and the incels are all betas (if you ever hear an alt-right dumbass calling you a “beta cuck”, now you know exactly why to laugh at them). Even the name “involuntary celibate” belies a belief that they feel that men are entitled to sex and that it is women who are in the wrong for denying them this right, with some even going so far as to fantasize for a world in which men can force women to have sex with them.

If it seems odd that this might cause someone to go on a killing spree, you’d be right, but the hatred that brews within the alt-right is literally radicalizing people in a manner not unlike that of a more organized terrorist organization such as ISIS. Incels’ fantasies about a world where the betas get their revenge has led to further fantasies of a “beta uprising”, to the point where it has basically become a legend among incels (seriously, that is not hyperbole on my part, just Google beta uprising). To this end, we have had mass killers inspired by this rhetoric, most notably Elliot Rodger of the Isla Vista killings in 2014. Perhaps most disgustingly, some incels have latched onto Elliot Rodger as a hero who started the beta uprising.

Predictably, Alek Minassian is being hailed as a hero once again by some within the incel community. It’s actually kind of a funny situation, I wonder how many of these people would paint all of Islam with the same brush in this situation, but say “hey, not all incels celebrate mass murder” when the finger gets pointed at them. But I digress – as one of my friends put it yesterday, this isn’t a mental health issue, but it’s going to be painted as such because that’s easier than dealing with the serious issues that are funneling young men towards radicalization in our society. People will rail against political correctness and feminism, but sexism is still alive in our society and this attack in Toronto is, as it seems with the evidence we have right now, the sort of result that it leads to at its most extreme. We should remember that it isn’t religion that causes people to kill, as the common scape-goat goes, but deep-seated hatred, dehumanization and radicalization.

I’m going to end this Quick Fix with the words of David Futrelle in his comments on this latest tragedy:

“[…] It would be dishonest and dangerous to dismiss this as a ‘mental health’ issue. Incel is a poisonous and hateful ideology, not a form of mental illness, and killings carried out in its name should be considered deliberate terrorism just as ISIS bombings or KKK lynchings are. Misogyny is hate, just as racism and religious intolerance are. As I’ve been saying for some time, the incel movement is a real danger; it appeals to young men consumed by bitterness who don’t think they have much to lose. And instead of helping them solve their problems it radicalizes them and ratchets up both their bitterness and their ‘nothing to live for’ nihilism. It’s a movement that idolizes mass killers and that has only slightly ironically heralded Elliot Rodger as its patron ‘saint.'”

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Waiting for Superman

I have been thinking about Superman a lot in the past few months. He’s such a ubiquitous character, it wasn’t until I sat down to write this article that I realized just how present he has been throughout my whole life. In spite of this, I’ve never really considered myself a huge fan, or even read his comic adventures (outside of Superman: Red Son). For the longest time, I agreed with the old adage in Batman versus Superman debates – Batman is a more compelling character, because he can actually be related to. However, a decade removed from The Dark Knight, I’m starting to come to the conclusion that Superman has the capacity to be an infinitely more interesting character than Batman – the key word here being “capacity”. There are numerous instances of awful writing throughout Superman’s long history, but within that long history there are also some fantastic stories worth checking out.

Take a guess which category this issue falls into.

Superman’s ubiquity has also helped inspire a number of other stories in all sorts of mediums, which I feel help paint a far more interesting portrait of the character. For example, I have heard people claim that The Iron Giant is one of the best Superman stories ever written, and I’m certainly inclined to agree. The Giant’s arrival on Earth isn’t dissimilar to Superman, and the character is often invoked by Hogarth as the sort of moral pillar which everyone should aspire to be. The moment when (SPOILER ALERT) the giant chooses to sacrifice himself at the end of the film reflects back perfectly on the sort of character who Superman is, a fact which is explicitly noted within the film itself when the Giant thinks of the words Hogarth said to him: “You are who you choose to be,” to which he simply says “Superman”.

Superman has also inspired a number of songs, whether they are actually about his character (“Superman” by Five For Fighting), or whether they’re invoking him as a symbol (“Kryptonite”, 3 Doors Down). I quite like Five For Fighting’s musical take on the character, which suggests that having all the power in the world doesn’t make life any easier – in fact, it just saddles with you with even more responsibility. Lately, I have been listening to The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin and one of the definite highlights on that album is “Waitin’ for Superman”, which uses the character as a symbol for the burdens of life and how we don’t have a Superman here to help shoulder all our troubles. However, as sorrowful as it may be, it is also quietly optimistic, insisting that we be strong and all try to hold on as long as we can. The song was written about Wayne Coyne’s own struggles in life at the time when his father was dying of cancer. He felt like the burdens of life were heavy, but realized that they would get even worse when his father succumbed and wished that there was someone there would could carry these emotions.

I found a couple quotes about the song which I feel help to illustrate the power that Superman has, and how his absence is felt in our own lives. Killian Good says that “the song’s central symbol is the absence of a real world Superman there to shoulder the burdens of daily life and right wrongs beyond human control. The piece is all at once sorrowful and optimistic. On one hand, the narrator admits there is no visible safety net to guard against man’s fall, yet suggests simultaneously that we all, those waiting for Superman, might find strength and resilience in one another’s arms, that salvation may live in love and understanding.”

Meanwhile, Michael Goldberg at MTV wrote that “when I listen to ‘Waiting for a Superman,’ two stories unfold. The first is about love. And about two people struggling to understand each other and come together and hang together through the good times and the bad times. The second is about death. About being there for a father or mother as life ebbs away.”

Of course, no discussion of Superman and music is complete without mentioning John Williams’ theme song from the 1978 Superman: The Movie. I will occasionally throw this song on just to motivate myself. It’s the perfect musical distillation of who Superman is – it’s powerful, elating and makes you feel like you can do absolutely anything. There’s a reason that this track has become so iconic, to the point where it is still being used in Superman media today. Personally, I feel like the 1978 film is the closest a live-action film has gotten to capturing that perfect essence of what makes Superman such a powerful character, with much of that praise going to Christopher Reeve of course. I enjoy Superman II quite a bit, but it isn’t really on the same level in that regard. However, no other Superman film has really captured that spirit. Superman Returns tried to ape the tone of the classics, but it wasn’t well-received for it. Worse, I feel like the DCEU incarnation of Superman has just gone in the wrong direction entirely. Man of Steel was criminally boring and wasted the strong potential it had to create a different, interesting and more grounded sort of Superman. It pays lip service to establishing Superman’s moral compass, but the films haven’t done much with the character to make us care about him. Hell, making his first antagonist Zod was even worse because then off the bat we’re getting another story about someone just as strong as him and watching them punch each other. This is a trap that poor Superman adaptations always fall into.

So what would I do if I was going to write my own Superman story? First of all, I’d look to perhaps the most famous page in any Superman comic, this sequence from All-Star Superman (click image to enlarge):

I feel like these 5 panels are a perfect expression of where the true power of Superman lies. Saving a life, even by just being there and knowing our hurts, that’s the sort of thing that no other superhero can do. That is the power of Superman as a character. That is what good writing achieves for this character. Like, seriously, reading this page makes me tear up every time. David Fairbanks compares that to what a pulpier take on the character would have attempted: “Superman didn’t catch Regan’s body as it plummeted toward the ground; Regan was saved by Superman simply standing there on the ledge. […] A stranger who cares. It’s that kind of outreach that can be vital to saving lives. And you don’t need to be a superhero to do it, either.” We never get to see this kind of Superman in film – instead, he’s either catching them as they fall or punching someone just as strong as him. This may be exciting, but it’s easy and hardly inspiring.

In my opinion, Superman works best when he isn’t being treated like “just another superhero”. For any other superhero, it’s perfectly fine and reasonable to have the hero using their powers to face off against an equally-powered supervillain. However, because Superman is supposed to be the pinnacle of good, a hero with no limitations, attempting to treat him in the same manner is ineffective at best. Superman II is a fun beat-’em-up, but it’s only as good as it is because of the personal crises that Superman goes through, wishing that he was human. Superman III and IV are awful simply because they revolve around plots to kill Superman which are obviously not going to be able to kill Superman.

The current crop of DCEU Superman films have had much more fundamental issues at their core. Much has been written about how Zack Snyder’s Superman seems to have been coloured by a Randian worldview, altering the character’s moral compass and innate goodness in a negative manner. While I don’t feel like this was necessarily an intentional decision by Snyder to turn Superman into a more selfish character, I do feel like his own personal feelings ended up affecting how this “more mature”, “more grounded” version of the character ended up being portrayed. Snyder and Warner Bros. tried to ape the success of The Dark Knight and force Superman into the same box as more traditional superheroes, and the results were lackluster. And it’s really too bad, I mean just look at the original teaser trailer for Man of Steel:

This was the Superman film I was originally sold on. There’s no sign of a villain, but that teaser is so compelling. That is the kind of Superman film I wanted, one which establishes Superman’s moral compass, his grounded upbringing, his worth to the rest of humanity. Instead, Man of Steel paid lip service to this before jumping into “empty-headed, violent spectacle for teenagers who think that darkness in a superhero story is evidence of serious artistic merit” within 30 minutes of its runtime. Had it stuck with the initial impression left by this teaser, perhaps we would finally have the Superman film to rival the 1978 original (or, hell, even Superman II).

It’s also worth noting how Clark Kent is treated throughout the DCEU films… or, should I say, effectively cast aside. Clark Kent is officially dead as of Batman vs Superman (aka, the 2nd film in this franchise), but he was never really all that important throughout this incarnation of the character anyway. Superman himself gets all the focus and Clark is very much sidelined. Hell, all the characters important to Clark know his true identity anyway, so he’s not even important within the stories that these films are trying to tell – really, it’s no wonder he was jettisoned this way. But losing Clark also loses out on some of the heart which a Superman story can tell and, in my opinion, potentially weakens the character’s depth.

I like to think of Bill’s monologue about Superman in Kill Bill Vol. 2 to get a fascinating glimpse of how Clark can be interpreted. It’s not exactly a definitive, or necessarily even “correct” take on Clark Kent, but it certainly makes you re-evaluate the character in an interesting manner. Bill reiterates the idea I’ve been emphasizing here that Superman is a special kind of superhero who shouldn’t be treated the same way as a more traditional one, such as Spider-Man or Batman:

“Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red ‘S’, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He’s weak, he’s unsure of himself, he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.”

Neglecting the Clark Kent side of Superman is like ignoring his human side entirely. Clark helps keep Superman morally-grounded, but also provides him with a sort of mental escape from the life he leads. Superman II in particular succeeds as far as it does because it puts so much emphasis on Clark Kent – Superman often wishes that he could have a normal life, that he could just be Clark Kent. He loves Lois Lane and wants to be able to be with her, to act on his desires. Beyond that, the responsibilities of the world are just too much to bear at times, but he’s the only one who can carry that weight, so he will do what is right to make that burden easier for others.

And that’s exactly the sort of core I’d work with if I was tasked to write a Superman story.

There are a few directions you could go with a different and interesting Superman story. If you want an origin, maybe go with what Man of Steel‘s marketing suggested and make it about establishing his ironclad moral compass. However, I’m less interested in seeing Superman facing off against a supervillain than I am considering the idea of him grappling with the responsibility of being Superman.

Many Superman films pay lip service to the character being a Christ-metaphor, but this should be leaned into more explicitly in my opinion. Superman can be Jesus without having to die for us – just look at that All-Star Superman panel earlier. Superman saves Regan by loving her and being there for her when she needed someone, much like the role Jesus plays in many peoples’ lives. Superman doesn’t have to be constantly swooping in and dazzling people with his displays of power, although when he does this should be inspiring people to be better. Superman should grapple with his inability to be there to save everyone. If he’s out as Clark Kent and people are hurting somewhere in the meantime, he should feel the pressure from this. When should Superman intervene? Does Superman ever need a break? What sort of mental toll will that take on him? We need to see why he needs Clark Kent, why this human fantasy of his keeps him grounded, and actually make us feel like there’s something between he and Lois Lane.

That’s before we even get into big-picture moral issues. I mean, forget about dramatic trifles such as whether to kill an alien supervillain – what about the implications of Superman interfering with world politics and inequality? Just look at what intervention in Iraq did, disrupting the existing power structures created ISIS (to put it simply). Would Superman force the world to be better? Would he just stand by and let people be downtrodden? Or would he pick people up one at a time? How would world governments respond to him? This sort of thing is totally glossed over in all Superman films so far, but it should be addressed, even if we just have Jor-El teaching Superman that direct intervention only causes more issues and that people will only respond if they’re guided indirectly so that they accept positive change naturally. Regardless, the temptation to act is going to weigh on him.

Basically, if we have another take on Superman, I hope they don’t treat him like any other superhero, running around and punching bad guys. He has way more potential to stand out, because when he’s treated the same, he just seems like a bland Mary Sue. Superman has his limitations, even without resorting to an artificial weakness or by powering up his problems. There are problems that even Superman cannot deal with, but he will try to face them regardless, because he is the only one who can try to bear that weight.

He hasn’t dropped them, forgot them, or anything, it’s just too heavy for Superman to lift.

(Post-script: My friend Matt wrote a response to this post, check it out!)

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Quick Fix: Be Inspired, You Sheep!

I saw Ready Player One at the movies last night (it was a fun time), but there was one poster in the lobby which really captured my attention:

If you have read my previous posts about the Christian media industry, then you’ll probably guess what caught my eye on this. That big, red declaration at the top lays bare the entire reason this, and any other big Christian movie for that matter, gets made: you, as a Christian, are part of an easy-to-manipulate market demographic who will bring in a strong return on a small investment. It’s no coincidence that the new God is Not Dead film* came out this weekend as well – Christians often make a big stink about how evil Hollywood is, but studios will still throw them a bone because they are a built-in audience that will run on word-of-mouth marketing and, most importantly, they have money at their disposal. It just sickens me how blatantly they’re commodifying faith and how we as a community have turned this into a whole commercial enterprise.

Like, look at those statements. First, gather your church – even a modest church could net you 50+ people, but with mega churches you could have hundreds of people roped into seeing Paul: Apostle of Christ. Again, word-of-mouth marketing. You, as a Christian, are amazing to a studio because they spend way less to make these films and they’re pretty much guaranteed to return a modest profit because of how we pressure each other into seeing these sorts of movies that suck up to Christians living in a bubble.

Second, gather your friends and family – this part sickens me the most. To me, this essentially is saying “Hey, you want to evangelize to your family but don’t know how? Boy, do I have the perfect product for you…” I mean, hell, it’s one thing if you let that sort of thing happen organically, but the fact that you’re trying to sell your film on that notion rubs me the wrong way. Of course, this can also be interpreted as “gather your Christian friends and family and go see this”, but either way this is just another word-of-mouth attempt to get butts in seats.

Finally, come be inspired together… bloody hell, that is so condescending, and yet, probably accurate for the sort of person who would see this film. It’s like the template requires that every Christian movie has to be “inspiring” in one way or another. The Kendrick brothers, for example, have built a career on this concept. Even silly comedies, like Road to Redemption, have to renew your faith and try to proselytize to your unsaved friends who definitely aren’t cringing the entire way through this film you forced them to sit through. It is what it is, I guess, but some variety would certainly go a long way, especially considering that most Christian media isn’t really made for the people outside that bubble anyway. Perhaps that’s why God is Not Dead is not telling you to bring your unsaved friends and family, while Paul: Apostle of Christ is… which actually is making me start to re-evaluate exactly which notion is more disgusting. Ugh. Here’s “S.M.C.” (aka Sunday Mass Consumption) by Project 86 to play us out…

*…I seriously considered putting quotation marks around the word “film” here.

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