Ongoing Investigations: Case #185

Although readers love number scores in turn reviewers can grow to hate them mostly because they lack any amount of nuance. It is far more important why you gave something a 7 out of 10 than the mere fact that you did. But with some reviews a number score would be utterly meaningless. What is appealing and unappealing, what works and what goes astray, and what attracts and repels people are so subtle that only a full review can give you a good appreciation of the product. Forest really is a visual novel that personifies that fact. It is a game that I would say could easily be a 9 out of 10 for one of my friends but a 4 out of 10 for another and for the same reasons.

The thing is love it or hate it you have to give it to Forest for really trying to push the boundaries of the types of stories you can tell with the medium. When I first looked at the game I had to wonder how much of the complex narrative was a pretentious attempt at playing like the big boys of art and how much was legitimate higher story telling. In the end it is all fairly well executed attempts at creating a layered story with a good deal of symbolism and threaded stories tied together with a dash of gorgeous surrealism. The story takes the western children’s stories and creates a fantasy realm inside Shinjuku that tests a group of very broken people.

The clearest example of the style of story telling comes with the story selection. In each chapter there are usually 3 or four stories you need to read to progress. They are presented as leaves of a tree with dates on them. The leaves come in three different colors. The gray dead leaves are set entirely in the real world. There is never anything magical going on and they contain the most conventional pieces of storytelling. Then there are green leaves that talk about the world of the Forest. Here things are a mixture of the mundane and mystical. What is real, what is imaginary, and what is magical can be tricky to discern as all three realms can interact seamlessly. There are also red leaves that deal with the Game of the Forest. Everything here is totally metaphorical. There are no traces of the real world and everything is shrouded in symbolism and mystery.

You might be asking yourself at this point why did I make such a big fuss at the beginning if this game is so complex and layered. The thing is as many things as there are to enjoy about the game there are to hate about it. Heck most of them are the same things. All that layered story telling can be just as off-putting as it is fascinating. Thankfully near the end there are some major revelations are thrown on the table in a rather concrete manner so it is not all guess-work and symbolism. But that does not really happen until three-quarters of the way through. Until then you are left to swim through some very tough reading with the mere promise that things will be explained later on. This is not James Joyce’s Ulysses but it is hardly something you can read while doing something else at the same time. If you called it pretentious I would disagree with you but I would not say that you wrong either.

Also there is a lot of sex. And most of it is rather unnerving. It is never gory or bizarre. It is just that it all involves very emotionally damaged people having sex with the oddly uncomfortable sensation that comes with it. Sometimes the scenes are there to give a greater insight into the characters and story and sometimes they are there for mostly fetishistic reasons.  This is far more than just a “put it in”  game but with the amount of sex involved you would not be a fault to assume that at first.

In the end it all comes down to how much you wish to climb that mountain. There is a definite reward at the end but it is hardly an easy climb to the top. If you are a hardcore story driven visual novel fans this is worth checking out just to how you complex a story you can tell if that is your goal. No one will ever praise or accuse Tokimeki Memorial of being art house but you could legitimately but that label on Forest. But for anyone else there are far better titles to start with. Sometimes you don’t need to scale Everest for some entertainment.

ParaNorman was one of the animated films I was looking forward to most this year and it didn’t disappoint. If anything, it exceeded everything in its trailer.

It is the story of Norman an 11-year-old boy in the town of Blithe Hollow a place obsessed with its 300-year-old witch execution. Norman has the power to see ghosts so it is no surprise that when the witch’s curse threatens the town, he is the only one capable of stopping it.

The animation and graphic stylings are a knock-out in this movie. From the deep shadows to the bright highlights, ParaNorman paints it macabre world in a fun way. The little details really make it feel thoughtful, like Norman’s room or the threads on the clothing. And be sure to watch through to the end of the credits to see a little time lapse video of an artist creating the Norman puppet.

ParaNorman’s humor and the topics it explores give it a lot of punch. There are bright moments of slap-stick and morbid chuckles throughout. The Puritan zombies being terrified of modern American culture was a fantastic jab. Norman’s problems of being bullied and his alienation from those around him are depicted with sensitivity and heartbreak that felt like it could only come from those who have been there. Similarly, bullied Neil who befriends Norman feels like so much like someone you know.

It is a really special movie, my favorite animated of the year so far, and I can’t wait to watch it again!

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching and reading outside of our main posts on the blog. We each pick three things that we were interested in a week and talk a bit about them. There is often not much rhyme or reason to what we pick. They are just the most interesting things we saw since the last Ongoing Investigation.

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #180

I am still rather dubious about Otome game adaptions, with the exception of Prince-sama of course, so it took me a while to pick up the Alice in the Country of Hearts omnibus vol. 1 manga. But with so many different manga series based on the game coming out in English I became really curious about it. It also helped that I have a weakness for Alice in Wonderland.

Alice is in her garden when she falls asleep, upon awakening she is dragged into a gaping hole in the ground by guy named Peter White (who happens to have bunny ears). After he forces her to drink a potion (by forcing a kiss on her) she enters the Country of Hearts where she meets all kinds of quirky and cute (mostly male) characters. As the story progresses, you and Alice begin to realize the world isn’t a simple one and things are not always as they seem. Three kingdoms are at war with each other over territory; there are mysterious shadows roaming the land; people are heavily armed; and of course Alice is told time and again it won’t be too easy to leave.

All of the storybook characters are here, plus some new ones, but they are reworked to be very different. My favorite is easily the Mad Hatter who is a mafia boss. If the very fact of this series being an Otome game didn’t give you a clue, there is every kind of guy with all kinds of personalities to pick from as a favorite. There is also the Queen of Hearts who may or may not have a crush on Alice as well.

One thing that I have to give the story props for is not trying to shoehorn in any big plot reasons for the guys falling in love with Alice. Nightmare clearly tells her that that is simply what will happen in this world. And Alice’s way home turns out to be refilling the vial of potion she drank by making friends and interacting with the inhabitants of the world. And actually the world does setup some intriguing mysteries which I am invested in which helps a lot.

That being said, this story only stays good if Alice doesn’t end up with creepy Peter White. His obsession with her is not attractive and most of the time he comes off as a sociopath. Luckily, it seems rather likely that Ace is “true path guy” because he is the only one not for fall in love with Alice right away. He is also carrying around a lot of secrets and mentioned wishing to leave the world.

I had a lot of fun reading this and will be picking up more.

There is no clearer sign the Witch Hunt has gone as close to pro as you can get without leaving the realm of fan project than the fact that they have been given the official permission to release the Rose Gun Days demo by 07th Expansion. I have to say that is extremely impressive.

Rose Gun Days is the newest series by Ryukishi07 who most people probably know as the When They Cry guy. The series is set in its own universe as opposed to the supernatural murder mystery setting he is more famous for. It is set in an alternate post WWII Japan were a major earthquake devastated Tokyo letting a joint Chinese/American task-force radically transform the country. This new Japan is more like a mixture of poverty of the depression era and the zeitgeist of prohibition era in the US. The opening gives you a distinct impression of the visual novels style (It also lets you know someone really liked Cowboy Bebop). There is also a concurrent story happening in an alternate version of the present where someone involved in the adventure is telling the tale to a reporter as a way of setting the story of those chaotic times straight for the public.

The story centers around Leo Shishigami who is a down on his luck former solider who gets caught up being a bodyguard in the middle of gang war when he saves the life of a beautiful bordello madam named Rose. The demo mostly seems to be an introduction to the setting and the characters. Knowing Ryukishi07 there will be a bigger plot but for now the demo mostly wants to just show you how Rose and Leo come to trust each other.

It is also there to show off the new fighting mini-game mechanic. Since Leo is a rough and tumble guy he and his associates are constantly getting into fights. The mechanic itself it fairly simple. Not losing the fights in the beginning is fairly easy. The thing is there is an attack and defense mode of the mini-game. The defense is fairly straight forward. You block all the attack on the screen with the mouse before time is up. The attacks however can be pass fairly effortlessly with 3 hits BUT you can try to rack up points by getting in as many hits as you can before time runs out. This leads to points chicken where you can get a ton of extra points or none at all if you get greedy.

But if you get enough points you can get higher fighting ranks for Leo. I do have to wonder if the ranks are just there for fun or if they have some greater plot relevance. Maybe you have to be a certain rank to win later fights or open up new story paths. Maybe you can only get the good/true/best ending if you do so well. Unlike other 07th Expansion games you can only save at certain checkpoints instead or at any time. I am curious to see how this plays out.

Other than that I am so glad to see that Ryukishi07 has finally learned that maybe art is not his strong suit and that he finally has enough dinero to let someone else to the heavy lifting when it comes to character design and art work. Claudia Kurosaki and Alfred Akagi still have that distinct Ryukishi07 feel at least they have been cleaned up a bit.

The story itself as I mentioned before is mostly set up. They give you a good idea of how desperate people are in this era and what it at stake for all the players. I did notice that more than any of his other works there is a good deal of nationalism almost to the point of jingoism in the story. It is not Hiroyuki Yoshino’s Guilty Crown level but it is hard to miss. Looking back Higurashi and Umineko had that at brief points but in this game it is fairly close to the surface. It does not really turn me off from the game but it is worth bringing up. It would make an interesting point of examination when the full game is out.

All in all I had a good time with the game. It gave me a good taste of what is to come. I am partially curious if a supernatural element is going to creep in later or is this all going to be played straight. Either way I look forward to the full game soon.

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching and reading outside of our main posts on the blog. We each pick three things that we were interested in a week and talk a bit about them. There is often not much rhyme or reason to what we pick. They are just the most interesting things we saw since the last Ongoing Investigation.

Continue reading