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Rough Waters Ahead

Ahoy loyal readers, and anyone else who’s happened to stumble upon this particular blog entry. I have news to report regarding the future of this blog!

 

The story starts roughly a week ago when my life exploded. Usually when my life explodes it means something like the day before I need to store my earthly possessions so I can fly to the East Coast for my college graduation, my incumbent roommate calls me at 11PM to tell me that I don’t have a place to call home when I come back.

 

That was a thrilling 48 hours, but I digress.

 

In this instance, my life managed to explode in equal but opposite reactions within a three day period. Regular readers will note that I did not manage to make my regular posts last week, and this story will explain why…to some (perhaps unsatisfying) extent.

 

First, I got sick. I strongly suspect this was a consequence of attending Wonder Con considering the timing and the fact that conventions are an excellent place to trade and collect germs and viruses. In any event I got sick. It was just a little bit at first, but then the stage two rockets deployed and I was afflicted with a veritable force of nature. At certain points this thing had me only a notch or two above bed rest. It was strong and relentless, but inconsistent.

 

Strictly speaking, use of the past tense here is inappropriate, but the worst of it has PROBABLY passed, considering that I spent almost the entirety of last week recuperating and hydrating like a fish-man. Aside from these facts and my current ability to function like a normal human being (in reasonably brief intervals) I don’t really have the luxury of continuing my self-indulgent recovery. That’s where the second explosion comes in.

 

You see one of the slight exceptions to a week spent lethargically watching You Tube videos and medicating at regular intervals was a job interview for a real-person TV-related job. I’ve had a few of these in the past, so I didn’t have my hopes up, even though I was being recommended by a friend of mine because…well none of those job opportunities panned out.

 

I’ll save you the trouble of my usual rambling to say that I got the job. It starts today. Well, it started like five hours ago. This is what lunch hours are for right?

 

Anyway, I hope you guys can forgive me for focusing on trying to recover in time for the start of this job and not making my regular updates last week. Unfortunately it also means I will have less time to work on my updates throughout the week, at least as long as this freelance-style gig lasts.

 

I’m going to do my best to make things work, but the size, shape and even appearance of my entries will quite possibly be changing for a while.  Please, again, bear with me. I intend to keep bringing you top quality terrible-media entertainment, but I’m going to have to get creative to fit it all into my schedule.

 

At some point I’ll try to fill you guys in on some of the exciting new details of my relationship with Television, but for now it’s time to weigh anchor and swab some poopdecks or something. That’s pirate-talk for “lunch break’s over ye bilge rats!”

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What’s In a Screen Name?

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m fascinated with words that I am a writer, or whether it’s because I’m a writer because I’m fascinated with words, but both are definitely true for me. After mentioning my name in my last post, and searching for something to write about today over the course of a weekend where my brain was nearly non-functional, I decided to veer off-topic to explain the origins of the screen name attached to this blog, as well as most of my web-based ventures. Truthfully the story’s not quite as interesting as I’d like, but I do think it will tell you a little about me and hopefully that’s interesting enough.

 

And if Kiera Knightly is one of them...well, let's just say it's a pirate's life for me.

Clearly there are many benefits to a life of piracy...

Like most good things, this tale starts with a simple, seemingly random statement: I like pirates.

 

Since I presumably already have your attention I’m going to take this chance to clarify something. Pirates are often thought of or remembered for their infamous acts of villainy and selfishness. However, like many historical and cultural tropes, pirates have more than one significance as a symbol. For example; knights are known as valiant, heroic figures upholding virtue and chivalry, yet they also committed vile acts in the name of a righteous cause during the crusades.

 

So when I create a pirate persona (admittedly a flimsy one, but the cause for concern remains) on the internet, I don’t want people to have the wrong impression of what I stand for. Sure pirates were murderers, rapists and thieves, but they could also be cunning rogues fighting or defending against corruption or even just overly ambitious fortune hunters with a morally ambiguous compass. A lot of people like the image of pirates as awesomely cutthroat villains living by a code of honor among thieves, emptying their pockets of gold to fill their bellies with rum. While I do enjoy these depictions in stories, I have a very particular take on what makes pirates great.

 

Still, these monsters are nothing compared to some of the weird stuff the Japanese have thought up and marketed in various animes over the years.

The very fact that actual maps of the time depicted seas monsters among the oceanic paths that captains might sail is a testament to the sense of wonder that still prevailed.

For one, I must admit, I simply like the pirate aesthetic. This includes not only a world full of crews traveling wherever the winds and their captain dictate as a rag-tag, makeshift family but also the sense of adventure that accompanies the idea of a world that’s not yet fully explored. Who knows what awaits the crew the next time they weigh anchor? Naval combat, flamboyantly dressed rogues and a lifestyle where anyone could become rich if they dare brave the ocean and the perils native to any unknown shores…it’s a very entertaining, albeit certainly romanticized concept for me.

 

But then comes the main reason I like pirates. When I think of pirates, I feel like there are two major branches of defining characteristics (with definite room for overlap) that define their image. The first is one I’ve already discussed briefly; the rum-soaked and ruthless pirates who will do anything for treasure and revenge. The second is the one I identify with, however, sailors seeking to strike out on their own and live a life free of the expectations and grind of society. I’m talking about the adventurers, one who may not even expect to become fabulously wealthy, famous or powerful, just people who don’t quite fit in with society and go to live on the sea where the only rules are their own. People seeking real freedom, freedom to simply live life however they want.

 

Pirates of the Spanish Main - Sample Contents of a Pack

Set sail for cardboard island, so we may plunder its vast wealth of plastic doubloons!

There’s one other, much more specific aspect of pirates that I really enjoy, and that does legitimately factor in to my lengthy, circuitous story, and that thing is the constructible strategy game that was once their namesake, before they slightly rebranded the game.

 

If you’ve never played or heard of Pirates of the Spanish Main (later known as Pirates of the Cursed Seas), then I’m sorry to say you’re missing out. This game was the best, and if you happen to live near a Target or Wal-Mart that isn’t in reasonable commuting distance to where I live, you stand a pretty good shot of being able to pick some up in hefty quantities for cheap.

 

Basically it was a tabletop game of naval combat strategy, exploration and treasure hording. The pieces come in game packs similar to booster packs for other card games, but you punch out the plastic pieces and get to build really awesome looking tiny boat models with which you also play the game. It’s pretty amazing and you should seriously check it out if you can.

 

Pirates of the Spanish Main Online - Sample Screenshot

In addition to providing a consistent, cheap supply of the notorious "blue screen of death", Sony's pirates online came fully loaded with a library of generic piratey phrases like "ramming speed" and an arsenal of naval combat sound effects.

Back during the game’s heyday I was big into the game, despite having few people to play with, luckily the game grew popular enough to launch an online client for playing the game, and though it was buggy beyond reason and frequently crashed my computer, few things have made me as happy as Sony’s Pirates Online. Between strategy discussions, rules questions and bug reports, I had a presence on at least three major PotSM-based forums at that time.

 

Of course to access such things you need to have an account and an online handle. Early on I ported over a generic screen name I used in high school and for one of my earliest e-mail accounts, but it just didn’t feel right. I had pirate fever (cabin fever if you prefer, or are a big Henson/Muppet Treasure Island fan) and I wanted something that represented my love of both the pirates and the game.

 

One day while browsing the forums I came across a discussion of actual, historical pirates of note, and actually misread someone’s comment regarding Vasco Da Gama as referring to Vasco Da Gamer. At first I felt silly, but then I felt AWESOME! Not only did this name encompass my love of pirates and gaming, but also incorporated a witty pseudo-pun. It was everything I could hope for from a screen name.

 

Sure it may not be the most exciting story in the world, but I do think it gives me an excuse to answer an unasked question, as well as to talk about pirates on a day when I can’t wrap my head around very much of anything productive.

 

Feel free to share stories about the origins of your own screen names in the comments below.

 

 

For the latest news about the Cove and my various personal projects, be sure to follow me on Twitter @VascoDaGamer (of course)

NBC’s Awake: A World Without Words

My brain works in completely nonsensical ways. I’m not sure if other people find this to be true of themselves, though I suspect they do, but I can say with certainty that my brain is sometimes completely indecipherable.

 

I mention this because the introduction to this topic that first came to my mind doesn’t actually make a lot of sense unless you take that fact into account.

 

This story starts about a week ago, when I had been catching up on games one of my favorite Let’s Players had posted since the last time I checked his channel. Clearly it had been too long, since he had the time to finish almost two whole games. As I finished catching up on one, I turned to the other, Silent Hill 3, to fill some of my free time at night.

 

Why would they even BUILD an amusement park in Silent Hill, anyway? The population is like 90% shambling, inhuman monstrosities!

The happiest place on Earth this ain't.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the Silent Hill series, allow me to summarize it briefly…it’s messed up. Having watched this same commentator’s videos for the previous two installments in the franchise I had some idea of what I should expect: characters with mental instability, a nightmarish glimpse into a parallel world full of grotesque mutants and some deeply traumatizing plot twists. Believe it or not, Silent Hill’s not exactly a comedy.

 

I don’t have anything against the horror genre, per se, but it’s never really been one of my favorites. I actually don’t believe that I scare very easily (though I do sometimes respond to “jump scares”, which I loathe for their dramatic laziness if nothing else) and often find myself fairly detached while watching horror movies. That said, when a scary movie does get to me, my neurochemical response is, somewhat curiously, to become incredibly stressed out. This sometimes leads to the same sort of irrational fear response that I know other people have after watching scary movies, but is just as likely to just sort of irritate me.

 

Whether I end up scared or irate, I definitely wouldn’t put the horror genre at the top of my favorites list. However, since I am generally detached watching things of the horror genre, I had no problem watching Silent Hill 1 or 2, and I had interest in watching the third installment, because I like this guy’s work.

 

Here’s where things stop making sense.

 

Maybe two weeks ago, I saw some random segment on a daytime news show (Today, maybe?) about how technology has messed with our natural sleep cycles by introducing all of this extra ambient lighting that makes it harder for our brains to shut off when we try to go to sleep. I don’t usually put a lot of stock in daytime news, because a lot of the discoveries they discuss are fads or sheer nonsense, but this made enough logical sense to me that I stored the information for later.

 

Now back to when I was preparing to watch Silent Hill; I stopped myself before loading up the videos and had an idea.

 

“I know, Kyle,” I said, addressing myself by first name, and verbally for some slightly deranged reason, “You can use this opportunity to kill two birds with one experimental stone.”

 

“Go on, my own subconscious,” I responded, “though one of us should make a note that ‘experimental stone’ would make an interesting subtitle for a young adult adventure novel”.

 

“Well, you already had some interest in trying out this shutting off the lights before bed thing, and now you’re about to watch the You Tube equivalent of a scary movie. Why not shut off all the lights in your room and put on some headphones to feel as fully immersed as possible into that fictional world of nightmares so you will be as uncomfortable as possible watching it?”

 

“Literally no part of that idea makes sense…it MUST be brilliant, let’s do it!”

 

As if a mere mortal could kill anyone from Lidsville!

"I sure hope nothing scares me so badly I can never sleep again. Better watch a woman murder a horde of hideous, bloody monsters in a world of living nightmares...that isn't Lidsville."

So each night, at least an hour before bed I watch Let’s Play Silent Hill 3 alone, in the dark, with some headphones on and it is definitely creepier than it would otherwise be. Every unsettlingly silent corridor, every moaning zombie mutant every rusted, creaky door has its dramatic effect amplified under those conditions. It really does feel like it’s the way the game was meant to be experienced.

 

For reference though, even though my apartment feels really creepy right before I go to bed, I have been sleeping much better this past week. Go figure!

 

So why am I telling you this weird, unnecessarily thorough story about my recent, peculiar sleeping habits? Well for one, I thought it would be a fun and quirky story for my blog. Secondly there’s a TV that premiered recently that deals with both sleeping and setting a great, atmospheric stage in unconventional ways. In case you haven’t seen the ads for it, I’m talking about the new NBC drama Awake.

 

Awake tells the story of Michel Britten, a detective whose wife and son are killed an a car also knocks him unconscious. The strange thing, though, is that his wife (Hannah) and son (Rex) aren’t dead at the same time. You see Michael is living in two worlds. One day he lives in a world where Hannah survived the car crash, and works cases at his job as usual. When he goes to bed, though, he immediately wakes up in a world where Rex survived the crash, but his wife didn’t, and spends his time solving a completely different set of detective cases.

 

In a lot of ways, the trickiest thing about this show is that our hero doesn’t know which world is real. This has a lot of implications, though chiefly psychological (which they’ve handled in some ways I find interesting so far) and visual.

 

Psychologically, Michael resists dealing with the loss of either of his loved ones, since his circumstances have made it so he doesn’t have to deal with it. Not only does this keep him distanced from Hannah and Rex, as they each struggle to deal with the loss of the other, but it’s a potentially dangerous coping mechanism in a number of ways. For one, as one of his two job-appointed psychiatrists mentions in the first episode, if his brain is creating a world without enough detail to seems real while it should be at rest, it could eventually have serious medical ramifications. On top of that, if this whole situation is really just some sort of complex delirium, then playing into it will certainly generate psychological stress down the road.

 

Not only does the cast feel a little weighted towards the Blue, Rex world, but so does the action. I wonder what that means...

This picture very cleverly presents the cast of the show, divided into their respective "worlds" with our protagonist in the middle.

Further muddling the detective’s perception of which world is real, small details continue to seep through from one world to the other, especially regarding his police work. For example, when a physical detail like hair color of the perpetrator comes across from some testimony in one world, it often corresponds to the case and perpetrator of his case in the other world. Sometimes these details are a little less direct, and tougher to connect between the worlds, but there’s been enough bleed through to  really confuse the issue.

 

Probably my favorite aspect of the show are the psychiatrists. In order to resume work at his job in each world, Michael was assigned a psychiatrist to make sure he’s mentally fit for duty. One takes on a generally positive view of Michael’s perception of the two worlds, and his continued insistence that his cases can be solved by information from the other world, while the second psychiatrist finds both of these ideas very bleak and concerning, and constantly tries to convince him to make a change. Not only does this device allow us to see two different psychiatric views of the situation, but it also allows the two to debate through Michael which world is real. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, it’s fresh and interesting.

 

Luckily for Michael Britten, though, his wife and son don't shout at him through static, demanding colored pages in the creepiest way possible.

It actually reminds me a little of Myst, and how each brother was trapped in a colored dimensional prison and could only be save with pages of the appropriate color.

Visually this concept runs a serious risk: confusing the two worlds. Typically when a story addresses a character visiting multiple worlds it’s either another planet or like a magical world, a different culture, or at the very least a “real” world and some “other” world. In these cases, one world has some clear, usually visual distinctions setting it apart from the other. On Awake, though, one of the key points of interest is that as far as we know, these two worlds are equally valid, and both represent an extension of his life after the car crash in equally “real” worlds.

 

So what did they do to keep them straight? Well for one, there’s an almost completely different cast of characters between the two worlds: different partners, different families, different psychiatrists, etc. Of course more characters can generate more confusion, especially if you can’t remember which world that character belongs to. But to handle that, the crew of Awake devised and ingeniously simple way to visually distinguish the worlds without compromising either’s potential as “real”: color-coded lighting.

 

If you’re not familiar with lighting for film and television, which I suspect you’re not, you may not realize that most lighting has some inherent color to it. Two of the most common types are blue lighting (a quality which daylight naturally has) where as tungsten lighting (that is, ordinary light bulbs and such) has a reddish-orange color to it. These colors, and more, are often used by lighting designers both within the industry and outside of it, to generate mood, represent a location, etc. Here, the red lighting is simply a tinge to everything in the world where Michael’s wife is alive and the blue lighting denotes scenes in the world where his son is alive.

 

As I said before, to anyone in the industry, this seems like a pretty simple trick, but that’s the beauty to it. There are so many overly complicated ways to try and get the same point across, but with this you can simply glance at a scene and know which world and which characters you can expect to deal with. An idea this high concept could have fallen apart at the seams if you couldn’t tell one world from the other, let alone dream from reality, so I’m glad they’ve made such simple work of creating two whole worlds for this series.

 

I’ve talked about tone in the past, and how it represents the personality of your show from a writer’s perspective. Usually I find myself unable to see things from any other perspective, but sometimes something transcends basic set/lighting design to really catch my attention. We shouldn’t take visual design for granted, though, because it can provide a show with just as much of an identity as its characters and dialogue. Heck, without it, those characters wouldn’t have a compelling world within our suspension of disbelief to recite that dialogue.

 

So many little details go into every episode of every TV show we watch, and we usually don't pay them any mind.

Even if you're only vaguely familiar with the specifics of the various Star Treks, you take one look at this and you can probably tell what we're looking at.

Think about how different a feel Star Trek the Next Generation has from Star Trek the Original Series, even though they’re set in the same world and have similar premises, there are all sorts of facets that signify one or the other, and very clearly set them apart from other shows. These are extreme examples too, but I hope that together with the much more subtle Awake, you can see my point.

 

Next time you’re watching your favorite show, take a moment to soak in the little details about lighting, sets or even costumes, and appreciate things that set that show apart, which you and many others take for granted every week. Maybe it will even deepen your appreciation for the show.

Wonder Crash

Ooof.

 

I just got back from Anaheim last night, where I spent the weekend experiencing all of the excitement and joy that Wonder Con could cram into the convention center, while still accommodating the young female cheerleaders and volleyball players that had many of my friends and I concerned that some creeper nerd would cause an unfortunate incident. Other than that unfortunate coordinating decision and a few conflicting events of interest I would have to say my experience at Wonder Con this year was utterly amazing.

 

I had the chance to attend multiple panels discussing writing for television, as well as panels for Once Upon a Time (a show I’ve already discussed here, though will probably discuss again soon because that show is…sure something), Community (oddly enough, another show I’ve already written about), Adventure Time and even a brief panel about the upcoming film Prometheus, which will probably outdo sliced bread in terms of greatness. I also had the chance to meet and briefly talk to Kris Straub, a webcomic artist whose work I greatly admire, especially in his sci-fi webcomic, Starslip.

 

What does all of this mean for the Cove? Well ideally I will manage to incorporate some of my experiences into an interesting post in the near future, but more importantly it means I am in desperate need of some time to readjust to normal life. Worry not, I’m not talking something crazy like a month or even a week, I’m just saying I’m certainly not coherent enough to post something of my ordinary length or quality today. I am, however, already working on a post for Wednesday, so hopefully everything will be back on schedule by then.

 

I thank you for your patience as I attempt to become a “normal” human being again, and reward your patience with this doodle I made of my favorite Cardfight!! Vanguard unit, Silent Tom, when I stole my brother’s tablet computer over Christmas vacation:

 

See? I can totally draw well enough to make a webcomic some day!

 

…shut up. I’m still going to try.

 

 

Remember you can always get the latest news about Cove of Solitude and my You Tube channel by following me on Twitter @VascoDaGamer

Jargon Spotlight: Torchwood Plan

For those of you who have already read some of my various blog entries, you surely have some sense of my eccentric personality. One facet of said personality is a particular affinity for creating strange terms or utilizing obscure references for very specific sentiments, usually originating from TV shows, of course.

 

Showrunner Russel T. Davies doesn't mind ruthlessly killing off his team.

The members of Torchwood Three...membership subject to change without notice...

Now since I’ve reached the point where I’m very well aware of my own tendency to use these indecipherable expressions and quotations, I’m usually pretty good about either avoiding their use when communicating to people who won’t understand them, or at least offering enough explanation for people to follow whatever convoluted point I’m making. However, my “Dear Vampire Diaries” posts very pointedly follow a stream of consciousness pattern as I lay out my first impressions of watching this unfamiliar show, and as such on at least one occasion I know I’ve left something of a mystery for the uninitiated.

 

There’s an expression that has become common parlance amongst many of a friends (a group consisting largely of aspiring screenwriters such as myself, interested in discussing the finer points of storytelling). It’s an expression that I believe I technically coined, though its origins become fairly obvious once you understand the context. You see, today I aim to explain just what exactly a “Torchwood Plan” is and, believe it or not, it originates from a television series known as “Torchwood”.

 

I couldn’t exactly blame you for not being familiar with Torchwood, since it’s technically a British series, even though the American cable channel Starz helped produce its most recent series “Miracle Day”. Torchwood is both a spinoff and an anagram of “Doctor Who”, which is probably one of the most seasoned scripted TV series of all time. Although the ever-increasing popularity and influence of Doctor Who has definitely begun to spread to North America and other parts of world, its origin is also British, so I’ll take a step back and start with the very basics, since the point here is to have you understand what on Earth I’m talking about.

 

It also really saves the series when someone decides they want nothing to do with the franchise ever again *coughecclestoncough*

In addition to their time travel capabilities, Time Lords can also regenerate from near-death situations, but to do so will change their appearance. The Doctor has experiences this many times.

 

The Cliff’s Notes version goes something like this: The Doctor is an alien from a species (known as Time Lords) who have mastered time travel. Time Lords generally frown on interfering in the course of history, and take on a role as observers in time. The Doctor got bored with this, however, and likes helping people in need, so one day he stole a rather finicky Time/Space travel conveyance known as a T.A.R.D.I.S. At this point, The Doctor had pretty much all of time and space at his fingertips…so of course he spent a disproportionate amount of time in and around Great Britain. Of course with an entire universe in need of his help, even The Doctor can’t be around all the time to help us…that’s where Torchwood comes in.

 

Torchwood is the name of a secret quasai government-sanctioned organization, founded to defend the Earth against alien invasions. Torchwood has a few known branches/offices, but the series focuses on Torchwood Three, the branch located in Cardiff, Wales. In addition to their standard alien defense duties, Torchwood three monitors the unusual occurrences surrounding a nearby rift in space and time. Their leader, Jack Harkness, even has an incredible amount of experience dealing with aliens, since he was born in the distant future, sent back in time to the 1800s and is still alive in the present day. You see, Jack has some unique chronological properties that make him nearly indestructible and practically immortal.

 

Now with the kinds of technology and resources that Torchwood has been known to utilize, together with a leader of Jack’s description, you might think they’re the Men In Black times a thousand…and you’d be kind of wrong.

 

Torchwood has had four series (seasons for us yanks) at this point, two produced like a more typical TV series and two produced more like miniseries. I’m going to avoid an unnecessarily arduous, detailed and spoiler-ridden account of Torchwood continuity for the purpose of this discussion, and simply look at series three a.k.a. Children of Earth, in order to explain just what one must do to employ a Torchwood Plan.

 

The 456 simply ruined my last family reunion, we couldn't leave them alone with my cousins for five minutes without something terribly unsettling happening.

And you thought your deadbeat brother-in-law was a bad influence on your children! They ain't got nothing on the 456!

In Children of Earth, all the children in the world start acting strangely for precise intervals, until their strange behavior proves to be heralding the arrival of aliens known as the 456. After some unconventional negotiations with the government of Great Britain as well as some representatives from other governments of the world, the aliens reveal their true and unsettling motives causing great concern and discussions of considerable moral ambiguity amongst the civil servants.

 

Meanwhile the Torchwood crew, who were simply minding their own business while trying to perform their collective job, find themselves the target of a team of assassins. They manage to cheat death, but without some collateral damage. The team must also waste a bunch of their time trying to rescue each other instead of solving the alien mystery at hand, but they too discover what the aliens want.

 

It’s at this point, with the Torchwood team working out of a makeshift base, most of their resources unavailable to them and with the government considering them a threat to public interest that their leader decides they must make a stand against these creepy aliens.

 

It makes a certain amount of sense though, right? Torchwood was specifically created to deal with alien crises, and that’s what they’re up against now. Plus, Jack Harkness has more experience interacting with aliens and supernatural problems than you’ll ever have doing anything with your one measly lifespan. Surely he knows something the audience doesn’t know. Surely he has an idea of some exploitable weakness these aliens have, so he can force them off our planet. Surely Jack has a plan, any plan at all!

 

Well, he does. Unfortunately for everyone involved, it is THE quintessential Torchwood plan.

 

So Jack and his closest colleague force their way into the room where the governments’ representatives have been negotiating with one of the aliens, who has actually come down to Earth. Once there, Jack very forcefully tells the aliens that they won’t meet their demands or even compromise with them. He basically tells them where they can shove it.

 

The aliens, understandably annoyed by this, respond by killing a number of innocent people, to demonstrate that they can back up their threats. Meanwhile Torchwood cannot, and pretty much just watch all those people die, then retreat because they didn’t actually have any way of stopping the aliens in the first place.

 

For the record, I have no idea what's happening in this picture, thus easily making it the best candidate to post here.

It's like the sci-fi- equivalent of saying "Swiper no swiping!" and expecting the cartoon thief to set aside his criminal past for you.

Basically, Jack applies logic that occasionally stops a school bully from tormenting a child on a playground to an alien representing a technologically advanced and definitely hostile alien species making lofty life-or-death demands of an entire planet. They have no weapons, spaceships or technology capable of forcing the aliens to leave, or even reduce their demands, yet they charge in and tell the aliens to leave. I honestly don’t know what they expected to happen as a result of this encounter, they practically had the absence of plan.

 

So that’s the Torchwood plan that coined the term. A plan so terrible it absolutely ruined my enjoyment of that miniseries. They tried to threaten a powerful, destructive alien threat not to destroy humanity in the emptiest way possible, then were somehow surprised when it backfired HORRIBLY.

 

Granted, I think my annoyance with the Torchwood style of problem solving leads me to overuse the term somewhat, but any time someone enacts a plan with virtually no thought for the possible consequences, or even a full-bodied idea of how the plan will turn out in the best case scenario, you can bet that Jack Harkness is smiling to himself somewhere in space and time.

 

So now you know and, of course, knowing is a large portion of the battle, not quite totaling a majority.

Dragon Ball Z Kai – The Adaptation Anomaly

 

So as it turns out, despite having the notes for the update I had planned for today, my ability to focus is drastically undermined by the crash I’m experiencing from an abundance of productivity over the course of this week. As a result, I’m going to go off topic again to discuss something I find both strange and intriguing.

 

Come to think of it, a lot of DBZ's villains parallel Superman's in some way. I smell an international lawsuit!

Man, if you thought the origin story of Superman was weird, wait until you get a load of Japan's take on it.

Dragon Ball Z Kai.

 

Now for anyone who’s not a member of my generation, I’m going to start by trying to explain vaguely what Dragon Ball Z is. Woof, this is going to be tough.

 

Well Dragon Ball Z is an anime from the late 80’s that was dubbed into English and became popular here in America during the 90’s. I’d venture a guess that it caught on to main stream American culture more than nearly any other anime. This guess is based largely on the percentage of strangers I’ve talker to who are familiar with the series to some degree, but all things considered it seems like a reasonable test.

 

Anyway, the story of Dragon Ball Z picks up where another anime, Dragon Ball Left off. Dragon Ball was largely an action-adventure anime with some strong martial arts influences. It was the story of an unusual boy (with a tail) who was found by a farmer Clark Kent-style and raised by him. After his caretaker’s mysterious death, he’s found by someone hunting for Dragon Balls, magical spheres that can grant you one wish from a dragon if you gather all seven of them together.

 

The one constant about Dragon Ball Z villains is that they're gross-looking and you're glad they're not real.

Alien, robot or alien-robot? You decide!

Dragon Ball Z itself focuses much less on the Dragon Balls and more about the characters. The protagonist from the last series (named Goku) discovers that the reason he had a tail was because he’s actually an alien. Goku discovers ways to tap into his alien heritage to increase the arbitrary number (called a power level) that determines how intimidating you are to boastful villains. With some minor help from friends he gathered along the journey of the first series, as well as a villain who eventually discovers a heart of…silver maybe, Goku defends the Earth against aliens and robots.

 

So for anyone who tried to watch this series as episodes were being released, you’re probably familiar with perhaps the most annoying feature of this anime. The incessant stalling. You know how on reality shows like American Idol there are results shows that drag on and on, stretching one fact you want to learn into a painful hour of television? Yeah, Dragon Ball Z invented that. I distinctly remember a part of the story where Goku was supposed to show up and help his friends not die at the hands of an alien tyrant and his army and someone stating “he’ll be here in five minutes”. It took him no less than three episodes to arrive. Maybe now you’ll look at Ryan Seacrest in a new light…nah, who am I kidding?

 

However, within the last few years, whoever is in charge of Dragon Ball Z had a very interesting idea. They re-edited and re-released the series under the name Dragon Ball Z Kai. You’re probably wondering, “What changed when they edited it?”. To be honest? Almost nothing.

 

I hope you like shirtless, grunting men, because that took up a ton of time before Kai happened.

There's an old joke that goes, "How many Dragon Ball Z characters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "Just one, but it will take them five episodes".

Let me clarify, the story doesn’t seem to be altered in any significant way, but they cut out all of the unnecessary stalling bits so now the show is almost pure action, excitement and story.

 

It’s a really interesting idea, and I wonder if it will ever have any merit for American television. I mean, they already have recut versions of movies here in America. Seriously, how many distinct versions of Blade Runner are there?

 

Since I’m already in tangent town, I’ll say what I’m really thinking about the concept of “Kai” editing. I would like to ask my hero, Eiichiro Oda, to consider releasing such an edit for one of my all-time favorite shows, One Piece.

 

Great, now I have to explain One Piece…no, you know what, explaining One Piece is super easy. One Piece is about pirates who have super powers. They’re mostly all trying to procure money and/or fame, some by finding the deceased king of pirates’ hidden treasure, but honestly pirates with super powers is the gist of what you need to know.

 

Honestly, I’ve never seen a TV show on this epic scale. Eiichiro Oda has created an actual entire world populated by unique islands, cultures, technologies…it’s almost like he traveled to another world, came back and made an anime based on his notes. It’s preposterously immersive.

 

Not to mention the fact that One Piece has some of the most creative uses of super powers I've ever seen.

If the idea of "pirates with super powers" doesn't make you at least vaguely interested in watching a show, then you and I probably won't be very good friends.

Now that I’ve penned a few verses for my love song about One Piece, it’s time to tie up this mess of an entry. You see, I had the good fortune of getting into One Piece on the ground floor. I was a Shonen Jump subscriber and read the manga (aka Japanese comic book/graphic novel) on which the show is based as it was first being translated into English. Because I love the show so much, I’ve often tried to get my friends interested, but I’m usually met with some resistance.

 

I can understand why, even setting aside the fact that to be current on the show you’ll have to watch in Japanese with subtitles, which can get tiring even for people who can deal with subtitles, there’s the issue of length. As of this writing, there are 537 episodes of One Piece. Assuming an average runtime of 22 minutes, that’s almost 197 hours of that show, which has just passed a self-imposed halfway mark.

 

As much as I love One Piece, I have to admit that there’s an awful lot of filler, recap, clipshows and just generally unnecessary material along the ride through its 537 and counting episodes. Someday I think it will be best for everyone if we trimmed some of the fat and made this great series more streamlined and accessible for the masses.

 

Then I can finally make my friends understand all of my obscure references! Nah, who am I kidding?

The Best Part of a Complete Breakfast

I can only assume they were discontinued after the bear detectives lost their badges.

I defy you to find a better, (mostly) healthy breakfast treat!

I’ve been very busy lately, so please excuse the randomness and brevity of this update, but this has been bothering me recently. Am I the only one who remembers Undercover Bears?

 

You see, I’ve been on a bit of an oatmeal kick recently, mostly because I had some instant oatmeal in my pantry and I have been seriously procrastinating my next trip to the grocery store, but I used to love oatmeal! I mean, that’s half the reason I had instant oatmeal in my pantry in the first place. The other half being my hope that oatmeal’s magic cholesterol destroying properties will somehow mitigate the rest of my awful diet.

 

Anyway, I’ve had a lot of oatmeal and it got me to thinking about how I first came to love oatmeal. To the best of my recollection, it all started with Undercover Bears.

 

Undercover Bears was an instant oatmeal from the early 1990s that contained what were essentially gummy bears disguised by an oatmeal coating. When you stirred hot water in to warm the oatmeal, you would find the gummy bears in your oatmeal and your day would be off to a fantastic start. There was a variety of flavors amongst the hidden gummy bears, but the brown sugar bears were clearly the best.

 

Here’s the commercial, though the only place I could find it was in a 90’s commercial compilation on YouTube:

 

 

Tragically, Undercover Bears was a short-lived General Mills product, leaving a void in my breakfast that would be hard to fill. My ever-vigilant mother found something that would come close, though. It was another General Mills instant oatmeal by the name of Oatmeal Swirlers:

 

 

Any long-time readers out there can probably surmise that I like to doodle, and doodling something delicious on top of oatmeal is a pretty great idea. It wasn’t quite as good as having cartoon bear candy in my hot cereal, but it definitely placated me for a while, and sustained my interest in oatmeal.

 

You might be asking, "but Vasco, isn't that just flavored goop on top of oatmeal? Can't you just do that yourself?" Clearly you have no soul, and probably don't even believe in Santa Claus. I pity you.

Eventually though, Oatmeal Swirlers also vanished from my life. To be honest I don’t remember if they discontinued oatmeal swirlers before my young attention span caused me to lose interest in them. Either way it’s certainly a case of not appreciating what I had until it was gone. For many years I didn’t have oatmeal, I mean, what’s the point if there aren’t any awesome gimmicks aimed at young children to pique my interest?

 

Well there was at least one more trick up the instant oatmeal industry’s sleeve, though this time it came from Quaker, the Amish master of oats. I don’t remember how all the pieces fell into place, but I can certainly make an educated guess.

 

I imagine my Mom one day, through some combination of nostalgia and that vigilance I mentioned earlier, saw this product on the shelf and bought a box just in case. It’s possible I saw a commercial for it first and made mention of it to her, but knowing my Mom I’m inclined to give her the lion’s share of the credit for such awesome discoveries.

 

Anyway, she probably kept the box in her pantry for a while until I suddenly wanted something for breakfast (I usually don’t get up until relatively late, or don’t have much appetite until lunch, despite my love of breakfast foods), or perhaps my Mom merely suggested it one day. Yeah, I can picture that…

 

“Remember when you used to eat oatmeal? Yeah, you LOVED it as a kid! Well, I found this:”

 

 

Apologies since, again, the only evidence I could find of the commercial was in the midst of a YouTube commercial compilation. This time it’s fairly low quality as well, but hopefully it gets the point across.

 

Basically, Dinosaur Eggs is like Undercover Bears in that you add hot water and something wonderful happens if you appreciate awesome things like cartoon bears and dinosaurs. This time a yogurt-like egg-shaped coating dissolves to reveal tiny sugary dinosaur shapes. On paper, this should be much more awesome than Undercover Bears, but if I’m honest this is my least favorite of the three.

 

Don't let a mother dinosaur catch you eating a bowl, she will wreck your house to protect her sugary babies!

This is such a great idea that I'm sure I would have been blown away were I still a child when I discovered them. Alas, I had already been spoiled on Undercover Bears.

It’s not that Dinosaur Eggs oatmeal is bad, it’s just…a little underwhelming. You see, the dinosaurs, while awesome, are very small. In a way it’s nice because you’re incentivized to go digging for them, but to me it’s more like a disappointment when you find them. Also, unlike the Undercover Bears’ bears and the Oatmeal Swirlers’ doodle goo (hmm, there’s probably a better name for that…) the dinosaurs don’t add any flavor. They’re pretty much sugar flavored, like those dipping sticks in Fun Dip.

 

Nothing against the other gimmicky instant oatmeals, but I feel like the fad peaked early. Undercover Bears was the best, and as far as I’m concerned is the reigning champ. The others had their own merits, but if I had my choice I would certainly pick some maple flavored gummy bears.

 

Of course I don’t have my choice, and only one of the three appears to still be on the market, the Dinosaur Eggs. So if you’re a dinosaur buff and an oatmeal fan, or even just an aspiring archeologist, then have I got hot cereal for you!