A Personal Piece of Magic: Perna Studios APs

Last Fall I wrote about the wonderful card sets available from Perna Studios,  and now I’d like to focus on/share an associated part of the sets: Artist’s Proofs (APs). Sketch cards are a often used form of “chase card” for art related collectible card sets, where the various artists involved in a set get blank cards with the card set’s printed back and create one of a kind art directly on the cards, which are then inserted randomly in card packs. The skills shown in painting and drawing on such a small workspace and the amount of detail achieved is incredible.

AP sketch cards are a similar creation. Artists sometimes get a few of these blank cards designated as Artist Proofs to sell themselves and create specifically for the purchaser (with subject matter appropriate to the related set and subject to publisher approval). As directly commissioned art the prices are generally higher than buying packs/sets in trade off for getting to choose the artist and having input into the subject/design.

The wonderful painted pieces Ingrid Hardy does on these relatively tiny trading cards always amazes me, and the first AP I got was from her for the Classic Fairy Tales set and features Red Riding Hood. It’s absolutely gorgeous and I can’t imagine a better design. I tend to be rather unspecific when commissioning these cards, usually just asking for a particular subject and letting the artist go from there. I’ve always been extremely pleased with the results.

It can be fun to get APs from different artists reflecting the same general subject. I collect grim reaper art when it comes to the Hallowe’en sets, so had both Ingrid Hardy and Kokkinakis Achilleas do APs featuring him for Hallowe’en 2. Both are fantastic representations capturing a sense of foreboding, with Ingrid’s reaper having an atmospheric, looming edge to it and Kokkinakis’ an active feel showcasing the dynamic style and coloring his work is know for.

I’d already gotten some excellent grim reaper sketch cards from Hallowe’en 2 by Alexis Hill and Peejay Catacutan, so went in different directions with their APs. I find Alexis’s style absolutely perfect for the halloween theme and the witch AP I got from her is a wonderful addition to all the gorgeous sketch cards I have of hers from the set.

With Peejay I floated the general idea of either a succubus or a witch, and he sent me a few pencil rough ideas. I loved the above succubus design as well as his imaginative idea to do a Japanese folklore inspired witch so much I commissioned both, and the final cards brought those rough ideas to life gloriously.

Depending on the set, the permitted subjects can be rather wide or extremely specific. For example, Classic Fairy Tales and Hallowe’en 2 allowed anything related to the titular theme (within normal Perna guidelines), while Spellcasters 2 had a subtheme of specific magical creatures, so all cards (base, sketch, inserts, and APs) from that set had to feature mermaids, unicorns, elves, fairies, or dragons. In either case, there is plenty of room for individual style and visions and both the variety and quality of work Pernas’ chosen artists produce is incredible.

I wrote about being a longtime fan of Juri Chinchilla in Beautiful Dreams, and I was lucky enough to get one of her APs from Spellcasters II. She did a great piece of art for a metal insert for the set that she referred to as “evil mermaid.” Inspired by that work, I requested an “evil fairy” for my AP, and received the gorgeous card above titled Red Moon. Juri’s soft yet vibrant colors are breathtaking, and I adore the fact that even leaning against a skull and clearly planning something sinister, her fairy still has a touch of cuteness to it.

The entire concept of evil fairies amuses me greatly, and so has become my theme for other APs for Spellcasters II, including the dark, regal looking fairy Peejay drew above that has a wonderful layered effect with the skull providing a visual second set of wings. I have two more coming, from the previously mentioned Ingrid Hardy and Alexis Hill. Can’t wait. 🙂

The coloring and detail on Norvien Basio’s cards in general is incredible, and my jaw literally dropped when I saw the vibrant mermaid AP he did for me.

Sometimes artists will choose their own subject for an AP and sell the completed pieces rather than commission the card. Such was the case with the butterfly fairy I got from Sean Pence. This couldn’t have been a more perfect card for me if I had requested the subject, showing a delicate, serene subject with Sean’s trademark ability to draw exquisite, realistic feeling faces even within a fantasy setting.

 

Of course there are MANY more phenomenal artists featured in Perna Studios’ sets and anyone with an interest in high quality fantastical art collectibles should definitely check out their offerings and/or check in with the artists about commissioning an AP.

 

 

Android: Mainframe Board Game First Impressions

Mainframe is a nice little abstract game themed in the Android Universe.

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Players take the role of one of six possible runners (hackers) trying to secure the most of an infiltrated mainframe for themselves. Players place nodes (tokens) on an 8×6 board and try to enclose their nodes with barriers by executing programs (playing cards) both from a generic supply available to all players and from a hand of a few unique cards representing their particular runner’s abilities. Programs generally add, move, or swap nodes and partitions to/on the board. Endgame scoring depends on how large your enclosures are and how many of your tokens are inside each.

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The theme is well done, adding some flavor to what’s strictly speaking a pure abstract in gameplay. The characters have a nice bit of backstory that ties to their cards, such as one being an intrusion expert and thus having “programs” that generally revolve around manipulating “entry points” (nodes). The facts that you play with three of your character’s five special cards in any given game and that there are more different characters (six) than max players (four) seem like they’ll add a good amount to replayability.  There seems to be a decent amount of depth for how simple and easy to learn the rules are.

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The board seemed a little big for two players, but it was workable and with numerous cards that can reposition nodes the board layout changes often so the size isn’t that big a deal. I feel like things will be much tighter and harder to adapt to with more players though, and am extremely intrigued to play that way.

 

Overall

Fast to learn, fast to play, more thematic than most abstracts, and fun. Great addition to the gaming closet.

Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward Review

The Nonary Game returns…

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I loved 999, but hadn’t played this sequel yet due to glitching issues with the 3DS version. With the third game out and me now having a Vita, I decided to go back to this to finish the trilogy in order.

The general setup is largely the same, with nine people kidnapped and forced to play a life and death game at the whim of their captor, who is hinted to be posing as one of the nine. Once again the game is a combination of almost visual novel type story sections and adventure game style puzzle sections. There’s a very different feel to this versus 999, but the atmosphere is still appropriately dark and foreboding and things come together pretty well. The puzzles are good, the characters nicely varied and reasonably engaging, and the narrative compelling. When the game first came out I wasn’t a fan of the change in visual style from the first game, but I found now I barely even noticed. The game looked good and the graphics were appropriate.

The plot is intriguing, and makes good use of the branching aspect. I found the philosophical incorporations of both the Prisoner’s Dilemma and Schrodinger’s Cat quite interesting, but I’ll admit I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff in general. There’s a TON going on as things progress. Magnitudes more so than in 999. It leads to an end with almost too many twists, but I was fine with it overall (although I have mixed feelings about what this all means as a follow up to 999). The parallel branching nature does undermine some of the drama, as the Ally/Betray choices don’t have the same kind of impact when you eventually have to go back and choose the other.

There were a couple instances of “carrying the idiot ball,” but otherwise the characters’ reactions and motivations fit well among branches. A couple of things (mostly related to game’s workings) were left implied when they should have been made explicit, which is kind of surprising given all the exposition in parts. There were also a few instances of wasted potential, such as a clever development that should have had big implications but is instead used only when it’s introduced and never mentioned again, and a character who oddly fades into the background at points where they could/should have been important.

While not being quite as tight as 999 nor reaching the same heights, Virtue’s Last Reward is an excellent sequel that is more ambitious than its predecessor and largely succeeds on the grander scale. I don’t know that I entirely like where this is all going story-wise, but I am definitely fully invested in seeing how it turns out. Bring on Zero Time Dilemma.

 

Japan Cuts 2016: Flying Colors, Kako: My Sullen Past, and Emi-Abi Reviews

Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2016 ran from July 14th through July 24th. These were the last three movies I saw as part of this year’s screenings. My thoughts on last year’s festival can be read starting here.

Check out my thoughts on other films from this year in posts about Bitter Honey and Lowlife Love,  Nagasaki: Memories of My Son and Bakuman, and The Shell Collector and Being Good.

 

Flying Colors

“Once you achieve the impossible, you can do anything.”

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Sayaka is a social butterfly content to scrape by in dead last place among the students at a high school that guarantees admittance into its partner college to all who attend. But when an unusual cram school teacher sets her sights on one of the most prestigious colleges in Japan, years of being called worthless combine with the surprise of having someone believe in her to make Sayaka determined to prove everyone who thinks she has no chance wrong.

Flying Colors is a wonderful story about pursuing dreams and attempting to defy expectations. Structured brilliantly, the movie starts by providing some strong background scenes of Sayaka’s scholastic past to set up how she ended up in her starting status quo, content to know nothing. Her complete lack of shame about being stupid while not resenting those smarter than her is one of the big comedic hooks early on, and cements her as a lovable doofus that the audience is happy to cheer for. Kasumi Arimura plays the part perfectly, and the pairing with Sayaka’s unconventional teacher who knows how to encourage poor students to start to enjoy learning is not only hilarious but also gives the film its core. Their shared enthusiasm about Sayaka getting the slightest things right early on provide outrageously funny scenes. The various ways in which the teacher played by Atsushi Ito brings out the best in his band of misfits and genuinely sees their potential and cares about their success and improvement is phenomenal.

Expertly interwoven with the humor and Sayaka’s educational journey is a touching family drama centered around her father’s projection of his own dream of big time baseball success onto Sayaka’s brother and the complete lack of support any of the women in the family get from him. Sayaka’s mother and her complete devotion to her children anchor the film, with Yo Yoshia giving an extraordinary supporting performance as someone who truly wants nothing more than her children’s happiness. The drama is genuinely emotional without ever getting overly sappy or melodramatic, and adds a perhaps unexpected amount of heart beneath all the humor.

As I’m sure is clear at this point I loved just about everything about this film. Easily one of my favorites of the festival.

 

Kako: My Sullen Past

“Isn’t everybody lonely? Alone or even if you’re with family.”

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High schooler Kako spends her summer days bored out of her mind, listlessly going through the motions of helping in her family’s restaurant and staring at a local river looking for a crocodile she knows isn’t there. Then her activist, long thought dead aunt shows back up on the family doorstep.

Japan Cuts has been my first introduction to the incredible talent of Fumi Nikaido, and it was fascinating to see her here playing such a different character from Akako in Bitter Honey. Akako popped off the screen with an infectious playfulness and a larger than life feel. Kako is compelling in a different way, with apparent apathy arising from her boredom completely infusing her body language and making her susceptible to insatiable curiosity about her mysterious aunt. The flatness Nikaido achieves in Kako’s everyday actions and personality makes it all the more intriguing when she takes interest in anything. The contrast in the two characters and the skill with which she plays both highlights her versatility and why she’s such a highly regarded and awarded actress even at such a young age.

The feelings and sounds of summer come across well, and appropriately compliment the film’s odd tone, which examines the slow yet relentless passage of time in the lives of Kako and her family.  Boredom is portrayed as so pervasive its relief is more important to the characters than even the well being of others. The disaffected nature of both Kako and her aunt’s personalities adds humor to some very dark moments in a way that generally works, yet still feels strange when the viewer realizes what they just laughed at.

There’s a lot simmering just underneath the surface of the depicted events, both in theme and in production. Such as the significance of Kako’s interactions with her aunt’s mysterious companion, or the facts that Kako’s baby sister remains unnamed, is constantly commented upon for how little she moves, and is clearly played by a doll if the viewer looks closely at the bundle of blankets.

There are aspects of Kako: My Sullen Past that I really liked and aspects that I didn’t. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it as a whole, but it was well made and acted, and quite interesting. I’m glad I saw it.

 

Emi-Abi

“… if you can make me laugh.”

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During the Q&A following the world premiere of Emi-Abi at Japan Cuts, director Kensaku Watanabe explained his desire when making the film to show genuine comedy yet constantly undercut it with dramatic and somber elements. He really succeeds in this goal, giving his story of a comedian trying to move on after the loss of his partner a tone that constantly switches and balances between light hearted comedy and deeper, sadder themes.

The plot progression was solid, but not at all as I expected. The film is extremely flashback heavy, focusing a lot on deceased partner Unno, what happened the night of his passing, and a surprisingly well developed romantic story involving him and a young fan. Unno steals the movie from his surviving partner Jitsudo, who is well portrayed but while we understand and sympathize with his grief we never really feel it, making nearly every character in the film more sympathetic than the supposed main character trying to find his new path in life.

The entire supporting cast was quite good, but I was especially impressed with what Haru Kuroki did as Jitsudo’s manager, making the most of a small role as someone totally devoted to seeing Jitsudo at his best once again despite the tragedy.

I found parts of Emi-Abi disjointed and the balance of characters a bit off, but it’s a decent film overall made with a specific vision in mind and supported with strong acting.

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Fantastic festival overall as usual from Japan Society Film. Definitely check out some of these great movies as you are able.

Japan Cuts 2016: The Shell Collector and Being Good Reviews

Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2016 started on July 14th and is running through July 24th. My thoughts on last year’s festival can be read starting here.

My thoughts on Bitter Honey and Lowlife Love can be read here, and those on Nagasaki: Memories of My Son and Bakuman here.

 

The Shell Collector

“Being alone is intimate.”

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In The Shell Collector Japan Cuts 2016 recipient of the Cut Above award Lily Franky plays an elderly blind man who has isolated himself from society and spends his time collecting shells along the beach. The opening of the movie has a serene quality as it shows his everyday life and events that bring a trouble woman unexpectedly into it. From there the movie’s tone and direction changes a couple times, dealing with escalating events and consequences arising from the intersection of the old man’s hobby and a mysterious disease affecting the islands around his reclusive home.

The entire movie is incredibly well acted and directed to convey a real feeling of blindness of the main character. Little touches regarding the way he searches for his shells and finds his way around his home really sell the concept, which is so important to the way the plot unfolds. Excellent cinematography featuring fantastic locations and great integration of art, props, etc heighten the atmosphere and impact of the film expertly.

The themes are abstract, and I’m still not sure quite what to make of the film as a whole. I realize it was bound by being an adaptation of a short story and is quite faithful to the source material from what I understand, but I wanted something more/different from story. The early portion of the film was my favorite, and it seemed there was great potential to continue in that same vein throughout.

The Q&A afterward with the director, the producer, and star Lily Franky was interesting and once again the moderator had great questions and asked the question I had in mind. Franky’s sense of humor was off-color and a little inappropriate at times, but overall this was another good Q&A.

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Overall I think I liked The Shell Collector, although some parts quite a bit more than others. I didn’t find it great in total, but parts of it certainly were and it was certainly a good film.

 

Being Good

“I don’t know how to be good.”

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Being good tackles numerous related difficult societal issues regarding forms of abuse and ingrained standards, attitudes, and expectations that facilitate these tragic situations. It’s a poignant, raw look at both these difficult situations as well as some of the obstructions to dealing  with them.

The key to the movie is the careful touch with which this delicate subject matter is presented. The film does not shy away from illustrating the harshness of the problems being addressed in a blunt manner, but it is done with a point and completely without sensationalism and none of the scenes ever feel the least bit exploitive. Abuse is sadly a part of the lives of the characters, and it needs to be shown matter of factly in order for the audience to understand its nature and depth, and for the characters to be able to contemplate what to do about it.

This of course makes parts of the film (extremely) hard to watch, but the important things the story has to say about abuse make these scenes both worth watching and indispensable to the film. The most important thing is that there are glimmers of hope and genuine efforts and desire from certain characters to break these cycles. These are stories that don’t just present an upsetting status quo, they express a wish for things to be better.

Through three parallel stories in the same town, Being Good tackles subjects ranging from a young school teacher trying to learn how to deal with bullying within his classroom as well as trying to help a student he suspects is being abused, to a mother who disciplines her child through violence and hates herself for it, to society’s attitudes towards the metal ill and how it changes with the person’s age, to some of the emotional realities of raising an autistic child. This variety of related issues and the skill with which they were integrated together into a single film are incredibly impressive. Each of the three parallel tales are balanced perfectly, without any characters, stories, or themes feeling shortchanged and with all of them receiving equal and appropriate weight.

That the director was able to bring all of this together is amazing. Being Good is an adaptation of three short stories from a collection of five. Making everything work in the balanced manner I described without losing any of the underlying messages or their impact is a huge accomplishment. The acting is equally superb, both from the adults grappling with moral dilemmas and feelings of bitter realities beyond their control, and from child actors tasked with communicating heart wrenching emotional distress. I found this film just phenomenally made from top to bottom.

The Q&A with director Mipo O following the screening was illuminating, as she covered topics ranging from how this film differed from her other movies, to the process of adapting these stories and approaching the subject matter, to the care with which certain scenes needed to be approached, specifically in making sure the child actors were not suffering emotion distress themselves in the process of having to portray it.

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Being Good is a masterpiece, and may very well be the best film of an extremely strong Japan Cuts Festival this year.

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So these were two more unique and thought provoking films featured during the festival. Will be back with more a couple more reviews as Japan Cuts concludes. 🙂

A Year and Counting…

It’s the one year anniversary for Derailments of Thought. Time flies.

I had been writing book and game reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and BGG for a few years, but had in the back of my mind expanding to a space where I wasn’t as constrained by format or content. I’ve really enjoyed writing here, from my standard reading reviews to more varied posts about art, food, wrestling, etc. I posted 213 posts during the year (most of which were new writing), which boggles my mind.

Some pretty predictable breakdown stats:

~37% reading reviews (22% of total manga, 12% comics and 3% prose)
~26% wrestling related
~14% gaming related (10% boardgames, 4% videogames)
~12% mystery box reviews
~8% movie reviews
~3% other

I actually feel like the wrestling percentage should be higher, but that’s probably because those reviews tend to be much longer than the reading reviews so they compromise a larger portion of my actual writing than they do post count.

It’s been interesting / fun to write this year’s Japan Cuts reviews, as my reviews for last year’s festival were pretty much the first things I wrote for this.

Anyway, here’s to many more random ramblings from me to come. 🙂

Japan Cuts 2016: Nagasaki: Memories of My Son and Bakuman Reviews

Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2016 started on July 14th and is running through July 24th. My thoughts on last year’s festival can be read starting here.

My thoughts on Bitter Honey and Lowlife Love can be read here.

 

Nagasaki: Memories of My Son

“Of course I’m not ok. I’m dead.”

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Nagasaki: Memories of My Son is the story of those left behind after the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. It’s a tightly focused, personal tale centered on the mother and fiance of a medical student killed in the attack and their daily lives three years after his death.

The skill on display in every aspect of the film’s construction and the seamlessness with which they come together is phenomenal. From the striking opening scenes alternating between the cockpit of the bomber and the son staring his day and going to class, to clever techniques surrounding Kazunari Ninomiya’s status as a ghost and use of flashbacks, to an absolutely haunting score and  breathtaking performances, it’s all amazing. The composer of the exquisite music featured in the film gave a nice introduction for the screening.

Incredibly beautifully shot and acted, the film provides a powerful and touching personal story while giving an ongoing glimpse of life during and after the war that all feels natural and real. Universal themes of loss and moving on are explored both in general and with specific ties to the bombing, and difficult subjects like survivor’s guilt and jealousy are handled with a deft and genuine feel. Numerous scenes are absolutely devastating in their emotional impact, yet the love underlying all the feelings of loss is given equal weight and woven throughout the movie perfectly. I wanted something slightly different from the ending, but it was extremely fitting as it was none the less.

Though completely different approaches to the material, the film was somewhat reminiscent of the equally incredible manga Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms. Both are powerful examinations of the effect of the atomic bomb on everyday people’s lives.

Though a period tale of the ripples of a specific horrific event, the themes and story are impressively timeless. Simultaneously heart breaking and heart warming, I’ve never been so content to cry so much. Nagasaki: Memories of My Son lives in the shadow on tragedy, but contains an inextinguishable light at its core. Highest possible recommendation.

Bakuman

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The live action movie adaptation of a manga about making manga.

Featuring two high school students who decide to team up with the goal of getting published in the premiere manga magazine in Japan, Bakuman using innovative filmmaking techniques and expert touches of comedy to provide a wonderful adaptation of the story of their quest while giving great insight into the industry the characters love. The focus on the often overlooked difficulties of both making art and turning it into something commercially viable, shining a light on the creative aspects and associated hard work and harsh realities on competition in entertainment fields as well as on the editorial process, is fascinating.

The visual style and feel of the movie is phenomenal, with a multitude of imaginative ways of representing the writing and drawing processes in striking, engaging ways which are further enhanced by pitch perfect comedic acting that makes it impossible not to get pulled in for the ride. Though overused, the phrase “love letter to the industry” exactly describes how this film represents the creation of manga, though it pulls no punches with the hardships involved.

There are key dramatic moments, and the general tone is so light and breezy they hit like a tons of bricks and their impact is felt throughout the film. The romance aspect felt short changed and it needed more time devoted for the developments to play out properly, but everything else came together strongly and overall this was an amazingly high quality not only as an adaptation, but as a film in general.

The director made a surprise appearance and his short Q&A after the screening was extremely interesting, talking about the changes made in changing mediums, some of the nods and references to other manga, and the impressive amount of work the actors put into being able to do the drawing scenes.

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Fantastic stuff. Will be back with more reviews as Japan Cuts continues. 🙂