In this episode, Rob and Don are joined by their friend Chad Hicks to discuss their love of Tabletop Role-Playing Games. The trio explore the history of TRPGS, and talks about their own experiences and growing up playing these games. Along the way, they discuss the appeal of Gamma World, point based vs. random character creation, and their love of Superhero Gaming. All this, and the future of TRPGs are waiting for you in the 20th episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs.
The Independent newspaper had an interesting piece today about a pair of researchers (Penguin UK editor Jodie Archer, and associate professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Matthew Jockers) who have spent the last 5 years using computer algorithms to analyze 20,000 books looking for patterns that make best sellers stand out. The result is a system they claim can predict bestselling books by an 86% margin, which is pretty good.
Naturally, they’re releasing what they learned in their upcoming book The Bestseller Code (and probably marketing their software to major publishers as we speak) however they did release a few interesting tidbits from their research:
“Novels with high or low emotions tend to have a stronger chance of hitting the [bestseller] lists and staying on them.
A couple of pointers from the findings: real people are more appealing to readers than fictional being, so stay away from Dwarves, unicorns, and elves as main protagonists. Those characters who appeal the most are also more likely to “grab”, “think” and “ask”.
The words “need”, “want” and “do” are twice as likely to appear in bestsellers, while the word “okay” appears three times as much. Words like “love” and “miss” appear more often in successful books, apparently appearing three times for every two in lesser selling books.
So, basically, people like reading about other people they can relate to, and stories where the main characters are active and pursuing goals (especially relationships) are what readers want. Now, the word “okay” is an interesting bit, and my interpretation on that is that readers like books written in colloquial and easy to understand language. It may also be a side effect of most bestsellers being modern thrillers and romance novels, so “okay” turns up in modern dialog a lot.
It will be interesting to see the results of this research, and how far it can go. Of course, the publishers would eventually like to have machines churning out their bestsellers like widgets, but I doubt that will happen anytime soon. Also, it will mean a bunch of books which don’t fit the formula will never get the chance to reach a wider audience, because 86% is not 100%, and many good books could fall between the cracks if publishers start using this to cut costs and be lazy.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Kung Fu puppetry of Taiwan, but little did I know that I wasn’t the only one who’d taken an interest in Taiwan’s Wuxia puppetry- Japanese writing star Urobuchi Gen (the man behind Madoka Magica, Psycho Pass, and Fate/Zero) had also taken an interest in Pili Puppetry form. In a twist of fate, Pili was also looking to work with him, and as a result of that partnership- Thunderbolt Fantasy (Toriken Koki), a Japanese-Taiwanese hybrid TV series was born! (You can hear about this story in full in the Episode 0 special on Crunchyroll.)
I only heard about this show a week ago, and when I did I got pretty excited. I’ve never been able to watch a Pili series before, much less one as it aired, and this one was being simulcast with English subtitles on Crunchyroll. Thus, I eagerly waited for July 8th, when the first episode would air, and couldn’t wait to watch it last night when it popped up on the list.
So, how was it?
In short- as awesome as advertised!
I’ve seen clips of Pili shows, and even watched Legend of the Sacred Stone, but this was a whole other level. The puppet-work is amazing, the story and characters are engaging, and the craftsmanship in everything is a sight to behold. I couldn’t believe how into it I got, and by the end of the episode all I wanted to do was watch more!
In the Episode 0 (Making-of), the Japanese partners talk about how they were on set in Taiwan and the wonder of watching a piece of wood and cloth come to life the moment a human hand was put inside. I haven’t seen it done in person (although I’d like to, someday) but I can completely understand what they meant, as you literally forget you’re watching puppets at times because of the way they move and act. It really does take the magic of puppet theater and bring it into the 21st century.
The story at first blush is fairly standard. A great evil lord is trying to get his hands on mystical artifact, and killing everyone who gets in his way, which leads him into conflict with our heroes. Like I said, standard. But given Urobuchi’s reputation as a writer (it was written by him, but produced by the Taiwanese) I suspect there will be some nice twists coming that take it in a different direction. Not that it matters, because this story isn’t about the plot but the characters and action, both of which will keep you watching.
One thing I did like about this show is that each character has a different voice actor. In the original Taiwanese Pili shows, there is just one person doing the voices for all the characters, which is fine, but having a full cast allows each character to have a bit more life to them. It adds to the immersion, and I liked the voices they chose. One weird thing is that the English subtitles use the Chinese names, while the Japanese actors are using the Japanese names. It does make it more authentic, but it makes it a bit harder to remember everyone’s name since you’re hearing and reading different names.
In any case, Episode 1 has garnered 5/5 stars on Crunchyroll (with 123 votes) and I suspect it will be cult hit here and in Japan. (It’s only disadvantage is that it came out the same week Pokemon GO! launched) I hope so, because it really deserves the attention, and I’d like to see them do more in the future.
Want to check it out?
New episodes air on Crunchyroll each Friday evening starting July 8th (July 16th if you have a free account and are delayed a week), and I strongly recommend you do so. You might watch to watch Episode 0, which is available for everyone July 8th, and includes a preview of the show in the last five minutes.
In this episode, Don and Rob discuss North American TV animation, tracing it from its roots in the 1950s to the rise of Saturday morning television and its eventual evolution in the age of Netflix. Along the way, they spend time with Huckleberry Hound, The Flintstones, Josie the Pussycats, the Micronauts, and Goober and the Ghost Chasers. All this, and why Fred and Barney sold cigarettes on air is waiting for you in this, the 19th episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs.
In this episode, Rob and Don sit down with Edd Vick, founder and publisher of MU Press and Comics F/X magazine, to discuss Edd’s history in comics and the independent comics scene of the 80s and 90s. Former guest Jeff Wood, one of Edd’s friends and contributors also stops by, and the four of them discuss comics culture, convention culture, and what they see as the future of comic books. All of this, and the real story of why the comics industry collapsed in the 90s are coming to you in this, the 18th episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs.
I just finished watching the first season of Netflix and Dreamworks’ new attempt at rebooting Voltron, and I have to say I was impressed. This is no surprise, since the people behind the reboot are the same team and studio behind Avatar: The Legend of Korra, and they bring their trademark style of character, action, and humor to the project. So what did I like and didn’t I like?
- The animation is beautiful, and they’re not afraid to mix different styles together and do tricks like dropping to black and white line drawing at certain dramatic scenes. They’re very in control of the medium, and even though we’re looking at a mix of CGI and 2D animation, it all blends very nicely.
- The story is overall well written, and while it starts a little rushed it picks up quite well as it goes along. While each episode stands on its own, there is a clear overall story and progression, and they deftly avoid falling into the “Voltron fights monster of the week” trap. (In fact, I was shocked by how few monster battles there actually are.)
- The monster battles that happen are extremely well thought out and well choreographed, not “fight>fight>fight>blazing sword>end” but requiring the characters to think each monster through as a problem, not just as an obstacle to their goals. (Which makes the monsters more scary and actually intimidating.)
- They made Hunk, Lance, and Pidge into distinctive (and very loveable) characters who all have a purpose in the story and aren’t just sidekicks.
- They’ve expanded Zarkon’s forces into an actual race, The Galra, and treat them like an actual military force and even gave them bits of their own language.
- The shift towards an active role for the team instead of passively sitting there waiting for the next monster to attack.
- The original Voltron used Keith as it’s core anchor, and then slowly expanded on the rest of the cast as it went on. (It was following the formula set up by Gatchaman (aka Battle of the Planets/G-Force) and which is still used in Sentai today, where the Red Ranger is always the default hero/leader.) This new series is all ensemble, all the time, with no clear focal character except a character that the episode might choose to focus on. While this works okay, I found this results in the Hunk/Lance/Pidge trio getting the majority of lines and screen time, while the actual more heroic warrior characters of Keith and Shiro kinda get shafted in terms of story focus. Keith and Shiro start the season as enigmas, and pretty much end there too, in fact Keith is now reduced to being just another skilled but generic pilot, and a boring one. (Imagine a Legend of Korra where they spent 75% of their time on Mako and Bolin instead of Korra, and Korra just turns up to fight.) I’m hoping this is because Keith is now on a slow-burn towards hero-dom and it will be remedied in the following seasons.
- The new Voltron design is okay, not great, not bad.
- Every time they form Voltron, I keep having GaoGaiGar flashbacks, because the new Voltron combining sequence is a total GaoGaiGar “homage”. Watch…
Forming Voltron (however, this is the shorter version, there is a longer version which is even more like GaoGaiGar’s Final Fusion)
GaoGaiGar’s Final Fusion sequence for comparison.
- I’m oldschool this way, but to me Voltron isn’t Voltron without this theme! (Which I’ve been humming since my childhood.) Instead we get a bunch of really lackluster synth music that’s functional but nothing exceptional.
Overall, it’s a very well done show, and in some ways is superior to the original. It kind’ve reminds me of the Thundercats reboot they did a few years back, although that show had a little more depth to it. This new Voltron series is just a simple and fun retelling of the original Voltron story, and I look forward to seeing where they go with it.
P.S. Here’s your useless Trivia of the day! The original Voltron series wasn’t supposed to be translated from Beast King Golion at all. It was supposed to be translated from another series called Daltanius, which also featured a robot with a lion component. However, during pre-production World Events Productions asked their Japanese partner to send them tapes of “the one with the lion” and Toei Animation accidentally sent tapes of Golion instead! WEP liked Golion so much they decided to translate it instead!
And now you know…the rest of the story.
After I posted our recent episode of The Department of Nerdly Affairs about Ultraman, I got to thinking about what Ultraman series would be best for people watch as their first one. After all, your first exposure to a show can make a big difference in how you react to it. So, after giving it some thought, here are my recommendations: (click on the posters to check out the shows)
If you’re the type who loves the 60’s era Godzilla movies, then you should watch….
If you’re the type who loves early Doctor Who and original Star Trek, and don’t mind the old special effects, then check out…
If you want something like the original Ultraman with slightly better effects and a cool hero, (and you’re still not sure which one to watch) then you should watch…
If you’re a fan of old British shows like Thunderbirds and UFO, then the show that might be for you is… (Crunchyroll link.)
If you want something with decent special effects, a darker tone, and a little more serial plot, then probably you should watch…
If you want a show that’s about love, friendship with animals, and tries to avoid serious violence, then this is for you…
If you want a show which is just fun and has more modern special effects, then you want to watch… (Crunchyroll link.)
And, finally, if you’re under the age of 12… Just watch any of them, you’ll love them all. 🙂
As far as I know, Taiwan is one of the few places where puppetry is not only appreciated, but where puppet shows are shown on national television. In particular, the Pili programs of gloved puppetry shows have continued to capture the imaginations of young Taiwanese with their creative and colourful puppet storytelling.
The credit for upholding the long lasting popularity of Hand Puppet Shows in Taiwan, no doubt, belongs to the Huang family. Through their creative performances and their skillful management, they continue to find new ways to evolve the Hand Puppet Shows. Ultimately, the Huang family had developed the famous PiLi Dynasty with the PiLi Puppet Theatre. Following the current trends of modern society and the technological media- television became the new performing stage of the Puppet Shows and delivered this theatrical artistry to even a much broader audience. In its effort to attract the young viewers of the new generation, PiLi Puppet Theatre continued to create new and interesting concepts in their stories, including- illusionary time and space themes and action-packed Chinese kung-fu sequences. Now, the Puppet Show’s stage and presentation techniques can now expand to a different level of possibilities. From e-pili.com.tw
During my own time in Taiwan, I have seen first hand how popular these shows are, as there are specialty stores selling copies of the puppets and related merchandise and even a Pili-themed museums. The puppets themselves are so beautiful, I was tempted to buy one just for display.
How beautiful are they? Watch this amazing 2010 opening for one of the Pili TV series:
There have been several attempts to bring these shows over for English audiences as well, the first was an international release of Legend of the Sacred Stone, a somewhat rare film that has garnered a 7.3/10 rating on IMDB and a small cult following for it’s crazy-ness. You can see a sample here:
The other was in 2006, when Cartoon Network took one of the Pili series and dubbed it into a show called Wulin Warriors. Sadly, as is often done with foreign non-animated properties (and some animated ones as well!) the dubbers decided to have “some fun” with it, and “liven it up”. So while the visuals might still give you some of the spirit of the original, the dub itself and the creative changes seem targeted squarely at 8-10 year old boys. Someone has put all 13 episodes up on YouTube, if you can get through that many…
And that character that rambles on about pizza and makes bad jokes? In the original show, he’s a deaf mute. (I guess now we know why!) I haven’t seen the original, but I imagine it’s a heck of a lot more watchable. The only redeeming thing about this one is the beautiful puppetwork.
Anyhow, if you happen to come across one of these Pili productions or characters, now you know what they are. Unfortunately, there’s no fansubbed versions of the shows out there, and unless you speak Mandarin you won’t be able to follow the originals well. My own Mandarin isn’t up to the task, yet, but maybe someday.
More about Taiwan puppet culture in this short 5 minute documentary:
In this episode, Rob and Don do an overview of the Japanese media titan Ultraman, delving into the concepts behind the series, doing an overview of Ultraman’s long history, and talking about their personal connections to the character. All this, and a trip into the world of 80’s independent television, are waiting for you in this episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs
In this episode, Don and Rob are joined by Gregg Taylor of the Decoder Ring Theatre podcast to talk about a subject that’s near and dear to Gregg’s heart- Pulp Heroes! We talk about the original Batman v. Superman- The Shadow and Doc Savage, how a pulp hero is made by their choice of hats, and why the world of pulp hero The Spider would be an awful place to live! All this, and a discussion of what’s next for Decoder Ring Theatre, is waiting for you in this, the 16th episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs!
Note: I want to make a special thanks to Gregg Taylor for being a complete gentleman through what turned out to be a very difficult recording session. You went above and beyond the call, sir, and even The Red Panda himself couldn’t have done better!