Friday, January 16, 2009

What I Have Been Up To This Whole Week

"Lemonade. Ice Cold."

Afro Samurai

Or 'Afuro Samurai', in Nipponese.

I can't stand anime in general. It seems to me that the bulk of the genre consists entirely of harem romance stories, improbably boobed Asian women and bloody irritating theme music - none of which, with the exception of improbably boobed Asian women, interest me much. So far, I have followed only two animes with any degree of loyalty. They are Ranma 1/2 (back when it was showing on AXN) and Samurai Champloo, which I got from my ex-roommate, Inn Shan (along with Romeo X Juliet which I have found to be quite unwatchable). Samurai Champloo was quite an agreeable viewing pleasure for me, mainly because of its anachronism stew nature and multi-genre pop-culture references (ranging from baseball and graffiti to zombies and capoiera). The series even opened with a title card which says; "This work of fiction is not an accurate historical portrayal... LIKE WE GIVE A F@%#! Now shut up and enjoy the show!". Anything that marries samurai and hiphop cultures is always worth my time.

This, as you probably can guess, is Afro Samurai.

Afro Samurai is something very much like that, only amped up to the nth level with a heaping dose of Samuel L. "Motherfuckin" Jackson injected right into its arteries. Jules Winfield of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. Mace Windu from the Star Wars prequel trilo (he accepted the part on the condition that his character would carry a distinctive purple to set him apart from the rest of the Jedi council of forgettables and that he would not be killed off "like some punk"). Also, he's the inspiration behind the Ultimate Nick Fury, leader of the Avengers of the Marvel comic universe (you'd remember his cameo playing that character after the credits in the Iron Man flick last year).

I will kill yo' ass till you die.

That's right, the last name in utter Bad-Assery voices the titular Afro Samurai. If that does not get you pumpin', here's more; Ron Perlman voices Afro Samurai's nemesis. Ron Perlman, as you may or may not already know, played Hellboy in the Hellboy movies. Oh, and did I mention Kelly Hu's somewhere in there too? Also, Samuel L. Jackson also voices NinjaNinja, a wacky ninja (what else) who follows Afro around saying things the typically silent and sullen Afro wouldn't say.

The basic premise of the series is this; There are two headbands - one has number 1 written on it and the other has number 2. The guy wearing the number 1 headband is the strongest, most badass warrior in the entire world and he can only be challenged by the guy wearing the number 2 headband, which is the Afro Samurai. The catch is, anyone can challenge the number 2 guy for the number 2 headband. Hilarity insues, that is, if you consider bloody, gratuituous violence and freaky dismemberments to be hilarious. The amount of gory fights in this anime is ridiculous (I'm lovin' it!) and the anti-hero, Afro, is quite frankly sociopathic and villainous. The show was adapted by the Japanese animation studio, Gonzo, from a doujinshi (i.e. Japanese term for "self-published works") manga series created by Takashi Okazaki - not one of those crappy American-made anime knockoffs we kept seeing these days. Season two of the anime is going to be released pretty soon and from what I heard, Lucy Liu is voicing the new season's antagonist. Mark Hamill got on board as well. You know, the guy who is the voice of the Joker in the Batman cartoons and played Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars flicks? Man, I'm such a fanboy.

Of course, they never explained what a black guy is doing in feudal Japan(?) being a samurai. Now that I've mentioned it, the list of things they never explained is, in fact, bloody long. What are ridiculously life-like combat androids, cellphones with cutesy ring-tones, memory cards, cybernetic binoculars and friggin' bazookas doing in this show? Why do they serve lemonade in bars? Where did that monk get those hip circumaural headphones from? And why hasn't Afro Samurai died from lung cancer from all those unfiltered hand-rolled cigarettes he kept puffing on throughout the series? Nothing makes sense. You just got to love a show that don't give a fat fuck.

And did I mention that the soundtrack in this anime kicks ass? The RZA (from the Wu-Tang Clan) produced it. Check out the song in the Afro Samurai: Resurrection (sequel) trailer on YouTube. Pretty good shit, in all.


The other thing which kept me occupied this entire week is The Settlers of Catan,

And this is how it looks like.

It's created by Klaus Teuber, a famous German designer of board games.

Unfortunately, I don't actually own a set - and I doubt that I find get it in any toy store in Malaysia. Even if it's available, I don't think I can get three other persons to be interested in it enough to play with me for hours on end.

I did the next logical thing and downloaded an 8-megabyte PC version of the board game (with pre-packaged A.I. opponents), after teaching myself how to play it through a 5-minute interactive guide on a Settlers of Catan fansite. That's the beauty of it. It's very easy to pick up because of its simple mechanics, but its dynamics are surprisingly complicated. The first night I tried it I was hooked good. I played till the next morning, skipping sleep entirely.

I personally categorise board games according to a luck versus skills spectrum. At one end of that scale is Snakes and Ladders, which relies completely on the players' luck. Chess sits on the other end, where luck does not factor in at all - only raw skills matter. Both does not appeal to me. I find games like Snakes and Ladders to be quite repetitive and pointless. Chess, if I may critique, depends quite heavily on a player's memorisation of the different ways a game can go. Theoretically, if a person is able to memorise every possible variation, he'd be unbeatable.

The Settlers of Catan lies somewhere in between the two. It uses a couple of dice, true, but the spirit of the game is planning, risk assessment, diplomacy and management. The board is assembled randomly from its little resource hexes every time a new game starts (including the numbers assigned to each hex), so it's a different playing field each time. Players will be placing their pieces at the start according to what they feel is the best spots after assessing the board. To get ahead, it's almost imperative for the players to be able to negotiate and barter with each other. If you sit quietly in your corner just rolling your dice, everyone else will be making trades which benefit them while leaving you behind. Then there's the robber piece which any player can move after rolling a seven - to block the resource flow from any one hex and to steal a card from the hand of a player who owns a town on city adjacent to it. There are more than one way by which you can win the game, so the ability to keep a low profile, to deceive and mislead, and to hide your true intentions as long as possible is pretty darn useful too. The dice, I feel, actually enhances the experience. It adds a flavour of uncertainty to the game without dictating its proceedings completely.

Anyway, Settlers of Catan is just the core game. There are actually expansions to the base game like Seafarers of Catan, Cities and Knights, and Traders and Barbarians, along with a whole medley of spinoffs (like a card game) and historical scenario packs (Alexander the Great's empire expansion, the building of the Great Wall of China etc). Here's an impressive list in Wikipedia. And someone even wrote a damn novel about it.

Microsoft also released a sweet looking adaptation for the Xbox Live Arcade with tweak-able house rules and A.I. so good that even Klaus Teuber himself find hard to beat,

Darn, I want to play this!

I am wishing really hard that Microsoft would release a version for us PC gamers with all the expansions and variations of the game included soon. I'll even get the original version, if only to be able to play online with other players.

I am also wondering if I should buy a set, or any of its expansions (I'll probably have to get someone living in the UK, US or Germany to get it for me). I mean, is there anyone else who is interested in playing this? I can't see any of my I-got-to-study-very-very-hard-got-not-time-for-kiddie-games medical school colleagues sitting through even one game with me.

Sigh and sigh.

Has way too many hobbies,
k0k s3n w4i


- yuhhui - said...

Hey. I love ranma! Haha.. the panda so cute! +D
Did you watch Samurai X and Vandread? =D
Ooh.. Settlers of Catan sounds cool. The best board game I've ever played was Rat Race by Kiyosaki. Looks like I shall try this one with my bf. He's into board games as well esp Risk.

bevE said...

this is what i've been waiting for? this????

come on msn i tot u baru updated -_-

Inn Shan said...

Try read the manga MONSTER.

"The series follows Dr. Kenzo Tenma (天馬 賢三, Tenma Kenzo?) as he pursues a young psychopath/sociopath named Johan, whose life Tenma once saved. The story rapidly progresses through a number of locations: it starts in Düsseldorf, Germany, passes through Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Wiesbaden, cities in the Czech Republic such as Prague, and other cities and villages."

It was serialised into anime too.
IMO, this is creepy stuff. I felt very depressed reading it. Might suit you.

And watch and read GANTZ. It's hell of blood and aliens.
ELFEN LIED is ok ok for violence. But i has a very nice twist at the end.

MichelleG said...

lol. cool.

im not one of those study hard.. but i spend my time on other things. lol. =P

Betsy said...

I'm interested to play :D I LOVE board games!!!!! XD

ap said...

eh Samurai Champloo rocks! but it sounds different from the one i watched, is it a north american remake? samurai champloo to me is like the arrested development of anime world... im actually a manga fan ususally i cant stand the liberties anime take with regard to the original work, except maybe Hunter and evangelion. u dun seem to be into manga are u, otherwise i'd recommend some titles......

btw have u played portal

fubi said...

i like BLEACH!!!! xD xD xD c, now ther's me, u n betsy :D we jz need2 find 1mor person!

bevE said...

i recommended Monster to po before i think n he dun wan >_>

Betsy said...

What makes you think I like Bleach? >_> (if the Betsy you're talking about is me O.O)

But, I do like Bleach :D How you know?? O________O

You stalking me isit? xD

Why must four person? O.O

k0k s3n w4i said...

yuhhui: No, I did not watch samurai x and vandread. Their stories don't interest me somehow. Kiyosaki's board game? you mean, cashflow 101? I have not played it, no. I'm into Risk as well and I own the classical board along with a kickass computer version as well that allows same-time moves. I feel that allowing all players to issue commands at the same time makes it fairer somehow.

bevE: no one asking you to wait T^T I don't remember you recommending MONSTER to me tho

Inn Shan: already finished 3 chapters of MONSTER. I read the work's profile over at tropes wiki and i was sold. Somehow, I didn't find it as creepy as all hypes are touting. Maybe I should read a little bit more.

MichelleG: Good. Have fun while you can, because u might not have the chance in the future. Those who say people should suffer first and enjoy later are morons. How if they got hit by a falling airplane engine the next day?

ap: nope, I watched a subbed version with original japanese audio. I can never stand watching dubbed animes. they sound so unnatural and awkward. and it wasn't a remake, to the best of my knowledge. I do read some manga on occasion. I liked Chobits. And an ecchi series called Yuria 100. And no, I have not played portal. I haven't been playing a whole lot of computer games in the last few years.

fubi: i'll get right on it and hook myself a another girlfriend. then we shall have four! xD

Betsy: she was talking about the board game, regarding the 4 person bit.

Sim said...

I think i know where you can get that board game (or at least place an order for it). There's a cafe in KL that specialises in these sorta stuff. I think you will like that place very much.

k0k s3n w4i said...

Sim: No shit?! Where is this cafe's at and what's it called? It has a board-game theme going for it or something?

Betsy said...

Oh, I just remembered. There is a shop at KL catering to various range of imported board games. My friend forced me to attend an anime/manga convention once in Melaka. While I was bored waiting for her, I played some board games available there.

In the end, I bought 'Ticket To Ride' and 'Citadels':) So, the person gave me his name card for buying just in case I'm ever interested again :D So, through the name card I found their online site. Toybox.

And also, they have 5 stocks currently on 'The Settlers of Catan'.

The map.

If you ever find the shop there, mind giving the directions to dad? Cause I want buy a few more too! xD

- yuhhui - said...

haha. yeah! The real name is cashflow.. but i always referred it as Ratrace. Try it.. perhaps you will like it too. Whats with guys and Risk man.. =='

Sim said...

Yeah.. it's called Mage Cafe (used to be Settlers Cafe). It's tucked in somewhere near Wisma Atria at Bandar Utama. Drop me an e-mail if you need more precise directions.

And yep, it has all the imported and designer board games you can think of.

ap said...

oh yesss dubbing horrors... check out Pluto! i suppose it's like A.I. astroboy I, Robot rolled into one..... i have been hardselling Pluto for ages now, apparently it starts off slow so pple dun get into it =/ plus i semi-religiously follow Hunter, almost like the fanboy i never could be