I Beat Elden Ring, the Best Video Game of 2022

Someday, I’m going to die. Hopefully it’ll be decades from now, but there’s a distinct possibility that it could be next month, next week, or even before I publish this review. I’ve accepted this and am trying to live my best life so that I have no regrets whenever it ends. I’m glad I played Elden Ring before I died, because I definitely would have regretted missing what’s going to go down in history as one of the bravest and most influential AAA video games ever made.

Admittedly, that was a pretty macabre and melodramatic way to open a video game review. That being said, Elden Ring is a hilariously grim and charmingly melodramatic experience that merits this level of bombast. From the characters and lore crafted by George R. R. Martin and brought to life by Hidetaka Miyazaki and FromSoftware, to the expansion of this gameplay style and format that FromSoftware has polished to the mirror sheen, to all of the little touches that filled my playthrough with capricious awe and joy; Elden Ring is a great video game. It might be one of the best and I don’t regret a single second of my 94 hour playthrough. If you don’t read a single word further, please know that I desperately hope you play this game and that I’m certain you won’t regret it.

All of These Weirdos Need Therapy

As you probably guessed already, I spend what I hope is a normal amount of time thinking about my own mortality. The major characters in Elden Ring spend what’s probably too much time thinking about it. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that just about every one of these goofy guys and gals is defined by their personal fixation on death and loss. So, while the ‘plot’ of Elden Ring is as mysterious and minimalist as previous SoulsBorne titles, the characters and world have never felt richer.

The world of the game, the Lands Between, was controlled for a nondescript amount of time by the Greater Will, a cosmic entity worshiped as a god and perhaps given form in the giant, gold, and maybe parasitic Erdtree. The Greater Will chose Marika to be this world’s fantasy Jesus and endowed her with the Elden Ring, the physical manifestation of the Golden Order created by Greater Will to govern the reality of the Lands Between. Her first act as this world’s new god was to pluck the Ring of Death out of the Elden Ring and have her half brother – who’s a beastman for some reason – guard it, so that they alone can control who dies and who lives forever in either a physical body or as a spirit residing within the Erdtree.

Those were a lot of proper nouns, but the short of it is that this game’s version of Jesus is defined by her desire to control death, and pretty much everyone else in the Lands Between inherits their own hang-ups about death as a result.

Take, for instance, Fia, another Tarnished who ventured into the Lands Between at the opportunity to become an Elden Lord and mold this place to her will. Having had a relationship with the first demigod to die, Godwyn, she wants to create a world where life persists after death and is accepted as a natural state of being. Like literally, she wants people to live on as zombies, skeletons, and whatever Lovecraftian nonsense is going on with her boyfriend’s body after his soul was murdered. She’s become so familiar with death that she can no longer process the emotions tied to loss and now views it as its anthesis; a distinct state of life.

Or perhaps the boss, Renala, who’s traumatized by her husband’s decision to leave her and is now hyper-focused on rebirth and reincarnation. After her defeat, she becomes the means through which a player can adjust their stat distribution and change their character build. Between her in-game function and lines of dialog, it’s heavily implied that Renala wishes to undergo a perfect rebirth so that she can shed the perceived flaws that she thinks inspired her husband’s departure. She wants to grow through death.

There are plenty of other examples of characters defined by their relationship with death in Elden Ring too. Radahn’s followers view it as a mercy now that their beloved general has fallen to madness, Rykard became the God Devouring Serpent and turns the death of those he consumes into power, and Malenia is both visually and narratively the angel of death. Admittedly, the world and characters of Elden Ring would feel more full and varied if more of its characters had more unique motives and hang ups. Still, all of these characters processing a fundamental part of the human condition goes a long way in making them feel like complicated people instead of just challenges to overcome.

That’s also why Ranni, who’s ending I selected, is such an inspirational and emotionally resonate character for me. In a world where nearly everyone is struggling to accept death or warp it to their preference, she embraces her own mortality; sacrificing her body and later her soul because doing so might bring about the change this world desperately needs. There are thousands of great stories about people who struggle to accept death and I’m not sure if Elden Ring handles these themes better than most of those works, but it went a long way in fleshing out these characters and reminding me how far I’ve come as someone who used to struggle with death and everything else out of my control.

Speaking of death, I had a great time dying in Elden Ring.

Reveling in Life and Death

There are going to be countless breakdowns and think pieces on the mechanics, design, interface, and construction of Elden Ring as the game grows older. People who know more than me about these specific areas of game development will have far more knowledgeable and interesting things to say about them than I ever will. I can say with authority, though, that I loved the act of playing Elden Ring; I got more fun out of discovering, learning, and mastering the many overlapping systems in Elden Ring than any other AAA game in recent memory.

I had this much fun with Elden Ring because it let me approach it the way I wanted to and let me fail again and again as I navigated through its ever uphill format.

FromSoft games have quietly succeeded in bringing a tabletop RPG level of character customization to video games for a while now. Elden Ring pushes this to the next level, with so many different weapons, skills, summons, and opportunities for interaction that I found that I had unintendedly created a character with a distinct personality and interiority. In fact, I might write-up the adventures of Lucas, Sovereign of the Moon and post them here someday! I’ve kept up with RPG discourse for about as long as I’ve had a serious interest in video games, and I cannot remember the last time a game in this genre had so much discussion about varying character builds and how they led to fundamentally different experiences in-game. All that being said, the character creator doesn’t have many options for folks who want to play as a character with a darker skin tone and that phenomenally sucks. Do better FromSoftware.

Now for the obligatory discussion of difficulty that comes with every SoulsBorne style release. Yes, Elden Ring is a challenging game that lacks even basic accessibility options for the differently abled. Steep learning and difficulty curves will also frustrate many and cause them to bounce off the game. Both of these were conscious decisions made by the FromSoftware team and I can’t fault anyone for their critique of this game and company based on these decisions.

I’m fortunate in that I was able to get past these hurdles, though, and was able to experience one of the most rewarding games I’ve played this decade. While the highs that come from defeating a particularly irksome boss are lofty, I found myself having the most fun while exploring the many set pieces scattered throughout Elden Ring’s world. There’s nothing quite like venturing through a dungeon like Miquella’s Haligtree, dying dozens of times to increasingly weird enemies, and realizing you’ve found a host of secrets and know the place like the back of your hand after a few hours. Also, every kill, no, EVERY HIT you land on an enemy in this game feels like a triumph because you know that, even by the endgame, there’s still a fraction of a chance that they could fuck you up.

And when they do, it’s just one of the many strange and quietly hilarious things that can happen in this title.

Elden Ring Fuck Me Up, PLEASE!

There is so much weird shit in Elden Ring that swings so rapidly between hilarious and unnerving that I would have whiplash if I didn’t immediately go limp and accept the volatility as it hit me. You can’t go fifteen minutes in this game without encountering a message that encourages you to explore anal masturbation. But there are also giant spiders that are just gangrene stricken hands that make me feel physically unwell. They don’t even have to attack to be creepy! Seeing a fingercreeper massage itself as an idle animation or writhing in pain while on fire felt wrong on a visceral level because of the corruption of such a familiar shape.

Speaking of messing with my expectations, the way this game engages with George R. R. Martin’s writing habits is delightful. The second I learned that I needed to meet “the Two Fingers,” I instantly had an idea of what to expect from watching Game of Thrones. I was genuinely slackjawed ten hours later when, instead of being a couple of conniving little guys, the Two Fingers turned out to be…a giant-ass hand comprised of just two fingers.

There are so many examples of this world and the characters in it being eccentric in the most endearing way. General Radahn became a master of gravity magic so that his house sized frame wouldn’t crush his beloved horse Leonard, and he now charges into battle while shuffling forward with his knees bent like an eight-year-old pretending to ride their dog. There is a man named Big Boggart who, while the very reality of the world around him begins to distort, is boiling up a heaping pile of crab and cussing up a storm in the process. It rains wolves in the Lands Between!

This is a game where I can kill an eldritch horror and then, twenty minutes later, learn that I can’t jump across a gap because I saw the phantom of someone else playing this game try and eat shit. This is a game that lets you hug a woman in exchange for a secret status debuff! Elden Ring has an enemy named Wormface and still somehow managers to be one of the most emotionally affecting pieces of media I’ve experienced this year! How does it do this? How does this game have such wide swings in its moment to moment experience while still feeling tonally consistent???

It’s because Elden Ring is a damn good video game that is entirely itself at all times. This game is a refinement of the genre that FromSoftware created to near perfection, and is clearly the product of a group of very skilled individuals collaborating masterfully to execute on a shared vision. This game isn’t just the result of a couple years long development cycle. Elden Ring and it’s tremendous success is the result of over a decade of honing this sub-genre to both its sharpest and expansive form.

If you only play one game this year, it should be Elden Ring. If you only play one SoulsBorne game in your life, it should be Elden Ring. This game is proof of how authenticity and originality can thrive in gaming and I’m so glad I was able to play it before I die.

I Beat Elden Ring, the Best Video Game of 2022

‘JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’ Spin-Off Manga Review

December of 2021 saw the release of two JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure spin-off manga, Fujiko’s Bizarre Worldly Wisdom -Whitesnake’s Miscalculation- and Crazy Diamond’s Demonic Heartbreak. These couldn’t have released at a more opportune time, with the premiere of the Stone Ocean anime driving interest in the franchise to an all time high, and JoJolion’s conclusion in August leaving manga readers desperate for more material. The JoJo’s fandom positively erupted across every social media platform with the release of these manga; with more hot takes, reactions, and lore explorations surfacing than the franchise has chapters.

By in large, the members of the JoJo’s community — or at least its loudest voices — agree that Crazy Diamond’s Demonic Heartbreak is hot shit and Fujiko’s Bizarre Worldly Wisdom is just shit, or even a blemish on the franchise. However, the community — especially its most annoying members — tend to be too kind to anything to do with Pt. 3 and — its very worst members — too critical of anything to do with Pt. 6. With this in mind, I’m reviewing both of these manga so I can give what I hope is a more nuanced perspective on these deeply derivative pieces of media.

Fujiko’s Bizarre Worldly Wisdom -Whitesnake’s Miscalculation-

The set up of Shou Aimoto’s Fujiko’s Bizarre Worldly Wisdom -Whitesnake’s Miscalculation- one-shot is that one of Pucci’s efforts to defeat Jolyne and attain “Heaven” was such a disastrous failure that it didn’t deserve to be in the main manga. Pucci’s plan revolves around bestowing the stand Bad Romance to Fujiko Fujiyama, an erotic artist in Green Dolphin St. Jail, that lets the young woman control the emotions of anyone who accepts a drawing from her. While she initially uses this power to make Jolyne uncomfortably and embarrassingly aroused during a yoga class, Fujiko quickly gains such an affection for Jolyne that she begins to empower her instead. Realizing his mistake, Pucci seals Bad Romance back into a DISC and Jolyne escapes the stand attack almost completely unharmed.

It’s easy to understand why some people don’t like this manga. The central conflict resolves itself without the protagonist’s involvement, there isn’t much in terms of world building or interactions between established characters, and there’s some arguably non-con content involving the only female lead in the JoJo’s franchise. There’s not much here unless you’re a fan of Jolyne making ahegao faces in different art styles, and there’s already plenty of that online!

Ultimately, I think this one-shot being middling at best is proof of how authored JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is, and how the manga could only come from the mind of Hirohiko Araki. All the pieces of a classic JoJo’s villain of the week are set up here. A visually distinct weirdo with a memorable introduction? Check. An exploration of an incredibly niche subject that attempts to impart the reader with a newfound understand and appreciation of it? Check. Hot people being kinky and horny??? Biiiiiiiig check.

When a person less interesting and with weaker storytelling chops than Araki attempts this formula, though, it just ends up falling flat. Whether it’s a stag beetle fight, an aside about guitar anatomy, or four full chapters dedicated to hyping up Italian food; Araki knows how to convey his deep appreciate for his personal interests, make his audience resonate with them, and construct a compelling narrative involving these subjects. While Shou Aimoto has several successful manga under her belt, she can’t make this formula work as well as Araki and, to be fair, I don’t think anyone could.

All of that being said, I thought this one-shot was pretty interesting! It was bold of this manga to address the stigma against erotic artists the world over and try to legitimize both the art form and its artists. Also, seeing this one-shot mostly bungle the sexual elements in its story, gave me a deeper understanding of how Araki makes the eroticism of his series work so well (it’s by giving all his characters agency and acknowledging the sexual elements of masculine form). So, well I didn’t love this one-shot, it did at least make me analyze a piece of art I love from a new angle and appreciate it for that.

Also, anyone who says that this one-shot is “just hentai” is a media illiterate fool with some latent puritanical beliefs. By comparing a work to phonography as an insult you’re just revealing that you don’t have the ability to meaningfully critique media and that you watch or read bad porn. Figure out how to live better.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Crazy Diamond’s Demonic Heartbreak

Written by Kouhei Kadono and illustrated by Tasuku Karasuma, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Crazy Diamond’s Demonic Heartbreak focuses on fan favorite villain Hol Horse as he figures out his life following Dio’s demise. Accepting a job to capture Dio’s pet parrot — which may or may not be a stand user — he teams up with Boingo and runs into Josuke in Morioh, which is also actually the hometown of Noriaki Kakyoin!

On paper, Crazy Diamond’s Demonic Heartbreak is what most people would want and expect from a JoJo’s side story. It gives beloved characters more time in the spotlight, explores relationships between tangentially related characters, and it fills in plot holes and weaknesses present in the original manga. What manga reader wouldn’t like this spin-off?

I don’t. I loath this manga and its approach to storytelling. It’s entire conceit resolves around filling a supposed plot hole that only emerges when obsessive fans over-analyze the manga. Sure, there’s a single panel where Dio has a cockatoo in the manga that’s seemingly retconned into Pet Shop the hawk in later chapters. While those who evaluate fiction on how well every minute piece fits together — as opposed to interesting things like its creative direction, themes, or literary devices — might call this lazy or poor writing, I would object by asking, who the hell cares!? JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a fantastic manga specifically because Araki avoids planning out his story in favor of penning a more spontaneous narrative. This spin-off feels like it was created by Cinema Sins watching lore perverts and I despise its inception.

Then there’s the focus on Kakyoin, a character who doesn’t have any appeal outside of his connection to other characters and a split second splash of characterization a few pages before his death. The people who insist that Kakyoin’s death is actually affecting or that he’d have any kind of impact on the story if he survived are more annoying the people who spam the “Is that a JoJo’s reference?” meme. If Kakyoin’s death is supposed to be an emotional cornerstone of this manga, I have to believe that this spin-off is for people who think Demon Slayer villains are compelling and morally complex because a bad thing happened to them before they killed hundreds of people.

In fairness, some elements of this manga are fun. Hol Horse wearing three watches is a great visual signifier of the fear of Dio that now defines him. I’m also sure that Josuke and Hol Horse’s interactions will be a continued treat as they’re two of the most lovably idiosyncratic characters in the franchise. That being said, I’m deeply frustrated by the storytelling beliefs and philosophy behind this manga and just can’t gel with it.

A piece of media can still be a masterpiece if it has a messy plot and some two dimensional characters. It feels like Crazy Diamond’s Demonic Heartbreak exists to fix parts of Stardust Crusaders and that’s the least interesting and most uninspired approach to storytelling I can imagine. Art is magical because it’s deeply personal to its creator and allows us to connect with them on some level. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is such an incredible series because of the passion and personality that Araki pours into it. None of that genuine spirit is in Crazy Diamond’s Demonic Heartbreak and that’s a disappointment.

Final Verdict: Passion > Performance

Ultimately, I enjoy Fujiko’s Bizarre Worldly Wisdom -Whitesnake’s Miscalculation- more than Crazy Diamond’s Demonic Heartbreak. Even if the former is a skeezy mess and the latter more technically sound, I’ll take an authored piece of media over a J. J. Abrams-style puzzle box approach to JoJo’s any day of the week. Fingers crossed Pt. 9 or the next set of Stone Ocean episodes drop soon, because I am desperate for more JoJo’s material from the people who know it best.

BaddaBing, BaddaBye

‘JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’ Spin-Off Manga Review

I Hate How Much I Like ‘South Park’

South Park is nothing short of one of the most successful shows airing today. Premiering in 1997, Matt Parker and Trey Stone’s low-budget and off-color animated series has as many accolades as it does seasons. South Park has won five Emmys, have made its creators obscenely wealthy, and is arguably most responsible for the prolonged success of the Comedy Central channel. More than anything, though, South Park is a cultural touchstone and I’d venture that there’s not a single American between 13 and 65 who wouldn’t recognize the iconic paper cut out art style.

I, like just about everyone else I know, watched South Park religiously as a teen and young adult, which is a decision I deeply regret now. As the show continues to voice tired and dangerous ideas, I hate how influential South Park was to me and how relevant it remains in my social life. South Park is to me what I imagine Harry Potter is to a lot of other people and I’m nothing short of exasperated every time the show comes up. In the midst of this frustration, all I can do is remind myself that I’m trying to be a better person than the show and people who inspired many of my values and hope that I succeed in this effort.

Being a South Park Fan Between 2010 – 2016

I watched South Park in my free time between my Freshman year of High School and Sophomore year of college. This means that I watched a lot of South Park, since Comedy Central had reruns of the show playing constantly. Looking back, I probably watched an average of an hour of South Park every night between the ages of 14 to 18; maybe more if you count playing it as background noise while on my laptop or doing homework. I don’t think I made a conscious effort to watch the show as much as I did; it was just always available, had so many episodes that reruns rarely got stale, and was popular enough that I could talk to my friends about it.

Oh boy, did my dumbass friends and I talk about South Park a lot.

In High School, it was almost a game to see who had watched more of it, or who got the most references. I’m not sure if it was because the show was already popular, or because it had a lot of swears in it and was therefore ‘adult,’ but my buddies and I were obsessed with South Park. In my first two years of college, about eight of my friends would cram into a dorm room, overtake a common area, or pile into an apartment to watch new episodes as they aired. In fact, the second ever non-mandatory student social event I attended (the first being Sex Out Loud’s Kink and Consent on Campus event, because even at 19 I was on brand) was a watch party and cooperative analysis of the ‘Go God Go’ episodes.

I didn’t just watch South Park, I dissected episodes for meaning and learned about the world through them. I first learned about trans people from South Park episode “Mr. Garrison’s Fancy New Vagina”. This show was the first program I ever watched to call out specific politicians for their failings or flawed beliefs, like in the infamous “ManBearPig” episode. South Park gave me perspectives on the US immigration policy and illegal immigration that I certainly wasn’t getting from mostly conservative adults in my small, rural hometown; as seen in the episode “Goobacks”.

I don’t know if I’d be who I am today if South Park didn’t exist. I was doing media critique and analysis on the show before I even knew what that was and it was a shared interest that helped cement some of my most meaningful relationships. Which, really sucks, because South Park is bad and I hate how much impact it still has on my life and broader culture.

Hating South Park From 2017 – Present

I grew to despise South Park as I realized that its creators didn’t actually believe in the ideals presented in a given episode and figured out that their “both sides” mockery was cowardly instead of brave.

As a teenager, I really bought into South Park’s integral belief that all jokes are okay and should be allowed, or none of them will be. The implication here being that any kind of censorship or criticism of humor will eventually led to the stifling of content that the person leveling the critique does enjoy. As someone who liked subversive content and niche media, this really resonated with me. Sure, I hated classmates who made bigoted jokes, but rationalized that to suppress that kind of material or thinking would stop jokes that I did like from existing. Of course, as a teenager the irony of one of the most successful animated shows ever making itself out to be the little guy that needed to be protected , nor was I aware of how desperate I was to be apart of any kind of perceived counter culture.

Then the 2013 episode “Informative Murder Porn” aired and a seed of doubt germinated in my psyche. This episode seemingly came off as pro-censorship and argued that people shouldn’t watch, and channel’s shouldn’t air, true crime shows. I was surprised and confused that a program that had so vehemently opposed censorship would advocate for it in this episode. Brushing it off, I continued watching South Park regularly, but noticed more and more that the show would often go back on its biggest and most controversial messages.

Now that I’m an adult and have all the benefits and horrors that come with that perspective, I realize that the reason South Park episodes have so many contrary themes is because the people behind it don’t actually believe in anything. South Park exists solely as a means for it’s creators to make fun of the things that annoy them; meaning the show will only get worse as Matt and Trey become older, richer, and more libertarian. For as much as the creator’s like to boast that they make fun of everyone, South Park advocates for the perspective of the privileged more so than perhaps any other airing comedy. After all, these are the people who convinced millions of Americans that Democrats are as bad as Republicans in “Douche and Turd,” because to them ineffective leaders are just as bad as those who want to do harm to the marginalized.

(Before anyone @s me, I’m acutely aware of how bad Democrats are and their role in upholding a status quo that also harms the marginalized and will ultimately lead to the destruction of the human race. We aren’t talking about them right now, though.)

The final nail sealed my South Park fandom coffin in the show’s 20th season, which failed to lampoon internet culture and provide an entertaining, season spanning narrative. Between the show whitewashing the Trump campaign and trying to make Cartman, the show’s stand in for the worst people in the world, more relatable; it became blatantly clear to me how little I connected to the show and the people who liked it. I’ll never forget a tweet the South Park account retweeted (yes, I used to follow the official South Park Twitter account and deeply regret it), where someone thanked the show for having Cartman enter into a relationship, as they were afraid he’d be alone forever.

Cartman should be alone! He’s awful and that’s the entire point of the character! I dropped the show after realizing how little my values overlap with the show and how little in common I have with the people who still like it. This irks me to no end because the show helped inspire a lot of my values!

Life Post South Park

About once every other week a friend makes a reference to or reminds me of a joke from South Park. Most of the time I’ll laugh because the joke their alluding to is genuinely funny, especially in the given context. South Park has been on the air for 25 years, so of course it has some good jokes. I still giggle every time I think of the joke where Butters excitedly reveals that his birthday is on 9/11 or the (now strangely titled) “Pandemic” episodes where the supporting character Craig roasts the main characters for…being main characters in an adult animated series.

I have to catch myself every time I do fondly remember the show, though, because it spends so much time elevating dumb and harmful ideas. In the latest special (labeled a movie for some asinine reason despite having a 62 minute runtime) South Park postulates that those advocating for wearing a mask during a global pandemic are as bad as anti-maskers. Never mind that the latter group is quantifiably more dangerous and perhaps responsible for the pandemic lasting as long as it has, they both annoy the millionaires who make the show so they’re equally bad. Which of course only excuses and normalizes the behavior of anti-maskers, and now I remember why I hate this show.

I go through this train of thought at least every other week and it’s exhausting. Someone please put me or the show out of our misery so that this cycle can finally end. Actually, now that I think about it, there’s a non-zero chance that South Park will still be cranking out bad takes by the time I’m on my deathbed, and that’s deeply depressing.

I imagine the loop I find myself in isn’t all that different from the purgatory that that socially responsible Harry Potter fans call home. My fondness for the series is constantly put in check by the harm that it and its creators perform on a regular basis. The big difference being that South Park remains the primary medium through which its creators espouse their shitty, contrarian beliefs. So I guess I just need to co-opt the countless pieces of advice and guidance lobbied towards the Harry Potter fandom over the years.

It’s okay that I found meaning, value, and community in a piece of media that I now recognize as deeply problematic and detrimental to social progress. That being said, I can’t ignore the issues in the show and the troubling politics perpetuated by its creators. So I now need to do everything I can to offer a complete picture of the series and its impact, while simultaneously advocating for its finale, so that we as a society can move on and a new, better show can hopefully fill its shoes.

This, of course, isn’t an ideal situation, but it’s all that can be expected when art you value turns into something that you despise. Although, it’d be more apt to say that I’ve turned into a person that despises art that I used to love. My grudging affinity for South Park has been weighing on me for a while, and I’m glad I could finally purge all of these thoughts from my system. I never want to think about this dumb show again, but I know that the world isn’t going to let that happen.

Badda-Bing, Badda-Bye

I Hate How Much I Like ‘South Park’

My Favorite Media of 2021

Nobody reading his needs me to tell them that the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic made 2021 a weird year for both the production and consumption of any form of entertainment. The fact that any new show, movie, game, book, etc came out this year is the result of nothing less than a herculean logistical effort and brilliant people still managing to find the passion to create something as the world continues to warp around them. Similarly, I found myself having more extreme reactions to this year’s releases than in years past. If I liked something, it helped me cope with what will hopefully be the most tumultuous event that I live through. If something sucked, it was a foolhardy effort that wasn’t worth risking the health and safety of the people likely meeting up to create it.

Those negative reactions in particular aren’t fair to a given work or the people who made it, and I’m going to try check myself on that kind of response in 2022 (or as living under a pandemic becomes increasingly normalized and accepted). Still, a good number of media tangibly improved my year and gave me a pick-me-up when I really needed one. So, these are all of my favorite pieces of media from 2021 that I encourage you to check out if my reaction to them resonates with you whatsoever.


Demon’s Souls

I know this game came out in 2020, but with the timing of when I was able to get a PS5, I wasn’t able to play it until January of 2021, and I’m glad that I did! The PlayStation 5 remaster of Demon’s Souls is such a console generation defining experience that it validates the purchase (good luck) of a PS5 by itself. FromSoft’s first foray into the SoulsBorne genre that it would both spearhead and perfect is now easier to play than ever with Bluepoint’s quality of life improvements, namely less loading time between deaths.

Having only put a significant amount of time into Bloodborne prior to this release, I found Demon’s Souls combat to be more my speed. I classed as Royalty and having the ability to use midrange attacks from the start of the game gave me the spacing to plan out and then execute most encounters in a way I found deeply challenging and rewarding. More than anything, though, it’s the atmosphere and characters of Demon’s Souls that sticks with me.

For Unwinnable, I wrote about how much I appreciated exploring the collapsing kingdom of Boletaria and meeting NPCs who were all processing the trauma of this collapse. After all, I was going through a much less cool version of all of this in real life. I stand by everything I wrote in this piece, and believe in it more strongly now. Sneaking through the once bustling but now desolate areas of Latria was frighteningly similar to traveling out my neighbor, once COVID left it a shell of its former self. I’ll also always remember characters like Ostrava, Biorr, and Patches; with their widely different reactions to this strange, demonic world making it feel all the more real.

Then there’s the ending. Killing the mad, despot King Alant at the end of Demon’s Souls remains one of the most cathartic experiences I’ve ever had in a video game, and I cannot recommend this title enough.


I played Bugsnax simultaneously with Demon’s Souls and it was about the best gaming cocktail I could have asked for. Each game perfectly encapsulates one end of my gaming preference spectrum; Demon’s Souls is grandiose, intense, and weird while Bugsnax is quirky, relaxing, and weird. I’d need an entire, 2,000 word piece to get into all of the strange stuff that makes up Bugsnax, so just trust me when I say that it’s as bizarre as it is endearing.

I’m a sucker for the kinds of stories like the one featured in Bugsnax, where a bunch of broken, off-beat, and kind of shitty people have to work out their differences and accept that they all do genuinely care for each other. Benefiting from the first pandemic winter, this game’s depiction of a wholesome community warmed my heart during Chicago’s coldest months. It’s also one of the most casually inclusive and queer games I can think of, and cannot wait for Young Horses to release the Isle of Bigsnax expansion.

NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139…

Nier Replicant is a haunting experience. The main cast of Nier, Kaine, and Emil are some of the most realized and lovable characters in video games, which makes it all the more devastating as the title slowly reveals that the world they inhabit can only crush their spirits and force them to fail in their ambitions. These three only have each other, and often not even that, as they flail fruitlessly at the circumstances of their lives and draw what little joy they can in the beautiful moments they create.

I was not nearly as awesome as I am now in 2010, and therefore played Nier Automata before I played any version of Nier Replicant. This colored my playthrough in two meaningful ways. The first is that I would often gasp and point at the screen anytime something I recognized from Automata appeared and I experienced a reference in the wrong order. The second is that the game’s themes of finding meaning in hopeless situations hits a lot harder knowing that these characters will not succeed in their quest per the set-up of the sequel.

I loved this game, even knowing how it had to end. The events of the new sections featuring a playable Kaine are also a delight and I love that this game now ends with a glimmer of hope instead of the loss that punctuates the original. This is a great game, and I wish other creators in the industry were willing to be half as daring and honest as Yoko Taro.

New Pokémon Snap

In June of 2021 I upended my entire life to move to Los Angeles. This quixotic change was fueled by my desire to lead an interesting life and maybe meet some exceptional people. What followed this move was one of the most hectic periods of my life in which I nearly became stranded in the Mojave Desert, moved into two different apartments in the span of two months, and slept on an air mattress for nearly ninety days. More often than I care to admit, the thought crossed my mind that I was being foolhardy and that I’d be happier if I had stayed within my comfort zone in the Midwest.

New Pokémon Snap is not a revolutionary game. It’s a modern version of the Nintendo 64 classic that doesn’t innovate on the ideas of the original or push the Nintendo Switch hardware in any meaningful ways. However, as a fan of the original game whose childhood was partially defined by it, this game provided me with a psychic anchor at a time in my life when I needed one. I love this game and it’s one of my favorites of the year.

Resident Evil Village

Vampire lady big!!!

Lady Dimitrescu is reason enough to love the eighth Resident Evil game, but there’s more to the title than just the most simped over video game character in recent memory. There’s something for every horror game fan here. You want a cat and mouse game against a monster in a striking local? That’s in RE8. You want to be helpless and flee from an unkillable monstrosity? That’s in RE8. You want to kill hoards of ghouls and disgusting creatures that are only allowed to live due to the fury of a cruel god? You better believe that’s in RE8!

It’s the vibe of Village that makes it one of my favorite games of the year, though. Even if Lady D is only in the game for a short amount of time, she’s the perfect poster women for this title. This game is seeping with camp horror and always feels at least a little horny. After all, Hindenburg is basically a Victorian steampunk Nicolas Cage. What’s hotter than that!?

Does ever facet and plot point of this game make sense? No, but that only makes it more delightful.

Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars

Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars is an eccentric game based on what feels like the drafts folder in Yoko Taro’s Google Drive, and I desperately hope it turns into an anthology series. This game has a ditzy astrology elf girl, a muscle fetish, and queer subtext that really wants to be regular text. Also, some frustrating homophobia that was added during the localization process. Blagh.

This one blemish aside, I adored this small, tabletop inspired romp. If Square Enix wants to make one of these a year just so Yoko Taro can flex his short story chops, I’m down for that. So long as the sequels aren’t also NFTs, I’m ride or die for the Voice of Cards franchise.

No More Heroes 3

Suda 51’s latest, and likely final, entry in the No More Heroes series is the best game of 2021 and maybe my favorite game of all time. What it lacks because of obvious budget limitations, it more than makes up for with presentation and style. This is one of the most vibrant and visually distinctive games to grace the AAA genre in while and it’s incredible.

In this game, former toxic gamer Travis Touchdown is tasked with fending off an alien invasion that’s led by a metaphor for corporations and gatekeepers using nostalgia to advance their shitty ideals. All of the protagonists in this game are just the coolest 30 and 40 somethings who spend most of their time producing a movie podcast that maybe a dozen people listen to. Half of the boss aliens are smoked by other people who you have to fight instead! This game is ridiculous and it feels like it was made for me. If I could give Suda 51 a down payment on whatever game he’s making next, I would.


Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle

I thought 2021 was a down year for anime with few titles really sticking out to me, and the series I did watch rarely leaving much of an impression. Which is why I was so surprised that Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle resonated with me so much, being the kind of breezy and humor focused anime that I usually gloss over. It’s cute, it’s funny, and it makes fun of Dragon Quest tropes. What more could you want from anything you exclusively watched over lunch breaks?

This anime definitely benefited from the pandemic giving me an appetite for anything that could give me the warm fuzzies, but the dub is legitimately great and I enjoyed every episode.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean

Prior to this season coming out, a good number of JoJo’s “fans” would tell you that Stone Ocean is the weakest installment in the franchise. They are liars and misogynists. Both the Stone Ocean anime and manga are terrific and I don’t think I had more fun with a single piece of media this year.

Jolyne’s false imprisonment and sudden responsibility to join the generational struggle against evil that defined the life of her father and other ancestors is clearly playing with some ideas of what it’s like to live under an oppressive patriarchal society. Also, an amnesiac named Weather Report makes it rain poison frogs. Stone Ocean is the most bizarre animated installment of the series so far, and executes on its themes and messaging more coherently than any part to come before. It’s almost definitely going to be one of my favorite anime of 2022 as the season continues.

Television Shows

Rick and Morty

“He’s Mr. Nimbus! He controls the police!”

I’m trying as hard as I can to live a meaningful life that’s full of unique experiences that hopefully give me greater insight into the human condition. I think I’ve been fairly successful in this effort so far. However, I’m still a cis white guy in my 20s who’s online way too much and therefore am required to like Rick and Morty. Even if this season did have some duds (“Rickdependence Spray” and “Amortycan Grickfitti”), the the highs scraped the sky (“Mort Dinner Rick Andre,” “A Rickconvenient Mort,” and “Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort”). Just like in past seasons, I’m sure I’m going to quote the best jokes from R&M season five for years to come.

Kevin Can Fuck Himself

To call Kevin Can Fuck Himself just a satire of the dumb husband genre of TV sitcoms would be a disservice to the program. It’s definitely casting a critical eye on that deeply problematic material, but it’s also offering one of the truest versions of small town America I’ve ever seen, showcases how people fall to what’s labeled criminal activity out of necessity instead of greed, and has an unprecedented depiction of the kind of charismatic alcoholic that casually ruins the lives of everyone around them. This show is so much more than just its gimmick of switching between being shot and staged like a sitcom to a drama, but that’s still one hell of a gimmick!

Even the supposed plot hole of Allison never even considering divorcing her husband Kevin and jumping straight to killing him is magnificent writing. Both the character and the writers know that she can never really escape her abusive husband, because he is just charming enough to make a part of her want to stick around. I’ve never seen a show tackle this kind of relationship and these kinds of characters with such nuance before and I cannot wait for the second season.

I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson

This is the most quotable show in the history of television.

What We Do In The Shadows

I love What We Do In the Shadows. I made an entire video about why I resonate emotionally with Jackie Daytona! That being said, season three focusing more on character development and relationships instead of mining most of its humor from exploring the strange lore and rules of this world was a little bit of a misfire for me. I still loved this season of WWDITS, but laughed a little less in season three than in season two.

I can still appreciate the show after this shift and respect the decision to change things up. After all, the set up of these out of touch vampires living together in Staten Island would get stale eventually and the show couldn’t have undergone the massive change it’s setting up if it didn’t tie up loose ends. It was a treat seeing the Baron finally make his return and the joke with the Golden Retriever was one of the best in the series. Fingers crossed that season four keeps the charm of the first two seasons alive as things change further and the Guillermo and Nandor have the heartfelt reunion they deserve.


The Suicide Squad

I’m probably outing myself as a philistine right now, but the only movie that I saw this year that I thoroughly enjoyed was The Suicide Squad. Not to disparage the films that did release in 2021 and the work that went into releasing them, but I think everyone can agree that this was a more limited year for film. TSS was a bloody delight, though, and I wish it was the first movie I saw in theaters following the pandemic (that honor goes to Free Guy, a movie that absolutely does not deserve it).

I love this movie’s juvenal segments and serious messaging equally and am amazed that it blended those elements so expertly. Idris Alba’s Bloodsport getting into a style points kill contest with John Cena’s Peacemaker had me absolutely giddy as it happened. Once the movie revealed that Peacemaker is entirely representative of America’s idea of peace being a defense of the status quo that benefits the nation, that scene took on new meaning.

This is a maximalist movie that isn’t afraid to be stupid or schlocky and I admire it for that.


Sakamoto Days

Sakamoto Days had its first full year of publication in 2021 and I vibe so hard with this manga. Focusing on the titular retired assassin and his found and actual family, this is the kind of more grounded battle shonen that I love. Sure characters have telepathy and casually perform superhuman feats of strength, but it has yet to go further beyond how you wish the world worked as a child. Everything is just a little extra and its wonderful.

The art also goes a long way in making this world feel lived in. Everything feels messy and just a little dirty, like these are actual locations instead of TV set facsimiles. The color spreads drive this feeling home; being bright and eye-catching, but also chaotic and just a little too busy. While I do need to call out this manga for brushing against fatphobia, I still can’t recommend it enough. Between an effortlessly cool and funny cast of characters, secret assassin organizations, and a whole lot of heart to bring it together; I really want to live in this manga.


What if aliens and cryptids were both real, fought humans, and occasionally each other? Well then, Dandadan would happen so long as a brash girl and shy boy met each other, immediately caught feelings, and started fighting against those monsters with their own supernatural powers. Actually, that’s not quite right. The boy’s testicles also need to be stolen by by an old woman and a good chunk of the plot has to revolve around getting them back.

Dandadan isn’t for everyone, but, holy shit, is it for me. I love the idiots in this manga and will weep when they both find the courage to express their feelings to each other. Mix that with a great supporting cast, some visceral images, and some compelling rumination on romantic relationships; and you have a one of a kind manga that I eagerly read every Monday.

Dai Dark

From Dorohedoro author Q Hayashida, Dai Dark is a manga that could only be made by Q Hayashida. Every protagonist is a mass murderer, but they’re also super best friends and a total sweethearts. Death is a central character, and they’re a self-absorbed sociopath who is very respectful of people’s pronouns and chosen names. Every character is a beefcake and smokeshow.

This whole series takes place so far in the future that obviously human characters are called aliens, but also magic is definitely real. I have no idea what’s going to happen in the next chapter of Dai Dark and I can’t wait to find out! There’s nothing else like this series and it’s one of my favorite manga of 2021.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Jojolion

The eighth installment in the JJBA franchise ended this year and was the most divisive in its lengthy history. Some set ups are never resolved, supposedly important characters are barely explored and make limited appearances, and the final power up is poorly explained and arguably unearned. With all of that being said, Gappy is my second favorite JoJo and this is one of my favorite parts of the series.

Witnessing this goofball, four-balled man learn how to not only be a person, but a JoJo’s protagonist was an experience I won’t soon forget. This entry also has some of the most intense fights in the franchise thus far, and a final antagonist that’s the closest the series has ever gotten to cosmic horror. I’m going to be rereading this JoJolion until part 9 drops; thank you for only getting better with age Araki.

Internet Stuff

JelloApocolypse’s What Scooby Doo Character is the Best?

If you don’t have some level of fondness for Scooby-Doo I don’t want anything to do with you. The long-running franchise remains a pristine entry point to the horror and mystery genres of fiction while also becoming a cultural institution in its own right. I have spent far too much time thinking about Scooby-Doo characters and plotlines, and so too has creator and voice actor Brendan Blaber.

This nearly hour long video is a masterful character analysis of each member of Mystery Incorporated that’s as funny as it is thoughtful. There’s clearly something about these seemingly one note characters and their relationships that have allowed them to endure in the pop-culture spotlight for so long, and Blaber thoroughly explores what’s given them such staying power. Also, the costuming in this video presents a level of style and confidence I could only dream of.

Tim Roger’s ACTION BUTTON REVIEWS Tokimeki Memorial

There are very few things I like more in life than listening to very smart, passionate people talk about the things they like in great detail. Tim Rogers is an expert at this. His over-the-top presentation style and proclivity for earnest tangents into experiences that shaped his life and identity lead me to believe that I would enjoy listening to this man read the phone book.

(Please don’t make a video where you read the phone book, Tim Rogers. I will watch that and have a great time in the moment, but I know I won’t feel good about myself afterwards.)

I had not heard of and did not care about Tokimeki Memorial prior to Rogers making a six hour video about the game, which was never officially released in the U.S. After watching the more than feature length experience, I now have a deep appreciation for TokiMemo and see it’s influences in a dozen or so of my personal favorite games of all time (which might be the focus of a future blog post). Speckled in this comprehensive review and analysis, Rogers inserts anecdotes about his own experiences as an awkward teenager and how the game conveyed a faded reflection of his former self.

These eloquent ramblings were more relatable than I’d care to admit. If I can someday be half as good at writing and talking about the things meaningful to me as Tim Rogers is, I could die happy.


There you have it, nearly 4,000 words on my favorite pieces of media from 2021 — and this was a down year! I wish I had some grand takeaway connecting all of this media to the pandemic or the many life changes I went through in the past twelve months, but anything I could bring up would be cliche or was said better elsewhere. All I know for sure is that I don’t think I would have gotten through last year if not for these works, and I’m deeply thankful to each and every person who helped make them happen.

Even if your role in these projects was just a paycheck or a holdover until a better gig came along, you helped make something that was deeply affecting to me. If by chance you read this, please know that you have my admiration and I hope that your project fulfilled you as much as it did me.

If you made it this far, thank you so much for reading! I promise that I’ll dial it in next post and write at length about a particular subject instead of maundering on about my big feelings towards twenty different pieces of media. Until then, good luck and stay safe.

Badda-Bing, Badda-Bye

My Favorite Media of 2021

Hi, I’m Blogging Again

According to this website, the last time I wrote a blog post was August 13, 2021. That doesn’t really count, though, since that post about the final season of Final Space and YouTubers selling out isn’t so much a blog post, as it is a transcript of a video essay. Ignoring video essay transcripts, the last bit of writing I published on Badda-Bing Badda-Blog was on January 3, 2021, and about the celebration event surrounding the release of One Piece’s 1000th chapter…which I only wrote because a canvassing company sent me some embargoed — and therefore cool — information.

Prior to this, my last genuine blog post went up on June 5, 2019, and was a tabletop game review I drafted for a friend of a college friend, who I think might be in a cult now? I’m not totally sure as I’ve fallen out of touch with them, because every time we touch base they try to get me to join what really seems like a cult. This means that the last time I wrote about something on this blog solely because I wanted to express my thoughts or feelings on a given subject through this medium was…May 25th, 2016.

Jesus Christ. TIME!

So, I’ve been bad at blogging. In my defense, I’ve written some great stuff for some stellar outlets since 2016 (*cough* *cough* portfolio link *cough*). Looking back at the last time I blogged regularly, I can also confidently say that I’m a much better writer now than when I was 20. Which I know isn’t much of an accomplishment, but hey, that’s one more insecurity I can put to bed at least. However, most of what I’ve written since 2016 is stuff that I’m not particularly proud of. Granted, a lot of those listicles, uncredited YouTube video scripts, and product reviews were pleasant to write and about topics that I enjoy; but at the end of the day they were freelance assignments that helped me make rent and made me feel like a real writer.

Now that I have a job that pays me enough to live comfortably, I don’t have take whatever freelance work I can get anymore and can spend more time writing about what I want in the way that I want. Recently on my podcast, Voluntary Viewing, my co-hosts called me out for being overly negative about the media I experience. While I object to the suggestion that my review of a show/movie/game/book/etc would be anything less than fair and correct, there is a kernel of truth to their comment.

I realize now that in a lot of my freelance entertainment writing, I was required to be overly positive. Most content mills — which feels like most online outlets today — just want to cash in on people’s appreciation or nostalgia for a property by offering a milquetoast opinion that won’t ruffle any feathers. While some places do thrive on hate clicks, in my experience most editors and site managers don’t want to deal with that drama. It was cool being able to write about what 10 kaiju in the Godzilla movies are the strongest; but it sucks that Godzilla being number 1 felt like a foregone conclusion; and ranking giant monsters on how strong they are is the least interesting conversation you can have about the Godzilla franchise.

Also, while I wouldn’t trade the experience of making that video script for anything, that video now has nearly 5 million views and I was only paid 50 bucks for my effort. I’m doing pretty medium now! I don’t need to hustle to put out an underpaying creative compromise just so I can make rent while not feeling like a fraud. I’ve made enough people upset with the writing that I believe in at this point that I can confidently say I’m a real writer. So I should be making more if I’m going to sellout (my Twitter DMs are open), and I can get weirder with the writing that I really believe in.

All of this is a long way of saying that I promise to be genuine in all of my writing on this blog going forward. I want to write the kinds of things that made me fall in love with this craft and I’ve decided that Badda-Bing Badda-blog is the place to do that. I’m still going to put out an occasional Top 10 listicle and chase SEO trends when they align with whatever my current interest is — after all, I want this blog to do well and, let’s be honest, everyone loves a good top ten post/video/take. I bet there isn’t a single, internet accessing person under the age of 35 who hasn’t seen some kind of “X Things From a Thing You Like, RANKED” work in the past month. They probably left that page after not liking the first two picks or growing board with it, but they still clicked on it and that counts! Someone got, or should have gotten, paid because of that click and I want some of those clicks coming my way!

So yeah, I will chase trends with my writing here. I’ll try to chase those trends in an interesting way, though, and space those kinds of posts out with more niche stuff that I can’t write about in any capacity elsewhere online. In this writing I’ll be ecstatic about the things I genuinely like while respectfully calling out their faults, and critical of the things I don’t like while still giving them credit where it’s due. I know, this seems like the bare minimum for a blog, or any outlet online, but it does feel like so many places that talk about media and world events strive to appease a target audience rather than be authentic or unique.

I’m going to be me on here. I hope people like what I end up writing — I really hope whatever I write turns out to be good — and I especially hope I don’t abandon this effort midway through the year. So then I think the only thing left to say is that I hope I inspired whoever’s reading this to check out whatever I publish next week; which’ll be way less self indulgent than this post.

If I didn’t, thanks for stopping by anyway and good luck with the rest of your 2022.

Badda-Bing Badda-Bye.

Hi, I’m Blogging Again

‘Final Space’ Embodies The YouTube Career Arc

The third season of YouTuber Olan Rogers’ Final Space is, at best, a mixed bag and, at worst, a shadow of its former, offbeat self. What started out as a vibrant science fantasy romp with Gary Goodspeed, a kind of intergalactic Alonso Quixano who’s delightfully loony due to his exile in deep space, is now so generic that its universe ending stakes feel without consequence. However, the plot of the show and Gary’s character arc align with the careers of major YouTubers, where success only stifles creativity and transforms a YouTuber into the kind of mainstream figure they previously rallied against. 

Whether it knows it or not, Final Space is about working as a YouTuber and the show’s decline serves as a grim reminder of how little stability and fulfillment the position holds as a long term profession. In examining the watering down of Gary as a character to a more generic protagonist, and season three’s suggestion that Gary might be a villain; it becomes clear that Final Space captures the rise and inevitable decline of so many YouTube stars.  

Final Space Season 3 In a Nutshell

Before we get too far into what Final Space is about thematically, let’s cover the actual plot beats of the season. This collection of episodes begins with the main cast of characters trapped in the titular Final Space, which is basically space hell with more, or fewer, giant monsters depending on how metal your views of the afterlife are. 

The season then follows our heroes trying repeatedly to escape from Final Space, getting forcibly separated and then reuniting a bunch, and some interpersonal relationships changing a little bit, but not in ways that feel satisfactory or are fully addressed. If it seems like I have a chip on my shoulder while I describe this season, it’s because I do and need to bleed out the venom this show injected into me.  

The only character to have any kind of meaningful arc this season is Ash, who’s voiced by the always terrific Ashly Burch. Apparently her psychic powers come from Invictus, the leader of the aforementioned giant monsters and a primordial evil. While processing how a major part of her identity is tied to a cosmic horror, she loses her adoptive brother, Fox, and begins to mistrust and resent the cast around her. As Gary’s priorities increasingly diverge from her own and as he unintentionally kills Fox, Ash even goes so far as to accuse Gary of actually being evil. This is a hell of an accusation, considering Invitus is literally space Satan, but whatever. Her frustrations with Gary are understandable, and Invictus was doing a ‘devil on her shoulder’ thing for most of the season, so this hard to swallow development is at least understandable from a character perspective. 

After thirteen episodes of Gary struggling, and sometimes failing, to protect those close to him, most of the main cast manag es to escape from Final Space, though Ash joins up with Invictus. She also captured and siphoned off power from the living weapon Mooncake, and Invictus used the energy to open a portal between Final Space and regular space. So, if an undeserved season four happens, it’ll probably focus on Invictus’ army trying to take over the universe. 

This season is a pretty standard space epic, which is exactly what makes it so disappointing. In the first season of Final Space Gary was an unwilling space hermit who was so desperate for friendship and intimacy that he tied up an assassin sent after him, Avocato, and forced him into a poker night. In season three, there just isn’t any of the weird shit that made the show so appealing in season one. There’s no encountering an alien family while wearing their dead mother as a disguise, no Gary insasting that he’s Little Cado’s new dad minutes after Avocato sacrifices himself to save them, and no jubilation in response to the death of the annoying robot KVN.

Gary isn’t a quirky guy trying to find his place in a universe that isn’t sure what to do with him anymore, he’s just the kind of space captain that the show mocked in earlier seasons. Even if it came with a pretty hefty price tag, Gary now has everything he’s ever wanted; a position of respect and power, plenty of meaningful relationships, and a partner who loves him. As mean as it might be to the fictional character Gary, these developments are a bummer and the show loses a lot of it’s charm and originality as it becomes a more standard and traditional story. 

Unless that’s the point. What if the third season of Final Space is about someone sacrificing their originality to achieve their goals and be conventionally successful? What if Final Space is about a growingly common kind of YouTube career arc? 

The YouTuber to Sellout Pipeline

Career YouTubers and the people behind the platform really like to brand YouTube as a space where creatives can express themselves freely. This digital space isn’t bound by the same regulations and ‘in-crowd’ mentality found in television and film production, meaning YouTube is a space where even niche communities can thrive. Now, in reality, YouTube makes LGBTQ+ content less discoverable and played a significant role in the recent growth of the alt-right and conspiracy theory communities, but at least YouTube and YouTubers like to paint it as a place for any content creator and their communities. 

On some level, this branding is true. As the current default video hosting platform, there’s something for everyone on YouTube. Where the lie really starts to breakdown, though, is when YouTubers paint the platform as being superior to traditional media industries. Now, how the problems found on YouTube measure up against every other entertainment medium and industry is a whole ball of wax that we’re not going to get into today. We don’t even need to, though, because most folks aren’t on YouTube as their last and best career move; they’re just doing it until they can move onto a better, more stable gig. 

If you’ve been on YouTube since it really started taking off in the late 2000s, chances are you can think of at least a dozen channels that have functionally shut down because its personalities moved onto greener pastures. You can hardly blame them too, as between the constantly changing algorithms, nearly unchecked harassment, and demanding production cycle; a nine to five gig working in a more established industry seems like a pretty cushie deal. That creates an unusual situation, though, where YouTube, which as a community that celebrates and demands authenticity, is functionally just a temporary gig for its biggest creators until they build up enough clout to move onto their ultimate career. It’s like working as a production assistant until you make enough connections to make the jump to a script writing gig; except there isn’t a convention for PAs and they’re not treated like celebrities. 

The job of being a YouTuber centers on presenting yourself as being as raw, original, and unique as possible; right up until you can afford not to be those things anymore. And then we have Final Space, which originally set itself apart from most other television shows by feeling one of a kind, and is now a generic sci-fi romp that feels like something that’ll just keep getting renewed until the second it’s unprofitable. 

I don’t know if this symbolism is intentional but, considering the rest of season three’s writing, I’m guessing it’s not. There are definitely parallels, though, and, as I witness Gary’s weirdo charm fade until he’s a monotone cliche, I’m filled with the same kind of sadness I felt watching the YouTube channels I grew up with chase algorithms until they’re not longer appealing to me before the creators leave the platform all together. 

Enjoying the Long Death Spiral

I don’t bring this comparison up to commend Final Space season three’s writing; as the season was so bland that I can’t even recommend it to my friends who watched the previous two. I’m bringing it up because this show accidentally reminded me that nothing great can last forever. That’s not even what I’m really upset about, though. Nothing genuine or anything trying to be can last forever. At least not in any kind of way that allows the people behind the project to live comfortably, or maybe even sustainably. 

With the systems we have in place, and how we as a global culture value art and entertainment, current media industries just don’t allow for authenticity unless it has, or can turn into, mass market appeal. Sure, anyone can do small projects that are wholly their own as a hobby, and there’s definitely value there, but only the lucky can make anything close to a significant amount of money off of those kinds of projects. That’s not even getting into the issue of creators burning out as people, the systems they form, and hosting platforms demand a steady stream of similarly high-quality work. 

As of writing this essay, Olan Rogers uploaded his last, non-promotional, video to YouTube ten months ago. If he never returns to the platform and the kind of material that helped him reach his current success, I don’t think anyone can fault him. He made the jump from being a YouTuber to successfully writing and developing his own TV show. He doesn’t need to come back; he’s outgrown YouTube unless there’s something he really wants to do that can only happen on that platform.

That really sucks for the people you enjoyed Olan Rogers’ channel. I think the only thing we can do, though, is enjoy the upward spiral of our favorite small-time creator’s careers, until they manage to ascend to anything beyond the initial stages of their career. YouTube and other hosting platforms aren’t the goal for most of the people trying to make a career out of their creative drive, it’s just one possible first step. No matter how YouTube wants to brand itself, that’s just how it is. 

I wish I had a more positive note to end on, but yeah, being yourself is just a means to an end for a lot of online creators and most will drop that veneer of openness the second they can take the next step forward in their careers. All we can do is enjoy these half-truths while we can and appreciate the stuff we connect with while the people behind it are able and willing to make it. 

I wish I liked the third season of Final Space more; I wish it was something that I could like. But it doesn’t have to be the things that made me like it anymore and the same can be true for the dozen or so YouTubers I loved in high school who aren’t around anymore or are no longer that version of themselves. 

I’ll always have the joy that the first season of Final Space brought me, though, just as I’ll forever treasure the niche channels that I and my high school friends revealed in; even if those channels have now been defunct for longer than I was in high school. Time goes on, things and people change, and we’ve just got to enjoy what’s good while we can. 

Thank you for checking out this essay! If you want to keep up with all of my writing, following me, @LucasDeRuyter, on Twitter. Also, be sure to check out my media focused podcast, Voluntary Viewing

I hope you all enjoyed my ramblings about a declining cartoon, and good luck with whatever you have going on. 

‘Final Space’ Embodies The YouTube Career Arc

I Can’t Stop Thinking About Jackie Daytona

I’ve thought about Jackie Daytona from What We Do In The Shadows about once a week since his episode aired in May of 2020. Formally titled, ‘On The Run,’ this is the sixth episode of the show’s second season. I’ve only watched it once prior to working on this essay, but it’s forever ingrained in my memory and I think I finally figured out why that is. 

What We Do In The Shadows is just an incredibly well written, performed, and directed television series. For those unfamiliar, the setup behind the show is that a group of centuries old vampires are living together in Staten Island. They are incredibly out of touch with society, and are only really aware of major cultural events that vaguely line up with their own interests; such as Nandor, a relentless former soldier of the Ottoman empire, really liking the dominating force that was the 1992 Olympic Dream Team. 

Nandor, played by Kayvan Nocak, is the de facto leader of this clan of vampires, but that’s mostly because no one else wants to do it and it’s the only thing he really has going on in his life. Nadja — Natasia Demetriou — and Lazlo — Matt Berry — are a married couple that alternate between being madly in love and at each other’s throats whenever a squabble from their several lifetimes long relationship pops up again. Then there’s the energy vampire Colin Robinson, played by Mark Proksch. We’re not really sure what his deal is, but he feeds off of negative emotions and is exceptionally good at making people upset or frustrated. 

Basically, he’s every annoying coworker you’ve ever had. 

Anchoring these self-absorbed vampires somewhat is Harvey Guillén’s Guillermo De la Cruz, Nandor’s familiar. Guillermo desperately wants to be a vampire, and became Nandor’s familiar because he thought it’d be the easiest way to achieve that goal. Several years after taking the job, he’s frustrated that he isn’t a vampire and has an existential crisis when he learns that he’s actually really good at killing vampires.  

The first season of What We Do In The Shadows mostly focuses on these characters getting into hilarious situations because of their baggage or eccentric personalities. Like when Lazlo ends up in the pound after turning into a bat to mess with their neighbor. Other episodes, and the ones that I tend to like more, focus on exploring tropes in vampire fiction, and showing how they would go in a slightly more realistic setting. Like in the episode ‘The Orgy,’ when Nandor and company fear they’ll be ostracized from vampire culture if their kinky sex party is subpar. 

It’s a genuine delight to see this show depict how weird, sad, and horny vampires are, without dressing those characteristics up in any kind of mystique. Just about every vampire in this show is an out of touch theater kid with more confidence than they deserve, and it’s hilarious to watch these barely functioning people explore the lore and rules of their universe. What We Do In The Shadows does what good fantasy storytelling is supposed to, and uses impossible situations to explore the human condition and the societies we create. 

Things change abruptly in episode six of season 2, though. Until this point, each episode had focused on these characters living their mostly petty lives in the greater New York area, and bouncing off each other all the while. When Mark Hamill’s Jim the Vampire arrives unexpectedly to collect a debt from Lazlo, the foppish vampire just bails. He puts on a human disguise, renounces the culture and relationship that had defined him for hundreds of years, and fucks off to Pennsylvania because he thinks it sounds cool. 

Now going by Jackie Daytona, he starts a brand new life and is pretty successful. He takes over a bar after killing and eating the former owner, becomes a prominent and appreciated member of his community, and helps out the state bound High School Volleyball team as an assistant coach. 

Lazlo just decided to stop being a vampire and is having the time of his life as a townie in rural America. 

This abrupt shift works for a couple of reasons, with the first being that this episode absolutely nails the feel of small town America. From a hole in the wall bar that’s somehow a cornerstone of the community, to people caring way too much about High School Volleyball, this is what the so-called real America is really like. Having grown up in a community of around 5,000 people, I can confidently say that this is an accurate snapshot of this kind of town. For reasons I still can’t fathom, folks in my hometown lost their goddamn minds when our Volleyball team went to state, but barely got out of bed for the Girl’s Cross Country team which routinely made that level of competition. 

This is a really weird idiosyncrasy, but it’s in this episode of What We Do In The Shadows and it speaks to me. It validates an odd, but apparently foundational, experience in my life and that’s what makes Jakie Daytona the television equivalent of an earworm for me. I see this episode of television, and I see the most nostalgic version of where I grew up on screen. 

There’s another reason why I think ‘On The Run’ resonated with so many people, though. Like the other episodes of What We Do In The Shadows, this one sells a fantasy that people wish was real. It just hits a lot harder here because the desire behind it is much bigger. 

Every character in What We Do In The Shadows represents something that we want to be true in the world. Nandor embodies the idea that those in positions of power really do care about others, and that whatever harm they do comes from incompetence rather than malice. Guillermo as a character makes a viewer believe that they also have inherent worth and that they could be a badass if they just got over their own insecurities. Lazlo and Nadja show that even the most bizarre people can find a romantic partner and that they can make that relationship work. 

Then there’s Colin Robinson who validates a viewer’s frustration with the most annoying people in their lives, and feeds the darker impulse of thinking that the people behind these annoyances are acting intentionally; meaning that your anger towards them is completely valid. 

Just like all of these other characters, Jackie Daytona — and yes, Jackie Daytona is basically a unique character — depicts an idea that we all want to be true. Jackie Daytona makes us feel like we could also just uproot our lives and be totally fine with wherever we end up. In fact, we might even have a better life waiting for us if we just took a chance and decided that we wanted a change. 

I like my life. I think it’s a pretty good one! I can do the things I enjoy pretty easily when there isn’t a pandemic, and I have plenty of people in my life that are usually a part of those experiences. I do find myself wondering from time to time, though, what my life would be like if I made completely different decisions. 

Where would I be? Would I be happier? Would I be more successful? Whatever that means. 

Jackie Daytona, on top of being a fun idea and incredibly entertaining, makes me feel like I would be okay if my life went differently or if I just decide that I’m sick of my current one. That’s a pretty big comfort, and I think the main reason why I, and so many other people, can’t get Jackie Daytona out of my head. 

Also, Colin Robinson turning out to be a ‘what’s your deal?’ guy when he shoots his shot with Doll Nadja and gets rejected, is fucking histerical! 

Thank you so much for checking this out. If you enjoyed this essay, please follow me on Twitter, @LucasDeRuyter, to keep up with all of my work. If you’re reading this on BaddaBing BaddaBlog, please like, reblog, and share it on social media. If you’re watching this on YouTube, please like, comment, subscribe, ring the bell, and also share it on social platforms. Lastly, I’m on the Voluntary Viewing podcast, where I talk about pop-culture news, as well as the stuff I’m checking out. So please check that out if you can, as I’ll definitely talk about season three of What We Do In The Shadows when it finally releases. 

Thanks again for your support, and best of luck out there.    

I Can’t Stop Thinking About Jackie Daytona

Is It Ethical To Buy ‘Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game’?

The Scott Pilgrim game is coming back and that’s fucking rad! After abruptly disappearing from digital storefronts at the end of 2014, likely due to licensing disputes, the game was unplayable to new audiences for half a decade. This especially sucked because the Scott Pilgrim movie was a notorious sleeper hit, and it took a while for people to discover and appreciate the world and story first crafted by Bryan Lee O’Malley in his graphic novels. 

Developed and published by Ubisoft in 2010, Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game is as good, if not better, than the comics and movie that inspired it. Which, for a licensed game released in the early 10s, was a nice change of pace. The art direction perfectly captured the style of the later comic volumes, the loose story of the game does just enough with the world and characters to be endearing, and Anamanaguchi’s score is an absolute bop, if not an outright banger. 

Although, the music isn’t quite as good as the movie’s fire soundtrack, mostly because the game doesn’t have any Beck and Brie Larson songs, but then again painfully few OSTs do. Getting back to the point, the game also helped revitalize the Beat ‘em Up genre at a time when it was starting to stagnate. In short, Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game is a pretty good video game, and an amazing one if you were a nerdy teenager between 2010 and 2014 like I was.   

This rerelease comes with some caveats, though. In the years since Ubisoft delisted the game, a lot of unsavory material has come out about the company; with 2020 revealing that it was a dangerous environment for the people working there. Furthermore, it’s come out that leadership at Ubisoft had extremely problematic political and social opinions, deliberately contributed to women being underrepresented in games, and conflated a civil rights movement to a terrorist organization. 

Between all of this and the fact that much of the original team behind the game isn’t involved in this rerelease, many gamers are left asking themselves, “Is it ethical for me to buy Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game – Complete Edition?” 

No, no it’s not. 

Okay, so obviously it’s a little more complicated than that — and this prompt is mostly just an excuse to create a master doc compiling all of the really shitty stuff Ubisoft’s done — so let’s get into why you shouldn’t give Ubisoft your money. 

Members of leadership at Ubisoft were scumbags, and performed a wide variety of misconduct while they were gainfully employed. Maxime Béland, one of Ubisoft’s co-founders, allegedly choked a female coworker at a company party. Employees have said that a lack of disciplinary action against Béland, and his overt sexist behavior, made them feel like there was a culture of sexism at the company. Which there was and still could very well be, even after Béland’s resignation, as many describe the company’s Toronto studio as having a “party culture” and generally using free booze and company events as an excuse to not pay their employees more. 

Serge Hascoët, the creative lead that had final say on a game’s content, also left Ubisoft in 2020. Hascoët actively prevented women from being the lead character in Ubisoft games, based on the assumption that games featuring prominent female characters wouldn’t sell well. Oh, and he also supposedly helped propagate Ubisoft’s culture of sexism by playing a sexually explicit song featuring the name of a female coworker when she left a meeting. 

Tommy Francois, the vice-president of editorial and creative services — which is to say Serge Hascoët’s lackey — was fired after an investigation into his alleged sexual misconduct. Yannis Mallat, the person leading Ubisoft’s Canadian studios, also left the company amid this controversy. Employees filed numerous complaints to Ubisoft’s HR department over the actions of these executives, all of which seemingly went ignored until recently. It’s no wonder then that Ubisoft’s global head of HR, Cécile Cornet, also left the company as, on paper, a company’s HR department is supposed to prevent any of this misconduct from happening. 

In fact, things were so bad at Ubisoft that an internal survey revealed that 1 in 4 employees witnessed some form of misconduct while doing their job. Imagine for a second working at a place where inappropriate behavior is so common, that 25% of your coworkers tell their bosses that they saw something inappropriate. In case you’ve never worked anywhere before, people generally don’t like to bring these issues up, even in an anonymous survey, meaning the number of witnesses was likely much higher and the behavior much more widespread than what we know now. 

In the face of all of these allegations, and the stellar reporting about them, it’s very hard to believe that Ubisoft’s co-founder and CEO, Yves Guillemot, wasn’t aware of this culture in his company. In fact, it seems more likely that Guillemot elevated these individuals into positions of power in spite of, or perhaps even because of, their problematic behavior and beliefs. While the immediate bad actors may be gone from the company, Guillemot is not, and any money spent on Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game – Complete Edition is to the direct benefit of the person who enabled this detestable situation.  

Ubisoft also put the Black Lives Matter fist in a Tom Clancy mobile game and said that it was a logo for a terrorist organization! How does that even happen!? How does a company at the forefront of a billion dollar industry make such a callous and avoidable fuck up?

Oh, the manager of the studio that made it, Owlient, as well as the director of this game is Charlie Guillemot, Yves Guillemot’s son. And now everyone who’s ever worked for a family owned business knows exactly how Ubisoft got to where it is today. 

To top it all off, the remaining Ubisoft leadership is composed of cowards and they refused to address this situation during their Ubisoft Forward showcase event. 

Where does this leave an ethically conscious Scott Pilgrim fan wanting to play this game? Probably trying to rationalize how they can give money to an inarguably problematic company in exchange for a toy they want. 

“Even if the bosses are bad, that doesn’t mean the people who made the game are,” a gamer might argue while clutching their Scott Pilgrim Color Collection Box Set. “Their work deserves to be purchased and praised so that they can more easily get a job at a better company.” 

That’s a popular, if flawed, argument in circumstances similar to this one, but isn’t really applicable here as Bryan Lee O’Malley doesn’t profit off of the sale of the game. He also said that the original team behind it isn’t involved in this rerelease. To be fair, though, O’Malley does seem pretty jazzed about the game returning, if for no other reason than it being a cool piece of media that was seemingly lost to time.  

[Note: A limited edition physical version of the game was announced while composing this essay. While O’Malley and other original artists did contribute to this edition, this physical release is through a specialty publisher and the original team’s connection to the rerelease is still tenuous. As such, the previous point stands.] 

The fact of the matter is, the people most responsible for this game existing aren’t going to profit from the sales of this rerelease. Buying a copy now only pads the coffers of those at the top of Ubisoft, who have proven themselves to be pretty scummy. Also, if you wanted to support Bryan Lee O’Malley, you could just buy the Scott Pilgrim comics. They’re pretty good, if dated in the way that a lot of media from the aughts are. Seconds is pretty good too, and I really need to make time to read Snotgirl, but hear good things. 

From here, the last desperate argument made by somebody who really wants to buy the Scott Pilgrim game might be something like, “Well not buying a game from a bad company isn’t going to hurt the abusers within it, it’ll only lead to the most expendable employees being fired or paid less.”

Again, that’s fair and the gaming industry as a whole needs to get out of the practice of tying bonuses to sales figures and Metacritic scores. Or, in the case of CD Projekt Red, giving out tokens to employees who “deserved honors,” which almost certainly means that they were crunching really hard and didn’t complain about it. All that nonsense definitely deserves it’s own essay. Which I might get to by 2023 if my pace of one self-published piece every two years keeps up! 

The thing is, this argument also doesn’t really apply to this situation. The Scott Pilgrim rerelease is a cash grab by Ubisoft, even if fans really want it. It would be a shock if any more work went into the Complete Edition beyond getting it running on modern systems and having the DLC available from the start. This is a profit generator slipped into Ubisoft’s Q1 2021 lineup as they don’t have any major releases coming up, other than the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time remake in March. Meaning that Ubisoft doesn’t have any major releases this quarter. 

It’s hard to envision anyone at Ubisoft getting axed if this game underperforms. Hell, it’s hard to see anything changing at all at Ubisoft if this game only manages to break even after licensing costs and the minimal development expenditure. If it does well, it’ll be a nice windfall for them, and, if it doesn’t, then at least they earned some desperately needed goodwill from gamers. 

It’s clear that Ubisoft is a company that you really shouldn’t support through purchasing their products, and that justifications for this transaction don’t hold up under scrutiny. So what are socially conscious gamers to do then? Not buy the game? If you’re so inclined, kudos! Organize a boycott of the Scott Pilgrim game? Maybe, but those don’t really work in the gaming industry. 

The sad truth is that not buying a game has never been an effective strategy for creating direct and intended change in the world of gaming. Jim Sterling has a great video covering the history of video game boycotts and, spoiler alert, they usually fail because people buy the game! Whether it be Modern Warfare 2 or Pokémon Sword and Shield, people will buy a favorably reviewed video game even if there’s a part of it they don’t like.  

Gamers are a too large and varied group for a boycott to work in a meaningful capacity. Even when the issues surrounding a game are as significant as serial harassers profiting from it, and not just some people disliking a tree. 

Yeah, the hullabaloo around Pokémon Sword and Shield really was the moment that boycotts became untenable in the gaming sphere. 

Don’t worry, you’re not a monster for buying Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game – Complete Edition. People have defended supporting worse pieces of media from even shittier people, and unfortunately a lot of games today are made under some kind of duress. There are some things that you can do to help make the gaming industry more sustainable and less skeezy, though. 

The first is supporting games from smaller studios that developed their titles in healthy working conditions. Hades from Supergiant Games is a brilliant example of how an indie game can be successful while still valuing the health and safety of the people who made it. In supporting games like this, not only are you keeping the gaming landscape from being a purgatory of AAA saminess, you’re helping prove that other models of video game production are possible. Things don’t have to be as bad as they were, and maybe still are, at Ubisoft, and by elevating better companies we can make Ubisoft the exception and not the rule. 

A second option is directly supporting labor organization in the video game industry. Ubisoft isn’t alone in its culture and how it treats employees, and the gaming industry is in need of systemic level reform. If consumers can’t pressure companies into changing, then the only ethical thing to do is support those within them taking action. 

This can be as simple as promoting the efforts of game industry workers trying to organize, or donating to a legal fund so that those affected can fight the circumstances found in Ubisoft. As a rule of thumb, it’s generally just a good idea to give money to good causes that need them, especially when power dynamics are as lopsided as they are between CEOs and employees in the gaming industry. 

These suggestions aren’t groundbreaking, and hopefully aren’t new to you, but they’re the most the average consumer can do to help make things better for the most vulnerable people in the games industry. Which really sucks!

Of all the industries that exist under the miasma of late stage capitalism, gaming gets some of the worst of it. People enthused to work in the industry are undervalued, subject to harassment in their workplace and too often online, and are either underpaid or forced to work so much that their hourly rate isn’t all that great. Many of these problems also exist outside of gaming, but they’re more apparent here thanks to the increased public scrutiny most media companies receive. 

Workers in almost every industry aren’t treated as well or paid as much as they should be. It’s also a struggle to purchase only things made under wholly ethical circumstances. That’s just how the world is today and, while I firmly believe that we can change it if those outside of the billionaire class come together and demand that we do, it’s not going to happen overnight. There’s also no point in depriving yourself of something that brings you joy, if there’s no benefit from the deprivation. 

 So, if you really want to, go ahead and buy Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game – Complete Edition. I hope you enjoy it and that it provides some kind of respite from the weight of having to participate in the many unethical systems that make up our society. Just remember who’s profiting from your purchase and do what you can to help the people who actually make the media you enjoy when the opportunity arises. 

Thank you so much for checking this out. This essay was originally a pitch I floated around that a few outlets rejected, so I decided to make it on my own. If you want me to make something like this for you, I’m @LucasDeRuyter on Twitter and you can find my email without too much trouble if you’d like to reach out more formally. 

I don’t know if I’ll personally pick up the Scott Pilgrim game again but, if I do, you can hear my impressions on the Voluntary Viewing Podcast. Thanks again for watching/reading this, and good luck out there.

Is It Ethical To Buy ‘Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game’?

How You Can Celebrate 1000 Chapters of One Piece

© Eiichiro Oda/Shueisha

One Piece might not be the first manga to hit the 1000 chapter mark, but the beloved series reaching this milestone is still a monumental event in the relatively small world of manga. After all, the long running Weekly Shonen Jump title is arguably the most impactful ongoing manga today and its millions of readers will agree that it seems to only grow better with time. Longtime One Piece fans used to speculate if the series would ever get to this point and many new fans read through the manga at a blistering pace just to experience the 1000th chapter upon its release. 

Shueisha, the publishing company that owns Shonen Jump, knows that this is a big deal to One Piece fans across the world and has plenty of events in store to mark the occasion. From perhaps the biggest character poll in the history of manga to making the bulk of the series available to read for free, One Piece is kicking 2021 off with a bang!

World Top 100 Campaign

© Eiichiro Oda/Shueisha

The World Top 100 campaign is a global character poll where One Piece readers can cast one vote each day for their favorite characters in the hopes of having them take the top spots. This poll will run from January 3, 2021 to February 28, 2021. There’s no participation fee and anyone can vote regardless of how much One Piece they’ve read or watched. Some random voters will even receive AR character as the poll goes on. A promotion for this poll will even liven up the January 4th issue of the New York Times, and feature the 1000th chapter celebration, double wide color spread. 

This is set to be the biggest character poll in manga for two key reasons. The first, is that there are more than a thousand characters in One Piece, all with their own unique style and personality. While the first few spots are fairly safe guesses, it will be incredible to see what characters end up filling out the entire list. 

The second, and more groundbreaking reason, is that this will be the first One Piece character poll available to all readers, regardless of where they live in the world. The website for the poll launched alongside the release of the 1000th chapter, and is available in English, Chinese, and Japanese. While Viz, the company that localizes One Piece in western territories, ran character polls in the past, these are generally seen as less official, as only the Japanese rankings appear in the manga itself. So, this will be the first time that readers outside of Japan can have their appreciation for a character reflected in the manga itself. 

The inclusion of non-Japanese readers in an official character poll is practically unheard of in shonen manga. While manga readers have enough to celebrate from this alone, we can only hope that this is the beginning of a broader trend of a greater consideration of international audiences in the manga industry. 

Free Manga

© Eiichiro Oda/Shueisha

Beyond voting for their favorite characters, folks will be able to read the majority of One Piece for free on the Shonen Jump+ app. The free offerings on the digital manga reader will include volumes 1 through 71 of One Piece, which totals a gargantuan 711 chapters. This means that new readers will be able to witness Luffy and company begin their journey in the East Blue, rocket through the Grand Line, break into the New World, and make landfall just as the Dressrosa arc kicks off. 

Before this promotion, only the first three chapters and the three newest chapters were available for free on the Shonen Jump app and website, though the entire catalog is accessible with a two dollar monthly subscription. Physical copies of these volumes will usually set a purchaser back ten bucks so, either way, the promotion is saving readers a tidy sum of money.  

Considering the rampant level of piracy in the global manga industry, offering two thirds of one of the most acclaimed manga in the history of the industry is a pretty big deal. The barrier to reading officially licensed manga has never been lower, and those interested now have no excuse not to at least give the official translation of the series a try. While these efforts are fighting against a steep hill, hopefully this promotion gets more manga fans into the practice of legally and ethically consuming their favorite media.  

Considerable Commemorations

© Eiichiro Oda/Shueisha

A series of videos commemorating One Piece and the impact it’s had on readers across the world will appear on the polling site as well. News focusing on the upcoming 1000th episode of the One Piece anime will also appear. Live updates on how characters are performing in the poll will also run on the site. 

Additionally, One Piece author, Eiichiro Oda, penned the following letter to One Piece readers thanking them for their support and hoping that they’ll continue to enjoy the series as it draws closer to its conclusion.

“1000 Chapters!!
I, uh, wow…Words pretty much fail to describe the whirlwind these past 23 years have been. Literally half
of my life has revolved around the almighty ‘WEEKLY SERIALIZATION’ hehe. But it’s not just me, Luffy
and the Strawhats have navigated themselves to so many different islands and found themselves caught
up in so many adventures. At this point, even I’m not sure how many lives they’ve touched along the way!
But it’s thanks to them that so many special people have entered my own life; first and foremost among
them being my family. All of these people have supported me through the years and I am deeply indebted
to each of them. Meanwhile, my readers have been leading their own bustling lives. There’s a certain
theory that exists for long-term readership in the entertainment world that states, “A given pool of readers
will rotate out of a series after five years.” And so for a while now, I’ve avoided calling my readers, ‘fans’.
It’s like they say, “Pride cometh before a fall.” I convinced myself that I shouldn’t get too full of myself
because my readers would eventually leave the series and move on with their lives. Let me say that all of
you have put me to shame for thinking such a thing. Your belief in Luffy has led me to believe in all of you,
and that is what allows me to continue drawing exactly the kind of manga I want to draw. So here we are,
ready to dip our toes into the final stages of the story. It’s taken us a long time to reach one thousand
chapters. However, it’s because I’ve completed a thousand chapters that you must believe I’ll take us to
the end. The story waiting for you will defy expectations! I mean it!!
I have a favor to ask. This is for everyone with whom —by some means or another— I’ve managed to
create a bond, in other words, the ONE PIECE FANS of the world! My story is a long one. But for just a
while longer, please watch over Luffy and his crew as they continue their adventure!”

January 2021 Eiichiro Oda

How You Can Celebrate 1000 Chapters of One Piece

Tabletop Game Review: Principle Dilemma

Principle Dilemma

By design, games are meant to do two things: entertain and educate. Games of all varieties can teach a player about the world around them, ingrain useful problem-solving skills, and/or help them learn about the other people playing the game. Principle Dilemma — a card game created by Joe Tarnowski that’s currently raising funding on Kickstarter — is definitely meant to help players learn more about those around them.

For a game that centers on exploring ethically gray situations and the moral discrepancies between people, Principle Dilemma is a pretty straightforward game. Every round a single player will draw a dilemma card, which describes a hypothetical situation, and then that player will choose which of the available actions they would take in the situation. After they’ve made their choice, the remaining players use their deceit cards to try to make the first player change their action. These deceit cards adjust variables in the dilemma, such as almost ensuring that an actor won’t suffer any negative consequences for their actions or adjust the social norms of any given situation.

If another player’s deceit card can make the starting player change their answer to the dilemma, they get a point. If the starting player once again chooses their original action under these new circumstances, the starting player gets a point. This goes on for as many rounds as the players like, and then whoever has the most points at the end of the game wins.

As you’ve probably realized from reading this description, it’d be really easy to bullshit your way to victory in this game. But the goal of Principle Dilemma isn’t to win, it’s to better understand the people you’re playing with.

Whether you’ve known someone for years or are playing the game as an ice breaker, Principle Dilemma is a great way to learn more about people. The entire game is centered on figuring out the other players’ sense of morality and determining what kind of changes to a situation will alter their actions. Principle Dilemma is a fantastic game to play if you want to become fast friends with people or if you’d like really explore your oldest companions’ sense of right and wrong.

It’s also worth noting that Principle Dilemma is a stylish delight. The box containing the cards was etched with artwork inspired by Greek mythology and philosophy. The cards themselves continue this theme and it’s clear that a great deal of consideration went into creating the aesthetic of this game.

If you’re more of a competitive person and play tabletop games to outwit and defeat the other players, this card game probably isn’t for you. However, if you’re looking for a fun and original icebreaker, Principle Dilemma is perfect for you. Whether you’re playing with people for the first time or the hundredth time, Principle Dilemma is a great way to learn more about the other players or test how well you think you know them.


*Disclaimer: An early copy of Principle Dilemma was provided without charge for the purpose of writing this review*







Tabletop Game Review: Principle Dilemma