Reviews 1028 Mar 2021
Part of the Reviews Series.
- Up to chapter 57
Bunch of new webtoons this time around, still in the same "leveling" genre. It's crazy that there does not seem to be a name for those, even though they're all build around the same mold. It's crazy to me how they seemingly all seem to feature these floaty alert panels with skills, quests, etc - even when the story doesn't not really demand it. Sometimes the protagonist is the only one to see them. I'm really curious where this all started.
Anyhow, I'll try to be brief as most of these are not really adding saying of substance. It's mostly mindless entertainement still.
Overgeared, then. Basically, this time the protagonist is a craftsman, who manages to become very powerful (mostly) through his items.
The protagonist also distinguished itself by not being the most savvy, and often greedy in a base way. This is generally the setup for some light comedy. Personally, I didn't think it works all that well, but it's not too bothersome either. A fairly standard entry in the genre.
Omniscient Reader's Viewpoint
- Up to chapter 36
The premise of this one is quite interesting: the protagonist has been the only redear of a light novel for years, depicting a sort of apocalypse where otherwordly entities descend on earth and make humans compete for them (featuring of course, skills & leveling).
As our man finishes the light novel, the scenario it describes comes to passes. He now has a very important advantage: he already knows what will happen. This includes the rules of this brave new world, but also specific events that will happen.
Interestingly, the light novel did have a hero, which is also present in the story. One cool consequence is that the protagonist must ensure the hero survives, as the light novel followed the hero, and future events are tied to him. It's by no mean the only cool idea in a series that I found a bit smarter than average.
There aren't that many chapters out currently, but I'm curious to see where this will go.
I Am The Sorcerer King
- Up to chapter 123
So, everybody levels to fight appearing monsters, blah blah blah. This time the protagonist is a reincarnated sorcerer, from a dimension where people can grow in power but do not level in the same way.
This is as pure as a power trip as I've ever seeen, featuring a mixing of the genres, between RPG skills, non-RPG magic, and even science. Suffice to say that at some point, magical nuclear weapons are being fired.
The Motivation Hacker
- Book, by Nick Winter
I read this book because it was quoted extensively from Gateless, and those quotes were some of the most interesting parts of that book.
It was honestly a bit of a letdown. Not that the book is bad. In fact, I'm glad I read it, and found it generally interesting and relevant. But it wasn't what I had imagined / hoped for.
I hoped for a book that would outline very precisely a great number of "motivation hacks" that could be called on. In reality, there are less than I hoped (12-15 or so) and they aren't discussed in any great depth. The book is mostly concerned with how the authors used those in practice — which is legitimately impressive and inspiring. Those still can be a game changer, but I had passing familiarity with most of them.
What I hoped beyond that was for a more technical angle, in particular with regards to the psychology of these motivation tricks.
Another objection I have is that very clearly the author is someone that was very accomplished to begin with, before tackling all the challenges in the book. A great part of what makes those hacks successful, in my opinion, is the groundwork laid by a consistent productivity habit. This means the techniques might be less effective than it seems in people who do not have this record of accomplishment and consistency.
Still, if you cannot immediately name some motivation hacks and you're in the mood to get some motivation into you to tackle some important projects, this is recommended reading.
The Laws of Human Nature
- Book, by Robert Greene
I started this, but I do not know if I will finish it.
Greene is a pretty good author in my estimation. He writes well, in an authoritative style whose old-fashionedness gives him charm. It is well researched, and the historical examples are interesting.
My problem with Greene is that the books are positionned as advice or education (or to use a less charitable term, self-help). Personally, I find it hard to get something very useful out of them besides inspiration.
The strange thing is, Greene is generally correct. And when the ideas he proposes veer machievellian (in the sense of the original), the perspectives he proposes need to be considered.
That being said, the ideas offered are rarely thought-provoking (at least I've you are somewhat well-read), and difficult to operationalize.
Let's talk about "The Laws of Human Nature" in particular. In it, Greene examines fundamental human tendencies - how they can betray us, how they can be exploited (by ourselves or others, for good or for evil).
In the first few chapters, he recommends such things as listening deeply to others, noticing when body language disagress with spoken language and setting the tone for your team. All excellent ideas, albeit hardly anything I haven't heard before. The problem is that first, nobody would disagree that these are good ideas, and second - even once you've resolved to, for instance, listen deeply - how do you actually remember to do it in the heat of conversation?
That being said, the book is entertaining to some extent, albeit massive. But don't expect too much in the way of terms of wisdom that you can act on.
Though, I am compelled to add... I appreciate there is a public for which Greene's perspective is foreign, and would be profusely useful. In a sense, I think too much like the author.
The Age of Em
- Book, by Robin Hanson
A vision of the future, which purports to be (more) based on scientific theories than published alternatives. The author acknowledged this is very much only a tiny possibility for the future, but at least one that does not seem grossly contradictory with current scientific knowledge, both in the exact and social sciences.
Personally - I found myself thoroughly bored at the initial description of that future. I might have been unfair to the book, as Hanson explicitly warns that he will first describe the end point, then justify why he thinks this endpoint is plausible — which is arguably the interesting part.
That being said, I don't know if I'll pick this again. Truth is this was a moonshot, not something I'm fundamentally interested in. A big reason I gave it a shot, was that Hanson is famous for his blog and in particular his writing on biases and signalling.
I have other books that interest me more, but I needed some audiobooks to listen to while running, and this proved easier to find than some other things on my list.
- Book, by Thomas Sowell
Basic Economics proved a tad too basic for me. It's essentially a watered down version of the political economy course I got in my first year at uni. It's well written, but it's a bad fit for me.
I however very much recommend following the twitter account that tweets out quips quoted from Thomas Sowell's books. They're biting, usually true, and often about simple ideas that are often misunderstood.
- Seasons 1 & 2
Wow! Here's an anime that felt different. From the international setting and bright pastel color palette to the amazing story-telling — there were so much that was unique about this one.
It follows a group of conmen in a series of ambitious cons. Twists abounds! It's almost a trick — there are enough twists that it becomes difficult to call any one of them.
I'm not going to dither much — just watch this one.
Tomb Raider King
- Up to chapter 186
The pitch of this one is that suddenly "tombs" start to appear in the world, holding sentient relics which can bestow their owner great powers, though the relics generally try to take advantage of their owners.
The hero is part of a tomb raiding team, gets betrayed, but by the magic of scenario, gets sent back 15 years in the past, at the start of the relic phenomenon. There, he can use his knowledge to get ahead.
Oh, and, of course he also gain special abilities that he can level. Duh.
The setup leads to inventive situations, exploiting all kind of relics' power. The story does not try to be too clever or overly consistent, but the relentless action helps suppress potential suspension of disbelief.
The biggest difference from other webtoon however is that the main character is kind of a dick. He's not evil in the sense of murdering people in cold blood, but he's not a nice person either, never hesitating to use other people to his advantage. Story-wise, that's not particularly good or bad, but it's different.
Entertaining enough, but doesn't crack my top list.
The Untethered Soul
- Book, by Michael Alan Singer
It's starting to be a theme, but here is yet another book and started and put back almost immediately. I had picked up the recommendation from somewhere and it's saving grace was that I was able to find an audiobook on it easily.
It's a book about mindfulness, but the start of it felt rather very basic, and offering zero insights to me.
If you're looking for books on mindfulness, I'd recommend The Power of Now and You Are Here. The first one is more "mystical", but quite interersting, while the second one is a down to earth guide to more mental calm.
Some quotes of the The Power of Now made it into my Unconstraining post from way back.
- Season 1 & 2
In a world of anthropomorphized animals, a socially awkward wolf falls in love with a spunky rabbit.
The animals are ostensibly vegetarian (interestingly - not vegan), but the carnivores' instincts leads to what can only be described as "frayed race relationships". The whole thing is also quite Japanese to boot, including a hefty dose of what I'd call "societal cynicism" (though they might not see it the same way, I suppose).
Anyway, this setup speak little to the goodness of the show. And good it is. I'd say its strength are really unusual and highly interesting characters. Recommended.
I thought season 2, while still quite good, was a bit weaker. The ending, in particular, left me super perplexed. I'm not sure why the director believed going in the chosen direction would make for a good, engaging or satisfying conclusion to the storyline.
Better Call Saul
- Season 5
Better Call Saul is as good as ever. I haven't written about the show before, but I've been a fan of the first four seasons.
One thing I love about BCS is how, on the surface, not much is happening, but thanks to the incredible acting, you perceive that the characters are going through all sorts of emotions.
Or at least, it feels like not much is happening. This is not an action show, but the plot is engrossing, and frankly excellent.
Better Call Saul is of course a Breaking Bad's spinoff. I always felt Better Call Saul was a notch above. It's been a while since I saw Breaking Bad, so who knows. It might also be that Breaking Bad is much more conflicted, in a sense. You want to root for Walt, but you also dislike him (and the same is true, to a lesser extent, for Jesse). Better Call Saul, despite having plenty of conflict, is easier to enjoy.
Anyway, this review is not doing justice to the show at all, but trust me, it's worth your time.
- Season 1
We started watching this because so many people were talking about it. I was hoping it was going something a bit un-marvelish (it's about Wanda the Scarlet Witch and Vision the android - MCU characters) - and the trailer was intriguing.
However, in the end, it wasn't to be. The trailer essentially gives you the plot of the first three episodes, which are parodies of old TV shows, with ominous signs interspersed.
I was surprised to find out that quite a few reviewers found these parodies delightful... I personally found them to be a bit of a drag. If you like old shows, go watch them directly, it's bound to be much better — the jokes weren't particularly great either.
However, if you make it past the first three episodes, the intrigue kicks into high gear and things get interesting. That being said, what you're left with is a typical Marvel experience: entertaining, eminently watchable, but not particularly profound, fascinating, or delightful.
While the show entertains until the end, I think the ending peters out a little bit. Contrary to one might have hoped, there's very little mystery being unveiled (or rather, the mystery is disappointing). Whatever twists there are, are ... unexpected, but not in a particularly good way. This is no Westworld.
Not a must watch, but if you're bored and like the MCU, then maybe.
- Season 1 & 2
Cobra Kai is absolutely delightful. This 34-years-after sequel of The Karate Kid offers to follow Johnny Lawrence — the main antagonist of the movie, and rival of hero Daniel LaRusso — as he picks back Karate and resumes his rivarly with Daniel, involving a bunch of local kids along the way.
But people, this thing has depth.
It is, still, in a sense a very innocent show. Innocent is probably not the right word, but it has this earnestnest that you don't see much in TV shows these days — the stuff the original was made of. There's good reasons we see little of it. It's been done successfully many time before, and if you fail at earnestness, then the failure always looks all the more ridiculous and out-of-touch.
Cobra Kai wears its earnestness on its sleeve, but, surprisingly does not seek to subvert it, at least not in the usual way. Instead of sticking to the usual manichean schema (hero vs villain — whoever that may be), the show is surprisingly nuanced. Both Johny and Daniel are often wrong-headed hotheads, but both are essentially good people.
The usual subversion of the classical story is that the (anti-)hero is an asshole too. Here it's that everyone is human. That sounds adorkable and a bit too warm and fuzzy — which makes the show's ability to pull it out so much more impressive.
The show really runs with that theme, and it extends far wider than just Johnny and Daniel. One particularly interesting way in which it does this is by recasting the events of the original movie as essentially traumatic for our two protagonists. While Daniel "wins" in the movie, he still remember being a bullied kid. And of course, Mr Miyagi's (his wise Japanese sensei in the movie) teachings become the cornerstone of his life philosophy. But Johnny sees Daniel as up-an-comer who stole his girlfriend and his karate title — an endeavour in which he had invested his whole personal (and fragile) self-esteem.
That brings to maybe the thing that makes me the most uneasy about the show — it's reliance on misunderstandings between characters. Because everyone involved is essentially good, it often feels like if everyone could sit together and say their piece, most issues would be solved.
Normally I hate misunderstanding-driven plots. Romeo & Juliet is hot garbage in my book. The show walks a tight line regarding misunderstandings. Characters do sometimes talk things out. Things never spiral out of control on the back of increasing misunderstandings. But the misunderstandings keep happening, necessary to carry a conflict that perhaps can't sustained solely on the basis of the philosophical disagreements. I must say that so far I'm impressed with the show's ability to perform this balancing act. I just hope they can keep it up for the next three seasons!
I'm not sure you'll be as impressed by Cobra Kai as I was (though I sure hope so), but if you enjoyed The Karate Kid, you certainly need to try this one.
All of the above was written before watching season 2. I think season 2 holds up pretty well. It definitely keeps toeing the line with misunderstandings - but nothing show-ruining. Having actually seen two episodes of the third season already, I'm very curious as to where this takes two characters that feature prominently in season 2 — namely Kreese and Tory.
I was surprised by the attempt to also flesh these characters, given them a more sympathetic side (and early in season 3, more backstory). This is particulary true for Kreese, which the shows sets up as a clear-cut antagonist, playing ominous music every occasion it gets. It's interesting and certainly not what you expect. Though I must say compared to something like Game of Thrones, where you actually get to "see" the inner thought process of "bad" characters, it can sometimes feel a bit weird. Curious to see what season 3 does with them.
Mushoku Tensei (Jobless Reincarnation)
- Season 1
Easily one of my favourite anime of the winter season (a tie with Attack on Titans, probably). It's not exactly surprising, it's about a loser who dies and gets revived in a fantasy world as a fully-intelligent toddler. That just sound like all these webtoon I keep reviewing.
Besides plot affinity, the thing is extremely well done. It looks georgeous. It's too short (only 11 episodes, though a second season should come later this year), but the pacing is tight. The show doesn't repeat itself, nor does it longer too long in one place. Character development is had.
Gigguk published excellent video praise for the anime, which I wholeheartedly agree with.
Truly, one of the better isekai in recent memory.
In my review of part 1, I said I was unsure what to make of this season, that it would entirely depend on how part 2 delivers on the setup from part 1.
Well folks, I'm disappointed.
Just like I feared, cutting in the middle with the balls hanging in the air was a terrible idea. I couldn't understand what was going on for the first few episodes, and absolutely no summary (explicit or implicit) was offered.
This was made worse by the fact that the plot is needlessly convoluted. My major beef is with the characters' motivations. Despite all the revelations, I still have no idea what Roswal wants or stands for. It's not even a mystery that works well — there are multiple conversations where this could (should, really) come out, but somehow Subaru never asks the right questions. He doesn't even seem to think he's missing anything. Beatrice's motivation is paper-thin and frankly dumb.
The author's brain just seem wired to another dimension (like all adaptations, the question remains whether the fault lies with the original or the adaptation). A few times I realized that something I had taken to be some harmless exposition was actually an important piece of context — and you were apparently supposed to get it. Again, this is made worse by the fact that the show makes no effort whatsoever to help you make sense of things.
Honestly, this point it feels lazy, almost sleazy. The mystery feels artificial, added on just for effect, not as something that makes sense within the plot.
Add to this a bunch of completely nonsensical (and frankly boring) speeches, and the result quite tepid.
There are some good part to the story though. Emilia finally gets some character development. The ending does feel satisfying.
- Season 3
- previously: S1 & S2
I'm not even disappointed, I'm devastated.
I've told many people that Log Horizon is one of my favourite anime. I evend said in my review: "The only bad thing about Log Horizon is that it is unfinished."
Well I jinxed it, because this third season is absolutely terrible and devoid of the charm of the previous instalments.
Mostly, the show commits the gravest sin of violating "show, don't tell". We are being told stuff con-stant-ly. We are being told how characters feels. How decisions will impact them. There is absolutely no good reason to do this.
The arcs are pretty boring too. It feels like there's very little at stake. The pacing is completely unbalanced: the first 5 episodes or so are characters talking and thinking without any action whatsoever. There is no overarching theme to the season.
Game mechanics still feature, but in a pretty uninimaginative way, and without the accompanying broad consequences on the world that made the first two seasons so interesting.
Now, to be fair, Sasha watched the first two seasons recently and claims that season 2 is much more like this than I remember. I do remember a couple excellent episodes, but it's been like 6 years at this point.
That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime
- Season 2
- previously: S1
Slime is just being slime: a zero-calories snack, entertaining but not particularly impactful.
In a sense that's too bad. You just know Rimuru the slime can't lose, and that does undercut the show's attempt at drama. Frankly, I would have loved for the show to go dark all of a sudden, but it was not the be.
The show does in fact get "dark", but not in tone. Mass-murder is just done matter-of-factly, but the show is still on the same trajectory: the rise of the ever-growing, ever-more-powerful alliance of Rimuru's band of nice monsters.
The Promised Neverland
- Season 2
- previously: S1
Season 2 cuts on the three-level deep plots, and adds some action/adventure. It was generally solid, ... but something felt missing.
Maybe it was because this is only 11 episodes long. Even though the episodes are well-done, you can't help but feel rushed. I'm not incredibly satisfied with this explanation — we should not seek length for length's sake. But I'm not entirely sure what they should have done to add weight and emotional impact to the plot.
My friends had told me that the show cut some arcs form the story, but apparently the issues run deeper and, at the very least, the show's screenwriters seem unsatisfied with the show's direction.
Dr Stone: Stone Wars
- Season 2
- previously: S1
I continue to very much like Dr Stone. The second season is a continuation of the story of the first season, and the themes and vibes are similar.
I stand by what I said in my season 1 review, so you can go read that if you're interested.
Attack on Titans
Season 3 felt like a lull, but season 4 delivers an electroshock. Holy shit! I didn't expect this final season to be one of the best of the winter season, but it was, and easily at that.
The story is tight, and engrossing from the start. Things feel fresh, due in part to a multi-years time skip, and the decision to center the first few episodes on the introduction of completely new characters that have an important role to play in this final season.
This is Attack on Titans at its best, not only are the action scenes as good as ever (although perhaps there will be too little of them for some people), but the season tells an interesting story in its own right, and the final pieces of the puzzle finally fall into place.
Also, a master class in how to do character's motivations and mystery right. Take that, Re:Zero!
All in all, I'm glad that Attack on Titans probably won't end up in the "Game of Throne bucket" of good shows that are hard to recommend because of their shitty ending.
Also, you've got to admire the gall of the studio, who only let out that this was part 1 of "Attack on Titans: The Final Season" after the last episode was released. (At that point, most people's money was on there being a movie that would wrap up the story.) What a troll.
The WoW Diary
- Book by John Staats
It's no secret that World of Warcraft is close to my heart. I sank countless hours in it as a teenager, and I even dabbled in private servers programming.
As such, The WoW Diary is an invaluable (and in fact, one of the only) source of information on how the game was actually made, written by someone who worked on it. John Staats designed and build the looks of most of the dungeons in the original game.
I'm not sure a review makes much sense, but I thought the book was great, given my interest in the topic. I'm not sure someone who doesn't really care about how games are made would find it interesting.
Here a few things I learned from reading the book that also surprised me:
Despite Blizzard's fame as one of the top video game studios, and one comitted to quality at that, the working conditions seemed terrible. The team was crunching on and off for years. The salary is said to be only competitive after bonuses, of which there were little while the game was still in development.
The flip side is how familial the structure felt small and familial, and internal mobility was not only possible but common. Many if not most of the slots that opened in the team were filled directly from the QA department.
I had in mind that the team that made the game was relatively small, but in fact it did number some 80-90 people towards the end of development, among which at least half were developers. There was also a sizeable number of 3D artists, texture artists, item designers, quest designers, etc. I wonder if the same work could be done by fewer people today or if it still would require around the same number of people.
The team did not use version control until the tail end of development! Long periods of "broken build" is a common refrain in the book.
The labor of some of the non-developers workforce looked to me like it was excruciatingly manual and repetitive. There were some pretty impressive in-house tools, but getting new features in those was apparently a struggle. To me, hiring four "helping hands" instead of a new tool developer seems like an obvious oversight.
This is rated by some as the best movie of all times. I'm not sure it's all that, but the movie's reputation is well deserved - it has aged remarkably gracefully.
Instead of listening to me talk about it, go watch this video on Humphrey Bogart — it'll make you want to watch some of his movies.