The Infinite Zenith

When life demands your A game, bring your A+ game

Gundam Build Fighters: Full Reflection and Recommendation

“You like something because you like something. You don’t need to justify it.” Master Chinan to Mao

I am quite surprised that no major anime blog has even bothered to talk about the surprise of the Fall 2013 season: the last time a post bore a “Full Reflection and Recommendation” title, it was August, and I had just finished watching Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Now, I enjoyed the TV series and all of the movies, having written the internet’s first (and only) review of Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion with screenshots, but today, the focus of this talk is Gundam Build Fighters, a show that I had initially followed with a moderate interest. Build Fighters is a solid series about Gunpla Battle, and Sei Iori’s quest to participate in tournaments with his Gunpla. The series takes things from Beginning Gundam one step further, introducing the idea of Plavsky particles to animate plastic models and allow them to do battle with one another: a model kit’s performance is dictated by how well built the model was, and the game occurs in a holographic battlefield that adds impressive background and visual elements. The series begins off slowly, introducing Sei to Reiji, a boy with a mysterious background and an impressive innate talent for piloting Gunpla. Together, Sei and Reiji make their way through the tournament: Sei’s impressive building skills and Gundam knowledge complement Reiji’s natural skills, allowing them to progress, and in the process, the two befriend a colourful array of individuals, including Ricardo Fellini (an Italian champion), Mao Yasaka (a Kyoto native tutored by Master Chinan), Nils Nielsen (a prodigy who aims to learn the secrets of the Plavsky particles) and Aila Jyrkiainen (a Finnish gunpla fighter), while striving for the title of the world’s strongest.

  • Sei Iori is the co-lead of Gundam Build Fighters with Reiji, having an incredible talent for building Gunpla kits. However, his piloting skills are very weak due to a subconscious desire to avoid damaging his Gunpla. Sei’s knowledge of Gundam matches that of one of my friends, who is also a Gundam aficionado. I daresay that my friend’s knowledge of Gundam is roughly equivalent to my knowledge of software development and biology: consider that I’ve been studying in both fields for the past five years.

  • There is no shortage of callbacks to Gundam lore in Gundam Build Fighters: Mr. Ral is a carbon copy of Mobile Suit Gundam‘s Ramba Ral, right down to his insane piloting skills and love for the Gouf, which has more power and more armour than a Zaku (it’s completely different!). Here, he tells Sei that there is no best mecha collection, and he is voiced by Masashi Hirose, who supplied Ramba Ral’s voice in Mobile Suit Gundam.

  • I build Gunpla in my spare time: I am particularly proud of my Master Grade 00 Gundam Seven Sword/G, which I procured nearly two years ago and built following my MCAT. The building process is an incredible experience, transforming 2D runners into a 3D model. It was the desire to try this out for myself that led me to get into Gunpla: my first model was the HG 00 Raiser with the GN Sword III, and since building this in December 2009, my Gunpla collection stands at a modest six completed models and two that I haven’t even touched yet.

  • China Kousaka is Sei’s classmate, being skilled painter and a member of the school’s art club. She has won the grand prize at several art shows for her paintings; the most recent of which is based on her customized Beargguy III. China develops an interest in Gunpla Battle thanks to Sei’s interest, and she is shown to have a crush on Sei, which everyone, including Sei himself, seems to be aware of to some extent, and she shows some joy when some believe them to be a couple, even though they have not made it official themselves.

  • Mao Yasaka is a Gunpla Fighter from Kyoto and the reigning Japan 5th Block champion. He learned his skills from the Gunpla Shingyo School, which he hopes to inherit from Master Chinan. As his master has long feared the talents of Takeshi Iori, Mao is sent to Tokyo to challenge Takeshi’s son Sei and discover the extent of the Gunpla world. Initially intent on becoming Sei’s rival, the two quickly become friends, and they have high respect for each other and their skills at Gunpla building.

  • The first real surprise in Build Fighters was the presence of a 1/48 unmanned Zaku that appeared on the battlefield during a Battle Royale type match, forcing Fellini, Mao and Sei/Reiji to work together to take it down. Gundam Build Fighters excels at being able to balance competitive spirit with fun, and some of the episodes involve competitions that don’t involve regular death match, such as racing, baseball and even a variation of Halo 2‘s “Siesta” game, where players are given randomised weapons.

  • Ricardo Fellini is the reigning Italian Gunpla Battle champion. He rides a cream-colored Vespa scooter with sidecar, and is seen flirting with Mihoshi at a party. Better known by her stage name Kirara, the latter initially has no interest in Gundam or Gunpla, but her agency sees Gunpla Battle as a stepping stone to her career as an idol. Because of this, she cheats her way into Gunpla Battle by paying fans to build her Gunpla and getting to know her opponents up close and personal before sabotaging their Gunpla, although she eventually cares for Fellini, Sei and Reiji as the season wears on.

  • The battle between Fellini and Sei/Reiji was the magic moment in Gundam Build Fighters for me: the emotionally charged battle, plus callbacks to some of Amuro’s tricks used in Char’s Counterattack, thoroughly convinced me that Build Fighters was worth watching. From this episode onwards, I followed things with great enthusiasm.

  • The reason why a disproportionate number of my images are from the later episodes is because I have much more to say about the events that happen later on: the earlier episodes do an excellent job of setting the table, but after episode fifteen, it seems that every subsequent episode is determined to out-do the previous one in terms of excitement. The best part of this is that they are rather successful at doing so.

  • The beauty about Build Fighters is that everyone significant encountered in Gunpla battle winds up becoming friends with Sei and Reiji; in fact, Sei and Reiji’s friendship developed directly because of Gunpla battle. The notion that sportsmanship and competition lead to friendships being built is a common theme in anime, and Build Fighters joins the ranks of Saki and Girls und Panzer in capturing these ideas in a thrilling, captivating show. Each anime does it differently, and the end results are unique, impressive.

  • There are so many customised Gunpla models in Build Fighters that even my friend’s encyclopedic knowledge of Gundam was overwhelmed in the first few episodes, where he tried to identify all of the models seen. My own knowledge of Gundam is probably about a hundredth of his, although I’m still able to identify some of the suits now. The battle with Mao is equally as thrilling as the previous one with Fellini, and I was wondering if Build Fighters would be able to maintain this pacing for the remainder of the series.

  • I’ll try not to discuss anything related to the various pairings in Build Fighters (namely Sei/China, Reiji/Aila, Mao/Misaki, Nils/Caroline and Fellini/Kihoshi) because that particular topic just became a rather painful one to discuss. Time will probably heal those wounds, but for the present, I will forcibly change the topic by getting the stomach cramps every time relationships of a non-mathematical nature are mentioned.

  • The dynamics between Tatsuya Yuuki and Allan Adams reminds me very much of the interactions between Gundam 00‘s Graham Aker and Billy Katagiri; Tatsuya takes on the title of Meijin with the hopes of bringing back the fun to Gunpla battle, contrasting his predecessor’s single-minded pursuit of victory. This marks the third anime where pursuit of victory is thrown under the spotlight (Girls und Panzer and Stella Women’s Academy are the two previous shows where victory and fun were thematic elements), and the message winds up being the same: that having fun is of much greater importance and much more meaningful than winning.

  • Secretary baker and Nils Nielsen share a conversation; the latter partakes in Gunpla battle to understand the mystery behind the Plavsky particles and holds three doctorates in physics at the age of 13. Despite clashing ideals with Sei about Gunpla battle, Nils eventually shows that he too enjoys Gunpla battle beyond the physics and scientific applications of Plavsky particles.

  • Thanks to Nils’ Sengoku Astray’s capacity to manipulate Plavsky particles, and Nils is adeptness at using Chinese martial arts techniques, as well as his unit’s swords in combat, the Segoku Astray is a formidable unit that has a perfect record. In a brutal match, the Sengoku Astray is bested by the Star Build Strike. This episode answered my questions: Build Fighters consistently pulls off the impossible, maintaining the incredible tension in the atmosphere that surrounds every Gunpla battle, but simultaneously adding in humour to remind viewers that the participants are aware that this anime is about fun.

Gundam Build Fighters is conceptually no different than Beginning Gundam, and initially, the series’ slower pacing meant that I watched episodes with a moderate interest. One of my friends (with Gundam knowledge similar to that of Sei’s) greatly enjoyed these early episodes and took great joy in identifying custom models from the different universes. Sei and Reiji initially participate in Gunpla Battle together to continue evening out debts to the other. At this point in Build Fighters, the pacing is still very casual, like a slice-of-life, but as Sei and Reiji become closer as friends and put more heart into each battle they participate in, Build Fighters truly becomes captivating. The turning point for me was episode fifteen: I was no longer just watching episodes as time permitted; I was following them with great anticipation. The thrilling battle between Sei/Reiji and Fellini captured my interests entirely, and, perhaps bearing testament to my own growing experience with Gundam, I saw callbacks to elements from Char’s Counterattack in this duel, which ended in a draw. Every subsequent episode somehow managed to raise the bar further, whether it be Sei and Reji’s battle with Mao, Nils Nielsen or Aila: every episode was simply so well composed, masterfully balancing character dynamics with action scenes. The comedic moments allow for the characters to interact naturally with one another and reinforce the idea that Gunpla Battle is a competitive sport, not war, so lives aren’t at stake, but at the same time, the battles are as emotionally charged as battles from other universes, where lives are indeed on the line. However, after battles, the characters demonstrate exemplary sportsmanship, serve to remind viewers that this is a game, and that in spite of a match’s outcome, friendships can be formed, and new things can be learnt.

  • The battle between Fellini and Aila was a haunting one: after Fellini gains the upper hand, Aila is subjected to the Embody system, overtaking her mind and forcing her to go berserk. Fellini then decides to end the show with a bang, but Kirara shuts him down with an angry speech about how self-destruction is cowardice. Aila was once a homeless orphan until she was recruited by Nine Barthes of the Flana Institute due to her ability to accurately predict the outcome of a Gunpla Battle by observing the movement of the Plavsky particles. Several years after her training, Aila joins “Team Nemesis”, a Gunpla Battle team that is bent on conquering the 7th Gunpla Battle World Championships.

  • Aila’s interactions begin with Reiji after they fight over the last meat bun at the nearby mall, but she does not reveal her identity to him or Sei out of fear that they’d reject her. Her feelings for Reiji eventually cause a decline in her performance, and their relationship is strained when Reiji discovers her identity under the helmet.

  • I had to shift through some 130 images to pick thirty that would be used for this post. Most of the images picked were from the second half of the season, after the magic moment that convinced me Build Fighters was in a league of its own and very much worth watching. Here, Sei questions what he should do after Reiji vows to fight for revenge.

  • Despite Reiji’s overwhelming skill and Sei’s superior craftsmanship, the Star Build Strike is slowly overwhelmed by Aila’s Qubeley Papillon. Before anything serious happens, the Arista crystals Reiji and Aila carry begin to resonate. One of the more subtle but entertaining elements in Build Fighters was the electronic voice that announced the battle status and map in perfect English. I was joking about this mechanic with one of my friends, going “Field 3: Desert”, and we spent a few moments laughing after he corrected me by saying “Field 3: forest“. One of my projects for the summer will be to isolate the sound files the best I can.

  • The battle between Aila and Sei/Reiji takes on a hilarious turn after Reiji and Aila finally understand one another in the particle fields that have done the same for characters in Gundam 00 and Gundam Unicorn. No longer constrained by the Flana Institute, Aila discards her helmet and resolves to duel Reiji with her own skills. The two’s couple-like bickering incurs the bewilderment of everyone in the stadium; this moment is quite possibly one of the best mood-changes I’ve seen in any anime.

  • I will take a moment to praise the Gundam Build Fighters soundtrack, which features a diverse range of music for all of the combat themes, mood pieces and character motifs. The genres covered are diverse, including orchestra, rock and even pieces with international elements. It is quite possibly one of the best Gundam soundtracks of all time, which is saying something, considering the quality of the Gundam Unicorn and Gundam SEED soundtracks. Among my favourite tracks include “Gundam Build Fighter” (the main theme), “Mortal Combat”, “Rival”, “Aila’s Theme” and “Allied Force”.

  • The fight between Tatsuya and Julian Ayers Mackenzie was a particularly personal one: the latter was Tatsuya’s mentor at the Gunpla Academy but eventually left after finding himself in disagreement with the second Meijin’s ideology of conquering others for victory. During his battle with Julian, Tatsuya fields the incomplete Amazing Exia against Julian’s F91 Imagine in an intense, emotional duel.

  • I got the chills while watching two titans do battle with one another, and smiled upon recognising some of the Exia’s trademark moves from Gundam 00. This battle demonstrates Tatsuya’s commitment to fun, something that Julian did not realise about the former’s decision to take on the mantle of Meijin (名人), which literally translates to “expert” or “master”. However, after the dust settles, Julian and Tatsuya come to terms with one another.

  • Despite her initial efforts to sabotage Sei and Reiji’s Star Build Strike, Kirara does not have much of an antagonistic air to her. Like Saki, care is taken to give all of the characters a solid, credible reason for participating in Gunpla battle to humanise them. One of the exceptions is the Renato Brothers, who participate for their own reasons, but otherwise, opponents and rivals become friends as the series progresses. This point bears mentioning because (to me, anyways) it is perhaps the most significant part of Build Fighters: that through competition, the outcome is secondary to what one takes away from it, and that one can never be truly defeated if they approach defeat with good sportsmanship and continue putting in their fullest efforts.

  • As the series draws to a close, Fellini and Kirara’s relationship become more interesting. During a free-for-all battle at a festival, Fellini encounters Kirara, who asks him to go easy on her and subsequently puts his rebuilt Gundam Fenice Rinascita into a hold that he wouldn’t have minded happen to him in reality.

  • Despite being the Meijin, Tatsuya deviates from his predecessor’s beliefs and strives to work towards promoting fun in the sport, rather than victory. However, meddling from Chairman Mashita precludes the possibility of seeing a fair fight. Mashita is the CEO of PPSE and was originally a petty thief in Arian, he stumbled upon Earth and made his fortune by partnering with Baker and using a giant Arista he stole from the Arian royal treasure room to produce Plavsky particles. Despite his success in founding PPSE, he is extremely distraught by Reiji’s appearance in the 7th Gunpla Battle World Championships. Chairman Mashita also has a childish personality, often relying on Baker to calm him down. Following the destruction of the giant Arista, Chairman Mashita finds himself teleported back to Arian, where he and Baker set up a new business selling Gunpla there, having been humbled by his experiences on Earth.

  • China and Aila partake in building a new Gunpla: after the Qubeley Papillon was destroyed in the last battle, Aila sets about building a Gunpla suited for herself, resulting in the Miss Sazabi.I absolutely love all of the little details put into the construction process, including painting and panel-lining. Gunpla is quite big in reality, too, and as of late, I’ve been watching AnimeSuki’s Wild Goose and his adventures in building Jegans. I’m more of a lead machine person, but I do see the joy in mass production multirole mobile suits, too.

  • The Dark Matter Exia looks downright evil: Chairman Mashita is desperate to make sure Reiji loses in the championship by any means necessary to prevent his crimes from coming to light and forces Tatsuya to wield an upgraded version of the Embody system. In the final match of the tournament, under the Embody System’s influence, Tatsuya does not fight with his typical style, employing a more brutal style to physically shred his opponent.

  • Despite being completely outmatched and losing most of the Star Build Strike’s weapons, Sei and Reiji manage to destroy the Dark Matter Exia using the RG System’s signature Build Knuckle. This move is reminiscent to the G Gundam’s Shining Finger and is typically used in conjunction with the RG system to deliver a devastating punch that shatters the opponents’ Gunpla.

  • After Tatsuya comes to his senses, Sei and Reiji resolve to do battle with him properly. I’ve omitted some images from the finale for brevity’s sake, and will summarise my experience with Gundam Build Fighters as an overwhelmingly positive one in all departments, from the story, to art, animation, character growth and music.

Messages of sportsmanship, friendship and determination form the core of Gundam Build Fighters, marking a departure from traditional Gundam series, where themes from warfare and human nature are brought to the table. Indeed, Build Fighters is very light-hearted in that sense, forgoing the more serious elements for elements individuals may encounter in their day-to-day lives. In this sense, Build Fighters is Gundam for all viewers, old or young, experienced or not. I realise that Gundam AGE was controversial for a handful of reasons, and I admit that I did not watch it because the more serious story stood in stark contrast with the character design, taking away from the show. Artwork does make or break a series; the character designs in Gundam AGE were inappropriate given some of the themes AGE was exploring, but in Build Fighters, the designs fit the setting properly, enhancing the series’ mood and flow. If there was a Gundam for younger viewers, Gundam Build Fighters would be it, although the show is also well-suited for older viewers who may have seen Gundam previously. Apart from appropriate character design and solid animation sequences, Gundam Build Fighters also has a phenomenal soundtrack. The musical accompaniment is very diverse, ranging from J-rock and J-pop to more atmospheric, orchestral pieces and songs that have a distinct geographic origin. There is something on this soundtrack for everyone, and listening to it is an audio treat for the ears: I enjoy the emotional pieces the most. When everything is said and done, Gundam Build Fighters excels because it is able to bring in elements for both old and new Gundam fans, and incorporate all of these elements into a series that never tries to be excessively serious or dramatic. The end result is a product that is engaging and incredibly fun to watch.

The Pilot’s Love Song- Final Impressions

I’m still Superman.

So ends The Pilot’s Love Song, one of the more unusual anime of the Winter 2014 season. After the midway point is reached, the series takes on a much darker hue, stepping away from the everyday life at the Cadoques Academy and throwing the trainees into combat with the Sky Clan. The number of named characters begin falling to enemy fire, and in the midst of chaos, Kal-El finally learns the truth about Claire: that she is Nina Viento. However, as the Sky Clan’s intervention become more aggressive, only assistance from the Levamme forces saves Isla. Kal-El gradually realises that his feelings for Claire have eclipsed his hatred for Nina Viento, and after allying themselves with Levamme, Isla negotiates a settlement with the Sky Clan and is able to reach the End of the Sky to finish its mission. Kal-El and the surviving members of the Cadoques Academy, plus the citizens on Isla, return home, and Kal-El resolves to rescue Claire.

  •  The quote at the top of the page has nothing to do with The Pilot’s Love Song, but, in keeping with the fact that some reference was made to the Man of Steel in my previous posts, I’d include one final joke pertinent to Superman here.

  • While the story might be paced a little unevenly, I did enjoy the air-to-air combat. The actual combat forces on Isla have automatic weapons, as opposed to the bolt-action rifles the students field, although the unexpected aggression from the Sky Clan make things quite difficult. As an earlier post indicates, I picked up Ace Combat: Assault Horizon last week for a cool 7.50 and have been going through the campaign.

  • Mitsuo is shot down in episode seven, leaving Chiharu to blame herself for what happened. The impact is amplified by the fact that Chiharu and Mitsuo appeared to have been developing feelings for one another.

  • Despite Isla’s defensive efforts, Sky Clan forces make it over the island and decimate its infrastructure. During the course of battle, other students at the Cadoques Academy are shot during in combat. I find that, in most anime (and shows, for that matter), once the first named character is killed, when more follow, the impact gradually becomes smaller.

  • A plane with a seagull arrives late in one of the battles and single-handedly shoots down all of the forces maligning Kal-El. It was speculated that Charles Karino (of The Princess and The Pilot) is the pilot, being the one man who has that level of skill, although I have yet to see any definitive proof that shows this is indeed the case. However, I would like to believe that this is the case.

  • The sudden number of deaths takes the series into darker territory: the last time I followed discussions about an anime with the deaths of main characters, it was Gundam 00.

  • A major turning point is the story occurs after Claire reveals to Kal-El that she is Nina Viento. For the better part of the episodes following this revealation, Kal-El becomes a brooding wreck and can’t bring himself to face the world, until Ignacio Axis decides to beat it out of Kal-El. Ignacio swore revenge on the royal family after dissidents expelled his mother from the palace and she subsequently died one month after the exile.

  • Subsequently, Kal-El and Ignacio fly together to stop the Sky Clan as Isla pushes deeper into the Holy Spring. Strictly speaking, I wasn’t particularly fond of Ignacio for his aloofness and distance even after his story was known, hinting at his relative lack of character development. In a show with strong character development, even the antagonists can sympathised with or understood (but they are not necessarily likable), although in The Pilot’s Love Song, the Sky Clan’s precise motivations beyond defending their turf is not known, and Ignacio becomes a flat character that I care very little for.

  • Fortunately, Claire and Kal-El get enough character development so that their roles remain satisfactory. Of all the elements in The Pilot’s Love Song, Kal-El and Claire’s interactions with one another, as well as their internal conflicts surrounding their feelings for one another, are the absolute strongest points. After Kal-El demonstrates that he doesn’t care about Nina Viento’s actions or his revenge, Claire regains her ability to control the wind. Such a scene was worthwhile to watch.

  • Isla is able to pass through the Holy Spring after Levamme assists them, and the Sky Clan decide to negotiate a peace settlement.

Despite offering a reasonable story and a brilliant world that looked to be filled with unique history and scenery, The Pilot’s Love Song suffers from a series of faults that arise from the anime’s short length: without enough episodes to evenly pace things, the first half starts out too slow, and the second half jumps right into the midst of things without taking the time to set the stage for what is to happen on screen. The motivations behind the Sky Clan or Levamme’s actions are never satisfactorily explored, leaving one to wonder what their intentions really are, and how Levamme fits in with their world. While The Pilot’s Love Song is technically about one man coming to terms with his past and present, the anime is quite similar to that of The Princess and The Pilot in that character development is placed ahead of world-building. Ordinarily, this is a more minor point, but in this universe, there is so much possibility for exploring lore and mythology. Something like this takes time, and as such, thirteen episodes is hardly sufficient to tell a rich, immersive story that strikes a fine balance between world-building and character growth.

  • I was hopeful that Fana Levamme and Charles Karino would make an appearance in The Pilot’s Love Song, although their presence is only indirect, through letters and spoken orders. I suppose that catching a cameo appearance of either character was a little too much to hope for.

  • A flashback shows the last meeting in the series between Claire and Kal-El, a heartfelt moment that exemplifies how Kal-El has matured since arriving on Isla. The core message in The Pilot’s Love Song seems to be that love is a sufficiently powerful mechanism that overcomes revenge and hatred, allowing for forgiveness to be found. With this in mind, The Pilot’s Love Song does excel with depicting the dynamics between Claire and Kal-El.

  • While I tend to focus on the simpler or more obvious elements in anime, some viewers are inclined to delve into discussions about symbolism and social issues. Of note were the talks on gender differences brought on by the events in episode ten: I’m a proponent of equality, but I don’t go out of my way to complain about moments in a show because they depict behaviours that hail back to an older time when the equality gap was wider. Why is this?  I’m no expert on the field and won’t be able to provide much meaningful discussion on the matter.

  • The Edge of the Sky is quite literally thus, an energy field that separates their flat world from whatever lies beyond. The fact that this world is flat would account for some of the unusual geological features that were seen in The Princess and The Pilot, although the notion that a world can be flat would suggest that it was created by magic, rather than any astronomical forces that I’m rather more familiar with.

  • After twelve episodes have elapsed, blood and tears were spilt, and Isla finally reaches its destination at the End of the Sky. Disregarding the symbolism that others have found, I see a moment of great emotion for the remaining pilots, who have finally reached their objective and are now warmly sending off their home to the unknown.

  • The Pilot’s Love Song ends exactly where it began, with Arial crying into her father’s arms. Kal-El delivers a rather moving speech that captures the audience’s approval: while he walked onto the stage to hostility, his words of simple determination changes their mind.

  • There isn’t anything quite like the feeling of coming home to familiarity and sleep on one’s own bed after a long adventure. In reality, jet lag is usually a problem, and I recommend beating it by lifting weights. However, in this universe, with their world being flat, I wonder how day and night cycles would work: it’s possible that the entire plane rotates about an axis, such that the entire world is day or night at any given point in time.

  • In the final scenes, Ariel appears much more mature than she did earlier in the episode. There is a possibility that Ariel might have held feelings for Kal-El; her comment that “some love songs aren’t meant to be sung” hints at this, although whether or not this is actually the case is probably a moot point, now that the series is over.

  • Kal-El is given a proper aircraft to pilot in the second incursion against the Sky Clan to retake Claire. While all of Kal-El’s classmates at the Cadoques Academy have dispersed and are pursuing other aims, Kal-El returns as a full-time pilot and now fights together with the pilot of the “seagull” aircraft, as well as the military staff that were responsible for overseeing the Isla mission.

  • There are several good science-fiction/adventure type anime that are either airing or will air in the near future (then again, there are a lot of shows in summer 2014 worth watching); I will follow these with great interest. At present, for the Spring 2014 season, I’m still in the midst of choosing which shows I definitely wish to watch. By the end of April, I should have a much more solid idea and begin putting out blog posts once more.

While constraints in The Pilot’s Love Song are quite obvious, the thematic elements surrounding love and forgiveness were solid; Kal-El emerges from the series as a changed man after falling in love with Claire. No longer consumed by hatred and revenge, he has moved on and has his sights set on being together with Claire again. After thirteen episodes, what I got was a strong, although familiar and decidedly optimistic love story that I ended up enjoying. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this, although individuals looking for an anime with more world-building will be disappointed. Thus, The Pilot’s Love Song might be worth checking out for the love story component; although a little familiar, it is nonetheless integrated nicely into their universe. From a technical aspect, the landscapes and air combat was reasonably well done, adding to the atmospherics within the anime. The Pilot’s Love Song closes with a character expressing intent to stop Kal-El’s mission, and Kal-El engaging the Sky Clan in his journey to rescue Claire. This could be prime material for future work, although as it stands, the series has provided reasonable closure and as such, I won’t be too disappointed if this is the only incarnation of The Pilot’s Love Song.

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon- First Impressions

“The power of an air force is terrific when there is nothing to oppose it.” —Winston Churchill

I have long been interested in playing an Ace Combat game ever since Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War was out back in 2004 for PlayStation 2. The prospect of being able to fly a plane in diverse environments to save the world has always held an appeal to me, although I never did have the chance to try it out on a PC environment. This changed when Ace Combat: Assault Horizon was released for PC last January. Despite being set in the real world rather than Strangereal, the game caught my eye with its environments, and so, I decided that next there was a sale on Steam, I would purchase Assault Horizon. Unfortunately, that never materialised: during the Fall 2013 sale, the game was 67 percent off and was sold at a 9.99 USD (it’s normally 29.99 USD). I was waiting until the final day of the sale, so that if it didn’t go on further discount, I’d buy it then. Alas, it was found the product keys supplied with the game had been faulty, and so, the game was pulled from the Steam store before I could buy it. However, just a few days ago, Valve has since restored Assault Horizon to the Steam Store, and more pleasantly, the game went on sale for 7.50, making it a no-brainer to pick up. This purchase marks the second year in  a row that an amazing deal happened at this time of year: while there’s no spaghetti and Scrubs this time around, I will probably recall this game as being purchased right before the weather warms up again, on a Friday night with fried pork ribs.

  • Miami’s I-95 Expressway is visible as I fly north at the mission’s opening. Assault Horizon returns to the real world, and making use of the technologies that made Google Maps and iOS Maps’ 3D modes possible, the locations have been very accurately replicated.

  • I’ve looked around, and there’s no way to do free flight over the various maps in the campaign. Players can replay campaign missions, but that’s about it. Before I continue, I note that I fully understand that Assault Horizon is not a flight simulator, but it’s an arcade flight game. The arcade elements make the game a lot more fun at the expense of realism, but with due respect, if I wanted realism, I would have probably opted to go with another game.

  • In Unsung War, the missions that caught my eye most were those set over snowy, mountainous terrain or cities, such as “Journey Home”, which was set over Osea’s November City. The mission was to do a ceremonial fly-over for a war rally held at the stadium, and despite only having seen some footage of that mission, the atmospherics were very immersive.

  • The same could be said about the final two missions to infiltrate a utility tunnel and destroy the SOLG’s controls, then the mission to take out the SOLG itself on New Year’s Eve. There’s a sort of mystique about missions set during late December, and in a conversation with my friend, he noted that these missions strike a resonant chord because late December is the holiday season, when most are celebrating. In Ace Combat, on the other hand, wars force pilots to continue sorties even though it’s the holidays.

  • Dogfight mode is necessary to take out some of the enemy aircraft. The game notes that enemies tagged as a leader must be engaged and destroyed using dogfight mode: efforts to try and shoot them down are fruitless, since missiles will end up missing entirely or being disrupted by countermeasures, and the cannon will conveniently miss them. With that said (and openly defying the detractors), dogfight mode is quite fun: for a thrilling few seconds, the game takes control of my aircraft and I get to concentrate on shooting.

  • Back in one of my Five Centimeters per Second posts, I mentioned that grey skies evoked Ace Combat feelings in me. Thanks to a lucky sale, I now get to experience that for myself: winter’s finally over now, though, and while that means beautiful blue skies and warmer weather, it also means that the winter feelings associated with Ace Combat will probably go on hold. Naturally, I’ll play through the winter missions again come next December to experience said winter feelings.

  • Compared to the previous Ace Combat titles, Assault Horizon has a much more minimalist HUD, allowing players to focus on dogfights and missions. I rather like this: the older HUDs feel a little more cluttered (understandably, to display more information). Ace Combat Infinity is the latest title in the franchise, being free-to-play and is set in the real world, albeit with an alternate history. It brings back the older elements, such as HUDs and storylines involving superweapons.

  • I’ve heard countless reviews say that Assault Horizon handles and feels like Call of Duty, but strictly speaking, this feeling only arises because the first few missions are set in the desert, which is where Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare occurred. When I played through Modern Warfare, the missions I enjoyed the most were set in Russia and Pripyat, while my least favourite missions were in the Middle East.

  • The last time I played as a side-door gunner, it was Battlefield: Bad Company 2‘s “Crack the Sky“, where I spent the mission’s opening blowing away RPGs (actually CG M2 recoilless rifles) at the landing zone before climbing a snowy hill to reach the satellite control center. This time, I’m participating in a strike mission of some sort. From a personal perspective, I think that the comparisons to Call of Duty are a little excessive: I think most reviewers mean that both Assault Horizon and Call of Duty tends to focus on cinematics more than story or characters, producing a generic story.

  • However, I find that, despite having a generic story, Assault Horizon does provide the player with a fair chance to engage in some old-time arcade dogfights in aircraft, and at the end of the day over beautiful locales, and at the end of the day, that’s pretty much what I came for. I may go into the multiplayer later, but I also have to start Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The course of action now is that Deus Ex: Human Revolution will take priority once I beat most (if not all) of Assault Horizon. On the blogging side of things, my next posts will be about the Pilot’s Love Song and Gundam Build Fighters. I anticipate having both written within the next two weeks.

I’ve since beaten the first two missions: the first involves a tutorial set in Colonel Bishop’s dreams over Miami, Florida, as he takes on Russian jets and is killed by a plane with a shark mouth painted on its fuselage. The mission is exciting: I particularly love the cloud effects and the details present in Miami. When I checked out Miami in Google Maps, the city layout, buildings and landmarks were easily recognisable. The air combat is very cinematic, and the Dogfight Mode (DFM) adds a new level of interaction. Although it may get old if one needs to use DFM in every engagement, it is immensely satisfying to watch a jet disintegrate after taking enough cannon fire or a pair of well-placed missiles. Moreover, some of the dogfights are glorious, taking the plane under narrow openings and a hair over rooftops. However, Assault Horizon does seem to be a little choppy in places, with the instructions for the controls interrupting the flow of the game. Right as I line up a shot with the enemy fighter, the game halts and tells me that I should use my cannon to shoot down planes with ECM pods since they jam missiles: when I hit enter to return to the game, the enemy plane drops out of my sight. As well, the controls aren’t particularly sensitive for the mouse, forcing me to keep to the keyboard for my controls. Fortunately, the controls in the optimal mode handle similarly to the controls for Halo 2‘s Banshee and the VTOL in Crysis. The original (i.e. advanced) controls, on the other hand, are akin to the jet controls from Battlefield 3, although thankfully, I seem to have gotten the hang of them (otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten far into the game). I’ve seen what the game looks like, and while the first quarter of the game is all desert, I know that there will be a chance to fly in Moscow, over the boreal forests of Russia, Dubai and Washington D.C. Now that I’ve got reasonable experience with the controls, it’s time to go and enjoy flying over some beautiful landscapes.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2- A year since the Steam sale

“What do you do, when you’re a person like me, when you’re born to play FPS? There’s just nothing left to do but play FPS.” —FPS_Doug, Pure Pwnage

April 6 last year was a cold, quiet and foggy Saturday. A grey fog hung over the city by morning, obscuring the trees and scenery; I had just finished breakfast and was getting ready to study relational calculus for my database course. Prior to this, I decided to check my iPad for any emails from my group, as we were working on a database assignment at the time. When the email app loaded, there was no communiques, but there was an email from Steam, informing me that Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was on sale for 75 percent off. I had funds left in my Steam Wallet leftover from Christmas, and so, without hesitation, I made the purchase. However, at the time, my Dell XPS 420 and its ATI 2600HD GPU was not enough to run the game, so instead of playing Battlefield: Bad Company 2, I finished studying, spent the afternoon playing DOOM, and then went to a friend’s place for sausage spaghetti, Cards Against Humanity and Scrubs. In retrospect, that was a reasonably good decision: on Sunday, I was rested and, instead of playing Battlefield: Bad Company 2, was fully ready to prepare for my thesis defense on the Friday of April 12.

  • I still remember the first time I was playing Bad Company 2, when I only had the iron sights to the weapons and so, was constantly being killed by other players who already had all the specialisations and weapons unlocked on the virtue of playing longer than I had. However, even with the default weapons, I can still hold my own reasonably well.

  • I usually hesitate to pick up kits from fallen opponents because I will likely die quickly without ever getting to use them, but they do offer a chance to use a loadout completely different to one’s preferred one, and are particularly useful if one is running low on ammunition.

  • This is one of the earliest marksman headshots I’ve taken. If memory serves, my first kill in Bad Company 2 was with the M24 sniper on a conquest match.

  • The M249 became one of my favourite weapons for the medic class, allowing me to lay down a lot of fire. Unlike Battlefield 3, there is no suppression, but being able to fire more rounds at an enemy definitely helps one stay alive.

  • In the beginning, I was terrible with the Engineer, but I eventually killed enough vehicles with the default RPG to unlock the SCAR-L carbine, which I’ve subsequently used to terrorise players many ranks above me.

  • As with Battlefield 3, tanks are a valuable asset, and I fondly remember this match, where I signed in and defeated enough people to unlock the improved warheads package in one round.

  • For a while, I played with the XM8 carbine, but for whatever reason, this gun doesn’t feel like it was as powerful as the SCAR-L.

  • I’ve never gotten the Combat Efficiency ribbon in Battlefield 3 before, but in Battlefield 3, there isn’t a SCAR-L. This weapon is amazing, dealing a good damage and has a longer range compared to the other engineer weapons. Its strongest point is the low recoil, which allows the weapon to be fired on full automatic without introducing unmanageable recoil.

  • I sometimes pick off weapons from downed enemies to try out the guns I haven’t unlocked yet. Here, I’m wielding the MG36, a weapon for the support class that returns to Battlefield 3 in the Back to Karkland expansion. Sporting a built-in red dot sight, the MG36 frees up a specialisation slot for other things.

  • In the beginning, I had a KD ratio of maybe 0.2 every match, being constantly killed by people from across the map. I’ve since gotten better at the game and have helped my team to a few victories.

The thesis defense came and went: I ended up with with an A and, in the blink of an eye, my remaining two exams (databases and statistics) had passed by, as well. It was now May 2013, and the custom computer had finally been designed, built and shipped. With the summer ahead, I now had a powerful PC that could play Bad Company 2, and owing to various circumstances, time to play them. By the time Otafest occurred in May 2013, I was at the “Sangre del Toro” mission in Bad Company 2, and hadn’t touched the multiplayer to any real extent, although I did play a few matches and wound up losing almost all of them. However, thanks to the Steam Summer Sale in July, I ended up purchasing and playing Skyrim. Bad Company 2 fell to the back of my mind, as I had completed and thoroughly enjoyed the campaign. It wasn’t until December that I decided to pick up Bad Company 2 again to see how the game felt in comparison to Battlefield 3, and between then and now, I’ve finally moved from Rank 3 to Rank 11.

  • If I’m going to compare Bad Company 2 to Battlefield 3, there are a few things from each game that I particularly liked and disliked. Bad Company 2 has better sounds and destruction: the Russian team speaks Russian, and the profanity (though amusing) is much lighter. The Frostbite 1.5 engine also allows for more destruction, so I can collapse buildings with heavy tank fire to wipe out any unfortunate occupants.

  • I still need to unlock the red dot sight and 4x optics for the XM8 rifle. Long considered to be one of the most balanced guns in the game, I’ve gone through the entire campaign with the XM8 and one other weapon. For the multiplayer, I’ve found that the red dot sight is more than enough for the ranges I prefer, providing good accuracy without obscuring the screen.

  • During one particularly long match of conquest, I was able to acquire a tank and helped my team score an overwhelming victory in a match lasting 45 minutes. Whether it be Bad Company 2 or Battlefield 3, matches that aren’t death-match tend to last quite a while. They’re slower paced, and require strats for success.

  • I don’t actually have a mic, so I’ve never used voice chat to help coordinate with my teammates. This is most likely why I’d lose: coordinated squads can utterly lay waste to all those who encounter them, from what I’ve heard.

  • However, I cannot help but notice that I’m almost always placed on the losing team and are subsequently forced to fight a losing battle if it is one-sided. In Halo 2, I was able to make crazy comebacks on the virtue of being on the losing team’s side. In fact, my Halo 2 skills were so notorious that I got several servers named after me, and other servers outright banned me from joining.

  • My skills do not transfer to Battlefield as there are no recharging shields, meaning that if I take my ordinary approach, I’d die pretty quickly. It took me a while to adapt, but once I did, I found I was lasting much longer. However, I still enjoy rushing opponents with heavy weapons; as such, even though I’m performing much better now and end up with a good KD ratio in most of my games, I never end up with the Combat Efficiency ribbons or pins because I die quickly.

  • While I realise some may frown on my practises, I play Battlefield (and by extension, all games) for personal amusement. I don’t really mind losing or winning in games and will laugh if I lost in a particularly amusing way (in multiplayer shooters, usually when both my opponent and I kill each other at the exact same time).

  • At the end of the day, Bad Company 2 only cost me five dollars, and I’ve logged 37 hours of game time in Bad Company 2, making this one of the best deals I’ve ever encountered. I would have been quite content to just play the campaign, which was so well done it was worth five dollars, but a strong campaign with a good multiplayer means that Bad Company 2 was probably the best deal I’ve ever gotten, alongside Deus Ex: Human Revolution (for 99 cents).

  • It is satisfying to finally down someone who’s gotten multiple kills on you: I recall my Halo 2 and Halo CE days, when players with unusual, offensive or kawaii names filled servers and griefed other players. It’s quite disappointing to be killed by someone with such names multiple times, but Battlefield  rewards players who finally get their revenge. On an unrelated note, I will begin playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution once May rolls around.

  • After getting a series of successful headshots during one particularly one-sided conquest battle, I decided to give sniping in Battlefield 3 another chance. I was well-rewarded, grabbing some of my first-ever sniper rifle ribbons and getting marksman bonuses for landing headshots at 100 meters.

At present, I only play Bad Company 2‘s multiplayer on occasion, but nonetheless, I find it to be very entertaining, to the same extent as Battlefield 3. The main hassle in the beginning were the classes: I’m used to being able to dispense ammunition as the support class, but in Bad Company 2, the Support class acts as the medic. Similarly, the assault class in Battlefield 3 is the medic, but in Bad Company 2, the assault class resupplies players. These different play styles meant I had to adapt, but that was reasonably easy and as time wore on I found myself to be doing quite well, helping my team capture objectives, defend M-COM stations or leading my squad to victories in death-match (if not to the same extent as I did in Battlefield 3). Of note was the engineering class: whereas in Battlefield 3, I couldn’t get a kill to save my life as an engineer, the SCAR-L for Bad Company 2‘s engineers are such amazing weapons that I can go on kill-streaks with them. At present, I am a little surprised that I didn’t play more of the multiplayer during the summer: despite the fact that the servers are almost always populated by highly skilled players, there is a sort of satisfaction in downing superior players, especially with the SCAR-L.

Deer Hunter 2014- The Lost Temple and Glacial Bay

“You know, if you need 100 rounds to kill a deer, maybe hunting isn’t your sport.” —Elayne Boosler

A few weeks ago, Glu Games released the latest update to Deer Hunter 2014, adding to the game a host of new features, including bows and crossbows and special stealth hunt challenges. Moreover, bounties were added, encouraging players to play through older regions again to complete specific tasks (e.g. take down so many animals with lung shots, etc). Successfully completing a bounty yields gold and consumables. While the bounties and new weapons are exciting on its own, things get even more interesting with the addition of a new hidden region called the Lost Temple, which is unlocked by completing rare hunts and bow missions in regions four and five. As well, region ten, Glacial Bay, was released, as well, adding new weapons and hunts to the game.

  • Here, I am equipped with the crossbow, which deals more damage than the compound bow but also has a reduced firing rate and suppression effect. The projectiles from the bow and crossbow behave like bullets, so there’s no need to compensate for bullet drop. When I first began using the bows, I thought that gravity would need to be factored for and missed many of my shots, although having worked with physics engines for my research projects before, I cannot hold it against Glu Games for not implementing a physics engine in Deer Hunter 2014.

  • Old temple ruins overgrown with vibrant vegetation and tropical forests define the Lost Temple region. I’m inclined to say that this region is either set in Myanmar or Thailand because of its architecture: Aztec and Mayan temples have a different style.

  • Players will need to invest Platinum Eagles into both their crossbow and compound bow to complete the eighty missions and five trophy hunts. The only way to earn them is via rare hunts and other special event hunts, making it a slower process. Gold can be used instead, although even with new new bounty missions, gold is still slow to come by, making progression through the lost temple much slower than through the conventional regions.

  • I’ve been hearing about how some individuals were disappointed about how the Spring Break challenges and updates made the game lean increasingly in a pay-to-win manner, although I counter that I’ve gotten quite a bit of enjoyment from Deer Hunter 2014 without spending a single penny: of note was the particularly lucky discount I got on a special assault rifle that let me unlock a region 10 break-action shotgun, and because I had a Halloween event pistol leftover from way back, I’ve now unlocked the region 10 pistol, as well.

  • That just looks beautiful: take a moment to gaze at the night sky and marvel at the shooting stars that occasionally streak by.

  • The trophy hunts in the Lost Temple are very demanding in that a large number of platinum eagles are required to upgrade the crossbow and compound bow to the specifications. The best trick is to play as many of the regular missions as possible and do rare hunts as they appear to continue acquiring platinum eagles for upgrades.

  • While Deer Hunter 2014 might call them customisations, the upgrades are mandatory. By the time one is finished the hidden region, they will have a maxed out compound bow (minus the infrared) and a maxed out crossbow.  With fully upgraded weapons, the trophy hunts aren’t anywhere near a challenge, and in fact, the biggest challenge is finding the target.

  • Upon completing all of the trophy hunts, the Barton Hawk is unlocked. At this point in time, I see no reason in upgrading it, but one way or another, I do have all of the bows and crossbows now. I realise that players are dropping off comments asking me how to unlock certain things in the game, and to that, I can only say that 1) if you’re not playing on iOS, these regions don’t exist, and 2) if you’re having trouble unlocking things, patience is your friend, since there are no shortcuts in Deer Hunter 2014 besides paying coin for gold.

  • Just for completeness’ sake, here’s a picture of me armed with the region ten shotgun in region ten. Glacial Bay is set in the far north, and like the Klondike region, only has one unique area. Of course, the moody and cold hills are quite nice, reminding me of some of the moments in Survivorman.

  • The G&H Seeker assault rifle I have from the event is powerful enough to be useful even in Region 10: carefully placed shots allow me to down opponents that supposedly need a more powerful rifle. As it stands now, I cannot say I’m particularly inclined to continue writing about Deer Hunter 2014 when I have a vast collection of other games (for both iOS and PC) that I would eventually like to get around doing.

Set in the lush Southeast Asian jungles, the Lost Temple looks absolutely beautiful and is well worth the effort taken to unlock it. The region requires both the standard bow and crossbow to complete, and these are upgraded with a new earnable currency known as the Platinum Eagle, which is rewarded for successfully completing bow hunts and rare missions. These new additions to the game are refreshing and offer the incentive to continue playing, breathing new life into a game that quickly can become repetitive; at present, the lack of a cloud save feature is still the game’s biggest detractor, given that any error could undo months of progress in-game. Nonetheless, Deer Hunter 2014 remains a solid game, and I’m enjoying the inclusion of these new gameplay mechanics, although I think my time would be better spent blogging about other things.