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Batman: The Animated Series – “Joker’s Favor”

Jokers_Favor-Title_CardEpisode Number:  22

Original Air Date:  September 11, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  Harley Quinn

At last, we’ve come to the television debut of The Joker. Despite already appearing in several episodes, it was production episode number 22 that ended up being the first Joker episode to air on television, and as a debut episode, it’s both odd and strangely appropriate. The episode, seemingly more so than the other Joker episodes, requires having knowledge of who The Joker is going into it. As has been established with a few villains, The Joker existed before the events of the show and he’s so well known that even the citizens of Gotham know who he is, as we shall see with poor Charlie Collins. This episode is also the first Joker episode where Paul Dini is credited as having written, though as a creator on the show it stands to reason he had input on most of the episodes. And of course, this episode is most notable for being the debut of Harley Quinn in any medium. She would arguably end up being the biggest break-out star on the show. Interestingly, if you have the DVD release for this first volume of episodes the episode is titled “The Joker’s Favor,” though everywhere I’ve seen it listed it’s just referred to as “Joker’s Favor.”

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Bad idea, Chuck.

The episode opens with its protagonist. No, it isn’t Batman or even Joker, but an ordinary chum by the name of Charlie Collins (Ed Begley Jr.). Charlie is just an average guy having a bad day. Not much has gone right and his wife is making meatloaf for dinner – he hates meatloaf. He’s driving home from work when we meet him, and he’s soon cut-off by another motorist. This is enough to push Charlie over the edge and he starts laying on his horn and scolding the individual who wronged him on the road. Much to Charlie’s horror, the other motorist he just sassed turns out to be none other than The Joker. One turn of the head and a hideous grin is enough to scare the Hell out of Charlie. He knows who he just yelled at and immediately shrinks like a frightened turtle. Unfortunately, The Joker slides in right behind him and begins to follow him. Charlie tries to lose him and hastily exits the freeway. He pulls off the road and takes to his feet running through the nearby woods as fast as his short legs will carry him.

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This is not a situation you want to find yourself in.

Charlie collapses, exhausted, at the base of a tree, but he looks up only to find himself gazing up at The Joker. Joker, decked out in his gray hat and trench coat that he’ll sport in Mask of the Phantasm, isn’t too happy with old Chuck. He gives Charlie a chance to resume his tough guy talk, and as expected, Charlie is too frightened to do much but offer an apology. Joker, being the caring type, decides he’s not going to kill Charlie and instead tells him he expects a favor in return, some day. Charlie is frightened out of his mind, but all in all pretty relieved to not be dead as The Joker departs.

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There she is, that character we all love.

Two years later, the Gotham P.D. is getting ready to celebrate Commissioner Gordon with a special dinner and Joker wants sees it as a perfect opportunity for mischief. He decides now, along with his henchman Harley (Arleen Sorkin) seated beside him, to look up Charlie and call-in his favor. Turns out, Charlie did the wise thing and entered into a witness relocation program following his brush with The Joker. He’s now Don Wallace and lives in Ohio, but apparently Joker has been keeping a close eye on him because he’s able to call him up. Charlie tries to tell him he has the wrong number, but he soon realizes who is on the other end. Joker orders him to the airport to hop on the next flight to Gotham where Harley will pick him up from the airport.

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I have to admit, that cop outfit really works for her.

In Gotham, Charlie is forced to confront the Joker once more, and much to his surprise, he’s only asked to open a door. Feeling he’s capable of doing that, he goes along with the plan. Realizing something is up though, he leaves a bat-signal like calling card for Batman as he’s put into position inside the banquet for Gordon. He does as he’s told, opening the door when instructed and in strolls Harley dressed as a cop with an over-sized cake in tow. The men in the room think something sexy is bound to happen, but instead they’re all hit with some nerve gas that renders them all unable to move, frozen in place like statues. Harley, of course, wears a mask to prevent the gas from affecting her and she affixes one to Charlie as well. Joker rises from the cake to taunt the police as Harley attaches a bomb to Gordon, his plan almost complete.

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That could be a gag bomb, but I wouldn’t want to wait around to find out.

Charlie, realizing he can’t be an accessory to this, tries to do something about it but finds his hand has been glued to the door handle. Joker informs him he’s done with him and leaves him to die with the others. Good thing he left that little signal for Batman, because the caped crusader soon arrives on the scene. Charlie tells him what’s going on, and Batman is able to remove the bomb just in time with the added benefit that it landed on Joker’s escape van when he tossed it out the window.

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Got to hand it to him, Joker really takes it well when things don’t go according to plan.

A fight ensues between Batman and Joker’s goons. Joker is able to use yet another bomb to distract Batman and slips into an alley only to find Charlie waiting for him. He tries to brush past Charlie, but all of a sudden he finds the portly fellow full of courage. Charlie slugs Joker in the stomach and knocks him into some trash cans. He then produces another Joker bomb, only he seems intent on blowing them all up. Batman arrives and tries to talk Charlie out of it, but Charlie makes the correct observation in noting it’s pointless because The Joker will just escape from wherever he’s locked-up to torment him again. Joker, now no longer having any fun, tosses all of the information he has on Charlie at his feet, but Charlie refuses to abandon this course of action. Joker tries to hide behind Batman, but Charlie tosses him the bomb only for it to detonate and reveal itself to be a gag bomb. Charlie has a good laugh, and Batman even joins in, at Joker’s expense. Batman basically tells Charlie to get out of here, and he’s happy to do so. As we wanders away, he even mentions he hopes his wife is making meatloaf for dinner.

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In the end, Charlie gets the last laugh.

“Joker’s Favor” succeeded as a Joker episode for two very important reasons. One, it establishes The Joker as being a villain to fear. It’s easy to lose sight of that on a kid’s show given all of the silly Joker stuff that exists in most of the episodes featuring him, but he is a murderer and someone to be feared. His stalking of Charlie is creepy and Charlie’s fear is easy to understand. And then second, it also showcases Joker’s silly side, the side of him that basically always gets in the way and prevents him for doing real lasting damage on the show. He carries gag bombs, rarely takes Batman seriously, and even dismisses Charlie. He also only uses Charlie in his scheme because he just wants to terrify the guy. He probably could have utilized someone else for his plant at the banquet, someone who wouldn’t have betrayed him and called Batman, but as we’ll see time and time again The Joker just can’t get out of his own way. It often seems like he prefers it that way.

Harley Quinn makes a nice debut for herself, though it’s also not indicative of the character she’ll become. Her harlequin inspired attire and attitude is fetching (much of that can be credited to Arleen Sorkin who really brings life and charm to the character through her performance) and she makes an instant impact since so often the henchman in the show are lacking a personality. Still, I’m not sure if people expected to see more of her or if they thought she would just be a one and done sort of character. Of course, she wasn’t, but considering a series of Joker episodes followed this one without Harley it seemed to suggest she wouldn’t play a large role going forward. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, and Harley ended up being one of the few villains who often has another layer revealed about her in each subsequent episode she appears in, rather than just being an unchanging villain of the week.

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If you liked Harley in this episode, then I have some good news for you because we’ll be seeing a lot more of her.

As for Charlie, he was one and done and that’s the way it should have been. Joker probably should have sought revenge, and if you’re the dark type maybe you just assume Joker did end up killing him and we never found out. If Joker could find him once even with a name change and move out of town then he could probably do it again. This episode also doesn’t feature much Batman, but at this stage that’s fine as we’re pretty comfortable with Batman at this point. He can sort of come and go as he pleases, as long as what’s in his place is worthwhile and here it certainly is. This may be my favorite Joker episode, though more good ones are to come.

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Mega Man X

snes_mega_man_x_p_xky270When Mega Man X was released in 1993 I was so confused. I saw the X in the title and assumed it stood for 10. Back in the 90s, it wasn’t uncommon for games to not get localized and released in North America for various reasons. Famously, we only received 3 Final Fantasy titles in the same amount of time as Japan getting 6. At the time, there were 6 regular old Mega Man titles released, and the sixth one had just been released on the aging NES hardware, so it didn’t really make sense that there would be three titles missing. Of course, there wasn’t and Capcom had basically just felt it was a good idea to give Mega Man a slight rebranding when moving him to the new hardware – the Super Nintendo.

Mega Man X, or just X, is a future Mega Man who is just a bit more advanced than his predecessor, and yet it feels like he’s moved so far beyond what Mega Man was previously. When the game starts, X mostly looks like Mega Man but with a higher detail sprite making him look more like the character art than the old in-game models. He comes equipped with the X-Buster which mostly functions like the old Mega Buster including a charged shot. He’s lost the ability to slide, but instead can dash forward either with the press of a face button or a double tap of a directional. He can also do a wall kick which allows him to continuously jump off a wall and scale it. Combining the dash with a jump or a wall kick can open up new areas for X and adds a new level of exploration not really found in the prior games.

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Minus the cool armor upgrades, X doesn’t look THAT different from the old Mega Man.

Aside from all of that, the conventions of the game are still really familiar. Dr. Light and Dr. Wiley are both dead, but in their place X has an ally in Zero, a Maverick Hunter who goes after rogue robots and mostly looks like a red version of X with a ponytail. The villain is the Incredible Crash Dummy look-alike Sigma, a former Maverick Hunter turned….Maverick. The plot is basically that X was the first robot created with free will, and fearing he was too strong and unpredictable, Dr. Light sealed him away. Well past his expiration date, a Dr. Cain found X and basically reverse engineered him to create Zero as well as legions of other robots. A bunch of them went nuts, became Mavericks, and here we are with X having finally awakened on his own. Like any other Mega Man game, the story is simply there for you to take in if you wish, but it’s hardly essential to enjoying the game.

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The opening stage introduces the player to ally Zero and enemy Vile.

The rest of the setup is also essentially the same. Eight robot masters stand in the way of X and a showdown with Sigma. There’s an intro level which introduces both Zero, as an ally who comes to Mega Man’s aid, and Vile, an enemy robot who pilots a mech suit. The robot masters are only changed in the sense that now they resemble an animal of some kind. They still possess unique weapons and each one is weak to another. Clearing a stage means X can re-enter it and exit it at will, which is important because there are numerous extra goodies to uncover. In addition to the familiar E-Tanks, now called Sub Tanks, X can also find health upgrades that extend his overall health meter. And more importantly, X can also find capsules Dr. Light left behind which contain new upgrades for X’s armor like a chest guard that allows him to absorb more damage and leg upgrades that let him break certain walls. There’s even a special upgrade that allows X to perform a famous maneuver from another popular Capcom series. These armor and weapon upgrades will become a staple of the X franchise, which now has as almost as many games in it it as the regular Mega Man series.

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The eight robot masters are all now aligned with animals of some kind, a trait that will continue throughout the X series.

Once the robot masters have been dealt with, Sigma’s base opens up and X is free to pursue the ultimate enemy of the game. Sigma’s base is broken up into three stages, and unlike traditional Mega Man games, there’s no boss-rush room. Instead, X will encounter the defeated robot masters throughout the three stages which makes things a little more fun than the usual room full of capsules. There are also additional other bosses to take down, including a showdown with Vile, before Sigma can be challenged. Like Dr. Wiley before him, Sigma’s fight will encapsulate multiple parts (in this case, three including the fight with his mutt) and is designed to test X’s skills up to this point. Whether it does or not is a matter of opinion, I suppose, though like most boss battles, once you figure out the patterns he’s not particularly difficult. Especially with some fully stocked Sub Tanks.

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Gameplay wise, you’re not getting anything you aren’t used to, and yet it feels new.

What makes Mega Man X such a resounding success is the sense of freedom within the game. The various health and armor upgrades are all basically optional and you’re free to make the game as easy or as challenging on yourself as you like. The X-Buster is fairly strong on its own, offering multiple levels of “charged” for damage output. As a result, the robot master weapons need to provide other functions to make them worthwhile and the game does an excellent job of just that. And once X acquires the X-Buster upgrade he can even charge all of the enemy weapons giving them new functions such as Chameleon Sting’s invincibility or the forcefield offered by Rolling Shield. There’s even one weapon that has a Cut Man property to it and can cut-off certain parts of enemies weaponry including some bosses. The generous amount of Sub Tanks that can be acquired also seems to encourage some experimentation as you can always farm power-ups and refill the tanks if you hit a tough part or happen to fail to recognize what weapon works best on a particular enemy.

Visually, Mega Man X looks great for an early Super Nintendo title and holds up quite well even today. The sprites are colorful and well-detailed and there’s very much a Cybertron-like quality to the design of X’s world that works for the franchise. There are numerous large-scale enemies that are common throughout the levels and the usual amount of setting variety as well such as more jungle-like levels and even an underwater one. The bosses are all pretty fun, and they seem a little more agile this time around since X is better equipped to dodge them. Some of the easier ones will let the player exploit X’s wall-kick, but later enemies will know how to get you off the wall and out of the corners. The music is also a strength. It may not be as classic as a Mega Man 2, but it’s still a high point for the franchise.

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X does look pretty bad ass once he gets all of his upgrades.

The only negative with Mega Man X is that the abundance of enemies and detailed graphics do lead to some slowdown. Even when playing on the SNES Classic, slowdown is pretty common at certain points. I especially notice it in Armored Armadillo’s stage when X has to ride a mine cart like device and the screen is loaded with enemies. The slowdown won’t really impact play, since X is largely required to be stationary throughout all of this, but it can be a bit frustrating. I at least can’t recall an instance of slowdown during a tricky platforming section or something.

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If you can find it, the 2006 X collection for PS2 and Gamecube is a worthwhile pick-up, though it probably makes more sense to wait for the PS4/Xbox One/Switch release.

If the only negative in your 15 year old game is occasional slowdown, then that’s a pretty good legacy to leave for Mega Man X. It was at the time, and still is today, a bright spot for the Mega Man franchise. It felt so fresh at a time when Mega Man was definitely growing stale and playing it today after recently playing both Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 8 it still feels that way. It injects a bit more fun into the formula by making the main character just more fun to handle. It’s the main reason why Mega Man X is arguably the greatest Mega Man game ever made. I’d rather play it over any of the mainline games, though I’d love to revisit Mega Man X4 before declaring it’s definitely the best. Like the regular series, the X series would also suffer from over-saturation as Capcom would fast track another pair of X games for the SNES and then continue along with the Playstation. The games would eventually add Zero as a playable character, which definitely helped reinvigorate the franchise as Zero played differently from X and offered a new set of challenges.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter where Mega Man X fits in the overall series because by itself it’s pretty damn awesome. And thankfully, it’s still pretty easy to come by. It sold really well when it came out so cartridges for the SNES can be found for a reasonable cost today. There was a compilation of X games released on both the Gamecube and PS2, but that’s actually a little harder to come by. Capcom is prepping a new collection of X titles for 2018, so it should be easily available relatively soon. And if you happen to find one, it’s also included among the 21 games on the SNES Classic, which is thankfully a lot easier to find than the NES Classic, but still not as easy as just walking into a store and buying it on any given day. However you go about experiencing it, it’s likely you’ll have a pretty good time with Mega Man X.


Dragon Ball – Season 5

images-237What?! I’m actually finishing my look back at the entire series of Dragon Ball AND two entries are being made within a week of one another?! If you’re just stumbling upon this, I started looking back at Dragon Ball back in 2011 and it’s taken me until 2018 to finish it. Not because I needed all of that time to watch the show or go into exhaustive detail, I just plain didn’t do it. Now it’s done though, and we’re upon the final volume as released by FUNimation on DVD, which they chose to refer to as Season 5.

When we left off with Season 4, King Piccolo had just been defeated by the plucky young Goku in sort of gruesome, yet satisfying, fashion. Just before Piccolo truly died though he was able to spit an egg halfway across the world. Referring to it as his son as it traveled through the air, he encouraged it to continue his work and above all, seek revenge for his death. The whole scene was unnoticed by Goku, Tien, and Yajirobe who all were there to witness Goku’s triumph. Goku was beaten up pretty badly though and was in need of some immediate attention so Yajirobe scooped him up and tossed him in his hover car presumably to take to Korin. Meanwhile, Yamcha and Bulma were arriving on the scene with their other friends in tow and were prepared to render aid to Tien, who also took a pretty good beating during the confrontation with Piccolo.

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Season 5 marks the debut of Kami, who will play an important role in the episodes (and series) to come.

The first several episodes continue to deal with the fall-out. Goku, needing to revive the Eternal Dragon in order to restore his friends to life, journeys to the tallest point of the world, beyond even Korin’s tower, to the lookout. There he meets Mr. Popo, the djinn-like attendant up there. Poor Mr. Popo would later be viewed by network broadcasters as a racial stereotype when Dragon Ball Z Kai started airing in the US and be re-colored a garish neon blue. Here he is presented in his traditional black with red lips. Honestly, I see a genie when I look at him so I don’t really know what Toriyama was going for, but if you see him as racist that’s your right too. Anyways, Goku has to prove himself before Popo in order to meet the guardian of the earth, Kami. When he does he’s stunned to see that Kami looks just like the elder version of Piccolo!

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Mr. Popo’s appearance was deemed controversial enough to edit when airing on the CW as part of Dragon Ball Z Kai.

Again, this is another moment in the series spoiled by the popularity of DBZ. Having seen that series, I know all about Kami and how he and Piccolo used to be one person. Kami, needing to prove himself worthy of being the earth’s guardian, purged himself of any and all malice. That lead to the creation of Piccolo, a collection of every bad aspect of Kami’s personality. Kami is also aware of the existence of Piccolo Jr., and rather than commit infanticide, wants Goku to train with him to face that challenge someday. In exchange for reviving the dragon, Goku agrees to train with Kami for 3 years (apparently, Kami’s race grows up fast). For Goku, the length of the commitment seems daunting, but he’s always eager to get stronger and training under Kami is viewed as a worthwhile opportunity.

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Yeah, this is going to happen.

The next half-dozen episodes or so comprise Goku’s training. He’ll enter the Spirit Room, do some fishing, and even journey back in time. Meanwhile, Tien, Yamcha, and the newly resurrected Krillin and Chiaotzu seek out Master Korin to take part in some of the training that worked out so well for Goku. These episodes seek, in some respect, to go back to the more whimsical tone of the show. Even though the main characters are largely training, they end up going on small adventures with fairly low stakes. There’s an emphasis on comedy, particularly with Goku’s time-traveling, but they do suffer from the usual training fatigue this series and the ones to come fall victim to.

At episode 133, we get a three year time jump. This was likely done to accomplish two things:  gloss over Goku’s training with Kami and age-up Piccolo Jr. This leaves us at the latest edition of The World Martial Arts Tournament which will not only showcase the world’s finest but also serve as a reunion for the majority of our cast. The reunion doesn’t just cover the usual gang, but even reaches back to older acquaintances and even some we never saw play out, like Tien and the brutal Mercenary Tao. This is also a re-debut for many of our children characters who now find themselves aged-up into young adulthood. It’s fun to see how the characters, who apparently haven’t seen much or any of each other over the years, react to seeing one another again, but it’s also a little sad for us the viewer as it means we’ve now said goodbye to kid Goku. I’m going to miss that sweet little boy.

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Piccolo Jr as a bit of an evil look to him that will soften in DBZ.

In his place, naturally, is adult Goku. I must say, it’s pretty cool for a manga and now an anime series to do something as permanent as age-up its child protagonist into an adult. It’s pretty risky, since there’s a chance the young audience that comprises the fanbase will no longer identify with Goku. And there’s also the risk that they just won’t want to see Goku as an adult and prefer he remain a boy. From the creator’s perspective, Toriyama must have felt there was nothing left for a young Goku to accomplish. After all, having adults underestimate a child over and over again gets old and his last major act as a kid was basically saving the world. It’s hard to accomplish something bigger than that. Goku, as a child, even had to deal with trauma in the form of watching his friends and mentor die as well as face the burden of taking a life himself. That’s a pretty full childhood.

Thankfully, as an adult Goku hasn’t lost what made him so endearing as a boy, only his tail (so the moon could come back). He’s still kind-hearted and trusting to a fault and pretty ignorant of the world around him. Age has brought him little wisdom, and he still approaches every challenge with the same youthful eagerness and excitement he always has. Meanwhile, Krillin has grown into a more well-rounded individual who is less devious and less assure of himself, without actually growing much physically. He was over-confident as a boy at times, but now has a more realistic outlook, though we’re still a long way from him being totally outclassed by his peers so this is a Krillin who still feels like he can hang with anyone in a fight. Also re-debuting, is Chi-Chi, who we haven’t seen in quite some time. Chi-Chi, daughter of the Ox King, took a liking to Goku once upon a time and he even agreed to marry her one day. Chi-Chi apparently has not forgotten that promise.

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Tao is back, and he’s had some enhancements.

And then there’s Junior. Piccolo Junior, that is, makes his presence known by also entering the contest. He’s not so much there to win as he is to defeat, and then kill, Goku to avenge the death of his “father.” Piccolo Jr. is more of a clone than a true son, from what I gather, though we’ll learn way, way, down the road that he’s part of a race that actually reproduces asexually so maybe it’s a bit murkier than that. Whatever he is, he knows all about the encounter between his father and Goku even though he wasn’t there and had no one to raise him. He mostly looks like his father, though he’s a bit more slight and takes to wearing a cape and turban with giant shoulder pads. He’s convincingly evil, like his dear old dad, which is a far-cry from where he’ll be when DBZ picks up.

The tournament is going to take around 15 episodes to complete, making a pretty long competition. Like most of the tournaments featured in this show, the final match-up feels pre-ordained which does suck some of the suspense out of it all. To add some spice, there’s the new and improved Mercenary Tao who’s now part machine after being nearly killed by Goku in Season 3. He gets put on a collision course with Tien, who apparently doesn’t have fond memories of the brute dating back to his time with Tao’s brother, Master Shen, who would spar with Tien. Tien and Goku also need to have a rematch following Goku’s defeat the last time the two met in competition, and a mysterious fighter named Hero enters the tournament and his identity is in question, until it’s not.

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The eventual confrontation between Goku and Piccolo is a pretty satisfying battle.

Of course, the two fighters destine to meet in the finals are none other than Goku and Piccolo Jr. It may not come as a surprise, but it wouldn’t make sense for it to be any other pairing. For Piccolo, it’s an opportunity to not only best Goku in a fight, but to also embarrass him in front of a large audience. For Goku, this is his third trip to the finals of this tournament and a chance to finally win one having fallen to Master Roshi (disguised as Jackie Chun) and Tien previously. Their battle will encompass parts of six episodes, which feels like a make-up for the relatively brief battle between Goku and King Piccolo. To heighten the stakes, Piccolo essentially promises to destroy the world after he finishes off Goku. Goku likely can’t just settle for winning this match as a ring-out or some other technicality likely won’t prevent Piccolo from going on a rampage. He needs to beat him down and make sure he can’t accomplish his goal of total annihilation for earth.

This fight is essentially the grand finale for Dragon Ball. It’s going to rely on some old staples of past fights while also attempting to up the stakes as high as possible. Think huge energy attacks and a literal huge adversary when Piccolo demonstrates his growing abilities. When all is said and done, the show feels almost as if it’s been creatively exhausted. The fighters are so beyond what they were when this show started and it feels impossible to ponder where they go from here. Of course, Toriyama and TOEI weren’t quite there yet as DBZ will prove there’s still something left in the tank, but for now, this conclusion feels complete.

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Goku and Chi-Chi are going to need some time to get reacquainted with each other.

It doesn’t end there though. The last five episodes detail Goku and Chi-Chi’s quest for marriage. They have to embark on some minor adventures for a dress and other wedding planning activities that try to recapture a bit of that old Dragon Ball magic, but sadly come up short. That’s not to say these episodes are bad, but they lack some of the whimsy of the old ones and feel like padding to draw out the season. I’m not really sure why anyone felt the show needed to be 153 episodes instead of 150, but it is what it is. In the end, Goku and Chi-Chi are married and they display as little chemistry together here as they will in DBZ. I’ve always been some-what dissatisfied with their pairing as Goku is almost too child-like to imagine getting married, let alone procreating eventually. Chi-Chi at least gets to be an interesting character, albeit briefly, before becoming a nagging shrew in DBZ. She’ll rarely be in the wrong from here on out, but she’ll often be made to feel like an adversary of sorts for Goku. That’s sort of a problem with the series as a whole though, as the women often feel more like stereotypes than anything.

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In a bit of a surprise, the series ends with a wedding.

Dragon Ball has a some-what muted end, but in a way it’s also satisfying. The World Martial Arts Tournament is a chance for Goku to shine for a final time doing what he does best:  fighting. There’s also a nice send-off for him that hints at a more stable life by having him marry Chi-Chi. The reunion feel of the tournament also allows for basically every one of the secondary characters to have some screen time to not only see what they’re up to, but say goodbye. Of course, the manga continued on after this while the anime would be rebranded as Dragon Ball Z and run for over 200 episodes by itself. I personally like that the two anime properties are separated, albeit slightly, in their naming as Dragon Ball has always had a very different feel than Dragon Ball Z. It’s the more charming of the two and the series more concerned with character creation. Watched separately, Dragon Ball Z lacks that, but it’s largely due to the characters being established by this series, although that’s no excuse for the cookie-cutter villains added in DBZ. In light of that, I suppose it goes without saying that I view Dragon Ball more favorably than I do Dragon Ball Z, even though DBZ is the series I consumed first. Dragon Ball just holds up better on repeated viewings as its humorous tone and smaller stakes are easier to digest rather than every fight being a battle to save the universe. This final volume of episodes is definitely not the best, and in some ways just feels like a lot of fan service, but it is at least fan service done well as if you’ve been along for the ride you’ll likely find yourself smiling a lot while watching these final episodes. It probably wouldn’t make sense to view it without having seen the previous 122 episodes, but for those who have it would make even less sense to skip this final batch of 31. All in all, a satisfying conclusion to a wonderful series.

If you’re looking to enjoy Dragon Ball on your own, your options are unfortunately rather limited. Aside from streaming options, you basically only have the five season sets put out by FUNimation. Even in Japan, the series was only released as a made-to-order set as even there DBZ is more popular than Dragon Ball. The FUNimation sets are limited to strictly DVD and no Blu Ray release is currently planned. The sets themselves are solid, if unspectacular. The transfer is about as good as you would expect of a television program from the 1980s. FUNimation wisely left the aspect ratio alone, having faced some backlash for messing with it for its DBZ box sets. The original audio is also preserved and available. FUNimation obviously re-dubbed the character voices and narration but left the music alone. Dragon Ball benefitted greatly from being dubbed by FUNimation long after it started doing in-house dubs. Their initial dubs were pretty terrible, including Dragon Ball Z, but the Dragon Ball one is pretty fantastic. There’s no “warm-up” period for the actors as they all feel comfortable with their characters from the get-go. If you prefer to hear the characters and understand them as opposed to reading, then you’ll probably be happy with the dub. The sets are short on any sort of worthwhile bonus material, but they at least contain the essentials. These sets were once really cheap, which is how I got them, but now that they’re out of print they aren’t as friendly on the wallet but still reasonable ranging from $20 to $30 per set. I think it’s worth it, and if you’re into anime Dragon Ball almost feels like required viewing. If you’re a fan of Dragon Ball Z or Dragon Ball Super and tend to like them for their large scale confrontations then maybe Dragon Ball isn’t for you, but I think it’s worth giving a try. On the other hand, if your favorite episodes of Dragon Ball Z are the early, pre-Frieza episodes then you’ll probably love Dragon Ball. If you do end up checking it out I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Feat of Clay – Part II”

3366172-feat+of+clay+2Episode Number:  21

Original Air Date:  September 9, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Marv Wolfman and Michael Reaves

First Appearance(s):  None

Like “Two-Face” before it, “Feat of Clay” gets to benefit in its second act from a strong first act that set everything up. All of the establishing material has been taken care of. When we last saw Matt Hagen he had been mutated into a grotesque mass of clay thanks to Roland Daggett’s men and the Renuyu product. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne found himself in an unfamiliar position:  arrested for the attempted murder of Lucius Fox.

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Meet Clayface.

“Part II” opens with Wayne making bail and heading into his car without speaking a word to the throng of reporters shouting questions at him. As Alfred drives away, Wayne is able to recount a bit of where he’s at in his investigation into who tried to knock off Fox. He knows it has something to do with Daggett (Ed Asner), that much he was able to get out of one of Daggett’s cronies, but he needs more information or else his case will hit a wall. Daggett is also sweating a bit as Fox is still out there and he knows about Daggett’s attempt at a hostile takeover of Wayne Enterprises and things could get back to him.

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Germs doesn’t want to get his suit dirty.

That’s stuff is all playing second fiddle though to what has happened with former actor turned criminal Matt Hagen (Ron Perlman). We only saw a glimpse of the monster he has become at the conclusion of “Part I,” but “Part II” wastes no time in showing Hagen in all his grotesque glory. Seated in front of a mirror in his trailer, Hagen is a massive clay-like golem with a hint of Slimer from The Real Ghostbusters in his face. He’s resigned to the fact that his career as an actor is over, as well as his life among normal people. His friend and stand-in Teddy (Dick Gautier) is trying to console him though, and the two soon realize that the Renuyu that made him this way still works as intended, meaning Hagen can mold his face to resemble others. And the ability is no longer limited to his face, Hagen can essentially re-shape his entire body to resemble anyone he can imagine, including clothing. For a brief moment, Teddy thinks Hagen can now continue on as an actor, only now better than ever. However, Hagen quickly loses concentration and reverts back to his new monstrous appearance. Frustrated, he explains that changing his form is like tensing a muscle, and maintaining that is just as hard. It’s a fun little nugget of info for the viewer and necessary information if we’re to believe that there’s no going back for Hagen.

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That’s a neat trick.

Daggett’s henchman Germs (Ed Begley Jr.) is sent to finish off Fox in his hospital room, but Batman having no real leads to pursue, is there waiting. Germs bolts, but Batman corners him in some research closet where different diseases are stored. Germs, having gained his nickname because he’s a germaphobe, is pretty freaked out and Batman places a jar of what he calls crimson fever on a shelf above the head of Germs. He interrogates him, and each time Germs doesn’t give him a suitable answer he punches the wall and the jar inches ever closer to the edge of the shelf. Germs reveals that Hagen was the one who impersonated Wayne, and Batman is dubious of Hagen’s ability to pull it off so convincingly. Before he can get anywhere further, a security guard interrupts them and we see the jar over Germ’s head was harmless sewer water.

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Hagen getting creative with his new-found abilities.

The guard though, is there for Germs as well. It’s Hagen, and he immediately attacks Batman by extending his arm into a mass of clay to slam Batman against the ceiling. He makes off with Germs and tries to escape via the rooftop, but Batman is there to meet him. They have a brief exchange, with Hagen getting creative with his shape-shifting abilities. In a scene that was often included in TV spots for the show, Hagen makes little steel tips pop-out of the ends of his fingers. They continue to extend until the clay recedes to reveal a steel hand that he then thrusts forward – the fingers extending like swords. Batman dodges, and eventually Hagen collapses under the stress of all of the shape-shifting. He escapes by diving off of the building and retreat’s to Teddy’s house.

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I guess he does kind of look like poop, but I don’t care, I think Clayface is pretty rad.

Even though Hagen failed to kill Germs, he feels empowered by his battle with the Batman. Teddy tries to talk him out of this path, but Hagen snaps at him, announces he’s to be called Clayface from now on, and leaves Teddy lying on the floor. Daggett is set to appear on a popular Gotham talk show hosted by Summer Gleeson, so we know where Clayface is heading. Batman has also made the same connection, and he’s there to set a trap. When Clayface, disguised as an audience member, confronts Daggett on television about the addictive properties of Renuyu, he reveals himself and forces Batman to spring into action. He’s able to lure Clayface into the control room, where monitors surround Clayface and display different parts Matt Hagen played in his career. Clayface loses control of his shape-shifting powers and a prolonged “death” scene occurs as Hagen smashes monitors and gets himself electrocuted. During the sequence, he even takes on the form of Wayne in full sight of the police which apparently was enough to prove Wayne’s innocence (and maybe Germs ended up cooperating with authorities, but Daggett escapes arrest so who knows?). After that, Batman is back in the bat cave with a piece of clay he recovered from Germs. He’s shocking it and it has no effect suggesting to Batman that the death of Clayface was just another performance. Cut to Teddy bidding farewell to his old friend, and a woman behind him laughs menacingly and her eyes go yellow.

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A bunch of monitors is apparently all you need to take down Clayface.

Clayface is a profoundly fun villain to watch. The animation utilized is possibly the best the show will ever have as Clayface is constantly morphing and changing, particularly in the fight scene with Batman. No shortcuts are utilized in showing how his hands turn into other objects, no puff of smoke or bright glowing lights or something to obscure the animation. He has this nice texture to his look that reminds me of earth clay as opposed to pottery. Ron Perlman’s deep and gravely voice also sounds appropriate coming out of Clayface and it’s hard to imagine another voice for the character. Animating him was probably costly, which might explain why he only appears in one more episode of Batman:  The Animated Series, and then one more in The New Batman Adventures. That’s the only thing that dampens my enthusiasm for the episode, just knowing we won’t see much more of this villain. While he doesn’t fit-in with other villains of the show, those that are mostly grounded in some basis of reality, Clayface is a purely fantastical creature. It does feel a touch out of place, but it’s handled well which makes the whole thing easier to accept at face value.

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When Clayface goes nuts the animators get to have a ton of fun with him, or maybe it was all miserable to animate. Either way, it looks awesome.

In the real world, it will be a year before we see Clayface again. For this blog, it will be less than that since it’s roughly 30 episodes away. It was pretty cool though for Clayface to disappear for some time as the ending of this episode makes you wonder what’s next for Clayface. Is he to become a recluse and hide from society? Can he learn to control his powers well enough to resume his life as Matt Hagen? We’ll find out eventually. Batman: The Animated Series only has a handful of two-parters, and it begs the question:  Which is the best? I know a lot of people love “Robin’s Reckoning” and it’s hard to argue against that one as best of the two-parters. “Two-Face” was great though the second act was a little underwhelming, at times. The others concern Batgirl, Ras Al Ghul, and a wacky computer. They’re actually all pretty good, from what I remember, but I think “Feat of Clay” is easily in the top two with “Robin’s Reckoning.” We’ll see how I feel about that two-parter when I get to it (spoiler alert:  in about 10 weeks).


Mega Man 8

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Mega Man 8 (1996/1997)

Mega Man 8 is perhaps the most divisive game in the history of the Blue Bomber. The first developed without series creator Tokuro Fujiwara, it was the only mainline Mega Man game released during the 32 bit era, and for a long time, was the last to be made with current generation technology, even though it didn’t seem like that at the time. After the release of Mega Man 8, the series essentially disappeared in favor of the many Mega Man spin-off franchises such as X, Legends, Battle Network, and others. When Capcom finally reconvened to create a Mega Man 9 it opted to pretend as if this game (and to some extent its predecessor Mega Man 7) never existed going back to a visual style akin to the original NES games and a gameplay style that went even further back. Capcom would stay with that look for Mega Man 10, but finally announced in 2017 that a new Mega Man game is coming and it won’t feature illusory 8-bit images.

It’s interesting that the game has become so maligned over the years, since at the time Mega Man 8 was supposed to be a celebration of Mega Man and the impact he had made in the world of gaming. Coinciding with the 10 year anniversary of the first game, Mega Man 8 stayed true to the series roots by sticking with 2D gameplay when the whole world was demanding 3D. Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SCEA) initially wanted nothing to do with the game because of its use of 2D visuals. Wanting to highlight the processing power of the PlayStation, SCEA nearly prevented the release of the game in North America, but eventually relented when Capcom agreed to dress-up the packaging. Since it was also to be released on the Saturn, SCEA wanted exclusive content and thus received a little booklet to be included with each copy of the game recounting the legacy of Mega Man. Maybe out of spite, Capcom would introduce better, exclusive, content on the Saturn with optional hidden bosses.

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There’s a whole bunch of new enemies for Mega Man to vanquish.

Mega Man 8 largely follows the formula of the games that came before it building off of Mega Man 7. So unlike more recent entries in the series, this one still retains the charge shot and slide maneuver as well as the bolts currency which can be used between levels to purchase upgrades for Mega Man. Dr. Wiley is the main antagonist once again and Bass and Treble return from 7 to make Mega Man’s life more difficult. The plot isn’t of much importance, suffice to say that Wiley is up to no good and has created 8 robot masters that Mega Man has to get by before he can ultimately take on the mad scientist. A new character is introduced, Duo, who’s from outer space and brings with him some kind of weird energy that Wiley wants to make use of. He starts off as an ambiguous character, but will eventually become an ally when he “senses justice” within in Mega Man, or some nonsense.

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Most of the levels have an appealing design that serves its robot master well.

What you need to know as a gamer is that Mega Man has roughly 12 new stages to topple. After a simple introductory level, four additional stages are open to Mega Man and each features a robot master to take down. Following their defeat, an intermission stage is unlocked before the final 4 robot masters are available and then eventually the multi-stage Wiley Tower. Splitting the 8 robot masters into two separate groupings of four does make it a little easier to determine an order to tackle them in. As is the case with virtually every Mega Man game, defeating a robot master earns Mega Man a new weapon and each one is a natural weakness for another robot master (Wiley should really avoid doing that when creating these things). There is an added challenge in introducing the robots this way as the player needs to figure out which robot to tackle first – twice! There’s no overlap in terms of weaknesses between the two groups of four, so the first boss you fight and the fifth will basically necessitate relying on the Mega Buster to topple. If you want my advice, I suggest starting with Grenade Man and Aqua Man, respectively. Although I did have this game before I had internet access and a boss order available to me so I have taken down more than just those two with the Mega Buster.

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Mega Man 8 is gorgeously animated, but few appreciated it in 1996 since it wasn’t 3D.

Scattered throughout the stages are bolts. There is a finite amount of them in the game and they serve as currency for Mega Man to purchase upgrades. Since you’re limited by the amount of bolts in the game, this also means you’ll be unable to purchase all of the upgrades in a single save file. Some of the upgrades available to Mega Man include a fast charge attachment, a shield that will prevent knock-backs, a laser shot, and a spread gun, among others. Basically all of them are useful to some degree, though I’d argue the most essential is probably the quick-charge. One annoyance, the ability to exit already completed stages must be purchased, so if you want to go back for bolts that you missed (and you will, since some require a weapon acquired later to access) you will have to either waste bolts on this feature or play through the entire level again.

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There’s some auto-scrolling segments to break-up the gameplay. This Rush segment works well, but don’t ask me about the snowboarding one.

The stages feature a solid mix of run and gun and platforming gameplay, as well as a couple of auto-scrolling events. The levels offer a rather average level of difficulty for a Mega Man game sitting this one squarely in the middle of the pack if arranged accordingly, though perhaps closer to the easy side. Continues are unlimited, so the game is forgiving in that regard, but the checkpoints are spread out enough that having to use a continue does hurt a bit. There are no E Tanks in this game, which might explain why it’s a touch on the easier side, but there is a Rush attachment that can be used once per stage that summons Mega Man’s trusty robotic canine who will drop power-ups as he flies back and forth. It’s not as seamless as an E Tank since Mega Man still has to chase down the power-ups and there’s no guarantee that Rush will drop exactly what you want. This makes him a bit unreliable during the chaotic boss encounters in the game and he’s also basically useless if you’re in an area where Mega Man is limited by where he can stand (auto-scrolling segments, spike pits, etc.).

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In what was apparently common for Capcom at the time, fan input was sought for boss designs. Some of the original fan-submitted works appear in the credits.

Of the main stages available, none are probably memorable enough to supplant a Quick Man or Flash Man stage, but they mostly offer plenty of variety and avoid the pitfalls of tedium. Tengu Man’s stage features a pervasive gust of wind that extends Mega Man’s jumps when moving with it, but also hinders his ability to backtrack. This stage also features one of the auto-scrolling portions where Mega Man hops aboard Rush and uses him like a jet-board as he soars through the air. During these segments Mega Man can also summon his lesser allies like Auto and Beat to assist him in taking out the various enemies he encounters. Astro Man’s stage features some maze-like portions as well as a frantic escape from a sinking tower. Sword Man’s stage is broken up into sections that can be tackled in any order, sort of like the boss gauntlet that appears towards the end of every Wiley Castle. Some levels also feature a mid boss and defeating that boss unlocks a new Rush ability (4 in total) that include the health power-up, as well as a few other things that aren’t really essential but can be useful.

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Mega Man has finally learned how to swim, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Some levels, on the other hand, don’t go over as well. Frost Man’s stage features the snowboarding auto-scrolling bit and it is not enjoyable. The input feels laggy, and the developers apparently noticed this as well because they inserted audio prompts commanding the player to “Jump! Jump!” or “Slide! Slide!” These segments are mercifully short, but also short on fun and it’s a shame they recognized the need for the cues but not the need to just cut them entirely. Aqua Man’s stage also features scenarios completely submerged in water. Mega Man has apparently received a software upgrade that taught him how to swim, as he no longer just jumps around slowly in water. Swimming basically works the same way in Mega Man 8 as it does in Super Mario Bros, which is to say it’s not good. Mega Man is also a lot longer relative to Mario so it’s not easy to maneuver him around enemies. You’re better off to just plow through those segments and hope for the best.

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Mega Man’s “sister” Roll runs Dr. Light’s shop which you can visit to purchase upgrades for Mega Man after acquiring enough bolts.

The bosses themselves are all fine. They’re fully voiced, like Mega Man (more on that later), and it’s kind of funny to hear them taunt Mega Man before and during confrontations. There’s nothing particularly logical about who is weak to who, unless you know more about the robot than the game presents. For example, Sword Man does have a fire element associated with him that’s not apparent just by looking at him and Aqua Man’s Aqua Bubble is his weakness. There’s also no weapon on par with the Metal Blade that makes life easier across the board, though the multi-hit Grenade Bomb is pretty good and seems to have the most uses. Other weapons are more utilitarian. The Tornado Hold can be used to levitate Mega Man or hit enemies that are high in the air and the Thunder Claw can be utilized like Bionic Commando’s claw at certain points in the game (another benefit to splitting the bosses in groups of four means levels can be designed to utilize certain weapons because it’s guaranteed the player will have it). There’s also a 9th weapon that Mega Man receives in the opening stage:  the Mega Ball. It’s basically a soccer ball and pressing the fire button causes Mega Man to drop the ball. He can then dribble it if he likes or even jump on it for a small height boost on his subsequent jump, or press the fire button again to kick it. The ball can ricochet off walls, but it’s mostly too unwieldy to properly utilize. Only one boss requires its use. Two other very useful weapons include the Homing Sniper, which can fire up to three homing missiles, and the Astro Crush which rains down death on the entire screen. As a result, it has a very limited amount of uses.

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This is the only boss who requires the use of the Mega Ball, and as a result, he’s pretty annoying.

Where things start to fall apart with Mega Man 8 is after the eight robot masters have been vanquished. Wiley’s various stages are lackluster and downright annoying at times. The first opens with another snowboard segment, this one far more annoying and longer than the ones from Frost Man’s stage. Worse yet, it ends with the only boss fight that requires use of the Mega Ball, and as a result, it’s pretty tricky. If you have to resort to a continue you’ll be stuck playing through that snowboarding segment once again and you’ll want to snap the disc in half. After that is another Rush auto-scrolling segment that uses the scrolling gimmick to kill you if you’re not paying attention (and it’s mean enough that you probably will die at least once when you hit that part for the first time) and concludes with the worst boss fight in the game. It’s long and tedious, but as a plus it’s not particularly difficult so hopefully you take it out on the first try. The third level is better and finally presents what feels like a fair challenge plus a dual boss fight when you take on the Bass + Treble machination and then the Green Devil, or whatever it’s called. The Devil boss is probably the easiest one of them all, but if you don’t know its weakness it is considerably more difficult.

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Seriously, fuck this shit.

Finally, there’s Wiley, and unfortunately he kind of sucks too. He’s very similar to his Mega Man 2 version in which you take on his tank thing before fighting him in a floating capsule/bubble contraption. The tank is not terribly difficult, but it’s also not easy, and given the lack of E Tanks there is a bit of added challenge. The capsule part is a bit boring because he just doesn’t take much damage. He doesn’t appear to be weak to anything, so you just have to make sure you outlast him.

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The anime cut scenes by and large look great considering they’re stored on CD ROM, but the voice acting just kills it.

Since this was the 10 year celebration for Mega Man, Capcom decided to dress things up with some anime cut scenes! Xebec was contracted to do the scenes and they actually did a really nice job considering these are forever trapped on a PlayStation disc. Since the total run-time for all of the sequences put together is probably only 10-12 minutes, they could afford to take their time and put a lot of effort into making them look good. Unfortunately, the same degree of care was not put forth into the voice acting when it came time to localize the game for North America. I don’t know if the Japanese voice acting was equally terrible, but the English version is hilariously bad. It’s the most infamous part of the game and what people think of first when they think of Mega Man 8. Mega Man sounds like an adolescent high-voiced girl while apparently no one realized that the characters Bass and Treble refer to music and not fish. Dr. Light is especially bad and sounds like a bumbling old fool who refers to Dr. Wiley as “Dr. Wow-ee” while the voice actor for newcomer Duo just sounds like he would rather be anywhere than in a studio voicing this character.

The voice acting is a real shame because outside of that the production values are pretty great. While few wanted 2D games in 1996, no one could argue that Mega Man 8 wasn’t attractive to look at. It’s hand-drawn visuals have aged way better than basically anything else on the PlayStation. Mega Man is the right size in relation to the screen and is lovingly animated. Many of the generic enemies are brimming with personality and the bosses, in particular Frost Man and Sword Man, are also a lot of fun to look at. The music is solid as well, and while most are probably nostalgic for that 8 bit sound I doubt few would suggest the soundtrack is poor. And while the voice acting during the anime bits is atrocious, it does succeed in adding some personality to those bosses and its mostly welcome in that space.

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An assortment of mini bosses keeps things interesting and provide a vehicle for awarding Mega Man with even more power-ups.

Mega Man 8 performed rather well at retail when it was released, but reviewers were far more mixed. Incidentally, what it was maligned most for (its visuals) is what it’s most likely celebrated most for today. There was an undercurrent of backlash from some outlets because of its simplified look and there was also some Mega Man fatigue at the time. After all, this wasn’t just the 8th Mega Man game. It also followed three Mega Man X titles and some handheld ones as well. That’s a lot of Mega Man games in the span of 10 years so reviewers and gamers could be forgiven if they weren’t as excited for a proper Mega Man title in 1996 as maybe they would be today. Opinions are still divided on this one though. As recently as 2010, IGN considered it the worst of the mainline Mega Man titles. More recently, Retronaut’s Jeremy Parish ranked it as high as 5th among all of the Mega Man games (did you know there’s 20 total as of this writing?) which is probably the most praise I’ve ever seen given to the game. Perhaps not surprisingly, I tend to fall somewhere in between those two extremes. It certainly is not the worst of the Mega Man games, but Mega Man 2 and 3 are probably superior, at least. I definitely would rather play this one than Mega Man 7, though I’m less sure when it comes to other games. I’m not an expert Mega Man gamer and I never touched the ultra hard Mega Man 10 because it sounded like something I wouldn’t enjoy. When I picked this game up in 1997 as a birthday present I had some fun with it and returning to it in 2018 was by no means a bad experience. If you like Mega Man, but have never played this one and have only heard bad things then I’d suggest giving it a shot. It’s not hard to come by thanks to the compilations put out by Capcom nor is it prohibitively expensive if you want an original PlayStation version (if you want it for Saturn you will have to pay a lot, though) so you only have yourself to blame if you haven’t played it.


Dragon Ball: Season 4

dragon_ball_season_4_600x600_itunes_artwork_by_eddie09-d58sdkjIt sure is taking me a long time to post about the “seasons” of Dragon Ball. I place the word seasons in quotations because these aren’t actual seasons of television, but just how FUNimation chose to label them when releasing the show on DVD. As a result, Season 4 starts during the World Martial Arts Tournament as opposed to before it or at its conclusion, which is a pretty poor way to start a season (though it’s a better start for Season 4 than an ending for Season 3 which was quite abrupt). Thankfully, Season 4 will end at a better spot setting up for the fifth and final volume of Dragon Ball episodes.

Season 4 has a different feel than its predecessor. While Goku has dealt with loss before and even experienced a desire for vengeance, he’ll be pushed towards a darker path even more so in this volume, but first the tournament. When we left off, Goku and his friends were participating in yet another World Martial Arts Tournament with the plot very clearly setting up a showdown between Goku and his latest rival:  Tien Shinhan. Tien is a student of Master Crane, who is also the older brother of Mercenary Tao, who Goku dispatched in Season 3. As a result, Crane wants to see his brother avenged and is relying on his pupil to do so. In order for the two to meet though, they need to win their respective matches to meet in the finals.

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Some unfinished business from Season 3.

The first 9 episodes deal with the tournament, and throughout it both Goku and Tien will be tested. By its conclusion, they’ll gain a new understanding of each other and Master Roshi will gain some new students, but he’ll also lose one. Setting up what is the main arc of the season is a murder and one that will have a lasting impact on Goku. If you want zero spoilers, then skip ahead, but the murder of Goku’s best friend and one-time rival Krillen is perhaps the darkest moment in Dragon Ball history. Perhaps the only comparable moment is the death of Dende in Dragon Ball Z at the hands of Freeza. Krillen is still basically a child when he’s murdered in Dragon Ball. It happens off-screen, but when Krillen is taking an especially long time in returning to their group’s celebratory dinner Goku runs back to the training ground to retrieve him only to find his lifeless body. It’s an affecting scene to behold as the image is held for an uncomfortably long time. This moment moves Goku to tears, naturally, but it also gives rise to an anger inside of him that is also uncomfortable to see. Up until now, Goku has been our happy-go-lucky protagonist. He’s dealt with loss mostly with sadness and to some degree a lack of comprehension. He’s learned empathy over time, he’s bore witness to how unjust the world can be, and he’s fully equipped now to experience a wide range of emotions at the sight of his best friend’s corpse.

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He doesn’t look THAT scary.

This sets the stage for the evil King Piccolo to enter our story. Piccolo is an ancient evil that not even Master Roshi could handle. He’s often referred to as a demon, and it took a technique from Roshi’s master Mutaito that cost him his life to seal him away previously:  The Evil Containment Wave. Roshi naturally preaches caution to his young pupil, but Goku is too headstrong and determined to avenge his fallen friend. He will pay for his impatience, as Piccolo isn’t alone. Since he’s rather old and feeble looking, Piccolo has surrounded himself with some powerful adversaries. They’re all named after musical instruments just like their master, and all have a sort of reptilian or demonic appearance:  Piano, Cymbal, Tambourine, and Drum. In order to defeat them, Goku will need to get stronger and he’ll be forced to seek out Master Korin once again.

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King Piccolo likes his minions scaly and green.

Meanwhile, Master Roshi together with Tien and Chiaotzu, decide they’ll need the help of the Dragon Balls in order to essentially wish away the demon king. While they’re doing that, and Goku is off training, Piccolo’s minions are seeking out the strongest fighters in the world with the goal of killing them to pave the way for King Piccolo to take control over the world (he’s a rather conventional villain, in that respect). Roshi’s plan to assemble the Dragon Balls ends up backfiring and he’s unable (or unwilling) to master the Evil Containment Wave. As a result, Piccolo seizes control of the legendary artifacts and is able to restore his youth, and power. In the process he also kills the Eternal Dragon. Suddenly, death has real consequences in this world with no dragon able to restore life to those who have fallen or will fall.

With King Piccolo fully powered-up, all eyes turn to Goku. His training with Korin puts him into confrontation with the bulbous Yajirobe. Yajirobe is essentially a punch-line in DBZ, like a lot of the main characters from Dragon Ball unfortunately, but here he is not such a push-over. Still, he’s no Goku. There’s some humor to be found in Goku’s training with Korin, but it’s largely a bit of a slog as we’re more eager than usual to see Goku face-off with the evils that stand before him. Once his training is complete, he’s forced into conflict with Piccolo’s minions and eventually the demon king himself.

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If you’re a fan of Pilaf and his crew, don’t worry, they’re still hanging around.

Some drama is created in the meantime. Tien has mastered the Evil Containment Wave, and with Goku still missing in action, he’s resolved to use it as Piccolo has begun destroying the earth city by city. Using the wave against Piccolo would mean Tien’s death, so it becomes pretty important for Goku to hurry up and get there. Goku and King Piccolo are naturally destined to meet in combat, and surprisingly, their confrontation is pretty short spanning just three episodes, but as I mentioned in the lead-in it’s at least all contained on this set without bleeding over into the next. It does mean a some-what abrupt end to the season as the immediate fall-out is left for Season 5.

Dragon Ball Season 4 marks both a new story-telling device for the show, vengeance, as well as a doubling-down on the previous format. That format is essentially Goku encountering a new foe, getting beaten down, training, and then returning to face the enemy in a rematch now powered-up. It’s a formula that Dragon Ball Z will beat into the ground, but at least here it’s not quite so worn out. Still, the training moments between Goku and Korin are slow, and they’re made even more so because the story did give us an effective motivation earlier for Goku to face Piccolo. It’s both refreshing and sad to see Goku motivated by vengeance. It would be nice if Goku could remain unaffected by the evils of the world, but it’s also unrealistic for a show with such an expansive amount of episodes. Sort of forgotten is how the season begins, with Goku turning an adversary in Tien into a new ally. It’s handled well enough, with Tien’s sense of honor ultimately being the aspect of him that is won over by Goku and his friends. Of course, if you’re like me and you experienced Dragon Ball Z before Dragon Ball then you knew Tien was destined to be an ally, but it was still entertaining to watch.

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A powered-up Goku is ready to take on the king.

At this point, the show has also improved visually. It’s success likely lead to some increased production budgets by TOEI Animation so the special effects and animation are better than they’ve ever been. The aged King Piccolo is well illustrated and he’s actually a lot more interesting to look at than the youthful version. There’s a moment where he forces an egg out of his mouth to create a new minion and it’s both gross and strangely satisfying to watch the scene play out. The original soundtrack is kept, and while it’s certainly dated, it has a whimsical quality that works really well with Dragon Ball. The benefit of FUNimation dubbing the series after DBZ means these actors have had plenty of time to get a feeling for the roles and everyone sounds mostly great. They’re all familiar if you’ve watched the other dubs, and the continuity is nice and appreciated. If you prefer Japanese audio it’s there as well. The original aspect ratio is also preserved.

Season 1 is still my favorite Dragon Ball season, mostly because it’s just a lot of fun and the ignorant Goku of Season 1 is really entertaining. Season 4 might be my second favorite though. It has some filler, but not as much as Season 3, and the stakes feel high which is also an improvement over both Seasons 2 and 3 and helps to give the confrontation more weight. It’s also satisfying when taken as a whole, and though I wouldn’t recommend it, you could conceivably just jump-in at Season 4 and enjoy it without seeing the previous material. I don’t know that I would call it peak Dragon Ball, but there is a downward slide following it with Season 5 basically feeling like an encore for the show as well as a setup for what’s to come. I promise to not take over four years to get to that one.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Feat of Clay – Part I”

Feat_of_Clay-Title_CardEpisode Number:  20

Original Air Date:  September 8, 1992

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Marv Wolfman and Michael Reaves

First Appearance(s):  Roland Daggett, Clayface

I don’t know what happened that caused me to miss the first few broadcast episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, but “Feat of Clay” was the first episode I ever saw. It’s possible that my memory is just fuzzy and I did see the few episodes that aired before it, but my family had also just moved from New Hampshire to Virginia so it was a pretty hectic period for us. Regardless, assuming it was my introduction to the show it’s a pretty great way to have the ice broken. Though “Feat of Clay” is a bit more procedural an episode as opposed to action packed, it’s a well constructed and satisfying viewing experience and I remember being captivated by the show’s tone which just felt so much more “adult” than what I was used to.

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Roland Daggett is a made for TV villain that proves to be a worthy addition to Batman canon.

“Feat of Clay” marks the debut of two characters we’ll see more than once over the course of the series. The first is crooked businessman Roland Daggett (Ed Asner). Rumor has it he was supposed to be Max Shreck from Batman Returns but supposedly Tim Burton wasn’t on board with that for some reason, so Daggett was created instead. He’s a businessman and slumlord who prioritizes money above human life. In this episode, he’s concerned with his chemical plant, Daggett Industries, and a certain client. Matt Hagen (Ron Perlman) is that client, a down on his luck actor once renowned for his ability to alter his appearance and mold himself for any role. Ever since an accident left his face horribly disfigured, he’s found it pretty hard to find work.

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Imposter Bruce wants that brief case.

The episode opens in confusing fashion (for an eight year old) with Bruce Wayne meeting Wayne Enterprises CEO Lucius Fox in the middle of the night at an old warehouse (Gotham is just full of these). Fox is confused, but he brought what Wayne was seeking – a briefcase containing documents which incriminate Daggett in an illegal attempt at taking over Wayne Enterprises. Wayne quickly double-crosses him and a horde of goons appear. They’re ordered to kill Fox, but lucky for him they’re a terrible shot. He’s eventually injured when one assailant is able to shoot out a rope and drop some debris on him. Apparently it’s a lot harder to shoot an adult male than it is a thin rope. Batman is also alerted to the gun fire and he shows up to clean up some of the mess, but he’s not in time to prevent Fox’s injury.

As a viewer, it was hard to believe Wayne would do anything to endanger one of his friends and the presence of Batman confirms this. Eventually we find out Wayne was none other than Matt Hagen in disguise. Hagen has found a topical cream that can cover up his scars, and more importantly, turns his face into a clay-like state which allows him to mold his own features to resemble others (no explanation given for how he alters his voice, that’s just cartoons for ya). The cream, Renuyu (pronounced Renew You), just so happens to be manufactured by Daggett Industries. As we know, Daggett wants to take over Wayne Enterprises, and the encounter with Fox was supposed to result in Fox’s death which would have been the catalyst for the takeover. With Hagen’s failure, Daggett has decided to cut-off Hagen’s supply of cream. He also orders his two primary henchman, Raymond Bell and Germs, to take Hagen out as he’s now a liability.

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Hollywood doesn’t have many roles for mugs like that one.

Unfortunately for Hagen, he needs the cream in order to keep working. It also has proven to be an addictive substance, though weather the cream is chemically addictive or just psychologically given it can erase scars is anyone’s guess and beside the point. Hagen feels like he needs it, and he is not willing to go without it.

Batman is of course trying to figure out what happened to Fox, oblivious at first that Bruce Wayne was framed for the attempted murder. Fox was able to tell the cops what happened, and naturally they want to speak with Bruce. Alfred covers for him while Bruce tries to figure out what happened back at the warehouse. Batman is able to trace Daggett back to Raymond Bell, who was there the night of Wayne’s framing. He tracks him down in the Batwing and runs Bell’s car off the road. In perhaps Batman’s finest interrogation, he uses the prongs on the front of the Batwing to impale and carry Bell’s car high above Gotham. Utilizing a mechanical arm, he extracts Bell from the car and dangles him over Gotham Harbor. He’s only able to find out that Wayne was not present the night of Fox’s attack, but Bell faints before he can fess up to who was behind it. The police show up and Batman is forced to hand over his prisoner. Now knowing that a Wayne imposter was present, he decides, against better judgement I’d say, to visit Fox in the hospital after hours which only makes Fox think he’s returned to finish the job. He’s arrested as a result.

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In order to hide his scars, Hagen is forced to rely on a cream provided by Daggett.

Not to be outdone, Hagen also decides to do some infiltrating and heads to Daggett’s lab. Using the last bit of Renuyu he possesses, Hagen is able to slip in undetected, but not for long. Daggett and his men discover him, and in a rather disturbing scene, Daggett basically drowns Hagen in the stuff by pouring it down his throat. The “murder” is only seen via shadows on the wall, but it’s effective. Hagen survives though, and his stand-in finds him later in his car where Daggett’s men had left him, but Hagen is different. We get just a brief look at him as he glances in the rear-view mirror before the episode ends with that which is oh so frustrating:  To be continued.

“Feat of Clay” is a slow moving episode of Batman, but necessarily so. The pacing allows us to really get inside Matt Hagen and sympathize with him. He’s driven to continue his life as it was before the accident that left him scarred and disfigured at all costs. He’s probably dealing with some depression, and the addictive Renuyu is probably the worst thing for him. His friend and stand-in Teddy is also the stand-in for the audience as he tries to talk Matt out of this path, but to no avail. He loves him too much to just abandon him, but we’re left to wonder if he’ll be pushed too far in the stories to come. Daggett, on the other hand, is a pretty conventional villain. He has no redeeming qualities and is easy to understand. He’s yet another gangster type who gives birth to a super-villain, following in the footsteps of Rupert Thorne and the role he played in creating Two-Face. Still, conventional as he may be, I always liked Daggett as a villain because there’s no compromise in him or an attempt to disguise his intentions. He’s not slimy like Thorne, just a cold, hard villain. Ed Asner is also perfectly cast in the role and my affection for him probably plays a role in my liking of Daggett.

As a result of all of the attention paid on Hagen, this ends up being an episode that’s rather light on Batman. The framing plot is engaging, when used, even if it felt rather similar to Batman Returns. He’ll get back to doing what he does best in Part II, but it is still a some-what shocking sight to see Bruce Wayne in handcuffs.

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The “murder” of Matt Hagen and the birth of Clayface.

Since “Feat of Clay” features some rather prominent voice actors, it’s not surprising this episode feels extra special. It also helps that the episode looks great. Hagen’s face is convincingly disfigured and the morphing properties of the cream he applies are fun to look at. Of course, we’re in for a far greater treat when Clayface truly debuts. The scene of his becoming Clayface though is almost incredible considering it’s taking place in a kid’s show. It was shocking to me as a kid and I watched with some disbelief. Also worth pointing out is the subtle personality quirks we get to see within Daggett’s gang. One guy apparently has a fear of germs (hence the name Germs) and Bell is always wearing headphones tuned to police scanners. It’s a small touch, but so often the hired muscle in these episodes are nameless, faceless, men with guns.

As the introduction for a new villain, and one that wasn’t well known outside of the comics, “Feat of Clay” is probably second only to “Two-Face.” It works in tandem with its follow-up, and I might argue it’s a more satisfying set of episodes than its predecessor. I suppose I’ll wait until I do a write-up on Part II before I make up my mind, but it should go without saying that these two episodes are among the best the show produced.