Top 5 Games I Can’t Wait to Play

a.k.a why I won’t be available in 2021

So, last year, in a world that hadn’t been ravaged by a pandemic, I worked a lot. Too much honestly. I had a morning and a evening job and I often manipulated my schedule so I was working both jobs seven days a week. Eventually, I realized I wasn’t using my game system, even though I used to live stream before I’d gotten so busy. Now in 2021 I’m planning to work a little less, and make time for things I enjoy that are just that, pleasures. My modeling, writing, cosplaying, and everything else is part of my career now and are major investments, but with gaming, even if I stream, I don’t care if I have an audience ot if I make any money. I’m doing it because it’s fun. I don’t play game based on what’s trending, or even what’s new, I play whatever I want, becaue that’s what I’d naturally be doing. Now, with the Playstation 5 coming out, I’ve already let my boyfriend know that I’m dedicating all of my funds to getting one the minute a pre-order is available, and thankfully, he’s a gamer too. In anticipation, my playstation wishlist is almost a mile long. A lot of old games I never got the chance to play, and of course, some new Ps5 titles that I’m really excited for. So, here’s my top 5 games I can’t wait to play while I isolate myself for 2021. Also, this is not a review, as many of these games have yet to be released and all I know is what I saw in the trailer.

5.Castlevania series

So, I know this series is insanely old, and I never paid it any mine when I would walk through GameStop and see them on the shelves before, but now that Castlevania is my favorite anime I’m a little obsessed with playing it’s source material. I’m fully prepared to be dissapointed, but also hoping it will be a fun ride and maybe make for an easy game to play while I stream or wind down after a hard day.

4. Kena: Bridge of Spirits

This game feels like Playstation is taking a stab at a Legend of Zelda style game. This looks like so much fun, I can’t wait to dedicate a weekend to this and play a game that will likely keep me smiling the entire time.

3. Ghost of Tsushima

So, I know this game is already out, but I currently don’t own a console, and I’m waiting for the PS5 to be my next one. This game looks so gorgeous, everything about it feels cinematic, and for the kid who used to spend months playing samurai games, this looks like the greatest manifestation of that. I’ve watched a good portion of the beginning of the game and the story here seems very good. Watching this proud samurai struggle with not only his external but also internal battles is going to be a crazy experience to play through.

2. Solar Ash

A lot of people were watching the PS5 release event simply waiting to hear about the sequels to their favorite games. Personally, I was waiting to hear about new Spiderman and Horizon games, but one thing I didn’t expect, was completely new titles that felt like something I’d never seen before. Solar Ash is honestly one of the most artistically original things I’ve ever seen. While the trailer didn’t say much of what the story might be, the visuals and what looked like gameplay movement left me absolutely dumbfounded. This is an experience meant for 4K and I’m sure I’m going to love it.

1. Horizon II: Forbidden West

This game right now is the number one reason why I want to get the Playstation 5 at launch. In most cases I never go after the new console just because it’s new, I wait for a game, and this is it. Horizon Zero Dawn is the best post apocalyptic open world game I’ve ever played. It felt like a sleeper hit for the PS4 that most people ignored because other games like God of War 4 were available. But I’m so happy to see a sequel. The first game made me cry with how beautiful and powerful it’s story was. Alloy is an incredible protagonist and I am so full of anticipation to see where this goes next.

There are plenty of other games I’m excited for, like Stray and Spiderman: Miles Morales. Stray seems like the most original idea for a video game I’ve ever seen and I can’t believe it took the 5th generation of the playstation console to give it to us. As far as Spiderman: Miles Morales, I’m excited, but not as much as I’d like to be. I read that it’s not a sequel, simply an extension, which basically makes it glorified DLC. In all likelihood, this was originally planned to be DLC but once Sony started teasing the PS5 they decided to wait to release this. Hopefully it’s a full experience and not just a quick but of fun before putting us back in Peter’s spandex in the proper sequel. All that aside, I’m mostly just excited to play video games again, to spend whatever free time I have diving into these crazy worlds. As someone who was starting to fall out of love with gaming, this was just what I needed to pull me back in. Video games have been a part of my life from the moment I was old enough to pick up an SNES controller, and I don’t ever want to live in a world where they don’t excite me. Thankfully, for at least the next few years, I won’t have to worry about that.

-Strawberry Smirk

My Top 5 Anime “Best Girls”

The “best girl” is kind of a weird piece of anime culture that I still don’t completely understand. I don’t know if it applies to all characters in the series, but for this list I chose characters that operate somewhere near their main characters. WARNING: This list will be full of spoilers so I can best explain my opinion on these characters!

5. Integra Hellsing -Hellsing

I have a thing for strong, powerful women, and honestly I can’t think of anyone stronger than Integra Hellsing, leader of the Hellsing organization. Sure, she’s not strong in a combat sense, but this woman commands the king of all vampires. The scariest being in existence bows down to her and answers her beck and call. I can’t think of anyone more terrifying. Even crazier, she is completely human. She’s had the most powerful immortal in the world serving her since childhood, and she never even considered giving up her humanity.

4.Tsubaki- Soul Eater

Disclaimer: Soul Eater is one of those wonderful series whose anime adaptation never got to follow the story of the manga, and thus failed to show just how incredible it truly is. Now, in terms of a perfect partner, there are very few people who can compare to Tsubaki. She’s considered one of the strongest weapons in the world, has used her superior intellect to save Black Star multiple times, and fights just as hard as him to achieve their mutual goal. She overcomes incredible hardships and is just an absolutely incredible woman.

3. Winry Rockbell- Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood

In a time where most leading ladies in anime were either white mages or the damsel in distress who stayed out of the main conflict, Winry Rockbell is a revolutionary. Her role as Ed’s mechanic makes her absolutely invaluable. Ed would be quite seriously useless without her, as shown every time his automail arm breaks or is destroyed. She becomes extremely successful on her own and even confronts the man who killed her parents. Her arc as a character puts all other shonen ladies to shame.

2. Sypha Belnades- Castlevania

I’m in love with this character. She’s honestly the best of both worlds when it comes to a well constructed female protagonist. She’s strong, intelligent, full of optimism and hope in a world that has quite literally gone to Hell, and even though she sees the horrific and gruesome side of mankind on almost a daily basis, her heart is still full of love and compassion. Now, in terms of power, she’s probably the strongest character in the series that can realistically still call themselves human. I mean hell, she teleported a castle. In fact, in the sense of story impact, I’m pretty certain nothing could have been accomplished, or would have happened at all, without her.

1.Kaori Miyazono- Your Lie In April

This woman made me fall in love with slice of life anime. This was the first anime I’d ever watched that didn’t revolve around saving the world, and she is one hell of a hero. In spite of her own rotten luck, she brings color and life everywhere she goes, does everything she can to make children smile, and breaks every rule to make sure no one will ever forget her. She’s a force of nature, and even saves a horribly traumatized young boy from years of PTSD and awful parenting.

Sasuke Uchiha: Genius? Or Phony?

So, as we all know, in the original Naruto, Sasuke Uchiha is top of the class at the academy, and all the girls are obsessed with him. He’s dark and brooding and has the kind of story line that would make him the main protagonist in a different kind of anime. From the moment he’s introduced we’re supposed to think he’s absolutely amazing. But he’s trash in the original series. As a former fan of the series, I always thought my dislike for Sasuke was only based on my preference for Naruto as far as their rivalry, but I recently re-watched the series, and well, Sasuke sucks. Now, since moments outside of fights can be debated and I don’t really want to argue with a Sasuke stan, i’m just going to go through each of his battles.

  1. The Bell Test

Ok so I’m including this for two different reasons. First, I’d like to point out that while yes, Naruto fell for the same trap twice and got tied to a stump, serious boy Sasuke got buried from the neck down. Sure, there was a tiny moment of traps and shuriken tricks but aside from showing off his fireball jutsu Sasuke didn’t do anything substantial here, in face, Kakashi stepped on his head and took him to task for his undeserved ego as well. But, the real reason I wanted to bring up this fight is because of one of the plot holes in it that has driven me crazy for years.

Now, in this moment, Kakashi is surprised. He’s genuinely surprised, says that genin can’t do fire jutsu because it takes too much chakra. But Sasuke is an Uchicha. They’re clan symbol is a fan in reference to their fire techniques. It’s known that doing your first fire jutsu is a rite of passage for the clan. So, why is he surprised? Now, maybe even the Uchiha don’t normally develop that skill at 12 but he’s Itachi’s brother, and Kakashi used to work alongside Itachi in ANBU. There’s absolutely no reason for Kakashi to be surprised by this moment. I know it’s minuscule but a simple change in one line of dialogue would’ve made way more sense and actually done wonders for his character while also being accurate to the lore of the series.

2. Sasuke’s involvement in the Zabuza fight

Now let me give credit where credit is due. Sasuke absolutely pulled off a quick attack on the first two assassins that attacked before Zabuza showed up. Sure, he didn’t have to be a dick to Naruto about it, but whatever. Now, almost immediately after that, Sasuke sees Kakashi and Zabuza stand off, sizing each other up before the fight even starts, and he gets so overwhelmed he pulls out his kunai and considers suicide. Kakashi talks him down, and then Kakashi fights Zabuza. Then, while Kakashi is trapped, a Zabuza clone starts to strangle Sasuke and frightens Naruto for a moment before he gets his shonen protagonist speech started and rallies his teammates to fight. Of course there’s the moment where Sasuke does the shuriken move with Naruto, but all he does in that situation is throw the shuriken. In my opinion, this scene works great to show the gravity of a real fight, but considering the immense torment Sasuke went through as a child, a stand off shouldn’t have made him borderline suicidal, unless they wanted to do something cool about him being triggered or having PTSD, which they didn’t even hint at.

3. Sasuke vs Haku

Now Sasuke starts this one off strong. He talks a little smack, does a cliche one hit kill on Zabuza’s water clones because his Sharingan is waking up, and matches Haku in speed. But after he kicks Haku in the face one time, he gets trapped in the ice mirror technique.

Say what you want about the fact that Sasuke jumped in to save Naruto in that moment, but Sasuke was just as trapped in those ice mirrors as Naruto was, with no way out. You could make an argument that if Sasuke hadn’t tried to save Naruto he might have gotten an advantage for a moment, but I doubt it would have been enough to break the mirror technique. After that, Sasuke’s on the floor and we’re given the first peek at the Nine Tails power.

4. Sasuke vs Lee

I mean, I don’t think I need to go in depth on this one. He got completely destroyed. He did his usual trash talk about how superior he was and then Lee knocked him on his ass multiple times.

5. Chunin exams

So, there’s four fights in the Forest of Death. The first is against another genin in a yellow jumpsuit who, after a minute or so, runs away after Sasuke stabbed him. Of course at the end of the forest stuff, Team 7 fights them again and wins again. Then there’s the first encounter with Orochimaru. After some light fighting to show how strong this snake user is, Sasuke offers up the scroll, but Naruto (who just ripped a snake open to escape being eaten) punches Sasuke in the face, and after some cool fight moments and 2 speeches, Naruto is incapacitated and Sasuke gets the courage to fight. Now, this is an amazing fight, but of course, it ends with Sasuke unconscious and with the curse mark.

Then of course there’s the curse mark reveal fight with the sound guys where Sasuke breaks one guys arms and his teamate surrenders the scroll. So, three wins for Sasuke in the forest. Then there’s the tournament prelims, where Sasuke reveals he copied Lee’s technique and even though he’s not as fast as Lee is, he can pull off some of what Lee can do. Four wins for Sasuke.

6. Sasuke vs Gaara

The great emo battle we’d been waiting for. Finally, Sasuke was gonna fight Gaara. Well, it was a cool fight for a moment, but we all know how it ended. Sasuke, out of chakra, barely able to move, useless to help Sakura, with Naruto fighting a giant sand demon on the back of a giant toad.

7. Sasuke vs Itachi

Do I even need to talk about this one? I mean, Sasuke gave a pretty good speech about vengeance, and told the legendary sanin Jiraya that no one else stood a chance against Itachi, but for all that ego, he got beat so bad it’s a meme now.

Now, there are only 3 more canon Sasuke fights in the series before Shippuden. The first of course is his stalemate with Naruto, where he looked at water canisters and convinced himself rasengan was stronger than chidori even though the moves are technically equal, his attempt to fight the sound four, and his incredible fight against Naruto, which has been debated a million times who won. Some say Sasuke won because he was still conscious at the end, some say Naruto won because he chose to leave a symbolic mark on the headband instead of hitting a vital spot, but I’ll give this one to Sasuke for the aforementioned, still standing argument.

Well, there it is. Five victories. Five, four of which, were against irrelevant characters who were only shown during those moments and never showed up again. In that time, Naruto achieved numerous victories and contributed greatly to amazing fights against powerful demons and legendary ninja. Yet, the entire original series, Sasuke is heralded as the superior ninja. Everyone says again and again how Sasuke is so much better, and Naruto does too. Aside from a few moments of humility in crisis situations, Sasuke truly believes he’s better than Naruto, because back at the academy, he was. He’s been heralded a genius his entire life, and even though he’s always had his brother’s shadow looming over him, he’s fully believed no matter what that he is superior to everyone else in every way. Hell, he even convinced himself he could beat Itachi because he’d learned chidori. In all honesty, that’s my issue with Sasuke. Not his edgelord demeanor, his role as Naruto’s rival/antagonist, or even his incredible ego. The thing I hate is the fact that the series fully expects you to agree with that ego. We’re supposed to look at him in that same light, but it’s just not true.

I could also make the same argument for Shippuden, if you want 🙂

-Strawberry Smirk

Goku isn’t a bad father

I honestly never thought I would be writing this. I absolutely love the meme of Bad Dad Goku. I love the joke that Piccolo is Gohan’s real father, but after re-watching the series and seriously considering all the factors, I have to admit that Goku, while definitely not being a good father, isn’t actually a bad one either.

It’s mentioned in the DBS: Broly movie that Saiyan men don’t usually father their children, which makes sense since most of their young get shipped off to other planets as infants. Moreover, Goku was mostly raised by a gang of teenage idiots and a perverted hermit, so aside from a few formative years with his adopted grandpa, he didn’t really have any idea what a good father was. Goku loves his sons, but Akira Toriyama didn’t really write DBZ to reflect that. Not only is DBZ notorious for giving it’s ZERO downtime between life or death situations, it also forced to stray from it’s original plot multiple times. For example, Dragon Ball Z was originally supposed to end after Goku defeated Frieza. This was meant to be Goku’s greatest, and final victory. Become the legend of his lost people and avenge his species by destroying their oppressor. Unfortunately, capitalism and Dragon Ball Z’s extreme success forced Toriyama to continue, so he went through the infuriating process of creating new villains over and over again to satisfy corporate executives and keep his story going. This led to an attempt to make Gohan the new protagonist, which would explain why it was important for him to be at every major event since the very beginning of Dragon Ball Z. This plan comes into fruition of course, after Goku sacrifices himself to save Earth from Cell’s self destruct. Now, with Goku fully accepting that his time has passed, it’s left to Gohan to defend the earth. There is no way Gohan could have become the protagonist if Goku had lived. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself why you don’t watch Boruto, and if you do, why it’s not very good.

A sad fact of most shonen anime is that the reason the parents are either dead or absent, is because they have to be. Shonen heroes are almost always teenage boys who find out they have some sort of magical destiny and have to face off against great evil for years and years, constantly training to ensure victory and save the world. No reasonable parent would allow that. Take, for example, Deku’s mom in My Hero Academia. Every time we see her she is crying, or shaking with worry about her son, hence the plot moving all the students into dorm rooms. In the case of Dragon Ball Z and Gohan, Goku couldn’t be there. If he was, we would never actually fear for Gohan, and his victories wouldn’t feel quite as triumphant.

With the loss of Goku, earth was supposed to get a hero who fought simply for the love of his planet, and for moral reasons, unlike his father, who mostly fought for the joy of fighting. This point was driven home when Gohan tossed aside his mostly pacifist ways and unleashed his full power on Cell. The problem however, is that Gohan simply doesn’t have the right character traits to be a good follow up as a protagonist. Goku is happy go lucky, bold, and almost always confident. He’s literally the blueprint for a proper shonen protagonist. Going from someone like that, to a awkward and somewhat shy teenager who seems to be just as socially inept as his father for reasons that honestly make no sense, just doesn’t work. This, and most likely pressure from executives, led to Toriyama reviving Goku and giving what was essentially a act of fan service, Goku vs Majin Vegeta. Forced to re-introduce his original protagonist, Toriyama gave his audience exactly what they wanted, a battle with his biggest rival. But, imagine for a second, and alternative path. Imagine a world where Vegeta still let himself go bad, but instead of it being because of his overwhelming desire to beat Goku, it was because he hated thinking Gohan might be stronger than him. This would have put our new protagonist in an unbelievably amazing conflict. This would have been the moment Gohan completely stepped out of his father’s shadow by defeating Goku’s biggest rival. Or maybe Gohan losses to Vegeta, and then Vegeta still self destructs in his act of sacrifice to destroy Buu, which still turns out to be in vain. Now our hero would have to defeat a evil so powerful that even our most powerful rival character failed. Unfortunately that was not the case. Instead, Toriyama brings Goku back with a strange plot device. has him defeat the new threat, and then revives Goku completely, thus removing the threat of death completely.

With this plot disaster, we’re left with a hero who was meant to make room for his son, returning to take that space back. Now the hardships Gohan had to overcome in his childhood, and every victory and triumph he’s ever had get called into question. Why’d he have to be kidnapped by Raditz? Why’d he have to go to Namek? Why’d he have to fight Frieza? Truth be told, there are small indicators in the plot that, had they been capitalized on, would have removed nearly all of those obstacles. However, those obstacles were intended to shape Gohan into a protagonist, which how, he’s not. In both series that follow Dragon Ball Z, Gohan is instead, retired to a life of science and fatherhood.

Now in these follow up series we get to see why Goku isn’t a terrible father. He’s wonderful with Goten. Dragon ball Super, in an attempt to separate itself from it’s fight heavy predecessor, is full of moments where characters relationships deepen and we see how much they care for each other. Vegeta reveals he actually is a good husband and is trying his best to be a good father. Goku is farming, because he knows making an honest living is important to Chi-Chi. Even moreso, he completely supports Chi-Chi’s obsession with Goten’s education, unlike he did with Gohan. Having already pushed fighting on Gohan and seen that fail, Goku is completely in support of Goten focusing on his studies and not following in his footsteps. See, unlike DBZ, Super actually gives Goku time to breathe, and be a father. With no plans to make Goten a protagonist, Toriyama allows Goten to be a happy kid enjoying life in a two parent household and boasting that his Dad is the strongest fighter in the universe. His father has never hurt him, never wronged him, and never abandoned him. Hell, even in the abyssmal Dragon ball GT, Goku seems completely okay with Goten becoming a bit of a fuckboy who is focused on dating as many girls as possible. If anything, you could make the old parenting joke that he screwed up with his first kid and was better the second time around, but considering Gohan’s working his dream job, is happily married, and seems to be doing a decent job of being a father himself, I’d have to disagree with you. Goku has a number of flaws, but parenting isn’t one of them.

My Top 5 Anime

A brief explanation of my current top 5 favorite anime.

5. My Hero Academia

I know MHA is being heralded as the greatest Shonen of all time, and while I have no interest in trying to debate that, mostly because I haven’t seen every shonen ever made, I can say that it is definitely a really great one. I absolutely love most of the characters *cough* Mineta *cough* and find myself eagerly awaiting every new episode that comes. For me, there are very few episodes that I consider unimportant or skippable, which is rare for most shonen. Unlike many other shonen, which rewatch value essentially becomes a series of fights fans watch as clips on YouTube out of boredom or nostalgia, MHA has moments outside of battles that filled my heart with so much joy that I could rewatch them over and over again. Even now, while I eagerly await the fifth season, moments from the first season still leave me with a giant smile on my face. Personal moments can bring a tear to my eye and the humor honestly still makes me laugh no matter how many times I’ve heard it. The only reason MHA is not higher up on this list is because unlike everything else on the list, it’s not finished yet. It still has the potential to disappoint me at some point. That possible future, along with a few minor complaints, are the only reason MHA is not my favorite shonen of all time yet.

4. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood

Not sure I even need to explain this, I don’t think I’ve ever met an anime fan who doesn’t have this on their list, but here goes. If I’m being honest, I’ve probably rewatched FMAB more than any other anime ever. Almost every time I go back to watch a single scene from an episode, I find myself watching every episode again from that point. FMAB is unbelievably well written, striking the heart and making you think for yourself and question the world around you, while also teaching you to never abandon hope. It depicts a far more honest view of conflict than simply “good vs evil” and makes almost every character someone we can understand and sympathize with. I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of FMAB. Also, FMAB has the greatest collection of well written and inspirational women of any anime ever. I give it a 9.5/10

3. Your Lie In April

Honestly, if there’s any anime in the world that has more rewatch value than FMAB, it’s Your Lie In April. I genuinely can’t watch a single episode in one sitting. In the past few days alone, I’ve rewatched the series for what must be the tenth time. It’s such a beautiful story and even though it has it’s darkness, I never feel like my time is wasted watching it again. I will admit that I have a deeply personal relationship with this anime. It was recommended to me by the one that got away, during an especially dark time in my life, and helped me bring myself back into the light. Arima might be the only anime protagonist I’ve ever seriously related to, despite my lack of musical genius. Kaori is the eternal best girl and I will happily fight anyone who ever disagrees with that. Your Lie In April is painfully, beautifully honest in it’s exploration of loss, disappointment, trauma, and recovery. No anime has ever touched my heart the way this one does. This series is a perfect 10.

Also, greatest OP of all time.

2. Banana Fish

This anime is absolutely incredible. I honestly could praise it for hours, so first, I’ll address my only complaints with it. Lack of a English dub, and the fact that it’s on amazon prime instead of a better streaming service. Other than that, I absolutely love this series. Second best OP of all time, Ash Lynx is a complex, truly tragic hero unlike any other I’ve ever seen in an anime. Eiji is unbelievably precious and watching these two’s story unfold is absolutely incredible. While it may not have the rewatch value of other anime on this list, it doesn’t need it. Banana Fish is like a punch to the heart, I’ll never forget it. It knocks the wind out of me every time I see. I’ll admit, it’s not an easy watch, but it is absolutely unforgettable. I can’t even bring myself to give it a number rating because any points against it would be the tiniest nitpick

1. Castlevania

I absolutely love this series. Inspired by a pretty fun though overly elaborate and convoluted game series, Castlevania is the perfect vampire anime. It paints a deeply flawed and dark world. Society is dominated by the Church, and much like our own real-life history, most people are miserable. While Dracula is the primary antagonist of the series, it’s made quite clear that he’s not the real villain. Our heroes are complex, well written, and have perfectly believable chemistry that really touches your heart and makes you want to see them succeed. A plucky optimist, a tragic hero, and a broken demigod not only make the world a better place but also make each other better. The animation is some of the best I’ve ever seen, the sound design is absolutely beautiful, and my only complaint is that I need more.

10/10

The Half Of It: The Best Gay Movie?

So, I’ll admit, I haven’t seen too many LGBT movies, but from the ones I have seen, The Half Of It is my favorite thus far. It’s extremely well written, beautifully shot, and feels honest. It’s not one of those trite “straight person had everything and then they met gay” stories that we see all too often. This is a coming of age movie that uses a minimal number or tropes simply to establish it’s characters in the beginning. Ellie is a smart, musically gifted Asian girl who is sacrificing her own potential to stay and care for her father, a brilliant man ruined by prejudice and the loss of his wife. Paul, is a dumb jock with a good heart who has a crush on a popular girl, and Aster is a pretty face dating the town’s rich kid. However, as soon as these tropes are introduced, the characters defy them. I’ll do my best to avoid any major spoilers, because this movie needs to be seen. One aspect that my boyfriend and I fell in love with was the sound design. While this movie definitely boasts a good soundtrack, it’s use of silence deserves massive applause. Tense and uncomfortable moments feel even more uncomfortable because we don’t have some pretty song playing in the background. We’re placed in scenes with no distractions, left with only the performance to give our attention to, and feel the emotions of the moments. The lighting and color is diluted, but not so much that it feels forced. There’s an honest grayness that properly reflects the world most of us live in. Every character, no matter how small, feels like someone we’ve met in the real world.

I would love to discuss this film further, but as I said I’d like to avoid spoiling it for any potential viewers. So next time you’re scrolling through Netflix, watch it, you won’t regret it.

Rating: 9.5/10

Breakfast With Havelin

A few years ago, I was sitting at home enjoying some free time, when I stumbled onto a show on Netflix called Lost & Found Music Studios. Being a sucker for fun teen shows, especially ones with music, I decided to try it out. Two episodes later, I was hooked. The story was fun, the music was good… What more could you ask for, right? Shortly after finishing the second season, I found out the show had been cancelled.  I needed a sense of closure. Thankfully, with the power of YouTube, I found that closure. 

Most of the show’s stars had already launched other projects. One in particular, has now become my favorite indie artist: Havelin. His debut EP Alright, Alright, Okay is incredibly moving. It feels both personal and really relatable. His follow up single “The Further I Go” truly is one of my favorite songs of all time. It expresses how alienated it feels to come home after a long time, and realize that it’s not home anymore. This past summer, Havelin went on his first U.S tour and I was not only lucky enough to see him perform, but also to talk with him before his set. After the show, I asked him if I could interview him. Thankfully, he agreed. Last week, we sat down and had a long talk about his life and his career. 

So, can you tell me about St. Albert– or Edmonton, where you grew up? How did growing up there influence your song “Further I Go”, which is one of my favorite songs?

I was born in Edmonton. My family lived there for around 10 years and then moved to the suburbs of St Albert, which is just outside of the city. When I first moved to the suburbs, I didn’t really make friends. I spent most of my time locked in an office writing. St. Albert is a great city to retire or raise a kid in, but it doesn’t have a lot going on for teenagers. Everyone pretty much fell into groups centered around a specific activity. After a while, I got involved with the local music community, which kept me sane and social. It was really important to me. From playing local open mics then running some of them, we were really focused on building the scene as much as we could. In Grade 11, I got booked for Lost & Found Music Studios and flew out of town for filming. So, that all kind of faded away. By graduation, people were surprised to see me cause they assumed I’d moved away.

I read that you got a lot of unwanted attention from being on TV. What show was it? Do you think that experience is why we haven’t seen much acting from you in recent years?

Well there was Lost & Found. Before that, when I got out of junior high, I did a talent competition for YTV in Canada called “The Next Star.” If you look up my given name Alex Zaichkowski, most of the results pertain to that kind of stuff. It’s kind of one of the reasons I went with Havelin as opposed to sticking with my original name. It was because I kind of wanted to create a separation. The Next Star show was a fantastic experience. It was great. I met a lot of great people, but it was a little bit corny like, “we’re gonna turn you into a pop star” kind of thing. I really don’t want people to think I was that kind of person because when I signed up for it, I only went and auditioned to impress a girl. I liked Toronto, so it wasn’t like I was trying to get that famous experience. Then, people started treating me differently like I was… like I thought better of myself or something. They believed I thought I deserved to be a teen pop idol or something but I was just like, “I just did it cause it was something I could do. I thought it would be fun.” So that’s kind of why I created that separation there so people didn’t see me as that but instead saw me as a genuine artist.

I was never a trained actor. Growing up, I never did acting classes or anything like that. Lost and Found was almost a bit of a fluke. I’ve done about three shows (I think) and two of them were performance based. The other one was Lost and Found and the acting element of that was very unique. You’d get your sides for the day and then you’d memorize them going in. During the scene, new lines might come up; so it’d be like you could never really learn it. I was really good with the improvisation and not so much with the memorization sometimes. Getting back into acting is something I really do want to do because I really enjoyed my time on set. I love the act of going into work as an actor: showing up on set, getting your morning coffee, getting ready, learning your lines, and “let’s go, let’s get on set.” I loved that a lot, because it wasn’t in front of a crowd. You just have the cameras there, and there’s not as much pressure, in that respect. It’s something I really want to do more of, but I need to work on my technical ability a little bit.

Speaking of Lost & Found, I was curious how that came about. I know some of you originally just had cameos on The Next Step.

Yeah. Then they had a plan for this show to kind of branch off and become its own thing. We actually filmed both seasons all together. There were politics with the networks and all that so it just didn’t end up happening the way that they originally envisioned. When they were pitching it to us and talking about it, we thought this could be the next step. It was a lot of fun because the writers let us develop and grow the characters we played. Some of the cast were primarily there for music while others were there for their acting abilities. It gave everyone a chance to feel comfortable in their character really helped.

When Lost & Found Music Studios got put on Netflix, it’s popularity definitely went up, but long after the show had already ended production. Most of the cast still get messages from new fans asking if there’s gonna be another season— despite production ending five years ago. Thankfully, a handful of the cast have YouTube channels and stream-able music. Havelin and I shared a laugh discussing what we would’ve liked in a potential third season, and the fact that his character was the only one who got an actual ending with the season 2 finale. I asked the typical fan questions (yes he still talks to some of the cast) and found out that he was actually involved in crafting some of the music his character played on the show. 

So from an outside perspective, the music industry in Canada seems very different from the music industry in the US. A lot of talented musicians as well as artists across the border seem to leave Canada and just dominate here. They typically say that they’ve done all they could there. You said that just releasing an album doesn’t mean you’ve made it, like people think. Do they give huge cash advances there like here in America? What’s been your experience with the difference? 

So that’s a really great question. I think the difference between the Canadian industry and the US industry is size and in relative land. I mean Canada is massive but there’s a lot of empty space. There’s really only two cities that are kind of entertainment hubs. There’s kind of two different ways of “making it” nowadays. There’s the traditional idea of putting out a song, it blowing up, and you get a record deal. Then from there, everything keeps spiraling, but doesn’t really exist anymore. Now, there’s so much out there. There’s so much propriety that you know– you have people that got twenty five million a song, you know, five to fifteen million every song. Then they’ll come to Toronto and play smaller venues I’ve played, but with half their numbers. Your money goes a lot further in the States and there’s a lot more connections there. So naturally, like when people find a foothold of success from Canada, they want to leverage that because they sort of see the U.S. launch platform. You sort of build a critical mass in Canada and then you and then you migrate south. 

I can’t see myself doing that. I’m a Canadian boy at heart. You can have a career as a musician in the Canadian industry and make good money just touring across Canada. You can be the best musician in Edmonton, Alberta, and play gigs every night but you will never have that sort of mainstream success. Also with things like Spotify, the way we see music has changed. Charts don’t matter the way they used to. It’s a new playing field. Now, making a living off just your music without that mainstream success is incredibly hard. You could do it if you play covers at weddings or corporate gigs, but I’m not there yet. 

If you don’t mind me asking, what do you do to supplement your living?

Lots of part time work and minimum wage, depends on the month. Sometimes I play a cover gig. Touring is expensive.

You make some of the most relatable music I’ve really ever listened to. Is that a goal when you’re writing a new song, or does it just sort of happen?

For me, it’s almost a bit of a challenge to take an idea and put it in a way that is both  personalized and generalized. I don’t want to tell a story that has unique aspects to my life, but I don’t want someone to listen to feel alienated or like they can’t relate to it. I always try to make the effort to try to comb through it and go, “no, that’s something crazy that I think in my head and other people probably don’t. So let’s take that out.” But, you know, while still keeping as much of me as I can. 

Havelin has a very unique outlook for an indie artist. He told me that, as much as his music is meant to express his feelings and thoughts; he’s also fully aware it’s a product for sale and takes that into consideration when he’s writing. Honestly, I think any artist who wants to monetize their art should try to find that balance between expressing themselves, and having a marketable product. 

You’re stranded on a desert island. It can only bring five albums with you. What do you pick? 

Best of Warren Zevon

Because The Internet- Childish Gambino 

I LOve You Honey Bear- Father John Misty 

You’re the headliner and you can get to opening, acts alive or dead. Who are your openers?

That’s hard because I don’t think I could, as a fan, pick people to open for me. I’d rather open for them. So, in that sense, I’m a huge Passenger fan, as well as Ed Sheeran, I mean he’s the holy grail of white guys with guitars. 

Would you ever consider going on tour with your former castmates? Not as the show but as the artists you are now?

It could be fun, but it would probably be confusing for fans. People would show up expecting to hear music from the show and ask us to play songs we haven’t touched in five years. Probably a bad idea.

Havelin addressed something that is actually a pet peeve of mine. Too often in the world of entertainment, fans os a show or a band are temporary. I encounter people all the time, who are surprised to hear that band they listened to in 2007 is still making music in 2020. I hear people reminisce about artists who are still active. The same goes with actors. I’ve never understood why some fans limit their fandom to a single project, even in today’s personality driven internet age. You love a YouTuber until they do something outside of the main platform, or thank it’s weird for a TikTok star to launch a YouTube channel, etc. The way many fans conditionally love an artist has always baffled me. I found Havelin’s music because I liked his character on the show. Truth be told, that’s how I find a lost of music and other media pieces I like. I do what seems natural to me, and follow the artist who I enjoy. Sometimes your favorite backup guitarist might leave that band and become an incredible solo act, but you’d never know cause you didn’t look. 

Talk to me about your new song Gentle, which is amazing by the way

Gentle is definitely a personal one for me. I wrote most of the lyrics in my living room, and it’s inspired by my relationship with my girlfriend. We’ve been together since high school. We’ve been together five years now and she’s my rock. She’s been with me through everything. We were long distance for a while and now we live together. That’s what Gentle is really about when, you know, somebody that long and you know everything about them and you know how they react to situations and you just want to make things better. It’s about learning to love when things aren’t easy, rather than putting up walls.

It definitely feels like a more mature love song than your previous work. It taps into the concept of love languages and how to actually be with someone. It’s one of my favorite love songs.

Thank you, I’m glad you see it how I envisioned it. That’s definitely what I was going for. I wanted it to feel like a promise. A promise to be good to who you’re with. It’s not about desire or something new, but nurturing and realistically caring for the person. 

Beautiful, so, is that a single for an upcoming album?

Good question. I believe so. If all goes well I’ll be working on something these next couple months and have something for summer. No guarantees in this crazy world, but there’s definitely work being done. 

What do you want? What do you hope people see from you as an artist, what kind of impact or impression are you hoping you’ll leave on the people who listen to your music?

I really just want to connect with people, tell the stories I have to tell because I like to live the weirdest life I can, I want people to feel like my music is there for them when they need it, and being able to pay my bills would be nice as well. 

Havelin is a perfect example of an amazing self made artist. He’s honest, he’s genuine, and he really puts his heart into his music. I think everyone could find comfort in one of his songs, like a warm cup of coffee on a cold day. I can’t wait to hear his next project, and I hope I’ll get the chance to see him perform again.  

Demon Slayer: So Close (spoiler-free review)

So, I recently finished the first season of the overwhelmingly popular anime Demon Slayer. Given that it won Anime of the Year in 2019 and all my friends who watch anime constantly suggested it to me, I figured I’d take advantage of the free time COVID-19 has given me and binge it. So, after finishing the season and taking a day to think about it, I have a little bit to say.

I love the core of this series. The world they built, our sweet wonderful Tanjiro and his mission to save his sweet but totally badass sister, and Muzan Kibutsuji is a top tier villain. I immediately liked our heroes, felt attached to their struggle, and wanted to see them succeed. The opening song is absolutely incredible, the animation is some of the best I’ve ever seen. I love that Demon Slayer is following the new way of storytelling and giving us a training montage, instead of trying to make an entire arc out of it. Seeing Tanjiro take two years to become a capable demon slayer definitely made me root for him even more, and by the time he sliced the boulder, I was fully invested. I loved watching Tanjiro and Nezuko grow and take down bad guys together as a duo and couldn’t wait to see what they’d be up against as the story progressed, but unfortunately, this is where my first disappointment came in.

I hate Zenitsu and Inosuke.

I’d seen some cool clips here and there of these characters, seen cosplays, so when they finally showed up I was excited. I knew that their arrival meant our main cast was fully assembled and that the best was yet to come. But, their really frustrating characters, and I feel like they disrupt the pacing, and in turn, my immersion. I’d go as far as to say they are my least favorite side characters in anime in general. I mean, I can’t stand Mineta from MHA, but at least he’s not in the main cast of every episode. Their backstories are somehow less developed than almost every other relevant character, and rather than give us two new people to support our hero, the bulk of the time it feels like Tanjiro is stuck babysitting two morons. They’re opposite personalities hardly ever lead to any interesting moments, and the only thing they have in common, other than being annoying, is being unnecessarily loud. Both of these guys scream at the top of their lungs almost nonstop. Then, when they do deliver, it doesn’t feel equal to me. Why did I have to sit through a bunch of episodes of them being an annoying hindrance, for one cool scene? Not to mention their antics cause so many problems for Tanjiro. For anyone whose seen that mountain battle (you know the one) I hated that what should have been growth for all of them, just ended up showing Tanjiro get better. Why introduce new characters if they’re not going to grow alongside our main hero? In all honesty, I think I would have preferred the story with only Tanjiro as Nezuko as the main heroes, they don’t really need the other two. But, maybe they’ll get development in season two? These characters cause such a drastic tone shift that it doesn’t feel like the same anime at times, and as I said before, they drastically alter the pacing. I fell asleep numerous times watching the second half of the season, usually in the middle of one of their weird moments. I don’t understand why a show built on seriousness and intensity decided two throw two comic relief characters in at the midway point.

For me personally, the biggest thing against Demon Slayer, was actually the hype that had been built up around it. I like being recommended things but I always find that when you undersell something, you do it more justice than when you oversell. Without the hype built around it, I’d have given the first season 8/10, only taking points off for pacing issues, those two annoying guys, and a few of the character tropes I think they’re using. Some characters are assholes for no reasons. I’d love to go into detail on that because it is the worst episode of the season, but I’d like to avoid spoiling anyone reading this who hasn’t seen the anime yet.

Overall, without the hype, I’d give Demon Slayer an 8/10 and definitely think it’s worth your watch.

Final Fantasy VII Remake

How Square Enix delivered a reboot, a new game, the ultimate fan service, and the ultimate middle finger all at once

In 1997, Square Enix, a company already known for delivering top-tier JRPG games, released Final Fantasy VII. A 3-disc epic, this game sold over 13 million copies and is still the top selling Square Enix game over twenty years later. It inspired a slew of imitations and copycats in character designs and gameplay formats. When I played it myself in 2001, even though it isn’t my favorite Final Fantasy title, I still fell in love with it. It’s one of the most iconic games of all time.

Final Fantasy VII, in my opinion, was too ahead of it’s time. In many ways, it hurt Square Enix almost as much as it helped. As I said before, FFVII is still their highest selling game. Think about that, a Playstation 1 game that came out almost thirty years ago, has still out-performed it’s successors. In fact, Square’s second highest seller isn’t even an original property, it’s their 2013 Tomb Raider game. The third highest is Final Fantasy XIV, a game that is usually overlooked and not considered even in the conversation, because it’s a MMO. The only JRPG Final Fantasy title that comes close to FFVII’s numbers is Final Fantasy X, which was one of the definitive games for the Playstation 2. Considering we’re only a few months away from the release of the Playstation 5, and the last Final Fantasy title to be released was Final Fantasy XV, which made 4 million dollars less than FFVII. In a way, fans of the Final Fantasy series have waited over 20 years for a game that would satisfy the way FFVII did. While some, like myself, consider FFX their favorite, and others love FFXV, the vast majority have been disappointed cause nothing has captured the magic quite like FFVII.

Now, this clamoring for a remake came in waves, at first, people wanted a remake because of Cloud’s cameo in the Kingdom Hearts series, which led to the release of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, a sequel in the form of a movie. Decent plot, stellar 2005 graphics, it was met with mixed reviews. For some, it was a fun and somewhat fulfilling continuation. Personally, I felt the movie could finally put the game to bed and let fans move on. However that was not the case. Most fans, regardless of the film’s story, viewed the movie as a demonstration of how could a remake might look. So, the demand for the remake rose even higher. Sadly, Square followed the film’s release with the 2006 Playstation 2 game Dirge of Cerberus, which took place in the FFVII universe but was so disconnected from the main story that it felt like another tease. Then, when Sony was getting ready to release the Playstation 3, the did a technical demo that sent fans into hysteria. A remake of the opening cutscene from FFVII, in peak Playstation 3 graphics. A fourth nail in the hype coffin. As if that wasn’t enough, 2007 Square Enix released Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core for the PSP. A prequel to the original story, for Sony’s first ever handheld system. The refusal to give fans what they wanted while not letting the game die in the name of profit might have seemed like a good idea, but it actually was a huge mistake.

Before the release of Final Fantasy XIII Tetsuya Nomura said, in an interview, that he didn’t want to remake FFVII, until he’d made a game better than FFVII. Sadly, Square’s next attempt, Final Fantasy XIII, didn’t live up to that hope at all, being a disappointment on it’s own, but almost ruining the entire franchise when Square decided to give the title two sequels. Then, a game that took 10 years and a title change to make, finally hit the shelves, Final Fantasy XV, and reception was mixed. Again, FFXV sold 4 million less copies than FFVII. The worst part, in my opinion, isn’t just that Nomura couldn’t achieve his goal, but that he didn’t actually choose to take on the FFVII remake, Square just kinda put out a video and put his name on it, or so the rumors say. But, after almost thirty years, a game that was so good it inadvertently almost killed it’s franchise, has been reborn! Final Fantasy VII: Remake is here!

Or rather, part 1 is here. We don’t know how many parts are coming, and neither does Square, but considering part 1 is absolutely gorgeous, incredibly well written, well acted, and is over 100 GBs in size, I’m not surprised that the game is coming out in installments. In fact, I love that for Square. Think about it, they’ve spent almost thirty years in the shadow of this game. “You fuckers didn’t like the movie or the spinoff game? The prequel wasn’t enough? Fine! Here’s your remake, but only part of it, and there’s no telling when the next part’s coming but you bet your ass you’ll be paying full price for it!” This is the consequence the fans have to deal with. For all that this remake is giving the fans, because it is gorgeous, has revolutionary gameplay, and is absolutely perfect, it is also giving them a well deserved middle finger. You want Final Fantasy VII? Well since we’ve revolutionized gameplay and thrown out the classic monster battle style get ready to be dependent on side quests to level up. You want to relive the story? Well this time around your gonna spend more time in the world and see how people are effected by your actions, and your even gonna care about the side characters and feel something when they die. You like Cloud? Well get ready for a Cloud who was written in 2020, whose less brooding badass and more socially inept quiet type with severe PTSD, and as a cherry on top, get ready for completely new elements that will confuse the hell out of you.

I love this game, and I can’t wait to play the other parts of it. The graphics are unparalleled, the gameplay is wonderful, the level building is perfect, and even though the story has been altered and the “whispers” confuse me, I’m all in. I’m especially fond of the weapon upgrade system cause it allows you to play the game using the Buster Sword and still grow stronger. Cloud is a genuinely likable guy and has a personality now, incredible! But, the thing I love most, is Square’s decision to, very blatantly, give the fans who’ve begged for this, exactly what they ask for, and milk it for every penny it’s worth. Fans have longed for the old instead of fulling embracing the new, and while Square played it’s part in that as well, the real cost wasn’t the movie, or the prequel game, or the spinoff, it was feeling pressured by fans, to a point where if you look closely, a lot of Final Fantasy titles since FFVII have taken very similar story beats and character arcs. Square has felt limited as a business. Like a child actor, trapped in the brilliance of their past. So, as much as I love this remake, I really hope once all the parts are released, Square is able to move forward with Final Fantasy, and finally lay this 1997 classic to bed.

Rating: 9/10 (bad time travel?)

PS: While I will always love Aerith, Jessie is officially best girl now!

Pixel Perfect: Does It Hold Up?

My review of the 2004 Disney Channel Original Movie Pixel Perfect 16 later

So, oddly enough, I thought I’d originally seen this movie when it came out in 2004, but I realized very quickly I’d never seen this before. Thinking on my knowledge of most DCOM projects, I assumed this movie would play out something similar to Smart House given it’s loose sci-fi premise, but I was wrong. This movie is a lot, too much in fact. Too many subplots and not enough development, and only one character showing any sense of complexity. On top of that, music that acts as a fresh reminder that this came out before Mickey Mouse was making every actress a pop star. I could go into more detail but I don’t really think there’s a need to with this one, much like the film itself, less is more. I genuinely feel like the concept of a hologram pop star should have been kept on the shelf until maybe 2016? I understand a movie about a teenage girl whose likes her best friend and wants to make music has been done a lot, but it’s still a valid story and would have been better to just focus on that in my opinion. Their messages of the fragility of perfection was definitely solid, but I feel like using a hologram as the plot device to deliver that message is kinda dumb. You literally can’t touch the hologram, the hologram can’t feel. The movie tries to illustrate this as a complexity but it’s actually really simple to me, and the ending is just DCOM insanity at it’s worst.

This movie wasn’t good back then, and it doesn’t hold up at all. 2/10