The Sunless Citadel [Short Fic]

Sharwyn leaned against the stone column, staff, and spellbook in hand. She was barely paying attention to Sir Braford who, in hushed tones, laid out their plan. It was tough to keep her eyes on him, as the beautiful dragons carved into the column beside her were so enchanting. Breya was right, this place must have been magnificent before the disaster.

She glanced over at her brother, Talgen, who was similarly in position behind the adjacent column. She could tell he wasn’t paying Braford any mind either, as he was fidgeting with his handaxes too much. Noticing her momentary glance, Talgen rolled his eyes and making the universal symbol for “blah blah blah” with his right hand.

Sir Braford was positioned next to the frontward facing door, pressed up against the wall tightly, while Breya stood beside the side door. From that secondary room came such snoring that Braford had concluded the goblins therein were probably too drunk to fight and posed no threat if they barricaded the door behind them when they entered the next room. Or something like that. Again she wasn’t really paying attention. Even from where she stood a few feet away, Sharwyn could hear the ruckus of goblin chatter from the other side of said door, which suggested a pretty sizeable, and thus concerning, amount of goblins.

The light from the wall-mounted torches gleamed off Sir Braford’s armor, giving him an appropriately holy glow. He was a dragonborn cleric after all and his cobalt blue armor bore the insignia of the Great King Ozark, still considered a symbol of peace and order even after The Great Silence. Even though Sharwyn really had no clue what Braford was saying, she knew he was saying it with passion. This was his people’s temple after all, and even if the dragonborn had fallen from grace, it didn’t mean their holy sites deserved to be raided and desecrated by goblins and kobolds.

A flurry of movement danced in her peripheral, but when she spun her head around it was the unexpected sight of Talgen juggling his handaxes. Caught off guard, she couldn’t help but giggle.

Sir Braford stepped away from the door, literally hissing at Talgen to “Knock it off.” Talgen defended himself by pointing out Braford had been talking for “like 15 minutes.” The two started bickering at each other in hushed tones, Talgen doing a mockingly and kinda offensive Dragonborn accent, while Braford’s anger made his hissing lisp practically unintelligible to Sharwyn’s ears. She looked over to shrug at Breya when she saw it. Peeking through a tiny crack in the door was a small goblin child. Time slowed down. She bounded from her position towards the door, desperate to think of a spell that could stop this child from raising an alarm, but all her years of study might as well have meant nothing. Her sudden movement startled the kid and his face disappeared from the crack.

Braford and Talgen barely had time to get a “What” out before the scream of “Intruders!” brought them to attention. There was a beat, a moment too long where Sharwyn thought maybe this was a child who’d cried wolf too many times. Then it was chaos. Goblins and hobgoblins poured into the room. Talgen responded quickly, leaping above the crowd and bouncing from pillar to pillar while delivering devastating blows to the heads of un-helmeted goblins. Braford, unsurprisingly, was doing well his enchanted sword shattering the javelins and swords of the goblins within his reach.

Then the door to side room burst open. Sharwyn was sure Braford was kicking himself for tying those goblins. Poor Breya, being the closest, was overwhelmed with the drunken but still ferocious goons, barely keeping them away with massive swings of her warhammer.

Sharwyn shot a fireball at the crowd around Breya and that seemed to be enough to give her the upper hand. Over the general clattering and shouting, you could hear the squelches and crunches of several goblin skulls being crushed by Breya.

Sharwyn smiled. Even with that setback they could do it, they were gonna win. She looked up at Talgen, who grinned back. He landed another aerial flip, gripping the small ridge at the top of a column. His legs tensed up for another leap, his tongue stuck out in anticipation. And then nothing. He froze. His legs didn’t push off, they just slide down the column, his whole body grazing against those ornate dragons as Talgen fell. His body hit the ground with a thud. Goblins began to swarm him, but before her vision was totally obscured Sharwyn saw, poking out of his neck, a tiny dart.

Oh god no. Sharwyn’s brain was running a thousand miles a minute. Since when do goblins use poison?

This time she heard it. The slight whistle in the air, followed by another dart appearing in between the cracks of Sir Braford’s armor. A second whistle, a second dart, this one in his neck. Sir Braford’s legs wobbled. That moment of weakness was all the nearby hobgoblin needed to club Braford behind the knees, bringing him down.

Sharwyn couldn’t look and she turned her eyes towards Breya, who now had three or four darts poking from her arms and neck. Damn, that Dwarven constitution is strong. Then there was another whistle, a louder one. Then a sting. For a second she expected to look down and see the same bee that had stung her as a kid, the one that had interrupted her and Talgen’s attempt to run away from home and journey to a halfling grove. As darkness started to creep in around her vision, she couldn’t help but wish Talgen was able to soothe her like he did that day, as childish a fantasy that was. She tried to cast something, anything, but her arms wouldn’t work, her tongue won’t even move. She saw the world tilt and felt herself hit the floor.

“Sharwyn!” Breya yelled, her moment of distraction allowed a goblin to jump on her back and start clawing at her.

Out of the corner of her eye, Sharwyn could still see Talgen, now abandoned by the goblins who had gotten bored beating him. Her heart fluttered as she saw his shaking hand reach out and slowly push himself off the floor.

“Remember, keep ‘em alive,” she heard a gruff voice shout in goblin.

Talgen was now on his knees. Please Talgen, please save me. She pleaded with him in her head, desperately hoping he could somehow hear her. Somehow. Instead, Talgen kept his eyes on Breya.

“Breya! Retreat!”

Breya looked surprised, but this moment of shock also overtook the goblins and it was all she needed to throw the pest off her back. Breya limped out the side door, dragging her warhammer behind her. Talgen shuffled the other way, presumably the way they came. Maybe one of them could get help. Come back with Kobolds and save her and Braford.

“Good job boys,” the goblin voice from before chimed. The goblins began cheering while a few chased after Breya and Talgen. The cheering subsided, fell silent as the clicking of a pair of boots rang through the chamber.

“We kept them alive for you, sir,” the gruff voice whimpered, this time in common.

“Barely” a chilly voice responded.

A pair of black boots, accompanied by a floor-length cloak, entered Sharwyn’s vision. The boot pressed into her, tilting her body towards the ceiling. Her eyes followed, scanning the hooded figure. As the darkness of unconsciousness began to take her, she saw the slightest glint of light reflect off the hooded face. Glasses?

“Ah yes, they’ll make excellent specimens. Take them to the grove.”

And then there was black.

Darkest Dungeon [Short Fic]

The air this deep into the ruins was disgusting, oppressive, and uniquely scented. The cracks in the damp and crumbling walls provided no relief, revealed no landscape, they just gave way to oppressive dirt and rock. If you burned incense in a room down here, you could return years later to find its scent only mildly dissipated. I felt the rot in the air clinging to my lungs, coating them like oil. Given the strange fungal life we’d seen so far, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn the unusual odor was due to an abundance of spores. I imagined an impossible scenario where I died peacefully in my sleep decades from now and an autopsy revealed a bushel of mushrooms lodged in there, much to the bafflement of the local doctor.

My mildly amusing fantasy was interrupted by the whisper of one of my companions. Something was coming. Our Highwayman cocked his gun, the Leper readied his mighty sword, and I prepared my preliminary prayers to the Lord. The slow shuffling around the corner became clear to me now too.

The stale air stood even more still and our breathing became audible to each other as we braced ourselves for another grueling round of combat. Most abandoned places felt cold and uncaring, but these ruins felt actively malicious and cruel. What had apparently once been a warm and loving home had been warped and desecrated, twisted by its greedy sons into a maze of unfathomable evil. Their excavations into the earth below their home brought none of the power and riches that the rumors promised, just death and madness.

This place was an affront to the Lord and if my light was able to cast away even a fraction of the shadows that existed against His mighty will, then I would suffer whatever wounds, physical or mental, to do so. So what would I be smiting this time?

Giant slugs and spiders?
The shuffling grew louder.
Living mushrooms and slimes?
With proximity came clarity: it was the sound of footsteps.
Bandits and madmen?
We could see the vague shadows of a hand gripping the wall’s edge.
More of those blasphemous re-animated corpses?

As the rest of the silhouette stepped into view I called down the holy light, blinding the figure while the Highwayman interrogated it.

“Hold it! Who’s there?”

Instead of the usual ferocity, flurry of movement, and unfathomable sounds that started these battles the figure just held its thin arms in front of its eyes and whimpered “I mean you no harm.”

I dimmed the Lord’s light and took in the “man” that stood before us. There was no question of his humanity per say, but rather of his functionality. He was emaciated and pale, adorned only with tattered clothes and broken long-chained manacles clamped around his wrists. The most striking detail, though, were the scars: dozens upon dozens of them, some more aged than others, scattered across his skin like a dropped bundle of sticks.

“Please, help me get out of here. I’ve been trapped down here… so long.”

The Highwayman was a suspicious man under normal circumstances. He’d led a hard life, taking odd jobs and robbing banks when the work dried up. The only other thing I knew about him was that he’d been the lone survivor of a previous excavation, which was truly astonishing when you considered the wit and determination it’d take to survive the hostility of the ruins alone. So it made sense when he barked “Why should we trust you? How d’ja get here in the first place?”

“I was kidnapped by the cultists. I think they wanted me for a sacrifice, but the ritual… went wrong and I was able to escape.”

There was hesitation in his voice. He was holding back, but perhaps with good reason. We’d run into those cultists before and the power they had wielded in battle only hinted at the madness they might be able to inflict on a captive. We all had things we’d seen in the ruins we wished to never think of again and he surely felt the same about his torturous time with the cult.

The Leper, of course, immediately took sympathy on the tortured soul and sheathed his sword. I knew nothing of the Leper, but I sensed a piousness and decency about him that only those who’ve flourished despite true suffering seem to have. He did not speak, only extending his hand to the man in solidarity.

The Highwayman grumbled, “Keep in mind this gun of mine don’t leave my hand, should yah think of making trouble.”

Our newest party member nodded in acknowledgement, his gaze locked on the barrel of the gun that was equally focused on him. It was then that I noticed it: some weight behind his eyes, something dark deep within him. It almost felt… primal.

We continued on our way through the winding halls and crumbling rooms, stopping to search abandoned crates and bookcases. It was uncommon to find anything worth taking, but we’d found enough valuables along the way that this looting became something of a habit. We’d made our way to a library of sorts: lined with collapsing wall-to-wall shelves and populated with half-burned books. We were all indulging in our habit, but I was ignoring the handful of strongboxes and trinket-filled desk drawers in favor of the cryptic texts scattered about. The abundance of forbidden texts down here made it easy for me to learn about the dark arts and while I was reluctant to pursue anything that endangered my soul, I knew it would prove necessary to surviving this journey.

“Stay away from there!” screeched the Highwayman with unprecedented fear and anger.

I was startled by such volume, as we hadn’t spoken so loudly since before we entered the ruins. It was dangerous to speak that way in a place that can echo a noise for miles. The object of the Highwayman’s ire was the manacled man, who had his hands up and was standing stock still next to a small fountain in the corner. It had no water running, but had a stained and mildewed basin. What was truly strange was that the centerpiece was no angel, bird, or even abstract architecture, but rather an oddly detailed tentacle. Our party had seen one or two similar stoneworks but never bothered them, having more than once learned the lesson of staying away from anything that hinted at the unholy so strongly. The newcomer was apparently still naive.

The Highwayman brought his voice back down and said “Did ya touch it?”

“N-n-no sir.”

“Good. Don’t. Lost some good men that way.”

It occurred to nobody in the room to inquire any further. It was not our place and we didn’t have the spare sanity to handle such things. I returned to my texts when I felt the slightest shiver on the back of my neck. Was the Lord warning me? Of what? I stood to attention, gripping my holy book tightly. I looked over at the manacled man and he returned the gaze, but with intense fear. There was a beat and I understood.


Unlike our last encounter, there was no time for preparation. A moment after the words left my mouth, cultists burst through the door we’d yet to clear. The Highwayman acted with his usual superb speed, letting off a pistol shot mid-dive behind a desk. Sadly his aim wasn’t as impressive and he only managed to clip the arm of one of the cultist brutes. I was already positioned beside a desk, so I had easy cover, but the Leper and the manacled man weren’t so lucky. The Leper was out in the open and his sword was sheathed, but on the opposite side of the room as the cultists. The manacled man was still at the fountain corner, which was adjacent to them. He ducked into the shadows and curled up, hoping his small stature would hide him.

There were four cultists: two brutes and two shamans. The brutes were massive beings of mostly muscle, probably supernaturally enhanced at the cost of their humanity. They were equipped with clunky gauntlet claws, essentially three swords attached to their hands. The shamans, always women for some reason, used their staffs to cast strange unholy spells, but each shaman’s magic was slightly different. Oh and they could see just fine despite wearing thick black blindfolds, which, while strange, was fairly useless knowledge combat-wise.

The bleeding brute leapt forward towards the Highwayman’s cover, determined to retaliate. Clearly the Highwayman wasn’t expecting such quick reaction, as he was reloading. I started to chant a stun prayer, but there was no need. The Leper darted forward with incredible speed, my vision blurring body and metal together as his sword swung downward, smashing into the ground. My eyes and brain caught up and registered the outcome. It looked like there was a section missing from the brute’s arm, as if someone had erased a few inches. The Leper’s sword had completely severed it, but at the cost of having those claws lodge themselves in his shoulder and upper arm. The brute’s delayed scream of pain boomed louder than overhead thunder, but the Leper made no noise as he discarded the arm, even though it took a chunk out of him in the process. The brute went to swing again, but was greeted by the barrel of a newly loaded gun and was swiftly removed from the fight.

To push our advantage, I’d have to take care of those shamans. I shouted the prayer of my Lord at one of them, successfully stunning her. As she collapsed, a slight glow around her, I heard the slight “thump” of her head hitting the stone floor. She’d be out for a while. The other shaman started muttering, practically hissing the foreign words through lips pursed with anger. Shadows slinked up from the floor, curling up the staff like snakes and gathering together into a ball around the tip. I was mesmerized by their movement, swept up in the surreality and a tad jealous I couldn’t wield light similarly. My stunned fascination kept me immobile for a second too long and I was swept off my feet as shadowy tentacles burst from the staff, stretching across the room and smashing into my chest. As my body collided with a bookshelf, which shattered easily, and then the wall behind it, I felt something in my body crack. A rib probably, given that impact.

I managed to keep my eyes open and stay conscious, but the wind was completely knocked out of me. I sat there wheezing, trying to regain my ability to breathe, but the musty and dust-filled air offered no relief. The Leper stormed forward offensively towards the shaman, his gouged arm dangling behind him as he ran. Before he could get close though, the remaining brute intercepted his path and the Leper narrowly avoided another claw strike. The Highwayman let loose a shot to cover him, which skimmed the neck enough to distract and hurt the brute, but not permanently impede it. The Highwayman cursed his shoddy aim this battle and ducked back down to reload.

The Leper heaved his sword and readied himself to attack again, but I could tell from the writhing shadows around the shaman that her counterattack was already poised. I tried to warn the Leper, but words require air and my lungs still had none to offer. As the shadow tentacles flew towards him the Leper defensively raised his sword, but there was no collision. The shadows just… passed through him. The Leper was stunned, but soon that surprise on his half masked face morphed into absolute terror and anguish. A pained croak, the most I’d ever heard from him, escaped his throat as he collapsed to the ground and began shaking violently. My recent research helped me recognize it: a nightmare spell, designed to make you relive your greatest traumas and worst fears. It’d take some time, some prayer, and a good woman but he’d be fine… probably.

The brute, its wound shaken off, advanced to finish the weakened soul. “Leper!” exclaimed the Highwayman as he vaulted over the desk. He ran toward the crumpled figure, drawing his dagger from its sheath. The brute ignored him, determined to wipe the Leper out. As it raised its metal claws in the air for the death blow, the Highwayman dashed across its vision, landing just outside the brute’s range with surprising grace. It took both the brute and I a few seconds to realize what the Highwayman had accomplished with such a strange attack, but as blood started to leak from a thin and long cut in the brute’s forehead I understood. The brute grunted, furiously wiping away at the blood that kept dripping into its eyes. The wiping became more and more exaggerated, slowly turning into a furious flailing as the brute lashed out against its blindness.

The Highwayman ducked a passing swipe and picked up the Leper, whose convulsing had stopped. As he turned to bring him back to cover, he stumbled and then froze. The shaman cackled, a single tentacle extended from her staff to the Highwayman’s ankle. That extra second in the range of the brute was all that was needed, as he was struck in the head by a passing arm and knocked to the ground. The brute, realizing it’d hit someone, re-oriented itself in that direction, and readied its claws for a more deadly strike. I begged the Lord for strength as I croaked out a stun spell, but the coughs confused my words and the sharp jab of a cracked rib weakened my will power. The brute’s fist came down and I closed my eyes. It was over.

The vibration of an unfamiliar roar shook my eyes open again. The brute’s fist was suspended in air, the claws paused mere inches from my companions. There was a chain wrapped around the brute’s arm, its links leading back to the corner with the fountain. From out of the shadows stepped a grotesque beast, a red-skinned devil with the teeth and claws of a wolf, the stature and build of a bear, and the horns of a ram. Where had it come from? Would its bloodlust end with the cultists or would it come for us too? How could we even begin to stop that… that monster?

The beast heaved back the ensnaring chain, pulling the brute off balance and bringing it to the floor. The predator leapt on its prey with uncanny speed for its size, its claws digging into the flesh of the almost-man that I now almost felt sorry for. The brutes death would have been quick and incredibly painful if not for its companion, as the shaman’s shadow tentacles wrapped themselves around the beasts neck and head, dragging the devil off her companion and slamming it into a bookcase. Unfortunately for her, the beast recovered quickly. She cast tentacle after tentacle, both tangible and not, but the beast kept coming and eventually overcame her. It took seconds for the body to become completely unrecognizable as human. The brute attempted to intervene, but the Highwayman scrambled to his feet and sliced its throat from behind. A more merciful death than it would have received at the beast’s hands.

Finally able to breath with some amount of regularity, albeit not painlessly, I too rose to my feet. The Leper propped himself upon his sword. The beast, bored with its prey, moved on to the unconscious shaman I’d stunned earlier. To die in her sleep was a mercy that blasphemer didn’t deserve. After finishing her off, the beast turned towards us. It walked slowly, each footstep almost as loud as its deep and labored breathing. The chains it was dragging clinked quietly, chains that were attached to… manacles? Wait… could it be? The beast roared a final time as its body contorted, shrinking and changing color. We all wanted to look away from the transformation, but we couldn’t. After what felt like minutes of convulsions and groans, the manacled man stood before us once again.

“Well… you know the truth now. I… am an Abomination. If you want to kill me, I’d understand, but I can’t guarantee that It won’t try and stop you.”

We were still dumbstruck, unsure of what to say. How do you address someone that’s simultaneously the most pathetic man you’ve ever met and also the most terrifying beast to walk this earth. The Abomination squirmed uncomfortably in anticipation of our response. For once it was I who spoke first.

“Do you have it under control?”

“Uh, for the most part? I can’t always control when it comes out, but I can stop it from hurting people I care about… assuming I have something else to attack nearby.”

The Highwayman sighed, sheathing his dagger and pistol. “Well that’ll just have to do then. We need all the help we can get I s’pose. Vestal, get to work healing Leper and yourself. We need to keep moving.”

The Leper smiled the faintest of smiles, patted the Abomination on the shoulder, and then followed after the Highwayman. I leaned over to the Abomination and whispered, “The Lord doesn’t approve of alcohol, but if- I mean when- we make it back to town I think we all owe you a drink.”

The Abomination smiled weakly and for a second I couldn’t see that weight in his eyes, that burden of the beast within.

“Thanks Vestal.”

He followed behind me as we joined our companions, resuming our journey into… The Darkest Dungeon.

Castlevania (2017) Review

If you review media long enough there will inevitably come a point where your opinion will drastically differ from the general critical consensus. Well, after watching Castlevania I found myself in this exact predicament. Upon finishing Castlevania’s measly four episodes I was livid at how poorly made it was, at how stunningly mediocre the whole “season” ended up being. To my surprise, or maybe dismay, a cursory look on the internet revealed I was in the minority. It wasn’t hailed as a masterpiece, but it was generally received with positivity.

For background, Castlevania is based off a video game series of the same name (many entries of which I’ve played) and more specifically Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. The show, like the game, follows Trevor Belmont, a descendent of the heroic monster-hunting Belmont family who in recent years have been exiled from the church and society. He teams up with a mystic named Sypha and Dracula’s rogue vampire son Alucard to defeat Dracula and his demon hordes. Where the show deviates is in its explanation why: that the Christian Church burned Dracula’s doctor (and human) wife Lisa for “witchcraft.” With nothing left to make him happy, Dracula decides to burn it all to the ground, giving the people of Wallachia one year before he summons his armies from Hell and kills every last one of them. Not surprisingly, they waste their year and the country is slowly overrun by horrifying demons.

Now there are many ways to read this series: as an anime-influenced Western cartoon, as a gory horror fantasy show, as the latest Netflix original series, or (perhaps least interestingly, but most importantly) as a video game adaptation. In its favor as a horror fantasy show, it does have a somewhat interesting premise even if the story that follows is riddled with cliches. As a Netflix original series, it had really strong subdued performances by actors who do a good job with material that is only occasionally witty or engaging. As an anime-influenced Western cartoon, its character designs and background art are adequate and its fight scenes have really interesting stunts (mostly thanks to the whip combat, an underused weapon in media), but its animation is severely lacking. As a video game adaptation, it’s not a complete dumpster fire which immediately makes it one of the best adaptations of all time.

It’s easy to see why people enjoy Castlevania. Expectations were low going in, it does just enough things well that it’s not obviously bad, and it utilizes a few easy hooks, like gore and fight scenes, for people to latch on to. As a Castlevania fan, I’m well aware that it could have been way worse. As a film junkie and animation nerd, I can’t ignore that this does not mean that it’s very good. Looking back on my experience though, I can soundly point to one factor that absolutely ruined it for me and, if you read the rest of this review, may ruin it for you as well.

So let’s get this out of the way: don’t watch Castlevania… yet. It’s a very mediocre show all around, but it has a lot of promise. Unfortunately, at only four episodes it’s barely the first act in a larger story and doesn’t end in a remotely satisfying way. Once season two comes out in an ungodly amount of time, give the whole thing a watch. Until then? Don’t bother teasing yourself.

Alright now on to the no-fun part. So in the second episode of Castlevania, there’s a bar fight and it was during this scene that I noticed something. The rhythm of the fight was… off. The action would pause and then rush through a flurry of movement, an exchange of punches would be a tad too slow, the characters would react with just a half second more time than what felt natural. I tried to ignore it, assuming that this was because the characters were drunk, but even after that fight, this poor rhythm continued. It was noticeable in every sequence, be it the establishing shots, demons terrorizing the town, what should be standard dialogue, and, worst of all, every single fight scene. There would be a handful of times where I could ignore it, where I could buy back into the verisimilitude, but for the most part, this nagging thought consumed me: Castlevania is slowwwwww.

I mean “slow” in every single cinematic sense of the word. It’s infuriating. Every establishing or non-character centric shot is held a second too long, making it abundantly clear when those spaces are empty. The demons feel more like a few stragglers than an army, the citizens feel like a smattering of extras rather than a city, the scenery feels less like a world and more like a backdrop. These are all understandable limitations of the budget, but you’re supposed to cut fast enough that people don’t notice the details and Castlevania‘s uncomfortably long shots only highlighted them.

In dialogue scenes there’s an extra beat before characters react or in between lines, making those aforementioned subdued performances just boring to listen to. Which alone is a shame, but it also reveals how cyclical the dialogue can be, with the characters discussing the same things over and over again.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a big kung fu fan, but this pacing issue is the worst during fight scenes. The fights generally play out as clumsy exchanges of blows, with pauses for characters to react or retaliate that last for a beat or two longer than they should and even a few instances of the attacks themselves being slow. Now, I should emphasize that the whip combat is genuinely really cool, and the stunts that Belmont pulls are clever. Unfortunately, they often pass by so fast that you can barely enjoy them. It’s hard to tell if it actually is edited too quickly or if it’s edited at a normal pace and the rest is so slow that it causes a kind of whiplash (no pun intended).

Now as a disclaimer, this could all be on me. I could have a particular mindset or have watched some media recently that clashes in timing with how Castlevania was made. If I were to speculate though, I would say there are two possibilities as to how Castlevania ended up this way, the most probable being inexperience. It’s hard, especially in animation, to get a sense of how individual shots will tie together until you’re editing a near complete cut and by then it might be too late. The main animation studios responsible for Castlevania have been around since the early 2000s, so this doesn’t seem likely. I can’t really judge the crew individually because a lot of smaller indy projects don’t end up on imdb, so who knows how experienced most of them are.

The other time I’ve seen this is in really cheap older anime that are trying to make the most out of their limited budget and pad out their run time. I’d prefer to think that is not what is happening here. I’d really like to think that Netflix was fine with the run time being whatever it needed to be, as they are with most of their shows, but it’s possible they weren’t. It’s possible they whoever had the money in this instance wanted a standard 20-minute show and wanted at least four episodes. Who knows?

Regardless of why, this is an enjoyment-breaking factor for me. It distracts from the writing and the acting, plus it ruins the action and general pacing. It makes a mediocre show insufferable. Hopefully, season two improves. In fact, I’d be surprised if it didn’t. As I said before, once more episodes come out then give it a chance, but skip Castlevania for now. It’s just not worth it.

10 Movies That Will Get You into Anime

From girls with big eyes and multi-color hair to fans who dress up in elaborate costumes, anime can seem like an impenetrable fortress of weirdness. However, don’t let that impression fool you into thinking anime is just for geeky teens and creepy basement dwellers. There are genuinely good anime that are comparable to the best of American entertainment. Even if you don’t become a hardcore fan, there are quite a few movies or shows that you might enjoy. Here are an assortment of movies that will definitely get you (at least partially) into anime!


The Garden of Words

In Hollywood, there aren’t many directors who specialize in tragic romance. In the anime industry there’s only one: Makoto Shinkai. He has a certain obsession with relationships being torn apart, so much so that it’s the focal point of every work he’s made. The Garden of Words is the most optimistic of his movies, but in no way has a happy ending. It is the shortest movie on this list, clocking in at 45 minutes. Though what The Garden of Words lacks in length, it makes up for in beauty. It’s incredibly gorgeous, so detailed and colorful that it practically transcends reality. This beautiful hyper-reality amplifies the emotions involved, leaving even the most stone-cold viewer a little teary-eyed.
What to watch next: The Wind Rises, Five Centimeters per Second


Summer Wars

Out of all the movies on this list, Summer Wars is the biggest crowd-pleaser. It’s the movie you watch with your kids (be they 8 or 18) or, conversely, the movie you watch with your parents. It’s well made and entertaining, a genre piece and yet accessible. Summer Wars’ best scenes, its emotional core, rest in the family drama, but its action scenes are still exciting. It pulls you in with sci-fi intrigue, holds you there with a beautiful family dynamic, and rewards you for your time with an over-the-top, yet worthy, climax.
What to watch next: Wolf Children, Porco Rosso


Millennium Actress

In four movies and a TV series, Satoshi Kon pushed the boundaries of storytelling by fully exploiting the unique abilities of animation. His remarkable works are known for bending reality, but despite this he manages to be a remarkably humanistic director. Even if you’re not sure where or when you are in the story, you’ll always connect with who you’re watching. Millennium Actress is the best blend of the two, finding a near-perfect balance between mind-bending and heart-breaking.
What to watch next: Tokyo Godfathers, The Tale of Princess Kaguya


Spirited Away

Like any culture, Japan has its own history of legends and beliefs. Part of anime’s appeal is the foreignness of it- it’s something you can’t get in America. Most anime are somewhat Western influenced, but there are many works that stick to very Eastern stories and ideas. Typical Western Tolkien-esque fantasy gets tiring, but the story and style of Spirited Away can provide a refreshing break. If a peek into the style of Japan’s unusual legends and fantasies intrigues you or your kids, then this is a great place to start.
What to watch next: Princess Mononoke, Mushi-Shi



Anime fandom in the US grew mostly out of the sci-fi community and with good reason: most of what was created was sci-fi or fantasy. Decades later, anime has more genre diversity, but there is still a backlog of great sci-fi and fantasy works. The king of all sci-fi anime is easily Akira. Katsuhiro Otomo’s masterpiece set a new benchmark for animation when it came out, being the most expensive anime movie up to that point. Akira‘s cyberpunk style is certain of its time, but the visuals are still breathtaking and the story engaging to this day.
What to watch next: Ghost in the Shell, Arcadia of My Youth


My Neighbor Totoro

Finding good children’s media is rather hard, and finding good children’s media that’s tolerable for adults is even harder. Disney movies may be the most beloved kids movies here, but in Japan the movies of choice are Studio Ghibil’s. My Neighbor Totoro is one of their movies that is more distinctly for kids, however its fantasy images are so heavily steeped in childish wonder that adults are sure to be charmed too. (Don’t let the trailer fool you, there is an english dub)
What to watch next: Kiki’s Delivery Service, Welcome to the Space Show



Japan is weird. We all know this. Our country’s weird too, but Japan is that special variety of weird. In anime there is no limitation to what can be shown and therefore no limit to potential weirdness. Redline is a simple paint-by-numbers racing movie story-wise. Everything else, from the characters to the world to the animation itself is very weird. However, this is, in no way shape or form, a bad thing. Rather, this weirdness fuels the movie, projecting it forward with all the speed and intensity a racing movie should. If you can get past the unusual design of Redline, you have quite the unique experience ahead of you.
What to watch next: Gurren Lagann, Space Dandy


The Castle of Cagliostro

Clear-cut bad guys and good guys. Big stakes and bigger action scenes. Battles across the globe, be it in the air, sea, or land. All these elements are key to creating a certain spirit of adventure that’s rare in cinema today. You feel like a kid again when you experience the blood-pumping thrills of movies like Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and even Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. The Castle of Cagliostro has adventure galore, with car chases, counterfeiting, and condemnable counts! Its goofy, yet swashbuckling, gentleman thief hero, Lupin the Third, has an established franchise behind him, but this movie boils things down enough that anyone can enjoy it. It has a special blend of wonder and excitement that is sure to bring a goofy smile to your face.
What to watch next: Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Steamboy


Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise

There are many movies on this list that qualify as great dramas, but Wings of Honneamise particularly excels in this genre. The filmmakers carefully craft a familiar sci-fi world to tell a very human story about space exploration. Wings of Honneamise is less story-driven and more a character piece about a reluctant astronaut who doubts the reasons for going into space. If it were live action, it would probably star Dustin Hoffman and definitely sweep the Oscars. Like a lot of the movies on this list, there’s far more to this Wings of Honneamise than its genre elements.
What to watch next: Grave of the Fireflies, Patlabor/Patlabor 2


Ninja Scroll

Anime used to be known as extreme, far more violent than Western animation ever dared to be. This reputation has long since expired, as nowadays anime is better characterized as lots of cute girls in high school. Although, for those who love some fun and bloody action, Ninja Scroll will always be in our hearts. The struggle of a samurai to stop eight powerful demon ninjas may seem generic, but mixed in with unhealthy doses of sex and violence degrades into some of the finest pulpy schlock in anime. Certain to satisfy the most blood-thirsty horror hound or action addict.
What to watch next: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, Hellsing Ultimate

I think we’ve covered a sufficient variety of tastes, so hopefully you’ve found one to your liking. Let me know in the comments below what you thought or if you have any suggestions of your own. Happy viewing!

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) Review


Studio Ghibli is no doubt the “Feel good” studio. Almost all of their films are awe-inspiring fantasies or small stories that remind you of the good things in life and give a warm feeling inside. Now this is nothing new of me to say or for anyone to say for that matter, but it bears repeating because even with one of their most controversial works, Howl’s Moving Castle, I still get that Ghibli charm I just can’t get anywhere else.

Howl’s Moving Castle is the fantastical tale of hatter Sophie who after being saved by the mysterious wizard Howl gets cursed by his nemesis The Witch of the Wastes. The spell manifests itself by aging her tremendously and she decides to travel to Howl’s moving castle to see if she can get turned back. There she meets an annoying fire demon, a child apprentice and, of course, the mysterious and childish Howl. Sophie and Howl soon develop a romance, but their love seems in jeopardy as the country’s war escalates further and Howls involvement and demise seem inevitable.

Howl’s Moving Castle‘s quality is contested by fans because while it’s a good movie… it’s really not as good as other Ghibli works. At least thats my theory, and there’s evidence to back it up. Howl’s has strong characters, animation, and sound, far above most animated features, but it’s convoluted story weighs it down for people and prevents it from hitting that Ghibli standard.

I absolutely love the characters in Howl’s. It takes a while for you to get invested in them, but once they start acting as a family you can’t help but feel attached to them and really appreciate not only the individuals, but the cast as a whole. Even Billy Crystal’s Calcifer the fire demon, who’s pretty annoying for a good chunk of the movie has a hint of charm to him at the end of the movie. The aging dog that enters in the second half and the speechless scarecrow Turniphead both have a distinct personality despite a lack of lines and screen time. There’s just something about this ensemble and their chemistry that works for me and makes me want to see more.

The animation… do I even have to say it? It’s fucking gorgeous. It’s Ghibli and Miyazaki for christ’s sake. Everything from the character designs, backgrounds, and animation itself is high quality and meshes well. I really liked the design of the castle itself and it added a steampunk element that fit in this magic/science world. There are moments where you can tell that the animation jumps in quality so for an anime junkie who will notice that kind of thing it’s rather jarring, but for the average viewer it’s sure to not be a problem.

The soundtrack is standard Ghibli fare and rather unnoticeable which I guess means it did it’s job, but what I really want to talk about it the dub. I love the casting choices for the Disney dub and it’s probably one of the best out there. For the most part it’s unknown actors, but there a few celebrities in this cast. Christian Bale plays Howl and he does a fantastic job. I wasn’t sure he’d be able to pull of the more boyish aspects of the character, but he did and admirably at that. It’s a character archetype in Japan that has no real translation in the West and changes were made so if you’re a fierce loyalist to the original you may have problems with it. Billy Crystal, as I said before, plays Calcifer and does a fine job at that giving it that annoying touch without breaching into Jar-Jar territory. THE Lauren Bacall plays The Witch of the Wastes and she’s, of course, fantastic. She has this disney villainess quality about her, but it really works in this context. The rest of the cast is great too, but if I had any gripes it’s that the actress that plays the young Sophie has an accent that doesn’t match up with the speaking mannerisms of old Sophie and when they switch back and forth it’s quite distracting.

I suppose we should get to what doesn’t work… Howl’s Moving Castle is an extremely ambitious film in that it tries to juggle several different themes and plots. It unfortunately doesn’t succeed and the two aspects that end up suffering the most are the romance between Sophie and Howl and the war subplot. Now I understand the war subplots point of existing, that being to add a little tension and action to what would have been a rather quiet movie, but it could have been implemented better as it just pops in and out and there’s very little involvement or context with it. Sophie/Howl’s relationship gets pushed to the background while all this other stuff goes on and while you get a sense that their relationship is developing, there’s a lot of stuff I wish we could have seen to clarify it. One other fatal flaw of this film is that towards the end of the movie the plot just… goes all over the place. I’m not entirely sure how half of it worked or even what happened as the film tries to cram a lot into the last half hour and it doesn’t really take the time to explain properly. Everything’s jumbled and messy until the last two minutes where everything’s tied up in a neat bow, with too much convenience for my tastes.

I’ve said this about a lot of movies lately, but Howl’s Moving Castle is a ton of fun. It’s got a great mix between dark and light content as well as just enough maturity to keep an adult engaged while still keeping that childhood innocence for kids to enjoy. I thoroughly enjoy the characters and concept, and while I know there’s story flaws, who cares? If you know what you’re getting into and you let yourself get taken away by the characters, the weird pacing and underdeveloped story won’t matter to you (as much). A rottentomatoes rating or my recommendation really doesn’t do this movie justice as this is one film where I truly believe you must form your own opinion about so please check it out.

Attack on Titan (2013) Review

Attack on Titan is the blockbuster summer anime of 2013. It’s the show everyone is talking about, and above all, raving about. In fact it almost seems like if you aren’t watching this show, you’re missing out on the coming of Christ. But is this show as amazing as everyone claims it to be? Welllllllll…

Attack on Titan drops us into a world where humanity is almost extinct and their natural predators are creatures called titans who are as tall as buildings and only exist to eat humans. Due to this danger, humanity has safely confined itself inside 3 incredibly huge walls, that is until an even larger titan shows up and smashes a hole in one of them. Here’s where we meet Erin Jaeger who barely escapes the destruction of his hometown with his two friends Armin and Mikasa. After witnessing his mother become titan lunch, Erin vows an oath to kill all the titans and thus he and his friends join the military. From there we encounter many an epic battle with the titans, but for the sake of spoilers I won’t go into details.

Attack on Titan utilizes a few incredibly long and extremely well paced story lines over the course of its 25 episodes. The almost nonstop action makes it extremely hard to not marathon this show. Well that and the infuriating cliffhangers that always manage to completely fuck over everything you thought you knew. It’s safe to assume that the strong pacing is thanks to Attack’s director Tetsuro Araki, whose other works include Death Note and High School of the Dead. If you’ve seen those shows, you’ll see his fingerprints all over this. Now that doesn’t mean that Attack is nonstop action. There are many points where the plot comes to a dead stop and we get some character interactions or back story, which actually service the show nicely.

Speaking of characters lets take a look at them shall we. Erin is the protagonist, yes, but it takes a really long time for him to develop beyond “Kill Titans!” and that journey is a rather inconsistent one at that. In order to progress his character we’re usually subjected to a confusing monologue about humanity or what-have you, but for the most part he just gets you pumped up with his screaming about willpower that makes you wonder if he’s going to put on a Green Lantern ring halfway through the battle. It’s not that he’s a bad character, just that he’s not as developed as some of the others tend to be, for example Armin. Armin is probably the most well rounded character in the show, starting out a Shinji-esque coward and growing into a loyal and brilliant tactical mind. Mikasa is portrayed as being flawless, and thus is the stone cold one of the crew as per anime clichés. Her lack of flaws is probably her greatest flaw, and although she had the opportunity to grow into a great character, the story unfortunately got in the way. The greatest and worst part of Attack is that any character can die, and thus talking about the supporting cast is almost impossible beyond generalizations. We meet a lot of people while the trio is in training and even more after they officially join, and it becomes hard to keep track of al of them. Unimportant characters become important, important ones fall to the wayside and amongst all the dying, it’s hard to keep track of who we’re supposed to care about. The rest of the people who exist in the world tend to only serve as an obstacle to our heroes, thanks to their stupidity, which comes off as just being human, so I can’t call it bad writing.

The animation is done by Studio Wit, a small offshoot of Production IG and for a fairly new studio, even with IG’s help, this animation is fucking gorgeous. The art style is rather unique, going for thick black outlines around all the characters to help distinguish them from each other and the background. The characters themselves have an inconsistency to their design, with varying degrees of how western they look. Some characters have more realistic faces, while others have the typical large anime eyes. This inconsistency is also reflected in the titan designs, as they vary from creepy joker to kawaii. If anything this is what will be off-putting to people watching the show. The art style of the characters complements the medieval setting and really makes it seem European or Germanic in its influence, particularly when the choirs boom in. One of the most unique concepts the show has is the 3D maneuver gear, which the soldiers use to get around and battle in. These enable them to fly through the air like Spider-man and whenever they use them in battle, the animation quality soars to an orgasmic degree as the camera zooms and rotates with them, all the while maintaining a fluidity and consistency that is truly movie quality. All these great shots come with a price though, as during the more quiet parts the animation becomes non-existent, with characters talking over pictures or just two pictures moving like a motion comic. And while this can be distracting, it is totally and utterly worth it.

The music is amazing with all the tracks able to emotionally manipulate you in just the right way. Even without the scenes to complement them, the songs are all high quality, with a spectrum ranging from rock and roll to orchestral choir being represented. The music may be a little distracting because of how powerful it tends to be, but fuck it who cares? The intros are both amazing, probably the best I’ve ever seen. The first intro is one most effective ever at being able to pump you up for the upcoming episode. It also, once again, features many Tetsuro trademarks, which is fine by me since he creates fantastic openings. The second intro is not as appropriate, but is more musically diverse and the accompanying animation makes it downright cinematic. The outros are less impressive, but they really don’t matter since you’ll be skipping to the next episode anyways.

What Attack on Titan does better then probably any anime I’ve seen to this point is creating a world for you to invest in and for it to construct and deconstruct at will. It’s a fairly basic military-fights-evil-plot at its core (i.e. Starship Troopers, FMA), but it also contains some of the most unique ideas I’ve encountered in a while. It’s got one of the best beginnings an anime has had, with a momentum that doesn’t stop until halfway through the show. Every world-shattering cliffhanger works because they’ve made the world seem comfortable despite the danger. It’s only until the second half where the momentum wears off that you can really see both the flaws and intricacies of not only the world, but the show itself. Attack on Titan is an action-filled blockbuster of anime, yes, but also has a strong story, beautiful animation, and decent characters to back it up. Is it perfect, by no means, but it’s one of the most enjoyable anime to watch and a thrill-ride that should not be missed. The ending is unfortunately non-existent, with the series before us feeling like a part 1 and 2 of a much greater story. Thanks to the popularity of this show, it’s hard to imagine it not getting a second series. A second series would hopefully alleviate many of the problems I have with the show, but we’ll have to see. If you don’t want to read the manga, I would recommend you hold off on watching Attack on Titan until closer to that imaginary second series’ air date, unless you want to join in with the legions of Otaku worshipping this show. Nonetheless, if you do choose to watch it now or whenever you’re reading this be prepared for a long marathon ahead of you, but please don’t let the hype raise your expectations too far. Attack on Titan is currently available from both Crunchyroll and as well as having been licensed by Funimation for an upcoming DVD/Blue-Ray release.

Madoka Magica (2011) Review

In the mass of Moe filled shows coming out these days, one would certainly not be surprised at the release of a cute magical girl show, and particularly from Studio Shaft who have done cutesy slice of life shows before. Indeed Shaft wanted us to think that Madoka Magica was nothing more then it appeared to be and it wasn’t until all the little Otaku sat down and saw the first few minutes that there was a sneaking suspicion that this show was not as it seems. Indeed Madoka Magica is not the happy-go-lucky anime its first couple episodes portray and is in fact a tragic deconstruction, and by doing so a subversion, of the magical girl genre.

For those who don’t know, the Magical Girl genre is one that consists of shows like Sailor Moon and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. It for the most part consists of girls being approached by an unusual animal of some kind and being asked to become a magical girl in order to fight the forces of evil, leading to wacky adventures and super-powered transformation sequences that are used over and over. Madoka Magica follows much of the same story. A girl named Madoka is approached by the mysterious creature Kyubey who asks of her one wish, which will then be granted and she will become a magical girl. The only problem is that Madoka can’t come up with a good wish, and as she and her friend Sayaka discover more about the world of magical girls and the witches they fight, they become uncertain of whether or not they truly want to be magical girls. Unfortunately I can’t go much further then that, as I would rather not spoil this show more then I have to.

It’s the analysis of what really is at stake when these girls fight the reality warping witches and what the true motivation of Kyubey is that leads to this show having its… darker tone. This tone switch is sudden and it’s really when the deconstruction of the cute and innocent world that’s been created begins, as well as its ultimate subversion. Don’t be afraid if you don’t have much experience with Sailor Moon and its colleagues because the story of Madoka packs a punch either way. In the 12 episodes it has, it manages to create a whole world and set of characters that you get invested in and then somehow manages to wrap everything up at the end that it wanted to. For a story of this caliber, it’s very tight and I think the series being any longer would have been detrimental. As it is, Madoka Magica is an easy watch. Every episode is important and progresses the story, but if you don’t want to marathon it all at once there’s still enough recap to jog your memory.

Shaft has really put there all into this series, as it is fucking gorgeous. The labyrinths that the witches create are all composed of random imagery invoking many different visual styles and it’s some of the most unique art I’ve seen in a while. The animation outside of the battle scenes is nice, but not great. It’s a softer style that reinforces the Moe aspect of the show, but it works nice when contrasting it against the dark events to come. The character’s faces all have this odd sketchiness to them, that I actually like a lot, since it made them feel less like the products of K-ON! and more like actual characters.

The music is composed by Yuki Kajiura and its quality is easily on par with the rest of the show. Everything from the victory theme, tragedy themes, epic choruses, and ending song are all fantastic and fit the show to a tee. Fortunately, unlike other shows with her music, the songs don’t distract you from the story, merely adding to it and this is due to (again) how engrossing the story is. The acting in the Japanese track is phenomenal, as far as I can tell, and far surpasses the english dub. It’s not that the dub is particularly bad, it’s just that the characters are defined by a lot of Japanese conventions that are hard to convey in English. I have to recommend subs on this one.

Madoka Magica is a show that’s hard to explain why it’s good without ruining what makes it good. Its play on expectations is exactly what makes its more dramatic moments work. At the end of the series you’ll find yourself attached to the characters, invested in the story and familiar with the world. Above all though, you’ll be satisfied. For only 12 episodes Madoka Magica is a marvel amongst modern anime. There’s really no excuse not to watch it. If the premise isn’t interesting to you, then don’t worry it’s not supposed to be and if you’re worried about time and availability it’s on Crunchyroll for streaming at the time of this review. If you’re tired of mediocrity or you recently got into anime then by all means watch Madoka Magica, you won’t regret it.

Fullmetal Alchemist kicks ass!

Watch this Show!
If you are slightly interested in anime you should watch this or the remake FA: Brotherhood
The Writing: 8/10
Animation: 9/10
Acting: 7/10
Awesome Factor: 10/10
The Premise: In a world where alchemy is used like we use science, two boys try to use it to bring back their dead mother and in doing so sacrifice their bodies. The older brother now has a robotic arm and leg and the younger is bonded to a suit of armor. Now their quest is to use the philosophers stone to restore their bodies, but they soon discover that they aren’t the only ones lusting for it’s power.
This show is mind-blowingly cool, memorable and has enough good plot twists that it makes M night look like a two year old
Here’s the first episode!
It’s only 20 minutes of your time!