Berserk 2016 – Worth the wait?


Ever since I was young I’ve enjoyed Japanese anime. Not the cutesy Pokemon/Sailor Moon type stuff that many people immediately think of when they see the word anime – but the heavier movies and TV series that often have cult followings attached to them. Series like Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo – all timeless classics. These types of stories are very much aimed at adults and are often surprisingly complicated when dealing with various scientific and political issues. Berserk, another old favourite has resurfaced this year and for once, is finally continuing the story.

Like most anime, Berserk is also adapted from its original manga and I’ll admit, as much as I enjoy reading/watching Japanese stories, I struggled with the manga. Japanese books/comics are effectively the opposite of their western equivilants – you start from the back cover and read from back to front. In addition, you’re scanning from right to left. I tried really hard to get used to this but it just does my head in, it feels so bloody weird!

The original Berserk anime came out in 1997 and follows the story of Guts (or Gatsu in the original manga), a swordsman noted for his strength and in particular, his ridiculously massive sword. The very first episode is present day and then quickly jumps back in time to follow a younger Guts as he hooks up with a renowned mercenary group known as the Band of the Hawk and the stories two other main characters, the enigmatic Griffith and the fierce warrior captain Casca. I won’t go into the story as it gets bizarre from that point, but I will say that Berserk is as unique as it is awesome.

The anime series ran for approximately 25 episodes and ended in a particularly dark place – and that was it. Short of reading the manga, there was no means of knowing what happened to these characters we’d grown to love – until 2013 when a series of three movies was released known as Berserk – the Golden Arc. These three movies effectively rebooted the series – following the same story but with newer (and not neccessarily better) animation – but frustratingly like the anime, also jumped back in time and retold the same story as the original 1997 show. Worse though, these movies of questionable quality skipped over most of the story (obviously limited timewise) and much of the character development suffered as a result. For someone new to the series this wasnt the best entry-point to the story.

But finally in 2016 we’ve been given a brand new series that continues the story. It starts with Guts fighting in a familiar tavern, but what happens there was not a jump back in time, but pushing forward! Woo!

And now having watched all 12 episodes of this first series (until it returns in 2017) I have to say the overall feeling is slightly under-whelmed. The animation itself is decidedly low-budget and has adopted this pencil sketch type technique which I assume is an ode to the manga but just makes everything seem a bit…shit. The character animations are jerky, the models a bit on the lifeless side and i guess the overall feeling is watching a video game from early 2000.

The story itself is not much better. I’m told from people who have read the manga that it hits all the key points but like the movie, it feels like it moves from one scene to the other with not a lot of explanation as to why. We’re introduced to this religious zealot known as Father Mogus and the Knights of the Holy Chain (basically like the Spanish Inquisition) as Guts tries to find Casca (who is still insane from the end of the original anime’s dark conclusion).

There’s fights with rather goofy looking demons, a range of odd new characters including a particularly annoying blonde with super tight curls, and well – there’s not a lot else to speak of. Guts is still pretty badass but i suppose the highlights are the comic interactions between the young thief-type Isidro and Puck the elf which tap into some of the things that make anime so enjoyable in the first place.

So while I’m keen to see how things pan out in the next series, I do have to say that Berserk 2016 was a bit disappointing and difficult to reccomend.






The Pre-Write Project

I’ve been spending a lot of time developing an idea for a novel that’s been percolating in my brain. It’s been at least a year now – maybe two, a process that’s taken far more time than I would have anticipated. It started out as a germ of a story which evolved into a setting and eventual world – well a continent on a world. I began building various systems, governments, cultures and a vague sense of the characters and themes I wanted populating this place.

Currently I have developed all of the above, 3 main characters, 2 antagonists, 2 clear cultures and a 3rd that’s still hazy, and the beginnings of an outline. But it’s getting out of control! Every day there’s something new that needs to be determined, some other painful question that needs answering and the worst part? It needs to be written! Other than the beginnings of a prologue and several partially written chapters, it’s a mountain I’m still down here looking up at the foothills.

So as usual, in my quest to do anything other than actually write – I started hitting up Google for some means of collating this information because it’s getting simply too much to manage. I have Word documents everywhere, notes in my phone, emails to myself, you name it! So much information in so many places it’s ridiculous.

And I came across THE PRE-WRITE PROJECT over at She’s Novel. For $7.00 USD this was exactly what I was after – a series of sheets designed to collate these thoughts into what the creator Kristen Kieffer calls a Story Bible. This bible effectively contains everything I have described above – but more. It drills right down into the details, from initial story intentions to character motivations. In a nutshell – it’s fantastic. For that price it was a bit of a no-brainer for me but I find myself having two problems with it:

  1. It’s sold as a digital workbook but other than being a PDF – it’s not actually a digital workbook. Annoyingly, you cannot enter text into the documents themselves. You’re either going to have to print them out and fill them in or transcribe them yourself. I’ve been trying to unlock the PDF’s and have done so, but it’s not ideal as it’s still not direct text entry. IF these were truly digital workbooks they would be amazing, but for now, they’re simply good.
  2. I need to find the motivation now to actually fill them out. You would think that based on everything I said above that I would be leaping at the opportunity. But nope – the writing muscle I possess is still about as flaccid as it comes. As I begin to fill it out I….Reddit. House of Cards. Stare at closest wall.

One great thing about these workbooks however is they come at you with a plan. Kristen has put down a timeframe and a rough amount of hours needed to fill it out which is really quite realistic. If I can whip my ass into gear, I’ll report back – just don’t hold your breath.

If you pick up these workbooks and find them of value let me know – it might just inspire me to fill them out! If you can find an easy way to unlock the text fields without the Acrobat typewriter thing, double let me know!

Star Trek goes Beyond

mv5bmtu0odk1mtixm15bml5banbnxkftztgwntk3mtc5ode-_v1_sy1000_cr006401000_al_Growing up, I wouldn’t call myself a Star Trek fan. There was always this thing at school – this reoccurring discussion between young males who possessed a gene that automatically attracted them to anything science fiction. You either fell into the Star Wars or Star Trek camps – subscribing to both was out of the question. I fell into the Star Wars camp, but I was never one of those people who felt inclined to rock up a movie premiere in costume – I was content to merely enjoy the movies for what they were – and harbor a secret man-crush for Harrison Ford of course.

But Star Trek – if Star Wars was space opera, Star Trek was space adventure. Always light-hearted and fun with a cast of familiar characters solving space-problems with technological mcguffins. Need more boost in your phase pulsar? Just add neuro-lathed kryithium – duh.

Star Trek Beyond was very much a genuine Star Trek experience – and the best of the three new movies. I quite enjoyed the first Star Trek movie but found the second to be average (although I do think I also over-analysed it). Beyond was different. The plot was largely throw-away but I felt that the new cast of characters (established in 2009’s Star Trek) really hit their stride. In the two movies prior they came across like they were trying too hard to do justice to the original line-up, but in Beyond, they felt like they’d finally became those characters. My favourite I think was Bones, played by the awesome Karl Urban (please go make Dredd 2 now thx), whose banter with Zachary Quinto’s Spock was highly enjoyable. And kudos also to Chris Pine, whose Kirk constantly reminded me of oldschool William Shatner.

As mentioned, the plot was mostly forgettable but the look and feel of the movie was very much a Star Trek adventure flick. I particularly like the way they continue to use original sound effects (such as the distinctive blip of the sensors), and the classic Star Trek sliding doors. The Enterprise appears modern yet old-school – a definite achievement.

If there’s one thing that ties the three movies together it’s the Enterprise getting its ass kicked. Having enjoyed many of the original movies and watching the Next Generation late at night during my school years when doing homework –  I don’t ever recall the Enterprise copping such a pounding as in these recent movies. But hey – in the far flung future, building starships ain’t so difficult, right?

The movie was highly enjoyable and if you enjoy a good sci-fi romp, I recommend Star Trek Beyond.

Independence Day: Resurgence – bringing the lame.

independence0001Independence Day: Resurgence was crap. I know, I can feel your shock at that statement from here! Based on the incredible depth and believability of the first one, how could the second be such a failure? Alright, enough with the sarcasm, but the movie was lame. Even for a switch your brain off, popcorn-munching blockbuster, I went in with no expectations therefore I can’t complain about none of them having been met. But even still, I went in there cheerfully optimistic and it wasn’t until leaving the cinema when my friend commented, “That was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen,” that I couldn’t help but agree.

It wasn’t *terrible*. It wasn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen and in fact was quite watchable. But it did suck, and once again it made me wonder how scripts of this quality even make it to the big screen.

The first Independence Day was actually quite a big thing. Released back in the dark ages (1996) where internet connectivity was nothing like it was today (hell, I don’t think we even really used it back then) – going to the cinema involved queuing for a ticket, then queuing to get into the cinema. None of this easy peasy buying tickets online first and having your phone scanned upon entry, you’d often line up outside the building and slowly snake your way in.

And with the first movie, there was excitement. Big blockbuster special FX movies were not as common as they are today. They were fewer and further between releases as those special FX took time and considerable costs to make, and when trailers for the first one started showing up, we had these massive alien ships hovering over Earth’s cities – and the iconic shot of the White House being blasted. The first movie was actually quite suspenseful before it became ridiculous. The alien ships hovered ominously – were they going to fire? Would they make contact?

Set two decades after the original, Resurgence had none of that. In fact, by the time the final solutions were being decided in the last ditched attempt to destroy the aliens, it felt like the movie was still only starting. The pacing was all over the shop and just like the original movie, it simply devolved into the ridiculous with practically every character from the original making an appearance, with half of them for WTF reasons. Even Will Smith made an appearance in framed picture form, evoking no emotion whatsoever.

To be honest I expected all of the above, as I said I had no expectations, but I was surprised by two things. Firstly, the FX were actually quite lame. The air battles between the fleet of modern Earth defence aircraft and the alien fighters was bargain basement at best. It was also amusing how little effort went into making the alien…alien. Here’s this giant ship, populated by these semi-squid like beings, and yet they still park their aircraft within their mothership like we do – complete with landing lights. They also open and close their main ships doors like a conventional hangar, whilst the squid-things inside are operating the ship from what is simply an airport control tower but with alien texturing. No originality here!

And finally the thing that really amused me was the inclusion of Hong Kong actress Angela Baby – also known as Angel Baby. I was reading an article about her recently, how her natural beauty was claimed to be of the unnatural variety, and she went through a whole myriad of tests to prove she was in fact natural! Anyhow – there was no reason whatsoever for her to be in this movie, let alone part of the ‘main group’ of pilots. From very early into the movie she appeared alongside one of the heroes, this lovely young girl with long, luxurious hair and eyes you could drown in and….WTF.

She had no reason whatsoever to be in this movie. We didn’t go into her backstory other than her being the daughter of the Moon base commander. She was only there for that long luxurious hair which she revealed from her flight helmet the moment she first saw her out of her fighter. Her English was bad, she offered basically nothing to the movie other than a vague love interest for one of the lesser characters and that was it. Why am I making mention of this? Because she was included for one reason – to make this movie sell tickets in China. And the sad thing is, it will. It will probably rake it in, like the recent and almost equally lame Warcraft. This is the first time I can recall seeing something so blatantly including a Chinese element for no other reason than to sell tickets in China, and god that is lame.

Another nod to China was the communication system between the moon and earth – powered by none other than QQ (which many people will be unfamiliar with – think Chinese MSN type software).

So anyway, the final verdict on Independence Day: Resurgence? Avoid, but thank GOD for President Pullman.

The really quite average guys.


Remember Lethal Weapon? Or moreso – Lethal Weapon 2? What an awesome movie that was back in the day. Riggs and Murtaugh was your perfectly mis-matched team, back when Jean-Claude Van Damme was hip and Mel Gibson was pre-lunatic.I was therefore really quite excited to see The Nice Guys. From the trailers (the ever-reliable trailers!), Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling; both of whom I really like (my wife particularly liking the latter), seemed to tap into this long-forgotten mis-matched male chemistry – but alas, twas not to be.

Old Rusty plays Mr Healy, a pay me to punch your problems type whose…well I don’t know. I was going to say a bit down on his luck but that really wasn’t the case. And Ryan plays a character whose name I only learned just this moment from looking it up on IMDB – Holland March – and if that tells you anything it’s that something quite substantial is lacking from this movie. Despite not knowing the guys name, I can tell you he’s your typical hard-drinking, ever-smoking private investigator, but to round off his character has a 12ish year old daughter tacked on named Holly. Holly not only drives her old man around (as i assume he’s always too far over the limit to take the wheel himself), but also involves herself in many of her old man’s cases.

And the case? Well that wasn’t immediately clear until much further into the movie. Both men are out to find someone named Amelia, a particularly annoying character who once found we thankfully spent very little time with her. It all began with the death of a porno star, whose car careened down a hill, through a random little boys house (who had just snuck under his parents bed to steal his father’s stick book – that coincidentally showed us the breasts of this soon to be dead porn star-  oh the masterful foreshadowing!) – and well that was that.

The rest was basically a lame plot littered with some quite enjoyable character moments but that’s about it. There were some funny moments, I did quite like both characters despite Ryan Gosling’s character alternating between masked intelligence and outright retardation, but the movie as a whole? A resounding meh. It became obvious to me as I counted down the painful minutes waiting for this to end, that the guys rolling behind cover shooting at each other thing is no longer for me, and when I think on that, I suspect if I re-watched Lethal Weapon 2 tomorrow, I’d have similar feelings.



Everest – Mountain of Corpses


Recently while in New Zealand, surrounded by mountains of the most epic proportions, I thought it somewhat apt to watch the movie Everest (as I was lounging in my hotel robe supping hot chocolate). Unfortunately only a mere handful of the mountains I saw were snow-capped, being too early in the year for such white beauty, so having gone a bit snow crazy (and bothering the crap out of my wife by mentioning it every few minutes), it was on with the movie!

These movies all tend to start and finish the same way – a band of adventurous climbers setting out during an acceptable weather window, only for it to go to hell. Generally it’s a combination of unexpected storm, climber tardiness and avalanches that cause these problems, and sure enough in Everest, the same held true.

I enjoyed the movie, and despite wondering why the annoying Kiera Knightly was cast as the main characters wife (sporting the most horrible kiwi accent attempt I’ve ever heard – and in such a small role that any actual New Zealander actress could have played it)– I enjoyed the fact it wasn’t a Hollywood’ised retelling of the 1996 climbing disaster. When the main character (Rob Hall played by Jason Clarke) was trapped and facing death, the manly Sam Worthington, climber-guide extraordinaire didn’t in fact rush up the mountain single-handedly to save him, instead played a very normal character offering support to those back at base camp. And oops sorry about the spoiler – but we both knew someone of note had to die, right?

More interestingly, watching the movie raised a few issues for me that I had not considered about Mount Everest. Firstly – it’s littered with corpses. There’s said to be over 200+ bodies up there in various states, from frozen, parka-clad bodies respectfully covered by their respective national flags, to night of the living dead style bodies with skeletal arms protruding from the snow. How would that be, climbing up a super-dangerous mountain known to have taken the lives of some 250 people – only to see physical evidence of it!

In fact there’s even one famous set of remains named Green Boots – the remains of an Indian climber who froze to death on the NorthEastern path to the summit. Climbers had to literally step over old Green Boots to get there. If you’re feeling morbid, fire up and search for Everest Corpses – then immediately regret doing so J

The reason the bodies remain on the mountain is not simply some romantic notion that these people died doing what they loved, it’s because it’s simply too dangerous to remove them. Almost all of these bodies are in what’s known as the ‘death zone’ (I know – sign me up to be a mountain climber right this moment!!) – 8000 feet above sea level where there is not enough oxygen for humans to breathe. That’s approximately one third of the amount of oxygen you get at sea level – or in short, you’re not pulling in as much oxygen to your body as you’re breathing out.

To make matters worse, when human brains are deprived of oxygen they effectively shut down. In addition to winds over 320 km/hour, temperatures so low that any exposed body part can be subjected to frostbite and of course avalanches, swelling in the head can lead to headaches, hallucinations, general disorientation and a whole range of other niceties, none of which you want to occur at over 8000 feet on earth’s highest mountain!

But despite all of this, people just keep on going up there. Why? To quote the movie, “Because it’s there!” The thrill of achieving the impossible has always been a key motivator through human history and Everest is right up there, along with those psychos who free dive to such ridiculous depths that large numbers of them drown in doing so. But according to some of the older school Everest climbers – who did so before it became ‘cool’ and overrun by commercial climbing companies, it’s just not the same anymore. The romantic notion of climbing the forbidding, mysterious majesty of Mount Everest has gone with over 7000 summits achieved by some 4000 plus individuals. And what is the end result? A mountain that has become buried in various forms of human filth, rubbish and of course, dead bodies.

Take off your pants!

I recently read a post over on Reddit (aka the most addictive goddamned website on the internet bar none) about a guy who was having issues writing, read a book and bam! Suddenly it all clicked and he started cranking out books like there’s no tomorrow. The guy sounded a lot like me – constantly victim of distraction, starting but never finishing, full of ideas but unable to find the inner whateverittakes to get them out of the head and onto the page – and so I thought, hey, the book he spoke about was only 4 bucks on Amazon, I’ll give it a crack!

The book in question is Take off Your Pants! : Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing: Revised Edition. It wasn’t a long or difficult read but was enjoyable enough. Written by Libbie Hawker (who appears to write literary historical fiction) – she lays out a basic outline which she says has drastically improved her ability to write – removing the hurdles of unknown that keep cropping up, while still giving allowing for considerable creative discovery in the writing process.

There was one thing about the way she presented this outline that I found really interesting. Initially Libbie has you consider a number of key factors.

  1. The Main Character/Protagonist
  2. Their External Goal
  3. The Antagonist
  4. The End.
  5. The Protagonist’s Flaw
  6. The Protagonist’s Ally
  7. Theme

Now obviously she goes into considerably more depth than just the above, also adding in there a whole series of key story points which I will not go into here. In addition, she uses examples of several other books and her own writing to help explain these points, something that authors like KM Weiland also do particularly well and really help drive the understanding home.

What I liked most about the above points however (and they all made perfect sense once explained) – is she describes them as the story core, or story bricks – and creates this image of building a bridge (the outline itself). Each time you create an element of the plot via the outline, it has to be using one of these particular bricks. It constrains the writing in such a way that you’re staying within an overall framework that really is quite logical.

For example, any decision the protagonist makes is determined by the theme, or his/her’s flaw, or their external goal. If you consider this right the way through, you’re basically identifying the story for no other reason than you’re making logical choices that apply to the story as a whole, creating a cohesive piece that sticks to the fundamental elements of good story.

So while I haven’t yet sat down to solidly work out my outline, I do have a very good idea of a lot of these concepts – it’s just now that the hard work begins, little old wuss bag Marcus hides in the corner.

One other thing I found interesting was her descriptions of using the above method for multiple protagonist/antagonist stories, where you need to go through the entire process for each main character and logically link them together later in the story. This was interesting to read and I am glad she covered it as I rarely see that particular topic come up in every day writing craft type articles.

If you’re like me and struggling to get your ass into gear and write, and feel that developing a basic (yet also quite comprehensive) outline might help you, I highly recommend checking out Libbie’s book.