Hi. I’ve been invited here to share a thing with you.

Choujuu Kishin Dancougar 00: What and furthermore why

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Choujuu Kishin (Super Beast Machine God) Dancougar is a transforming combining humanoid robot-piloting TV anime series that ran from April to December, 1985. Originally slated to run for 50 episodes / 4 seasons, it was cut down to 38 episodes / 3 seasons because of low ratings. The fans it did have were devoted enough to warrant a handful of follow-up OAVs and two light novels (one novelization of the God Bless OAV and one original story) released over the next five years.

There was also a spinoff comic book series called Dancougar BURN in the late ’90s and a spinoff TV series Dancougar Nova in the mid 2000s, though they have no real connection to the story of the original series.

It’s not particularly well known in or out of Japan, it has pretty janky and cheap-looking ’80s TV animation a lot of the time, and it’s got 80s fashion styling smeared all over it. Its narrative focus on complicated relationship dynamics, grim and serious themes, as well as its delay in pulling out the titular robot (Dancougar doesn’t appear until the second season) made it unpopular with the core “Super Robot” demographic of young boys; but at the same time its look, transforming animal robots and goofier trappings (there is a Mexican cowboy town literally named Tacos) kept it from being a “mature and serious” robot show like the original Gundam or the overtly dark and psychological Evangelion.

I love it. It’s one of my favorite things.

I love the combination of light and dark, the strongly character-driven story and how it deals with some serious issues without being grim and brooding all the time. Something about the series just really clicks with me. The first episode I ever saw (rented on VHS from a local video store in the mid to late ’90s) was in fact the one where they dress as cowboys in a town named Tacos, and something struck me about it even then.

So I’m going to analyze all of it, character by character, episode by episode, in excruciating detail.

This, I guess, is my attempt to explain why, and to share a little love with the world. This is my personal love letter to Dancougar.

やってやるせ!

To Be Taught, If Fortunate – by Becky Chambers (Review)

Novella, Standalone

Scifi, Space, Adventure

Harper Voyager; September 3, 2019

134 pages (PB)

4.9 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

To Be Taught, If Fortunate is a novella by Wayfarers author Becky Chambers, set in a future Milky Way, where a small group of scientists have escaped the bounds of our solar system in the hopes of exploration and discovery. It’s a short yet sometimes dense read, with equal parts science and fiction, both of which shone brightly. While it doesn’t feature quite the same level of immersion featured in her core series, To Be Taught If Fortunate still managed to tug at my heart-strings, while occasionally sending a cascade of chills down my spine. But just because I loved it doesn’t mean you will too.

Ari is one of four scientists that make up Lawki-6, a extrasolar mission to Zhenyi (that dgen-yee, or jen-yee, if you’re interested) a fictional red dwarf system approximately 15 light years from Earth, sent to explore and document the four planets within the star’s habitable zone. Thanks to a revitalized space program, combined with a revolutionary method of engineering evolution, humanity can not only visit these worlds within one lifetime, but can also survive the experience. “Somaforming” uses slow-release biological mutations to subtly alter the human body so that it can survive exposure to these worlds. Sub-light engines reduce the flight time to 28 years, while suspended animation slows the aging process to just two. When Ari was born, it had been over 55 years since humanity sent anyone into space. Her generation sought to change that. And hey—why not aim big?

Ari, as the mission’s flight engineer, is assigned to recording the voyage and its discoveries for transmission back to Earth. The others—Jack (geologist), Chikondi (biologist), and Elena (astrophysicist)—have equally import missions, but all deal with the data. Ari helps out in each area, but her primary duties include tending the spacecraft and recording the story. TBTIF is essentially her story.

While TBTIF is in and of itself a story of adventure and discovery, it also represents a major trial for each of its characters. Imagine leaving Earth with the intention of returning—in 80 years. Everyone you have ever known or loved will be dead. The places you recognize, the foods you eat, the stories you enjoy might all be gone. Your team of four will spend most of the next century literally light years away from anything or anyone familiar. There will be wonders, yes—as you see things no human has ever set on eyes, set foot on extrasolar worlds, experience the new and the unknown in every waking moment. But there will also be hardship; struggle, loneliness, heartache, depression, more. Now imagine that even the people that sent you here—the OCA—might potentially have forgotten you. You are alone. Well and truly alone.

What would you do?

TBTIF features a heavy dose of science, too much for some people. When done in a casual, almost flippant style, it can be hard to take in—this is why I have so much trouble reading Alastair Reynolds or Carl Sagan; two people who definitely know what they’re talking about, only can’t seem to understand how to relay it to their audience. Becky Chambers takes the Neil deGrasse Tyson approach instead: simplifying down the language enough to try to explain it to those not versed in the more technical science, while likewise explaining it in technical terms. While I loved this approach (both of them, as in a past life I had thoughts of becoming a physicist), not everyone is going to. If you like your scifi science-light and fiction/action heavy, this might not be for you. It’s one reason I have trouble with military scifi—I like some innovation in my militia, and a decent dose of science in my science fiction.

The book is divided into four parts—Aecor, Mirabilis, Opera, and Votum—one for each of the four planets visited. There is an overarching plot, but the story itself is one of discovery. Both for and within the crew themselves. The adventure was a big allure, if I’m honest. I adored the descriptions and the exploration. The science, the struggle, even the plot. Not that the plot is bad, mind, it’s just a little more subtle and less-involved than some other stories. As the team visits each world, the story changes. What united them on one planet may divide them on another. But they are pretty close knit. Though the novella deals primarily with exploration and discovery, the plot centers around its characters. And the characters are truly its greatest strength.

I had only a slight issue with the beginning and end, but can’t get into it because of possible spoilers. It just wasn’t something I expected, let’s say. The only thing this did was ruin a perfect rating—nothing more.

TL;DR

If you like your scifi with a heavy dose of science, To Be Taught, If Fortunate may be the book for you. While the novella tells a story laced with exploration and adventure and scientific discovery, the plot focuses strongly on its characters. Ari—as the narrator—draws major screen time, but Jack, Elena, and Chikondi get more than enough that you’ll learn their strengths and weaknesses throughout the near-hundred and a half pages. You’ll see them at their best, and at their worst. You’ll exult at their elation, tear up at their despair. I did, at least. Hopefully y’all like it, too.

Music Monday

Music Monday is a meme created by Drew the Tattooed Book Geek. If you’d like to hear his chill (or otherwise) vibes, head over here.

Okay, so this week I was going to do the Best Soundtracks in Video Games list, following up my favorite individual video game tracks list from last week. But since I kinda forgot (hey, there’s been a lot going on)… instead I randomly choose a track from my fav’s list.

Veer Union, best band out of Canada! Go check them out, or don’t. I’ll get back to books at some point, promise. And, since I haven’t addressed it yet, regardless of your feelings on the police, the government, or any kind of politics, do support the movement happening. And try not to be a dick with the “All Lives Matter” thing. I mean, yeah, they do, but that’s not the point. The point of #BlackLivesMatter is specifically how they matter no more or less than anyone else’s. It’s about equality. And while all people should be treated equally, we’re not right now. And that needs to change.

Eden – by Tim Lebbon (Review)

Standalone

Eco-Thriller, Horror, Scifi

Titan Books; April 7, 2020

384 pages (ebook)

3.5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Titan Books and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Global warming and climate change have wrought intense havoc on Earth, spoiling the planet almost beyond recognition. Smog clouds the formerly azure sky. Rivers run brown with sludge, silt chokes the water. The Amazon has been whittled to nothing, the remnants torched. The Arctic is hot and dry, its residents long dead. Pollutants run rampant across the planet. The Earth is dying, but not yet dead. And humanity has killed it. Or, nearly has. In a last-ditch effort to combat the change, the world establishes a number of preserves. Refuges for animals and nature, Virgin Zones are just that; zones dedicated entirely to nature, with no human involvement or activity. Zeds patrol their borders, guarding against incursion in the virgin wilderness. This is humanity’s last hope—and they won’t let anyone screw it up.

Though intended to provide the planet with badly needed air, the Zones draw incursion like dung draws flies. Extreme athletes and adventurers flock to the Zones, eager to prove their mettle at the last challenge the Earth has to offer. They compete in illicit races, tests of endurance and speed, each netting huge rewards on the black market. The Zeds may protect the Zones, but not even they are infallible. With the proper motivation—and for the right price—anyone can enter one of the Zones. But after that, they’re on their own.

The oldest and most famed Virgin Zones, Eden represents the ultimate test of endurance for athletes. It is the Everest of Zones, the Ironman of races, the… you get the idea. Teams will do anything to cross it—or die trying. And yet in the half-century since Eden’s creation, there has never been a successful crossing.

Jenn and her father aim to change that. Just two of the members of one of the most elite adventure race teams on the planet, they represent years of skill and success. A tight knit group of six, they have crossed over half the Virgin Zones—some multiple times—often posting record times in the attempt. For three years the team has considered testing their skills on Eden—now is their chance.

Unlike the other Zones they have crossed, Eden has never conquered. What lurks beyond its borders is shrouded in mystery. The team goes in expecting the unexpected, confident that Eden holds nothing that can defeat them. Yet the Zone may surprise them, because—contrary to their beliefs—Eden is truly wild.

I like a good thriller every now and then, especially one with supernatural elements. Eden provides this and more; an entertaining and fast-paced mystery intertwining with a slowly building horror story rife with primordial glee. While the plot tips its hand early, ruining some of the anticipation, I was still thoroughly absorbed in the story through the halfway mark, when the pace really gets rolling. And when the reason behind Eden’s mystery breaks—the story starts to falter.

The problem with writing the perfect thriller is threefold. It has to be a steady build at first, something to tow the reader along, tempting them with clues to keep them reading, while not doing anything to overt to tip its hand. When it comes to the heart of the mystery and everything breaks loose, it must mix action and suspense in such a way that the pacing neither slows down too much or burns too fast so as to keep the reader’s attention. And then there’s the hook. Something presented in the beginning, something that teases a revelation further on, something juicy enough to keep the reader wondering, wallowing in the mystery and suspense until the realization finally breaks free.

Eden does the first part masterfully well. The mystery and suspense blend superbly beneath the primordial backdrop—an Earth undisturbed by the hands of mankind. The suspense builds slowly as the runners infiltrate Eden, set out across its primeval landscape, slowly creeping closer to the heart of the wild. And then the trap is set: mysterious happenings and clues begin to crop up, making the team question their choice, without overtly scaring them off. I read to the halfway point with little issue, despite the mistake Eden makes early on.

The hook is the first problem. It’s too revealing, too soon. Before this, it’d been revealed that it hadn’t been a fluke that Jenn decided to go to Eden when she did. Her mother—Dylan’s ex-wife—had come here first. She had sent Jenn a photo with a cryptic note, prompting her daughter to follow her. Kat has come to Eden to die, but her reasons are her own. And she’s just far enough ahead of her daughter that the others might not be able to do anything to stop her. We’re given one interlude in Kat’s POV every ten chapters or so. In her first one, she states she’s come to Eden to die, but no more. In the second, she more or less gives away the mystery.

The suspense had been building slowly to this point. I wasn’t sure what was going on in the book, but was keen to find out. The hook—when it came—was too revealing. It gave away the suspense, the mystery, almost the plot. Eden was still a good read after that, until the SHTF moment makes the pacing go sideways. There’s a lot of action, then a break, more action, more break, action-sequence, wait, action, wait, action—in that order. Every now and then, the book tries to reintroduce the mystery, the suspense, but for me that ship had sailed. Since it broke the surprise so early on, there’s nothing to pace the action to the end. It’s just action, and less-actions more-waiting parts. Shockingly, this combination doesn’t blend well. The second half is so strangely paced—it’s almost reason enough to read Eden to see it. The story is still good, however. It kept me reading, entertained me enough to see it through. While the mystery of Eden itself is blown wide-open, some other threads are still up in the air. Characters I’d grown to care about, possible conclusions I’d like to see come to pass. It kept me reading, almost up to the end. It struggles a bit then, as we leave some threads open. I would’ve liked to see a more adequate conclusion, on the whole. Instead the story veers, giving an ending to one of the stories being told. But not the other.

Furthermore, the whole thing has a bit of an After Earth vibe (not the kinda thing any media wants to be compared to) (if you don’t understand that reference, feel free to google it). It comes down to evolution. And leads up to the question—how could something have evolved this quickly? To which the answer is—it really couldn’t’ve. Which kinda kills the premise.

TL;DR

Eden is a thrilling eco-horror novel with some brilliant suspense, but with the added feeling of an After Earth kinda vibe. So as you might expect, I was a little torn. I loved the beginning and the slow build, but thought the author might’ve tipped his hand too early on. This glimpse into the mystery all but killed it, and the suspense, for me at around the 1/5 mark. Moreover, with the jig up, the story gets into it well before it’s ready—at around the halfway point. After that it’s one extended action sequence to the end, which really screws the pacing all to hell. That said, I enjoyed Eden, on the whole. It was a good eco-thriller, despite some outlandish parts. And a decent mystery, despite giving it away too early. I would’ve liked to’ve seen a more thorough ending, but there is AN ending, which I suppose is enough. I left the book having enjoyed my time reading, annoyed though I was about a few pieces of it. I’d recommend Eden, just realize it’s not perfect. But it IS waaay better than After Earth.

Music Monday – My Top 5 Video Game Tracks

Video games are great. Some games I’ve completed with a sense of accomplishment, others with a sense of relief, and still more feeling a mixed bag. Some games I never even complete. But it’s the best ones I keep coming back to. Those with a wonderful sense of fulfillment, amazing gameplay, an immersive and incredible story—among other things. A kickass soundtrack may not get me to play a game, but it definitely doesn’t hurt.

Music Monday is a meme created by Drew the Tattooed Book Geek. If you’d like to hear his chill (or otherwise) vibes, head over here.

Anyway, here are my Top 5 tracks from games:

  1. After the Crash / First and Last (Michael McCann) – Deus Ex: Human Revolution

If you checked in on last week’s post, you may know that I play this soundtrack a lot. Like, a lot.While my favorite song remains After the Crash, the other standout for me is First and Last. After the Crash plays in the background during a fight that determines the fate of Faridah Malik, an instance that can result in the trophy ‘Good Soul’. Now if you were to, say, try for this trophy on the hardest setting, while simultaneously attempting the ‘Pacifist’ and ‘Foxiest of Hounds’ run-throughs (achievements where you can’t kill anyone or set off any alarms, respectively), you may very well hear this track played a lot. So it’s even more important that it’s amazing.

First and Last plays at the very start of the game, during the opening sequence. It’s my runner-up here—as I’ve listened to it second most to After the Crash—but it really could’ve gone to any other song off the soundtrack.

2. Honor for All (Daniel & Jon Licht) – Dishonored

Another of my favorite games, at least in the most recent generations of consoles, is Dishonored. Another game featuring a run-thru on the highest difficulty, featuring a play style that rewards you for not killing anyone, and just stealthing through the entire game. Honor for All comes during the credits, and is one of the songs I started listening to on repeat then immediately went and bought the download. As far as I know, the track was written specifically for this game.

3. Song of Storms – Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

The Ocarina of Time is a revered game. It’s probably my favorite of all time, and not just because I’ve completed it half a dozen times over the years. The exploration, the story and the soundtrack alone rank highly all time—not just in its era. There are many great tunes within, but my all-time fav has to be the Song of Storms. Found in Kakariko Village, the dude within the windmill teaches this song to Link to play on his ocarina when he wants to summon rain. Released in 1998, this song has been stuck in my head for 22 years, and I still love it.

4. The Nathan Drake Theme (Greg Edmonson) – Uncharted

Uncharted is one of the best-selling franchises of all-time. And was the driving force behind me switching from Xbox to Playstation about a decade ago. The series is combat heavy, which isn’t usually my thing, but—first and foremost—aims to tell a story. A story of a man, of a journey. And that journey is incredible. While the music may not be telling in its own right, listen to it along with the games and it takes on a narrative of its own. For fans like moi, even hearing it outside the game is often enough to send chills up my spine.

5. Erana’s Peace – Quest for Glory: So You Want to be a Hero

Whether you’ve played the original or the remaster (or, most likely, neither), Quest for Glory is a true masterpiece of Sierra adventures. A point-and-click game with a text-parsing interface and fairly decent (for the time, at least) combat system. Now, I was too young to actually play this when it came out, but when I did, it was the original I played, and therefore the soundtrack from Erana’s Peace—which features a tranquil meadow complete with a tree of juicy, color-shifting, totally not weird fruit—strikes a cord in me. Even if it comes out of crappy speakers that never seemed to work right and were always getting broken. The guitar rendition from the remaster is okay, but though I’ve been through the game maybe a dozen times, I’ve never played that version. So the original soundtrack remains my favorite.

Anything to add? Anything to subtract? Anyone else play QFG? Or maybe you’ve played any of these other games? If so, let me know. Otherwise, maybe just listen to video game soundtracks for the rest of the day 🙂