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Sunday, 30 June 2019

The Best Of The SNES (Mana From Heaven)

Warning: nostalgia ahead.

So when I was still in school life was pretty simple. It didn't look that way but hey, I know better now. All the stuff I thought was important - well, it was important to me at the time, but in the grand scheme of things, wouldn't add up to much.

I have a lot of fond memories. Very few of them are school related. Perhaps fully half of them involve video games. I was that kind of kid. I personally had a Sega Megadrive, for a time; but as much as I may have defended it, the games that I really enjoyed were on the Super Nintendo.

Like, don't get me wrong. I got untold hours of fun out of the various Sonic games (hey, remember when the WORST one was the FIRST one?), the two Shining Force tactical RPGs, Gunstar Heroes, Rocket Knight and its sequel Sparkster, Soliel, Landstalker - it had a solid roster of titles to keep me busy.

The thing is, there were a specific set of games it didn't have; some of the best games ever made.

Like yeah, Mario Kart was groundbreaking. Super Mario World was exceptional. Super Metroid was one of the coolest games I ever played.

Really, though - mean the RPGs.

On one system, at around about the same time, you had Final Fantasy 6 (or 3), potentially one of the best Final Fantasy games ever made. Chrono Trigger, a triumph for game and narrative design and writing. Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past, one of my favourite Zelda games, and maybe still my favourite - I haven't played Breath Of The Wild yet. (I know, bad show, John.) As well as these three titans, you had the third of Square's trio of classic RPGs, and one of the most fondly remembered games of the era:

Secret Of Mana.

Where my people at.

The game itself is a masterclass. It looks amazing - it pops off the screen, the colour choice and pixel art so very well done, and the addition of the Mode 7 rotating semi-3D map just made it feel like it was above and beyond. The combat was tactical but fast-moving, and rewarded good reflexes as much as forethought and planning.

It was more accessible than Final Fantasy, for a beginner. The ability to get the hell out of the way when the enemy swings for you is a godsend. The plot, likewise, is less twisty. That's a good way to put it, I think. Twisty. Only having three characters to worry about made it seem simpler, too, even if managing all three of them at once was probably harder than - say - Chrono Trigger's system.

I've played it... who knows how many times. Always on a borrowed Super Nintendo, until I discovered what ROMs were... and then, years after it came out, I made a rather startling discovery.

It turned out that Secret of Mana wasn't an original - or at least, not an individual outside of an existing franchise. No, it was part of an ongoing series of games, the first of which had come out two years previously. It was the Seiken Densetsu series, but the first one had been called - get this - Final Fantasy Adventure. It was officially a spin-off of Final Fantasy, coming out the same year as Final Fantasy 4 (aka Final Fantasy 2 in the US, yep, this gets confusing). Seiken Densetsu 1 even includes various staples of the Final Fantasy series, using sprites taken directly from the original Final Fantasy game (Mystic Quest Legend here), and featuring a chocobo that one has to ride at various points.

Here's the thing. Not only was I shocked to discover the existence of a prequel for the game I adored...

I found out it had a sequel.

This sequel was called Seiken Densetsu 3, and I coveted it so desperately that I - at one point - endeavoured to learn Japanese and travel to Japan to buy a copy. Because it didn't exist outside of Japan. This was at the point wherein local copies of Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy 6 had just absolutely spiked in price because of lack of accessibility, let alone this game, a game that had never left Japanese shores.

One day I discovered it had been codified as a game ROM. So, lacking any other way of playing this game that I desired so badly, I downloaded it on my buddy Matt's computer - and had to use a piece of software to split the ROM across three floppy discs, because this was before the days of affordable CD-writers or portable hard drives. Our entire lives were contained in 1.44 megabyte sized chunks.

I got it home. I fired it up.

I couldn't understand a damn thing because it was literally totally untranslated.

I played it anyway, and I loved it.

Two years separated these two games, take a look...

Look at the difference. It's astounding.

With six characters, each selectable as a main character and backup characters, and such an immense graphical overhaul, it was a huge improvement. The sound, too, was tweaked. The combat system was already pretty fantastic so that needed precious little adjustment, but the game included an actual day-night cycle, wherein enemies and NPCs would act differently depending on what time of day it was. There was even a day system, each day corresponding to a type of magic or element, strengthening that element on that day.

Hell, one of your main characters was a werewolf who was deadly at night.

Halfway through the nineties, here was this game, this pinnacle of the art of 2D pixel RPGs. Final Fantasy 7 was out two years later, as the Final Fantasy series took its step into 3D; Ocarina Of Time took the Zelda series the same way a year after that. It isn't a very controversial statement to imply that there wasn't a better 2D RPG released - not perhaps until the comeback of the genre currently occurring.

Access, though; access was the problem. As Super Nintendos got rarer, the games themselves became harder to find. As mentioned the prices had already spiked. I remember hearing at one point that a copy of Final Fantasy 6 was in CB Games on Union Street (callback) for about £80 - and that was in the nineties, given inflation that's almost £150 now.

That was for games that came out over here. Seiken Densetsu 3 was one of the ones that didn't. It became a unicorn - I could pine for Chrono Trigger, could dream of the day when I could by a cartridge and an old SNES to play Mario Kart again, but the Mana sequel was gone.

Throughout the years, though - the old games started coming back. Before people started shutting down the ROM sharing sites that were prolific among folks my age that grew up with 16 bit consoles, Final Fantasy 6 was released on the Playstation in 1999. A Link To The Past came to the Nintendo virtual console in the Wii era. A hard-to-get version of Chrono Trigger came out for the Playstation in 1999, but was circulated more widely for the DS in 2009, and was ported over to many mobile devices and PCs later. A mobile port of Secret Of Mana itself came out in 2009.

Seiken Densetsu 3 remained a unicorn, but spoiled with legal access to all the old RPGs that we had loved so much - and the release of the Mini Super Nintendo containing most of them - eased the swallowing of that bitter pill.

Until earlier this year I heard a rumour that someone had copyrighted the term Collection Of Mana.

Trying not to brick myself in sheer excitement, I casually ignored most of E3 2019 - I kind of hate it as a convention - but kept my ear to the ground for even a whisper of news about the unicorn maybe finally reaching our shores.

It was a week later that I got the news.

Isn't it gorgeous.

The collection of characters to the right is your three from Secret Of Mana - Randi, Primm and Popoi - and above the seed is Sumo and Fuji from Final Fantasy Adventure...and to the left, the six main characters from Seiken Densetsu 3. Angela the princess, Duran the swordsman, Hawkeye the thief, Riesz the amazon, Kevin the werewolf and Charlotte the priestess.

This means that not only does this collection contain Final Fantasy Adventure, the game that takes some Final Fantasy tropes and smashes them into a Zelda world overlay. Not only does this collection include the non-remastered non-3D Secret Of Mana - but it also includes Trials of Mana. Seiken Densetsu 3 itself. Translated and localised.

It happened. The unicorn arrived.

And that's the sad story about why a grown man saw an advert for a Switch game and had to stop himself from crying.

But I mean, if this crystalline moment of childhood happiness was condensed into a software form, and for over 24 years you couldn't have it because of ephermeral reasons - and then all of a sudden, it gets gently placed within your grasp... maybe you'd shed a tear, too.

I mean, it just goes to show, too - you give people access to a thing at a reasonable price, and even if they'd pirated or copied it previously, they will buy it.

After all, Game of Thrones still made money, right?

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

And The Pearl Became The World

The title of this blog comes from a Jonathan Coulton song, called Always The Moon, which you can listen to right here.

I think we can all agree that, whatever we think of Lord Of The Rings, Tolkien did a pretty admirable job in terms of world creation. (I also think it's the law that whenever you talk about world creation, you have to mention him. At least once.)

I mean - yes, it does end up being kinda racist, and it's got elements that are pretty problematic, but just as we find the flaws in it, we also have to accept that it had depth that was beyond a lot of its contemporaries. It helped to spawn entire genres and subgenres, and prompted a metric ton of tropes - not all of them great, but hey, we're talking volume rather than quality - that survive to this day, mostly unquestioned.

Without it, the world of RPGs that we live in today - wherein there are multiple super-popular D&D-related streams and youtube channels, and RPGs themselves have a far deeper cultural penetration - would have been very different, even if Gary Gygax himself went on record as not being terribly impressed with Tolkien's work. (I personally agree with him.)

So when I do my own work - writing, preparing for RPG campaigns which I am running - I feel like I have to do a reasonable job in putting together the world, unless it's already been made for me.

Everyone does this part differently. I'm sure there's lots of different approaches, some of which I would find utterly perplexing, some of which I would find absolutely fascinating. Several of the books I have on writing talk about world building, and they address it in several different ways.

My methodology is a little more slapdash.

Gareth L Powell, in his book About Writing, addresses one of the questions that people who write get asked all the time:

Where do you get your ideas from?

Short of having several funny responses (Neil Gaiman used to trot out "I get them from the little ideas shop in Bognor Regis"), the real response is: everywhere. You get ideas from everywhere. From experiences you've had, thoughts you've had in passing, a scene that plays out in your head from a song, a turn of phrase, a feeling you want to evoke. The most important thing is, you don't start with just one idea. You collate the ideas, clump them together, and form something out of the mass that is more than the sum of its parts.

Like a pearl.

That's why it's a good idea to collect as many ideas and notions as you possibly can. Write it down. You never know when it will come in useful.

For example. A setting I put together for several Pathfinder games I ran included a bunch of ideas and notions that had occurred to me over the space of years. One village was basically a smashing-together of the home village in Monster Hunter 3 and all the parts of Lilo & Stitch that I really liked, splashed with some heavy inspiration from Nation by the great Sir Terry Pratchett.. Another came about from an idea I had when I was reading the Pathfinder core book and wondered: what if there was a city, dedicated to the god of cities? In its centre was a statue that I rescued from a writing project I started (and never finished) back in 2002, a huge angelic figure with a pair of swords - one pointed at the courthouse, another at the library, the two most important parts of the city.

Having imagery like that is important. Even in a simply descriptive narrative, if I describe that statue to the people who played in that game, they'd probably be able to remember the city of Kayde. Likewise, if I describe the people with the tattoos that glow in firelight and the harpoons they craft while singing to themselves, they'd think about Haku, the village of leviathan hunters.

There's another direction to approach this from, though. The content of your world can inspire moments - can inspire situations. Sometimes it goes the other way. Sometimes situations inspire the world and the content in it. Sometimes there is something you need to have happen, a scene that plays out in your head or a few lines of dialogue that you need to use, and it is then on you to make the world a place that supports that happening.

My current writing project involves mecha.

This picture is the life-size Gundam statue that was outside of Diver City in Tokyo. The chap looking up at it in the foreground gives you a good idea of scale. It's a big machine.

Mine are, too. At least, they are going to be. The Gundam RX-78-2 here (aka the Grandpa Gundam) is 18.5 meters tall, that's just over sixty feet in old money. Mine are slightly shorter - fifteen meters as an average. Still, I require that sense of scale to be impressed upon people. I need there to be several scenes in which mechs and people work together, or at least, close to each other - just to demonstrate the difference. So that when I describe the main character feeling like some kind of goddess every time she plugs into her mech, one understands what I am talking about.

After all, it requires creating a world in which mecha exist in the first place, right?

A scene I envisage involves the main character defending a group of civilians. A group that know who she is, and who are rooting for her every step of the way. Someone - I don't know who - yelling at her from the ground to get up, to get back into the fight. (This scene flew together after listening to this song by Against The Current and watching this scene from Spider-Man Homecoming, by the way.) I need to make my setting work, so that they can know her name, they can know who she is and who she is fighting against, and the fight can be brought to an area that this can happen.

That necessitates a setting in which militarism exists, in which a society can know of war and know it happens. It necessitates a specific culture around mech piloting, around pilot elitism, and it requires specifics within the war that might lead to people seeing more than just a soldier in a cockpit - maybe instead of just a soldier, they see a saviour.

Setting details can lend a lot of credence to your particular flavour of military scifi.

After all, we all know who this guy is.

My work will pop up sometimes on my Patreon, and on my DeviantArt account. If you're interested in this current project, we can totally talk about it.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

A Debt To The Truth

Fair warning. Some of this blog is going to be pretty upsetting. It's about an awful thing that happened, and about a media representation of that awful thing. Continue with a strong constitution.

My mother told me a story recently, about something that happened in April, 1986. I was three, nearly four.

I don't remember where we were living at the time - either Monkton Street or Milligan Road, in Ryde. One morning - one very specific morning - my father went out into the garden, went down to the aviary where he kept all sorts of canaries and budgerigars and such. Dad loved keeping birds - small ones. Nothing like a parrot or a chicken. He had a few finches, too, as I as told.

He got to the aviary and found every single last one of them dead.

They hadn't been killed by another animal - once, a fox or a cat got into the aviary, and I saw the results of that myself. It is obvious when it happens. No, it was as if they had all literally fallen off their perches at the same time. Just literally dropped dead.

Dad was upset, and thoroughly confused. He found out later that day that other people on the same street who kept birds had found the same thing. Every last one of them that was smaller than a chicken. All on the same day.

Nobody really put two and two together until months later - that events from half a world away, nearly 1,400 miles as the crow flies, had reached out and touched us with an invisible hand.

I've always been interested in what happened at Chernobyl.

I mean, when I was real young, the Cold War still existed. I was raised in circumstances that tried to prepare me for a potential nuclear strike from the Soviets. I was told what the evacuation plans were, why the Isle of Wight would be affected by a nuclear exchange, what the sirens meant, what our chances were.

For reference, here is what happens when a standard Soviet warhead of the era hits the busy naval base of Portsmouth. I simulated this with the Nukemap, which is a fascinating, awful place to learn about the worst thing that could happen.

Ryde is in that third circle, which is third degree burns for everyone that isn't protected. Also included is the fourth circle, which is every window smashing and generalised carnage.

So that is a thing I distinctly remember. I also remember being horribly fascinated with everything relating to nuclear war, radiation, the works. In school we read books like Children Of The Dust by Louise Lawrence, and Z For Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien, both of which deal with the aftermath of an atomic exchange.

I can't tell you how many hours I have devoted to watching documentaries and media on the topic - Threads, The Day After, When The Wind Blows, all of these got a viewing. That last one, based on the Raymond Briggs comic criticising the lack of nuclear preparedness in the UK, actually came out in the same year as the Chernobyl explosion.

So when I heard that HBO were producing a television show about Chernobyl, initially, my lip curled.

A dramatisation? Seems a bit tacky, given the magnitude of what happened. I mean of course that never stops anyone making a movie about a tragedy, but still. I would have much preferred another documentary, something that drilled down into the topic.

So I slept on it, until it came to light that it had become the highest rated TV show ever on IMDB. Which piqued my interest. I mean, I am bad at TV. This is more a me-problem than a media issue, but a problem it remains. So I clambered out of my own ass to watch it. After all, it's only five episodes, right? Five hours, give or take. I can always duck out of it proves to be unbearable.

It almost did prove to be unbearable, but not in the same way.

Most people know what happened, though most people don't strictly know why, or the costs and repercussions. This changes that. At least, it should - and because of that, it is at times hard to watch.

It will leave you feeling like you understand why, which is key. And there's the thing. The reasons why could easily be placed upon the head of one man -


- but the entire point is that it isn't strictly fault. The responsibility is widespread. No one single action caused the situation. Multiple unrelated events and decisions, that all stacked together to create something truly awful.

I don't think there is a single bad performance in this show - although I feel weird calling it a show, like I am disrespecting it, like putting it in the same category as Friends or something. Not a single bad performance. Stellan SkarsgÄrd is brilliant as always. Emily Watson. Jared Harris. Paul Ritter - PAUL RITTER, you get a special shout out, because by god I love it when you can make me hate someone but still make me want to see them on screen. Everyone in front of and behind every camera.

The accuracy. Multiple different sources who are actually from the region around the time that this happened have stated that they are surprised by how accurate it is, down to the license plates on the vehicles. I think the biggest niggle someone could put their finger on in one place was that the glasses that Ulana and Valery are drinking out of in one shot are actually modern Ikea glasses. This video that my friend Nick is pretty fascinating on that topic, and for sake of transparency, also covers things that the show missed.

The sound engineering. The soundtrack is available on Spotify and numerous other places, and it is haunting. It is perfectly designed to prey on the mind, to remind one of invisible danger. This constant anxiety-inducing reminder that this thing kills, this thing kills in minutes, and this thing continues to be lethal and inimical to human life even today in its new sarcophagus.

Just as tragic, just as awful, is how the disaster is treated. How it is solved. How the problem is dealt with. That is the outcome, that is the cost. That is the bill that needs paying. The work done in the months following the accident, is a harrowing and brutal study in and of itself.

There is a memorial near Chernobyl fire station, called the Monument to the Chernobyl Liquidators.

These are the individuals that put in the work to save as many lives as they could, most of whom paid with their lives. A significant proportion of them had no idea that was what they were doing. Another proportion of them knew exactly what they were doing. They went anyway. They did it anyway.

We are still dealing with the consequences today. The location is still lethal. Those working on the containment facility - pictured above, and visible in the very first picture in this blog from above - can only work on the roof of that structure for twelve minutes, before they tick over a year's worth of radiation exposure, and are banned from returning to the site.

This is what is in the guts of the facility.

It's called the Elephant's Foot. It is a material known as corium, and it's essentially the melt bit of the word nuclear meltdown. It's lava made of the fuel containment materials.

The man who took the picture is Artur Korneyev, and he is also the man in the picture. The distortion you can see is the radioactivity of the foot itself warping the film and the operation of the camera. The picture was taken in 1996, ten years after disaster.

So for a television show to actually convey to you the scale of this - the absolute jaw-dropping gut-churning awfulness of what happened at 01:23:45 on the 26th of April 1986 (yes, that is the actual time it happened) - is an achievement in and of itself.

It is hard to watch. It is a physical difficulty, to see the harm done to people. To see just what radiation sickness does to a body, at every stage - from initial burns to cellular degradation sufficient to end life. Valery Legasov - chief of the Chernobyl commission - describes how that works to Boris Shcherbina, vice chairman of the Council of Ministers. Watching the soldiers, the work force of 600,000 people drawn in to help combat the spread of radioactive materials, do their work - this, too, is horrific. Episode 4 is not a thing to be approached lightly. A work of devastating horror that sadly proved to be both effective and necessary.

You are left cold, by the end of it. You are left hollow. Desolate. You are left feeling much like that swathe of the Ukraine still probably feels like today. You are left glad that such a thing hasn't happened to you, that you have never had to live through it - that you have never been that close to an apocalyptic event. You feel your guts turn to ice when you think about the people that had to deal with it, how it must have felt to go into that situation without any information. To see a lump of rock on the ground that you don't recognise, to pick it up, and in that instant to have written your own death warrant.

And then, you are left angry. Because you realise how totally preventable it could have all been. It would take precious few changes. The actual mechanical final cause of the explosion - adequately explained in the show but more accurately described in this video by John Green and this video by Scott Manley - was in and of itself a case of budgetary restriction, working on an assumption that the consequences that would make it deadly wouldn't happen. The decisions that led to the test happening the way it did, when it did, was a combination of ambition, stubbornness, ignorance and pride. The mishandling of the disaster in the initial aftermath can further be laid at the feet of the same four sins.

The official casualty count was initially listed as two, by the Soviet Union; this was later updated to 31, and many nations still hold this figure as being the actual figure. The World Health Organisation contends that the figure is closer to 4,000 - though it is claimed that at least 6,000 Liquidators died as a direct result of their work in and around Chernobyl.

NTV - a Russian media network - is reportedly working on its own version of the show, apparently dissatisfied with the blame being placed at the feet of common human failings. Instead, it will be dealing with the conspiracy theory that the power plant was sabotaged by CIA agents, and the heroic KGB's attempts to stop them. NTV is part of Gazprom Media, which is part of Public Joint Stock Company Gazprom - formerly the Soviet Ministry of Gas Industry - which is majority owned by the Russian government.

The fallen seeds continue to produce tragic fruit.

I don't think we'll ever learn.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Black Gives Way To Blue

Fair warning: I am going to be talking about mental and physical health, including some talk about suicide and depression. Read on with caution.

When you have a long-term illness, short-term illnesses are weird.

Like... my lungs don't work normally in the first place, and some days they are worse than others, so - how do I really know when I have got a chest infection? My joints hurt all the time, how do I know if I have pulled something?

It changes your baseline level of "okay", which also means changing your idea of what being "not okay" is. I've heard stories - that I fully believe - of people that get menstrual cramps so bad that they actually believe that is what is happening to them when their appendix bursts or when they develop potentially deadly stomach ulceration. Barring the huge issue of sexism within the medical system, the other thing this highlights is that when you usually feel like you are 40% fucked, an additional 10% doesn't feel like much.

The thing that tells me that I am coming down with something is, usually, when my mood absolutely tanks for no apparent reason; and that is a problem, because depression also makes that happen.

So what actually happens, when the brain stops making the juice that makes stuff good and happy and leaves you basically shivering naked in the icy void emotionally speaking, is you wonder briefly - do I have a cold, or is this just a thing that is happening to me now?

There is no cure, unfortunately. One simply has to turn to coping mechanisms, and hope that you've learned good ones.

One good one I have, that I have talked about before, is songs. Music. The stuff capable of leaving me in bits usually.

There's a Brandi Carlile song called Party Of One.

If you don't know who Brandi Carlile is, she's an American folk singer. She's great. It's not my usual stuff but she's a superb singer-songwriter. One of her songs I like a lot is called The Joke, which most people should learn about if they don't know already.

So there's this other song, this Party Of One. It's the last track on her most recent album - By The Way, I Forgive You, from 2018 - and the version from the end of the album is just her singing it. The video of which is beautiful, by the way.

There's also a duet, with Sam Smith. And you better know who Sam Smith is.

The song is about two people, who have fought, and who are trying to reconcile. They've obviously been together for a while. They know each other. They live together. That is only part of what it is about, though. It's about being exhausted, about being unable to keep up a struggle, but still being there tomorrow. It's about someone being hard to love, but loving them anyway, and about them loving you anyway.

Something about Brandi Carlile's voice when she sings about how she is tired. The way her voice cracks. She is tired. She knows how tired feels. She knows how it seeps into your bones, how you can be a level of exhausted and worn out that it has a physical pain all of its own.

I know that feeling, but there aren't a lot of songs that sing that feeling to me.

The first time I heard the song, it literally stopped me in my tracks. I was heading home from work, and I had to... like PHYSICALLY stop, so I could listen to it.

It's a song I go to when I am in that place in my head, as I have been recently. When I am basically all out of spoons, mentally or physically, and I am on a scale of fatigue that makes me feel like I can feel my hair growing - and it fucking hurts. When it's all you can do to get home without screaming or laying down in the street.

Sometimes that is how it is. Sometimes that is what the world and existing in it feels like. Sometimes, it isn't that you want to literally die - you just don't want to have to continue existing.

That is what being that tired does to you.

That's why I curate these songs that are capable of just... dropping me. Songs that can dig through that grey fog of soporific exhaustion and make me react.

Songs like Fire And Rain by James Taylor.

Songs like I Am The Highway, by Audioslave, and Black Hole Sun, by Soundgarden - both sung by Chris Cornell.

Songs like Vincent, by Don McLean.

These are musicians that have saved my life in a quite literal fashion. Never, ever underestimate music's power.

For those curious - turns out I was coming down with a cold. Hah. Take that, brain.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

2019 Movie Time - #6 Godzilla King Of The Monsters

We're back at the flicks, and this time - it's for the monsters.

My earliest memories of the Godzilla franchise come from the Channel 4 showings of the Showa-era Godzilla movies. They were entertaining enough - I was a kid, I liked big monsters - and then, for the longest time, there was nothing...

...until along came this fucking thing.

Yeah just looking at that image...

It wasn't long after this shit-sluice of a movie came out that I started looking back into the franchise. I started from the very beginning. I saw the more modern era of movies wherein they started to take themselves somewhat more seriously again. It wasn't until 2006 that I saw the original Gojira from 1954 for the very first time - and I do mean the original, not the Americanised edit.

I was furious. Like, here I was, being spoon-fed kiddy films with Godzilla doing funny dances and doing this tail-slide drop-kick thing and here, HERE was the literal piece of art that had spawned it? And instead of seeing this, we got given a bastardised shitshow?

So my concerns when the Gareth Edwards film was announced were somewhat heightened. Another American Godzilla? I mean, how could it compare, now that my eyes have been opened to what could have been?

Pretty well actually.

It's not the same movie. You can't take it as the same movie - it's not meant to be. You have to take it on its own merits, and its own merits are significant. The cinematography, the sound engineering, the acting, the pacing, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, it was excellent.

Kong: Skull Island does another solid round of Beating The Snot Out Of Its Prior Western Adaptation too. The Jackson King Kong is garbage - Skull Island is a tour de force, what kind of movie can effectively combine the same beats from the beginning of the original King Kong story with the plot of Heart of Darkness?

So imagine my joy at hearing the words: Sequel.

Warning. Below, there are spoilers.

I have problems. Very few, but they exist - insofar as two of the leads have... very little charm, and very little reason to be in the movie aside from acting as dramatic tension points. Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga are just... bad decisions wrapped up in generic names and somehow end up being the parents to Millie Bobbie Brown, who is frankly a wondrous gift to humanity.

Also one of the Monarch tech heads has some annoying lines but I think that's because he is meant to be annoying.

Outside of that:


Yes! Brilliant. Monsters! Monsters fighting monsters! We open with monsters. Yes. YES. The monsters are loose.

I mean... that's all I really need to say, right? That satisfies me. But there's more, it has a cogent plot, too. Yeah, it's a bit nonsense, but this is a Godzilla movie. Like, we have already accepted giant monsters that communicate with sonar and that eat radiation, none of what we see in King Of The Monsters is out of bounds.

The fights look great, too. Like there's very little Bayformers here. What is going on is usually quite clear (unless it deliberately isn't) and, well, we came here to watch them fight? So we let them fight.

There's a lot of nice nods to older Godzilla flicks too. Mothra gets awoken by two ladies. I mean that was nice and subtle - but then you actually have the twins from back in the day show up in old family pictures, so they really double down on that particular reference.

The sound engineering is, again, fantastic. Sound plays quite a big part in the movie - there was a lot of sonic action back and forth between G-man and the Mutos in the first one, so it's little surprise that this is explored as a thematic that ends up driving the plot. So having all the beasties sound right is very important.

They look right, too. If anything Godzilla looks more like the king of the monsters than ever, Rodan looks solid as fuck as this flaming bird-wing bastard, Mothra is, well, Mothra. The other Kaiju look pretty great too. But it was always, always going to be about this guy. Monster Zero. The Golden Devil.

King Ghidora.

He makes the movie, honestly. Look at him. Look at how ridiculous this shot is. It's brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. And that's what we're here for, isn't it? It's what we want. The cinematography is superb, not as dark and moody as the first one, much less serious and gritty - much more in line with the Heisei-era monster mash.

So all the monsters fight and everyone gets what they want. Fantastic. Sign me up. It's not smart, and it's not particularly deep - but it's true eye candy.

Can't wait for the next one!

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