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Content by Ryk E. Spoor
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Reviews Written by
Ryk E. Spoor "Author, Gamer, Geek God" (Troy, NY USA)

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Escaflowne Box Set [Region 1] [Import]
Escaflowne Box Set [Region 1] [Import]
Offered by 5A/30 Entertainment
Price: CDN$ 342.94
3 used & new from CDN$ 264.40

5.0 out of 5 stars Simply the best anime series ever made., April 7 2004
Many people will throw around compliments like "The Best" rather easily, and change their minds like the wind. I dislike using that level of description, because usually there's several things competing for that position.
Not, however, in the case of anime series. No series I've ever watched -- and I've watched a lot of them, from Mobile Suit Gundam to Harlock to Outlaw Star, Slayers, Hellsing, Metal Fighter Miku and Space Adventurer Cobra -- comes close to matching Escaflowne.
Visually, Escaflowne is stunning. Most series animation is clearly inferior to that found in anime movies, but in the case of Escaflowne it's hard to recognize that this is, in fact, a series. The backgrounds, the main characters, the action, all are done with a warm, lush attention to effect that never fails.
The music is one of the finest anime soundtracks ever made. Composed by Yoko Kanno (Macross Plus, Cowboy Bebop), it captures a spirit of mysticism and high adventure which is perfect for this series. I often leave this disc running in the background because it's so much fun to listen to. I rip TRACKS from this CD to put on my favorite collection CDs (I'm particularly fond of "Angel").
The story... how can I do it justice? It contains something for everyone -- love and romance, combat, magic, mecha, nods to history, duels, and all assembled in a unified whole. The best way to put it is this: for nearly seven years I ran a monthly anime night at our local Borders, and Escaflowne was the ONLY -- let me repeat that: ONLY -- anime to consistently pull in people of all walks of life. I've seen it enthrall Dragonball Z fanboys, Sailor Moon addicts, 65-year-old grandmothers, 7 year old little brothers, casual Yuppie passers-by, and cynical goth poseurs. It has magic and war, politics and romance, intrigue and action, swords and giant mecha suits, and somehow all of it works to form a dazzling coherent whole that is unmatched in all the history of animated television. When its opening theme song started, everyone would fall silent, or else sing quietly along -- even if they didn't know a word of Japanese. And for those who accuse it of unoriginality... certainly it uses tropes from other genres -- what doesn't? -- but I defy you to find any other show (anime or otherwise) which manages to combine Japanese dating customs, track and field running, mecha construction, honor duels, Sir Isaac Newton, ancient Atlantis, and parallel world cosmology with a classic romantic triangle, revenge, military strategy, and espionage.
Watch "The Vision of Escaflowne". You will never regret it.

Xenosaga - PlayStation 2
Xenosaga - PlayStation 2
13 used & new from CDN$ 19.95

5.0 out of 5 stars A CRPG that makes long cutscenes worthwhile., March 10 2004
Xenosaga is a prequel and reinventing of the world in which Xenogears took place. Whether the precise same history will unfold remains to be seen; I'm rather hoping that Xenogears will be re-issued and somewhat rewritten for PS2 (or will that be PS3 by the time they reach it?) when the story arc advances that far.
The initial descriptions of Xenosaga made me wary of getting it; Xenogears' greatest failing was overuse of cutscenes to the point of leaving you watching and doing nothing for long stretches.
Xenosaga certainly DOES do that. However, unlike Xenogears the cutscenes are far better animated and the characters and events are far more engaging. The story, having been planned to cover a (I believe) five-game arc, is complex, with many characters for us to meet who have deep backstories and who evolve in front of us -- to a great extent through carefully planned cutscenes combined with nicely immersive play.
The combat system works well, permitting the user some tactical decisionmaking in terms of placement and use of select resources for the overall party as well as just direct choices of combat tools. Characters can be customized in a number of ways -- skills, "ether" (magical-type skills with amusing technobabble explanations), and "techs" (special super combat moves familiar to many CRPG players).
The characters are, if possible, stronger positive points for the game than the graphics, which are excellent. Some characters you think you may dislike become likeable; others you don't exactly LIKE, but gain more insight and sympathy for. And some are just people worth knowing. (there are, of course, some nasties who clearly need killing, too)
I am looking greatly forward to the next installment. They've earned my money.

Doctor Who: The Key to Time (The Ribos Operation, The Pirate Planet, The Stones of Blood, The Androids of Tara, The Power of Kroll, and The Armageddon Factor) [Import]
Doctor Who: The Key to Time (The Ribos Operation, The Pirate Planet, The Stones of Blood, The Androids of Tara, The Power of Kroll, and The Armageddon Factor) [Import]
DVD ~ Tom Baker
Offered by OMydeals
Price: CDN$ 253.30
8 used & new from CDN$ 44.44

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest of the Doctor's adventures, Feb. 29 2004
There are a few Doctor Who story arcs which are inarguable classics. This one is possibly the best of them all. The Doctor, fresh from rescuing Gallifrey from invasion by the Sontarans and having just left his companion Leela there to marry Andred, is suddenly diverted to a meeting with the White Guardian of Time, who has a tremendously urgent mission: Find and assemble the pieces of the immeasurably powerful artifact, the Key to Time. To assist him, the Doctor is given a new companion, the Timelady Romanavoradtralundar (Romana for short), and the two begin a huge quest to locate the hidden pieces of the Key -- which can literally be anything, ranging from a creature to a stone to an entire planet. Once assembled, the Key will be used to make minor adjustments to Creation in order to keep things working smoothly... unless it is the Black, rather than the White, Guardian who gets hold of the Key first!

Babylon 5: Season 1 (6 Discs) [Import]
Babylon 5: Season 1 (6 Discs) [Import]
DVD ~ Michael O'Hare
Price: CDN$ 32.99
19 used & new from CDN$ 6.53

5.0 out of 5 stars The best SF TV series America has produced., Feb. 20 2004
I should qualify that statement slightly; Babylon5 is not the most IMPORTANT, and there is a certain quality to originality and "boldly going where no man has gone before" which the original (though not later) Star Trek can lay claim to. On those terms, and for its time, Star Trek (original) is a better show.
In terms of entertainment, consistency, intricacy, acting, and just about everything else, Babylon 5 stood, and still stands, head and shoulders above everything else the U.S. networks have aired. Just the fact that it maintained a reasonable level of rational consistency was enough to do that -- i.e., that a fact or comment made in Episode 3 would be remembered, and its significance used, 30 episodes later, and that things weren't allowed to happen that contradicted prior episodes (with some minor exceptions generally due to interference from outside).
The first season featured Michael O'Hare as Commander Jeffrey Sinclair; Sinclair was later replaced by Captain John Sheridan. O'Hare has often been accused of wooden acting in this one, a very unfair and incorrect characterization in my opinion. Sinclair was a man doing his job, a military man with a reserve and a quiet approach when possible. O'Hare played him brilliantly, making him a much deeper character than Sheridan (played by Bruce Boxleitner) in many ways. This is not to denigrate the character of Sheridan; he was a Man on a White Horse and was a better choice for the Shadow War sequence, but many of the earlier episodes would not have been served so well by a Hero; they needed someone like Sinclair.
CHARACTERS are actually the strong point of Babylon 5. An early quote from one of them is very apropos: "No one on Babylon 5 is exactly what they seem." -- Ambassador G'Kar. Everyone, even the most straighforward, has hidden depths or secrets which emerge, sometimes at the most unexpected times. While I like all of them, it is generally agreed that the two most impressive characters are the Centauri ambassador, Mollari (Peter Jurasik) and the Narn ambassador, G'Kar (Andreas Katslukas). Both go through tremendous personal change and growth in the series, with their personal attitude towards each other ranging from utter loathing through adversarial respect to pity and even to friendship, depending on the point in the series.
Bab5's overall plotline isn't terribly original (it's often described as "Lord of the Lens", as it draws strongly on plot elements from Lord of the Rings and Doc Smith's Lensman series), but it's well done. One other thing Babylon 5 is noted for is its honest attempt to at least pay attention to the laws of space physics when possible, leading to some very interesting space combat sequences.
If you haven't seen this one, try it. BE WARNED: This is a serial, a coherent story. DO NOT WATCH SCATTERED EPISODES. Babylon 5 loses its impact when viewed piecemeal; episodes that can leave one gasping when watched in sequence can produce a "so what?" reaction in those who don't have the background.

Unbreakable (Bilingual)
Unbreakable (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Bruce Willis
Price: CDN$ 8.88
66 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting. Riveting. Chilling., Feb. 19 2004
This review is from: Unbreakable (Bilingual) (DVD)
Capsule summary: Bruce Willis plays an ordinary man who does security work. After a devastating train accident somehow leaves him miraculously untouched, he is contacted by a mysterious man who tells him he may not be ordinary at all, but so extraordinary that he can no longer lead an ordinary life. The truth is even stranger, and more frightening, than it seems at first.
Review (with spoilers): It is a rare thing to come across anything NEW in either the thriller OR superhero genres. This combination of both manages to do so for both. We start with a young boy, Elijah Price who is born with a terrible medical curse: his bones are so brittle that they can break under any significant strain. To motivate him to at least try to make as much use of his body as he can, his mother buys him comic books which he likes and places them on the playground across the street; Elijah accepts the challenge, and the comic-book world within...
... Years later, a devastating train accident occurs, leaving security worker David Dunn (Bruce Willis) untouched though nearly everyone else is killed. Elijah, who now runs a collectibles store focused around comic memorabilia, contacts David. It seems that Elijah, because of his incredible fragility (for which the neighborhood children have nicknamed him "Mr. Glass"), formed a theory that the bell-curve distribution of human traits demanded that there be someone on the "opposite end" from him: someone virtually unbreakable, superhuman. Elijah (played as an adult by Samuel L. Jackson) is clearly somewhat nuts, yet there is a wierd and compelling power about him, and about the faith he has that there is a higher power motivating these events.
David does not accept this theory at once, but eventually other odd coincidences force him to at least test this nutcase's ideas... and the test results are everything that Elijah expects, stunning even David and his son.
In the end, David accepts that there is, in fact, some part of him driven to seek out and oppose true evildoers -- those who kill with pleasure and so on -- and in a dramatic sequence fights his first battle as a vigilante. Ironically, even though he does NOT go looking for some funny costume and tights, the outfit he wears works *AS* a superhero costume, even supplying him with an appropriate superheroic name: "Security".
But the true shocker comes at the end, when we discover that, in order to FIND his superhero, Elijah has been CAUSING multiple disasters, winnowing through countless scenes of destruction to find the one unbreakable man or woman. The man we thought was playing "Professor X" to David's X-man life is, in fact, more akin to the Joker looking for his Batman. "Mr. Glass" could not be a superhero, so obviously he would have to be the villain -- and FIND a hero to oppose him.
Will David ever play Hero again? Despite this shock, we don't know. I would guess... yes. The ironic fact is that Mr. Glass *WAS* telling the truth. There IS a special power in David, one specifically there for finding those of true evil intent, and he truly does have a strong drive to act on it. But what a dark and sinister origin to have....

Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks
Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks
by John Peel
Edition: Paperback
13 used & new from CDN$ 52.24

5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent novelization of a top-notch Doctor adventure, Jan. 15 2004
There is no doubt that the Daleks are the most popular and in some ways frightening enemy that the Doctor has ever encountered in his very long career. This story surpasses the original episodes in some ways, as it is not hamstrung by the budget limitations and technology of a BBC production of the 1960s but can take advantage of our "theatre of the mind", so to speak, and the author has taken the time to delve fairly deeply into the characters as well.
Here we actually get to see what made the Daleks truly dangerous, both in technology and in their intelligence. The Emperor Dalek devises a truly terrifying plan to simultaneously rid itself of both the Doctor and the interference of humanity, while at the same time making use of the Doctor himself to advance the plan. Multiple layers of deception even trick the Doctor into very nearly outsmarting himself.
This is one of the earlier adventures featuring Jamie, the longest-running and most popular male companion ever. The young Scotsman is well portrayed in this novel, unlike others that often make him out to be stupid, overly clueless, or sometimes even incompetent. Jamie is not stupid, and is within his limitations an exceedingly capable young man. He demonstrates this -- and in fact, his demonstration is critical to the plots on both sides.
The writing is well paced, the characters clearly drawn, and the adventure proceeds with smooth and increasingly powerful pacing. This is one Doctor Who novel which belongs on any fan's shelf, and which can in fact stand on its own in any science-fiction collection. HIGHLY recommended. "EXTERMINATE!"

Have Space Suit-Will Travel
Have Space Suit-Will Travel
by Robert A. Heinlein
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
7 used & new from CDN$ 111.78

5.0 out of 5 stars Dated SF that still works well., Jan. 9 2004
Capsule Summary: Kip wants to go to the moon, but tickets are far too expensive. He enters a contest, and ALMOST wins the trip... but, instead, gets a spacesuit. His decision to keep the spacesuit and refurbish it is the catalyst that sends him on a literally Galaxy-spanning series of adventures, starting with an alien invasion and ending with the fate of the entire Earth resting in the balance!
Review: This, like Citizen of the Galaxy, is one of RAH's best "juvenile" novels. Unlike the latter, however, Have Spacesuit... retains the flavor of the era in which it was written; overall, Heinlein did not extrapolate much on the civilization of Kip's time and it is -- especially where Kip lives -- still a mirror of the 1950s, right down to the way in which television programs were promoted. This isn't really a failing of the book, as it's a useful sort of mirror to look at the past in, and other than that it isn't dated much. The prose reads smoothly, the characters are fun, and like so many other RAH juvenile heroes Kip has to THINK his way out of his problems.
This book also emphasizes one of Heinlein's favorite themes, which was that it was important for a man to get a broad AND deep education. Kip starts the book out drifting along through school -- bright as hell, but the schools he goes to aren't interested in pushing him. When he becomes obsessed with space, however, his father points out just how much he's going to have to know in order to get into any college that might possibly get him a spacegoing job, and Kip starts learning on his own. As it turns out, the wide-ranging subjects he learns -- ranging from pharmacy to Latin to orbital mechanics -- have essential application in his adventures across the Galaxy.

Saint Seiya: Volume 2 (ep.6-10)
Saint Seiya: Volume 2 (ep.6-10)
Offered by 5A/30 Entertainment
Price: CDN$ 69.70
7 used & new from CDN$ 39.58

5.0 out of 5 stars Well, 4.5 stars actually, but with the prior review..., Dec 31 2003
As I mentioned in my review of the first volume, Saint Seiya was the anime that first got me started in anime.
The second volume of the series finishes off the "Galaxian Wars" subplot, revealing it to have essentially been a smoke-and-mirrors method for drawing out the REAL baddies. The real adventures of the Saints have now begun. We get our first good look at both Andromeda Shun -- the almost-TOO-cute, green-haired Saint who is potentially the most powerful of them all -- and his (currently evil) brother Phoenix Ikki. Ikki is the Saints' first major adversary, allowing us to have a lot of character conflict and angst as well as stylized superhuman conflict, some of which is pretty cool.
It should be noted that the names of the characters are significant; Seiya's name translates to "star arrow", which is a term for "meteor" (and his special attack is the Ryo Sei Ken, the Meteor Fist). Cygnus Hyoga's name means "Glacier"; Shiryu means "Lavender Dragon" IIRC, Ikki's translates roughly to "point of briliance", and Shun is a "twinkling, as of stars".
The dub for the ADV series is LIGHTYEARS superior to the terrible hackjob shown on Cartoon Network, and of course the subtitles are good. Plus the original music remains intact.
It's fun, it's high quality, what more do you want?

Dragonball Z Budokai - PlayStation 2
Dragonball Z Budokai - PlayStation 2
73 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Some nice stuff, but flawed., Nov. 25 2003
I'm one of the Great Old Ones in American DBZ fandom, certainly online. I watched the entire series in the original Japanese because there was no other way to do it back in the early days. I played all the early DBZ videogames. It was exciting news to this 41-year-old geek that DBZ Budoukai would be released here.
Overall, it's a decent fighting game with some neat twists, but it's not "all it could be". Like some of its more recent ancestors, it's missing some of the features that the older games offered, and doesn't really hand us much else to replace it.
Good points: Nice movement of the characters, pretty backgrounds, some really quite cool animations for major combat sequences, the chance to do some apparent property damage (though, someday, they've got to actually make the scenery REALLY take damage, so you can make craters with the blasts and then end up fighting IN them, etc.). Decent story-arc intros and animations. A couple of very nice easter eggs (how you get Yamucha (FINALLY!!!) as a playable character features a visual so stunningly hysterical that I lost the battle the first time because I was laughing too hard to defend myself).
Negatives: Obligatory dubbed voices. C'mon, even the Battle Arena Toshinden people caught on and offered players a choice between hearing bad English dubbed versions of the fighting characters and the original Japanese ones. This should be a no-brainer with so much space to play with on a DVD: give us a choice of the original or dubbed versions.
Similarly, terrible BGM. The original background music for DBZ was one of the most effective soundtracks on TV. Why they have insisted on dumping it even in the videogames for tired, stupid-sounding electric guitar riffs I have no idea.
Once again, the power-duels have been forgotten. In the old SNES DBZ games, you could have the classic sequences where Vegita threw a big attack, Goku threw his own, and the two tried to battle power-to-power to see who won. The more recent entries have failed to do that.

ONE PLAYER TOURNAMENT ONLY? C'mon, this is stupid. Any offer of two-player options is a good idea, it permits a game to be a social event rather than a one-person wankfest. The old SNES game and the Playstation Ultimate Battle 22/27 offered many hours of combat entertainment for whole groups as we used to choose characters and play through Budoukais together. This is a major mistake.
I don't like their combo/special move methodology. I much preferred the old method, similar to that found in Toshinden and other fighters, where you combined the simple punch/kick/energy button with a symbolic movement on the control pad. The "chain of punch and kick, etc" approach doesn't quite do it for me.
So, three stars as a flat-out game, one extra because it's DBZ and I like it. Perhaps Budoukai 2 will be better.

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet
The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet
by Eleanor Cameron
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 7.92
62 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most enjoyable kid's books out there., Nov. 25 2003
The first of Cameron's Mushroom Planet books, The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet still casts a spell many years after its first publication. David and Chuck, two best friends, build a rocketship (well, a full-sized model of one) after reading a mysterious newspaper advertisement asking for just such a spaceship and promising "adventure" to the boys who bring the best spaceship to an address that they're not even sure exists. Mystery piles atop mystery and revelation on revelation, until the two boys find themselves on a rescue mission to a tiny, invisible planet orbiting only a short distance (astronomically speaking) from the Earth itself!
The writing is smooth, straightforward, and engaging, and Cameron's characters are sketched out with clear and emphatic detail. There is a bizarre, almost dreamlike quality to the book itself, due at least in part to the juxtaposition of a strong and clear respect for and use of scientific approaches and terminology with truly mystical phenomena that cannot be explained by any science known to man. The scientific wizard Mr. Bass -- there's no better way to describe him -- creates inventions that sound scientific, may even BE scientific in a way, and yet his work is surrounded by all the enigmatic atmosphere of the most mysterious sorceror. At the same time, the rescue and its conclusion rest on firm, rational grounds, so that we keep being anchored back to reality.
A fascinating book and well worth the read even if -- or perhaps especially if -- you are an adult who is trying to remember why some kids' books still stick with you.

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